Graze anatomy

Our experiments in expanding our food intake have so far taken in the excellent delivery service that is HelloFresh (still going strong, by the way, a few meals that haven’t been to our taste, but otherwise I’ve reached Apprentice chef level and am rapidly heading towards sous!) but we didn’t stop there.

I’ve been aware of Graze for a long time, but never taken the plunge and ordered a box. Graze offer selections of healthy (and not so healthy) snacks, delivered to your door each week, from a choice of hundreds. You don’t get to specifically pick which ones you want but you can say what you do and don’t like, and those you would never want to receive. The great thing about Graze is, the boxes are long and thin, meaning they fit right through the letterbox and can be delivered by the postman. Genius!

I hadn’t been tempted by Graze before because it seemed quite expensive. £3.99 for four snacks on a regular basis. But having said that, we’d probably spend that on other snacks and this way you’ve got the added bonus of trying out some new and interesting combinations, knowing it's not too bad for you, and having that little thrill of anticipation when another box lands on the doormat.

So far, the various types of flapjack have gone down well, as has anything with chocolate. There are some that don’t really work for me – Indian chutney style dippers seem like a nice idea but aren’t really something I’d want to eat by themselves or at work, for instance. For the most part, there are selections of dried fruits and chocolates, interesting combinations and things to try. This week we even got a little sachet of microwave popcorn!

I can’t see this being something we do for the long term, but it’s fun to have little taste samples delivered each week. I’m also very intrigued by the “Big Boxes” they will be introducing soon. If you can hand pick bigger bags of the most delicious treats, I’m going to be very tempted.

Fitstar - personal training in your living room

Since I stopped running, 18 months ago, I’ve turned my attention to a variety of apps and online solutions to the ‘easy workout at home’ thing. Some of them are fads that are dropped as easily as they are started, but I’ve stumbled across one that has actually got me hooked. I first tried the Fitstar app about six months ago, and loved the concept but had to stop almost as soon as I’d started due to a small injury.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the app again, re-subscribed to the premium courses and started one of their programmes. There’s nothing particularly unique about the way Fitstar gets you to work out – an on-screen demonstration talks you through each move as a timer counts down until the next one appears. What’s genius about the app is there’s an algorithm that actively notes how you’re doing with each exercise and adapts future workouts based on your feedback.

So, you do some star jumps, you report how many you did and if it was too easy or too hard, and next time, you’ll probably get more or less star jumps depending on what you said. The feedback section sounds laborious, but it’s really not. A swipe this way and that, and then tapping Next to swiftly move on to the following activity.

There are badges to keep you motivated, and a social element if that’s your thing. I mostly like getting through each workout just so I can see what’s going to come up in the next one. Gradually, the repetitions or time allocated for each exercise increases, and occasionally new moves are introduced as you continue to improve.

Having invested in doing the workout almost every day for a couple of weeks, I can really see a difference in myself and can see how the app is moving me forward all the time. It’s really motivating. Okay, fine, the badges help too.

There are several programmes available, as well as freestyle one-off workouts as well. The premium price is reasonable, but if it’s too much for you, there are a couple of free things to do on the app too. I’m also very intrigued to read about the team’s new app that will be coming soon, a yoga version of the Fitstar app with similar algorithms and progression abilities in place.

There’s a wealth of fitness options out there these days and it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd and really be something people can stick with as they go about their busy lives. Fitstar is working for me, and I can heartily recommend checking it out to see if it works for you.

Thoughts on the [little Apple logo] Watch

I don't know if you noticed, but this week, Apple announced a new product - their take on the wearable tech phenomenon.

Initially, I wasn't that interested in the watch. That's partly because the stream of Tim Cook's keynote address was so bad that I gave up following halfway through and missed all the announcements. It's also because I wasn't too keen on the big, square, bulky look.

Having investigated subsequently, I really want one. It's clearly not a perfect device, and although I haven't seen one in the flesh, I'm already envisioning a better, thinner, lighter product in a couple of iterations time.

However, the fitness stuff has really caught my eye. Being nagged to meet goals every day, getting badges, I dig that kind of stuff. I wore a fitness tracker wristband for a while, but having to sync with a device to see results became too laborious to keep it up. Here, you can see results instantly. There's also scope for third party apps to get involved - Zombies Run have already said they'll be making an app for the watch, and oh how I loved Zombies Run. This is more than enough to get me pounding the pavements again.

