Category: Mixed Reviews

DAYS OUT: 100 years of the RAF at Cosford Airshow

RAF Cosford hosts a huge airshow at their base in Shropshire every year, but this year’s was bigger than ever as it celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the RAF. It fell on the weekend following my Mother in Law’s birthday and, as she loves flying and planes (she always says she wishes she’d have been brave enough to join the airforce in some capacity, but it wasn’t the done thing when she was young) we bought tickets as part of her birthday present.

The event was sold out and the motorway was very busy on the approach, so the journey took us longer than expected. We set up our camping chairs and rug just as the flying started at 11.30am. The weather was absolutely glorious, the atmosphere was chilled and relaxed, and we saw some great displays, including some Top Gun type fighter jets (the roar of the engine was deafening!) and, of course, the Red Arrows.

There were also lots of static aircraft on display, some retro cars, lots of food and drink stalls, memorabilia stalls, simulators, personnel ready to answer questions, and planes you could queue up for and climb into the cockpit (I didn’t – I thought I might get stuck, can you imagine the shame?!)

 

 

 

It was fun to do something different and there were moments of sheer wow – the jet fighters gave me goosebumps. For such a big event (there were apparently 60,000 people there) it still had a small event feel; everyone was just out to enjoy themselves, it was well organised, good toilet facilities and plenty to see.

Have you ever been to an airshow? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading, x

DAYS OUT: Cardiff Castle

This week I had some emails telling me that Friendsfest tickets are on sale for this year. I guffawed loudly and remembered how crap it was last year – so overpriced and underwhelming (you can read about it, with pics, here). It didn’t help that we’d driven 100+ miles, from Birmingham to Cardiff, for the “privilege” and that it was one of the husband’s birthday presents.

Huge fail!

In an effort to make the day less of a fail we also went to Cardiff Castle, which was 10 minutes walk from Bute Park where FF was hosted. And honestly? That was a disappointment too! As a castle lover I was very much looking forward to visiting but I felt that it was overpriced (£12.50 per adult, for basic entry, plus an additional £3.25 for the house tour). Much of the castle has been rebuilt in more recent years, so it feels like it lacks authenticity (I like my castles gnarly and ruined and grand). The Norman keep was the best bit, in my opinion, as that’s what my idea of a castle is, and it’s a bit of a rip off to charge extra for the house tour considering how little else there is to see and do compared to other Welsh castles that charge much less for entry (we didn’t do it on principal and because it struck us more as entering into stately home territory, which isn’t really our bag).

It’s fair to say I wouldn’t recommend it unless you happen to be in the area (don’t make a special journey); there are much more interesting and striking castles in Wales.

On that note, here are some pics!

 

 

 

 

Have you ever been to Cardiff Castle? What did you think? Am I doing it a disservice?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Film recommendation: Vacation

If you’re in the market for a genuinely funny, laugh out loud comedy film that isn’t too long or too challenging – just easy watching and full of giggles, may I recommend Vacation?

Released in 2015 (what? I never said it was a new release!), I’m only aware of it because the husband flagged it to me as something he wanted to watch. As a long time fan of the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation films with Chevy Chase (his favourite Christmas film is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), he was intrigued to see whether a 21st Century version would have the same comedy genius as the 80s films of his teenage years. Not quite a remake, this version follows Clarke Griswold’s son Rusty, who’s now all grown up and married, with teenage kids of his own. Wanting to recreate the happy family memories of his youth, Rusty and his wife (played by Christina Applegate) and 2 sons set off on a cross country roadtrip to Wally World.

Vacation film

Of course the trip is not without incident; starting before they’ve even driven away in their Albanian hire car, and continuing with Korean sat nav, a cringeworthy paedophile incident, poo and a cameo appearance by the original Griswold parents Clarke and Ellen.

Oh, and Chris Hemsworth is in too, looking mighty fine!

As I said, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, lots of comedy gold and some scenes borrowed from earlier films; all wrapped up with a modern spin. Great for if you need a break from Christmas films (sacrilege, I know!) or you fancy a backdrop of sunshine rather than snow with your laughs.

