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ChrisGeering

ChrisGeering
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Member since: 13.05.2009

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      22.06.2010 20:22
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      Great for children and big kids

      "Together we shall rule as father and spud!"

      The upcoming movie, Toy Story 3, reminded me of a toy that I have owned for a few years now, Darth Tater. Darth Tater is a novelty Mr Potato Head, one of the amusing cast of characters in the Toy Story franchise. Mr Potato Head has been around since the early 1950s, and was originally designed as plastic parts to attach to a real potato. According to Wikipedia, a plastic body has been part of the Mr Potato Head kit since 1964.

      Darth Tater was one the first novelty Star Wars Mr Potato Head's to be released a few years ago, to coincide with the final stars movie, Revenge of the Sith. Of course, the Mr Potato Head toys are fantastic younger children's toys, but this incarnation takes pride of place in our living room, as I'm sure it does for other geeks like me.

      Darth Tater, in my opinion, makes an excellent toy for children and big kids alike. The format is quite simple yet effective - Darth Tater consists of a robust plastic potato body with 11 other mix and match attachable parts:

      - 1 helmet
      - 1 face plate
      - 1 nose
      - 1 set of teeth
      - 1 tongue
      - 1 cape
      - 2 ears
      - 1 pair of eyes
      - 1 pair of shoes
      - 1 arm with red lightsaber
      - 1 arm

      The key parts, the helmet, face plate, arm with red lightsaber and shoes are sith-like dark black colour, which creates a menacing looking Mr Pototo Head. However, if you think Darth Tater has renounced his Sith ways, you can chop and change his appearance - the mask can be lifted once and for all, and you can give this ex Dark lord a smiley face or even a stuck out tongue! The parts are easy to take off and put on - simply fix a piece to a spare hole.

      Darth Tater is recommended for children aged 2 years+. The parts are quite large which reduces the chances of being a choking hazard, and they are quite sturdy and easy to fix on to the plastic potato body. There are also plenty of permutations to give a menacing or daft looking appearance.

      In terms of price, I purchased Darth Tater for approximately £10 which after a quick google search, seems to still be the standard price. In conclusion, Darth Tater, is great fun for children and big kids - join the dark side and buy one!

      © CJG, 2010

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        03.06.2010 13:40
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        A flavoursome snack

        Does anyone remember that slogan from a Wheat Crunchies advert from the mid 1990s? I took a trip down memory lane today and tucked into an immensely satisfying packet of Wheat Crunchies - Crispy Bacon flavour. I used to eat these a lot when I was a teenager and am not sure why I stopped eating them. For all those of you who are going misty eyed at the thought of trying this snack out, you will not be disappointed. They taste as good as you remember and still look the same too. We bought a multipack of Wheat Crunchies last weekend at Tescos who are selling 10 packets (3 x Worcestershire sauce flavour, 3 x spicy tomato flavour and 3 x crispy bacon flavour) for a great value £1. For all those of you who are counting, the last packet is any 1 of the above flavours.

        Packaging: In terms of the packaging the crispy bacon flavour are kept in a red/pink "bacon coloured" 25g foil packet with the Wheat Crunchie logo and flavour readily obvious. A basic picture of the snacks are on the main display panel too, described as "crunchy, wheaty tubes".

        Smell and Taste: The bacon flavour is quite strong and noticeable, if you are not a fan of this flavour you may find the smell off-putting. I personally found it fantastic. And as for the snack, it tastes as good as I remember. The main things that stand out are the meaty crunchiness and the moreish nature of the snacks. Just you try putting them down halfway through without finishing them! The bacon aftertaste is flavoursome and lingers on the tongue.

        Healthy: Surprisingly, these snacks are not as unhealthy as I would expect. 6% an adults daily guideline amount of calories does not seem particularly high for this type of product. However, the 9% and 3% fat and saturated fat content respectively is a bit more concerning, as is the 8% salt content. Everything in moderation as they say...

        Each pack contains:
        Calories: 123 (6% of an adults guideline daily amount)
        Sugars: 0.7 g (1% of an adults guideline daily amount)
        Fat: 6.3g (9% of an adults guideline daily amount)
        Saturates: 0.6g (3% of an adults guideline daily amount)
        Salt: (8% of an adults guideline daily amount)

        The Wheat Crunchies promise also states:

        - No artificial colours or flavourings
        - No MSG
        - Made with 100% sunflower oil

        Overall: I would highly recommend Wheat Crunchies - Crispy Bacon flavour as a flavoursome snack - they taste as good as you remember.

        © CJG, 2010

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          02.06.2010 18:32
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          Deal!

          Muller corner Bioyoghurt with Strawberry Granola - Deal or no Deal?

          This product shows the power of advertising, through sponsoring TV programmes. And indeed, I must confess that I regularly watch Deal or no deal, which is how I first became aware of the subject of this review, Muller corner Bioyoghurt with Strawberry Granola.

          During last weeks trip to Tescos, I spotted a multibuy offer of 5 Muller bioyoghurts for £1. For all of you regular Muller yoghurt consumers out there, I'm sure you know that this is a bargain. So in the words of the marmite presenter Noel Edmonds (you'll either love him or hate him!), is it Deal or no Deal for this yoghurt?

          Appearance and packaging: The yoghurt itself is presented in a similar packaging to all of the other corner flavours, in a plastic pot (135g) with an easy to peel foil lid. The lid is colourful and noticeable, with a picture of a strawberry, oats and a creamy yogurt. After eagerly peeling the lid away, you will be greeted with a thickish and white creamy yoghurt in the main portion of the pot, with some appetising looking granola, consisting of oats and bits of berry. The yoghurt looks appealing enough and does not have a layer of water on top, which can be a problem with this type of product.

          Smell and taste: The yoghurt itself is not much to write home about. I found it a bit bland and tasteless with no real distinctive smell. However, things take a much better turn for the taste buds when you mix in the muesli type granola which blends well with the yoghurt. It gives a very satisfying creamy crunch, though those of you with susceptible teeth may find the granola a bit too chewy. All in all, the yoghurt made a more that satisfactory snack after lunch, but don't try the yoghurt until you have mixed in the granola.

          Healthy?: For all those health conscious folks out there you will be pleased to know this yoghurt is low in fat and is made with all natural ingredients. However, there is still quite a high amount of sugars present, 12.5g per 100 g, probably due to the oats in the granola. Full nutritional information is given below.

          Energy: 504 kJ
          119 kcal
          Protein: 5.5 g
          Carbohydrate: 17.8g
          Of which sugars: 12.5g
          Fat: 2.6g
          Of which saturates: 1.3g
          Fibre: 0.8g
          Sodium: 0.1g
          Calcium: 221 mg

          Deal or no Deal?: Deal. It is not a 5 star product because of the bland yoghurt when tried alone, but is perfectly tasty once you have mixed in the granola.

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          23.02.2010 14:46
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          Enjoy in moderation

          When it comes to the crunch, do you lick the lid?

          At the moment I'm ploughing my way through some of my favourite Muller crunch corners. These were on special offer at Tesco's earlier on this month, at a reasonable 8 yoghurts for £2. The Muller range of yoghurts (Muller rice, Muller light and Muller fruit and crunch corners) often seem to be on special offer at the major supermarkets, so if you are a fan like me, keep 'em peeled! The subject of this review, the Muller Crunch Corner, is a fairly simple combination, a creamy vanilla yoghurt combined with milk chocolate coated biscuits.

          In terms of the product design and layout, it the same as a standard Muller corner product (150 g), that contains the yoghurt in the larger compartment with the biscuity goodness in a small foldable compartment that can be easily transferred into the main yoghurt. The product foil label is fairly simplistic with the crunch corner and "choco crunch" text being immediately obvious. To tempt you into ripping off the foil lid, there is a picture on the right hand side of the lid of pieces of chocolate biscuit.

          Beneath the lid, you are greeted with an off white thickish yoghurt, some of which has stuck to the foil. The question of course is, do you lick the lid or not? As I am home alone at the moment, I do! The chocolate pieces in the smaller compartment appear surprisingly numerous and plentiful. Why do I get the feeling this product is not food for you?

          After transferring the biscuits into the yoghurt, I decided to give the mixture a good stir. The chocolate pieces become virtually submerged, with the odd piece that is still visible. The overall mixture looks very appetizing. Right from the first spoonful, I am greeted by a excellent combination of flavours. The vanilla yoghurt is lightly sweet and smooth, and the biscuit pieces are superbly chocolately and crunchy. As you can probably imagine, the yoghurt is incredibly moreish and did not last very long!

          For the health conscious, the nutritional information is given below:

          Typical values per 100 g
          Energy: 598 kJ (142 kcal)
          Protein: 4.0 g
          Carbohydrate: 19.6 g
          Of which sugars: 16.5 g
          Fat: 5.0 g
          Of which saturates: 2.9 g
          Fibre: 0.3 g
          Sodium: 0.1 g
          Calcium: 125 mg - 23% of recommended daily allowance per pot

          As you could have probably predicted, this yoghurt is pretty high on the carbohydrate and fat fronts, nearly 16.5% as sugars and nearly 3% as saturated fats. This is really no surprise when considering the number of biscuit pieces alone.

          So what do I think about this product? If you are a fan of the chocolate biscuits and yogurt combination, this product is most certainly for you. The combination is very flavoursome and moreish. However, as with a lot of products that taste sweet, it should be enjoyed in moderation due to the large sugar and saturated fat content. Don't forget to lick the lid!

          © CJG, 2010

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            16.02.2010 16:34
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            Enjoy (when hot)

            I am quite a big fan of the Muller rice range of products, with Muller rice original being a particular favourite of mine. It is a very appetising and soothing experience eating a warm rice pudding on a cold Winters day. So with much anticipation, well a bit at least, I was looking forward to trying a new but fairly simple flavour of Muller rice, smooth toffee flavour.

            This new variety has only been on the shelves at my local Tescos for the last couple of months, and we decided to buy 4 Muller rices for £2 at our weekly shop. This is not bad value, but there have been better special offers available in the past on this range of products (e.g. 6 Muller rices for £2).

            The smooth toffee flavour is packaged in a standard pot, that is the same size and volume (200g) as other Muller rice products. To denote the toffee flavour, the text and product information is provided in a mostly tan colour. After pealing back the foil lid with pictures of teeth crunching chewy toffee, I was greeted with a strong sweet aroma but perhaps with a hint of an artificial smell. The colour of the rice was off-white with noticeable pieces of rice. The toffee part of the product was inter-dispersed within the rice, and a good stir evened out the colour of the rice into a shade of light brown.

            After trying a spoonful of the product whilst cold, I was not particularly impressed. The toffee smell and aftertaste was too strong and for some reason, did not really make me believe it was toffee. Undeterred from this initial setback, I decided the only course of action was to stick the product in the microwave for 70 seconds and see if this made me reconsider my opinion. And you know what? It did. After pulling the product out of the microwave I tucked in to a delicious warm and aromatic product where the initially strong toffee smell was perhaps neutralised by the aroma of the rice pudding. So in my opinion, whilst this product can of course be eaten hot or cold, there is only one serving recommendation for me - HOT.

