Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jumpsuits for shorties

I've never even considered wearing a jumpsuit before. It never even crossed my mind. I mean, I've been aware, for the past year at last, that they are making a comeback, slowly trickling down from the top notch designer labels to the high street, but I always thought they were too 'high fashion' for me.

However, when I saw this beauty of a jumpsuit in this month's Marie Claire, I fell in love with it, and went on to include it in a fashion article I wrote for The Yorker. Whilst researching this article, I began looking for alternatives (at £145 reduced, this is out of the price range of the student target demographic of the piece), and became utterly convinced that I needed a jumpsuit in my life.

And so mission jumpsuit began. I wanted something plain (therefore probably black), sophisticated and elegant. Not being the most slender of people (a generous size 12, and on the short side), I really wasn't convinced that I would find a single jumpsuit that looked good. I knew I wanted something with long legs, rather than a short jumpsuit, as I would be wearing it with heels to make up for what nature forgot to give me (height). Also nothing too flarey in the leg-Aladdin is so last year.

Cue frantic internet research followed by an eventful trip into town (York city centre)

I wasn't overly impressed by Topshop's online offerings; the only one which appealed to me was the 'Premium Jacquard Jumpsuit' and even looking at it online I knew it would be too long for me. Seeing it in store only served to confirm this.

Next stop New Look. Things were looking marginally better. I really liked this halterneck jumpsuit, however, bearing in mind that the model on the internet was 5ft8, I didn't think I stood a chance.

To be honest, just going into Whistles was scary enough (although it was out of my price range, I wanted to try the Camille jumpsuit anyway, for comparison-and if anyone reading this was wondering what to get me for Christmas...) I'd never been in there before and imagined it as the Devil-Wears-Prada of the retail industry, with immaculately presented sales assistants looking down their noses at my Primark handbag.

Into town I trotted, first stop Whistles. Deep breath and in I go. Unfortunately for my wardrobe (but perhaps fortunately for my nerves), they didn't seem to have the Camille jumpsuit in stock (and I wasn't hanging around to ask). They did however, have a similar jumpsuit, but in a deep red and with a  halterneck collar. It was lovely, but one look at it told me that it wouldn't fit-the legs were up to my boobs! Cue quick exit from Whistles and onto New Look.

Despite several playsuits, the only jumpsuit I could find in New Look told me in one glance that it would be too long again. I had the same problem in every shop I went in, I didn't need to try them on to know that they would be too long. One day I will venture into town again and try some playsuits, but Christmas shoppers got the better of me on this particular trip.

Mission Jumpsuit: failure.  So if any buyers/designers for High Street stores are reading this, here's something for your 2012 to do list: Jumpsuits for shorties.

PS. Can someone explain to me why 'jumpsuits' are categorized under 'dresses' on the websites of several fashion retailers? I understand that they are alternatives to each other, but so are skirts and trousers and you rarely see those categorised together.

Zookeeper (Coraci, 2011)


From the release of the first trailers for this film, it was either going to be really good, or really, really bad. There were mixed reviews about it; some people had said it "wasn't great", but they didn't say it was terrible, so a mountain of turkey sandwiches and some pig-awful Boxing Day TV later, I found myself sitting down to watch Zookeeper.

I had two big issues with the opening scene:

  • He was batting WAY above his average with her
  • WHY would you not want to marry a zookeeper? I would. Not necessarily that particular one, but if the right zookeeper came along...

So yes, a few dodgy hits in the opening scene, and I was dreading what was to come, but I was pleasantly surprised. It may not have the strongest storyline or the most convincing characters, but it is an entertaining way to wile away a lazy couple of hours. There are several throwbacks to Dr Dolittle, and even King Kong, with a the gorilla heroically climbing his way to the top of a bridge to let the zookeeper get the girl. The plot was highly predictable from about 10 minutes in, but so are most Disney films, and people don't complain about them.

Had my stomach not been lined with a couple of cheeky glasses of Buck's Fizz, I may not have been so keen, as I normally can't stand unrealistic films with animals talking and whatnot (my imagination is not as elastic as it used to be), but it managed to raise a few laughs, which is all you need on a lazy Boxing Day.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Ways in which I've grown up in 2011*

  • I wasn't excited about Christmas this year-this means I now have a mental age of more than 8
  • I wasn't excited about the post-Christmas sales this year-I now have a mental age higher than a teenager
  • I've spent more money on food than I have on clothes
  • I've spent more money on alcohol than I have on clothes food
  • I didn't have an advent calendar this year
  • I finally learnt to eat pizza the proper way, rather than crusts first
  • I now understand some of the jokes on The Inbetweeners
  • I know what some of the buttons on the washing machine do.
  • I now know that you don't have to spend money EVERY time you go in Disney Store (although I still tend to make up for it on alternate occasions)

*Mentally/emotionally only; physically, I'm the same 5ft1 I was at the start of 2011

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas specials that never were

When I was a kid, my favourite part of Christmas, other than the presents, was the Christmas specials on TV, especially the comedies. I remember the days (I feel like I should be stroking my beard and looking wise whilst writing this) when, after Christmas dinner, you would sit down to the My Family Christmas special, followed by The Vicar of Dibley Christmas special, then Only Fools and Horses. Those were the good days (another stroke of the beard*). These days, there are no decent comedies on TV on Christmas Day-the only thing I'm looking forward to is the Ab Fab comeback, and I've a feeling that will be bitterly disappointing. Combine that with the doom and gloom of Walford, Weatherfield and the like, and we might as well give up any hope of Christmas cheer right now.

