Review: DDP Yoga

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ddpSo here’s my review of DDP Yoga, the transformational fitness workout devised by American wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. We met DDP at Wrestlecon in Dallas, Texas this April, and until then I’d never heard of DDP Yoga … and why should I? I’m not a yoga person, I’m not an exercise person, stuff like that passes me by. But my son had heard about it (I’ll try and find the video Dan had seen that inspired him) and he mentioned it to DDP, and we chatted a bit. And while we were in America I saw lots of very large people, and I looked at the photos of me and didn’t see what I liked there, and I decided to take a look at the DDP Yoga thing when we came home.

DDP – the guy behind DDP Yoga

Dallas Page created DDP Yoga when he had lots of wrestling injuries and wanted to get back into the ring. The story goes that his wife was a yoga fan and suggested he give it a go but he thought it was a mumsy thing and not for guys – but eventually he tried it, and discovered that there was a way he could use yoga to rehabilitate and recover his body and improve his fitness. He’s since used the system with over 40 other wrestlers and other sports people, and also discovered that it’s actually really really good for weight loss – and that it can be used by people whose weight would otherwise rule out physical activity.

Inspirational stories

The DDP Yoga website itself is inspiring. There are lots of success stories, both from sports people and from “normal” guys and girls, and they are well worth watching. And if you find yourself thinking that the stories are fabricated – well, many of the people he’s worked with actually appear in the fitness videos, as proof that it works! Of course it’s not just a case of doing a bit of yoga now and then; it requires dedication and lots of hard work, and a total change of diet to achieve the best results – but even 7 weeks in I am really feeling the benefits, and I haven’t even looked at the nutrition section of the programme!

Most people who have heard of DDP Yoga talk about Arthur Boorman – an army veteran whose body was trashed, and who turned things around completely using DDP Yoga. It’s a truly inspiring video and well worth watching – and you can do so here. But the one that really got me was the story of Jared. In fact, I came across this video of YouTuber Boogie2988 reacting to Jared’s story, and I have a feeling this may be the video that Dan was talking about, so we’ll go with this one. Get the tissues ready…

So what is DDP Yoga?

DDP Yoga is not like your usual yoga (or as Dallas Page says, “It ain’t your mama’s yoga!”). Instead, it takes many classic yoga poses and adds dynamic resistance to them – so you use your body’s own strength to increase resistance, which helps to heal, strengthen and tone muscle. And because DDP Yoga increases the blood flow to the muscles it also increases the heart rate – so it gives you a really good cardio workout. But here’s the great thing – every cardio exercise I’ve done before, like running and cycling and fitness classes, has involved lots of impact movement, jumping up and down, etc. And when you’re overweight and have arthritic knees it hurts, and it’s uncomfortable, and when you’ve got lots of flab the last thing you want to do is bounce it around. But with DDP Yoga, you can increase your heart rate, and thus burn calories, by standing still! And boy, does it make me sweat!  Just by engaging the muscles in the legs, butt, back, arms you can see your heart rate increase – so it’s suitable for people who have mobility problems as well as those who just don’t enjoy high impact exercise.

Another great thing about DDP Yoga is that throughout the videos Dallas Page encourages you to “make the workout your own”. One of the things that puts me off other exercise programmes is the assumption that I will be able to do everything, because I feel useless if I can’t. That kind of attitude just puts me off and I’m not likely to even make the effort. However, Dallas understands that not everyone is able to do every move straight away. Every exercise has modifications – different ways you can do it – and throughout the ethos is to do something  – that you are better doing something than nothing and if you do that something every day you’ll get fitter and stronger and more flexible and eventually you’ll be able to do the full workout. There’s no body shaming, no fitness shaming involved – just encouragement to make the workout your own and get moving.

What do you get for your money?

So let’s unpack DDP and see what you get. It comes in two versions – DVDs and the digital product. (Actually, I think you can also sign up for MP3s but I can’t really see how anyone could do this from audio only, as it really helps to see the moves.) I decided to get the online digital subscription, partly because I wanted instant access but also because wanted to do my workouts upstairs in our enormous bedroom, but we don’t have a DVD player there, and having the digital version means I can take my iPad upstairs. I’ve even used my phone with workouts I know well, though the screen is a bit small if you’re unsure about the moves.

