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Where is it? And what's near by?~ My Granddaughter Olivia and I visited Billy Badgers Play Den recently. It is situated adjacent to Moreton Park Hotel and very close to Moreton Park Garden centre. It is in North Wales on the junction of the A5 and A483 quite close to Oswestry. There is ample free parking close to each of the amenities. There are 'Disabled' spaces close to the entrances and wheelchair access is very good throughout as far as I could see. Nearby Chirk Castle is well worth a look as is Chirk itself and, if you find yourself there on a pleasant Sunday, the car boot sale at the next A5 junction is a must for enthusiasts! ~Entranced at the Entrance~ The play areas are accessed by a corridor from the Hotel and by a door into the corridor from the side car park. The room is roughly circular in shape with table and chairs set around the perimeter and a nice lounging area at one end with two couches and a low table. Courtesy newspapers were available at the entrance. The room is well lit and the bright colours of the play equipment are very welcoming. Olivia, who is two and a half, couldn't wait to explore! To the right of the entrance is the reception and cafe area. I ordered a drink of tea for myself and a child's meal for herself, wondering if I could tear her away from the toys and climbing area long enough to eat it. A friend was meeting me there and as she came in she exclaimed about how pleasant the room was. One area towards the back wall was given over to a very nice log cabin play house. I would have loved to play house in there if I was a little one! Leading from the main room there was a door to a securely fenced outside play area. It was furnished with picnic bench seating and some play equipment. As it was raining I didn't go out into it but from the windows it looked tidy and expansive. ~Acts of Faith!~ Olivia dove straight in and caused me some anxiety as she started hauling herself up into the tower of the main play structure. It was high and accessed by steps contained in the four supporting corners. The triangular, alternate, corner steps/platforms are cleverly designed so a child has no chance of falling far. I watched her hoist her little self up the first two steps and then she disappeared from view! I could hear a slightly older little girl talking to her and telling her what to do. (Thank Heavens for Mumsy type little girls!) I couldn't see her and was too big to get to her if she got into difficulties. I waited for her to re-appear, and then I waited a bit more, hovering anxiously at the bottom of the winding chute type slide that would deliver her to me (I hoped). I could hear her scrabbling about, the tube echoed her movements. After a while I heard a tremulous voice coming from the tube near my feet. "Nanna?". "It's okay love, I'm here"..........I bent down to call up the tube. "Nanna!?? Nannaaaa, I stuck!" Hmmmm, don't panic Gill!...........I called up the tube again, trying to sound reassuring "You are okay Olivia, you just have to let go, Nanna will catch you!" Silence.... "Just let go Sweetheart!" There was dead silence for a while, then a tiny doubtful little voice issued from the tube "Okay Nanna". Next thing she came sliding sideways to my feet at the bottom of the chute. I was about to pick her up and comfort her for her fright but, laughing with all of herself as only two year olds can do, she jumped up and hurled herself back into the fray. I went and drank my tea to recover. She, the little madam, was as happy as Larry and spent the next fifteen minutes clambering up the steps, bum wriggling ferociously as she pulled herself up and laughing uproariously as she roared down the chute. She absolutely loved it! Never mind that 'Nanna' had aged ten years! Scattered around the floor were many children's toys, mostly of the 'sit on and scoot along' variety. I think Olivia tried most of them! She was fascinated by children playing on the see-saw toys too but declined to try them, possibly because she had seen a little girl being tossed off the back of one of them when an over enthusiastic and much bigger sister had plonked herself down on the other end! No harm was done fortunately. Most of the toys look well used and some were a bit dingey but all were clean. ~Dining with Badgers-Sett Meals~ Olivia's sausage and chips arrived delivered by a smiling and helpful member of staff. She asked if we wanted a high chair or anything else and went off to bring another round of very drinkable tea and coffee. Olivia was more than ready to eat and sat down promptly, I had thought that I wouldn't be able to pry her away from the slide but all that mountaineering had given her an appetite. The chips were french fry type and the sausage was good quality, a bottle of soda or juice came with the meal. There were free sauces available to go with it. (and plenty of napkins to remove excess tomato sauce) Considering that so many children ate in there, the tables and carpets underneath were spotless. Our table was curiously pockmarked as though it had been used by smokers but, as I said, it