REVIEW: Win a copy of Rip it up!

Macmillan have kindly sent me two copies of self-help manual Rip it up – one to review and one to offer in a competition.

So if you leave a comment under this post, being sure to use your correct email address, I will draw names from a hat on Friday and get in touch with the lucky winner to ask where you want your copy sent.

The book is an interesting take on self-help and I guess they needed to send me two copies because, if you read the book and follow the instructions, bits of the book won’t be there for its next reader. The idea is that the book wants you to change your habits, and it starts out by getting you to change how you see books. Suddenly it’s OK to commit the most heinous book crime, and tear out a page!

The book is by Richard Wiseman, professor of the public understanding of psychology at Hertfordshire University, and once the initial task is out the way the (entirely readable) first chapter delves into the academic history of the theories the book is hoping you can use to change your life for the better. Following the exercises, it’s apparently possible to become a better, more productive thinner person. Imagine!

If you too want to become better, thinner, and more productive, remember to enter the competition by leaving a comment.

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Reading for pleasure

(It’s odd and disproportionate that two blog posts in a row should be about stuff I’ve been offered for free as a result of blogging but hey ho!)

During our PGCE it was often said that we knew which children would prosper most at school: it was those that read for pleasure. And certainly reading for pleasure was a strong feature of my own childhood and definitely something I do whenever my leisure time outweighs my commitments. Definitely, a holiday wouldn’t be a holiday without a small mountain of trashy detective fiction.

But again during our PGCE there was a point when we were discussing reading and a class of us were asked to raise our hands if we a) liked reading for pleasure and b) were managing to do any during the course. We all liked reading; next to no-one was still doing any when the chips were down.

It’s true for me still. I had planned to ensure I read a book during half term if I did nothing else, but just didn’t get around to it. Any leisure reading I do do is attempting to make a teeny dent in feedreader: blog posts. Lolcats. And that’s about it.

Perhaps as the work/life balance is slowly restored towards life as and when I end up being a more experienced teacher, I’ll manage to get into a more sensible routine. Maybe one that means I’m in bed by 9pm and I read for an hour. At the minute that barely seems possible.

This week, the Folio Society sent me a book, a super wonderful edition of Fahrenheit 451. It has a real feeling of luxury – the book has its own box; the paper feels sturdy and good quality. There are a series of illustrations as well. When I finally find time for reading for pleasure the quality will enhance the pleasure no end.

Dining in the dark #TLRblindsupperparty

Every now and again something weird drops into my email and I just shrug and think that sounds interesting, lets do it. Vanishingly rarely I’m offered something to review, or an event to go to, or something to write about. Much more often, it’s poorly written and sometimes downright discourteous PR posts from people hoping to use my blog’s tiny amount of SEO clout and I just ignore them. But sometimes it’s an offer of something tangible.

And so last week I was invited to a soirée to sample a new menu at the Living Room in Hockley, Nottingham.

This is a place I have been to twice before. Once to film day after reaction pieces and menu unveilings for Come Dine With Me, and a second time last year for our PGCE Christmas meal. The first time I boggled that they had a bottle of cognac for £2500 on their menu, and the second – well, as an impecunious student I wasn’t hugely impressed at the value for money of their Christmas party offering.

This time I plus one was invited to a Blind Tasting of some new menu items, which sounded rather interesting, never having done anything like that before. It was on a school night, but it was early and promised only to last an hour, so I thought I could just about cope with balancing the work and the opportunity to go and do something a little different.

We arrived a little late as my Plus One got held up in traffic and I dashed straight from work to home to the event in my school tie and suit. Arriving, we went into the bar and found in progress a cocktail making class with a large group of people huddled round the bar learning how to make an amaretto sour from a barman keen to show off his flair. Unsure whether that was part of the event we hung around behind them watching until my companion wisely suggested we check upstairs in their main dining room to see if they were there.

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Indeed they were, and they were champing at the bit to start, we by then being ten minutes late to something they’d urged us to be punctual for. We were hurried to seats, time to barely exchange names with the people next to us, and then put on our blindfolds.

The evening was fascinating. We were given tasters of lots of different food across the menu. Blindfolds on, food served, empty spoons / pots / glasses whipped away and then we could take off the blindfolds and answer in writing a quick quiz with very specific questions: what is the sauce with the duck? What meat is in the shepherd’s pie? Name three ingredients in our Glamorgan sausages.

The technicality of eating what you can’t see was fab, and half the times our hands had to be guided by our unseen waiting staff right onto our food. “Hold your hand in a cupping motion!” and then they placed a shot glass with a cocktail taster right into your fingers.