You can subscribe to the digital subscription for one month, three months or a year. I went for the three month option; at $40 dollars (£28) it didn’t break the bank and it would give me long enough to give it a proper go. After the three months are up it’ll bill me for $12.99 (about £9) a month.Included in the digital version is access via tablet, smartphone and computer, all the workout videos plus new updates, food videos, plus a PDF version of the programme guide. Alternatively you can buy the DVDs for a one off payment and you also get a printed copy of the programme guide and a poster of the “Diamond Dozen”, the key moves.

There are loads of workouts included, from “Beginner Beginner” to “Extreme”, and if you wanted to you could just dive in wherever. However, there’s also a recommended programme that takes you through each stage over 13 weeks, introducing you to the moves and workouts gradually so you can build your strength and ability, and that’s what I chose to do.

However, before you begin, the programme recommends that you take a few initial measurements. After all, if you don’t know what your starting point is, you won’t know how far you’ve come! So you’re advised to put in measurements – arms, chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves – and your weight, and also to take photos in six different positions, so you can see the difference DDP Yoga is making to you.

Once you’ve done that you’re ready to go! Ah … except for one more thing, which is optional but recommended, and that’s a heart monitor. See, the dynamic resistance fat-burning part of DDP Yoga is based on you working out in an optimum heart rate zone, where your body burns calories without working you so hard you’re in danger of combusting. Yes, you can do DDP Yoga without a heart monitor but it’s much better using one, as you can hook it up to the app and see on screen where you are, and then engage or disengage depending on whether or not you are “in the zone” – shown in green on screen. Originally I thought my Fitbit HR Charge would work with it but sadly it doesn’t sync with the app, so I have bought a Wahoo Tickr chest monitor, which I can recommend. I’d also recommend you get a yoga mat to exercise on, as it can be quite tough on the knees otherwise!

Get with the programme

SupportedLungeSpaceShuttle_1So now we are ready to start, and the programme begins with the Diamond Dozen, which introduces you to the 12 key moves used throughout the workouts. This first video is quite slow paced, but that’s good as it means you can get to grips with the moves without any pressure. Dallas Page takes you through each move in turn, showing you various modifications that you can try if you’re not quite able to do the complete move. For example, during Runner’s Lunge and Supported Lunge I wasn’t able to do the exercise “properly” at first, because it really hurt my arthritic knee, so I tried the modified version, which just meant dropping to my knee. I was able to do the rest of the exercise and within a week I was doing Runner’s Lunge fully, because my body had already strengthened! The video looks quite tame but don’t be fooled – it had me drenched in sweat, simply because I was engaging muscles I hadn’t engaged in a long time, and that in turn got my heart racing. There are also individual videos for each move so if you’re stuck on anything, you can try just that one instead of having to do the whole lot.

The programme default is for three workouts a week, starting with two run throughs of the Diamond Dozen before moving onto the Energy workout. This is the first time you’ll be combining moves, moving from Cat Lift to Cat Arch to Down Dog to Safety Zone, and fortunately it’s done at such a pace that I found it reasonably easy to keep up, even though the moves were still pretty new to me. After a few times I found I didn’t need to watch the screen; when Dallas says Runner’s Lunge or Superstar I know what I’m meant to be doing.

Here’s a little taster of what one of the early programmes, Energy, is all about. (Actually the one I do is Energy 2.0, but this is the earlier version.)

The programme progresses gradually by adding more challenging workouts. The first time I did Fat Burner, with all its Squat Thrusts, I thought I was going to die! But the next time I did it, it was much easier, and by the 3rd and 4th time I was finding I could squat pretty low without killing myself. Today I did my first Red Hot Core workout, which is only 15 minutes long but really focuses on the stomach muscles, and I’m aching now – but I know next time will be easier, and I might not even need to do all the modifications!

So far the workouts have all been quite short – 30-40 minutes, which is great as I can fit one in before I start work. As you move on the idea is to start combining workouts to build it up to an hour at a time, or to do a couple a day, and that feels doable to me.

The programme is in 13 week blocks, taking you through beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and you can customise it totally. For example, my “core” days are always Monday, Wednesday and Friday as that works best for me, but sometimes the programme switches to a Saturday, so I just edit it to suit me. You can, of course, always add in extra workouts whenever you want, and most weeks now I do at least 5 or 6 workouts a week. There’s also a good mix of workouts, from a 10 minute “Wake Up” session of gentle stretching to more hardcore ones that focus on specific areas.

