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not_a_real_folkie "not_a_real_folkie" (Farnham, Surrey, UK)

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Leaving (Bailey Flanigan Series)
Leaving (Bailey Flanigan Series)
by Karen Kingsbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Possibly one for the layeez... the Christian laydeez, that is, 15 Feb. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you haven't come across her previously, Karen Kingsbury is an American institution who almost seems to be woven into their Christian sub-culture. If you *haven't* come across her, you may be slightly mystified by this book, as I was.

The opening pages don't exactly set the pulse racing, reading more like an excerpt from a U.S. church magazine. "We'd like to thank Marnie Burgerburger for donating $100 to the New Church Hall fund..." (or words to that effect). The Acknowledgements section reads like an Oscar winner's speech (" amazing agent...") and after 22 pages of preface material, I found myself falling, exhausted, into page 1 of the novel proper.

The thing with Karen's books is that you know what you're getting (if you're in the know, that is). Strong, wise leaders. Well-meaning (but very American) people toiling with difficult decisions. Inspirational thoughts and Bible verses drifting into the text as if beamed down from some heavenly fortune cookie. The vibe seemed a little bit like 'Desperate Housewives', with less adultery and more spirituality. My wife thinks they're wonderful novels but, as a bloke, I found it rather hard-going.

To give KK her credit, I think it would make a lot more sense if you've read the preceding books in the Cody Whatsizname series. Coming in cold, and with possibly the wrong gender, I decided that I was not in the target demographic for this book, and that I probably shouldn't criticize. It's probably wonderful - ask a fan.

Tom Tom Club - Deluxe Edition
Tom Tom Club - Deluxe Edition
Price: £10.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Deluxe (2CD) edition, 10 Feb. 2012
This is a copy of a review which I posted on Amazon in 2009 but which seems to have disappeared... this is for the 2-CD "deluxe" edition of the album:

2 pieces of context which should be borne in mind if you're reading this review - 1. I came to the Tom Tom Club late and so heard "Close to the Bone" before discovering the first album in the mid-80s, hence CTTB has always been a personal favourite, and 2. Despite all the "Island 50" celebrations, it's hard nowadays to imagine just how cool Island Records were in the late 70s and early 80s - the B52s, Marianne Faithfull's Broken English, Grace Jones in her prime, The Slits, Bob Marley... they could do no wrong. Tom Tom Club's Island recordings fitted into this lineage perfectly.

So, the Tom Tom Club album sounds magnificent and as well as the hits sounding superb on this remaster, the less well-known tracks are punchy and bursting with sunshine. L'Elephant and On, On, On... sound excellent. The bonus mixes and "Under The Boardwalk" are a slightly mixed bag; I've always loved the funky feel the band gave to Under The Boardwalk, but less keen on the smoothed-out remixes of Lorelei and On, On etc. The B-side of Wordy Rappinghood also seemed more of a novelty to me then, and still does now. Nevertheless a life-affirming album done justice at last.

Close To The Bone on CD is of course a real catch for those that love the album. I got almost scared to play the vinyl album in case I damaged it, but now it's here and sounding wonderful. Aside from the long, dance-y tracks (1 and 5 on the CD), the shorter songs are all consistently punchy and still great fun - despite the reported change of 'vibe' during the recording sessions. "Bamboo Town" is one of *the* coolest reggae tracks, and a must for a long, sultry summer's day. "Never Took A Penny" is chunky and solid, "Measure Up" disguises grown-up lyrics behind the usual saccharine-coated vocals of the Weymouth gals.

The bonus tracks here are all good - 12-inch and dub versions of the singles released from CTTB ("dub" here meaning proper dub, not the dull instrumentals that usually got rushed out under that name in the 80s). The Mr Yella version of "Yella" is "Genius of Love" with Robert Palmer shouting and rapping over the top - bear in mind that he was in his experimental "Is It Live?" phase at the time this was recorded, rather than the Mr Smoothie mode that came later.

Immense fun and the closest thing to bottled sunshine you'll get from Amazon this - or any - summer.

