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My first encounter with Thomson Airways (or Thomsonfly as it was then) was during the early 2000s when they operated low-cost flights from Coventry Airport. I used them to fly to Nice, Lyon and Rome and found them to be as good as any budget airline, with the added bonus that they flew from my home town.
This summer, I booked a week to Turkey and due to my previous experiences with the airline, I had no problems with the prospect of flying with Thomson for the 4 hour journey to Bodrum. I had a minor panic on the day of my flight as I'd forgotten to provide the Advanced Passenger Information (API) necessary to fly on this route. However, I phoned Thomson's call centre and was assured that this wouldn't be a problem as I could provide this information at check-in.
I can't hold Thomson Airways solely responsible for the long queues at Manchester Airport, although their decision to check-in a flight to Zante using the same 3 desks probably made the situation a lot worse. Despite this, they had no problems with the fact I'd forgotten to provide API and the check-in process itself was very quick and easy.
I was impressed that Thomson used the Boeing 767 for this route, as it's very spacious inside with a three blocks of seating with two aisles separating them. The same unfortunately couldn't be said for the seat pitch, which at 28 inches felt more like a National Express coach that an intercontinental airliner. While Turkey is technically a short-haul route it would have been nice if the airline had recognised that 4 hours is still a fair amount of time to be on a plane. There was no entertainment to speak of and while we had personal televisions, these were only used to display the safety briefing before takeoff.
As our flight took off at 9.15pm, we expected that they'd treat it as a night flight and dim the lights, leaving us passengers to our own devices. However, once we were in the sky the lights remained on and the hard sell began. Having been spared the task of performing a safety demonstration, the cabin crew could instead turn their attentions to peddling cigarettes, souvenirs and booze for what felt like the entire flight. There was no complimentary drink (I know it's a budget airline, but 4 hours is a long time and I've been given a meal on shorter Monarch Airlines flights before) and no announcements from the flight deck until we were about to land.
There was some improvement on the return flight, which took off at 4am. This time, the staff respected the ungodliness of the hour and we were left in peace. Having flown with Thomson on a relatively long flight I've realised that airlines should develop a more flexible attitude towards their inflight service. It's silly that a short hop to Dublin and a 4 hour flight to Turkey are both classed as 'short haul'. I would happily have paid more for a drink and an inflight film but unfortunately the Thomson experience was an unpleasant bookend to the holiday rather than the simple, painless journey that it should have been.
Football obsessives will recognise this ball from the 2004 Premier League season. It's now found its way onto the mass market and I've seen them on sale at JD Sports for around £15. You're likely to get a better deal now as the model is a few years old and retailers such as Amazon have stopped stocking it. Design-wise it's a fairly classic model with the 32 tessellating hexagonal panels rather than the assymetrical panels that it's common to see these days.
I first encountered the Nike Geo Vitesse when I was a last-minute addition to a casual 5-a-side game organised by a friend. The surface was that rather strange 3G rubber crumb and our football of choice was a well-scuffed bright yellow version of the ball in the picture above. Of course 'vitesse' means 'speed' and the ball certainly skidded quickly across the damp grass-like surface. Still, it had a nice feel to it- not so light that inaccurate shots go for miles but not so heavy that you can't lift it off the ground. It may have absorbed a little rainwater on the other hand and I'd be tempted to try it out on dry grass to see if there was any noticeable difference.
The ball was owned by my friend who only used it for 5-a-side games. That said, it was very scuffed although it showed no sign of losing its shape. There were no discernable problems with the ball moving in flight, although you're unlikely to see evidence of this on such small pitches. The fluorescent yellow colour made the ball easy to spot even when playing at night although if I'd had the choice I would have opted for the orange version as it would have contrasted more with the pitch.
Overall it did the job for a fairly low-standard kickabout. Had I scored dozens of spectacular goals (unlikely!) I'd probably have attributed it to my own skills rather than the design of the ball. It's far more common for footballs to attract attention for the wrong reasons, for example if they behave erratically. There were no such problems for the Nike Geo Vitesse and within the limited environment of a 5-a-side game we were able to see why it was the Premier League's ball of choice for the 2004/5 season.