So, I've come up with my own Christmas specials of pre-existing shows, featuring characters past and present. Some of the shows have done Christmas specials in the past, while others haven't. Enjoy


Rachel organises the Santa's Grotto at work, but her Santa drops out last minute so she needs a replacement. Joey steps in, but due to eating Monica's turkey on Christmas Eve, Joey falls asleep and nearly misses Christmas, so Chandler has to step in as Santa, during which time he inadvertently makes some inappropriate comments towards children and nearly gets arrested.

Phoebe tries to cover for Joey by buying a new turkey, replacing it in Monica's fridge where the old one was...but leaves the feathers on.

Rachel and Ross go on a break, during which time Ross remarries.

Waterloo Road

Some major disaster in Rochdale (Janeece's left boob exploding, perhaps?) results in the school hall being used as a shelter for the rough and ready residents. Ruby's elaborate 12-course Christmas dinner is used as ammo in a food fight between two rival estate gangs.

Rachel, the ex-headmistress, turns up in a Sexy Santa outfit, touting for business (turns out it didn't work out with the chef, so she's back to old tricks.)

Ronan Burlely flogs a load of dodgy Christmas crackers, which turn out to have real explosives in.

For the first time, we see footage of Grantly Budgen smiling. Oh, sorry, false alarm, it was just gas from one too many mince pies.

Desperate Housewives

Santa's sleigh crashes into Wisteria Lane on Christmas Eve, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake (I'd be willing to wager that the idea came up in at least one production planning meeting). The reindeer cut loose and munch their way through Bree's roses. This, combined with Bree coming second to Susan in the Christmas cake competition, results in Bree having a minor heart attack and ending up in Fairview Memorial hospital.

People notice liquor beginning to go missing from their houses and blame Carlos (it's been a tough year), until it is revealed that it is in fact the ghost of Edie who is responsible.

Linette, naturally, is pregnant.

Gavin and Stacey

Nessa wins the X-Factor and shacks up with Simon Cowell, who makes a guest appearance for Christmas dinner at Gwen's (turkey omelette, of course). Her hit single "What's occuring" becomes No.1 in many middle and far-Eastern countries. Brin assumes role of her stage manager and refuses to let anyone speak to her unless they consult him first...until Christmas Day. Gavin and Stacey buy him am Iphone and he becomes so impressed with it and convinced that he can conduct his whole life via this one piece of technology that he refuses to leave the house for two whole weeks, until he realises that he cannot use the Iphone to clean the Picasso.

Pam indulges in some lip surgery, which goes wrong and results in her being known as 'Fat-lip-Pam'.

The Vicar of Dibley 

The Coca Cola truck gets lost on its tour of Britain and ends up in Dibley. Owen tries to seduce one of the Coca Cola tour girls. Hugo and Alice, neither having ever left Dibley, perceive the lorry to be some sort of giant cow and begin 'milking' it, to get Coca Cola to give to their children. The 'udder' turns out to be the petrol cap. That one doesn't end happily.

*For anyone who doesn't know me, I don't actually have a beard.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

M and M's world

Bright colours, flashing lights, loud music, you can't miss it!
Famous the world over for highly coveted film premieres, Leicester Square is used to bright, flashing lights and overbearing presences. But even here, the newest attraction should probably come with some sort of warning label;  "May cause epileptic fits, regression to childhood and extreme bankruptcy"
M&Ms World has only been open a couple of months, and is already extremely popular with tourists and Londoners alike. Even if you haven't seen the shop, you have probably seen people clutching the bright yellow carrier bags that state "I'm a mug, who spent a mug's amount of money on a mug". Well, they actually say M&Ms World, but once you get there, you realise it's a synonym.

Making your way through Leicester Square towards M&Ms World, it seems like the safe haven at the end of the proverbial tunnel, an escape from the bustle of central London. Well, until you get inside, and the madness hits you.  Bright, flashing lights, cheesy pop music and a London double decker bus parked in the entrance, not to mention the poor cleaner clearing the vomit off of the rug at the door after some child had one M&M too many.

The staircase up to the top floor houses the first hints that this is trying to be more than just a shop. An entire portrait gallery consisting of M&M characters posing as quintessentially British figures lines the walls. This was taken so seriously that a sign placed upon a podium asked visitors not to touch the portraits. SORRY, forgot this was akin to the Louvre.
Portraits of Robin Hood, Guy Fawkes and Boudicea

This attempt at, ahem, class continued on the top floor, with collectible ornaments, ranging from £130-£700 in price. To an untrained eye, they seemed to be made of little more than resin, although of course they were kept under lock and key as if they were the crown jewels.  It's unlikely that Lawrence Lleweyn Bowen or David Dickinson will be snapping one up anytime soon.
A drop in the ocean at £700 odd. At the most it was 40cm in height.

<<In case you were so overcome with the joy of it all at this stage, that you felt like celebrating (because of course, who wouldn't?)

Just when you're thinking you've seen everything that could possibly be branded, you'll arrive in the kitchenware section. A set of M&M measuring spoons. And even worse, M&Ms spatulas. One in every M&M colour, naturally.

Who wakes up and thinks "Today, I'm going to buy and M&Ms spatula. Because, y'know, no other ordinary spatula will do the job"? You'd have to either really love M&Ms, in which case hey presto, you're in the right place, or really love spatulas. In which case, I don't think there's a right place for you on this earth, my friend.

