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Reviews Written by
Jeff Walmsley "JW" (Wales)

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars IT'S WATERCOLOUR, JIM - BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT..., 29 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
My one star solely reflects the fact that I am unhappy that these fugitive dyes are being marketed as "watercolours", which some might consider deliberate misrepresentation, or at best disingenuous; the danger is that those new to the subject may be misled into thinking that they in some way resemble true watercolours, bearing names such as Daler Rowney, W&N, Sennelier, and other famous artists' paintmakers. Perhaps in the Czech republic, where these originate, the term doesn't have the meaning it has in the rest of the world...

Pigment names and and numbers together with lightfastness ratings are essential for true watercolour artists - and would-be artists - and their total absence in this case indicates that these are what used to be more properly marketed as "poster paints", fugitive high-strength dyes intended for temporary design work, or recreational work by small children (and sold mostly in toyshops), and which in fact disallow many of the techniques practiced in genuine watercolour art.

That said, they are nice for non-serious playing about with or certain kinds of design work, good quality for that purpose and, heaven knows, cheap enough ! But if, as a beginner, watercolour art is your aim, you will have learned nothing from them; so be prepared to start all over again when you move on to the true artists' colours - just one tiny half-pan of which, in the case of the rarer pigments, can you cost you the same as this whole box. That fact alone should hopefully inspire caution !

So, if a genuine watercolourist you would be, steer clear and obtain proper advice. I feel the product page should make these matters clear.

CAILLER L'Art Du Brut Milk Chocolate with Whole Almonds Hazelnuts and Cranberries (Pack of 2)
CAILLER L'Art Du Brut Milk Chocolate with Whole Almonds Hazelnuts and Cranberries (Pack of 2)
Price: £11.00

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars IT'S ONLY THE PRICE I DON'T LIKE, 27 Oct. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You can't separate a product from its price when conducting a review; and, pound for pound, this must be the most expensive milk chocolate bar I have tasted. That, and that alone, is the reason I don't like it. For just one pound more than the price of 390g of this Swiss product, I can buy TWO 383g boxes of Thornton's Premier Collection, and I know which I would rather have for my money.

I thought the chocolate itself was excellent; but this is so much a subjective issue, that it seems hardly worth saying, and given the disparities in individual taste, I question the advisability of submitting taste-oriented products for reviews - there are surely always bound to be some who's taste it doesn't match ? Fruit and nuts I can take or leave, but here again there are those to whom such embellishments in a chocolate bar are anathema.

This seems to me to be one of Nestle's niche products, and it may be that in its native (and wealthy) Switzerland it has been well known and highly thought of for long enough to have established a secure place for itself as an expensive prestige item; it may eventually do the same for itself over here, given its "posh" French labelling and elegant, expensive-looking packaging (hostess material, you might say), but I doubt if serious chocaholics will be much tempted, especially if they aren't totally dedicated fruit and nut-cases....

The Art of Mistakes: Unexpected Painting Techniques and the Practice of Creative Thinking
The Art of Mistakes: Unexpected Painting Techniques and the Practice of Creative Thinking
by Melanie Rothshchild
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is mistitled; it's not about mistakes - such as the kind of "happy accidents" that watercolourists hope for - it's about freedom to ignore the rules that form the foundation of conventional painted art.

In fact, you could say it's not even about painted art. I paint pictures of people, places or objects; the author paints the very objects themselves. I paint a picture of a table and (sometimes) I put it in a frame, she paints the table itself and likewise the (empty) frame. By my criteria, at least, that's interior decoration, a craft, in other words.

She took a degree in tribal art, apparently, and it would be quite plain from her work that this was her inspiration, even if she hadn't said so. Tribal art is pretty much about decoration, too (and not infrequently has rules...). Of course, where craft ends and art begins is always going to be a matter of taste and opinion, and some of the work she illustrates - work which is possible only in acrylic, incidentally - would certainly fit into the genre passing for "modernism" today, being suspended, solidified dribbles of solid colour in space. And they are indeed quite decorative and in my experience unique.