Running in the winter can be a punishing business. Obviously there's the cold to contend with but because of working hours we also spend a lot of time pounding the streets in the dark. Most running brands stock a range of high-visibility gear to make night running as safe as possible. Ronhill's unique selling point is its lightweight vapourlite fabric, which promises to offer better breathability and protection from the sun than plain old polyester.
At £22.99 the t-shirt's aren't cheap but my advice would be to look out for offers on websites like wiggle.co.uk who are currently offering the long sleeve version (the one I own) for a snip at £14. I received mine as a gift so unfortunately I can't recommend any particular retailer but if I wanted another I'd definitely go to Wiggle. Anyone who owns running t-shirts by Nike or Karrimor will notice the subtle difference in the material. The vapourlite fabric feels slightly glossier and more comfortable to wear and while the weight difference is minimal it doesn't retain water like other running t-shirts. This means that if you get caught in a shower, it's a lot less of a problem and you won't feel like you're carrying around several kilograms of rainwater.
I can't fault the t-shirt on comfort, although I would say that Ronhill t-shirts run slightly larger than brands such as Asics and Nike. It's slightly looser on me than my other long sleeve t-shirts meaning that it's better as a top layer than as a base layer. Design-wise the t-shirt also scores highly- it has triangular detail on the front in black and charcoal grey with a silver hi-vis trim. The back of the t-shirt is features a 'black cat' motif formed by a large black square and two black triangles on a yellow background. It's very striking to look at, and you could say it's a clever touch for visibility as motorists will be able to tell whether you're coming or going.
All in all, the Ronhill Vizion t-shirt has helped me enjoy running in darkness like never before. I feel safer and dare I say it, more stylish. A clever addition to any winter running wardrobe in my opinion.
I gave the salesman at my local Phone4U an unexpected treat last week when I walked into the store and simply said 'I want a cheap contract and I'm not too fussed about the phone'. He directed me to the Nokia 201- I hadn't considered a QWERTY phone but for £10.50 a month I decided to give it a go. My Orange Canary plan gives me 500 texts and 100 minutes a month which seems more than enough.
The Nokia 201 is fairly chunky looking at first glance due to the need to accommodate the keyboard. However, it makes up for this by being surprisingly flat and light at only 99g and under 14mm deep. My previous phone was a Motorola RAZR which was considerably bulkier despite not having half of the features of the Nokia. The 201 is still pocket-sized and the rounded edges are a nice design feature. There are plenty of inexpensive hard cases and leather cases available online and I think I'll invest to be on the safe side.
The 201 uses the same basic interface as more basic Nokia phones. One drawback is that a few commonly named features are given more subtle names, meaning they take a while to locate. For example instead of an 'inbox', there's a folder simply marked 'conversations' If there is a vibrate mode I haven't found it as it's clearly been given a different, 'edgier' name... I suspect that all the features you expect to find are there if you know where to find them, but I still think terms like 'inbox' should be universal.
For texting, the QWERTY keyboard is a brilliant timesaver and takes very little time to get the hang of. The central block of keys doubles as a numerical keypad although these seem a little too small and fiddly for quick dialling. It might have been better if these keys had been made a bit larger, although this might have disrupted the unity of the QWERTY keypad and make typing less easy. The phone is very easy to use and while the keys are designated as 'soft' keys, they're hard enough that it's difficult to press them by accident and lose your message or accidently phone your boss at 3am (obviously there's also a keypad lock for that).
The Nokia 201 has a range of features including a 3.2 megapixel camera, an FM radio and the ability to make videos (there's no maximum video length- it depends how much memory you have left). It's also equipped with 3G and wi-fi technology, although I've disabled this to prevent Orange from hitting me with mountainous bills. Overall I use it as a pretty basic phone, but it's nice to have the option of a few features in case I change my mind.
To summarise, I'm very happy with the 201 as a purchase. Now that I've mastered the interface I'm kicking myself that I didn't take the plunge sooner. It's perfect for someone like me- I'm still a bit of a technophobe but at the same time don't want to be left behind too much. It's certainly an improvement on my previous phone, which only held 20 text messages(!)