Why I love DDP Yoga

Something I haven’t mentioned yet is how fun I find DDP Yoga. Yep, FUN! I never thought I’d say that about something like this! I’m not really an exercise fan and even with the odd thing I enjoy, like aquafit, I have to force myself to go, but I actually wake up looking forward to my DDP Yoga workout, and at weekends I find myself itching to do some and often come up partway through the day to do a session. I’m not sure what it is about it that I enjoy – Dallas Page is growly and shouty (as you’d expect from a WWE wrestler!) but also engaging and supportive – and he makes me laugh. I also love that the people in the videos aren’t fitness models but REAL people (including Arthur and Jared) who have succeeded with DDPY. The workouts are challenging but achievable, and I feel a real buzz when I finish. And though I’m only in Week 7 I can already see a difference in me physically, I feel fitter and more flexible and every time I do the workouts I can tell I’m squatting lower or holding firmer or bending further. And that development inspires me to go further and further.

I also find it helps my state of mind – while this isn’t traditional yoga and so doesn’t put you in a meditative state, I do find that if I’m in a bad mood or worried about something, DDPY lifts my mood and takes my mind off my problems. It’s also helping my breathing as there’s a lot of focusing on breathing in the exercises, and I find I’m breathing more deeply now.

I haven’t even mentioned the nutrition programme that’s included with DDP Yoga, have I? Mostly because I haven’t actually tried it yet. Again it’s in three stages, and I guess I’m more or less doing the first level, which is to cut out processed foods and start eating “real” food. The later levels begin to cut out dairy and gluten and that’s not for me right now – but if I get to a stage where I stop seeing results with DDP Yoga and my current healthy eating plan, I’ll definitely look at it more deeply.

So there is my review of DDP Yoga. For the first time in my life I’m actually exercising regularly – daily – and really enjoying it, and on Week 7 I’ve already lost 8lbs and 15 inches, which is a really good start. If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on with it – and do leave a comment if you have any questions!

http://ddpyoga.com/

Review: HomeRoutines App

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Anyone who knows me knows housework is not one of my priorities. Partly it’s because I think life’s too short to spend it bleaching the toilet twice a day, but mostly it’s because I tend to let my home get to the stage where the prospect of cleaning it is overwhelming, and then let things go from there. The truth is I like having a clean, tidy house, even though I’m not an especially tidy person, but too often I only clean it (a) when we are due visitors or (b) when it gets so bad I feel depressed.

But this year I decided to try something new – to do just 15 minutes’ cleaning every day, just to see if I could stay on top of it. What I found was I could bear the thought of doing 15 minutes and quite often once I got started, I ended up doing more. All went well for a couple of weeks and then our landlord gave us notice to quit and the new habit went out of the window – after all, we had to pay a professional cleaning company to do an exit clean, so what was the point in me doing anything extra?

The new house is lovely and I have been determined to keep it clean and tidy, so I brought back the 15 minute rule and it’s been going well, except I tend to find myself doing the same things every day – sweeping the kitchen floor, or hanging up washing, for example – because it needs doing every day. So gradually, over the five weeks we’ve been here, finger marks have appeared on doors and dust on skirting boards …. I knew I needed to get a grip on it!

Many people swear by FlyLady, a website that follows the 15 minute rule and gives you specific tasks every day. But I’ve tried it several times and always failed, mostly because of the huge number of emails I received (I just deleted them unread!) but also because the ra-ra-ra Americanism of the site and the constant incitements to keep your shoes on at home annoyed me. I’ve tried and failed to find an alternative though – mention of a site called HabitHacker excited me, but it seems the site’s gone into retirement.

And then I came across HomeRoutines, which is a website and an iOS app – and I think this might just be the answer!

HomeRoutines is a system that gives you several routines that you can have repeat every day, week, bi-weekly, monthly or on specific dates. It suggests a morning, evening and weekly routine and I’ve stuck with this as it seems to make good sense. The landing page of the app shows you today’s routines, with a star next to each one that fills up as you complete the tasks. There’s also an area at the top where you can add a message every day – so a message for Mondays, another for Tuesdays etc. This can be a reminder or something motivating. I haven’t made use of this yet (other than adding something for the sake of this review!) but in time I might.

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However, the app is completely customisable and you can add as many routines as you like – for example, I have a fortnightly one that shows up every other Thursday and reminds me to put the rubbish out. You can add whatever tasks you want and also change the background colours. You can even set seasonal routines – which would be useful for jobs around the garden, for example.

