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Posts from the ‘Great Gifts Anytime’ Category


Airline Baggage Allowances – Problem Solver

Travelling by air involves the extra anxiety of luggage allowances, especially in-cabin items, and hefty financial penalties. Dimensions are easy to check, but weight? How many times have you weighed yourself, then held your bag/s to see the extra weight – can you see over the edge of the bag? Is the reading accurate? The good news is I have come across a device that makes that situation history.

The Baggage Scale:

Has no batteries
Is compact and lightweight
Weighs baggage up to 32 kg (70 lbs)
Simple to use
Only weighs 106 grams
Has a magnifying viewer
Instant readout
Folds away neatly for travel – useful for reweighing baggage when preparing to leave
Has no sharp metal hooks
Environmentally friendly – free of electronic waste
Kind to your back

Here’s a link to a video showing clearly how it works.

What’s not to like? Designed by an engineer exasperated by devices that simply didn’t work well enough for him, it’s so useful and we recommend it unreservedly. It’s on our Christmas gift list for all those frequent travellers we know!

We loved another video we found that demonstrates a very effective method of packing. The Benny Hill music used made us smile!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Really Inspirational Father’s Day Gifts

Why not plant a tree with dad?

Why not plant a tree with dad?

Most people seem to agree that finding the perfect gift for their dad is one of the least easy tasks of the year. Here are some ideas from our thoughtful team to inspire you:

Wine holiday in Oporto Built into the hillside of the spectacular Duoro Valley, The Yeatman hotel in Oporto is inspired by the celebrated wines of the region. Guests can seriously indulge themselves during the weekly wine evenings, tasting soirees and cookery courses. The extensive wine cellars hold 25,000 bottles alone and the in-house Michelin starred chef, Ricardo Costsa, is always on-hand to educate guests about food pairing. Even The Yeatman’s vinotherapy spa will be difficult for Dads to resist, as it offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Bath or body scrub. Prices from €150 per night.

Failing that why not a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005, available from £13.79 at most retail outlets nationwide. Here is a link to information on the website

Or he might have loads of the stuff in the cupboard but may not have some luscious glasses to savour it – we would choose the beautiful Riedel Port Glasses available at John Lewis and Amazon.

Reidel port glasses

Reidel port glasses

How about a short holiday break for someone mad on fishing? Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although a couple of tickets might go down a treat! – how about Fly fishing in the Maldives  All hard-working fathers deserve peace and quiet once in a while, and you would be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and tranquil outdoor pursuit than fly-fishing. On a secluded private island in North Maldives, Island Hideaway resort boasts deepwater channels and expansive shallow flats, ideal for whiling away the hours until that longed-for catch comes along. Prices from £1350 per week during low season, and £2300 during high season. OK, so that might be a bit over the top! How about The Ultimate Guide Book to Fishing? This Google page might give ideas.

Right, nothing so far appeals? What about a luxury wet shave? Harking back to simpler times when every man had a trusty barber to see to his beard and whiskers, in London the Spa at Dolphin Square offers chaps the rare chance to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Moroccan wet shaves. Choose from the age-old Savon Noir shave, which  cleanses by combining crushed olives, olive oil and Eucalyptus (£35), or go all out with a Moroccan Cleansing Ritual, incorporating a Hammam and Shea Butter Massage, followed by the relaxing shave (£104). This would appeal to many men I know so it could be a winner!

Dolphin Square Spa

Dolphin Square Spa

On a more basic level though why not a gift voucher from B&Q? Lots of us like browsing in DIY stores, especially new and improved gadgets!

 Or why not some Ogilvy’s honey – their Balkan Linden Honey is rather special. Gathered from colonies in the Danube region of Serbia. This honey was one of four varieties of Ogilvy’s Honey to win gold stars in the 2011 Great Taste Awards organised by The Guild of Fine Food. It is rather special – you can find more information on the Ogilvy’s website.

If you live in or near London then of course you could take him for a meal – Ping Pong in Soho is excellent, The Sanderson in Berners St  has a wonderful dining area as has the Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park Corner.  What about some tickets to a game at The Arsenal? A visit to the House of Commons to see Parliament in action and a meal in one of the boats on the river. Or a boat trip on the Thames? Of course you could just go for a walk in Hyde Park and have something to eat in one of the many cafes in the park.