And with no sight of what you’re eating, it is really disconcerting. There were a number of times when I was chewing a mouthful with no thought really other than this is pretty tasty but I have no idea what it is. I did find myself pondering colours. What colour is this mystery food? Because the plates were removed before we could take off the blindfolds we didn’t even know that!

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When the quizzes were marked and we got to know the answers, one thing that really did surprise me was that I had been unable to identify or even notice that at least two of the things I had eaten had things I think I really don’t like in them. “What are the ingredients in this tart?” was one question. I had identified the huge sloppy splash of something that came out of the tart and landed on my tie when I bit into it as honey, but had been oblivious to the fact that the main ingredient was butternut squash, which I thought I hated. The fish course was served with broccoli; I had no idea and thought it was cabbage!

diningindark

Somehow I managed to end up with more points than my fellow guests – although many of the points I got not from being able to taste ingredients, but having prior knowledge of what is in things. I have made Glamorgan sausages, so I know what is typically in them; I know you make a daiquiri with rum; I know what to expect on a cheeseboard so if I’m stumped for ideas I will write brie, cheddar, stilton… and somehow this clocked up to a winning score, which netted me a dinky little trophy and the adulation of my fellow diners.

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After it was all over we invited downstairs for a free drink and then there was an opportunity to actually talk to our fellow diners, who turned out to be representing Experience Nottinghamshire, Noshingham and Nottingham Confidential. Quite how I ended up in such illustrious company is anyone’s guess. Talk turned to our experience of the Nottingham restaurant scene and we had quite a few minutes on whether Hart’s is better than World Service. (they thought yes, I think no. Both have amazing lunch time offers as well as the expensive à la carte evening offer) It’s a shame talk didn’t turn more comprehensively to the mid-range Nottingham restaurant scene rather than the high-end, as I think that’s a much more diverse market.

All in all, it was a very agreeable evening and the taster foods we had from Living Room were definitely delicious. Highlights for me in particular were the duck in plum sauce, the Glamorgan sausages and their delicious new pudding the Basil Grand, a sort of Eton mess with Grand Marnier and, yes, basil. Basil. In a pudding. Sounds crazy but was delicious.

REVIEW: Kindle reading lamp

The other day, out of the blue, I got an email asking me if I would like to review a Kindle case, lamp or cover, along with a handy link to a site called GearZap.com

I’ve been blogging on and off for seven years, now, and I don’t recall this ever happening before, so actually, I jumped at the chance.

Very quickly, they put my chosen Kindle light into the post and I got it the following day.

I needed one because when I first got the Kindle, I eschewed the basic Amazon cover with light in favour of a funkier sort of thing, like this one. When the Kindle arrived, I understood what the light was for. Like traditional books, you can’t read a Kindle in the dark. (The sleeve is indeed funky, has a very soft protective lining, is much more interesting than a boring leather one, and I like it a lot.)

Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but when I took the Kindle camping, it was much more so. I turned at first to a book light I had once won in a Christmas cracker years ago, but this suffered four problems: its rough metal clip scratched my precious kindle; the cheap reflector cast irritating shadows all over the page; it was powered by weird unusual batteries; and worst, despite being originally designed for books it was useless for them as you had to keep repositioning it when you switched from recto to verso.

GearZap sent me an XtraFlex2 Kindle Reading Light – and it’s really good. It instantly fixes all the problems I had before. It has a padded clip that will not harm the finish on the gadget. The high-quality lights and reflectors cast a very strong light in exactly the right place, and the gooseneck allows fine tuning to position it properly. The light is almost as bright as my mains powered bedside light, and it will be very good indeed in a tent. Used with actual books, the twin LEDs in the light head are angled to cover both pages of a book without having to move it. And it takes normal AAA batteries that won’t be at all difficult to secure next time I find myself in a tent, getting carried away, and reading all night.

I’ve never yet seen a review of this type of light with an actual picture of the light attached to the Kindle, so to put that right, here we go:

Kindle light

And this highlights the one slight problem using this light with a Kindle – the deep clip isn’t quite designed to fit the device (unlike, say, this one, which is clearly intended for exactly this product). It is not an insurmountable problem: you can clip the light enough to work at the top, or you can use the full extent of the clip halfway down as pictured.

Kindle light

So, fast delivery, quality product – what more could you want from a supplier of Kindle covers with lights?

One final point: this type of device, a personal book light, is often sold as a way of letting one of two people who share a bed continuing to read after the other has fallen asleep. This might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for us. I’m the late reader, but P is a light sleeper. Attempting to read in bed wakes him up. I could sleep through earthquakes, so if ever he wanted to read after I fell asleep, I’m sure it would be fine.