The aim of these daily routines is to include all the stuff that really needs doing every day. So onto that list has gone sweeping the kitchen floor, as well as loading and unloading the dishwasher, feeding the cats, cleaning the litter tray, wiping the worktops etc. My aim is to have the kitchen clean after breakfast and before bed, so never again will I be embarrassed when someone pops in for coffee and sees all my dirty pans! One of the best features of the app is that you can set it to clear all the tasks at 3am – so if I don’t manage to do everything, the missed task is not there taunting me, and really if I forget to sweep the kitchen floor one day I don’t need two reminders to do it the next.

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There’s also a weekly list – on here I’ve included five jobs that really do need doing once a week at least, and my plan is to do one a day. So this morning I’ve put a load of washing in, tomorrow I’ll get the hoover out etc.

However, no more will I be able to sweep the floor or run the hoover round and get away with that as my 15 mins of housework  – because a key feature of the app is “focus zones” – and this is the bit that I think is really going to help me. Every morning one of my tasks is to spend 15 minutes in that week’s focus zone – which means that as well as all the stuff that needs doing every day, I do a little bit extra so I keep on top of the whole house instead of just the most obvious bits. The app has rooms already set up as focus zones but you can edit everything so make it suit you. So I currently have Hall, Stairs, Landing & Downstairs Loo as Zone 1, Dining Room & Living Rooms as Zone 2 and so on.

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This week it’s the turn of my bedroom and the home office. Today I spent 15 minutes in my bedroom, working through various tasks on the list – polishing the mirror doors on our wardrobe, cleaning the two windows and sills and wiping the inside of the door and the light switch. The app has a built-in timer –  you can pick how long to set it for, but the default is 15 minutes – and it’s amazing how much you can get done in such a short space of time! I’m already halfway through all the jobs for the bedroom and by this time tomorrow I’ll have ticked off everything else on the list and will have moved onto the home office.

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Currently I have five focus zones as that’s what the app came with, but as I work out how long each zone takes me I might try to cut them down to four, so every month I’ll give every part of my house a proper clean. And because of the weekly tasks it’ll also always have a basic hoover, dust and mop, so it’ll never be grubby. At least, that’s the plan! I’m finding it quite motivating crossing off each task and getting a gold star for it, and the Achievements screen, which shows everything you’ve done in a day, is also great too – because on days like yesterday, which was a very lazy Sunday when I didn’t feel like I’d achieved much, I could actually see I’d done 23 tasks around the house! You can also email this list to yourself, so if you’re doing FlyLady you can use it for your control journal.

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Finally, the app also has a very basic To Do list where you can add things to do today, this week or later. Not sure how much use I’ll make of this as I have another task app I use regularly, but you never know, I might find a use for it.

Because the app is so customisable I can see the potential for using it for more than just housework. For example, I am trying to drink more water, learning to play the guitar, do some writing every day – so I could have a Personal Hobbies routine on there. And if you’re a FlyLady follower you can add things like getting dressed to shoes to your morning routine.

You don’t have to set up an account to use the app but if you do (and it’s not linked to Facebook) you can sync it across devices and also access your routines on the website. There are also some really interesting blog posts on the website with great tips for managing housework.

Because this app tells me what needs doing each day, I won’t be wasting time thinking about it or avoiding the bits I don’t want to do. I guess every day I’ll actually end up spending about an hour on the house, rather than the 15 minutes I originally intended – but because it’s spread out over morning and evening routines, plus the extra weekly tasks (most of which I could, if I wanted, save for a Saturday morning) I don’t think it’s going to feel particularly arduous. HomeRoutines is £3.99 in the App Store and I think this is perhaps the best four quid I’ve spent in a long while, because I really think it will keep me focused and motivated to keep the house clean and tidy!

 

UPDATE

I’ve been using the Home Routines app for about 6 weeks now and it’s completely changed my approach to housework! Gone is the reluctance to do anything on a daily basis and the mad panic when we had planned visitors, or the feelings of shame and embarrassment when someone popped round out of the blue. Instead I’ve now got firm morning and evening routines that mean the main areas of the house are respectable, and doing an additional 15 minutes each day in the focus rooms means everywhere gets a good clean once a month or thereabouts, so no one area really has time to get too horrifically untidy or grubby. For the first time in my life I actually feel like I am on top of things and I’m even using the app to remind me to achieve personal goals, like drinking a pint of water in the morning or journalling in the evening. I get a kick out of filling in the stars but because they reset every night I don’t feel bad if anything doesn’t get done, because there’s always another chance tomorrow. So if you’re looking for an app to help you get on top of your home, give this one a go – I highly recommend it!

