Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Today's freebie? Jericho - the complete series on DVD

Who did I get it? A competition win

It's nice getting into the odd costume drama series isn't it? I don't have time to have loads on the go - my telly is not mine to command - and I always end up missing an episode and then never catching up. I recall with fondness my mom's excitement when the next episode of her latest series was due to start back in the pre-VHS days. Flambards was a particular favourite - we all settled down for that.

Having an entire series on DVD makes it easy. And what a strange series this is....

It's your bog standard costume drama on inspection of cover and plot review. Beautiful widow forced into setting up a lodging house in a shanty town to make ends meet. Handsome lodger moves in and inevitability ensues. In this case the shanty navvy town (known as Jericho) is set up next to the construction site of Culverdale viaduct, based on the real Ribblehead viaduct in Yorkshire. It's reet Yorkshire scenery, all barren moorland and accents to boot - but let's make one thing absolutely clear ...

This is a Western

Jericho is all wooden buildings set out like your typical Western town. It has a pub (or saloon); it has a brothel complete with lace bustled prostitutes; it is surrounded by empty moorland, isolated from other towns - much like the prairie or desert forms a wilderness around cowboyville. The characters wear borderline cowboy hats and even the background music hints at bluegrass type fiddly music.
One of the main characters is Ralph Coates, an ex-slave escaped from the American Civil War. the railroad leads them here, and it's the railroad they must construct to get them further on. 

The pitch must have been simple - a western costume drama, set in Yorkshire. The attempts to replicate such a town in 19th century England are sometimes bordering tacky.

But is it any good as a drama? It's average. Avid costume drama fans would likely be disappointed - the plot twists and romance doesn't deliver anything that hasn't been seen a hundred times before. At it's heart is a nice idea - an event that happens before us so we know what happened, but we watch as the series unfolds and everyone else catches up. There are heroes and villains, there's redemption and revenge. There are veiled references to the social norms of the time and intrigues around family, inheritance and class. Jessica Raine is in fine form, brooded over by Hans Matheson who (and this is cruel of me) comes across as a poor man's Sean Bean. The plot is OK - enough for me to watch all 8 episodes and not get too bored.

My main gripe is the lack of belief. All of the buildings are pristine wooden cabins. I realise that they would have been built at around the same time but I also think they would have had more character or personalisation. These looked like a theme park, together with perfect duckboards and nice grass in between, something that would surely have disappeared very soon under so many feet.

Difficult to believe number 2 - everyone willingly works for an American incomer, an escaped slave, no questions asked. He commands respect from the off, yet once people know the secret class origins of someone else they suddenly mistrust him - I found it difficult to empathise with people's fickleness.

Difficult to believe number 3 - the passage of time. Several plots appear to being played concurrently but it's not clear how much time has elapsed. In one case, (and it's difficult to explain this without a spoiler, but I think i can do it) the relationship between 2 characters starts to change after an event, an event which happens just as it is decided to build a mine. The way they talk to each other in one scene suggests that several days have passed since the event, yet they then wander down to the fully dug mine complete with pit props, rails and trolleys! And yes, the mine looks just like a gold mine from a Western, only this one mines sandstone.

It's a shame because the setting, context and basic plot line deserved better. The final scene finishes with a huge set up for the next series and I would gladly have settled to watch how things develop. Sadly, that won't happen - the small lack of attention to detail didn't wash with viewers or ITV execs and a second series wasn't commissioned. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

What was today's freebie? Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad

How did I get it? A giveaway by those wonderful people at Goodreads

This review is on my profile at Goodreads.

SockpuppetSockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matthew Blakstad obviously knows his stuff. A brief glimpse at his profile shows that he has qualifications in maths and has worked in online communications. This thriller isn't just a clever page turner, it's highly plausible and increasingly believable.
Dani Farr lives in an online world. She's created an online presence called sic_girl that shows intelligence and learning. It's all fun and showing off, until sic_girl starts getting herself involved in politics and out of Dani's control....