            For the nutrition conscious amongst you, this product contains no artificial colours or preservatives and is low in fat. Full details are given below:

            Typical values (per 100 g)
            Energy 457 kJ/108 Kcal
            Protein 3.3g
            Carbohydrate 18.6g
            Of which sugars 13.0g
            Fat 2.3g
            Of which saturates 1.3g
            Fibre 0.3g
            Sodium 0.1g
            Calcium 95 mg (23% of RDA per pot)

            In conclusion:
            This is a bit of a first giving 2 different ratings for the same product. But anyway:

            When served cold = 2 dooyoo stars
            When served hot = 4 dooyoo stars

            And of course, this means an average of 3 stars for the purposes of this review. Enjoy (when hot)!

            © CJG, 2010

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            • topcashback.co.uk / Internet Site / 92 Readings / 89 Ratings
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              11.02.2010 19:17
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              Top CashBack does work and you do recoup some money whilst you are spending it.

              Click this button to earn instant cash

              INTRODUCTION

              Firstly I apologise for the somewhat misleading title of this review. You sadly won't earn instant cash by reading this. However, you indirectly will if you regularly shop online and start using cashback sites like Top Cashback, the subject of this review.

              I became familiar with cashback websites about 6 months ago. I put off learning more about them as they initially seemed a bit too good to be true. I was wary that if I started using them, that my computer would become infected with a malevolent computer virus, or that I would be beckoned to enter my account details by someone from a remote location who would start draining me of my life savings. They seemed like a bit of scam with promises of untold riches, with pick up lines akin to this review title. Fortunately, you will be pleased to learn that the excellent cashback website, Top Cashback DOES work, and you do earn money (albeit slowly) whilst making internet purchases.

              This review will cover:

              - Cashback websites in general - how do they work?;
              - The layout and format of the Top Cashback website;
              - Advantages and disadvantages of Top Cashback;
              - My personal favourite links for earning cashback;
              - My conclusions from using Top Cashback; and
              - Useful links

              CASHBACK WEBSITES IN GENERAL - HOW DO THEY WORK?

              The principle of a cashback website is fairly simple. The website lists a diverse range of merchants and companies under a generic category such as "Electrical". The cashback website gets paid for essentially advertising a given company, and all or some of this money is passed on to the consumer (i.e. you and me). According to Top Cashback themselves they state on their website that "We get commission for your purchases and pass it all back to you". Whilst this seems perhaps beyond belief that they pass "it all back" the concept is well explained and is also apparently true. According to the Money Saving Expert (see link below) Top CashBack probably makes it money by hitting sales bonus targets with listed companies that are not passed on to the consumer and because it is a big, popular cashback website with a good reputation.

              THE LAYOUT AND FORMAT OF THE TOP CASHBACK WEBSITE

              The link to the Top CashBack website is given at the end of this review. The website itself is fairly user friendly, but the lime green and orange website colours are not the easiest on the eye. In terms of joining up, this is fairly simple. On the homepage, in amongst the eye straining lime green rectangle there is a 3 step process for earning cashback:

              1. Log in or sign up
              2. Buy and save!
              3. Get cash back

              If you have not previously used Top CashBack, you will of course need to create an account. You do this by clicking on "Join"which is a bright orange button beneath a "money tree". In terms of your details required to join, all you will need at first is an e-mail address and password. You will be sent notification by e-mail that you have joined and that is simply it for the moment.

              Once you have created your account, you have the option to start earning immediately, or you are given a strong recommendation by the website to visit the "getting starting" guide. Like a typical guy I ignored the instruction manual, but it is worth having a look at the guide to get a feel about what the website is about and to find out ways to get some money into your account.

              When you sign in for the first time, or any subsequent visits, there are a range of buttons in your user area.

              a) Your account overview - This lists a bit of general information about the rest of the account buttons, provides information on special promotions and asks you to provide feedback on specific providers that you may have used. Providing your opinion about your cashback experiences with a given company will help assist other users of the website.

              b) Earnings - This is the page I visit most! This gives a simple table of your earnings, who you have (or will) accrue them from, how much you have earned and when you will be paid the cashback. They are listed under separate columns:

              - Pending: This is where your transaction has been tracked and reported by a retailer. The retailer needs to confirm the transaction with Top CashBack.

              - Confirmed: The transaction has been confirmed by the retailer and Top CashBack are waiting for the money from the retailer. If you click on the "Cashback by date" at the top of the table you can see the expected payable date.

              - Payable: The money for a given transaction has been paid by the retailer and can be claimed as long as you exceed the minimum payment threshold. The minimum payment thresholds are very low (except for cheques) and are covered further below.

              - Claimed: This is the amount for which you have requested payment and includes all previous payment claims for the retailer.

              The table also includes a running total for the transactions that fall under the various columns described above which gives you an idea about how much cashback you have earned.

              c) Settings

              Under this button you can amend you name, username, e-mail address and password. You can also enter in your payment details which can be either by BACS, Paypal or cheque. If you wish to donate some of your cashback to charity, you can tick on a box to facilitate this. In terms of security, the site displays the padlock at the bottom of the screen to indicate the site is secure, in case you are concerned about entering data such as your account details. I have entered in my bank account information here and have had no problems with the security of my bank details.

              d) Test your tracking

              This is an important feature, as you can determine whether your purchases are being tracked through Top CashBack. So that your purchases can be tracked, small chunks of information are stored in your browser so that when you visit a retailer via Top CashBack, this will allow the store to read this information. The store will then send Top CashBack information about your purchase, and at which point Top CashBack will credit your account. To make sure the tracking works, your internet browser needs to have "cookies" enabled so that your cashback is tracked.

              e) Payments

              This screen lists any payable transactions that may be due. If you click on the Earnings button (see "b" above) and find one or more your payments is listed under the "Payable" column, this means you are eligible to receive your cashback. To request the cashback, you need to return back to the Payments button and request the payment - there is a button alongside the amount due. Provided that you have entered in your payment details under the settings screen, and have exceeded the minimum threshold, you can claim your cash!

              I have always claimed my cashback by BACS, but as mentioned above, you can claim payments via PayPal or cheque. The payments are subject to the following thresholds and rules:

              Electronic BACS Transfer: Minimum of £0.01 and 7 days between payouts

              Paypal eCheque: Minimum of £0.01 and 14 days between payouts

              Paper Cheque: Minimum of £75 and 60 days between payouts

              As you can see, the payment thresholds are only 1p for BACS and Paypal and the payments can be redeemed in between a relatively short time period. However, there is little incentive to redeem your cashback by paper cheque, £75 is high threshold to reach unless you have earned cashback on a big ticket item such as home insurance.

              In my experience with BACS payments, from the point of redeeming cashback, the money has arrived in my account typically within 3 days. I have found this payment method efficient and simple.

              f) Enquiries

              This button is fairly self explanatory, you can submit cashback claims where the merchant has not reported the cashback and you can view or submit general questions or comments.

              g) Referrals and links

              You can use this button to recommend Top CashBack to friends. If you do this, you receive a referral bonus of £1, though this is subject to your friend reaching a threshold of £5 before you receive your £1. It is therefore worth sending this on to friends who will definitely use Top CashBack!

              This pretty much covers the major buttons under your account profile. In terms of the rest of the Top CashBack website, there are also other buttons which give an overview of the website including blogs, information about the charities that Top CashBack supports, about Top CashBack and of course the all important "help" function.

              One of the major features you'll need to use is the search function to find that all important retailer. If you are planning to do some internet shopping with a given merchant, you can search using white rectangular space which states search and contains a spy glass. If this is not successful, then don't give up! Sometimes the search function does not always work very accurately, so click on the yellow "Browse" button at the top left of your screen. This provides a very useful list of merchants that can be found A-Z or by specific categories such as clothing, electrical or entertainment. In my experience, a good number of familiar (and also not so familiar) companies can be found on Top CashBack, with the notable exception of Amazon which is listed but does not offer cashback. It is also worth noting that you can also earn cashback without actually making a purchase as such. An example of this is an insurance quote I obtained from a comparison website such as Compare the Market. As an aside, if you obtain a quote from Compare the Market, this earns a respectable £2.00.

              ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF USING TOP CASHBACK

              I have been using Top CashBack for as long as I have been aware of cashback websites, roughly 6 months. In general I have positive experiences of this website but in the interests of a balanced review, I have summarised the advantages and disadvantages below.

              Advantages:

              - A number of the other companies that pay you back 100% of the cashback it receives (e.g. Quidco) keep the first £5 you earn each year. With Top CashBack, you do not give up any money.

              - The payment threshold for electronic payments (BACs and Paypal e-cheque) is low, only 1p. This means you do not have to spend lots of money over the internet to reach the minimum threshold.

              - In my experience with the retailers I have used to date, all of my transactions have been tracked and not lost in the system.

              - Last but by no means least, Top CashBack does work and the money does exist. I have received just over £50 from using Expedia, Travelex and Virgin Trains.

              Disadvantages:

              - In general, it takes quite a while for the money to arrive. With the retailers I mentioned above, it took at least 2 months between the time of purchase to the point at which I was paid by BACS. If you think this is slow, I am still waiting on £60 cashback from MORETH>N Home Insurance which I bought at the end of November - this money apparently is not payable until the end of April, which will be 5 months! I am somewhat sceptical as to whether the money will ever arrive. You should therefore not count on the money until it lands in your bank account.

              - Whilst it is a good feeling to see you balance growing, do not let the cashback promises dictate your purchase. For example if you are aware of a product costing £60 with one provider, and see an offer of £20 cashback with a different provider that sells the product for £85 you are effectively spending an extra £5, with no guarantee that the cashback will actually arrive.

              - I have noticed that the cashback "goalposts" can shift particularly if is perceived that you are cheating the system. Before Xmas, I noticed that Virgin trains were offering an excellent £4 cashback on any ticket purchase with no minimum spend. As you may be aware, you can buy tickets for any train company on Virgin Trains, and so I bought 4 tickets in November 2009, earning £16 which was paid in January 2010. However, after making these transactions I noticed in late November that this offer was no longer available and sadly Virgin Trains now offer no cashback.

              MY PERSONAL FAVOURITES FOR EARNING CASHBACK

              The companies that I have used most often are the travel providers, notably Expedia. Expedia offers an excellent 7.25% cashback on hotels which is very useful when considering that you can book from a diverse range of hotels in a variety of locations. I booked our Travelodge hotel in Wellington, New Zealand from Expedia via Top CashBack. Asides from the Virgin Trains offer mentioned above which was good whilst it lasted, I was also impressed with Travelex, the money exchange provider. Again for the New Zealand trip, I ordered the currency on the Travelex website via Top CashBack and picked the money up at the airport. Not only does this provide a competitive exchange rate, you also receive 0.5% cashback on your transaction. Whilst 0.5% does not seem a lot, it is still nice to get something back on your hard earned spending money. In general it is worth keeping an eye out for special offers and promotions on Top CashBack, there can be good rates of cashback available at selected times.