was very clean. The staff cleared up as soon as a meal was finished, they were efficient and unobtrusive. I particularly like the fact that if you buy a meal the child gets free entrance to the den. The entrance fee for a child is £2.50 the meal cost either £2.99 or £3.99 (I was so diverted by Olivia disappearing up the tower that I can't remember!) so it's a bargain whether you eat there or not. I think £2.50 for a child to be so entertained in such a pleasant clean place is very good value! The children's meals included Chicken nuggets (presumably a chicken's nuggets are close to it's Goujons), fish fingers, sausage all served with chips and a drink. There was more on the menu that I don't recall. For adults there was a choice of sandwiches served with salad or chips and some lovely toasties. I had a cheese and onion one and it was full and delicious! I might be selling the menu short here because I was distracted! The prices were very reasonable and the service was polite. To the left of the reception were the toilets. The Ladies toilet was spacious and well equipped. ~Billy No Mates? Not at all!~ I have always thought that having a children's party anywhere but in your own home, is the only sane way to proceed. Having it somewhere else means....no vomit to clean off the carpet or the dog, no preparation, no making thousands of butties, no little accidents to mop up and disinfect, and no thinking to yourself "will the littele beggars never go home!" Billy Badger very helpfully solves all these problems by being available to host parties in. What bliss that would be! There is even a room set aside for all the partying little darlings to eat, drink and be obnoxious in. And the staff entertain them And the staff feed them And the staff clear up after them. It's a no brainer! Joking aside, I think this would be an ideal place to have a childen's party, there is plenty of space and a lot of scope to entertain the children and keep them occupied. The staff here seemed to genuinely like and care for their young guests. (unlike some play areas I've seen) ~Some very minor quibbles~ The same girls that made the meals were answering the telephone enquiries, taking bookings, seeing to admission prices and keeping everything tidy so sometimes you had to wait whilst someone else was being seen to. Some of the padding on the supports was a bit tatty and took away from the neatness of the place. Part of the play area was being used for storage and was unavailable to play in. ~Overall~ Billy badgers Play den is not the largest or most elaborately designed play area I have ever seen but it is more than adequate. Olivia enjoyed the play, the freedom and the food enormously. Prices are very reasonable, the staff are hardworking and charming. Car parking is free and the place is easy to find. I will be taking Olivia back. I would reccommend a visit even if you have to 'borrow' some children to take! Opening hours Sunday to Monday - 11am till 5pm Friday and Saturday - 11am till 7pm Details of prices etc can be found online at. http://www.moretonpark.com/billybadger Or by phoning 01691 776661
===Old ideas for new times.=== I love this album, it is Leonard Cohen at his most mellow, reflective and astringent. I would argue that none of his ideas are old but then I have grown both older and younger listening to his 'ideas'. My Dad used to hate him and referred to him sardonically as "Laughing Leonard" but even he came to appreciated Cohen's lyricism! Jennifer Warnes, if I remember rightly, said Cohen's music was "the place where God, sex and literature meet up." She wasn't wrong but this new album sees Cohen also reflecting on his age. As I listen to it I think that his age has finally caught up with his voice. He always sounded old but now he sounds the age he is. (if you see what I mean.) ===Who Is He?=== Leonard Cohen has been writing poetry and music for the last six decades. I have only been listening to him for the last four! He was born in Canada in September 1934. The themes of his work include sexuality, spirituality, relationships, lack of relationships, age and longing. He has been awarded Canada's highest order when he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. He has also been inducted into various Halls of Fame including the USa's and Canada's. So as you can see, he is no slouch! People either love him or hate him. His lyrics are dense and because of this need listening to a few times as their multi layered meanings unfold for you. He has been satirised as a suicide inducing 'prophet of doom'. The overtly sexual themes of some of his songs has caused him to be banned from some radio stations! His work is sometimes controversial but always compelling. He has a gravelly voice which often wanders away from the tuneful. (that's being a bit kind!) Cohen has collaborated with many other musicians such as Jennifer Warnes, U2, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Carole King etc etc. His son, Adam Cohen has just released an album that would make any parent proud. He is a legend. ==Not a track by track account I promise!