Blakstad plays on fears already present in our society - Big Brother; privacy; hacking; identity hacks. It's also possible Blakstad understands politics and spin. This book has more than just data and tech wizardry - it's a well crafted study in politics and spin. Even more plausible than the fact that privacy is vulnerable is the notion that politicians are out of their depth when it comes to modern life and are at the mercy of advisors, reliant on their explanations. It takes little imagination to believe that politicians may believe all the hype they read in a paper and launch the next great thing, only to be undone quite quickly with their own trust and naivete.

It's not just the plausibility and excitement of this book that should make it a hit, it's the fact that it avoids all other obvious thriller cliches. Violence and sex are present, but not graphically illustrated as if everyone is a trained assassin or hot porn star lover behind their quiet exterior. Those scenes are themselves believable, real and show a vulnerability in the characters.

It's the characters that show the final breath of fresh air in a thriller - the strongest and most interesting characters are all female. Jonquil, Beth and Dani herself are complex characters, all quite different and not subject to fitting in with the regular notion of lead females in thrillers. All their vulnerabilities are clearly played out, it's refreshing to recognise lead female characters that actually resemble people one might meet in real life.

The copy I received was an uncorrected proof for review, won from Goodreads. The hardback release deserves great plaudits. And I'm not just saying that because I think Blakstad will post all my secrets if I say otherwise.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Cow Pat hand cream. No, really.

Today's freebie? Cowshed's Cow Pat handcream

Charming. Who threw that at me? Stylist magazine

A photo posted by @thebestthingsinlifeblog on
OK, I'm not in the habit of reading women's fashion magazines. Stylist is a freebie (I should review it and it's brother publication Shortlist one day) given out in Manchester and other cities. I get a copy for Mrs Bestthingsinlife and sometimes have a punt at competitions where the prize is something I'd enjoy.

In this case it's a unisex hand cream. It's a posh one - £8 for 50ml - so should show results. So why the offputting name? Well, Cowshed were founded in a ... cowshed. It's a cowshed at Babington House, I grant you, so quite a nice one. They've grown and now have spas across the world and a range of products with names like Lazy Cow, Knackered, Cow Slip and this one, Cow Pat.

The smell is wonderful. Gently spicy and certainly not feminine at all. I put it on last thing at night and fall asleep smelling my hands. No, it's not weird.

Does it work? Well, I certainly felt some benefit when wearing it. Judge for yourself - I took before and after photos from the time I received the cream to when I finished it. I'd say it did it's job just fine.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tracey Ullman's Show - several of a kind

What's the freebie? Tracey Ullman's Show on DVD

How did I get it? A competition win from The Daily Mirror's We Love TV

A photo posted by @thebestthingsinlifeblog on
Tracey Ullman had several very successful years in the UK in the early eighties. Sketch shows A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind led to Girls on Top via huge music hits such as Breakaway. And then she disappeared...

...well, of course she didn't. She followed her husband to America and had even more success with her own show which trivia fans will also know launched The Simpsons.

And then she same back to Blighty. Tracey Ullman's show launched on the BBC in January 2016 to some critical acclaim. Was it any good? Well, having watched the first few I thought it was ... not bad. Now, having had chance to see the whole series .... it's not bad.

Ullman shows herself to be an adept impressionist. With the help of prosthetics (the voice needs no assistance) she does a great job taking off Judi Dench, Angela Merkel and others.

To be fair most sketch shows are hit and miss to me and this one is no different. There are some great characters - the US tourists amuse, the topless feminist MP raises a smile and the app guy (with a totally convincing male voice by the way) has the cringe worthy quality that the best comedy can provoke, whereas others such as the possessive zoo worker lack punchlines and the northern powerhouse businesswoman with a hatred of the south is a tired idea. maybe watching once per week stretches the gaps between episodes to make repetition less noticeable, but it can become tedious if you plough through a box set.

Ullman has always had talent and she's still on top of her game, certainly as creative and funny as any other sketch show I've seen for the past few years. She's always seemed to need to be the star - leaving a group to have her own show, having a music career and returning with another eponymous show. This series is a useful vehicle for her talents as a character actress and maybe a sitcom beckons - she would certainly provide excellent support characters to edgy comedies. To me, that's a better bet for the future rather than a second series of sketches.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Free things to do in Kefalonia

It's been a long time. The ageing laptop took a holiday for a few weeks and no sooner was it back than we went on our wonderful family holiday to Kefalonia. It was perfect.