I know what you're thinking. They've missed a trick here. No M&Ms chopsticks. They could have made a killing on them. Wrong. M&Ms are one step ahead of you>>>

Shower curtains? Check. Soap dish? Yep. Duvet cover? Duh! It's highly likely that every item you use on a day to day basis exists somewhere in this store.

M&M golf ball? Of course.

<<What is this I see? M&Ms golf balls. But only in green. Is this the equivalent to racism in M&Ms world? As if yellow, or blue, or red are simply not good enough colours to constitute being whacked with a metal pole by a man in a crazy jumper? On second thoughts, they probably had a lucky escape.

Below: Dog travel water bottle. I never knew such things even existed, let alone M&M branded ones. It was certainly an eye opening trip.

No need for Fido or Moggy to feel let out.

And there another horror caught my eye. Wedged between the satchels and the umbrellas in the yellow section (because, of course, the shop is arranged by the colours of the characters). M&M underpants. Not even subtle ones.
Mmmmm Schexy
If anyone I know ever wore these, I'd certainly have a new use for the umbrella.

Despite the many nods to the Britishness of it all (the portraits, the plentiful union jacks), M&Ms World has quite clearly held onto its Stateside roots. The whole place oozes an American atmosphere and it wouldn't have been out of place for one of the 'associates' to say "Have a nice day" with that honey sickly grin that Americans wear so well. It's hardly surprising considering the other 3 M&Ms Worlds all hail from the USA.

One ingenious piece of equipment they had were the wet umbrella pockets at the door. Similar to one of those flower bags you get at the supermarket, they were for shoppers to put their umbrellas in as they wombled round, avoiding the annoyance of second hand rain dripping all over the floor. If more places had things like that, everyone would be happy!

If you are a particular fan of M&Ms, or overpriced tacky merchandise in general, this is definitely
worth a visit and you could probably spend a good couple of hours here. If not, it's not really worth a visit unless you're in the area anyway. Some people rave about it whilst others have never heard of it. My mother still thinks I went to a shrine for a rap star.

I apologise for the quality of the images throughout this post. At first I wasn't sure if photos were permitted, so felt like I was running some sort of clandestine operation, trying to subtly snap away whilst pretending to be SO SO interested in all the products. Then I realised everyone was as it, so got snap happy.

Pssst...Another review I wrote of M&Ms world is available here. Y'know, in case you haven't had enough of me yet.

For more Scribbling Lau London happenings, click here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Lucky Charms

For anyone who read and enjoyed my blog post about Froot Loops, you’re probably going to enjoy this one too; it’s the same, but with the king, no, in fact the god of all American cereals. Lucky Charms! (If you didn’t read my Froot Loops post, take a couple of minutes now to familiarise yourself with it.)

Done? Good. The aim of the previous post was to see whether Froot Loops really are as good as I remembered when I was a kid. Truth be told, I’ve already been here a little bit; I had Lucky Charms when I was about 12 or so; looking back now I realise I was still a young whippersnapper, but at the time I was convinced I was a real-proper-grown-up-adult, fondly taking a trip down memory lane to when I was a kid. If I’m truthful, it was a disappointing experience. A bit like going to bed with Owen Wilson and waking up next to Wayne Rooney. Better than nothing, but not satisfying on a surface level. You still get that happy after feeling though; just knowing you had Lucky Charms for breakfast is a good way to put a bounce in your step. There weren’t as many charms as I remember, which was sad. For the uninitiated, I realise I should explain; Charms are the marshmallow bits (think marshmallows, but on a really good day), shaped like rainbows, stars etc., the rest of the cereal is just whole grain pieces, which taste a bit like Cheerios, but old school Cheerios, before they took most of the sugar and good stuff out.

These are the infamous charms. Not sure where the lucky part comes in. You may need some help identifying them:
Top left- Bottom right                                                                    
Shamrock sack                                                                                
Shooting stars (they come in more colours too)                        
Heart (disappointingly, the only one in the pot)
Not entirely sure; a pot of gold, perhaps?

The picture on the right is a rainbow. It is pictured separately because I only found it halfway through.

Whoever cuts and colours the charms has certainly got more slapdash in recent years (or perhaps my ageing imagination has a lot to answer for).

I will also be addressing another question today; do Lucky Charms make a good breakfast after a heavy night out?* I already think I know the answer to this one (no), but we’ll see.

The result? They were gooood. I was pleasantly surprised by how many charms there were. A bit of trial and error eventually led me to believe that one charm to ten wheaty pieces (which probably are still charm shaped but it’s hard to tell) is the optimum ratio. That way, the marshmallow lasts right to the bottom, and the cereal doesn’t get boring.**

So yes, they were good, but I have to confess, I preferred the Froot Loops. Even writing that feels like I’m turning my back on my entire childhood (every time we went to America, we ended up smuggling Lucky Charms back in a suitcase, just so that my holiday could last that little bit longer). That said, I'm still feeling pretty good after eating them. Not the best morning-after breakfast I've had, but nothing a fried egg brunch won't cure.

PS. I feel the need to reiterate again just how good the marshmallows are. They’re no ordinary marshmallows. They’re kind of crunchy, but in a good way, and when the milk hits them, they begin to go soft and dissolve. As with all cereals, there is a science as to when is the optimum time to eat them; you have to wait for the milk to do its’ work on softening them, but leave it too long and it’ll dissolve to nothing.

Also, apologies for the way the photos get shakier as the experience goes on. It’s definitely because of the sugar rush, and is nothing to do with the after effects of last night.