Have you seen this film? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading, x

 

Hotel Review: Ettington Park

I can’t believe it’s been a year since our lovely friends got married at Ettington Park – part of the HandPicked Hotels group – and I got to be bridesmaid <insert generic “where has this year gone” statement here>

I also can’t believe I never got round to reviewing and sharing pics of the hotel. I only realised when I was trying to free up some storage on my phone and came across them.

So, a year to the date after the event, here it is!

We arrived earlyish on Saturday afternoon to a very warm welcome. The building itself is very grand and gothic; approached by a long driveway and surrounded by acres of grounds.

We stayed in an executive room overlooking the hotel entrance.

Ettington Park room view

The room was a really good size, with a separate lounge area, traditional wooden furniture and fireplace, and a good size modern bathroom with that all important powerful hot shower!

 

The hotel is very opulent throughout, with intricate details like the ceiling in the library, where we had dinner the night before the wedding.

Ettington Park library ceiling

The staff were, without exception, incredibly friendly and helpful, going out of their way to make everything special. On the morning of the wedding, as we dined in the opulent dining room, we asked for a bloody mary to go with our food. The bar wasn’t open by that point (don’t judge us!) so the waiter went and found a member of staff to open it up and make our drinks! (mind you at around £10 per drink it was probably in their best interests – that’s a helluva mark up!)

As I mentioned, the hotel is set in acres of grounds – it’s so big that there are bikes available to hire to go and explore!

Ettington Park bikes for hire

Within the grounds are the ruins of a gothic abbey, which is where our friends tied the knot. So atmospheric.

The food at the wedding breakfast was incredible. Mass catering always comes with a risk, but everything was perfectly cooked, tasty and flavoursome. Again, the service couldn’t be faulted.

Want to see more pictures from the wedding day? The original wedding post is here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

HOTEL REVIEW: Holiday Inn Penang

When I think of the Holiday Inn chain, I don’t think of them as a beach holiday hotel, but the Holiday Inn Penang in Batu Ferringhi was absolutely perfect for our needs. Situated in the heart of the resort, the hotel is made up of two buildings – the beach side (which is around 6 stories high and has the main check in reception, restaurant, pool and access to the beach) and, across the road, the tower which is 24 stories high and has a salad bar, games area, gym and children’s play area).

The two buildings are connected by a walkway over the road, for safety and ease of access. During our stay there was some work being done on the beach side, with the bar closed for renovation, but everything was boarded off and it didn’t interfere with us in anyway.

We arrived in Batu Ferringhi at around 11am after a looooong journey and it was already in the low 30s and incredibly hot. I’d emailed the hotel in advance to ask about an early check in, because the official check in time wasn’t until 2pm and they’d said they would try to accommodate us. There wasn’t a room available as soon as we arrived, so we had a wander, had a drink, and an hour later not only were we able to check in, but we’d been upgraded to a balcony room on the 14th floor of the tower building, overlooking a wooded hillside from where we used to hear monkeys and birds chattering from dawn til dusk. The room was huge, with incredible air conditioning (an absolute must, as humidity levels were through the roof), a massive and super comfy bed, lots of storage space, a big marble bathroom with separate shower cubicle and the afore mentioned balcony with a table and two chairs.

Holiday Inn Penang bedroom

The staff were, without exception, an absolute asset to the hotel. Everywhere you went people would say hello and smile, and not in a fake way, they genuinely seemed happy to see you. That was actually the case outside of the hotel too, the people on Penang were absolutely lovely and so welcoming and proud of their country.

Breakfast in the hotel was served on the beachside – the restaurant was partially indoors, partially undercover, and partially outside facing towards the sea so you could choose where you wanted to sit each day.

Served buffet style, there was quite literally something for everyone! From sausages, baked beans, doughnuts and pastries, through to Malaysian curry and noodle dishes (traditional for Malaysian breakfast – I enjoyed being able to eat such spicy food in the morning without being judged!), cereals, an egg station where you could have eggs cooked fresh in front of you anyway you chose, including omelettes, fresh juices, fruit, cooked meat and cheese – it would be impossible to not find something you liked to eat. Again the restaurant staff were very friendly and efficient, and the whole area was incredibly clean and well looked after, with that beautiful sea breeze coming in from the beach.