Now let's clear up that my trip to Kefalonia wasn't free. Neither flight nor hotel, neither car-hire nor spends - I'm not that good a blogger . Greece isn't cheap, either. Their financial crisis seems to have caused a fair bit of inflation since I last visited and a weak Sterling/Euro exchange rate meant that meals for 6 in a taverna were out of the question. It's still a wonderful country though. Beautiful, friendly, HOT and steeped in history.

I thought I'd commit some memories of this wonderful holiday to my blog by looking at things that we did that didn't cost a penny.

History. This is Greece - everything about it is historic. It's not all about stones and ruins. It's about culture, food and influences from the many other civilisations that have had their say in how the island is now.

Kefalonia has a few Mycenean tombs and the first we came across was at Lakithra.
This probably isn't the most spectacular but it's the first old Greek thing my obsessed daughter has seen so it was a special moment. A walk through a quiet village finds the site looking out towards the Aegean. Strange holes in the ground look like they probably held treasure, whilst graves hewn from the rock once held the bones of ancients.
The ghosts of 3500 year old skeletons could rise at any moment like those in Jason and the Argonauts.

The ancient Acropolis at Sami was very spectacular. Again, the views are jaw dropping.
Just a short journey away is Ithaca, home of Odysseus and from whence he started his journey as chronicled by Homer. This huge site sits high on a hill and must once have been quite a sight from down in the waters. Like at Lakithra, we had the whole place to ourselves - only mad dogs and Englishmen do such

explorations in the midday sun. The size of the stones are truly impressive and one can understand why Cyclopean architecture is a known term for the Mycenean period - only the giants of Greek mythology could lift such stones so high up a mountain like this.

The Romans slaughtered the inhabitants of Sami after a lengthy siege around 188 BC. The Romans also left our final piece of free history - the Roman Villa at Skala. Located just outside the town it's not noticeably a villa, just a floorplan. But what floors - each still has remains of exquisite mosaics. An elevated walkway gives a good view down.

There are numerous other free historic sites across the islands, these are the only ones we saw. It wouldn't have been fair to drag the kids around more - we know how many we can get away with.

For inhabitants of a wet island at the edge of Europe it's also a free treat to see wildlife that we can only usually see in zoos, aquariums or similar. Lizards are plentiful and it's a novelty seeing fish swim past your goggles in the crystal clear waters off the beaches. I saw a few hoopoes too and was told that these were shot for sport. Not sure if that's true though.

My real 'bucket list' moments were marvellous. I'm also pleased that I saw them perfectly naturally and not through an organised trip. The real highlight was a pair of leatherback turtle. These frolicked quite happily along the harbour front at Argostoli and this is quite common. Magical.
My second magical moment happened as I walked along a farm track to the local shop one morning. The top of every plant along the edge of a field was topped by a dragonfly/mayfly type insect. One of them looked to be eating something but as I approached I saw that it was in a battle of life or death with a praying mantis. The fly escaped and the mantis turned its attention to me - I really think it would have taken me on, too.

A little gecko appeared outside our room a few nights. Not quite as spectacular, but something we don't see in England very often.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Brut Sport Style deodorant - a lot of pain for no gain

What did I get? Brut Sport Style deodorant

How did I get it? Sent freely for trial by Trnd

Ah, the great smell of Brut. The smell of my dad for a month after each Christmas in the 70s. Jousted with Old Spice as the smell of man when I was a young child. Left behind during the 80s as newer, fresher brands such as Insignia took over.
I'm assuming Brut has kept going in the intervening period but to be honest I couldn't say. Even in my forties it's still a brand I wouldn't choose as it seems a bit too old-fashioned, so it was an interesting experience to be given the chance to try it by Trnd. A parcel arrived with cards to give out, money of vouchers, some cricket fixture lists (Brut Sport Style sponsors a range of first class cricket stuff) and instruction in how to trial the deodorant. Some of that is geared towards a different sort of chap than I ("invite your mates round for a beer and take photos of you opening the package and trying the fragrance"; "take it to the gym and discuss the new fragrance") which sounds a bit forced. I did open it with the kids though, took some photos of the packaging (I don't put myself in my photos) and had a go.