You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain
You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain
by Tim Moore
Edition: Paperback

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive reading, repulsive food, depressive places, 1 Feb. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There must be something about Brits and failure; we just love to catalogue the 50 worst songs, the 100 worst TV programmes, the 25 worst films ever... Tim Moore took this premise by the scruff of the neck and set off on a tour of the places voted the worst in the UK (by the makers of "Location, Location, Location" and a number of other surveys). He threw in a couple of personal nominations for good luck and set off in an R-reg Austin Maestro called Craig, accompanied by an MP3 compilation of the worst pop songs ever. Along the way Moore elected to stay in the worst hotels he could find, and sample the most extreme local 'delicacies' that were laden with salt, fat, calories, sugar or any combination of the above.

Moore's writing style is light enough to keep you interested, and alternates between resigned cynicism and sympathy for the inhabitants of the places he visits. Some are victims of incompetent civic planning (the "new towns" now festering in concrete hell), others of industrial decline (the once-great 'heavy industry' cities of the midlands and north of England). Others are just plain...naff or dull (tacky seaside resorts gone to seed). In all these, Moore never forgets that there are people living there, and doesn't just score cheap laughs from wanton literary cruelty.

I found the book addictive reading, and after I'd finished it, really began to miss Tim as my guide, and Craig as my virtual means of transport. Just occasionally the writing style jarred slightly, usually when a four-letter expletive barged into a perfectly good sentence that was managing to be very funny without the help of a swear-word. Bill Bryson fell into the same trap, I recall. Perhaps it was the 'Ozzy Osbourne' sat-nav voice that Moore chose to direct him on his journey... I don't know.

In short, original, compelling and fun. Connoisseurs of rubbish things should not hesitate to click "Add to basket" immediately.

there's someone following me / (instro) / echo 12
there's someone following me / (instro) / echo 12

5.0 out of 5 stars Best version of a lost classic song, 25 Jan. 2012
Electro/pop/cabaret duo Eddie and Sunshine weren't your typical early 80s band - see my review of their "Perfect Strangers" album on Amazon. This single is noteworthy because it saw one of their best songs ("There's Someone Following Me") being given an extensive overhaul. It was remixed by Hans Zimmer, but the vocal was re-recorded as well, and this lends the song's delicious paranoia an extra layer of bemused menace. Eddie sings, "It happens late at night/Walking through the fields/I turn round and suddenly.../There's someone following me", and the picture in your head is complete!

The 12-inch mix has an extra 'whistling' instrumental verse and indulges in some typical early-80s swishy synth noises to pad it out to about 5 minutes, but overall makes for a very satisfying listen. It's much better than the LP version of the song.

The B-side has a dull 'instrumental' (i.e. one of their normal songs with the vocals turned down) and the album track "Echo". Stick with Side A for one of the eighties' lost gems in its best form.

Victoria Wood Presents... [DVD]
Victoria Wood Presents... [DVD]
Dvd ~ Victoria Wood
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very very funny in places - just the odd lull, 20 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Victoria Wood's celebrated and popular "As Seen On TV" was going to be a tough act to follow - and I remember, at the time, being impressed that she didn't just keep milking the same format ("Did you have to bring udders into this?").

There are six 30-minutes playlets on this DVD and there are some really priceless moments that will crease you up and, like another reviewer here, our household has adopted several lines from these episodes as catchphrases. No Monty Python dead parrot lines needed when you can have, "Reading it out slower does not make it any easier to do..." etc.

Best bits here are (as far as we're concerned) the health farm, the package holiday from hell, the camping/youth hostel adventure and the gruesome stereotypes that inhabit the daytime TV episode ("Over to Pam"). Julie Waters' monologue of malapropisms as boss of "Pinkneys" health hydro is a comedy classic.

These episodes are very dear to my heart, so it's hard to be critical. I would perhaps say that there are occasional lulls in the humour (for example, in the health farm episode, there's a scene in the sauna that just kind of ambles along without really raising a smile), and sometimes Victoria's direct-to-camera witticisms seem a trifle forced and hurried - as if we're seeing "Take 47". But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to enjoy here, and the good bits massively outweigh these tiny gripes. And that in itself sounds strangely like a line from the health farm episode...