              MY CONCLUSIONS FROM USING TOP CASHBACK

              In summary:

              - Top CashBack does work, and you can (albeit slowly) recoup some money whilst you are spending it.
              - The electronic payment methods are secure and the BACS method is efficient and simple.
              - Although it feels good to see your balance growing, do not let the cashback promises dictate your purchase.
              - Do not budget for, or expect the cashback to arrive until you see the money in your bank account.
              - Keep an eye out for special offers and promotions, but beware that sometimes the cashback goalposts can shift, particularly if it is perceived that you are cheating the system.

              Happy spending (and hopefully earning)!

              USEFUL LINKS:

              Top CashBack
              http://www.topcashback.co.uk/

              Money Saving Expert - Cashback websites
              http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/cashback-websites

              © CJG, 2010

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              • More +
                10.02.2010 14:16
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                Enjoy (in moderation)

                Prime Lime (but fatty) Doritos

                Well, I have just realized that I have not done a foodie review in quite a while. It is time to address that by giving the snack product "Doritos Hint of Lime" the once over.

                Since the Doritos first hit the UK stores in the early 1990s with a couple of main flavours, cool original and tangy cheese, the product has since added other flavours into "the mix" including the excellent chilli heatwave flavour and the simple lightly salted flavour. Doritos make an excellent (albeit unhealthy) snack and are ideal for dipping into salsa - perfect for entertaining.

                The Doritos Hint of Lime flavour are an excellent addition to the Doritos range. They are packaged within a large foil green bag (225g) that is a very bold and dominant lime green colour. The Doritos logo is prominent, and there is a picture of a Dorito dipped within an appetizing bowl of salsa.

                As for the Doritos themselves, there is nothing particularly different in appearance to other Doritos products. The unbroken Doritos are a large yellow triangular shape with brown specks on the surface. The Doritos look as ever, quite appetizing, and give a characteristic crunch upon biting. The lime flavour is accurately described "on the tin' - it is certainly a hint of lime, strong enough to be noticed on the tongue, but not so dominant that the flavour becomes sour. The taste is very moreish and it is very hard to stop at a handful of Doritos. Asides from dipping in salsa, I would also thoroughly recommend these Doritos for nachos as part of a chilli con carne. The light lime flavour combines very well with mince and spicy chill beans.

                In terms of price, Tescos are currently stocking all of the large bags (225g) of Doritos flavours for £1. This represents pretty good value when considering that a small individual bag of Doritos can cost half of this. As for the health considerations, you will not be surprised that the fat content of Doritos is quite high, and should be enjoyed in moderation. For your information the headline health information is given below.

                Each 35 g serving contains:

                Calories: 180 (9% of an adults guideline daily amount)
                Sugar: 0.7 g (1% of an adults guideline daily amount)
                Fat: 9 g (13% of an adults guideline daily amount)
                Saturates: 0.8 g (4% of an adults guideline daily amount)
                Salt: 0.4 g (7% of an adults guideline daily amount)

                Note that these values are presented as an adult guideline daily amount, which means that they will be even higher when considered as a children's guideline daily amount. Why is it that snack companies avoid presenting these figures too? Ah yes, that would be because the figures would look even worse which would affect sales as consumers are becoming more and more health conscious.

                Anyway, in summary, these are a very tasty snack which we particularly enjoy as part of a chill con carne. But be warned, they are moreish, and are high in fat content. Enjoy (in moderation), of course.

                Doritos are suitable for vegetarians and coeliacs.

                Visit the company at www.doritos.co.uk

                © CJG, 2010

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                  08.02.2010 23:13
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                  A great value for money adventure

                  INTRODUCTION

                  After leaving our holiday home in Karitane, near Dunedin, my brother, fiancé and I headed up SH1 just after New Year's Day to spend a couple of days in Christchurch, before my fiancé and I flew back to England. The road trip was fairly lengthy and required a couple of comfort breaks to break up the journey. It was a gorgeous and sunny day, and the rental car was beginning to feel a bit like a greenhouse. A break was well overdue as we had been on the road for just under a couple of hours, and then a random town sign amongst the countryside on our left caught my eye. The town in question was Waimate, which is south of Timaru, 45 km away. What grabbed my attention was a picture of a jumping wallaby and I said to my fellow travellers - "I didn't know there were any wallabies in New Zealand?" (other than at zoos). Well, after taking the 6 km detour into Waimate, and then heading out of the quiet town from a different direction, we eventually drove past a wallaby sanctuary, the oddly named "EnkleDooVery Korna". We pulled in to the driveway and got out of the car with a large amount of curiosity.

                  BUT I THOUGHT WALLABIES WERE FROM AUSTRALIA, NOT NEW ZEALAND?

                  Well asides from zoos, the wallaby is indeed from Australia where they are widely distributed. Wallabies are a collective name for about thirty species of macropod, the wallabies found at EnkleDooVery Korna are from the Agile Wallaby genus (Macropus agilis). These wallabies are most closely related to the Kangeroo. They were introduced to New Zealand where they are considered as a pest and are often hunted. From hunting activities, a number of baby wallabies became orphaned which eventually led to the creation of EnkleDooVery Korna wallaby park in 1999.

                  HISTORY OF ENKLEDOO VERY KORNA WALLABY PARK

                  The owner of the wallaby park is Gwen Dempster-Schouten, who has been hand raising orphaned baby wallabies since 1977. EnkleDooVery Korna has however, only been open to the public in October 1999. The interest in this wallaby park had become a fascinating and unique experience to local, national and international visitors that in September 2001, Gwen was able to extend her wallaby family area by adding large new wallaby enclosures which has been aptly named "Wallaby Wander".

                  THE EXPERIENCE....

                  Beyond the Wallaby Wander gates, we could roam around at our leisure to view the wallabies in their separate enclosures. We were given some basic instructions about how to approach and feed the wallabies from the guide at the beginning, but were otherwise left to our own devices after the first enclosure. The main instruction given was to make sure that you are crouched down on your knees so that you were at the eye level of the wallabies and not appear aggressive. The other instruction given was to hide the eucalyptus leaves (i.e. the food) behind our backs so that they were not snatched by any sneaky, hungry wallabies! After you fed the wallabies, you could stroke them, but at the lower back, above the base of the tail.

                  At first we were instinctively wary of the wallabies, but our guide reassured us and made sure we acted more confidently. Certainly with the first enclosure, the wallabies showed no signs of shyness, and bounced forward towards us whilst acting like they hadn't been fed all day! After crouching down and optimistically holding out one of the branches of leaves, the wallaby did the rest. It gently pulled off the apparently tasty leaves, and ate them using their front paws. It was amazing to get so close to them and observe even the simplest things like how they eat. Another impressive thing was observing the wallabies bounce around the enclosure - the enclosures were reasonably large with only a small number of wallabies per enclosure, so you could see them jump around without any obvious inhibitions.

                  As we proceeded through the sanctuary, we noticed that each enclosure had different themes with names such as the "Batchelor Boys". The wallabies appeared to be separated based on age and sex. Some of the wallabies in the latter enclosures were quite shy and reluctant for the leaves, we later realised that these were the more elderly wallabies. In amongst the 40 wallabies in total there were a couple of female wallabies that still had a Joey (young wallaby) in their pouches. We were lucky enough to see one very small Joey take some early bounces before it spotted us and dived back to safety in its mothers pouch. As you can imagine, this really enhanced the overall experience. We were able to take numerous photos of us feeding the wallabies, and we observed the wallabies from very close quarters. I was really impressed that we were allowed to wander through the enclosures at out own pace, and that we not under constant supervision.

                  BUT THAT'S NOT ALL FOLKS...

                  During your visit, you can look through some interesting memorabilia of family treasures of times past. You get the opportunity to feel and experience how a wallaby trapper lived with an authentic hut set indoors. Also, asides from the wallabies, there is a large pond which is home to a range of bird life. Inhabitants of this area include Sebastopol and Cape Barron Geese, Ducks, Fantail pigeons and Peacocks. There are also other animals at the sanctuary too, including bantams, possums and some rare breed Finlayson sheep. There is also Muffin the miniature pony, a friendly animal that enjoys the attention of visitors to the enclosure.

                  AND LAST BY NO MEANS LEAST.... A BABY WALLABY TO HOLD IN EXCHANGE FOR A JOKE (?)

                  One of the most memorable experiences was the opportunity to hold a hand raised orphaned pouch baby wallaby. Gwen promised us that we could hold a baby wallaby after our tour, in exchange for a joke - well in our case three jokes were requested, one for each of us. Unfortunately, I am terrible at remembering any decent jokes, and my brother and fiancé also struggled whilst we wandering around the enclosure. The best joke (?) we came up with was:

                  Q: Why does the sea smell?
                  A: Because of the seaweed.

                  I can feel the tumbleweed moving across your screens as you read this... but fortunately despite the rubbish joke, Gwen took pity on us and presented us with a tiny Joey wrapped around in a blanket. The Joey was in the midst of a mid afternoon nap, but had no problems posing for a number of cute photos in the garden area.

                  OVERALL

                  This was the best random stop that we experienced on our New Zealand trip. We had no idea there were any wallabies in New Zealand, and to get the opportunity to get so close and feed the wallabies was unforgettable. It was also fantastic to get to hold a baby wallaby, something that I would thoroughly recommend. Our hosts were true South islanders, very friendly and welcoming. We had a very good chat after our tour which was a great opportunity to learn more about the park and its history. And of course, to really put the cherry on top of the whole adventure, you will be interested to learn the entrance fee (including holding the baby wallaby)..... NZ $10! That's right, $10, the equivalent of roughly £4.50. I would therefore have to say this is also the best value for money experience that I visited in New Zealand too. If you make it to EnkleDooVery Korna, make sure you stop at the nearby berry farm on your way out of Waimate. They make superb berry ice cream sundaes which went down like a treat whilst we were soaking in the sunshine.

                  OPENING TIMES AND CONTACT DETAILS

                  20th September - end of Queens Birthday weekend

                  Open daily: 10 am to 5 pm

                  No VISA or EFTPOS facilities available.