The design is the best bit of this new Brut. Great colours and a sturdy squirter. Sadly, that's the most positive thing I can say.

The first spray is one I'll remember for a long time. About a second after applying I gave a sound like Tom when Jerry traps his tail in a mousetrap and had a face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Jeez, does it sting. Really sting. I've used loads of deodorants over the years and never known a sting like this.

So it must be strong, right? Wrong. This is the most disappointing part of the whole 'Sports' thing - it hardly works. Most quality deodorants still smell at the end of the day but this stopped smelling in mid-afternoon and by the time I got to bed I smelled like a hadn't bothered putting deodarnt on at all - not nice.
I drive a desk for a living and don't do gyms but I do walk a fair bit. Let's be fair to Brut and say that maybe there's some magic ingredient that is triggered by hard exercise and I didn't trigger it.

The smell is an improvement on traditional Brut, which I didn't mind anyway. It still smells a bit like Brut but more modern (can a smell modernise? Probably not, I think I'm being pretentious there) but it's a shame I didn't get much chance to smell it. Maybe a couple of hours each day, nowhere near what I get from other brands. A thumbs down on this one.

A word for Trnd - the package received is good and they prompt in a timely manner for feedback. They're a marketing company and not involved with the brand, my poor review of Brut shouldn't reflect on Trnd.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Shining Tor, Cat Tor and the Goyt Valley

What wonderful thing did life give me for free today? A wonderful walk along the border of Cheshire and Derbyshire, with historic ruins and FREE FOOD

How? Just get up and go. You can do it too
Errwood Hall


 The Goyt valley is a favourite of mine. It's got woods to get lost in, ruined buildings to play in, high hills to view from and babbling brooks. It's a beautiful and fascinating place and it's all free, including the parking.
A long walk up The Street to Pym's Chair and a view I've never appreciated before. With the aid of some new binoculars I could make out the hills near my hometown of Glossop (Lantern Pike, Chinley Churn and the Mare's Back quite easy to spot) but also the vista round past the airport to Jodrell Bank. Having been driving a desk in all the sunshine this week it was great to be out and part of it. From Pym's Chair it's a stride over Cat's Tor to Shining Tor along the Cheshire/Derbyshire border with constant views of the Cheshire plain.
Meadow Pipits aplenty over the moors here, kestrels hovering in the thermals running up from the plain to these high hills. Cotton grass thrives here.
Shining tor
Shining Tor is the highest point in modern Cheshire. It's a gentle ascent from Cat's Tor and from afar it's hard not to focus on the
para gliders that soar around the summit. On reaching the trig point it's odd to watch the sails of these gliders suddenly appear over the lip of the Tor and then disappear again below one's feet.
A quick banana and then over Shooters Clough and down to the Goyt Valley. The Cat & Fiddle pub is in the distance, an alternative starting point.
This descent to the Goyt is dominated by the most delicious bilberries.
There are millions of them spread either side of the path. Nobody picks bilberries yet they taste just like blueberries, which are really expensive in the shops. I grabbed as I passed, and munched all the way through Shooters Clough to the ruins of Errwood Hall.
This once magnificent hall was the home of the Grimshawes, a wealthy merchant family from Manchester. Sadly, the hall was only used for less than 100 years as the family dies out and it was soon demolished (over eagerly) as the nearby reservoirs were built. I'm not going to give you any more details as I urge you to visit David's excellent site and lose yourself in the photos there. I've been bringing my children here all their life, it's a great place for hide and seek.
Errwod Hall
From the hall I carried on down to the road and back to my car. An absolutely wonderful walk.
Errwood Hall

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Free milk, but I prefer Accrington Stanley

What did I get? A small bottle of milk

How did I get it? Freely given away in Manchester

I hate the taste of milk. At 5 years old I remember being told to drink my free bottle at school and thinking, I really don't like this and never have. I've not drunk it in over 40 years.
I know it's a shame, it's a healthy thing. I encourage my kids to drink as much as possible and we get our milk delivered by a milkman from the dairy to keep prices fair to the farmer. Please do this if you can, Britain's dairy herds can't survive much longer at the prices supermarkets are paying and for an extra 3p per pint I am making a difference.