Sports Direct (a shop I seem to visit an awful lot!) had these Head Tennis balls on sale for the bargain price of 39p each. Although they were unpackaged, I thought I'd give them a try as I'd just bought some new tennis rackets and I wanted to make use of the courts in my local park. I'll admit it: I'm one of those people who has an annual love of tennis that begins after the French Open and lasts until Wimbledon has finished. Despite this, I know enough to recognise that Head is a well-established tennis brand that also manufacture some pretty handy rackets and holdalls.
Of course the lack of packaging meant that the balls weren't pressurised and protected from moisture as Head intended. They also featured a little red dot on each one- I'm unsure what this means but it might signify that they're imperfect in some way.
However, this certainly wasn't reflected in the balls' 'playability'. They're just the right weight to sit up nicely without pinging off the racket and flying into the next town. As they're a tiny bit smaller than standard size I'm not sure I'd recommend them for children but for a fairly laid-back knockaround they worked just fine.
While conditions weren't exactly helpful, the balls didn't perform well in the durability stakes. We played for nearly 2 hours on a court still damp from the night's rain and the balls soon lost their fluorescent yellow colour and became more of a mustard-y hue. Also, some of the felt started to collect in places meaning they lost their spherical shape slightly. Not that we noticed but it might be more apparent during our next game. Towards the end of the game a passer-by threw an old dog-chewed tennis ball into our court, mistaking it for one of our own. In truth, you couldn't tell the difference in terms of looks...
While the Head tennis balls I bought weren't very durable I'd still recommend them as a bargain option. When properly packaged and stored, I'm sure the balls would last much longer and it's likely the ones we used had minor imperfections.
During the 1990s Umbro were mainly associated with 'bargain basement' sportswear. In the 21st century they've attempted to do away with this image by emphasising the authentic 'English' engineering of the brand, and have secured high-profile sponsorship deals with (among others) the English national team and Manchester City. But what effect does this change have in terms of their day to day products? I've chosen a small selection as an example of the kind of value for money that Umbro currently offer.
Umbro Speciali football boots (£19.99 from Sports Direct)
These classic-style boots feature moulded studs that are ideal for softer ground. I've also used them on 3G pitches and found them to work just fine. They're very light, although comfort is compromised by aspects such as a thin tongue that doesn't protect your foot very much. Sizing is also a bit different to competitors such as Nike, and while the Speciali size 9 feels very small, size 10 seems far too roomy and I often have to wear an extra pair of socks. Overall a good budget option for occasional use.
Overall rating: 6/10
Umbro SD tracksuit bottoms (£19.95 from ACA Sports)
These tracksuit bottoms are made of a very lightweight material with a thin silver band down the left leg bearing the Umbro lettering. There are two zipped pockets and also a handy zip that lets you widen or tighten the ankles. Overall a good pair of tracksuit bottoms, with a handy net lining that provides extra thermal properties in cold weather and extra breathability in warmer weather.
My rating: 8/10
Umbro slide sandals (£11.99 from Debenhams)
Umbro's answer to the well known Adidas 'Adilette' sandals. These sandals feature a simple synthetic footbed with a band going across the top of the foot that bears the Umbro logo and eye-catching blue and white stripes. This band across your foot has a felt-like material on the underside that's quite comfortable although the band's edges tend to dig in to your foot as you walk. The footbed has little channels in it to allow water drainage, although the sole tends to trap air and make an annoying 'bellows' sound when you walk. Fine for wearing around the pool on holiday although the foot band will loosen over time.
All in all: 6/10
Umbro clearly still offers some good value sports products, but I would still class it more as 'leisure wear' than sportswear. Umbro products tend to be inexpensive and comfortable to wear but aren't engineered to the same standard as many of their competitors. It's good that low-cost options exist but I don't see the CEOs of Nike or Adidas losing sleep any time soon.
I opted for Adidas Kanadia as an alternative to cross country spikes, which I tend to find uncomfortable and frequently overpriced. They had the look of providing the comfort of trainers, the engineering of trail shoes and the stability of spikes. Competitively priced at £34.99 from Sports Direct, they're a good deal cheaper than most decent trail and road shoes so I decided to invest in a pair.