                  For bookings and further information contact Gwen:

                  Telephone: +64 (0)3 689 7197
                  Fax: +64 (0)3 689 1377
                  E-mail: cdtaxidermysafari@xtra.co.nz

                  Or visit Gwen's internet page at:
                  www.waimate.org.nz/tamewallabies

                  Address:

                  Gwen Dempster-Schouten
                  Bathgates Road
                  Waimate
                  South Canterbury
                  New Zealand

                  © CJG, 2010

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                    26.01.2010 22:25
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                    I would thoroughly recommend taking a ride

                    INTRODUCTION:

                    The Wellington Cable Car is an iconic transport system that has been operating in the capital city of New Zealand since the start of the 1900s. It is one of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions. The cable car is frequently used by commuters, students and of course, tourists, and can transport up to 100 passengers at a time. The Cable Car offers a quick connection, between the central business district (Lambton Quay) to the top of city in Kelburn. At the end of your 5 minute journey, you have "climbed" 119 metres to your final destination, Upland Road Station where you can access the botanical gardens and see some picturesque views of the city and the harbour.

                    HISTORY:

                    Wellington in the 1890s was the fastest growing city in New Zealand. The expanding workforce wanted to live close to the shops and offices at Lambton Quay but such accommodation was scarce. At the same time, the hills directly above the city centre were mostly scrubland and farms. To address the housing shortage The Upland Estate Company was formed in 1898 to turn the hills directly above the city into a new suburb (Kelburn). The new suburb would need easy access, so a tramway was chosen for a quick and direct link between the suburb and the city. Construction of the original cable car started in 1901 and work was carried out night and day. The three tunnels along the route, with some running underneath houses, were blasted and dug with pick and shovel using prison labour from The Terrace Gaol. The tramway was opened in 1902, and by 1912 a million rides were taken a year. In 1933, electricity replaced steam as the power for the cars, and in 1978, the old cars were replaced by an entirely new Swiss designed system. This system has been running for the past 30 years or so. Under the current system there is a single track with a passing loop. As one car is pulled down the 1:5.06 gradient the other car is pulled up the hill.

                    GATEWAY TO THE TOP OF WELLINGTON:

                    The journey to the top is smooth, quiet and leisurely. At peak times in either direction, you may struggle for a seat, but the short journey time means that you do not suffer for long. The first couple of stops are unspectacular, the first one a car park for commuters and the second gives access to some of the homes that are a short hilly walk from the Terrace. The third stop, Salamanca station is more scenic, and you begin to realise how high up you have travelled. The views are also interesting, you can see the dominating green sports park, Kelburn Park and also the Victoria University campus in the distance. The cable car is often used by students for convenience, and a significant number of students live around the surrounding area in halls of residence and flats.

                    After a short journey time of 5-10 minutes depending on passenger volumes, you have reached your final destination, Upland Road Station. This is your stop for accessing some excellent views of Wellington harbour. The view is not quite as impressive or as high as that seen from Mount Victoria, but is more easily accessible from the main CBD. Also, the cable car is quite cheap, scenic and a less strenuous way of reaching one of Wellingtons high "points". This is worth considering on a warm Summers day. The cost of an adult return is $5.00 (approximately £2.30). Full details on prices are given below.

                    Going by cable car is also a simple way of visiting the free botanical gardens. I recommend you visit the gardens by cable car, your walk will be predominantly downhill, which is a big incentive as Wellington is notoriously hilly. The gardens are perfect for a leisurely walk in Summer and contain a mix of native plants, trees and outdoor sculptures. These include the sundial, druids hill listening device, the Lady Norwood rose garden and the waterfall and peace flame.

                    Asides from the botanic gardens and the welcoming views, Kelburn village is also a 10 minute walk away. Kelburn is a good destination if you are after a spot of brunch as it is home to a few cafes that offer a good variety of meals. There are also a range of restaurants available too which are worth considering as the cable car operates until 10 PM, 7 days a week.

                    Last, but by no means least, you can also take a wander around the cable car museum at the top. This museum tells the story of New Zealand's only remaining public cable car system. A visit is well recommended, and the museum has won the New Zealand Tourism Industry award in both 2006 and 2007 for visitor activities and attractions: culture and heritage tourism.

                    OVERALL:

                    The cable car is an affordable, scenic and smooth ride to the top of Wellington. I would thoroughly recommend taking a ride, and combining your trip with a walk around the botanic gardens, or brunch in Kelburn. The main advice I would offer, is make sure you go on a nice sunny day. As the saying goes, "you can't beat Wellington on a good day". And of course, don't forget your camera - you won't be disappointed.

                    TIMETABLE:

                    The Cable Cars run every 10 minutes

                    Monday to Friday: 7am to 10pm
                    Saturday: 8:30am to 10pm
                    Sunday & Public Holidays: 9am to 10pm

                    FARES:

                    One Way Return
                    Adult $3.00 $5.00

                    Student/Child
                    (Children 5-15, under 5's Free) Students must show valid NZ student ID $1.00 $2.00

                    SuperGold Card Holders
                    $1.60 $3.00

                    Family Return
                    (2 Adults & up to 4 Children) $14.00

                    © CJG, 2010.

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                      18.01.2010 17:58
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                      A great alternative if you don't like bungy jumps

                      INTRODUCTION:

                      If you ever visit New Zealand, no trip can be complete without visiting Queenstown which is located towards the bottom of the south island and is surrounded by dominating mountains and the clear blue Lake Wakatipu. The spectacular view that overlooks Queenstown at the top of the Skyline Gondola is simply breathtaking. It is therefore no surprise with this stunning backdrop that Queenstown is a world renowned lake and alpine resort where you can pursue a plethora of high action and adventure pursuits. During the New Zealand winter (June - September) it is an extremely popular winter sports resort and there are a number of different ski slopes for beginners and experts alike to try out a spot of skiing and snowboarding. The lake is perfect to try out jet boating, sailing, fishing... the possibilities seem never ending. If that wasn't enough you could really push your senses to the limit by trying out a bungy jump or sky dive. Another activity, perhaps less publicised than the others mentioned is quad biking, which is the topic of this review. With all of these seemingly never-ending things to do in Queenstown, you have all the elements of an unforgettable holiday. So where is the catch I hear you ask? Asides from being the either side of the world, to do anything in Queenstown costs a lot of money! As my fiancé, brother and I only had two nights to spend in Queenstown we had to ration our high octane pursuits. We also had to choose an activity that made it feel like we have experienced an adventure in Queenstown whilst making sure that we were not testing our phobias to the limit (fear of falling from heights being the common trend). With this in mind, quad biking with Off Road Adventures won the day.

                      OFF ROAD ADVENTURES:

                      The Off Road Adventures company was established in 1990 and is New Zealand's original dirt bike company and is the first in the Southern Hemisphere to operate Quad Bike Tours. There are a variety of quad bike and motorbike adventure tours available which cater for beginners to the more experienced riders:

                      Family tour (Duration 3 hours, 1.25 hours ride time): This tour is designed around younger family members and is an introductory tour for those who wish to try out quad biking or motor biking. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

                      Beginner farm tour (Duration 3 hours, 1.25 hours ride time): This tour starts easy, with an emphasis on teaching control and technique. This tour is suitable for younger teenagers or those who are looking for a more sedate tour.

                      Adventure tour - 4 wheels (Duration 3 hours, 1.5 hours ride time): On this tour you can operate quad bikes up to 250 cc. You get to ride around a 15,000 acre high country sheep station where the trails are selected according to the riders experience and confidence. The ratio of guides to riders is 1:6.

                      Adventure tour - 2 wheels (Duration 3 hours, 1.5 hours ride time): The motor bike adventure tour has been designed for those looking for a bit more excitement, and you get to operate motor bikes up to 250 cc. The adventure tour starts on the trails through historic gold trails on the banks of the Kawarau river then takes you into the mountains above the Kawarau gorge.

                      Trials Bike Tour (Duration 3 hours, 1.5 hours ride time): Try out the latest adventure we you can ride in places that you may not even wish to walk, or just try this as a new experience and test your skill level.

                      Full/Multi-day tour (Duration 1-17 days): You get to ride on 2 or 4 wheels and explore the 15,000 acre sheep station and climb 6000 feet plus into the mountains with rivers and unbelievable views.

                      THE BOOKING PROCESS:

                      It was more by accident than anything else that we decided to go quad biking with this company. We were perusing the multitude of action and adventure leaflets in the foyer of our hotel (Novotel Queenstown) to see which companies offered quad biking. This leaflet was the first we stumbled across, and thankfully came highly recommended by the hotel concierge. The next decision was which of the many tour options should we pick?

                      Again, with advice from the concierge, we decided upon the 4 wheel adventure tour. The only slight stumbling block was the price - $220, approximately £100, considering that our Travelex exchange rate was $2.20 per £1.00. £100 for a 1.5 hour quad bike ride seemed very expensive. However, after realising that to do anything fun in Queenstown costs a lot we decided to increase the burden on our credit cards and go for it! The booking was very straightforward, the concierge telephoned the company, and we were booked for the 1 PM departure time. All we had to do was show up at the Off Road Adventures shop and "check in".

                      CHECK IN AND TRANSPORT:

                      The Off Road Adventures shop is based on Shotover Street which was a very quick 5 minute walk away from our hotel. Upon arrival, we signed our life away and filled in a form each, which essentially gave our personal details and stated that we are not suffering from any adverse health conditions and that we would not "muck around" on the bikes (i.e. - you must be responsible for your own actions). Our courtesy coach arrived promptly at 1PM where we were taken to the quad biking site which was approximately 20 km from Queenstown. The ride was smooth and we had the privilege of a very scenic guided tour through the valleys and past some local vineyards. This was also helped by a glorious sunny day without a cloud in the sky.

                      LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - START YOUR ENGINES!

                      Upon arrival we were each presented with our face helmet, gloves, goggles and wet weather boots. All of the gear was fairly modern looking, and thankfully clean enough. There was also a decent range of helmet sizes so that my head didn't feel like it was clamped in a vice. I initially thought that the wet weather boots were a bit of overkill on a warm sunny day, but thankfully went along with it - once I experienced the marsh like conditions on the main trail I was very thankful.

                      After being kitted up, we were each presented with our quad bikes. The quad bikes can be either automatic or manual gears depending on your experience. With a bit of confidence and bravado, I decided to go for manual gears. I have been quad biking a couple of times and was familiar with having to kick the lever by your left foot up or down to change the gears up or down. My brother who has never been quad biking, and my fiancé who has been once before, chose the automatic option.

                      The instructors started our engines and we were raring to go like a bat out of hell... well almost. As we were a party of three, we were initially selected in a group of 6 where we were supervised by one dedicated instructor. For the first 15 or so minutes we were following simple flat trails around the farm, following circles or figures of 8, that sort of shape. The purpose of this was to get used to the controls and speed of the quad bikes. It was at this point that my fiancé got shifted to another group, leaving just my brother and me with some other fellow quad bikers. I assumed that this was because of different quad biking abilities and confidence - this was true, but as it turned out I was in the slower group with my brother and my fiancé was put in a quicker group.