Why I’ll Never Use Hermes (My Hermes) Delivery Service Again

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This is a copy of a complaint I have just sent to Hermes, following the “delivery” of a parcel which was damaged beyond repair. It should explain why I’ll never use Hermes (My Hermes) delivery service again …!

I’ve recently started using Hermes for delivering items sold on ebay but am very unhappy with the service I have received.

One item was left on a doorstep in an exposed position. It was raining and the packaging got very wet, but fortunately the item was not damaged.

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However, I recently sent an item via Hermes to Northern Ireland. No one was home but rather than leave a card requesting the delivery be rearranged, the driver decided to “deliver” the item to the rear of the house – which involved throwing it over a seven foot high gate, which was padlocked shut. The parcel landed on a slabbed pathway and was damaged beyond repair. (The packaging also became very soggy as it was raining.) I have tried claiming compensation but have since realised that the item contained two glass panels, which are exempt from your policy, so I have had to refund the buyer myself.

While I understand your compensation policy I don’t understand how your driver could possibly think it was a good idea to throw the item over a gate, not knowing (a) what it would land on and (b) what the item contained.

The item was securely packed in a sturdy Jiffy bag – in fact, an identical item was sent to the United States via Royal Mail’s Airsafe service and arrived four days later in perfect condition – so I don’t think there was an issue with the packaging. The problem was entirely with the fact that your employee threw the item over a fence!

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On your website you promise that “You will also benefit from our industry leading first time delivery hit rate which means that the recipient won’t have to travel to a sorting office if they miss the delivery, the local courier will attempt to deliver up to three times.”
This is obviously not the case – because the courier chose not to attempt delivery a second or third time, but to “deliver” the package in their own unique devastating style.

This wanton act of idiocy by someone recruited by Hermes has left me £44.20 out of pocket and deprived a collector of a limited edition item.

I will not be using Hermes again. I certainly will not be recommending your services to anyone else. And I will be posting this complaint as an open letter on my website.

I look forward to hearing your response.

I’ll keep you posted!

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UPDATE: I forgot to mention that two days ago when I first heard about the “delivery” issue I had spoken to someone from Hermes via their online chat function. Despite explaining that the glass was shattered in the item (which would suggest to me that it was “wholly or partly made of glass”) “Brian” had sent me a link to a compensation form which I filled in and submitted first thing this morning, as soon as I had all the photos as evidence. After sending my email I had a quick look at the compensation policy and realised my item wouldn’t be covered – which was why I then raised the complain you see above.

However, at 13:02 I received the following email in response to the compensation claim I submitted:

Subject

Parcel “delivered” by being thrown over a 7 foot gate onto a concrete patio ….. damaged beyond repair
Response By E-mail (Salman) (12/03/2014 01.02 PM)
Dear Alison,
We are pleased to confirm that we have today accepted your claim for £ 44.20.
•    Selling price: £ 40.00
•    myHermes postage: £ 4.20
To allow us to make payment, please provide your bank sort code and account number.  If you would prefer to do this via telephone, please contact us on 0330 333 6556.
On receipt of your bank details, please allow 3-5 working days for us to pass your details to our Finance Department.  You will receive a further email confirmation when your claim has been completed.
Kind regards
Salman Shaikh
Customer Service Advisor
myHermes Claims Department

and two minutes later, at 13:02 I received another email, this time in response to my complaint:

Subject

Very unhappy with Hermes service
Response By E-mail (Anna) (12/03/2014 01.04 PM)
Dear Alison,
Thank you for emailing myHermes.
Unfortunately, as the contents of your parcel fall under the category of items excluded from compensation, I am afraid we are unable to help in this instance.
I am sorry for the inappropriate conduct of our courier. I assure you that this is not common practice at myHermes.
I have forwarded on your comments to the appropriate field manager and we will now deal with this issue internally.
As a goodwill gesture we will refund you postage costs for this parcel.
Once again, please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.
Regards
Anna
Customer Service Advisor
myHermes Support

So it looks like Hermes have no idea what their policy on compensation is!!

 

I’ve responded to the second message, from “Anna” to say that they have made themselves look completely unprofessional …. and I’ve responded to “Salman” to say thanks you and please refund the money, minus the £4.20 they have just paid into my Paypal account for the Hermes fee, to my bank account. Will see what happens next!