*Note: this question wasn’t planned, but I woke up with a dirty great Willow stamp on my hand this morning. Any York people reading this will know what I mean.
**   Disclaimer: This applies to the little snack pots only. I would be willing to wager that the ratio would be much less satisfactory in a real cereal box packet.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Stratford Westfield-review

Since its opening in mid September, Westfield Stratford City shopping centre has been widely talked about, and on visiting this shopaholic’s paradise, it’s easy to see why.
Some shops still unopened

The centre is home to almost every high street retailer you can imagine, from Primark to John Lewis, Armani to H&M, making it easy to do all your Christmas shopping in one foul swoop. However, it’s disappointing that two months since the centre opened, several main high street retailers such as Disney Store, Oasis, Vodafone and Hawkins Bazaar are still yet to open.

As well as the everyday and designer shops, there are some less well known brands, such as
 French Eye (men’s suits), Pulp (not entirely sure) and Puzzle Club (more calendars than puzzles by the looks of it). Perhaps the most surprising of all is the presence of a full size Waitrose supermarket at one end of the centre, giving more than a brief nod to the target clientele of the centre, and adding a very French twist to it.

Designer labels...
The initial problem on entering the centre, particularly for a first time visitor, is the lack of printed maps that you normally get in such places. Although this is no doubt beneficial for the environment, it does little to help those with a poor sense of direction, and there are not as many of those new fangled touch screen maps as you would expect either. Even coming over the bridge from Stratford station, you are faced with the choice of heading inside or browsing the outside shops first, with little signposting to aid your decision. The centre as a whole was less open plan than the Westfield centre in White City, adding to navigational problems.  Whilst this is fine for browsing, it is not at all helpful if you are looking for a particular shop. The Concierge staff are very helpful, although you get the impression that they have learned directions to every shop, cafe and restaurant off by heart and have been trained to regurgitate such information to you in a robot-like fashion.

The centre is organised much the same way as Westfield White City-all kids’ clothes and toy shops are located in the same vicinity, making for an easier shopping trip that all parents will be grateful for come Christmas Eve.

Champagne bar, anyone? I'll stick to McDonalds thanks.
As with all modern shopping centres, seating areas seem to be few and far between. There was quite a bunfight for a seat in one of the several food courts at lunchtime, a situation that is no doubt going to require nerves of steel for visiting any closer to Christmas. For a more peaceful lunchtime, head to the area near Waitrose, where there are more unique (and hence more expensive, but also less rammed) eateries, such as ElCantara, a Moorish deli and tapas bar. Outside of food courts, seating was also lacking, although a couple of strategically placed armchairs offer lovely views over the outside walkway and towards the Olympic park.
Christmas in John sign of the kid from the ad though!

Staff in all shops are very helpful and attentive, hardly surprising considering the centre has only been for less than two months; their nerves may frazzle entirely during the Christmas period.

The centre is attracting celebrities too-just last night Danni Minogue attended a book signing in the newly opened Foyles book shop, and Justin Bieber switched on the Christmas lights recently.

 Overall the centre is impressive, not least for the fact that they have squeezed so many shops in under one roof. And if you do run out of stores inside, there are further shops outside in the area named “The Street”, plus a cinema, bowling alley, casino and soon a Christmas ice rink too.

The centre is dwarfed by the adjacent casino

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Young Apprentice-Episode 1

Overinflated public school egos, oversized suits and irrelevant shots of London skyscrapers, just for dramatic effect. It can only be a new series of The Young Apprentice.

This mini-spin off of The Apprentice relaunched on Monday, with another group of adolescents keen to impress Sugar and his homies, and it seems the contestants are as egotistical as ever. Their opening statements were all going so well, if cliched (although you get the impressions that whoever scripted them neglected to inform  Mohammed of the relevance of the words "I have a dream") with one young lady proclaiming within the opening sequence "No-one intimidates me because I know I am better than them." Little charmers.

Either Sugar is going soppy in his old age, or he really does have a soft spot for the youth of today. In his opening speech to them he declared "I love you lot" and throughout the episode went on to joke with them more readily than he usually does with the more mature contestants of The Apprentice. It was good, if slightly unnerving to see a softer side to the man behind The Finger.

The task turned out to be making and selling frozen treats for maximum profit. Fairly simple you would think? Yet the girls ended up disposing of a large proportion of their ingredients before they'd even left the factory and fluffing their maths entirely. It was shocking to see Sugar's aide Nick supporting their unethical selling method of putting toppings onto ice creams before customers had the chance to protest, then charging them for the privilege, not to mention charging for the cones.

The boys, on the other hand, opted for the more straight forward method of press ganging passers by into buying ice creams. A couple in particular were overly aggressive in their selling tactics, resembling an East End market stall. Most ingenious idea of the day was offering deliveries of ice cream to sunbathers on the beach.

Both teams ended up slashing their prices at the end of the day to sell off their stock, a move which did little to impress Sugar.

Back in the boardroom, amid a frenzy of shouting and squabbling, it was revealed that the girls had won. Off they went to frolic down hills and leave James and Mohammed to squabble over whose idea the pirate theme was, a scene which became painful and cringeworthy to watch, particularly when Mohammed refused to back down despite there being footage attributing the idea to James the bulldozer.

As it turned out, the words Essex and entrepreneur didn't bond together as well as Mohammed had hoped, as he was on the receiving end of those immortal words "you're fired". Ah well, back to satellites for you, my friend.

My early prediction at this stage would be for Harry Maxwell to win, or at least to go far. He was kept quiet during this episode, mainly drowned out by the immature squabblings of his peers, but he was seen in the background working on the maths for his team with more success than the girls. One to watch, perhaps.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A tiny bit marvellous-book review

A tiny bit marvellous is comedian Dawn French's first dibble in the world of fiction writing, following her autobiography Dear Fatty.

