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Kerry Marshall (Britannia)

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Relaxwell by Dreamland 16083 Luxury Heated Reversible Throw with Intelliheat
Relaxwell by Dreamland 16083 Luxury Heated Reversible Throw with Intelliheat

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely disappointing., 26 Oct. 2014
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I'm astonished at the glowing reviews of this item here (which misled me). I can only assume they do not have the smaller standard size Dreamland Relaxwell electric throw (costing £33-£44) to compare it with.

I have had the smaller one for over a year & am very happy with it. So I thought I should have a spare, and went for this larger size, at over double the cost.

Trying it out, I found a distinct lack of warmth, and suspected a defective item.

So I laid it out on the carpet, switched it on, and set it to high heat for 20 minutes.

Testing it by touch, I found the heat only present in a rectangular area in the centre of the blanket. Then I discover the reason why - the electric elements are only present in this smaller area; the large borders are completely element-free!

Laying my small throw on top & comparing, I find the two element areas are exactly the same! So the manufacturers are ripping people off, charging an arm & a leg for blank fleece with no electric elements in it!

I have no idea if the retailers are aware of this.

I have currently contacted the supplier pointing out these issues, & requesting a return & refund.

by Antony Beevor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un-putdownable, 6 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Stalingrad (Paperback)
An incredible story, by an outstanding storyteller. Stalingrad must rank with the Battle Of Britain as one of the major game-changers, the heroic epics, of World War II.

Others have provided more scholarly reviews of Beevor's book, so I have little to add. Suffice to say that although he writes a history (from Germany's invasion of Russia, to the annihilation of her Sixth Army), he engages your attention as might a writer of crime or spy thrillers. I never find his text dry. It is vibrant and succinct, with an attention to detail which nicely fleshes out the picture, but is never overdone.

Beevor's genius is to do the hard miles of research into numerous texts & sources, and collate it all into a compelling narrative, which I found un-putdownable.

After 18 months of advance, 2000 miles deep into the Russian hinterland, the German Army experiences the elation of success, rolling in Panzer columns unopposed across the vast Russian steppe (prairie) between the rivers Don and Volga. It is midsummer, shirtsleeves and shorts weather, with letters from home, and another major victory anticipated, as they approach Stalingrad, the model Soviet city, commanding the river Volga, & funneling Russia's vital war materials shipped from Britain & America, through Iran & the Caspian Sea.

They find Stalingrad's defenders ferociously stubborn, despite massive aerial bombardment reducing the city to rubble, and so a second Russian winter falls upon them, along with exhaustion & frostbite. They have little inkling that the Russians, thought to be on their last legs, are preparing, under Marshal Zhukov & Generals Chuikov & Yeremenko, a massive, audacious & devastating counterstrike.

Beevor has a knack for putting you in place, as he sets the scene, on both sides, in the run-up to 19 Nov 1942, when Zhukov's forces were unleashed, up to 100 miles to the rear of the German spearhead in the city. Two Soviet army groups, attacking on both German flanks, manned largely by Romanian, Italian, & Hungarian divisions, and more vulnerable than the central German divisions.

After 18 months of defeat and retreat, the Red Army at long last has its opportunity for retribution against the invader. Beevor states that on this day:

"For those who took part, it was the happiest day of the whole war, including even the final German surrender in Berlin".

Amazing Health Unscented Microwave Neck and Shoulder Warmer
Amazing Health Unscented Microwave Neck and Shoulder Warmer
Offered by Amazing Health
Price: £10.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Does the job - for awhile, 26 April 2014
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After a course of acupuncture for a shoulder issue, the therapist placed a warm wheat bag on my shoulder and neck, which aids blood flow & healing. I subsequently bought one to use at home, supplied by the company "Physio Med" - £15 approx. Excellent product. Thousands of wheat seeds wrapped in cloth with outer corduroy bag. You pop it in a microwave for a few minutes to heat it up.

Looking for a replacement a few years on, I found Physio Med now to be part of Patterson Medical, who no longer supply this type of bag, so I bought this one from Amazon, as it looks almost identical to the (black) PhysioMed model.

Initially, it does the job, but is of lower quality in terms of heating power. It is much thinner than my old one, containing maybe 60% wheat berries. This means it holds less heat to start with, and so cools down far too quickly.

Sadly, the excellent PhysioMed products seem to no longer be available, looking at Patterson's website, so this will have to do, and frequent visits to the microwave are in order.

Patterson do sell a neck bag, but it is expensive (£36) and is itself smaller (950gm) than the PhysioMed (1400gm). Ah progress!

Basic Dutch: A Grammar and Workbook (Grammar Workbooks)
Basic Dutch: A Grammar and Workbook (Grammar Workbooks)
by Jenneke A. Oosterhoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.39

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent supplementary Dutch textbook, 13 Mar. 2014
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This is not really a beginners' book, as Dutch structures and linguistic twists are dropped in right from the start. But it is really outstanding if you have already made some headway in Dutch and have mastered some of the basic principles.