The pool was an OK size and pool towels were provided free of charge. I can imagine that in high season it would get very busy, but we were slightly out of season so there were always sunbeds available on the days we chose to chill out rather than sightsee. There was the option to sit in the gardens too, looking out to sea.

The beach view, accessed through the gardens, was rather lovely!

The outdoor bar was a nice touch, and we enjoyed a cold glass of wine or beer after a day out, or before heading out to dinner. Prices were very reasonable, for food too, not overinflated as you would usually expect in a hotel.

We couldn’t have been happier with every aspect of our stay, and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone.

Have you ever been to Penang? Let me know…

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

The Moseley Decline into Commercialisation, part 2 – Prezzo

You may remember a while ago (in what actually turns out to be more than “a while” when I looked back at previous posts) I wrote a review about Pizza Express in Moseley (where I live), which had caused great controversy by arriving in what is traditionally a very “independent” area and daring to lower the tone of the village into high street chain territory (!!!) My conclusion was that they hadn’t done a great job, and I wouldn’t be in a rush to return. Which is why I’ve been putting off going to Prezzo, which opened at a similar time.

I’ve never been to a Prezzo before, but last week curiosity got the better of us so, armed with Tesco vouchers for “free” food, we decided to check it out.

Wow!

When expectations are low it’s not difficult to surpass them. I had honestly pre-judged Prezzo on the standards set in my head by Pizza Express, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The restaurant is large – it used to be a Halfords service and MOT centre which I used to use, so I’m familiar with the space and location.

There’s an attractive outdoor terrace and a big interior which has industrial elements, lots of light, lots of mirrors, cosy intimate booths, small tables, good lighting and an open kitchen area to the rear. The décor is really well done, the whole place has a high end feel that I hadn’t expected.

We were greeted warmly, shown to our choice of table (it was late-ish on a Thursday evening so not very busy) and given menus. Prezzo has an Italian focus so there are lots of pizzas and pasta dishes, alongside some chicken and fish and a range of side dishes too. The kind of place where there’s something for everyone.

I ordered an Aperol Spritz to drink ( a new find of mine!) and the husband ordered a Negroni.

I nipped to the loo and when I got back the husband regaled me with one of the best acts of customer service I’ve ever known in a restaurant. After delivering our drinks, the waitress returned to ask if everything was ok, and the husband said he wished he hadn’t ordered a Negroni, because he didn’t like it (he’s never tried one before). The on duty manager came over and told the husband to order another drink of his choice, and that he wouldn’t be charged for the Negroni. He didn’t want our visit to be spoilt by a bad decision. How amazing is that? (I was all for drinking the Negroni as well, but apparently that would have been bad etiquette).

Next came the food – starters of crab cakes for me (delish, with a tangy garlic mayonnaise for dipping) and giant meatballs for him (also delish, made from a mix of veal, beef, pork and pancetta; oh and how we laughed at giant balls, we’re nothing if not immature).

Main course was a “posh pepperoni” pizza from the Prestigio section of the menu for the husband (crisp, light, fresh and oh so tasty) and Chicken Calabrese for me, with a side of truffle fries which were new to me, and an absolute taste sensation.

Neither of us had any space for dessert, but were both in agreement that we’ll most definitely return. We spent £40 in vouchers on food (which, with Tesco’s clubcard boost was only £10 worth of points) and £13 cash in addition, plus a healthy tip for such great, friendly and welcoming staff.

Great experience, that has made me very hungry whilst writing this post!

Are you a Prezzo fan?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x (more…)

PRODUCT REVIEW: Loreal Magic Touch

I’ve had a few silver hairs near my hairline since I was in my mid 20s, and they’ve never really bothered me that much because they’re not noticeable, and anyway, I colour my hair. In the past couple of years that “few” has multiplied to “a few more” and they’ve also sent an invitation to some of their friends in my parting (as wonky and changeable as it is), and although I wouldn’t class myself as “going grey” <<shudder>> there’s no denying that they’re there. And sometimes I just can’t be assed to colour my hair (winter makes me lazy, don’t judge, ‘kay?) but I don’t want them glistening at me through my ebony locks (that sounds super romanticised, for what is actually Bitter Sweet Chocolate from the Schwarzkopf Live range).