                      After this for the next 10 minutes, we followed some slightly more elaborate trails with mild inclines and dips, and the odd sharp bend. However, as I had been quad biking before and was pretty confident with the bike, I was feeling a bit frustrated at the course so far and felt I was in too slow a group. I wanted to get up to high speeds, jump over the dips and do my best Steve McQueen impression! Thankfully one of the other guides saw my impatience and my brother and I got swapped into one of the fast groups and we replaced by... my fiancé! This certainly worked out better for me and my fiancé who was not that confident with the quad biking. However, my brother also moved into the quicker group which was a big ask as he had not been before. Despite this, he coped really well although he understandably found it difficult to keep up at times. Although he probably should have been in one of the slower groups, I guess it is not easy for the instructors to work out who belongs where when they have no real idea of your abilities and confidence at the start.

                      And was the new group that quick? Oh yes. My brother and I had joined a group of fearless Brazilian ladies who knew where the accelerator lever was! I was loving the experience though, I had a chance to take the quad up to 4th gear on the flat dry pieces of land, and get caked with mud as I rode though deep and muddy waters. At times I thought the quad would become "beached" but it chugged on through the ditches to the safety of dry land. Sadly, (but somewhat amusingly) my brother did manage to "beach" the quad in the water! Embarrassingly for him this happened right alongside where all of the other groups converged at the same meeting point for a rest and some photos of the scenery. Despite the embarrassment, he posed rather sheepishly for a photo taken by the instructor that had come to bail him out.

                      To be honest, I could ramble on and on about the ride, as I loved it that much. However, I will focus on some of the personal highlights:

                      - The instructors were helpful, friendly and down to earth. They were not too bossy or intrusive, but also helped you out when needed.
                      - The trails were an excellent mix of dry land, mud, hills, dips and sharp bends. I liked speeding though the muddy waters and getting soaked in the process.
                      - I managed to get slightly airborne by speeding up over a dip - and it felt fantastic, but probably does not constitute "safe" riding!
                      - Towards the end of the trail we were taken up a very high peak which overlooked the sheep station, the quad biking facility and some of the basic trails we had started on. This was a great way to take some excellent photos, take in the scenery and to see how far (and high) we had come.
                      - I thankfully did not crash into another quad, "beach" the quad bike in muddy water, or fall off. A couple of the bends were slightly hairy where I went on a couple of wheels on more than one occasion. The biggest heart in mouth moment was towards the end of the trail where I was chugging though muddy water at high speed, and unbeknown, to me was a large rock submerged. I rode over the rock which caused the front wheels to lift. As my weight was towards the back of the quad, I inadvertently did a 2 second "wheelie" until I managed to shift my weight back to the front. Phew!

                      Once we had returned back to base, after an approximate 1.5 hour ride time, we liberated ourselves from the wet and muddy (definitely in my case) clothing and dried off in the sun. It was only after we took off our quad biking clothing that we realised how muddy we were. It looked like my face had been pressed down into the mud, which made for an excellent photo with my equally muddy brother. The courtesy coach patiently waited for our return and promptly took us back to central Queenstown.

                      OVERALL

                      Despite the expense, the quad biking experience was fantastic and unforgettable. We had the opportunity to see some of the hills and rural parts of Queenstown, whilst riding through some varied and interesting quad bike trails. The photo opportunities were plentiful, and memorable.

                      In terms of the Off Road Adventures company, I thought they did an excellent job. The booking process was simple and uncomplicated and the guides were friendly and down to earth. Whilst we were not all initially put into the correct groups, in terms of ability and confidence, the guides listened to the riders so that they were generally put into a more appropriate group.

                      In summary, if you are not one for falling from heights at a great speed, and are looking for a bit of excitement whilst in Queenstown, then quad biking with Off Road Adventures could be the activity for you. Don't forget your credit card though!

                      OFF ROAD ADVENTURES

                      Contact direct at:

                      Off Road Adventures, Queenstown Limited
                      61a Shotover Street, Queenstown

                      Phone: +64 (0)3 442 7858
                      Free phone (NZ): 0800 OFF ROAD
                      0800 633 7623

                      Fax: +64 (0)3 442 7858
                      E-mail: play@offroad.co.nz
                      Internet: www.offroad.co.nz

                      INFORMATION

                      You provide: Camera, sensible clothing, sun-tan cream, drink, long pants recommended.

                      Off Road Adventures provide: Free courtesy coach for direct bookings only. Full face helmet, gloves, goggles and wet weather boots. Rain jackets and over trousers supplied when raining.

                      Departure times: Daily 9 PM and 1 PM .
                      Other times by arrangement.

                      © CJG, 2010

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                        09.01.2010 10:28
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                        Pick up one of these cards if you stop at Texaco on a regular basis

                        CAN BUYING PETROL REALLY BE REWARDING?

                        INTRODUCTION

                        In answer to the title of this review, in my opinion, no. For all of us who need to fill up at the pumps for work, family and leisure, the amount we spend has been at the mercy of the volatile price of oil and the taxes imposed by the UK governments. In the past 18 months or so, we have seen a full range of prices from an approximate high of £1.20 per litre (unleaded) in July 2008, to a low of approximately 90p per litre (unleaded) in the December 2008. The prices are now rising up again at a current approximate price of £1.09 per litre (unleaded). The price could again rise further in 2010 if the UK government decides to increase VAT after the next election and if the price of oil continues to rise. So, we motorists need to find clever and ingenious ways to try and get something back from the petrochemical industry. One of the ways in which we can do this, is by making the most of loyalty schemes, of which the Texaco Star Rewards scheme is the main topic of this review.

                        At the moment, I drive a regular commute of approximately 100 miles per day in distance, so my fuel costs are relatively high (usually £65.00 per week), even though I drive a small car (a Ford Ka). Asides from other means of saving money whilst driving, which can be found on the Money Saving Expert website (see the link below), my use of the Texaco card has accumulated £25.00 in rewards since June 2008. Whilst this would seem a fairly miniscule return over this period of time, it should be noted that I also fill up at Tesco's on a regular basis.

                        THE APPLICATION PROCESS AND YOUR MEMBERSHIP PROFILE

                        Firstly I wish to state that this scheme is NOT a credit card as specified by Dooyoo, but is a loyalty card. If there is a Texaco near where you live, or if you fill up there on a regular basis, it is worth you applying for a Texaco Star Rewards card. The application process is free, and you do not even have to pay for a stamp to send off the registration form. Using the catchphrase of Alexander the Meerkat, the overall application process is, well, "simples". All you have to do is to pick up a registration form in the Texaco shop, fill it in, and you can post the form in-store. You will also receive a card that you can use straight away, which you can start redeeming "stars" once you have made a purchase. The card design is fairly basic and unspectacular - it is black all over with the Texaco emblem in the top-right corner, with "Star Rewards" written in white outlined text.

                        With your card, you will need to register your details, either online, or by telephone. The full details about the registration process can be found at the Texaco Star Rewards website (see the link below). If you register online, you will need to enter in your 12 digit number on your card, and once successful, you will need to set up your profile by entering in your name, address, e-mail address and your password so that you can return to your profile at a later date. When you view your profile online, there are a few basic options available to you. You can view how many stars that you have accumulated, you can update your profile and password, you can request or add a new card and you can also view your redemption history. In short, the member part of the website is very user friendly and easy to read and follow.

                        HOW DO YOU ACCUMULATE STAR REWARDS AND WHAT CAN YOU GET FOR THEM?

                        Like the application process, the basic rules for accumulating stars are also very straightforward. Simply, for every £1.00 that you spend in store, you will accumulate 1 star. This is not just limited to purchasing fuel, and can include buying products in store such as oil or basic shopping goods or even mobile top-ups. 1 star is the sterling equivalent of 1p, using this card is the equivalent of earning 1% cashback. Unfortunately you can only earn stars at Texaco, which means that as mentioned above, this card is only useful to you if you buy petrol regularly from this company.

                        In terms of what you can spend you hard earned stars on, there is a bit more variety, but you cannot redeem you stars as cash. To redeem your stars at one of the organizations below, you will need to reach the minimum threshold. Then you can redeem the reward on the Texaco Star Rewards website by clicking on "view star rewards" whilst you are logged in, and then clicking on redeem on the relevant reward. Once your reward has been accepted, this will be added to your redemption history in your profile, and your voucher will be on its way in the post (for rewards that distribute actual paper vouchers). In my experience, I have redeemed my stars for £10 Argos vouchers, and £15 Texaco vouchers. In both cases, the vouchers arrived surprisingly quickly in the post, approximately 1 week after redeeming them online. I also had no problems at the checkout by using either of these vouchers.

                        If you collect enough stars, you can redeem them on the following:

                        - Texaco Vouchers = 500 Stars = £5 voucher

                        You can redeem you stars on purchasing fuel at Texaco, or use the voucher for any other purchase, such as a car-wash or buying some tasty confectionary before your road trip.

                        - Argos Gift Vouchers = 500 Stars = £5 voucher

                        You can spend your vouchers on buying any product that takes your fancy at one of the 14,000 products in the Argos catalogue.

                        - Love2Shop vouchers = 500 Stars = £5 voucher

                        This is arguably the most diverse vouchers available, as these can redeemed at BHS, Boots, Carphone Warehouse, D2, Fads, Halfords, HMV, H Samuel, Index , JJB, Mothercare, Principles, Threshers, Warehouse, Waterstones, WH Smith and Wilkinson.

                        - Marks and Spencer = 500 Stars = £5 voucher

                        Your voucher can be used to redeem any product in Marks and Spencer.

                        - Virgin Atlantic = 1000 stars = 1000 flying club airmiles.

                        You can exchange your Stars for Virgin Atlantic flying club miles. If you already have a Virgin account number, then all you need to do is click on redeem and enter your Virgin account number. If you are not a member you can call Virgin to set up an account on 08701 61 60 59.

                        - NCH The Childrens Charity = 1 star

                        You can make a difference to the lives of the UK's most vulnerable and excluded children, young people and their families. Texaco also improves your donation, by doubling the star contribution.

                        The overall range of outlets at which you can redeem your stars is fairly diverse, but lacks a major food supermarket, other than Marks and Spencer food which is quite expensive. This may be because the big players such as Tesco's and Sainsbury's have their own loyalty schemes.

                        OVERALL

                        If you are a regular buyer of fuel from Texaco, or you drive past a Texaco station on a regular basis you should pick up one of these cards, particularly if you do not already have an existing fuel loyalty card. It costs you absolutely nothing, and you effectively earn 1% cashback on your fuel, though you can only earn stars at Texaco and can redeem your rewards at specified outlets as vouchers unless you donate to charity or claim the airmiles. However, the range of outlets available are fairly diverse, though there does not appear to be a major food supermarket where you can redeem your rewards. In terms of redeeming the vouchers, in my experience this has only taken a week from the time at which I ordered the voucher online and is quite speedy.