 

FINAL UPDATE: I received another email from Hermes saying that they wouldn’t normally refund but because I had been told two different things they would honour the offer to refund me … and sure enough, a week later I did get back the value of the item. So good on them for doing that …

BUT … They never did really address the issue of why their courier felt it was acceptable to throw my parcel over a seven foot fence. I had three of these items in total – one went to a London address via Royal Mail, one went to America via Airsure … those two parcel arrived in perfect condition. The third – the one I used Hermes for – arrived smashed to pieces.

So thank you for refunding my money … but Hermes, I will still never use you again.

Thing #47, part one: Lebanese Cuisine

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We were in Oxford at the weekend and decided to go to Al Shami in Jericho for a late Sunday afternoon lunch – and our first experience of Lebanese cuisine.

A very odd salad!

Having never eaten Lebanese before we could perhaps have done with some guidance on the menu but we decided to dive in and order four mezzes and two mains, plus some bread, between two of us and a couple of Lebanese beers.

Before our order arrived we were presented with the most unusual “salad” I've ever seen … Carrot sticks, some sort of pickled thing, olives, radishes, one whole spring onion, a quartered lettuce, a beef tomato (whole) and a green pepper (also whole) … We picked at it but weren't entirely sure how to eat it!

Then the mezze dishes arrived, closely followed by the mains, so we ate them all together. The mains – meatballs in tomato sauce, and some sort of lamb dish, also in a (tastier) tomato sauce, served with rice and cracked wheat – were okay but not especially inspiring – but the mezzes – a potato and garlic dish, roasted aubergine with tomato, meat pasty type things and some sort of dried, cured beef strips – were excellent, very tasty and well presented too. The potato dish and the dried beef in particular were superb, spicy and flavoursome without being overpowering and I'd definitely have them again. I also really liked the bread, which was some sort of flatbread.

We really enjoyed our meal, despite the slightly underwhelming main courses. The downside of this particular restaurant is the atmosphere. When we arrived there was a large party there who were quite noisy, but as soon as they left the place descended into silence. Ok it was a Sunday afternoon and there was only us and one other person there but when a restaurant is so quiet you can hear the other diner crunching on their dinner …. It would be much better with some authentic music in the background!

So overall we enjoyed our meal and left feeling thoroughly stuffed, and I would definitely eat at Al Shami again – but I think next time we'll pick six or eight mezze dishes and skip the mains – and I'm tempted to take in my iPod and a portable speaker and set Spotify to play some Lebanese belly dancing music!

 

Book Review: The Guy Selling Rubbish

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The Guy Selling Rubbish
The Guy Selling Rubbish by Jack Williams
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A freebie Kindle book and a quick read (well under a hour) that gave me a snigger or two. After attempting to seel so,e rubbish on ebay for a laugh, the guy in the book is challenged by a friend to sell more and make some money. Over the next few months he attempts to sell such oddities as a blank piece of paper, an Air guitar and an empty plastic bottle. Much of the book is actually filled with screenshots of his ebay sales and statistics – viewers 5, bids 0 type of thing. Astoundingly he does actually sell a couple of items but though I found it. Occasionally funny, I didn’t really get a lot more from this book.

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Book Review: A Cromer Corpse

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A Cromer Corpse
A Cromer Corpse by Kelvin I Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was attracted to this because it had Cromer – my favourite place – in the title. When a body is pulled from the sea off Cromer with an unusual mark carved on it, an ex detective recently relocated from Cornwall to Norfolk for a quiet retirement is pulled in to help solve the case, because he worked on similar cases during his career. Thus we find ourselves in the middle of a fairly standard murder mystery that involves paganism, Wicca and Masons. The mystery itself was interesting, with a neat unexpected twist at the end, but the location of the novel frustrated me. I know Norfolk quite well but whilst there are some real places mentioned – Cromer, Wells, Fakenham – there are also plenty that are fictional. as far as I know. For example, there’s much talk of an event at Blackling Hall,which is based on either Blickling or Holkham, and there are other places – Morton, Saxborough – which are either rooted in reality or entirely made up. Why set a book in a real place but then have fictional places too? Just annoyed me!