Rather than relying heavily on plot to retain readers, as the majority of fiction writers tend to do, French's writing style alone carries the book. Adopting three entirely different writing styles for Mo, Dora and Peter (Oscar) Battle allows their individual world view to be understood in no uncertain terms. However, in places Dora's chapters are sprinkled a little too liberally with "like" and other such teenage markers.

From the start you very much get the impression that the matriarchal character of Mo is, perhaps subconsciously, based loosely on French herself. Her quick witted ways have strong echoes of Dear Fatty 

French's admirable versatility and extreme talent as both a comedic and serious writer are well showcased throughout this book, which is perhaps not as gripping as French's autobiography, Dear Fatty, but equally well written and deserving of a read.

For more Scribbling Lau book reviews, click here, or to read my review of Dawn French's 'Dear Fatty', click here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Exmoor Emperor

I've just rediscovered this article I wrote this time last year as a satirical take on the story of the Exmoor Emperor (for a reminder of the story, click here). Unfortunately the article never got published in the satirical magazine I wrote it for, so I thought I'd share it here instead. All comments welcome.

As the mystery deepens with regards to the disappearance of the ‘Exmoor Emperor’, more and more witnesses from the country village of Rackenford are coming forward, excited at the prospect of appearing in a newspaper, or even better, this new fangled device called a ‘television’.

“Well my lover” said Jim Newit, local farmer and token country bumpkin, when questioned on his knowledge of the subject, “all I knows is that I was sitting here, watching me sheeps, oh they’re me pride and joy they are, when out of the sky came what can only be described as a very modern vehicle, horse drawn and all it was, and in it sat a portly gentleman wearing a red velvet jacket. I don’t know what language he was speaking, all ‘e said was ‘oh oh oh’ and then muttered something about needing to find the bugger before anyone realised the mistake over ‘Rudie’ at the abattoir. Now my lover, I’m not too sure who Rudie is, but if you’re asking me, it sounds like one of those gangster names from old London Town.  Before I knew what was ‘appenin’ he had bundled the emperor into a giant sack marked ‘toys’ and instructed his herd to fly to B&Q. He said something about needing some red paint to make this cover-up work. Anyway he flew back off into the sky. It was all very sudden, and to be quite frank, I’m not sure I like it.”    

So it appears that the search continues. Local police are puzzled by the description of the thief. “ ‘e must been an outsider” commented head of local police Frank Merton “for ‘e was seen wearing a red jacket and everyone around here is a die hard fan of the tweed look.” When asked whether any forensic tests had been undertaken on the scene of crime, Merton looked confused and muttered something about the criminal’s friends being unlikely to give any information to the police. This is the largest crime ever committed on Rackenford police territory, the full scale police investigation involving all two and a half police officers of the Rackenford force (and a Hereford cow named Bessie, who does the paperwork for the force.)

When Farmer Jones was asked if he had anything to add, he simply asked “Will I be on a television now? We have one in the village pub now and everything, it’s all very exciting, although we’ve yet to work out how to switch it on, like”

Talking clock-Product review

A recent visit to one of my favourite shops, Give the dog a bone, resulted in a rather spontaneous purchase on my part.  A talking clock. How exciting. And in the shape of an apple too!

"What does it say?" I asked the befuddled looking shop assistant, who thankfully is also one of my closest friends, and therefore used to my crazy ramblings, "Does it dish out infinite words of wisdom and inspiration in your darkest hours? Or can you record your own utterances and have them played back to you?"

Actually, the clock tells you the time and the temperature when you press the little stalky button on top. As it happened, I had just relegated my old clock to the drawer, battery-less, for being too noisy, and so I took this as a sign that it was meant to be and purchased the clock.

In theory a talking clock is a grand old idea, one that Wallace and Gromit would have been proud to come up with. In fact they're probably kicking themselves right now that they didn't. Calm down lads, and have another piece of Wensleydale, I see some flaws in this product.

As well as the talking setting, where you press the apple stalk to hear the time, the clock also has a silent setting. If you press the stalk, the screen lights up, showing you the time and temperature. It's one of those colour changing screens, that stays alight for 20-30 seconds going through several colours of light before turning itself off. Either setting is great for people who can't sleep easily with the light of a clock glaring down at them.

The more sharp minded reader will have already noticed the problem with this. In order to see/hear the time in the middle of night, you have to drag your arm out of it's lovely warm position under your duvet, s-t-r-e-t-c-h across to the other side of the bed, possibly across anyone else who happens to be in your bed and press the button. Plus, if it's on the speaker setting, it is liable to wake other people up, resulting in angry housemates. The possibilities are endless.

Some of the instructions are written in questionable English. This isn't an English language student and aspiring writer being pernickity over the odd misplaced apostrophe. Oh no. I quote one paragraph from the instructions

           "when the alarm unseal, it will play the music ring 
when the alarm time arrive the setting time, music will 
continue one minute, it will talk time one time 
when the music talking at last second."

Resultingly, the alarm hasn't successfully worked yet, so no comment on what sound it may or may not make. Not a problem if you're a student who rarely has anyway to be before 11am. Slightly problematic if you're a businessman who must be up at 6:32:23 each morning to catch an overpacked train to a bustling city in order to do a highly-important-yet-top-secret job.

Another annoyance is the voice. It's an American woman, and a highly annoying one at that. There is nothing wrong with American women, or indeed their voices, except that this particular one happens to be annoying. On reflection, maybe that'll make an effective alarm. Maybe we'll never know.