Much of this comedy is not immediate and grows on you with repeated viewing, so give these a chance and break that Acorn Antiques habit!

200 One Pot Meals: Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: 200 One Pot Recipes
200 One Pot Meals: Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: 200 One Pot Recipes
by Joanna Farrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good things from small book, 20 Jan. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first thing that struck me about this book turned out to be fairly unimportant - it's quite "compact and bijou" (i.e. pretty small). However, apart from getting lost on my kitchen shelf amongst the heftier volumes from Good Housekeeping, Jamie, Ainsley, Nick, Nigel and their ilk, it's been a useful source of one-pot recipes.

The recipes are classified by fish, poultry & game, meat and veggie - and I found it easy to home in on the sort of thing I needed for a particular meal. Each recipe is illustrated with a fairly 'honest' photo of what the end result should look like. One or two "serving suggestions" and fancy crockery offenders, but on the whole the pictures are OK.

The recipes themselves are in the 'easy' to 'medium' complexity bracket for an amateur cook. On average I'd say the ingredients lists will occasionally have you heading to Customer Services in the supermarket to locate a particular exotic ingredient, but there's nothing willfully obscure involved. The methods are all reasonably straightforward and don't involve show-off TV cook tricks. Quite a few of the recipes offer alternative twists on the same theme that you can try (e.g. a couple of the meat dishes have a vegetarian version at the bottom of the page), so it's worth checking through all sections before deciding on a particular dish to cook.

So, all in all: manageable recipes, good clear instructions, decent photos, the odd fancy ingredient... and the dinky format doesn't really matter a great deal in the end.

Alice In The Cities [1974] [DVD]
Alice In The Cities [1974] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rudiger Vogler
Offered by MediaMine
Price: £5.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to Wim Wenders - A Brilliant Road Movie, 16 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Brilliantly evocative travelogue riding on the back of an equally intriguing story concerning the attempt of a flared-trousered troubador to return the juvenile Alice to her unknown home in Germany. The story shifts from sharply-observed 1970s America to an atmospheric trawl through a number of european cities. Watch out for the scene filmed in a café in Wuppertal - it's inspired! It looks a bit like your holiday video in places, but perhaps its appeal lies therein; Wim Wenders sees and films the world as you see it and, given the requisite talent, would film it. Certificate U - suitable for all.

The extras on this Axiom DVD are excellent - an interview with Rudiger Vogler (Philip Winter) and Yella Rottlander (Alice) who recall with great warmth the filming of the movie, the atmosphere on set (Wenders sounds like a thoroughly decent chap!) and their personal highlights. Rottlander recalls being wrapped in a blanket when the cameras weren't rolling, and feeling that the cast and crew were very protective of her, almost like a family. Vogler, incidentally, agrees with me about the Wuppertal cafe scene I mentioned above and, as another reviewer has pointed out, relishes what is NOT said, rather than what is.

FX Factory 1 Amp USB Mains Charger for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, HTC, Kindle, Tom Tom, Navman
FX Factory 1 Amp USB Mains Charger for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, HTC, Kindle, Tom Tom, Navman
Price: £5.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't make tea. Charges USB devices., 19 Nov. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
USB was a great wheeze, replacing both the unreliable RS232 serial connection and - that generator of overpriced cables - the parallel interface between computers and peripherals. USB had one other trick up its sleeve: a 5 volt electrical 'live' pin that could supply power to the external gizmos connected to your computer. Cue the USB charger, which ditches all that tiresome computing power and settles for just supplying the 5v line. Perfect for charging up (or powering) your iPod, Satnav, phone etc.

This model is about the size of a 13 amp UK plug - it couldn't really be much smaller and still plug into a mains socket. It looks as if it's made in the UK and has an address in Greater London printed on the box, but I suspect it's the usual Chinese product. The box has some prime quality "Engrish" printed on it (E.g. "Our mains come with 2 year guarantee" and "Made with the strong PC material..." - that's polycarbonate to you and me).

Benefits are: compact-ish size; intelligent charging circuit that prevents overcharging; up to 1 amp output can charge 3 or 4 USB devices if you have a USB splitter or adaptor; 100v - 240v 50/60Hz input means it will work abroad with a suitable mains adaptor.