                        One important point that I will leave you on, is that you should not let the loyalty card dictate your fuel purchase. If your local Texaco is more expensive than another petrol station just down the road which does not offer a loyalty card, you would be better off saving your money at the cheaper petrol station as you are effectively saving your money at the time of purchase. The reason why I do not solely buy my petrol at Texaco alone is that other nearby petrol stations such as Tesco's sometimes offer double clubcard points at a comparable (or sometimes cheaper fuel price). As they say though, it pays to shop around, particularly with the volatile fuel prices we see at the moment, as there are some weeks when my local Texaco in Hanley is the cheapest petrol station in the area.

                        LINKS

                        Texaco Star Rewards:
                        https://www.starrewards.co.uk/index.asp

                        Money Saving Expert - Cheap Petrol and Diesel:
                        http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheaper-fuel

                        © CJG, 2010

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                        • More +
                          07.01.2010 17:37
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                          Advantages

                          Disadvantages

                          An impressive hotel that helped beat the jetlag

                          INTRODUCTION

                          I have spent a number of my adult years living in "windy" Wellington, the capital of Aotearoa (Maori for the land of the long white cloud) or its more common name, New Zealand. I lived there between June 2000 - June 2001 as part of my university course. I really enjoyed this experience in Wellington, so I grabbed the opportunity to work there permanently after I graduated in 2002. I returned back to Wellington in August 2002 and lived there until January 2008, when my partner (now fiancée) and I decided to move back to the UK to pursue a career opportunity. It was nearly 2 years after we left, that we returned to Wellington as part of a well earned 4 week Xmas holiday in New Zealand. We stayed in the Travelodge Wellington for 8 nights between Sunday 13th - Monday 21st December.

                          BACKGROUND ON TRAVELODGE WELLINGTON

                          This hotel was formerly known as the Copthorne Plimmer Towers Hotel, but since I left Wellington, the hotel became a Travelodge on 19th April 2008. The Travelodge Wellington underwent a major refurbishment between October 2008 and was only re-opened just a few months ago, in August 2009. The hotel has been completely revamped with each of the 132 accommodation rooms containing new light fittings and new LCD televisions. The hotel conference facilities, as described by Travelodge, have been given a "face lift", and the hotel foyer has been "transformed". Whilst we had no need to check out the conference facilities, the hotel foyer is certainly very modern looking and clean, which makes for a good first impression.

                          WHY DID WE BOOK THIS HOTEL?

                          We were very tempted to throw our money at the more grander and renowned Wellington hotels such as the James Cook or Intercontinental. However we decided that the money would be better spent on meals and evenings out whilst we were in the capital. The main drivers for choosing the right hotel to meet our needs were a central location at an affordable price. The Travelodge certainly ticked both of these boxes. We booked this hotel through Expedia, which gave a good range of hotels from the most expensive (mentioned above), to the more cheaper hotels, which included the Travelodge. The 8 nights came to a total of £345.76 which works out to be a very competitive £43.22 per night. In local currency this is approximately NZ $95 per night, based on an approximate exchange rate of NZ $2.2 for every £1. For all of those budding Money Saving Experts out there, Expedia can be found on cashback websites such as as TopCashback at a very favourable rate of 7.25%. This meant that after booking this hotel at a decent price, we also earned £25.08 cashback, which was quickly tracked. A payment is now on its way as I write this review.

                          LOCATION, LOCATION,LOCATION!

                          The hotel is vary conveniently located by Plimmer steps, which is just off Lambton Quay, the major shopping street and a very central location in Wellington. From the hotel you are only a few minutes walk away from locations such as the Cable car, Te Papa Museum of New Zealand and the harbour. As we were meeting up with a number of ex-workmates and friends at various times over the 8 days, we wanted somewhere where we would only be a 5-10 minute walk away from meeting up for coffee or a drink. The Travelodge fitted the bill, especially as we did not hire a rental car. The one drawback with the access to the hotel via Plimmer steps is that you have to climb a few steps (approximately 12 steps) before you can reach the glass door entrance which lead up to the lifts. You can avoid these steps during the working day through a small shopping precinct (AMI Plaza) which runs adjacent to the entrance. However out of working hours this precinct is closed. We did not find these steps a problem, but for anyone with limited mobility, you may find this a major drawback. The main entrance to the hotel is at Gilmer Terrace but this is a fair walk away, by walking all the way up Plimmer steps - even more steps to climb, or by walking up the hilly Boulcott Street.

                          GENERAL HOTEL FACILITIES

                          If you access the hotel via Plimmer Steps the reception is located on Level 6 from the lifts. The lift facilities are spacious, speedy and modern. The reception area, as mentioned above, is modern and clean, and the staff are very friendly and welcoming. There were no problems with our Expedia pre-booking which was smoothly processed at check-in. There are car parking facilities at the Gilmer Terrace main entrance but these are limited and charges apply.

                          There is a bar and restaurant available at the hotel, but we did not use them as the hotel location is in the heart of Wellington, where there are a plethora of great bars, restaurants and cafes. There are also internet facilities available, at a cost of $2 for 20 minutes, but the time counters idea of a second seemed a lot shorter than mine!

                          If you feel that you have over-indulged there is a very basic gym in the hotel containing a treadmill, machine weights, cycling machine and a rowing machine. However, as long as the weather is playing nicely, there is a far more attractive "gym" by running along the picturesque Wellington harbour. The harbour is only a 5 minute walk (or 2 minute jog) away from Lambton Quay.

                          THE ROOM AND ITS FACILITIES

                          We were located on the 16th floor, in room 1609, for those of you who were curious. The facilities of our room were far superior to any Travelodge that I have stayed at in the UK. The room was spacious with a comfortable generic grey carpet, with 2 large windows on either side of the Samsung LCD Television. The view was not anything spectacular, mostly of other buildings in the CBD and a car park, but this view was softened by a number of gorgeous sunny days.

                          Whilst we were staying at the Travelodge, our room was serviced in the mid afternoon, which rarely posed a problem as we usually out. There were also enough basic facilities to allow for self caterers, to a certain extent. This included a dining table with 2 chairs, a couple of bowls and plates, and also a small amount of cutlery. There was also enough space in the minibar fridge to store milk for your cereal in the morning, plus some chocolate biscuits if you have a sweet tooth like us. The ability to buy a cheap bag of Skippies Cornflakes and eat them for breakfast, meant that we could save more money for catching up with friends later on. The room also has a microwave, but we did not need to use this whilst we were there - there are plenty of tastier cheap eating options in Wellington rather that eating a ready meal!

                          The bed in the room was a standard double size and was very comfortable - it was neither too soft or firm, just right. We had absolutely no problems getting a decent nights sleep, and thankfully the curtains had no problems blocking out the early morning New Zealand sunlight. This allowed us to get over the jetlag in a couple of days or so. At one side of the room tucked away to the side was a 2 person red sofa, which seemed to be positioned there for lack of anywhere else to put it.

                          The storage facilities were fairly standard, the room contained an open wardrobe with 8 coat hangers. Thankfully the room also had its own iron and ironing board which allowed me to iron out the creases of my shirts before we went out to dinner. There was also a sturdy luggage storage cabinet which kept my suitcase out of harms way. The room also contains an in room safe to secure away those essential "must not lose" travel items.

                          For all of those telly addicts out there, there are enough TV channels to briefly fight away boredom before bedtime or on a rainy day, but be warned - New Zealand TV can be especially dull, particularly in Summer! However if you are a fan of re-runs of Heartbeat and a number of other UK or US shows, then you'll be in luck. The full channels available are TV1, TV2, TV3, C4, Discovery, TV6, Sky Sports 1, Sky News NZ and Movies on Demand.

                          The bathroom was nicely tiled containing a toilet, sink and a large shower cubicle. The mirror was large with no escape for the reflection looking back at you! There was plently of storage area for toiletries. The shower was a large open plan shower, with the shower head behind a fixed glass wall, with the other half of the cubicle open so that you could get in and out. The shower was a refreshing and awakening power shower, leaving you with no excuse not to be ready for the day ahead. However, the absence of a bath was a bit of a downer, particularly after a hard day walking around the city.

                          OVERALL

                          I was generally very impressed with this hotel and its facilities when considering the price and the excellent location in the heart of Wellington. I think that the Travelodge sometimes carries a certain stigma in the hotel world as a very basic but admittedly affordable hotel brand, but the facilities at this hotel are much better than any other Travelodge that I have stayed at in the UK. The comfortable bed and room facilities really helped with beating the jetlag and also allowed us to make our own breakfast in the morning. I found the staff friendly and welcoming, and they always seemed happy to help. The only slight drawbacks which brings the overall rating to 4 stars, are that access via Plimmer steps could be problematic for those with limited mobility. Also the lack of a bath was a bit of a disappointment after walking around the city on a hot Summers day.

                          ADDRESS:

                          Travelodge Wellington
                          2-6 Gilmer Terrace, Wellington

                          PHONE
                          (+64 4) 499 9911

                          USEFUL LINKS:

                          Travelodge Wellington:
                          http://www.travelodge.com.au/locations/features.aspx?hid=957

                          Expedia:
                          www.expedia.co.uk/

                          Topcashback:
                          www.topcashback.co.uk/

                          © CJG, 2010

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                          • Halifax All in One / Credit Card / 108 Readings / 104 Ratings
                            More +
                            08.12.2009 01:00
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                            Advantages

                            Disadvantages

                            See conclusions

                            INTRODUCTION

                            At the beginning of this year (2009), I was on the look out for a new credit card as my current provider (Natwest) were dithering for too long as to whether they wanted to extend my credit limit, which currently sits at a very modest £1600. I also wanted to find a new credit card with a 0% interest free introductory rate on purchases, as my 6 month 0% offer with my Natwest Gold card was on the verge of expiring.

                            I have held a current account with the Halifax since 1996, though for the past few years this account has been what can be best described as "dormant", in other words I had forgotten about the one pound something that I left in there. Spurred on by the promise of a new year and the resolutions that come with it, I decided to dust off my Halifax statements and set up a Reward Current account (where you have to pay in £1000 each month to "earn" a £5 reward). At the same time, I decided to apply for a Halifax All in One credit card (Mastercard) as they were (and still are at the time of writing) offering an attractive introductory rate of 0% interest for 9 months on purchases. I can honestly say that the all singing and dancing "Howard" from the Halifax TV adverts had no bearing on my decision - by the way, whatever happened to Howard?

                            THE APPLICATION PROCESS

                            I applied for the Halifax All in One credit card at the same time as opening the Reward current account at my local branch in Hanley. I popped in on a cold brisk Saturday morning in early February and was given an appointment with an advisor the following week. The application process for the credit card was quite simple, it was a matter of providing your personal details and answering a few financial questions such as your current salary and other forms of credit that you have. The Halifax advisor discreetly turned the computer monitor away from my watchful eye to determine if I had a good credit score and.... Success! I was accepted for a Halifax card which had a much higher credit limit. In terms of customer service, I was very impressed with the friendliness of the advisor that took me through the application process, particularly considering Halifax was one of the banks under a very gloomy financial cloud, and had just been "bailed out" by the Government.