The Kanadias have a 'trainer-like' look to them, with the prominent Adidas stripes, the breathable fabric panels and the contrasting grey and black colours (other more attractive colour combinations are available, including a snazzy orange). At first glance the only clue to their true purpose is the fabric loop at the heel that makes them easier to get on and off. However, take a look at the base of the shoe and the trail shoe engineering is clear to see. The tread consists of dozens of little banana shaped rubber studs that provide grip and at the heel, a thin wedge of the sole protrudes to prevent mud from caking on the sole.
They feel robust enough when put them on, and you instantly notice the firm (or indeed, rock hard) rubber sole that protects your foot from rocks and other obstacles. I have found sizing to be an issues- they run quite small, so try to buy a size larger than you're used to. They may feel snug and supportive when you try them on in the shop but once you start running, you're feet will soon feel the pressure if they don't have enough room. Like a lot of Adidas shoes, they're deceptively wide, meaning that they look like they're bigger than they actually are.
The feel of the Kanadias takes a while to get used to. They're a fair deal heavier than road shoes or spikes and not the most comfortable as you can feel the rubber studs pressing back against your feet. If you're running on soft ground or mud this is fine, but it's a little unpleasant on firm ground. Due to the heaviness of them, I wouldn't recommend them for racing or for long runs. However their main strength is their grip, which I've even found to be reliable on ice and snow, meaning that winter weather shouldn't interupt your exercise routine, even if they do emit an annoying 'squeek' when wet.
I've kept my Kanadias as a 'utility shoe', to be used for extreme weather or as an alternative to walking shoes. They're hardly indispensable but they have their use, even if they lie dormant between March and November.
Asics will always be my first love when it comes to running shoes. They're always my first port of call when I'm looking for a new pair and while they're not the cheapest they have a habit of delivering some fantastic products. I have however come a cropper before by choosing the wrong type of shoe. The Asics 2150 I found to be a little too heavy yet light on cushioning, while another lighter pair seemed to wear out in no time at all. The Asics 2170 represents what I believe Asics do best: shoes that balance support and speed without breaking the bank.
I found my pair at Decathlon for around £70. According to the blurb the 2170 shoes are suitable for training and racing up to 10k. They don't have the snazzy gel sections of the Gel Kayano range but they have a pleasing 'pared down' feel that nevertheless maintains a comforting amount of cushioning. For fans of gel, there is a little gel section in the heel that reassures you that your shins are being protected.
Compared to a similar trainer, the Nike Air Pegasus, these feel more balanced and overall, more user friendly. While Nike place all the heel cushioning on the outside of the heel, the Asics heel has the cushioning in an even horseshoe shape. The sole of the 2170 is arranged in sensible lines that is more comfortable to run on than the waffle construction of the Pegasus.
I wore these trainers for a marathon recently and they performed impeccably. I've had no pains in my shins or calves since, indicating that the cushioning was sufficient to protect my legs from the punishing distance. Even when they filled with water when I stepped straight into a puddle, they didn't feel overly heavy and I was able to carry on without feeling like I was wearing concrete boots!
I've also worn them for shorter distances and have found them to be a brilliant all-round shoe. The distinctive 'webbing' around the outside makes your foot feel supported and secure meaning that once you choose Asics, chances are you'll never go back.
I bought my pair of Nike Air Pegasus from Sports Direct for £55. I was really pleased to find a pair of running shoes for such a low price. You can get running shoes for next to nothing but rarely do they have the feel of a far more expensive pair. The Pegasus reminded me of Asics trainers- not too bulky and more streamlined that brands such as Adidas and New Balance tend to be. My gait has gradually shifted from overpronation to neutral, so I opted for the balanced profile of the Pegasus.
My pair were in a fairly sensible white and grey that's more austere looking than many of its rivals that make use of reflective panels and bold neon colours. The most eye-catching feature is the cushioning on the heel which is a blue J-shaped section that provides a little extra spring in your step. The rest of the sole has a waffle-type tread made up a series of small raised squares with narrow deeper channels to facilitate drainage. There's a neat little plastic section under the arch with a red Nike Swoosh, but other than that the onus seems to be on substance over style.
A fairly high proportion of the trainer is made up of white breathable material making them perfect for warmer weather runs. The white coloured material does unfortunately mean that your trainers won't stay new-looking for long especially if you're planning to run through any mud. They feel fairly heavy in your hands but once you start running in them, you'll quickly forget they're there. My feet took a few runs to get used to them but I quickly got used to them and found them to be supportive and comfortable yet also light to wear.