The contacts and messages on the Apple Watch are less interesting to me, although I like the idea of sending little sketches. The novelty of that would soon wear off, I'm sure. As would sending someone your heartbeat. In what situation is that really going to be worthwhile? I'm not convinced that the watch will save time when it comes to notifications or reading. Swiping through one tweet at a time on the small display can't be a useful thing for me to do.

But, it's a good place to start. If the watch itself can get GPS capabilities so you don't have to carry an iPhone around with you, then it's going to really take off. And the endless customisations really make it more accessible than the band offerings we've seen so far.

Of course, in not quite related news, Apple took a massive turn for the creepy when they infiltrated everyone's iTunes accounts and planted a U2 album. I went looking for it, was expecting it to be there, and found it straight away and was still really weirded out by the concept. It's no surprise that those who didn't know it was coming, and don't even know who U2 are, have totally flipped out. The entirety of the U2 thing was ill-conceived, from poorly scripted cringe-inducing on-stage skit, to creepily forcing music onto unsuspecting users.

It's not the first misstep Apple have taken and it won't be the last. Hopefully the watch won't be one of them.

Film Watch Review - 401 to 450

It feels very much like the blockbuster films that we've been super excited to arrive in a format we can watch have tailed off somewhat. I don't know if it's because everything is just a Marvel sequel these days, or if it's just a slow time in the cinema (four to six months ago), but hopefully things will pick up soon. Even so, there were still some great classics that we enjoyed over the past fifty films.

Here's a roundup of 400 to 450, with a very brief snippet of my conclusions after each one.


401 - Girl Most Likely 4/5. "I’d expected your more traditional rom-com style story, but this was unusual and quirky, with fun dialogue and fascinating characters."

402 - The Call 3/5. "It was when Halle was told to go home and decided to take matters into her own hands that it sort of lost its way. After that it was pretty unbelievable, and whilst entertaining, it lost the edge that it had been carrying up to that point."

403 - In a World... 3/5. "It was awkward at every single stage, each scene containing yet more amazing awkwardness, embarrassing conversations and shameful situations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except there was no let up in the cringing!"

404 - Gravity 5/5. "Incredible. Clooney and Bullock were both spot on, the visuals were mind-blowing. We spent a good period of time just repeating to each other that they must have taken a rocket into space to film it, it looked so good."

405 - Thor: The Dark World 2/5. "Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be enough story to go with it. Christopher Eccleston made a good bad guy, but it didn’t really feel like the world was in jeopardy, even in the big showdown."

406 - One Chance 2/5. "Ultimately, this wasn’t a good film. The accents were all over the place, the acting was spotty at best, and it just didn’t hold together very well at all."

407 - Paranoia 2/5. "It kept my attention, and it was entertaining enough, but only because I was having it explained to me along the way. I didn’t think it was particularly special."

408 - 10 Things I Hate About You 4/5. "The soundtrack is what really gets this film moving, some really great songs, a good story – adapted from Shakespeare – and a handful of good performances."

409 - The Bodyguard 4/5. "It’s always a worry when you rewatch something after a while that it won’t be as good, but thankfully this one stood up to the test. I think I like it because he’s so closed off and monosyllabic, and it’s like breaking through a brick wall."

410 - Stuck in Love 3/5. "We’ve been working through some less challenging movies due to sheer exhaustion, and this was absolutely what we needed – just a handful of people twisting and turning through tricky relationships."

Most watched directors


411 - Escape Plan 3/5. "It was surprisingly good, very watchable, stacked full of twists and turns and culminating in a good, exciting ending. I thought it got off to a slow start, and I was a bit disappointed that Arnie and Sylv didn’t get to have more crackling dialogue together."

412 - The Blind Side 5/5. "It’s such a great film. The story is pretty simple really – one family extend the hand of friendship and love to someone that really needs it. There’s none of the Hollywood drama, the characters and the journey were enough."

413 - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 5/5. "There were some elements of the final few scenes that confused us, so I went back to the books to confirm some of the “facts”. It was reassuring to see how closely the film resembled the book, even with the exact same dialogue and actions in places. The book also has the same cliffhanger, so at least it is consistent."

414 - Saving Mr Banks 5/5. "I found the film to be hugely entertaining, and really quite emotional. It was the kindness I found incredible, the chauffeur being so cheerful despite a difficult life and a very tricksy passenger. With Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson it would have been hard for this film to go wrong, and thankfully it didn’t."