The Arsenal

The Arsenal

Or how about an App for his iPhone or iPad – he doesn’t have one? There’s two more ideas!

Hope you might find one of these inspiring! Good luck – you have just three days left!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Traces Remain

Anyone approaching this collection of twenty-five articles, spanning over twenty years, would do well to consider Nicholls’ own observation : “ … I have always found the details of History more interesting, or anyway more evocative, than the larger perspectives of History.” Nicholls writes of real historical evidence: primary evidence, bits and pieces of detail; the reports of eyewitnesses.

His reputation as an historical detective, established by his work on Christopher Marlowe, Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare, is further enhanced by this essay collection. The worlds he writes of are not just brought to life. They are entirely reconstructed through his imagination, using the very evidence he refers to: the traces that remain.

As with most collections, there are some pieces which absorb less than others.  There are articles which might well be classified as extended travel writing, for example.  However, at least half of the pieces show his forensic skills at their finest. Shakespeare and Ben Jonson re-emerge; Nicholl takes a fresh look at Jack the Ripper;  a “four in a bed” scandal, involving visiting Frenchmen, from 1613 is re-examined;  and he asks what really happened to the famous English alchemist who disappeared in Bohemia in the late sixteenth century.

Sometimes idiosyncratic, but always highly readable, the bulk of this collection both entertains and satisfies.

Traces Remain by Charles Nicholl Published by Allen Lane   ISBN : 978 0 713 99494 0

Reviewed by Les Tucker Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.


My Christmas Chocolate Treats

Divine chocolateWe love chocolate. Not the sweet, cloying stuff you can buy in big bars, made using all kinds of ingredients and added chemicals.

Oh no. We love dark, dark chocolate often referred to by is percentage cocoa solids. One such is the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange. Suitable for vegetarians and carrying the Kosher mark, it is available in Sainsburys nationwide and online £1.69.

Divine chocolate is only made with the best Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a coopertive of smallholder farmers in Ghana. Many of you will know all about Divine chocolate, but have you noticed the brand new Christmas gift boxes – dark chocolate disks with mint, and dark chocolate with raspberry.Divine gift sets

The raspberry taste is really fantastic, the aroma is enticing and the taste confirms your wise decision to eat it!

All the chocolate is free from artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings.

Available from Waitrose, Booths, Liberty of London and Oxfam. RRP £4.50

Divine Chocolate barsThe other Divine chocolate allowed in the house – not much is because we just eat it until it has gone and then we feel rather guilty – is the 70% Dark Chocolate Covered Salted Fudge. This is a serious grown-up fudge, you experience a mouthful of delightful textures and tastes. Like no other fudge we have ever come across, we will have a secret stock … Only offered to those who really appreciate unusual, top quality confectionary!

Read all about the Divine range on their website where you will find recipes for cooking with chocolate … They have a shop on line as well.

Val Reynolds, Editor

The Best of Christmas Spirits

A little of what you fancy does you good, with the emphasis on little, we were intrigued with the Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Pack. This little box contains tangy aromatic bitters with hints to cinnamon, cardamom, anise and cloves, gingerbread aromas perfectly suited to drinks based on spirits like Whisky, Rum, Brancy and Tequila. We made up several cocktails Manhattan Cocktail, Dry Martini Coctail, Brandy Cocktail, Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned Cocktail. All went down a treat with no particular favourite emerging … After trying all five! It was fun making up these wellknown cocktails and kept us entertained for an evening. These bitters come in a neat metal container, ideal if you want to make and enjoy your own cocktails when away without paying what are sometimes extortionate prices. Unusual liqueurs are also available to liven up things: Apricot Liqueur, Pimento Dram, Violet Liqueur for instance and of course Sloe Gin with tonic. Have you ever tried Sloe Gin with champagne? Do try it, lovely on a hot summer’s afternoon. More information and cocktail recipes on the website.

We also came across Abelha Organic Cachaça, a very unusual spirit made from fresh sugar cane with no pesticides nor artificial fertilisers, fermented with natural yeasts, and aged in native ash barrels. Find out more about this most unusual spirit from Brazil on

While on the subject of the unusual, we have been trying Harveys Bristol Cream served over ice with a slice of orange. Rather good, and then, for the purpose of making sure Aunt Aggie is fully catered for, we have tried drizzling Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez 30 y.o. over creamy vanilla ice cream. This is just fantastic. With any luck you might have some over for Boxing Day … Although we have the suspicion that it won’t last. It was absolutely fab. Do try some. There are more suggestions and cocktail tips on the Harveys website

And finally we tried a Funkin Mixer – Strawberry Woo Woo with a shot of vodka. This was so well received we had to fight off the staff. One swig and they were hooked! We had to promise to get some for our office get together on Friday. When we found the order line we were hard pressed to choose which ones, in the end we chose a Party Pack so everyone will be happy – especially on Friday.