Her beef, and seemingly the whole stimulus for the book, is that art classes are too restrictive in laying down rules on how you should go about the creative process. Given what she says she always wanted to do with her art, though, you might take the view that she was pretty daft to go to a conventional art class in the first instance anyway - especially since she was apparently already earning good money from her unusual work; or, more kindly, you could perhaps say that she was unlucky in the classes she chose. When I started art classes in my fifties, I was advised beforehand to investigate the tutors to find out if their styles matched my aspirations. Obviously she didn't benefit from such advice.

All that said, there is much that bears thinking about in what she writes (and writes engagingly, too). By and large, I like to play by the rules - they work for me. Nevertheless, although the representational art they all tried to teach us was indeed our aim, I found that none of the classes I attended addressed matters from the point of view of the mature student. All the tutors were art-educated, and they tried to teach us as if we were the kind of 18-year-old art college students they had once been - whereas with few exceptions, the mature beginner's aims, priorities and aspirations are not the same as those of a teenage art student, and require a wholly different mind-set.

So I find myself on a similar although not identical plane to Mrs Rothschild, and I therefore applaud her crusade and admire her work, and whether it's an art or a craft, well, if you like it, who cares ? If you, too, feel that your creativity is being hampered by the rules and conventions, whatever kind they may be, you will find comfort and support in her words, and much to stimulate and encourage bold thinking and, indeed, bold action, even if your artistic aspirations are of a wholly different kind. But unless you're into decorating furniture, boxes and whatnot, you may not find the practical chapters quite so helpful.

Sennheiser HD598 Special Edition Over-Ear Headphones - Black
Sennheiser HD598 Special Edition Over-Ear Headphones - Black
Price: £180.18

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Five weeks ago, I was sent a pair of Bose SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones for review. In the course of that review, I remarked that 20-odd years before, I had paid £120 - a vast sum at that time - for a pair of Sennheisers, which I had loved; but that after many years, they fell to pieces, (because I wasn't as kind to them as they were to me), and the newer ones didn't cut it for me in the same way. But I did pay about the same money for the second pair of Sennheissers - which means that in effect they were a significantly cheaper model. I managed to step on those, too...

And now there suddenly arrives this new pair of Sennheisers to review... what a surprise. Odious comparisons at the ready...

My use for headphones is nowadays limited almost entirely to the electronic keyboard instruments I own. For several years, since I stepped on the last pair of Sennheisers, I've been using the significantly cheaper Audio-Technica ATH-M40X studiophones, and have been moderately, although not totally content with them. My principal test for these significantly more expensive pairs is simple; I plug them into the Lowrey organ with its 12 speakers, and if they sound exactly the same to me as the speakers do, they have passed. The Sennheisers passed this test easily (as did the Bose). In fact, I cannot detect the slightest difference between the naked organ in full spate, and when heard over either of these two pairs of headphones, with its speakers silenced; the same goes for the Tyros 5 keyboard - but both do make my clapped-out, 15-year-old Roland G1000 sound brilliant ! And as far as sound quality is concerned they both therefore match my definition of perfection.

They might not match yours, however. Headphone purchase is a confusing and complex business; you have to know whether you want the kind that excludes all ambient noise - traffic, kids and whatnot - and/or the kind that don't annoy your partner by allowing those irritating tinny noises to escape when he/she is trying to sleep... Worse still, they need to be matched to one's own particular (and very variable) audio sensory capabilities and musical taste - which makes it very difficult to sensibly review headphones for the benefit of others.

For example, my hearing, although still pretty good, is nevertheless ravaged by time, and I have anyway known for over 40 years that it is deficient in the high frequencies; so an equaliser setting acceptable for me may sound atrociously scratchy and hissy to others, even with the best headphones. I'm in no doubt that there are others who are equally deficient in their low frequency sensitivity. I may also be for all I know ! On top of all that, headphones will surely sound different with different sound reproducers.

Aside from sound quality, however, these two products are very different in their practicalities; the Sennheisers are open-backed, which means that you can hear everything else that's going on around you when you're wearing them - which, of course, is no different to when you're listening to your speakers. The Bose are closed, on the other hand, and muffle external sounds to a significant degree (but not entirely). The latter also have leatherette earpads, whilst the Sennheisers are a velvet-like material, which, whilst very cosy, I fear will accumulate dermal oils in time. The Sennheisers are also significantly bigger in every dimension (and therefore 60g heavier, but still very light), and thus sit very easily round large ears; the Bose do - just - cover my ears, but have to be manoeuvered into position in order to do so and are slightly less comfortable in this respect, whilst still not being in the least bit UNcomfortable.