It's all about the taste, I think. I can drink chocolate milk with no problems but any other flavours don't mask it enough for me. Cream and milky products in food are hit and miss. I don't mind a fresh cream cake if I get enough of the other flavours to combat the taste of milk. Warming milk for porridge and the like? That really turns my stomach.
There really isn't much in the way of food and drink i won't eat. I think milk and particularly strong goats cheeses are the only thimngs that my body rebels against. It's not an allergy or intolerance, I'm fine with it - it's just the taste.

It's weird when you think about it. If I were to say I like breast milk there would be cried of outrage (I probably don't like it, but I haven't tried it since I was a bab) but that's from my species and my start in life. Yet drinking from a cow is perfectly acceptable once your mother's dried up. I'm not ridiculing it, it's healthy stuff, but it just seems odd. Who was the first person to look at a cow's udders and put two and two together and go for it?

Anyway, this is a rubbish review of Cravendale milk because I didn't try it. But bless the fine people in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, who gave thousands of bottles away for free on one of the hottest days of the year. Cheers.

Here's Dr Feelgood - Milk & Alcohol

Friday, 8 July 2016

How do you like them apples?

What did I get? Apples

How? Right place, right time. A leftover buffet at someone else's workplace.

Another long gap between posts. I'm having a very busy work period and was working away for much of the pat week. Plus, I've been short of freebies for the past few weeks.

With all my freebies I post after I have tried/tested/used/visited them. There's no point in judging or reviewing otherwise. I've actually got dozens of books, DVDs and other stuff I've received (literally, dozens) but until I've managed to try them I shan't post.

So I was leaving work today and heard a shout calling me into a shared meeting facility. Another organisation had finished a large meeting and the cleaner was reluctant to throw all the food away. It's sinful how much hospitality food goes to complete waste.

An apple for each of the family. Granny Smiths and average in quality. I have no idea who supplied them so it's not much of a review but there you go - it'll keep the doctor away.

Have a playlist about apples.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Happy Gilmore is happier than me

What did I get? Happy Gilmore on DVD

How did I get it? Annoyingly, I can't remember. It was a competition win.

My longest break without posting. One major reason - the European Championships and endless football matches. England are still in it, as are Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - an incredible feat.

There have just been 2 rest days without football but I still didn't post as I'm a bit sad and very scared over Brexit. But this blog isn't a politics blog (although the ability to vote freely is a freebie and a victory that we all should use at every opportunity), so that's the last of saying why Happy Gilmore is happier than me.

If you've seen Happy Gilmore then you'll know he's anything but. Adam Sandler plays the titular chap who isn't one of life's winners. Happy has anger issues that stem from the walk out of his mother and the death of his father when he was a kid. Only grandma (with whom he lives) seems to get Happy's unconditional love. All this is played out in the opening few minutes as a scene setter.

Happy shares his father's love of hockey (ice hockey to us Brits; field hockey is what we know as simply 'hockey') but he really isn't very good. Every year he fails the trials but he still classes himself as a hockey player. Barely able to skate, lacking basic hockey skills and hampered by his temper, Happy does possess an incredibly hard shot. Using this in an unconventional way, Happy takes on the world of golf ... and this is definitely a golf film.

The film is rated 12 and I watched with my eleven and a half year old son. It's not bad, but there is a fair bit of cussing in it that would have made it a 15 back in my day. The gorgeous Julie Bowen appears in stocking and sussies a couple of times too, but nothing worse than that really.

As a comedy ... it's OK. It harkens back to an eighties Police Academy affair a few times but there are some amusing slapstick scenes and some surreal moments which tickle my fancy, plus a cameo appearance from Lee Trevino. It's a heavily sponsored film too - I bet a large portion of it's gross takings are from Subway.