== I am not going to go through each track and describe it, that would be boring for you, I'll just try to give you a taste of a few. Old ideas is a lovely mix of love songs, protest, observation and humour. In one of my favourite ballads "Crazy to Love You", he sings gently... "I'm tired of choosing desire, I've been saved by a blessed fatigue. The gates of commitment unwired, and nobody's trying to leave." Our poor Leonard seems to be feeling his age, which is not suprising really because he was defrauded out of all his money and had to go back on the road at the age of about 75. At a recent concert of his that I was lucky enough to attend, he said that his accountant had done him a favour because it had forced him back into touring and being inspired by new places and people. I am not sure I would be so forgiving but it was marvellous to see him as fresh and commanding as ever. The first track "Going Home" sees Cohen having a conversation about himself. I found a lot of the lyrics of this a bit dense and hard to understand but it is easy to listen to and the backing singers are flawless. Track 2. Amen, has to be one of the most beautiful, it finds Cohen pleading for reassurance that he is loved. The fact is you don't know whether he is talking to his lover or his God. On a lot of different levels this track is exquisite. It has to be one of my favourite of all times. He lays out his vulnerability and exposes our own with his "Tell me again and again." The backing of violin and trombone has a gentle, strangely Mexican feel to it. Getting towards the end of the album, Lullaby, is accompanied by the most exquisite and haunting harmonica playing. "If your night is long, here's my lullaby." the harmonica plays the track out gently and memorably, leaving us dreamy and perhaps dreaming wistfully of that depth of love Cohen conveys. The last track, Different Sides. reminds me of "Next we take Manhattan." for the feel of it, not the words. Cohen's voice is choppy but suprisingly melodic for him. The jazz piano background and soft percussion provides a nice counterpoint to the lyrics, a quiet remonstration about how a couple relate to one another...."Frankly I don't like your tone, you want to change the way to make love but I want to leave it alone." It is magically wry. Overall the album brings us a mixture of slow and plaintive and upbeat and strident. Much of it is in his signature waltz time. His poetry speaks to anyone who has ever reflected upon how life works and how we can sometimes mess up. He also, speaks to us of reparation and growth. It is fresh, very listenable to and with no weak tracks, to my ears anyway! Get it and listen to it, then listen a few more times as it weaves it's melancholy enchantment into you. ===Track listing=== 1. Going Home 2. Amen 3. Show Me the Place 4. The Darkness 5. Anyhow 6. Crazy to Love You 7. Come Healing 8. Banjo 9. Lullaby 10. Different Sides ***Album notes*** On November 23, 2011, author, singer, and songwriter Leonard Cohen released "Show Me the Way" as a precursor to Old Ideas, his first album since 2004. Two more new songs, "Lullaby" and "Darkness," were showcased during his two-year world tour that lasted from early 2008 to last year. They are included on the new album, whose topics are deeply spiritual in nature and range from mortality to sexuality, loss, and acceptance. Old Ideas will be released on January 31, 2012. Its producers include his partner, singer/songwriter Anjani Thomas; his saxophonist, Dino Soldo; poet Ed Sanders; and Patrick Leonard. ***I'll give the last word to Cohen.*** The album overall is a masterpiece of poetry, unobtrusive (but almost angelic) backing, strong melody and harmony, masterly syncopation, pure wisdom, humour and striving towards the better parts of us. ''All I've got to put in a song is my own experience'' Leonard Cohen
===Up The side of a hill=== Silves (Sil-vesh) is a very beautiful and historic town, sometimes called the capital of the Algarve. There have been settlers there since the Stone Age! It has a truly imposing riverfront and is full of amenities for the inhabitants and many tourists who come to soak up a bit of history with the sunshine. I love the place and when I'm working in the area, any time off will see me driving up into the hills to Silves. Situated under the imposing walls of Moorish Silves castle, you climb the cobbled steps to gain entrance to this sprawling cafe. Trees shelter the outside seating and the cafe has an old but cared for exterior. The venue couldn't be prettier. The castle walls are very impressive, an ancient Cathedral with interesting windows to the left and a fantastic view of Silves spread out below you. Don't miss the fantastic sculpture of a crusader knight, just at the top of the steps, guarding the castle entrance! ===What's to eat?