Anyway, I spotted Loreal Magic Retouch on special offer in my local Boots, and at £5 (instead of the usual £8.99 price tag) I thought I’d give it a go.

I bought the black shade, because my hair is as near as dammit, certainly more black than brown, and got super excited at the prospect of not having to dye my hair as often (I told you, lazy). Here’s what the blurb says:

The pinpoint micro-diffuser precisely targets greys and the rich colour pigments give you perfectly blended coverage. Our 1st instant root concealer spray, Magic Retouch conceals greys and roots in just one quick spray – when, where and how you need it. 3 seconds to flawless roots!

Perfectly matches and blends with leading shades, even salon colour

From light blonde to black hair

Lasts until washed out

No transfer, lightweight formula

Up to 30 uses

How to use

Shake well before use.

Keep the product upright.

Apply to dry, styled hair.

Hold can approximately 10cm from hair & spray roots in a light stream.

Don’t overspray. A small amount is enough.

Allow to dry before touching your hair.

Oh, and it also says to keep out of the reach of children, but seeing as I don’t know any kids who are suffering the affliction of early aging, that shouldn’t be a problem.

So, the instructions say to hold the bottle 10cms away from your hair and spray, but if you do that at your roots, your face is going to get sprayed too, right? Even with the nozzle, which is supposed to make application more targeted, you still get splodges on your forehead (as ably modelled by myself here in a before and after stylee, you’re welcome).

See the speckles on my forehead on the right? That’s overspray on my forehead, not a batch of freckles.

The colour itself is ok, it certainly blends in well with my (non) natural hair colour although it didn’t give complete coverage. I suppose you could apply more, but it does make your hair feel a bit powdery and claggy, like dry shampoo but obviously you can’t brush it out as you do with dry shampoo because that would defeat the object of the colour molecules. And, despite it’s claims, it doesn’t last until you next wash your hair. After a night in bed mine had completely worn off (although it hadn’t stained the pillow, which is a plus, so not sure where it actually went?!)

To conclude, I’m not overly impressed and I don’t think I would buy it again. I’m just going to have to be less slovenly and start dyeing my bonce more regularly instead!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

The Moseley decline into commercialisation, part 1 – Pizza Express

I’m not technically supposed to support Pizza Express expanding into where I live, because Moseley is and always has been a village that prides itself on supporting independent retailers and being a bit different to your usual High Street.

In fact, when Pizza Express announced it would be opening a restaurant, local campaigners and Moseley stalwarts were up in arms (they seem to forget that we already have a Wetherspoons, a Boots and a Sainsburys local).

I, on the other hand, was quietly delighted (shhh, don’t tell anyone) because it means I can use my Tesco clubcard points to pay for food! I’m nothing if not cheap!

On a serious note though, it’s much better to have thriving businesses than empty premises, and one thing Moseley does have a habit of doing is pricing itself out of the market with high rents, so it’s no wonder that chains with big bank accounts are going to find their way in.

I’ll start by saying I rate Pizza Express pretty highly. OK, so it’s not an authentic Italian experience. But I find the food to be good, with lots of choice, low calorie options and the (few) restaurants I’ve visited have always been quite quirky and cosy with a nice feel. So I had high hopes.

The interior has been designed in tribute to Frederick W. Lanchester, who lived in Moseley and ran a factory at nearby Sparkbrook. The Lanchester Motor Company Ltd was started by Frederick and his two brothers in 1899 and elements of the restaurant’s design take inspiration from the early Lanchester cars, including the large air inlet grills.

Which is a really nice idea.

Imagine, therefore, my disappointment to find that the Moseley restaurant has no charisma. Personally I just found it bland and lack lustre. It’s overly bright, there were only a couple of other diners (not their fault I know, but the atmosphere was non existent), the waiter was too cocky and overly friendly for my liking (I enjoy a bit of banter with restaurant staff but this was too much), and the décor was quite insipid.

Almost worst of all, their Christmas tree was pathetic!

What a missed opportunity (and I don’t just mean the tree).

The food was ok, standard fare, we tried the Christmas special starter of a Manzo croquette and some calamari (is it just me who thinks the starters are very overpriced? If I hadn’t been paying in points I’d have definitely questioned the value). There was a special offer on for a free dessert with a starter and a main course, but we were a bit too tipsy full after our starters and pizzas, so we asked the waiter to give our desserts to an elderly man and his son who were also dining (I did ask them if they wanted them, didn’t just send them over unannounced!)