The biggest difference, though, is that the Bose are wireless-equipped, and at the end of the day, that may be the key factor for most, albeit at the cost of an extra £50 at the time of writing; they also come with a very smart zipped pouch, and to my eyes are also prettier than the slightly more chunky and macho Sennheisers - choose your style. And, oh yes ! How could I forget ? Bose wind the wire tags around the cables much more tidily...

Inexplicably, these Sennheisers can apparently be bought in a beige finish, with just one less cable, for a staggering £60 less. At that price, they surely have to be the bargain of the year.

5kg/11lb Capacity; Slim Platform; Liquid/Aquatronic Measurement feature
5kg/11lb Capacity; Slim Platform; Liquid/Aquatronic Measurement feature
Offered by Colanders FBA
Price: £8.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IN DAILY USE FOR A YEAR NOW - CAN'T FAULT IT., 23 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've had this for a year now, and I can't fault it, especially given the price. It's in daily use, and does the job as well as any other. I personally don't like touch-sensitive switches, being very old-fashioned (I tend to touch them accidentally) but it's all a matter of what you are used to. And whilst it does switch off rather quickly, as another reviewer complains, one easily adapts to this and I haven't found it a problem in use - and it does prolong the life of the batteries. I chose it in preference to models using the coin-type batteries, which I hate, being too easy to drop, when they disappear into inaccessible places - and which aren't always to hand, at least in my house, whereas I always have plenty of AAA batteries in stock. Add in a ten year guarantee, presumably displaying manufacturer confidence, and I feel I made a pleasingly good purchase.

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee 454g Beans
Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee 454g Beans
Offered by Aberdeen Coffee
Price: £42.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars SERIOUSLY OVER-ROASTED, 7 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I can only speak for myself, of course, since everyone's taste is different; but I knew I wouldn't like this coffee as soon as I poured out the beans - they were almost black.

Blue Mountain beans should be a pale golden brown; roasting them any more than this destroys the unique fine, sweet and delicate flavour; bought ground, it should be the same colour. All the Blue Mountain I've had previously - invariably, before now, bought in local shops - met this requirement. The bag said "Medium roast". Goodness knows what a dark roast would have tasted like.

CORAL 31303 Paint Brush Set
CORAL 31303 Paint Brush Set
Price: £9.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NOT JUST FOR DIYERS AND DECORATORS, 7 Oct. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My DIY days are long gone; nowadays I only paint pictures. Artists' brushes can be very expensive - The very finest and largest are priced around £1,000 each - and the job I hate most in the world is washing brushes.

£100 is the most I've ever paid for an artists' sable brush; I'm terrified of using it. But even the cheapest 2" artists' synthetic flat brush, and I use these a lot, can cost £20-£30 each - a far cry from this set of ten for a tenner. The fact is, though, that for the less critical stages of a painting - priming a canvas or board, creating a toned ground, washing in large areas and so on - this type of brush will serve quite adequately, and with the cash you save, you can afford better quality finishing brushes.

Odd bristles do come out, but not with every sample; I suspect they are loose bits which have been too short to be gripped by the ferrule, and it's too soon to say if the process will continue. The bristles are plastic, hard and tough - and although they will produce an acceptable graduated wash, they will take the surface off delicate watercolour papers if you press too hard. On the plus side, if, as I do, you use acrylics, then thanks to the plastic handles and bristles, they can be stood in your water pot without harm between sessions, and will clean easier than certain other types with finer hairs.

This type of brush has always been a useful element in my brush collection; and used selectively and with due regard to the purpose, can save a penurious artist a lot of money.

Hallmark Christmas Card 'Let It Snow' - Medium
Hallmark Christmas Card 'Let It Snow' - Medium
Price: £2.30

Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Never thought I'd be invited to review a Christmas card, of all things. In fact, I've been invited to review several, but chose only this one because it's nicely understated.

When Christmas comes, I ignore it, buy lots of books and and hope it soon goes away; I feel I've done my share in that department down the years and should now be allowed some peace... I've renamed it as SSI - Season of Self-Indulgence.