=== The food on offer ranges from small snacks to full on traditional Potuguese dinners. The salads here are the most beautifully presented I have ever seen and amount to masterpieces of visual and culinary art. I am not exaggerating, they have to be seen to be appreciated. I usually have tuna salad for about 7 Euro. The range of tastes and colours is superb and the helpings are very generous, I have often struggled to finish mine. The bread served on the table is lovely crusty local one and this always complements the food. There is an impressive range of specials and the fish dishes are quite spectacular, always with an eye to detail and presentation and always fresh and tasty. We had a beef stew in here one evening and it was very tender and free of the gristle that sometimes invades Portuguese cuts of meat. Everything we have tried over the years has been good and only once have we sent anything back. The meal arrived cold and our complaint was dealt with swiftly and courteously. we were even given a free liqueur as an apology. The average price for a two course meal would come out at about 18-20 Euros, so whilst not the cheapest place to eat out, the variety and quality of the food warrants the little extra I think. If you go to the back of the restaurant there is a semi open dining room which houses the most tempting cake cabinet on one side and adjoining that is the cooking area with a large traditional brick oven at one end. Here it it is possible to see the care that is being put into your dinner, whatever you are eating. The decor in here is less formal and large baskets of nuts and other local produce reminds me of Harvest Festivals when I was younger. The menu is international and has a very good mixture with something for everyone. Vegetarians are catered for but sometimes the choice isn't great. Pescatarians will eat well here! The soup (I have tried the tomato and the vegetable) is fresh and full of flavour. ===Abandon diet all ye who enter here!=== The cake cabinet! Oh dear me! Luscious fig tart, apple crumble, fruit crumble, double chocolate cake, carob cake, carrot cake, strawberry meringue cake, tarte tatin, tarte citron. They all sit their on their innocent, pretty little cake salvers and whisper "Go on, forget the diet, you won't get a chance like this again.." Actually they don't whisper, they shout! The cakes on offer are out of this world and what is nicer than to sit in the sun, stretch your legs and have coffee and cake whilst watching the world go by? I am normally one to choose savoury over sweet but life is too short to resist this quality of cakiness! I tell myself I can always go down to the new fitness trail on the riverside to work it off but funnily enough I never do! They range from about 3 - 6 euros per generous portion and you might be better sharing one! Staff are happy to bring an extra plate and spoon! ===At your convenience=== The loos are spotless and have those clever 'light up as you go in' arrangements if I remember rightly. I don't know how accessible they are to wheelchair users as they are a bit cramped. Overall I think wheelchair access would be difficult in the restaurant as it is situated on quite a steep hill and you have to go up or down steps to the front door. There might be another way in from the road which I haven't seen. Parking is available in the town car parks or if you are lucky in the square at the bottom of the Cafe's steps. The tightness of the little cobbled streets and squares can cause a few problems. So you are probably best sticking to the designated car parks which are roomy and well lit. It's no hardship wandering through the town anyway, it is so pretty. ===So Fado, so good!=== The restaurant hosts an evening of Fado (traditional Portuguese Music) most weeks, or you might be beguiled by a jazz evening or local folk music. No extra charge is made for the live entertainment and it really is a great night out. If it's a warm evening you can sit drinking wine or coffee on the roof and just soak up the atmosphere. I have never been rushed from my table but encouraged to "Stay, enjoy!" A timetable of events can usually be found outside the restaurant or at the local tourist information office. ===Tardis anyone?=== The restaurant reminds me of the Tardis, it doesn't look so big on the outside but inside seems to go on unfolding. The decor changes from room to room and the walls showcase the works of local artists. Although the decor is eclectic there is a feeling of space and light in the main rooms. A piano sits against one wall and the well used visitors books resting on it makes interesting and sometimes charming reading. I like the fact too, that in good weather you can go up the flower basket laden back steps onto the spacious roof bar and lounge about with the house cats. The view from the roof is spectacular. Last time I was up there, two large birds of prey soared overhead and into the castle battlements. Next thing I knew the air was full of fleeing doves and then, in a moment I'll never forget, the sky was darkened by dozens and dozens of storks wheeling above me like huge cumbersome kites. I wish I'd had a camera with me that morning. So, if you just want a breather from your sightseeing excursions and exertions or if you want to sit down to a well prepared meal, the cafe Inglese will be an enjoyable experience. If you do visit, say "Bom Dias!" to the cats for me please! Cafe Ingles Address: Rua do Castelo 11, 8300-144 Silves Portugal Phone+351 28 2442585 Website: www.cafeingles.com