If you're in the market (or indeed, in Give the dog a bone) for a serious clock, then this fruit themed wonder is probably not for you. If, however you're looking for something a little bit quirky, then this clock is unusual and definitely has it's benefits. The annoying American woman is not one of them.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dear Fatty-book review

Dear Dawn French,

I have just finished reading your fabulous autobiography "Dear Fatty". My, you are a funny lady, aren't you? I mean, we all knew that. Who could forget you puddle-diving, gate-hopping, chocolate-munching antics as the lovely Geraldine in The Vicar of Dibley. But who knew that under your smiley, cuddly exterior (I hope you don't mind me calling you cuddly. I don't think you will) there is such a fiercely protective mother, such a devoted wife, such a caring daughter and sister?

It makes such a refreshing change for a celebrity autobiography to not be all me, me, me. Obviously it is largely about you, it wouldn't be a very good autobiography if it wasn't now, would it? But how clever of you to address it to members of your family and your friends, who have helped you to become who you are today. It adds a certain poignancy, don't you think? But so laugh out loud so funny at the same time. Genius.

And of course, it was good to finally learn where your love of Terry's Chocolate Oranges comes from.

May you keep entertaining our nation for many years to come. You and Fatty. Although I've just seen her on the tellybob. Anyway anyway anyway, fab book, keep being funny.

Laura Reynolds (not a nickname)
(age 20)

P.S  I hope you gave Official Tin Voice from the Athletics competition hell. I'm sure you did. That's why so many people like you. That Madonna lady wouldn't have done, she would have been pleased for the attention, and for everyone to see her new face stretching.


Dear Fatty is the fabulous autobiography of Dawn French, Vicar of Dibley, comedienne extraordinaire and all round seemingly lovely lady. She has always been a celebrity to admire, both for her refusal to conform to the stereotypes expected of celebrities nowadays, and for the way she has managed to keep her successful career and family life separate, leading an apparently normal life away from the limelight, and allowing her daughter to do the same. However, Dear Fatty sheds knew light on the amazing strength of this admirable woman, in the face of personal tragedy, blatant racism, and of course mothering a teenager.

If you are familiar with any of the work of Dawn French, you will be able to hear her brilliant comedy voice throughout as you read Dear Fatty. Her brilliant letters aimed at Madonna provide a brilliant comedy angle

Velcro factor: 7/10. There is no specific drama making you stick to reading the book, but as with all autobiographies, you kind of want to fast forward to the bit where she gets famous. And of course, the next punchline is always just over the page.

Humour score: 9/10. Well, she is a comedian, y'know.

Overall rating: 8/10.  Probably not good for reading on a packed train, or anywhere it would be considered unacceptable to chuckle out loud. Oh hell, try it, spread the joy.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Look what I found...

No really, look!


For the uninitiated, (and shame on you) Froot Loops are a breakfast cereal hailing from the grand old U S of A. They're like Cheerios, in that they're round, but with added colour, flavour, sugar and, best of all,  E-NUMBERS!

Stumbling between Covent Garden and Leicester Square yesterday I came across a wondrous little shop called Cyber Candy, selling all sorts of foreign sweets and snacks, mainly from America (Hersheys, for example), and British sweets that you can no longer get elsewhere such as Wonka Nerds, Dweebs and Runts.I actually went in the shop with hopes of encountering Fizzy Jerks, so if anyone reading this knows where I can get some, PLEASE let me know. I had a quick scout around, and was about to leave when I saw them. Froot Loops. Glittering down at me from the top shelf, begging to be bought.

So that is how I came to be walking through Leicester Square with  two beautiful pots of this holy grail, amassing a total of, well, of 84g of the fruity wonderness. I contemplated eating them then and there, but you can't have Froot Loops without milk, so decided to wait until this morning at breakfast. I was, however, extremely worried that they wouldn't be as good as I remember and I would end up with another disappointment of a childhood memory. Mountain Dew was bad enough.

Honest to God, I've never been so excited about getting out of bed. They were literally begging to be eaten!

I peeled back the lid and sniffed, the sweet e-number crammed smell transporting me instantly back to America. Actually, Canada. I closed my eyes and was instantly back in July 1998, the basement restaurant of the Holiday Inn, Toronto, where my lifelong love affair began. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pot was quite full too, having feared that I had been ripped off with pots full of air, a token loop of each colour at the bottom.

Somehow, it didn't feel right putting this holy grail, the epitome of the American Dream, next to a good old British cuppa, so I did away with my breakfast brew. You know it's a special day when that happens.

Once the milk was poured, I was faced with the age old quandary that all dedicated Froot Loop fans will identify with; do I eat fast, as is my tactic with normal cereal, to get to the bottom before the cereal has gone soggy? But you forget, dear reader, that this is no ordinary cereal. The other option was to linger, take my time, enjoy the moment, and wait for that magical bit at the end where all the milk is colourful. Being as indecisive as I am, I took the middle road and ate at an average pace. I successfully finished before the cereal went soggy but was thoroughly disappointed to see the milk had resolutely stayed white. Is the beautiful rainbow coloured milk I remember from my youth nothing more than a figment of my imagination? How saddening.

My conclusion? These bad boys are like America in a pot. Milk colouring aside, they really are as good as I remember, fruity, sugary heaven. I've been bouncing off the walls all day as well. Actually can't wait for breakfast tomorrow!

PS. If you want to find the shop where I bought these and are having difficulty, it's next to a bright pink shop called 'Snog'. Enough said, really.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A sandwich short of a prawn.