415 - Lee Daniels' The Butler 3/5. "I didn’t realise it was based on a true story until it started, and it was kinda hard to believe it was… because all the way through the film, it was like watching a different version of Forrest Gump. Which I’m reliably informed isn’t a true story."

416 - The Family 3/5. "It felt disjointed, like the movie was never quite sure what it was trying to be. It was fun, though, and the Goodfellas reference would probably have been brilliant if I had ever seen that film."

417 - Philomena 4/5. "The subject matter was tricky, and ultimately quite sad, but it’s handled in such a way to make you feel that there is hope for life after all. Plus, there was a lot of Guinness, so who can complain?"

418 - Pretty Woman 5/5. "It was SO GOOD. I’m gutted that I haven’t seen this before, because it’s the kind of film I’d watch over and over and over. Amusing and witty people with interesting relationships, set to nostalgic music."

419 - The Help 5/5. "It took a while for the characters to really come to life, but about halfway through, it seemed to kick into gear. I thought Octavia as Minny was fantastic, and Bryce as Hilly portrayed the terrible attitude perfectly. Emma was also great, but the film was stolen by the maids more than anyone."

420 - Don Jon 2/5. "You could tell it was a labour of love for JGL, written and directed by him, and starring him too. It wasn’t the best film ever, but I did quite like the composition. The relationships were weird and overall the film followed that same path, but it came to a good ending, and it wasn’t the worst ninety minutes of my life."

Films by decade


421 - The Getaway 1/5. "As it turns out, this was a terrible film. The premise didn’t make any sense, the story was full of holes and really just there as a tenuous thread to string far too many car chase scenes together."

422 - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 5/5. "From the start, it was amusing and heart-breaking at the same time, beautiful, vivid and filled with thought-provoking scenes. Every single shot appeared to be carefully crafted – that’s what made it look arty from an outside view – but it wasn’t done just for the sake of it. It all worked, and had a fab soundtrack on top."

423 - American Hustle 3/5. "It was an enjoyable two hours, there’s no doubt about that, but am I revealing myself as stupid to say I really couldn’t follow what was going on? I had a vague sense of them getting deeper and deeper into a con, with many different sides getting involved, but I couldn’t follow what the actual plan was and whether it was working or not."

424 - The House Bunny 3/5. "I didn’t really like the whole “makeover suddenly makes them popular” thing, but it was somewhat offset by the fact that it worked both ways. The moral in the end, of just be yourself, was worthwhile, I’m just not sure it went the right route of getting there."

425 - Patriot Games Unrated. " Half an hour in and I couldn’t stop from admitting I was bored. The scenes felt far too long and drawn out – I’m all for slow burn but the scenes within themselves have to be interesting to start with."

426 - The Beach 3/5. "They’ve got some beautiful locations, though, and some great actors… even if one of them is that guy off Casualty. It’s an odd film based on an odd book, it sticks pretty closely to the source material and does a good job. Mostly enjoyable if a bit disturbing in places."

427 - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 2/5. "I needed more of those basic facts, I needed them to connect the dots that they sailed over because, I guess, they assume everyone knows the story by now. It’s a failing on my part but the film just didn’t do anything for me."

428 - The Breakfast Club 3/5. "It was good, and I love the concept – just five kids spending the day together and getting to know each other. But it felt weird, the idea of a Saturday detention, one that lasts all day, and is mostly unsupervised like that."

429 - Walk the Line 3/5. "There were only two moments where I really felt touched by his plight – when he forgot his kid’s birthday, and when his dad was so awful to him at Thanksgiving. Otherwise, he didn’t seem too nice a guy. And the poor first wife came across as a right cow."

430 - See No Evil, Hear No Evil 3/5. "It’s an odd one. It takes a while to adjust to the humour of the 80s, particularly as it’s a difficult but genius concept I don’t think you would get away with today!"

Films by score


431 - Aliens 5/5. "It was actually a lot scarier than I was expecting, I don’t remember being quite so on edge during the first one. It’s a great film, the androids are creepy and the alien is terrifying. Plus, it turns out the kid is really cool."

432 - Fired Up 5/5. "It’s not ground-breaking, and it won’t win any awards, but it was a fab pick-me-up during a stressful day, full of snappy dialogue and a character journey that worked!"

433 - Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark 4/5. "I didn’t deal so well with the snakes, but I thought the rest of it was pretty entertaining. Harrison Ford turns out to be quite a good looking chap in his day, which was a surprise to me, and the story was a good adventure."