I got about halfway through the excellent grammatically-based "Teach Yourself Complete Dutch" & "Hugo Dutch in Three Months", when I realised I could do with a bit more vocabulary, and more practice in building basic conversational sentences.

Oosterhoof fulfils this need in a way which goes way beyond "conversational" texts, as she introduces Dutch by using words in groups where they are part of a theme. This is something I've never encountered before in any language I've tackled, and find it quite amazing! For example, A typical teaching block on page 35 starts with the title:

"Order of Events - First, Then, Afterwards, Next, Following that, Further, Finally" where the Dutch words are given for the English ones I've listed.

Then there's a little paragraph in Dutch, describing a simple scene, where each sentence will contain one of these similar words, followed by the English translation:

"FIRST, he drinks coffee & reads the newspaper from cover to cover. THEN he goes jogging a bit. AFTERWARDS he goes to the market with Sanne. NEXT, he washes the car. THEN, he does some chores around the house, and LASTLY, he watches TV with the family."

If you ever look into memory improvement courses, you'll find they always emphasise the need for ASSOCIATION. We can remember better when things are associated together, and the author's grouping of associated words, rather than strict grammar or casual conversation is a real winner for me.
The above example occupies but half a page of the book, which gives you an idea of how much the book is packed with these "useful little sentences".

(The other block on the same page covers the associated words for "always, usually, often, sometimes, seldom, never" )

Unfortunately, no accompanying CD, but this is easily remedied by producing your own recordings. Something fairly straightforward with any cheap MP3 player (or phone?) possessing a built-in mike. My MP3 player records audio as WAV data, which produces largish file sizes. These are easily converted to the compact MP3 format using something like the free "Audacity" audio editing software.

Of course, you need to have a half-decent Dutch accent to produce a worthwhile recording, and that's probably the major challenge! And why using another text first is essential.

EDIT: A word of caution. It IS "a Dutch grammar" & you will find grammatical terms used throughout the book. For example, the chapter on adjectives refers to "predicate adjectives", which may throw you if you have not had a grammar-based education (and even if you have!). But Oosterhoof always explains these terms clearly, with simple examples, before they are used.

The Dalkey Archive (Flamingo Modern Classic)
The Dalkey Archive (Flamingo Modern Classic)
by Flann O'Brien
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and pedestrian., 13 Mar. 2014
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I bought Dalkey, after having read O'Brien's surrealistic masterpiece "The Third Policeman", anticipating more vivid imagination and inspired writing. Oh dear.

It starts promisingly, with our hero Mick encountering the villain de Selby, who has decided to eliminate the unworthy human race, using a substance he has concocted, which removes all oxygen from the atmosphere. A side-effect is that it also eliminates time, and so de Selby and Mick spend time in an underwater cave, all oxygen removed, wearing breathing apparatus, where de Selby talks to religious saints like St Augustine.

And here I got my first warning. The conversation with St Augustine is long-winded & theological, & I had to skip to the next chapter. The remainder of the book is really quite pedestrian writing, entailing a long slow meander as Mick endeavours to thwart de Selby's plans. The only imaginative passage from then on is the strange theory expounded by Sergeant Fottrell about "mollycules", whereby he holds that extensive riding of bicycles results in a mingling of the molecules between bike & rider, with amusing results.

However this is not enough to rescue the book, nor is Mick's subsequent recruitment of James Joyce, whom he unearths quietly retreated from the world as a simple barman near Dublin. His conversations with Joyce are like the Augustine sequence, filled with theological meanderings concerning Catholic doctrine, and tedious.

In fact the final chapter featuring Mick and Joyce could well have been written by a rather dull 16-year old schoolboy, so lacking in substance is it.

If you're an O'Brien fanatic (and some are) then you might read it for completeness, but don't expect anything much from the philosopher/scientist de Selby, whose thoughts run madly through "Third Policeman". After the intriguing beginning, he just peters out, as does the book as a whole.

Tales From The South China Seas: Images of the British in South East Asia in the Twentieth Century
Tales From The South China Seas: Images of the British in South East Asia in the Twentieth Century
by Charles Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evoctive romantic first hand accounts of Empire, 3 Nov. 2013
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This is a lovely book, a companion to "Plain Tales From The Raj", and "Soldier Sahibs", where Charles Allen gives us access to those people who actually lived and worked in the British Empire.

As others have said, extremely evocative and romantic, showing how young British officials, fresh out of university, were thrown in at the deep end to administer the far-flung reaches of the world's greatest empire.

I love the descriptions of the 3-week journeys out from Britain by ship, where last-fling affairs occurred between these young men and new wives out to join their husbands, the descriptions of the smell in the air, the new winds, as the steamer entered the South Seas...

Or the wonderful description of how the British dealt with their awesome responsibilities for administration, thousands of miles from their homes, and often with no-one to assist them apart from a few local recruited officials - hundreds of miles from any military force, despite what today's empire-bashers would have us believe.

Then there is the dispassionate way one account describes the official duty of visiting the remote tribes in Borneo and Sarawak the only way possible - by river canoe, where after days of travel you sleep with your hosts under one roof in their "Long House", together with all their livestock below, and dogs which run around and over you at night, knowing that "if you didn't get to sleep straight away, you never would..".