I've had these trainers for a little over a year now and have found them to be very good. So how have they coped with a year of wear and tear? Well, the white material is now a muddy brown-grey and the reflective silver area around the toes has dulled somewhat. The cushioned heel is more compacted than it was, demonstrating that it has almost worn out while the waffle sole has worn down quite a bit. Despite all this, if I take them out for a short run they still feel pretty good. All in all, not a bad lifespan for the Nike Air Pegasus given that they've had quite regular use.
They take a while to get used to if you're used to a more specialist running brand, but if you want a relatively inexpensive shoe, these are a very good buy indeed.
Fan heaters are a very useful appliance to have in a student house, especially if the central heating's only on for 2 minutes a day and you make the mistake of leaving your towel covering the radiator! More recently, fan heaters have been a godsend as my flat was without heating over a weekend due to problems with the boiler. I have a larger convection heater and this smaller unit from Dimplex which I got from Amazon for around £20.
The fan heater is a simple box shape that sits on a little stand that makes it less easy to knock over. Like many fan heaters, it has a handy tilt switch so it won't pose a fire risk if it does fall over. Two dials on top of the heater control power and temperature. There's also a fan setting for the summer and a clever thermostat that switches the unit off if the room reaches a certain temperature. This is a real benefit as I've often left my larger convection heater on for too long, and walked back an hour or so later into a sauna. It also makes the heater less damaging to your electricity bills.
The main disadvantage is the noise, meaning you can't really use it in a room where you're watching television or entertaining. It's not particularly loud, but it's noticeable nonetheless so I tend to use the larger, silent convection heater in the living room. It also lacks a carry handle, although the shape of the back makes it easy to grip onto and carry around. At 3 kilowatts it packs a fair deal of punch and heats rooms in my flat very quickly, despite the high ceilings and single glazing.
Overall, it's a good buy. The heater I've got has lasted a couple of yearsand gives me valuable peace of mind in the freezing winter months.
I bought these shoes from Sportsdirect.com with some of my Dooyoo money. I thought £14.99 seemed like a reasonable price and liked the look of the green and white design. Obviously the risk with buying online is you're not sure exactly what is going to arrive in the post. In this case, I'd assumed that the trainers would be made of leather but actually they're a light canvas material that is hard to discern from the picture on the website.
The Greenflash trainers came with a choice of green or white laces and while the green and white heel might remind some people of bowling shoes, I like the design. Despite the tennis-style grip on the sole, I would describe them as 'sports casual' trainers and am unlikely to use them for squash or tennis. That said, they're not particularly suitable for the wet streets of Manchester so I might have to mainly use them for holidays. Size-wise, I'd say that it's better to err on the side of caution and go for a larger size than you're used to. I went for size 9.5 and they feel a little close, but I'm hoping that will improve once I've broken them in.
Apart from that they feel quite comfortable to walk in. While they don't have the cushioned feel of trainers they also don't have the minimal support of pumps or plimsolls. They're definitely a summer shoe though, as the canvas materal isn't waterproof and on the inside they have two little eyeholes, presumably for ventilation and drainage. These holes would probably provide an unwelcome draught during the winter so better to leave them in your wardrobe during colder months!
Overall, a nice pair of trainers that are a little bit different yet reassuringly inexpensive.
The first thing I would say about Nike football boots is that they run small so make sure that you order a size higher than your normal size if you're buying them online. These are fairly pricey compared to Nike's amateur football boots, especially considering you can get Nike Tiempos for around £25. They're designed for use on soft ground with 6 metal studs and a footplate with two prominent plastic ridges to provide extra grip.
The smooth upper has a strange plastic-ey feel about it while the sides are made of a softer leather. Most striking about the Air Zoom 90 is the side lacing which is either a design marvel or a silly gimmick depending on how you look at it. On one hand it's means a larger 'sweet spot' for contacting the ball but on the other hand they're harder to lace and some might say look a bit silly.