434 - All is Lost 5/5. "There’s a lot left unsaid, plenty of questions about this guy, what he’s doing out there, what his non-sea-life is like, but none of it really matters. It’s all about his fight for survival, and it’s almost like you’re right there with him."

435 - Charlie's Angels 3/5. "It’s really not a very good film. Terrible story, the worst special effects, and not a particularly good script either, but somehow it works. You just get to know and love the characters, the three girls and Bosley, and they do interact well with each other. By the end, you are rooting for them to win the day."

436 - Meet Joe Black 4/5. "Although it’s a lengthy film, Meet Joe Black didn’t really feel all that long. I did start to lose the plot a bit towards the end, though. I found the emotional stuff to be with the family side rather than the potential relationship between Joe and Susan. I did shed a few tears though, so it must have worked its magic."

437 - Cuban Fury 5/5. "A stellar cast and a none-too-challenging concept, with several laughs along the way, and pantomime heroes and villains to cheer and boo respectively. I thought Nick Frost did a really good job with holding the film, when he’s more used to being part of a double act."

438 - Non-stop 4/5. " I actually thought it was really good. There was a moment midway through where I realised it wasn’t going to be Oscar material, and film snobs would hate it, but then I put that out of my mind and got into it. At its core, there’s a really fun murder mystery style whodunit to be worked out."

439 - Her 2/5. "I thought this film had everything it needed to have to be great – excellent cast, great acting, moody shots, brilliant arty feeling to it, and yet it just didn’t deliver. There was something missing."

440 - Delivery Man 4/5. "The storyline was far-fetched but held down really well by the cast of characters – the long-suffering family, the pregnant girlfriend, and the fantastic worn-down lawyer. They held it together and that allowed the laughs to be bigger and the growth of the character even better."

Yearly Totals


441 - The LEGO Movie 5/5. "Ooh, such a lot of fun. It was eerily reminiscent of the Pirates vs Scientists film, in that it was non stop from beginning to end. Totally exhausting but absolutely brilliant."

442 - That Awkward Moment 3/5. "The stories were good, although as a girl not always that easy to relate to. The conversations were fun, and the acting mostly good. I thought it tried a bit too hard to do the “natural dialogue” thing, and it ended up feeling a bit uncomfortable at times."

443 - Edward Scissorhands 4/5. "It’s a great film, fun in the right places, and emotional too. Johnny Depp is brilliant, as he most often is, with vulnerability sewn right into a character that is otherwise a deadly weapon. The only problem is the big flaw in the premise."

444 - Last Vegas 5/5. "This was touted, in some circles, as a version of The Hangover but for older folks. Yes, there are four guys going to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. There’s an actual story at the heart of this one, with a friendship on the rocks, and some really engaging personalities on display."

445 - Happy Christmas 4/5. "The general idea, a crazy sister needs taming whilst sister-in-law needs loosening up, came across well, and the ending scene was good, but it just felt to me like that wasn’t the end. Neither seemed to have the redemption you would expect."

446 - The Monuments Men 3/5. "It made the sombre scenes feel a little out of place, particularly that awful bit with the record playing and the melancholy mood. It was all fun and light-hearted, and sparkling uniforms until that point, and again afterwards."

447 - A Long Way Down 3/5. "Jess really steals the show, with Imogen Poots in demanding form, but all four of them do a great job. Unfortunately, there seemed to be far too much story to cram into the short amount of time, and you sometimes got left behind a bit."

448 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3/5. "I thought the story lacked a lot of punch and interest, the whole Nazi thing just felt laboured although Bucky’s reappearance added some tension to the last few scenes. Scarlet Johansson was perhaps the best bit about it, being just as awesome as the titular hero without a shield to hide behind."

449 - The Taking of Pelham 123 3/5. "It was a good film, strong story, reasonably interesting characters and good direction. I did think it lacked something – emotion or real hardcore empathy with either the good guy or the bad guy, and it was predictable in places. Other times it was less so."

450 - The Love Punch 5/5. "The pair of them squabbling with each other was good, even if the inevitable conclusion was obvious from the start. Timothy Spall as the sidekick friend was very amusing, and them all being in France just added to the joy. Not groundbreaking but really brilliant, and definitely one we could watch over again."