But you still have to remember your friends and family at this time, and this is exactly the kind of non-Christmassy card by which I like to do that. It gets only five stars, however, because it still mentions the word "Christmas" inside...

World's Best Plant Food: Humboldts Secret Golden Tree - Plant Savior, Yield Increaser and More
World's Best Plant Food: Humboldts Secret Golden Tree - Plant Savior, Yield Increaser and More
Offered by GreenSupplies1
Price: £7.00

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Since posting the original review, I've been contacted personally by the owner of the US company which manufactures this product. He declares that my inference that the product is just potassium sulphate and water is simply not true, and that whilst its precise composition is a trade secret, it is in fact a highly concentrated cocktail of plant-beneficial substances, and cites in evidence, inter alia, its dark colour and viscosity. He declares that my review is "not accurate, not true and unfair", but concludes by saying, generously, you might think, that I am nevertheless "welcome to leave it there". Well, I certainly don't want to be unfair, either to sellers or to buyers, so I have felt obliged to edit and expand this review to deal in detail with the manufacturer's objections.

And I can at once confirm the viscuous, dark brown nature of the concentrate, which is clearly not pure water (although I don't believe I said it was; I only described the meaning of the formula on the bottle). In fact, in appearance, it's very similar to the familiar liquid seaweed fertiliser. And whilst maintaining that the full recipe is a "trade secret", the manufacturer has gone so far as to declare during our correspondence that, amongst other undisclosed things, it specifically contains "alginates, kelp, (seaweed in other words) saccharides (i.e., sugars), enzymes, peptides, and silicates".

Even so, I fear I am not dissuaded from my original judgement. I gave this American import one star, not because I don't think it will work at all - its only identified chemical constituent is after all a common fertiliser, for the label says clearly that it is "0-0-2.25" and if you're a keen gardener you will know immediately that this formula means that it consists solely of the "K" part of NPK (the acronym for nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, the three macro-nutrients every plant requires); the numbers are the standard formula to represent 2.25% dissolved potassium and 97.5% water; or in this case perhaps we should say liquid. In other words, the label is telling you ONLY that you are buying 1.35ml of potassium sulphate; and it's definitely not organic, either; it's manufactured potassium sulphate - as it says on the bottle.

My biggest problem is that this stuff costs £7 for 60ml, which makes 12 gallons. By contrast, for £8.36 you can buy 2.5 LITRES of a standard liquid fertiliser for use at the same dilution, which says something like 4-3-8 on the bottle (and tomato growers will know which one that is !), containing 8% potassium - as well as 4% and 3% respectively of the other two equally essential nutrients... You do the maths ! Incidentally, you can buy a kilo of potassium sulfate on e-Bay for £9, although you will have to pay a little more on Amazon.

The needs of all plants have been heavily researched, not just for years, but for centuries, and well documented in thousands of scientific papers, and there is no evidence of "secrets" in relation to growth-promoting elements. In particular, the substances the manufacturer quoted to me are not generally accepted, by horticulturists, at least, as plant nutrients per se.

Firstly, plants make their own sugars themselves, entirely by photosynthesis, so don't need any external supply.

Secondly, alginates are a soil conditioner extracted from seaweed (kelp) and in particular should be used only in special circumstances, and are more cheaply supplied with seaweed fertiliser.

Thirdly, the function of enzymes and peptides is to break down organic matter (ie, rotting vegetation) and help in its conversion to nutrient; so if the soil happens to be deficient in such organic matter, there is nothing for them to work on; and if you are already supplying NPK and/or trace elements artificially, there is obviously no need to boost this soil activity anyway, which will proceed naturally at its own pace.

Finally, "silicates" is a very wide definition indeed - they form the majority of the earth's crust ! The only kind with plant benefits I'm aware of are zeolites, which, like most of the other constituents, are used as a soil conditioner, but also have a role in making slow-release fertiliser. Zeolites soak up soil nutrients and release them slowly; so the initial effect would presumably be to deplete resources, unless applied fully charged. In solid form, they have a good reputation in certain agricultural applications - if applied at up to two tonnes per hectare... But in dissolved form, as alleged here, they are hardly known.