We also now have a Prezzo and a Costa, much to the disgruntlement of some locals. Costa doesn’t interest me in the slightly because a) coffee and b) we have loads of pubs where I’d rather spend my money on wine! But I’m sure I’ll give Prezzo a visit, in the interest of fairness and all that (and because they also accept Tesco vouchers!)

Do you like chain restaurants? What’s your favourite? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

GIG REVIEW: Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown O2 Academy Birmingham

The husband and some friends have been waxing lyrical about this band for a while now, so when we saw they were playing at the O2 Academy in Birmingham we jumped at the chance to go and see them live. They were supporting The Cadillac Three, who held less appeal, but at just £15 a ticket it was still good value.

Weekday gigs are often a bit of a struggle as I have a 30 mile drive home, a portion of which is currently plagued with roadworks and slow traffic, and getting back into the city centre for a support band isn’t easy. At one point it looked like we might miss them, but fortuitously their stage time was later than we expected and we got to see the entirety of their set.

Wow. What a great great band. From Nashville, they play Bluesy Southern rock with meaty bass guitar and chunky drums. The eponymous front man, Tyler, is full of energy, charm and swagger, plays guitar like a demon and looks like he’s just stepped out of the late 60s. At just 25 years old he’s already had a lot of exposure and acclaim from a young age, and the band have opened for rock legends like Aerosmith, AC/DC and ZZ Top. His steel guitar playing was outstanding and vocally he’s raspy, gritty and growly – like a rock and roll singer should be.

tyler-bryant-the-shakedown-o2-academy-birmingham-2

Musically there’s a lot of 60s and 70s influences too, and a touch of country alongside good old rock n roll. Special mention to Caleb Crosby who’s drum solo at the front of the stage towards the end was as exhilarating for the audience as it must have been exhausting for him.

tyler-bryant-the-shakedown-o2-academy-birmingham-3

Humble, gracious and polite (thanking the crowd for spending their money and supporting live music, praising the venue and the audience) it was all together an outstanding gig experience. A really cool band, with charisma for days, who I’ll most definitely be checking out again.

tyler-bryant-the-shakedown-o2-academy-birmingham-4

As a footnote, headliners The Cadillac Three didn’t ding our dong. We hung around for a couple of songs but they’re so Southern that the song lyrics were unintelligible and they came across as a bit of a bad parody. Sorry guys! On the plus side this meant that I was at home in pyjamas by 10pm! Rock n fuckin’ roll!

If anyone has any suggestions of bands I should be checking out, let me know!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this live video so you can judge for yourself.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

What I’m watching – Dexter

I’m the kind of person who misses out on watching trends by virtue of the fact I never think I have time to follow things, or I get too easily distracted. It’s rare I agree to sit down and watch a film, and I couldn’t follow a TV series week by week because I’d end up missing an episode and losing track.

Besides, everyone knows that the best only way to truly do justice to a TV show is to binge watch it.dexter

The husband and I have talked about watching Dexter previously; although he denies all knowledge of the conversation, which is why he started watching it one day last week when he was home alone. This forced my hand to get involved too, as in truth I would probably have put it off if he’d suggested it. I’d only missed the first two episodes so I did a quick Wiki search to avail myself of the plot and joined in on episode 3.

So glad I did! It’s brilliant! Michael C.Hall plays Dexter so well; a perfect blend of menacing at times, socially awkward, bemused and geeky. As a blood spatter expert in the Miami forensics department his job is to investigate murders and contribute to the case evidence around them. It just so happens that he’s also a serial killer in his spare time – albeit only killing “bad guys”. Almost a moral cleansing exercise, if you will!

The final two episodes of season one were as well written as anything I’ve ever watched, with genuine gasps and shock from me as the story and characters unfurled. It’s measure of how brilliant it is that we finished the whole season in less than a week, and immediately started season two with no break.

The best part is, that by missing out on the show for the entirety of it’s TV run, we have a whole glorious 8 seasons to binge on. Perfect for those long dark nights curled up on the sofa.

What are you watching right now? Any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x