You've been good enough to take the time out of your busy schedule to click on a link in some obscure corner of the interweb to get here, so I'll get to the point. M&S have changed their prawn sandwiches, and one is not amused ('one' being me. For all I know, Her Maj is rolling around with joy on the floor of her local M&S food store as I write this, with Philip shouting "Liz, Liz! Has one lost one's marbles?"  If only he'd had the prawn sarnie, he'd know...)

I digress. Prawn sandwiches. Well, for a start, some clown has started putting pepper in there (the condiment kind, not the vegetable kind, not that either is acceptable.) For the joy(?) of this extra pepper, you can add on an extra 25p to the price thank-you-very-much-and-goodnight.

There is also extra mayo. "Extra mayo?" I hear you cry, "What a delight!" and yes, I was tempted to agree with you at first, but having delved deeper into the issue, it seems that this extra mayo is covering something more sinister; fewer prawns.

'I see what's happening here' I thought to myself as one of my few remaining prawns slid inelegantly out of my grasp and into the clutches of a lurking pigeon. They have decided to remove some of the prawns, no doubt to please a certain Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall, and tried to cover it up by adding extra mayo, and the elusive pepper. By the time they were done, they were so pleased with the more wholesome looking final product that they realised they could add an extra 25p for the pleasure of it.

Beware the wrath of the prawn sandwich, my friend. And also the pigeon who watched me eat it, he was kind of big.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The truth about GHDs-product review

GHDs; Misunderstood by men, worshipped by women. And until recently, misunderstood by me, too.

Never having been the most feminine of teenage girls, it was always beyond me why anyone would spend over £100 on a pair of hair straighteners.  The hype that surrounds them has always gone over my head, no pun intended. What makes them different from any other pair of straighteners (except the price)? Surely your hair can only get so straight, regardless of whether you spend £30 or £100 on straighteners? Even now, I can sense pampered and primped women everywhere shaking their heads in despair at my ignorance as I write this.

My limited use of straighteners has always been reserved for special occasions and very bad hair days, however I seem to be very accident prone with them (although on reflection, that is a sweeping statement that can be applied to most areas of my life). I've got through several pairs in my teenage years; Babyliss, Remington, Vidal Sassoon- hell, one pair even exploded in my face, mid-straighten. I've still got the scars from that one, but it didn't deter me in my search for controllable hair. I bought another pair, and kept straightening, hoping for some sort of miracle. All these other brands did an OK job-my hair was always straighter when I finished than when I started, but nothing amazing happened. I guess, then, that it was curiosity more than anything that made me bite the bullet and splash the cash on a shiny new pair of GHD gold max stylers.

Even the process of buying them was daunting; Having seen the adverts full of gorgeous goddesses with naturally amazing hair, and even looking at the sort of people I know who already own GHDs, I felt as if I wasn't good enough to own them, that I didn't have a right to, a fear that I may be laughed out of any one of the overpriced salons I could purchase them from.  I had looked on the website before, so that I knew exactly which model I wanted and didn't make a fool of myself when asking for them, and tried oh-so-hard not to wince at the price as I handed my credit card over, still feeling the need to prove myself worthy of the 'in-crowd' for whom such purchases are normally reserved.

The whole way home I was dying to know- did the secret of good hair now lie within my grasp, my life long search for the holy grail over, or had I just been conned out of £100 for a distinctly average product?

My conclusion? GHDs are different, they do seem to work better, and they leave your hair feeling softer and shinier than other straighteners I've used, although whether this is a short term effect that will wear off remains to be seen. It may even be psychological , just knowing that I have bought a more expensive and highly coveted product. I don't know what the GHD secret is, but I'm amazed they've kept it under wraps and away from competitors for so long. Worth the extra money? In my case, definitely; my hair has become so long, thick and generally uncontrollable that other straighteners were having little effect. GHDs make it more manageable within minutes and, on days when I'm willing to put the extra time in, presentable, which it hasn't been in a while!

In short, I'm a convert.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Thrift shop buzz #2

I've been at it again. I was merely walking past British Heart Foundation this morning, and BAM, next thing I know I'm in the changing room armed with two jumpers and a dress. Fortunately for my bank balance, the jumpers didn't fit, but I did end up with this rather elegant tweed effect dress, a bargain for £3.75!

It's perfect for interviews (which I hope I will get some of soon, or else I'm doing this job hunt thing a bit wrong), or work experience etc. The thing I love about it most is the length. I've always loved dresses like this, but I normally find they are way too long on me and I end up looking even shorter than my already challenging 5ft1. But this one is the perfect length for me, finishing just above the knee, as most dresses of this type should. Lovely.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Just Rosie

Just Rosie is the new spin-off series from Coronation Street, starring none other than the increasingly irritating Rosie Webster, following her dreams of becoming a model. The idea is a good one; draw in younger viewers by giving them a stronger character of their own age to relate to. The spin off series has it's own website, with pictures, videos, a blog etc., all of which help the concept appeal to the younger audience. So far, so good.

Image from website (link above)

The reality, however, is painful. The website is somewhat tacky, and unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of 14.  Click 'play' and you are greeted with a bizarre mixture of over the top special effects, split scenes and pointless layover animations, as if somebody got trigger happy with the special effects buttons.

Bizarre special effects (screenshot from first episode)

 You can tell that the thought was to recreate the ditzy, pink, self-centred world of this wannabe-model, but it's just too much. The show steps away from the usual Corrie formula as well, with strange time jumps and flashbacks, and perhaps most bizarre of all, the character of Rosie directly addressing the camera. And this was just the first episode, I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch the rest.