Wishing you good fun with your Festive Spirits!

Val Reynolds Brown


Tear Aid – a lifeline for harassed parents

This product is a bit like turkish delight, full of promise and seemingly a godsend for parents with children when urgent reliable repairs to equipment, toys and ‘stuff’ are needed. Probably most useful during the summer months when kids are outdoors using playthings, now is a good time to stock up.

Tear-Aid is a transparent, water- and airtight patch which can instantly and permanently repair tears or holes in paddling pools, lilos, sun shades and even bicycle inner tubes. Between them they can fix tears in almost anything – from tents to beach toys to space hoppers! The patches are quick and easy to use – simply cut to size, peel and stick with no glue or mess.  Each repair can last for years, saving you money on costly replacements and keeping the kids entertained all through the summer.

There are two types available – an all-purpose fabric patch and another designed specifically for vinyl products. Tear Aid patches are made from exceptionally tough, matt, abrasion resistant material that resists punctures and tearing.  It is designed to provide a strength to a variety of surfaces such as canvas, leather, rubber, nylon, most plastics, paints, aluminium, stainless steel, fibreglass, polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl and vinyl coated.

Tear Aid type A (fabrics) and Tear Aid type B (vinyls) provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears as well as an excellent protective film solution.

An ideal stocking/tree present.

For more information or to buy, visit call sales on 01889 270 663.

Katie Goodshaw, harassed parent and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine


Great Railway Maps of the World

A colourful and beautifully realised book that details different railway maps, past and present, from around the world.  The scale of the reproductions limits the use of the book as a reference work – some of the maps can only be interpreted with high magnification – but its true worth lies in its artistic presentation of the varying styles adopted in mapping railway systems.

The accompanying text is clear and comfortingly non-specialist, and the book is enriched by the inclusion of advertising poster images commissioned by railway companies.

The book also tries to show in several cases how railway systems have shrunk – USA and the United Kingdom being familiar examples – and also how developing countries have grown their networks.  The book uses these as examples only, for its aim is not to provide a comprehensive history of the railways of the world.   What it does do, in its 138 pages, is to show how the functional railway could make striking use of art and design in proclaiming its identity and in marketing its services.

Author: Mark Ovenden      Publisher: Particular Books        ISBN: 978 1 84614 392 5

Reviewed by Les Tucker, contributing author
Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.

A history of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is dip in reading for at least a year!  With 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger it would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history.

The BBC wanted a series of talks about historical objects that previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. They collaborated with the British Museum and the chosen range of objects is enormous. Those talks were broadcast on Radio 4 and are still available via the web where you will also find a list of the objects, access to the programmes and other related and relevant information. Each day shows a different object.

In the book Neil MacGregor shows us the significance of each object, how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency, or how an early Victorian tea set tells us about the impact of empire.

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Each immerses you the reader in a past civilisation accompanied by an exceptionally well informed guide.

This is truly a feast of information, well written, easy to assimilate and most memorable.

It is a family book too, not just for dad. I’m sure many a pupil will find the book a very good source of reference. It is a triumph of planning and dissemination.

Reviewed by Bob Beaney, social observer and guest contributor


Great Gifts – Garden Tools

Christmas is a good time to make reference to those gifts you would really like to receive! Here are some Fiskar gardening tools we have tried this year and recommend highly.

Fiskars X17 Splitting/Felling Axe  £59.99

600 mm long this is a beautifully made axe, well balanced, a nice weight and with a hand stop at the end – important for a good, accurate swing. The shaft itself has an anti-shock soft grip. The shaft is fibreglass with a good feel and easily cleaned. The blade is mortised into a tenon joint in the fibre glass shaft. The blade itself is double hardened and has an excellent safety cover with a carrying handle, or can be hung from a loop passed through to the eyelet at the end of the shaft. The fibreglass design eliminates the weakness of the older style hickory-shafted axes, where the blades becoming loose have the obvious danger of flying heads.