What I do like about these boots is the invisible cushioning that make them great to play in. They're far less punishing on your ankles than the more stripped down Tiempos that offer little in the way of support or cushioning. However, if you're paying in excess of £100 (the lowest Amazon price) for a pair of football boots, you'd expect them to feel novel or superior in some way. The plasticised leather is very easy to clean and doesn't feel particularly uncomfortable on your feet.
The price may put some people off, but I'm hoping to hang on to these boots for a long time. They're a good investment for the amateur footballer who wants a little more from football boots. If you want to feel a little lighter on your feet, the Nike Air Zoom 90 are the boots for you.
I bought a pair of Bloc Blade sunglasses to serve as a utility pair- to use for cycling and running mainly. They're a simple black framed design, part wraparound sunglasses and part spectacles in terms of aesthetics. They wouldn't look out of place on a marathon runner, and neither would they turn any heads on the street, making them a very versatile pair of sunglasses.
Most importantly, the lenses have 100% UV protection so don't let their transparency fool you. The frames give a really close and snug fit without feeling like they're pinching. I like how the hinges are protected by the sturdy frame meaning that they're unlikely to break if you sit on them or they fall off. The nose pads are made of a really soft material that don't hurt my nose unlike many cheaper models that I've used.
I used these sunglasses during a summer holiday in the French Alps and they performed very well. Most notably, when I took a tumble on a mountainbike while wearing them, they stayed on and remained intact (which is more than can be said for my pride!). I'd also recommend them for driving as you'll soon forget you're wearing them and the frames don't interfere with your peripheral vision.
I have a Pure One Digital radio that I use when I'm working from home. It's a really simple design that even the most stubborn analogue radio user like me can get the hang of in no time. I decided to stick with the Pure One brand when I was looking for a more compact model to take on holiday and to use on the allotment.
As with the full size Pure One radio, the controls are a doddle to master with the various buttons changing the operation mode of the big dial located on the left hand side of the unit. This dial allows you to adjust volume, stations or to manually tune the radio in FM mode. The radio also preserves all the features of its bigger brother- presets, an alarm facility and access to 'Intellitext'. Although I've never made use of it, the radio also has a ReVu facility for pausing and rewinding live radio.
Unlike the more expensive Pure Evoke radio, the Pure One does not like to be moved. It's a bit of a shame then that I've chosen it as a travel radio! There's often some disturbance when the unit is moved to a new location although it always retunes itself in a few moments. Aesthetically, it's basically a chopped version of the larger model, with one speaker instead of two yet with a similar-sized text display. At £39.99 on Amazon, it's £20 cheaper than the larger version, placing it within the budget range of DAB radios.
I would be unlikely to recommend this radio to anyone for one simple reason- it's not worth investing in a mini Pure One when you already have the large version. Both fit easily in the boot of a car and both are fairly inexpensive. The large Pure One isn't heavy, bulky or cumbersome and that's why I believe it's the only radio I'll ever need.
I acquired this amplifier in a slightly fortuitous way. A friend who is something of a hoarder was moving house and was having a clearout. As I helped him to shift piles of his possessions we unearthed a Laney RB4 amplifier that looked as though it had been untouched for years. He said I could have it for a tenner- it was only a few months later that I discovered that I'd robbed him blind... I called him to let him know but he was happy to stick with a tenner provided I bought him a few pints as a gesture of thanks. What a great deal I thought...
The Laney RB4 is the most compact and portable amplifier I've owned but is surprisingly heavy given its small size. It's pleasing enough on the eye and can be stored easily (mine doubles as a table- maybe I'm turning into my friend!). A plastic/rubber handle on top means that it can be carried around without too much hassle.
It works well with my bass guitar, giving a fairly average sound with no feedback. It's fine for the garage or the home but I wouldn't recommend it for performing or for larger spaces. I thought at first that it was giving feedback as I could here a persistent buzzing, but it turned out that the input connector on my guitar was loose. Controls allow you to adjust the master volume, the gain, the bass and the treble, while simple slider enable you to equalise the sound. The lack of a headphone socket is a noticeable flaw in my opinion as I like to be able to play without annoying the neighbours.
As one would expect, it's less effective with my rhythm guitar but I felt the need to experiment just to see how it would perform. If you want to hear what you're playing more clearly but don't want to invest in an additional amplifier it's probably fine for an electric guitar.