***I bagged it for him*** I bought this bag for my husband to try to wean him away from the horrible camouflage utility bag he insists on heaving around with him (apparently he used it when he was a Boy Scout). I paid 24.99 for it in the Antler shop in Cheshire Oaks retail Park. I would have paid more for it because it looked well made and just the right size for carry on on a plane. It is gunmetal grey and black with silver coloured metal fittings. The bag is quite heavy before you start to pack it but the thickness of the canvas type carcass explains that, to be honest I prefer the extra bit of weight as a trade off for a more substantial piece of luggage. It is quite a rugged looking little bag. The material is water resistant and fairly stiff. The webbing carrying straps have a velcro wrap around fastener which is slightly padded to your hands. I find the velcro a bit of a pain because it catches on clothes and things whilst I am packing but it does close the bag securely for carrying. There is detachable shoulder strap which uses very sturdy metal clips to attach to each end of the bag. This strap has an adjustable shoulder pad which slips up and down to lessen some of the discomfort of the weight on your shoulder. It is a well made pad and doesn't slip around when not in use. The rounded ends of the bag means that when I am carrying it by the hand straps, it doesn't hurt if if I bang it into my legs when walking, or sometimes running, for a plane. It sounds like a small thing, but rigid squarish bags can really hurt yourself or fellow passengers in a crowded place or jostling queues and they are often just the right height to behead an innocent toddler! ***It's my bag!*** Even though I bought this for my husband, I'm the one who uses it most. I 'borrow' it from time to time depending on where I'm going and for how long. It easily accomodates a couple of pairs of jeans, two tops and jumpers and the necessary toiletries and footwear necessary for a few days away. The large front outer pocket holds travel documents well without scrunching them on the journey and it makes them easily accesible. The two end pockets are fairly spacious and tend to hold my books (suduko) and bits and bobs. I particularly like the quality of the zips on all the compartments. It drives me mad when cheaper zips come unconnected and the bag gapes. They are sewn in well at the ends too. The top zips join together with a little hole in the metal tabs for a padlock. I never see the point of this, if someone was about to steal from you they would take the whole bag wouldn't they? A fiddly little padlock isn't going to deter anyone. The front of the bag has minimal adornments but it does have a square metal ring thingy for attaching things to. It would make more sense if this was closer to the top of the bag. As it is, anything you clipped onto it would drag on the floor so I haven't really worked out what it is for yet. Perhaps it's just to add to the overall 'Manly' look of the bag. (Is there a connection between men and useless dangly bits?) I tried connecting one end of the shoulder strap to it in case I was missing something but that didn't work at all. ***Inside information*** The fairly stiff nature of the bag means that my clothes stay put and get minimal creasing if I pack it properly. The top zips curve a little way down the side of the bag which makes access easier. There is a stiffener at the base which is removable. It fits well to the bottom so stuff doesn't tend to slide under it and hide. (I lost a big silver necklace for a few years this way. I was lucky to see it exposed by a luggage x-ray machine which I happened to be in the right place to see! The baggage inspectors thought I had gone a bit mad when I cheered!) There are no other compartments inside the main one, just a single space. I find it a comfortable and roomy bag to pack. ***Size*** The best thing for me about this bag is that it is a perfect size and shape for carrying onto a plane. I know that the Ryan Air Bag Sizing Gestapo will not single me out and try to make me pay £40.00 because my bag is too big or too orange or too baggish! (or whatever reason they can manufacture to charge the traveller extra!). It holds enough for me not to have to check luggage in if I am on a short business trip and that suits me fine! On longer trips it's a useful size for being out and about with carrying beach gear and shopping etc. The actual dimensions are 55.0 x 29.0 x 29.0 cm or 22x 12x12 inches approx'. ***Overall*** I think it was a good buy. It does it's job well, looks reasonably smart. We have been using it for over a year and it isn't looking tatty, scuffed or saggy (unlike me). It was a reasonable price and looks as though it will last a fair time. I reccommend it. My husband still clings on to his antique Boy Scout bag though!
~~That name Rings a Bell!