Open top bus tour of the New Forest

Much of the UK experienced some very hot weather in July, weeks of sunshine and muggy conditions bringing out the sandals and making it hard to sleep. That being the case, it’s typical that when my parents invited me on an open top bus tour of the New Forest, it absolutely poured down.

The New Forest Tours are really quite a good deal. £14 may seem a bit pricey to start with, but you can jump on and off any of the three routes at any time for a limited period. Upgrade your ticket and you can get weekend and week-long extensions, so if you’re holidaying in the area, it can be a good way to get round.

The central part of the tour, where two routes start, is Lyndhurst – a nice little village, although very busy. We managed to have a quick wander round before hopping on the bus, and despite it raining before-hand, we made our way to the top deck.

The precipitation held off for the start of the journey, although we experienced an interesting phenomenon. The bus whooshing past the wet trees, whilst not hitting them directly, provided enough movement for water to flick directly at us. It was like being on the water rides at a theme park. Thankfully, the weather was still in its muggy stage so despite the rain and the occasional dousing, it wasn’t cold.

Remaining decidedly British about the whole thing, we stuck it out, ending up the only people on the upper level.

We got off the bus at Hythe, where a quick glimpse across the water to the Southampton docks showed several cruise ships waiting to go out. The rain moved back in again so we stopped off for a quick cup of tea before hot footing it back on the bus.

We only planned to do the green route, but the sun came out as we were winding our way across the beautiful New Forest towards Lyndhurst. Briefly, we pondered extending our trip to include another route, but with the weather so changeable, we decided to call it quits. Even though it had been a damp day, it was still a lot of fun, I got a handful of pictures, and managed to notch up another open top bus tour for my Life List collection.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Deep Breath

Doctor Who finally returns to our screens after a lengthy wait since the Christmas regeneration special. And was it worth it? Erm, no. Sadly, I didn't like this episode at all, and I will expand on that further below. It's nice to have the show back though, and even nicer to see the addition of Doctor Who Extra - a bonus ten minutes of content, online, in a replacement for the much-missed DW Confidential.

My feelings about this first episode of the eighth series of New Doctor Who can, and should, be split into two distinct factions - thoughts on the Doctor himself, and then on his introductory story.

New Doctor Who

I was right there with some of the first people suggesting it was time for Matt Smith to move on. He'd done an awful lot during his time in the TARDIS, and it felt like it was the right time for a change. I was a bit skeptical when Peter Capaldi was first confirmed as the Doctor, way back in the midst of 2013, but willing to give it a shot.

He's a bit older, heaped with gravitas, and clearly a huge fan of the show.

Sadly, this first episode didn't give him the chance to deliver anything, at all. It was a regeneration episode, where he's not himself, that much we have to understand. David Tennant's first episode had him asleep in pyjamas for much of the screen time.

But with DT, there was a big lovely moment of redemption. The Doctor took control, had an epic sword fight and generally won the day. This time, our new Doctor sort of won the day (did he fall or was he pushed?) but it was done sitting down having a cup of tea. After spending a lot of time being dazed, confused and oh-so-ridiculously needy. Maybe this is the new style of Doctor, less sword-fighting, more negotiating. We'll have to wait and see.

I was also a bit disappointed at the lack of real character on display. Ecclestone had that wide-eyed naivety, Tennant that good-looking intensity and Smith that quirky energy. What I got from Capaldi was that he's... Scottish. Hopefully there'll be more to come from this because it wasn't a great start.

Take a deep breath

Many of these problems can be attributed to the episode rather than Capaldi himself, though. I just didn't find this one at all interesting, and even muted it halfway through to record a sixty second podcast instead. The story felt recycled (even though the Doctor spent much of his time admitting that and wracking his brains to figure out why), the characters jumpy and the snippy one-liners felt tired.

Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax were there, but not really integral to the plot - aside from that rather excellent descent into the fight towards the end. The restaurant scene was well-written and acted, a tough one to have such a long dialogue between actors getting to know each other - but it still didn't really move us forward at all.

The Doctor's need to have Clara like him was so prevalent and whinging at the start, when he was still under the effects of the regeneration, but then when we were supposed to get emotional with him at the end - I didn't buy it. I also thought it was a mistake to have Matt Smith's appearance there. A great cameo and a well-kept secret, but it made me miss what we had and want that back.

I'm disappointed with this opening episode of the new series, and the new era, but not despondent. It wouldn't be fair to judge Capaldi on this episode alone but if things don't pick up in the next one (Daleks!), I might give this series a miss.