Fiskars X5 Trekking/Camping Axe  £39.99

A light fibreglass shafted hand-axe, ideal for chopping firewood – wish I had the use of one of these when I was in the Scouts! It will do well for chopping brushwood in the garden too. Light, it is easily kept in the back pack. Comes with a neat safety cover and is easily hung up using the loophole at the end.

Fiskars Patio Broom £19.99

This broom head is absolutely excellent. The bristles are tough enough to get out weeds from between our paving slabs and does an excellent job when collecting leaves. With its QuikFit handle which you can use for other tools, it means less space is taken up in the shed and few handles to trip over! Be sure to choose the right length of handle/shaft £18.99  for you, there are several to choose from. It might be best to buy at a garden centre than on the web.

Fiskars Trowel £8.99

Fiskars Trowel £8.99

I was intrigued by the novel appearance of this trowel, and then sceptical.  Familiar only with the metal variety, I felt sure that the lack of a metal cutting edge doomed it to failure, but I was pleasantly surprised. It performed very well in the extremely dry soil of my garden this summer, and has continued to be perfectly satisfactory so far this autumn, but due to the continuing lack of serious rainfall I haven’t been able to test it in genuinely wet, heavy soil.

Perversely, one of its good points is also a weakness. It weighs almost nothing, which has led me to forget its presence several times and throw it into the compost heap. I think it would benefit from being produced in a brighter colour as at the moment it’s only too easy to lose if it’s lying on the ground, or in a heap of weeds. (A red ribbon fed through the hanging hole would work (Ed)).

So, it’s Fiskars for us this year and for some of our friends in 2012!

Reviewed by John Reynolds, Katie Longland & Janet Hamer, contributing authors


Our Top Ten SIMPLY SUPER Christmas Gifts

In the space of a year we see a fair number of items we rather like. Here are our top ten we think would make fabulous, interesting and thoughtful gifts for Christmas 2011. They are of course equally appropriate at other times of the year.

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

1. Novelli Cooking Knives

These knives will last a lifetime, in fact they are designed to last for more than one generation. Beautifully balanced, made from the best of materials they are a joy to work with. We love using them. More …

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

2. A Footplate Holiday in Poland – The Steam Engine Enthusiast’s Dream More …

3. However this beautiful book  Great Railway Maps of the World may be a less generous gift than a trip to Poland but just as acceptable we’re sure. More …

4. Forever Rumpole

The loveable legal rough diamond Horace Rumpole who refers to his wife as She who must be obeyed, conjures up an appropriate bon mot whatever the occasion. Forever Rumpole is a fine choice for bedtime reading. More …

5. A History of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is bedtime reading for at least a year!  This is a great dip into book, with 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger. It would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history. Wonderful book. More …

6. Garden tools Investing in garden tools can be a hit and miss affair but here are three we have tried and liked for their utility. We loved the Fiskar trowel, patio broom and axes – our choice for 2012. More

Fiskar Trowel

Fiskar Trowel

7. Growing plants from seeds is one of our passions. We usually go for Thompson & Morgan seeds but sometimes when we can’t find what we are looking for, we look at the Sow Seeds website. A small independent seed business based in Cheshire offering the home gardener, allotment holder and commercial growers the finest quality seeds at great prices it is worthy of support. They provide Gift Vouchers and Seed Boxes, ideal gifts for beginner gardeners and old timers alike.

And for those you know who suffered in the drought this year we highly recommend having some Supa Drippas to hand just in case it happens again next year. More

8. Our kitchen waste is now being collected in the kitchen itself, saves us going down the garden in all weathers. This is achieved because we are now using a Bokashi composter – the micro organic process with no smell. Believe us when we say it is so good we keep telling everyone about it! And it is our favourite gift to our gardening friends. More

9. For every harassed Mum or Dad – the answer to  replacing damaged playthings! Saves a fortune – a lifeline especially to anyone not handy with broken stuff. A great stocking filler/tree gift. More

Getting ready to taste eight different wines to match with Festive food

10. Our final suggestion is a course at the Wine Academy in Queen Anne St, Marylebone, for anyone you know  interested in knowing much more about wine. We recently attended a wine and food matching course, absolutely excellent, led by Suzy Atkins, wine writer for The Times. We can’t rate this highly enough. Fantastic gift. We will be writing about our experience in the near future.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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