                            The success of my application was (in my opinion) due to my fairly active use of my Natwest Gold Credit card which as mentioned above, also had a introductory rate of 0% for 6 months. On this card I was paying off the minimum amount on the balance each month as no interest was accumulating. From what I have learnt, your credit rating seems to be boosted if you are not a person that pays off the balance in full every month, but one that only pays the minimum amounts instead. I will discuss further below what I did with the money that I should in theory have used to pay off the monthly credit card balance.

                            FEATURES OF THE ALL IN ONE CARD

                            The Headline Features

                            As mentioned above the all in one card offers 0% interest for the first 9 months on purchases. Another attractive feature, though not one that I was interested in, is that this card also offers 0% interest for 9 months on balance transfers made in the first 90 days. However, a handling fee of 3% applies for each balance transfer. To make sure that you benefit for the 0% rate you need to ensure that you stay within your agreed credit limit and that you make repayments on time. You do not benefit from the 0% balance transfer offer if your hold another card with either the Halifax or Bank of Scotland.

                            Anything else?

                            The card also offers:
                            - Cover against online fraud when purchasing on the internet;
                            - A card replacement if lost;
                            - No annual fee;
                            - Management using the Halifax online banking website;
                            - Payment protection insurance; and
                            - A range of funky colours - you can choose your card in one of 5 colours (black, pink, navy blue, white or red).

                            MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

                            0% interest free period for 9 months

                            As I mentioned above the most desirable feature for me was the 0% 9 month offer on all purchases. This is now not the greatest length 0% interest free on purchases period available, as the Tesco Clubcard credit card, for example, offers an introductory 12 month interest free period. Even so, when I signed up to this credit card in February earlier on this year, the All in One card offered the longest interest free period.

                            This allowed me to simply spend, spend, spend with this card and pay off the minimum amount each month without accruing any interest. Instead of using the money from my salary to pay off the credit card balance in full each month, I put this money in a savings account so that I could earn interest on this money. I followed a similar method with my Natwest Gold card whilst it was still within the 6 month 0% purchase rate and have found this a useful way to earn a few extra ££s from the credit card companies. The Money Saving Expert refers to this practice as being a credit card "tart" - see more details in the link below.

                            http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cards/best-0-credit-cards

                            My 9 month interest free period expired at the end of November and I thankfully remembered to pay off the entire balance in full and "pocketed" the interest.

                            You need to be aware that the 0% period does not apply to cash advances (i.e. where you withdraw money from a cashpoint) so NEVER, EVER withdraw money from this card. If you do, the money you withdraw will be subject to a monthly interest rate of 2.075% and an annual interest rate of 27.95%. To add insult to injury, you would also be charged a cash advance fee of 3% of the money you have withdrawn or a minimum of £3.

                            Online Banking

                            I found the Halifax online banking service fairly straightforward and user friendly. Firstly you need to set up your online banking with Halifax, and once this is arranged you need to enter in your arranged username and password. I can access my credit card account by clicking on the mostly concealed credit card number (except the final 4 digits). The summary page is neatly spaced out with all of the key information present in a rectangular box at the top of the screen. Here you can easily determine your current balance, the next payment due date, the date the last payment was received, the minimum repayment required and amount of last payment received. The individual transactions are itemised in a standard statement format where you can peruse the date and description of each transaction and depress yourself with how much you have spent.

                            The online payment facility is also very simple, beneath the statement there is a button, "Online Payment" which after clicking takes you to a new screen to allow you to select the account from which you would like to make your payment from. Once you have picked your account (for me this is the Reward account) you can pay the minimum amount or select another amount which is useful if you wish to pay the balance in full, for example. Once you have entered in your amount, simply click on "Submit" and your payment has been made. Halifax recommends you should allow 4 bank working days for the payment to be arranged, in my experience payment usually takes less time than this, typically 2 days. You can also arrange payments by Direct debit, I did not use this facility, but if you are to follow paying the minimum amount over the interest free period, this would be the safest way not to forget paying your bill!

                            Replacement card

                            I rather foolishly managed to "lose" my card in August. As soon as I realised, I raised the alarm with the Halifax 24 credit card helpline who were friendly, efficient and immediately cancelled the lost card after asking a couple of security questions. A new card arrived in 2 days and had the same pin number as my lost card. I was also not charged for a replacement card which was a welcome surprise. To my annoyance I managed to find my lost card at home later that week, but nonetheless I was still impressed with the speed at which Halifax sent me a new card. The new credit card number was also speedily included on my online banking account.

                            Repayments cover

                            One aspect of this card I did not touch with a bargepole is the "optional" credit card repayments cover. In a nutshell, your minimum repayments each month could be covered for up to 12 months in the event:

                            - You are unable to work for 15 consecutive days because you have suffered an accident or sickness
                            -You are working and become unemployed for at least 15 days (through no fault of your own)
                            - You were confined to hospital for at least seven consecutive days or more
                            The repayments cover *could* pay 10% of either the outstanding balance or highest balance (in the preceding statement month) whichever is the greater but no less than £10 up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

                            You meet the eligibility criteria for repayments cover if you are aged 18-65, live in the UK and are in paid work and paying National Insurance Contributions class 1 or 2. The cover costs 87p per £100 of your highest card balance each month, so if you had an outstanding balance of £1000 this equates to £8.70 per month or £104.40 a year.

                            I decided to steer well clear as I have heard and read a lot of bad publicity about payment protection insurance from bank products that are significantly overly expensive and you could obtain this cover (if you felt you needed it) by purchasing separate stand-alone insurance. Another aspect to consider is that the minimum repayment would not be covered after the 12 month period which may not be especially helpful if you have a large outstanding balance. I would recommend reading the following article on the Money Saving Expert website regarding payment protection insurance.
                            http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cards/credit-cards-protection

                            Interestingly enough, after I activated my card, I stated clearly over the phone that I was not interested in this cover whatsoever, but the Halifax advisor still proceeded to tell me all of the details. So, again I said I was not interested, and then I was asked why not? I found this somewhat aggravating. It is not as if that is the banks business, plus they are also not providing independent financial advice and they have a vested interest in persuading customers to part with an bit of extra money for a service that may not be useful to them.

                            And the colour?

                            I decided on a black All in one card, the design looks quite nifty with a white "X" outlined on a mysterious dark black background.

                            CONCLUSIONS:

                            - The application process was simple and the Halifax advisor at my local branch in Hanley delivered an impressive level of customer service.
                            - The 9 month 0% interest free period on purchases is quite attractive, particularly if you use the card for all of your transactions and put your salary in savings account. Don't forget to pay off the minimum amounts each month on time though and to pay off your balance in full at the end of the 9 month period!
                            - Never use this card for cash advances - the interest free period does not apply and you will get stung!
                            - The online banking service is straightforward and user friendly.
                            - The payment protection insurance seems like a waste of money and another way for banks to sell you something that you might not actually want.

                            SUMMARY INFORMATION
                            Typical APR: 15.9%
                            Other APRs: 19.9% APR (variable) and 21.9% APR (variable)

                            Other interest rates

                            Purchases:
                            Introductory rate: 0% for 9 months
                            Monthly rate: 1.240% or 1.527% or 1.667%
                            Annual rate: 15.94% or 19.95% or 21.95%

                            Cash advances:
                            Monthly rate: 2.075%
                            Annual rate: 27.95%

                            Balance transfers:
                            Introductory rate: 0% for 9 months on Balance Transfers made in the first 90 days
                            Monthly rate: 1.240% or 1.527% or 1.667%
                            Annual rate: 15.94% or 19.95% or 21.95%

                            Cheques:
                            Monthly rate: 1.240% or 1.527% or 1.667%
                            Annual rate: 15.94% or 19.95% or 21.95%

                            Minimum repayment: If the balance is less than £5 then you must repay the full amount. If the balance is £5 or more, you must repay the greater of 1% of the amount you owe us or an amount equal to the total of any Credit Card Repayments Cover premiums, Interest (or the minimum interest charge), overlimit and late payment fees plus £5.

                            Fees:
                            Cash Advance Fee: 3% or minimum £3
                            Foreign Exchange Commission: 2.95%
                            Balance Transfer Fee: 3% or minimum £3
                            Cheque Fee: 3% or minimum £3
                            Minimum Interest Charge: 50p (in any month where interest charge is between 1p and 50p)
                            Copy Statement Fee: £5
                            Statement Date Change Fee: £5
                            Processing any foreign currency payment to us: £10
                            Stopped Cheque Fee (Other than lost or stolen): £10

                            Default charges:
                            Late Payment Fee: £12
                            Overlimit Fee: £12
                            Returned Payment Fee: £12
                            Letter Fee: N/A

                            © CJG, 2009

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                            • Buyers Guide: Cash ISAs / Discussion / 86 Readings / 82 Ratings
                              More +
                              26.11.2009 18:19
                              Very helpful
                              (Rating)
                              13 Comments

                              Advantages

                              Disadvantages

                              If you have savings use up your ISA allowance first

                              INTRODUCTION

                              The plight of savers during the current "credit crunch" and recession has been well highlighted. The cut in the Bank of England base rate to 0.5% since March 2009 has seen the interest earned from cash savings diminish and has given a massive financial headache to savers who were reliant on this money. However, all is not completely lost. You can still earn a fairly reasonable return on your hard earned money by using up your cash ISA allowance. The review below describes in detail about:

                              - Cash ISA's in summary;
                              - The ISA allowances;
                              - Types of cash ISA's;
                              - ISA interest rates;
                              - Transferring ISA's; and
                              - Experiences with my own cash ISA's

                              I hope you find this review informative and useful.

                              CASH ISA'S IN SUMMARY

                              Cash Individual Savings Accounts (or ISA's in short) have been around for over 10 years and were first introduced in April 1999. Cash ISA's are simply another means of saving your money within a bank or building society account, except that you do not pay tax on the interest you have earned. The amount of tax paid by a basic rate taxpayer on the interest earned from a standard savings account is 20%, for a higher rate taxpayer this is 40%. As an example if you have £10,000 in a savings account paying 3%, you would earn:

                              Gross interest: £10,000 x 0.03 = £300
                              Net interest (20% taxpayer): £300 x 0.8 = £240 (£60 paid to Inland Revenue)
                              Net interest (40% taxpayer): £300 x 0.6 = £180 (£120 paid to Inland Revenue)

                              But if you had £10,000 in a Cash ISA paying 3% AER, you would earn the £300 interest, without having to pay an extra £60-£120 to the taxman. Whilst this example is purely hypothetical, it illustrates that if you have any cash stored in a savings account, you really should consider using up your cash ISA allowance first so that the taxman cannot get his mitts on your hard earned cash! After you have used up your allowance, you should then consider other savings accounts such as regular monthly savings accounts.