Downsides: No instructions, just a tiny label that I struggled to read; the blurb on the box claims "LED Charging Indicator" - but the snazzy blue LED comes on whenever the unit is plugged in and switched on, not just when it's charging; Engrish on the box is slightly offputting (but no big deal).

In summary: it charges USB things quite nicely, seems to be well-made ("with the strong PC material"), so I'd recommend it.

Into the Woods
Into the Woods

4.0 out of 5 stars Work of genius...once you get past the 80s keyboard sounds, 5 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Into the Woods (Audio CD)
As succinctly described by the previous reviewer, The Call's 1987 album is almost a concept piece, or "song cycle" on "the Dark Night of the Soul". Opening track "I Don't Wanna" is misleading (you imagine some pampered rock star whingeing about all the things they 'Don't Wanna' do... but in fact it's an existential howl of frustration) and the sense of desolation and desperation builds towards the album's centrepiece "The Woods". This song uses the metaphor of walking into a deep, dark wood to represent a kind of spiritual dark cloud descending upon the writer (and singer, 'cos it's the same bloke, Michael Been). As he goes deeper into the woods, he realises he's not alone and cries out - not to a Gruffalo, but to a "sinless child" to "save me", which I took to be a reference to Christianity.

The songwriting is brilliant throughout, but I struggle to get past the truly horrendous mid-80s keyboards, which are very high in the mix and sometimes threaten to spoil otherwise excellent songs. An example is "Expecting", which builds from a gorgeous oboe intro, adds urgent electric rhythm guitar and bass, but then tries to peak with a big, plasticcy chord on a Yamaha Whatever-it-is keyboard that's not quite as majestic as it thinks it is, promptly losing the excitement of the build-up. Many of the other tracks suffer from similar keyboard-itis and I think you need to look past that to the quality of the songs, and Been's impassioned vocal performances and lyrics, to really appreciate this record.

This album is (in my view) a lot stronger than its predecessor "Reconciled", and has more personality and character than 1989's "Let The Day Begin", which saw the band changing record labels from Elektra to MCA. Meanwhile, walk into the dark woods with Michael Been if you dare...

Braun Oral-B Professional Care 500 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush with Floss Action Brush Head
Braun Oral-B Professional Care 500 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush with Floss Action Brush Head
Offered by home-bargains
Price: £59.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Cleans well - not convinced about the 'floss action', 25 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This rechargeable toothbrush is identical to the tried and tested Braun Oral-B Professional Care 500, but claims to feature a 'floss action' head. You get one head included with this pack, and then you can buy replacement packs of eight heads for around £15 on Amazon. That means you could convert your old-skool Oral-B 500 into a floss action wonder-machine by buying a pack of these floss action heads.

Positives: Teeth feel clean and the toothbrush seems to be very well-made. The design sits in your hand and doesn't slop about while you're cleaning your teeth. It's impossible to overcharge it (and thereby ruin the battery) due to a cunning charging control circuit so it should last for a good few years in regular use. The 'floss action' replacement heads are no more expensive than the bog-standard ones.

Negatives: I'm no expert in dentistry, but I find it hard to believe that four little yellow prongs on a toothbrush head can be as effective as pukka dental floss. The instructions don't go into a lot of detail, so we're left with subjective impressions - your teeth feel clean, but I'm not sure I'd trust it to get right into those tiny gaps between teeth.

Another opportunity/challenge/issue/problem with this model is the "timer" feature, which interrupts brushing every 30 seconds by momentarily turning the brushing motor off and on again. It's supposed to tell you to move on to the next 'quadrant' of your mouth; if you're running late in the morning it can be a real wind-up! You're only losing a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity - and the feature can't be disabled. Added to which, the dental hygienist at my local practice told me that they divide the mouth into 6 sections, not 4... so the whole concept starts to look a bit shaky. But mostly it's a wind-up when you're in a rush.

Overall: 7 out of 10. Does a very good job, as long as you're realistic about the claims made for 'floss action'... and don't mind that blessed timer!

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