~~ As this pub is only about ten minutes away from us by car, it is fast becoming a favourite eating and meeting place for our family and friends. The pub is part of the Chef and Brewer chain and provides reasonably priced food and drink. The Ring O' Bells pub sits opposite the village church in Daresbury near Warrington. Daresbury is a lovely old village. It's famous son, Lewis Caroll, is imortalised by the pictures of Alice in Wonderland in the stained glass windows of the church. The pub carries on the theme and there are various pictures and references to the stories throughout the pub. The rambling old pub has, like Topsy," just growed!" It was originally a courthouse and the front is quite elegant with lots of lovely flower baskets and an old stone horse trough to the side. It is hard to work out where the original pub ends and the extensions begin. What you have ended up with is a set of reasonable sized dining and drinking rooms set out in a way that means that the spaces are friendly and intimate. There seem to be a lot of rooms to choose from and they have all been recently refurbished in a pleasing but unusual colour scheme. Real fires and cosy chairs add to the welcoming atmosphere. ~~Food with bells on!~~ The menu is extensive, perhaps a bit too extensive, but the waitress told me that the menu will change soon and become simpler. The main attraction for us are the special offers which go on throughout the week. Every weekday there seems to be a different offer on. We usually take advantage of the "Two courses for £9.99" deal. I was there last week with two friends and I had mushrooms in sauce for starters and steak for a main course. The mushrooms were delicious, they were a good size and the cheesey sauce was tasty without being overpowering. My main course which was a 7oz steak was a little overcooked for me but not enough to complain about. My friend unfortunately received a steak which was one third gristle, in my opinion the chef should never had let it leave the kitchen. When we complained a replacement was offered with no problem. When it arrived it was very good and she enjoyed it. It took a while though. Wednesday night is 'Vegetarian night' which my Son and Daughter in law love. The Leek & Mushroom linguine is their current favourite but they say there is usually a good choice which you don't often find if you are a vegetarian. Thursday is 'Curry night' where two curry dishes and accompaniments plus a drink costs £9.99 I haven't tried this yet but the choices look very good indeed. Friday is 'Fish Night'. I had a beautiful 'Salmon in sweet chile sauce', one night. It was delicious and the accompanying veg was nice and fresh too. Sunday roast is pretty good with large portions of meat and plenty of veg to go with it. I don't think you have to book but it has been very busy when I've been there on a Sunday. I am not going to bore you with a full listed menu, though you can see it on their website. I have added the address below. I like the dining areas, they are a bit randomly furnished with lots of different styles of chairs and tables. It could look messy but it feels relaxed and welcoming. 140 people can eat here at once but I don't think I'd like to be there when that happens! A further 130 can eat outside in the massive and well tended terraced gardens when the weather is good. Part of the terraces is reserved for smokers and they may only smoke there which is a good idea I think. I would like to see a heated smoking area for the winter months though, there is plenty of space for one. Perhaps there is one and I've missed it! I have found the staff to be unfailingly pleasant and helpful. Occasionally service has been a little slow but it is a big place and I would not expect them to be 100% all of the time. The only time I have had less than good service from the staff was once when I was talking to one of the managers about and he went off to another table in the middle of our conversation, which I thought was a bit offhand. Anyway, it's only happened once and he was very busy. ~~Other odds and ends~~ The pub appears to me to be wheelchair accessible. Most of the terraces too can be reached from the carparks so I think wheelchair users could gain access both inside and out. There is a 'Disabled' loo too. The Ladies toilets whilst clean, have occasionally had no toilet paper and the one I visited there last week had a hand drier which I only managed to make work for about five seconds. I couldn't make it work again and rather than wave my hands under it like a demented magician, I gave up and dried my hands on my jeans! It seems a bit odd to me that the toilets are not brilliant when the rest of the place is so good. Children are allowed until 9pm and there are baby changing facilities available. (I've always wondered whether you could change an ugly baby for a prettier one but I have never dared ask!) Car parking is free and plentiful. You will find the car parking areas spread out on different levels around the back of the pub. I have not had any problem parking when I've been there. ~~Real Ale!