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Book Review: Whatever Makes You Happy

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Whatever Makes You Happy
Whatever Makes You Happy by William Sutcliffe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was at primary school with William Sutcliffe, and his mum worked with my mum, but we were never close friends and lost touch altogether when we went to senior school. I’d not thought about him for years until I came across two of his books – New Boy and Are You Experienced? – in a charity shop. I bought them but still haven’t got round to reading them – grr – but did get this one for my Kindle and read it on holiday. (I was also thrilled to discover that he is married to Maggie O’Farrell, who is one of my favourite authors!)

It’s a funny little book, which actually made me literally LOL a few times, which very rarely happens. It’s about three guys – Matt, Paul and Daniel – who have reached their mid thirties without settling down. Their mothers, who all met through a book group when their boys were young- decide they need to intervene. They feel they don’t really know their sons as adults, they’ve lost touch with them and the way to get their relationships back on track is just to arrive for a surprise visit and stay for a week!

Now I have always been close to my mum but I know lots of men who would find this a disturbing state of affairs, so reading about how Paul, Daniel and Matt deal with it was amusing.

The book switches characters regularly, from each of the women to each of the men, and while I didn’t quite feel the individual characters’ voices coming through clearly I did get an idea of their personalities. However, I’m not really sure who this book is aimed at – women in their sixties (like the women in the book), men, women my age? Wasn’t really clear. I also felt the ending was very rushed – I was just settling in with the characters when the women returned home. Glad there was an ending of sorts but I would have liked to explore the individuals a little bit more.

that said, I did enjoy it and there were a fair few guffaw moments. It has also encouraged me to work my way through William Sutcliffe’s back catalogue!

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Book Review: Gone Girl

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Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Red this on holiday and thought it was a cracking read, though the ending was very disappointing – in fact it made me quite angry!

“Amazing” Amy, so called by her parents, who have written a series of best selling books about her, goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick is shocked by her disappearance but for some reason seems to be a compulsive liar and hen his story and alibi doesn't quite add up he is deemed to be suspect number one.

Amy had a weird habit of creating a treasure hunt every wedding anniversary, and it seems this year was no exception. As Nick untangles each complex clue he realises that all is not quite as it seems.

Lots of twists and turns in this book, which really kept me guessing.The trouble was I didn't ever warm to the characters and in fact I found myself becoming more and more irritated by them. For example, Nick, as the panic-stricken husband, never quite comes across that way and I couldn't understand why he was being so evasive if he had nothing to hide. The ending seemed like a complete cop out – but despite all that I did enjoy this a lot.

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Book Review: The Hand That First Held Mine

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The Hand That First Held Mine
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book I've read by this author. Of the others, I loved two and hated one to the extent that I couldn't actually finish it! I actually started this one several months ago and didn't get far with it, but it is my book club book for August and this time round I really enjoyed it.

There are two different story lines in this novel, though of course it's obvious that they will collide at some point. In 1950s Devon Alexandra is frustrated with her small town life and dreams of moving to London. A chance encounter with Innes, a rather dapper chap whose car has broken down, leads to Alexandra reinventing herself as Lexie and living her dream life in the city ….

Meanwhile, in the present day new parents Ted and Elina are struggling to cope emotionally following a difficult birth experience. As Elina tries to cope with the daily stuff, Ted seems to have become fixated on his past and is becoming more and more remote as a husband and father.

Gradually we learn more about these four individuals and their lives, with the reveal being not unexpected but upsetting and sensitively handled.

O'Farrell captures the four charcters perfectly and I really felt I knew Lexie, Ted, Elina and – to a lesser extent, for reasons that become obvious – Innes. This is a gentle yet thought provoking book that looks at how the pat our mother plays in our childhood can affect us deeply throughout our lives.

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Book Review: One Glass Is Never Enough

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One Glass Is Never Enough
One Glass Is Never Enough by Jane Wenham-Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've heard mention of Jane Wenham-Jones' name a lot recently – I know she does a lot of workshops and writing holidays etc. SO I thought it was time I read some of her work – and sadly I wasn't impressed. This book is about three very different women who buy into a bar. Each has their own reason for wanting to be involved with the business, but it seemed to me that one person got landed with all the work while the other two spent their time swanning round drinking the profits! Very annoying … Anyway, I didn't really take to any of the characters and did consider giving up fairly early on. I stuck with it to the end, and it did get a bit better as the characters developed – I liked the man that Gaynor (the drun) took up with (bu felt rather sorry for him for ending up with her!) I finished the book about a month ago and actually can't remember enough of it to write a proper review … obviously didn't make a huge impression on me, and I won't be rushing out to read more by this author either.

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