Directly addressing the camera doesn't fit the Corrie format (screenshot from first episode)

A further thing that confuses me; why are they releasing several episodes at once? Three episodes have been put on the website this morning, and they have all been widely publicised on Twitter etc. If all were being released at once, why not put them together to make one decent length episode, rather than bitty and disjointed 10 minute pieces?

Conclusion? A good idea, badly realised. I can see what they were going for. Had they stuck to the traditional Corrie style, this show could have been a lot more successful, and appealed to older, more traditional audiences too. A more interesting character would have helped as well; a spin off with Sean Tully? Yes!  Norris Cole? Genius! But Rosie is just flat, flat, flat. I can't help thinking this might damage the career of Helen Flanagan, who plays Rosie. Perhaps this is just me, growing old grumpily. Anyone else agree?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Thrift shop buzz #1

As I spend such a large proportion of my shopping time (and budget) trawling through the charity shops of the High Street,  I have decided to keep a record of the items I purchase within these shops. I think it is such a shame that people are still so reluctant to buy from charity shops, or even browse them, due to the stigma of wearing second hand clothes or using second hand items. (More of my charity shop rants here)

My most recent charity shop crawl led to the purchase of two items; Firstly, this gorgeous fluffy pink scarf. It's probably long enough to keep a giraffe's neck warm and it's so soft.

The colours (if you look closely it has a fine gold thread running through it) conjured up romantic festive images with a snow-covered backdrop, so I had to get it, despite already owning hundreds of scarves! There is no label giving away which shop it was originally purchased from, but I'd say somewhere like White Stuff perhaps-I'm guessing it was at least £15-£20. To me, £2.50.

My second purchase was my first ever pair of skinny jeans, and boy am I happy that I finally found a pair that fit. Originally from Gap, they look as if they've hardly been worn. I'm such an odd shape that I resent paying over the odds for jeans that rarely fit well anyway. I've still had to roll these ones up a couple of inches at the bottom, but for £4 I don't mind!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The end of the high street?

Our High Streets are being ravished by an infectious disease, which is spreading from town to town like wildfire, catalysed by the infamous recession, and probably the rise of competitive internet shopping. The disease? Repetition.

Increasingly we are seeing the same chain stores popping up two or three times within the same high street or shopping area. Take York for example. Although it is classed as a city, it is no bigger than a large town. Within this town there are 2 Marks and Spencers stores, 2 Boots stores, 2 Superdrug stores, 2 New Look stores, countless Vodafones, Subways, Costa Coffees, Starbucks and Caffe Neros, and previously there were also 2 Next stores and 2 Clinton Cards, amongst others. To be fair, York has done well to retain a large amount of independent traders too, predominantly due to the touristy nature of the city.

Meanwhile, other previously booming high street stores are being relegated to out-of-town shopping areas-Mothercare being a prime example. These out-of-town shopping parks seem to be the only area of the retail industry that is expanding during the recession. Previously, trips to these places were reserved for visits to the DIY store, or perhaps for purchasing a new sofa.

Empty retail units are a common sight.
Only yesterday, the gloomy voice of a Radio 2 newscaster announced to the airwaves that in some areas of Britain, 1 in 3 retail units is now empty. As some of the high street brands become casualties of the recession, perhaps most famously Woolworths, competition is dwindling. Other brands are stepping up to take a monopoly on the high street, allowing them to increase their prices massively without having to worry about matching their previously dominating competitors, and leaving consumers no choice but to pay higher and higher prices for the most basic of items.

Woolworths was one of the first victims of the recession.
Could this be the end of the high street? Only time will tell. But if we continue to shop online or out-of-town, it may well be.

Some local and independent traders remain resilient.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Animal photos

Here are some of my favourite photos I took whilst working at London Zoo this summer. There were hundreds more, due to the beauty (and curse) that is digital photography.

I absolutely love this one. Anyone who's friends with me on Facebook might recognise it, it's been my profile picture for a while. It was a pure stroke of luck, it started as an average photo of a tiger but as I took it he yawned? stretched? Either way he showed off those beautiful teeth, which make you realise just how dangerous these creatures really are. It amuses me because he looks so chuffed with himself. It's a shame it's not a clearer photo and that I caught the reflection in the glass.

 If you haven't cottoned on by now, I love penguins. Have done since I was little, not too sure why. But these particular beauties had moved into their brand new Penguin Beach enclosure shortly before I started working at the zoo. It was amazing to watch, over the summer, as they became more at home in their new enclosure, and you could really tell that they all had their own personalities. They became so confident that they would swim right up to the glass and if you traced your finger along the glass they would follow it. Right little cuties.

I wish I'd managed to take this one more centrally to get a full shot of both penguins.

I love the way the giraffe is split in two with the fence right down the middle-he was having a cheeky munch of the next door neighbour's (zebra) trees!

I've got a lot of love for the llamas too. They have a knack of pulling the most bizarre and bewildered looking facial expressions, usually with a bit of straw casually hanging out of the side of their mouths, as above.

 For someone who is petrified of reptiles, I actually fell for this mini crocodile guy. He was quite cute, and luckily was lying head on to the glass so that I could take this photo.
Not forgetting Lucifer, everyone's favourite big cat. When he's not happy, everyone knows it! The residents of Primrose Hill often phone the zoo asking them to turn the volume down on the lion.

I got a couple more beauties but I'm planning on entering a photography competition with them, so I'll hold them back for a while