I have a few other problems with the marketing, which doesn't inspire confidence. They tell you on the bottle that it should be added to your normal fertiliser - so how can you know whether it's this stuff or your normal fertiliser which is doing any real job ? And if your "normal" fertiliser is 4-3-8 NPK, why would you want, or need, to add separately another small amount of K ?

The label on the bottle claims prominently that research has proved the value of potash (the common word for potassium, dating from the days when it was derived from wood ash, ie, pot-ash). Quite true; but, rather speciously, it doesn't mention that the research was done one and a half centuries ago in the context of NPK.

The remarks on the bottle that it will make your trees grow better is preposterous. The only time when you can effectively feed a tree is when it's still in its pot, or is growing as a seedling with roots close to the surface. And the one thing they don't tell you is that excess potash is very bad indeed, and can be lethal, for Azaleas, Rhodos, Hydrangeas and other acid-lovers.

I have pointed out to the company that there is too much of this sort of thing going on in the fertiliser world, with supposed special products for this plant and that, and claims for secret ingredients unsupported with scientific evidence. In practice, just like all humans, all plants have the same basic nutritional needs, and one appropriately-weighted NPK plus micronutrients/trace elements (which conscientious manufacturers always list in detail on their labels), is all you will ever need. The only proper course, from the consumer viewpoint, is therefore absolute transparency as to the true nature and content of the product, and, where non-standard ingredients are concerned, the employment of independent scientific testing, analysis and certification as the appropriate way to gain consumer confidence.

BTW, Humboldt is a county of California, where the manufacturer has its business, presumably named after German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, born in 1769, who spent a lot of time in the Americas, and who had no secrets worth knowing by gardeners. I have since noticed many other seriously-overpriced imported fertilisers under this brand; I shall stick with British proven VFM...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2016 9:38 AM GMT

Braun PRT1000 High Speed 3-in-1 Thermometer
Braun PRT1000 High Speed 3-in-1 Thermometer
Price: £8.66

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)

Although it carries Braun's distinguished name, it's another of those items manufactured by the ubiquitous Kaz, who licence the use of Braun's name. It appears to have a confused lineage; the manual says only, "manufactured by Kaz Europe"; the instrument itself says it's designed in Germany and made in China.

Although there are many "declarations of conformity" with this and that, I found no declarations about the precise degree of accuracy - it just says it's "accurate". Given the relatively wide variations in "normal" body temperature, the likely incidence of poor reading techniques and the fact that it's declared to be solely for domestic use, perhaps that's sufficient. The manual is in tiny, closely-packed print, no consideration having been given to the elderly and others who may be sight-impaired. I used a magnifying glass.

The instrument is supposed to beep on "ready" and to emit a further ten beeps when the reading has been taken, when the small letter C on the display will also then stop flashing. My hearing is good, but I could not hear the beeps unless I held the instrument close to my ear, and, of course, when taking your own temperature, you can't see whether the tiny C is flashing or not. Worse, far from being "easy to read" as claimed, the display window is too small for the LED - the top of the letters is obscured. You can guess the 36 easily enough - but the decimal digit could be either a one or a seven. You can just about make out the top of the numbers if you hold it at an angle with a good light light behind you.

The manual declares its service life as a disappointing two years; but the battery service life is given as only one year - and we are told we cannot replace it without a "standard tool" - whatever that is. I could not remove the battery cover manually.

Since before WW2, my temperature has been taken, when required, with a mercury medical thermometer, first by my parents, and then by me when I inherited it. The mercury column is hairlike, and now difficult for me to read, or to detect whether it's been "shaken down" enough; inadequate viewing window apart, this digital model is an improvement in that respect - but the 80+ year life of the mercury thermometer - so far ! - compares rather poorly with the possibly only one year life of this digital model.

Following the instructions to the letter - and you'd better do that with ANY type of thermometer if you want the best result - three successive oral readings varied from 36.1 to 36.7C - yes they were .1 and .7 ! Two readings in quick succession produced 36.1 and 36.4. Some of that variation could be down to faulty technique. If you're used to the old standard of 98.4F, as most of the elderly are, there's no conversion table supplied, but you can find it on the internet if you're so equipped.

I'm not excited by it, and it doesn't seem to be designed with the elderly or single person in mind, and the obscured LED display seems like poor attention to detail; I'm also not enamoured with its throw-away nature; it's cheap enough, I suppose, but that's not the whole point.

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