I'd give it 6, my son says 8.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Mimes of Wine - "la Maison Verte"

What did I get? "la Maison Verte" album by Mimes of Wine
Where from? Given freely for review by Subba-Cultcha

When I go on the Subba Cultcha site to apply to review an album I do listen to the Soundcloud or YouTube clips to see if it's something I'll like. It does obscure the reviews as you're already halfway to liking something before you've listened properly, so most of the reviews are positive. It wouldn't be fair for me to review some EDM or R&B album when I really am not into either genre.

Mimes of Wine fall into my favourite type of music though. There'll always be room for heavy stuff in my life (see Wednesday's post) but mysterious, melodic swirly music with a fair bit of guitars suits me just fine.

My full review is on the Subba Cultcha site. Links to Mimes of Wine songs are above.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Dead Label - a game of Throne of Bones

What did I get? Throne of Bones (LP) by Dead label

How did I get it? Freely sent for review by Subba Cultcha

I love rock music and as I get older I'm enjoying it louder. My thirteen year old daughter says I'm too old and it's not fair to hog it from teenagers like her. Fair point.

One aspect of thrash I'm not too fussed with is the death growl. I get why it's done - it's part of the atmosphere of the song and depicts death, hell and despair - but it means that I can't hear the probably hard worked on lyrics. There, that's me being old.

The wonderful Subba Cultcha site allows you to apply for albums, gigs and festivals in return for an honest review. My full review of the album is here.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Nostell Priory - a grand day out

What did I get? A day out at Nostell Priory

How did I get it? Part of a competition prize package from Caboodle

What I actually won was free entry to a National Trust property, but having visited the other main properties near me (Dunham Massey, Tatton and Lyme Park) I wanted to find somewhere different for this special day out. Heading in the other direction this is the nearest (1 hour away) and a new one to us all.

Parking near the entrance from road one walks down the drive to the property, making it an exciting moment when the house appears in view.

Nostell Priory, like several other  stately homes, was a monastic house until Henry VIII's reformation when he disbanded the traditional (catholic) churches and founded his own church - the Church of England. Properties were given over to Henry's favourites and often rebuilt or expanded to the house we see today. In this case James Paine and Robert Adam were architects at different phases, and the building is famed for it's collection of bespoke Chippendale furniture. Whilst not the original owners, Nostell has been the home of the Winn family for over 300 years.

Free tickets happily exchanged, I'll take a moment to tell you why this day started very well - no hard membership sell. Oh, what bliss! The National trust do an excellent job and without them we'd lose a lot of our heritage, I know that, but I do get so frustrated by having to explain so often that family membership would not be worthwhile for us (we've tried it) and we prefer to pay as we go gets tiresome. Not on this visit though, everyone was just happy for us top enjoy our day out and learn about this beautiful property.

We enjoyed the gardens first. The kitchen gardens and rose garden
are not as large and spectacular as other houses, but they are neatly maintained and have an array of interesting fruit and vegetables (including banana plants. Outside. In Yorkshire!) Being in the middle of a Wodehouse novel (Leave it to Psmith since you ask) I wanted to bother the gardener to see if his name was McAllister and quiz him on his flowers.

From these gardens we wandered through the adventure playground and along the lake, stopping at the perfect spot for my all-time favourite activity, a picnic.

Sandwiches and chicken legs consumed, we headed to the other side of the lake and the quieter, tranquil menagerie garden (where one expects they used to keep menagers).
This was my favourite spot with wonderful smelling shrubbery and interesting buildings.

Gardens fully explored we ventured into the house. A friendly welcome and offer of an activity sheet for the kids was just inside the door and off we go to explore. The entrance hall is dark and huge, quite imposing and not at all like other large houses. This is likely because the grand entrance was planned on the first floor at the top of the grand external steps. The first floor is, as usual, set out with magnificent rooms. I particularly enjoyed the bathrooms
- they are still set out with soap and toiletries from a bygone era. I could feel like a guest at Blandings stood here.

In the rooms there are priceless artworks by Brueghel the Elder, Hogarth and Gainsborough. The wallpaper is fine Chinese and the Chippendale furniture is dotted around everywhere. The interiors really are stunning, fine plasterwork and carvings abound. A clock made by the renowned John Harrison (who invented a method for calculating longitude at sea) sits state like in the billiards room.