The famous British phlegm and humorous stoic acceptance of duty are also revealed when called upon to adjudicate in local disputes, when even the British sense of duty and integrity are stretched to the limit by the "barrage of perjury" from both sides of a case.

A truly entertaining and precious book, and a must read for all of the current generation brought up to believe that the British Empire was only wicked and exploitative (while happily absorbing the admiration we are routinely shown for the Roman, Greek, Ottoman ... empires).

The Golden Age of Zen
The Golden Age of Zen
by John C.H. Wu
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, historical, and inspirational, 26 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Golden Age of Zen (Paperback)
This is truly a unique book, practically being given away used at Amazon. I bought my original copy many years ago.

The author covers the years 638-958 A.D. in China, with each chapter devoted to a single Zen master of the day, comprising a potted biography, quotations from the man's teachings, anecdotes, and John Wu's added interpretation and explanation of some of the more cryptic Zen utterances.

The background is always a rural setting, in the mountains of ancient China, at a time when the flowering Chinese Zen Buddhism produced its greatest masters, including the formidable Rinzai (Lin-Chi) founder of one of the two branches of Zen (Rinzai and Soto) which persist in Japan to this day. I myself lived in a Japanese Rinzai monastery (Ryutaku-ji) during my own Zen training.

The book is really a must for any student of zen, full as it is of inspiring quotes from these giants of Zen history, although the reader can skip over much of John Wu's own interpretations and explanations - these are understandable as he is a scholar after all, and has done us a great service in collecting virtually the whole zen lineage under one title, complete with lineage chart.

My reservations about his comments are fullest in his chapter on the great Lin-Chi (Rinzai) himself. He misses a lot of the master's teaching, and really includes too much of his own ideas. If you read the "Rinzai Roku" ( Book Of Rinzai ), you will find what John Wu has left out, essentially Rinzai's admonition to be independent above all else, and not be "driven around by the deluded ideas of others". How valid such teaching is today, and how profound, in an age when there is so much conformity around us once again, after the consciousness revolution of the Sixties, and its rejection of materialism and herd-like thinking.

Nevertheless, the book is a precious gem, illustrating the simple nature-based existence of these great men. You can see the Taoist contribution to Zen in such anecdotes as:

A monk asked master Yün-men " Who is my True Self? ", to which he replied

"The one who roams freely in the mountains
And takes his delight in the streams"


D'Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light  (.012-.053) Acoustic Guitar Strings
D'Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light (.012-.053) Acoustic Guitar Strings
Price: £6.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding sound!, 18 Aug. 2013
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I have hitherto always relied on Martin phosphor bronze light gauge for my acoustic guitar, but after reading reviews decided to give Daddario a punt. And I must say I'm very pleased with the result. A couple of weeks on, now they have "settled in" I can fully appreciate the sweetness of their sound. (Of course it helps to have a good quality guitar as well....).

Very clear, very melodious, and plenty of volume, despite the light gauge. I often play with the bass string dropped to D, and wondered if I'd pay a volume price for the slightly finer 6th string at 0.53. Not so. Cannot fault them in any way.

Panasonic RP-HV094E-K Black In-Earphones with Neodymium Magnet
Panasonic RP-HV094E-K Black In-Earphones with Neodymium Magnet
Offered by iShop Crystals
Price: £3.14

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Damn good earphones!, 18 Aug. 2013
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I wanted to replace my previous broken phones, and the problem always is that you are buying blind. There's no way today you can try out various models, and customer reviews, although helpful, always reflect specific customer taste.

These phones are pretty good for "working phones" use with good bass levels and a very clear response all round. It's extremely hard for a non-audiophile like me to fault them. All I can scrape up is a single occasion when I felt the treble on a snare drum sounded rather "tinny".

However, I've listened to lots of music & speech recordings since, without noticing anything untoward, and in fact have gone back and bought more of these (as a safeguard against them being withdrawn/superseded).

These are really very good for the price.

Heavy Weather [VHS] [1995]
Heavy Weather [VHS] [1995]

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why oh why no DVD BBC?, 18 Jan. 2013
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Fans of P G Wodehouse will find this BBC production of "Heavy Weather" a delight. The casting is superb, as others have said, and the directing spot on, with timing and delivery of Wodehouse's inspired dialogues top-quality.

I cannot understand why the BBC never issued it on DVD, or why they in 2013 are now screening a rather inferior version in "Blandings", to the disappointment of Wodehouse fans nationwide, judging by the blogs in the online media. Some episodes are quite good, but there is a tendency to overacting, and "caricature" acting, wholly absent in this earlier production.

I feel slightly guilty at having snaffled the last one available in Amazon marketplace a year ago, after I'd dusted off an partial VHS home recording of the original showing that I'd caught at the time.

Now it is safely copied to my DVR hard drive, I feel honour bound to make it available to everyone else via YouTube. But this will be a test of techie skills. First burn the DVD off the DVR, then copy it to the PC, then convert its format to avi Windows format, then edit it into 10 minute chunks, then find out how to get them to YouTube.

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