                              Whilst this is not the subject of this review, you can also purchase stocks and share ISAs. If you obtain an investment in this manner, it means that if you have made a profit on that investment, that you are not required to pay Capital Gains Tax.

                              ISA ALLOWANCES

                              As a result of the 2009 budget, the allowances for cash ISAs are currently different depending on your age.

                              Individuals aged under 50:

                              The overall ISA allowance (including stocks and shares ISAs) is £7,200 for this tax year which will rise to £10,200 on 6 April 2010. You can invest this maximum amount in stocks and shares, or split the allowance between a Cash ISA and a stock and shares ISA (£3600 in each ISA). You can also mix and match, for example have £5000 in a stocks and shares ISA and have £2,200 in a cash ISA.

                              You are however, only allowed to deposit up to £3,600 this tax year in a cash ISA. This will rise to an allowance of £5,100 per year at the beginning of the new tax year, 6 April 2010.

                              Individuals aged over 50:

                              The overall ISA allowance (including stocks and shares ISAs) for this tax year is now £10,200 which rose from £7,200 on 6th October 2009. The earlier date for implementing this rise was a response from the government to assist older savers and was announced at the 2009 budget.

                              As with the example above for under 50s you use all of this new allowance on stocks and shares, or you can mix and match. However the maximum amount of cash you can invest this tax year in an ISA is £5,100. If you fall in the over 50s category you can now save £5,100 in a Cash ISA this tax year if you have not yet used your allowance. If you already have £3,600 saved, you can top this up to the £5,100 allowance.

                              IF YOU WITHDRAW MONEY FROM A CASH ISA YOU CANNOT REPLACE IT...

                              As I learnt the hard way, once you withdraw money from a cash ISA you cannot replace that money again. As an example, if you assume that I have already invested £3,600 this tax year in my cash ISA and wanted to withdraw £1,600, the amount left in my ISA is £2,000. As I have already used my ISA allowance of £3,600 for the tax year, I am not allowed to replace the £1,600. So the take home message is simply to make sure that if you are saving cash in an ISA, make sure that you are not likely to need again soon to pay the bills etc.

                              TYPES OF CASH ISA

                              Cash ISAs can be instant access or fixed rate. The interest rate of instant access ISAs can fluctuate depending on the providers individual financial reasons or the Bank of England base rate. The benefit of owning an instant access ISA is that you can access your money if you need to. However, the interest rates tend to be less than fixed rate ISAs.

                              With fixed rate ISAs, you have to lock away your money for a fixed period of time which varies depending on the terms and conditions of the ISA. The bottom line is no matter how long the period of time is, you cannot usually access your money during that period. Some fixed rate ISAs can last for 5 years, which is a long time without your cash!

                              The upshot of this is that if you are likely to need your money from an ISA (e.g. in case of an emergency) then you should consider using an instant access ISA. If however, you are sure you will not need your money for a given length of time, you may want to consider a fixed rate ISA as they generally offer more competitive rates.

                              ISA INTEREST RATES

                              After the "credit crunch" towards the end of last year, savers have seen the interest on their savings plummet. The interest rate on savings accounts including cash ISAs tends to be linked to the Bank of England base rate which has been at a low of 0.5% since March 2009. However, despite this low rate, there are still cash ISAs out there which can offer a competitive rate.

                              Instant Access ISAs - Best Rate (26/11/09)

                              At the time of writing, the best available instant access ISA is the First Direct cash e-ISA which pays 3% AER fixed with a £1 deposit until 9 November 2010. There is also a competitive instant access ISA available from Standard Life which is paying 2.65% AER with a £1 deposit.

                              Fixed rate ISAs - Best Rate (26/11/09)

                              Again, at the time of writing the best fixed rate ISA is with Principality Building Society, where if you save £3,600, you get an interest rate of 4.2% AER for a 3 year fixed period. Unfortunately you are not permitted to withdraw the money for this period, so don't lock the money away if you think you may need it!

                              For the latest on the best interest rates for your cash ISA, keep a regular eye on the Money Supermarket, or Money Saving Expert websites (see the links below).

                              Money supermarket website:
                              http://www.moneysupermarket.com/savings/

                              Money saving expert website:
                              http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/

                              TRANSFERRING ISAS

                              Since the recession and the fall of the Bank of England base rate, the interest rates on cash ISAs has also plummeted to as low as 0.1% AER. On a ISA balance of £10,000, this equates to a dire £10 per year. If you compare this to an interest rate of 3% AER, this is equivalent to £300, 30 times as much interest. So if you have got an ISA from a previous tax year that is gathering dust, or you have a ISA from the current 09/10 tax year it is worth looking at your ISA providers website to see what your current interest rate is - you may be in for a shock! If you want to up the interest rate, you can transfer your ISA to a new ISA as long as the new ISA provider accepts transfers in. You can find this information out by looking at the Money supermarket link above. Before you do this, however, it is worth looking at online reviews and opinions about your new ISA and provider as the transfer service can be slow and stressful. You also need to make sure that you do not withdraw your money to do this, otherwise you will lose the tax free status on the cash! If you are considering transferring your money to a new cash ISA, you will need to fill out a form from the new ISA provider.

                              EXPERIENCES WITH MY OWN CASH ISA'S

                              - Don't deposit any money that you may need to take out again

                              I was overseas for a number of years until January 2008 when my partner, (now fiancé) and I returned back to England. I signed up to my first ISA with Natwest, called the e-ISA, which is still available to new customers. I steadily accrued money at the 07/08 and 08/09 tax year and I essentially treated my e-ISA as my main savings account, thinking I could take and replace money as I pleased. I then needed to take out £2,500 to buy a second hand car so I could commute to work. I thought I would be able to put the £2,500 that I had withdrawn, back into the account later on that year. WRONG! I learnt the hard way the £3,600 limit for each tax year relates to deposits only, and if you use up your limit and then withdraw the money, you cannot replace the withdrawn money again that tax year.

                              - Keep an eye out on your current interest rates

                              The interest rate on my e-ISA has shrunk quite a bit since I opened the account, but I have been fairly lucky. The rate was originally a comparatively staggering 5.5% AER, but is now 3.25% AER. This is still 6.5 times the current Bank of England base rate, so I am still earning a reasonable amount of interest considering the economic situation. Even so, I have always been on the lookout for any attractive interest rates as I would consider transferring this ISA if the interest rate became uncompetitive.

                              - Look out for special offers before the start of the new tax year

                              Just before the 09/10 tax year in March 2009, Natwest were advertising a Cash ISA plus account for a limited period only which has now closed to new customers. I deposited the full allowance (£3,600) and the rate has remained at 4.02% AER (if you are an Advantage Gold customer) or 3.51% AER (if you are a regular Natwest customer). This account is an instant access ISA, and the rate tops the current best rate mentioned above. I recommend that if you are looking out for a new ISA, you may want to wait until the new year as banks will be offering more competitive ISA rates so that they can attract new customers.

                              Conclusions

                              - Cash ISA's are simply another means of saving your money within a bank or building society account, except that you do not pay tax on the interest you have earned.
                              - If you have any savings, you should use up your ISA cash allowance first, and then consider other savings accounts (e.g. regular monthly savings accounts). This means you are keeping your interest away from the taxman!
                              - The cash limit for each tax year relates to deposits only, and if you use up your limit for the current tax year and then withdraw the money, you cannot replace the withdrawn money again that tax year.
                              - Look at the interest rate on your current ISA and consider transferring the account to a new provider with a better interest rate.
                              - Look out for special ISA rates at before the new tax year starts as providers will be trying to attract new customers.

                              © CJG, 2009

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                              • Cadbury Flake (Praline) / Chocolate / 84 Readings / 81 Ratings
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                                23.11.2009 22:52
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                                You will long for more

                                INTRODUCTION

                                After boozing it up for the last couple of reviews I have decided to return to one of my other favourite review topics, random chocolate bars, preferably produced by Cadbury. Todays review is an adaptation of the crumbliest flakiest milk chocolate in the world - Cadbury Flake Praline. Of course, I'm sure you have all eaten many a regular Flake over the years, and the more nostalgic readers will remember the classic Flake girl adverts. However, Flake Praline is still quite new to the supermarket shelves and was launched in 5 years ago in 2004. I have never come across this bar before so I thought I'd share my first time experiences with you.

                                PACKAGING

                                I won't dwell too long on the mundane packaging details, suffice to say the bar is wrapped within a classic Flake yellow and chocolate foil wrapper as illustrated in the picture above. For all of you readers that are interested in the calorie and nutritional information, fear not, this is here to depress you on the reverse side of the bar. To really rub it in, I have also included this information further below.

                                APPEARANCE

                                The bar itself looks surprisingly different to a regular Flake. The base of the bar is sealed by a thin layer of chocolate and means it will not waste away at the slightest touch. The sides of the bar are also coated in chocolate and are quite nobbly with a generous helping of hazelnuts encased within the bar. Normal service on the top of bar is resumed, however, with the reassuring sight of folded thin layers of Cadbury chocolate.

                                TASTE

                                The chocolate seal around most of the flakey bits means you can bite cleanly through the bar without losing half of your flake on the floor. Smaller flake splinters still escape without permission, but then we all know how crumbly any Flake bar is. As for the all important taste test, I am pleased to inform all of you choccie fans that you will not be disappointed. The taste is of course, fantastic, and the small hazelnut pieces make a welcome addition to the flavour. The flavour is sweet, rich and mouth watering. One bite never seems to be enough, and before you know it the bar has disappeared. I was reduced to desperately hoovering up Flake dust in the wrapper and left with a guilty chocolate aftertaste.

                                COST AND NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

                                The cost of Flake decadence was a fairly expensive 64p from the local Co-op. The price of eating one Flake Praline in terms of nutrition was equally costly.

                                Each bar contains:

                                Calories: 205 (10.3% of your Guideline Daily Amount)
                                Sugars: 19.0g (21.1% of your Guideline Daily Amount)
                                Fat: 12.8g (18.2% of your Guideline Daily Amount)
                                Saturates: 6.7g (33.6% of your Guideline Daily Amount)
                                Salt: 0.08g (1.4% % of your Guideline Daily Amount)

                                So my advice on eating this product is to simply eat it with your eyes closed, because if you can't see the calories you won't put them on - right? Of course the alternative to denial is to have this as a treat when the chips are down or when you have been extra good.

                                SUMMARY

                                There is no need for a Flake girl to sell you this product, it is an excellent variation on the bog standard Flake. The bar is costly in terms of price and calories, but I'm gonna stick my neck on the line and say that there is NO healthy Cadbury bar out there - please comment if you know of one. But if you close your eyes and think of the chocolate you will be rewarded with a sweet, rich and decadent bar that will want you longing for more.

                                Made by Cadbury Ireland for Cadbury Trebor Bassett. PO Box 7008, Bournville, Birmingham, B30 2PT, UK.

                                www.cadbury.co.uk

                                © CJG, 2009

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