The volunteers around the house are, as ever, knowledgeable and eager to tell you all they know.

Downstairs we see how the servants looked after the house. An array of bells is still present, waiting for the people of the house to summon them and cater for every whim. The butler's pantry has all the paraphernalia of buttling - Beach would be at home here. Kids can dress up in the scullery and play with cooking implements or make a rag rug.

House tour over we repaired back to the vast stable block
, topped up on the inevitable souvenirs, enjoyed a cup of lovely coffee and made our way back to the car past the huge parkland, all there for exploring (if you pay just the car park fee you can still use the cafe, shop and parkland, only the gardens and house cost extra). The tired kids, wife and mother-in-law all agreed, this was a fine day out.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Jungle Book at the Manchester Odeon

What did I get? A ticket for the Odeon cinema at the Printworks, Manchester.

What did I see? Jungle Book

How did I get it? A raffle win on the MacMillan coffee morning.

Way back in 2015 I was lucky enough to win 2 tickets for any Odeon cinema. Not a freebie in itself as I paid for the tickets, but I'm working on the basis that one of the tickets was cheap and one was free. It's a chance to highlight the World's Biggest Coffee Morning and a fair chance to review a good day out.

The Printworks is an exciting development in the centre of Manchester housing a 20 screen cinema, various bars and restaurants. It winds through an indoor street that retains many of the features of the original newspaper printing industry. It opened in 2000 having been left derelict after the evil Robert Maxwell bought it for £1 in 1986 and then closed it down.

Walking into the Printworks is exciting for the kids. It's quite dark but sufficiently lit to make it look like it's permanently night time on a busy street. It's been a while since I spent time down here at night and even then I felt a bit old. I'm told it can get a bit rowdy at weekends, but it's fine during the day.

Hard to believe that this is my first visit to the cinema here. Hard to believe there are 20 screens hidden away, including the North West of England's first IMAX. Queues were small, the friendliest service I've ever had in a cinema from Leah, and prices reasonable (well, the adults were free!, kids and senior were £4). Up the escalators to a large area selling the usual sweets, drinks and popcorn but also plenty of video games, air hockey and penny flips too. There's a Costa up here, but that wasn't open at the time. Having just spent an hour having a buffet lunch as part of our day out treat, these weren't close to being sampled!

Comfortable seats with plenty of leg room, good sound and a clear picture. Odeon Printworks cinema gets the thumbs up!

So what of the film? Oh, my word. My sister had told me it was good and not just a kids' film, but I never expected anything like this. The production is incredible - CGI now seems to have reached perfection. The only actor in the film is Neel Sethi who is incredible. To think he would have filmed opposite puppets against a blue screen shows just how good a performance this is. Amongst the many good voice performances my favourites were Christopher Walken as King Louie and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera. Idris Elba (my choice for the new James Bond) makes a good baddie, the odd 'proper Landun' word creeping out.

The real star is the storyline. More faithful to the original book than the 1967 version, but making sure it's not so faithful as to be a bit boring (come on, you've read them right? The films are much easier...). There is also the surprisingly brave move to omit any semblance of romance (Shanti is nowhere to be seen), and keeps sentiment about family to a minimum. Mowgli has been raised by animals since he was a toddler, he has no memory of mankind so why would he have those feelings.

Some better reviewers than I would consider the deeper meanings of the film (be true to yourself; consider your own strengths and not what others expect of you; wolves stick together...) but I'm shallower than that when it comes to a kids film. I enjoy the scenery, laugh at the jokes and cry at the end).

I'll finish with the songs. It's not a musical, but music from the 1967 film makes it in there. As well as excellent versions of 'The bare necessities' and 'I wanna be like you' I also noted background music calling on 'Trust in me', there may have been others.

Oscar nominations are likely to be made, this film is a cracker for all ages.

Monday, 30 May 2016

When literature is too much for me

What did I get? Slenderman, Slenderman take this child

How did I get it? Sent freely for review by the author

This is a sad post. My review (I won't say full review, I didn't post much) is at  (see below), but it made me question myself. I'm really not comfortable reading a depiction of a 12 year old girl masturbating, written in the first person. To hide this behind 'horror' seems the cowardliest part of all. I've spent a lifetime being against censorship in most forms and this won't change that, but being allowed to write such passages as part of a horror novel seems a get around, if it were on a fantasy site or similar it would be borderline illegal.
Am I getting old? Has the world changed so much that I'm the one being left behind? Should I just accept that reading about 12 year old girls masturbating is part of the modern age?
The author sent me this book as I had reviewed a previous work of his after winning it on Goodreads. That's a great gesture, and the author is sensible enough to know that an honest review was forthcoming. I wrote what I felt on Goodreads but tried to keep it to the book. This sad post just wanted to record a general feeling about society.
The book is challenging, and most that read it and enjoy it won't be paedophiles for enjoying it, but sometimes I think people throw in challenges for the sake of it. Looking at the average rating on Goodreads it's me that sees things differently, I can't argue with that.

Slenderman, Slenderman, Take this ChildSlenderman, Slenderman, Take this Child by Lee McGeorge
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was sent to me by the author in return for an honest review.

Having previously enjoyed The Thing : Zero Hour by the same author I was looking forward to reading this. Sadly, I couldn't make it past page 60. I was expecting horror and the quotes on the cover (same as above) suggested a treat to look forward to. Unfortunately I put the book in the recycling after reading about a 12 year old girl masturbating, about the 4th sexual event described in the first person. 12 year old girls' 'slits' really aren't my bag and I was very uncomfortable with this.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Windows 10 - worth the wait?

What did I get? Windows 10 operating system
How did I get it? if you use Windows, you'll know. If you're a Mac user, you'll be sneering at me....

You've been seeing the pop-ups for weeks, if not months. You've been getting the prompts. Have you taken the plunge?

I'm reticent with things like this. I'm never the first to venture to a brave new world, preferring others to go first and tell me what it's like. Also, I'm a bit contrary. For someone who blogs on freebies, I hate being pushed into upgrades that are free.

Yesterday I saw a news item that criticised Microsoft's tactics in getting people to do the upgrade. Apparently MS have altered the settings since the message first appeared so that rather than asking if you want to install windows 10, the installation is scheduled to install itself unless you say otherwise. Most people close the dialog box using the 'x' in the corner without realising that they weren't declining the install, they were declining the opportunity to decline.

A dirty trick, Microsoft.
But I'm too tired to fight for ages, and am I spiting myself? Well, having read a few reviews it turns out Windows 10 is OK. Respected sites gave it a thumbs up, one describing it as the 'best Windows yet'. I decided to go for it.

By golly, it's a long download and umpteen restarts. About 2 hours from start to finish.

First impressions are favourable. It looks smart, but it doesn't really do anything different. The real changes come with menu choices. The start button brings up a whole different set of choices than before. Microsoft are no longer leading technology, they're keeping up with others. Programs are now 'apps' - fair enough, 'application' was a word long before iTunes store shortened it. This pop-up menu is now your first port of call. It has the news, weather, quick links to Twitter etc. Your computer is now more like your phone. It's not  bad thing, we've come a long way since that bloody paperclip.

One benefit I do like is how much easier it is to connect your applications to a profile. My webmail accounts is linked to my user profile so much more easily. Navigating to photo albums is more inuitive too.

The Microsoft store offers the same sort of service as the Play store or iTunes store and is in very much the same format. You now have access to loads of free games such as Crossy Road (Disney edition)  and the ubiquitous Candy Crush. Maybe this was available before, now it's just more obvious. The kids'll love this.

The downsides? Well I spent a further 3 hours trying to resolve the simple fact that my touchpad drivers were lost. I had a cursor and could click but without 2 finger scrolling I felt lost. Research revealed a problem that could be much more serious - HP haven't kept up with Windows 10 and no drivers were available. I faced life without 2 finger scrolling and went to bed fed up.

Today, scrolling is back! It's opposite (I swipe down to scroll up) but I'll take that. Now the OS has bedded in and things aren't loading for the first time speeds seem back to how they were before.

I'm not even going to bother trying Edge, the internet browser. I'm a Firefox man and happy with that.

Go on, swallow your pride and download the update. It's worth the long wait.