~~ The Ring O Bells has won awards for it's Real Ales and carry a good range of them to try. My Brother in Law is a CAMRA fanatic (and a morris dancer) and he gave it the thumbs up! Mind you, he was dancing there at the time and from where I was standing he looked like he'd tried all of them at once! They usually sell Courage Director's, Theakstons, Wells Bombardier + 2 Guest ales at any one time. I like the Well's bombardier the best. The prices of the drinks are as reasonble as their food prices. In conclusion This is a decent place to meet, eat, drink and be comfortable in. The food is good but a bit variable. The prices are very competetive and the managers do their best to vary the offers and provide something for everyone. The gardens are lovely in Summer and it is an interesting old building that hasn't had it's historical guts ripped out of it. I recommend it. ~~Contact details and opening hours~~ ADDRESS Chester Road, Daresbury, Warrington, Cheshire WA4 4AJ Tel. 01925 740256 email email@example.com Monday - Saturday 11am - 11pm. Sunday 12noon - 10.30pm ..
~~How we came to go here, and all that Jazz!~~ I was fortunate to visit Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club last month in the company of two of my very favourite people who were visiting from America. I had heard about Ronnie Scott's all my adult life and finally I was going to visit! I was excited and looking forward to my first taste of London Clubland. Ronnie Scott's is situated at 47 Frith Street in Soho. It is within easy walking distance of Leicester square and Tottenham Court Road tube stations. A modest neon sign above the door announces it's presence in the bustling street. ~~Club Class?~~ We were greeted at the door by two very smart doormen who directed us to the downstairs portion of the club and we checked in (having booked online) with a young woman at a desk just along the hallway. She told us that we could leave our coats in the cloakroom opposite, which we did. All the staff up to now had been welcoming and pleasant. Another young lady appeared and showed us to our seats. We followed her expecting to be shown to a table. We had left it too late to book central tables and we knew we were going to be seated around the wall but really, the seating was completely ridiculous! They were long jury type benches with a small shelf in front to eat off. Anybody over size 8 or taller than 5.4 inches hadn't a hope in Hell of sitting comfortably. I was sat at the end of a row and I knew this wasn't going to work. I barely fit in and Thomas was beginning to feel claustrophobic. ( As I remarked to Thomas and Stewart, "Anyone who had any kind of balcony over their toy shop, was in trouble!") We asked to be moved and eventually we were shown to a bench on the back wall, three tiers up, which had slightly more room. The benches seated four each and the eating shelf measured less than the distance from my elbow to my wrist. Sitting bolt upright with my knees touching the bench in front is not my idea of comfort at all! It was like being on an aeroplane but the seats were harder. We didn't need seatbelts though, we were too jammed together to go anywhere if the club nose dived into the Underground. ~~Getting off Scott free?~~ The club itself is a largish square room with a small stage opposite the entrance. There was no obvious fire escapes and I didn't let myself think about how so many people would get out in the event of a fire. The middle of the room was given over to small dining tables and chairs which was surrrounded by a semi circle of banquette type seating. The right and left walls were taken up with the tiers of jury benches/pews and to the right of the entrance was a small bar. I don't know where the kitchens were, judging by the lack of warmth of the food, probably somewhere in Patagonia. Where we were seated we were fairly close to the ceiling and I occasionally amused myself by looking up and counting how many damaged ceiling tiles there were. Presumably some taller people had hit their heads on the ceilings when struggling out of their seats. They looked a bit tatty to be honest. The little lamps along the eating shelves were quite cute but took up space that our plates, glasses, condiments, upper limbs and breasts needed. I think wheelchair users would really struggle in this club because space was at such a premium. The acoustics were good and there was no problem hearing the music or what was being said on the stage. Unfortunately, about halfway through the evening a couple came in and sat in the row right next to me.(about two foot away) Their sole desire seemed to centre around having loud conversation and having a good grope at one another. This was the only advantage as far as I could tell of the seating being so tight. Judging by the heavy petting going on, if they had had more space a baby jazz afficionado might have been conceived there! I found it quite hard to concentrate on the hardships of the Labour movement when the couple next to me were exploring each other's underwear from the inside.... Ho Hum! As Thomas enquired later. "What did they come for?" I suppose it said a lot for the aphrodisiac nature of Jazz, not that they actually heard any of it! ~~If music be the food of love....~~ Ronnie Scott's serves a variety of food and drink. We were served at our benches and the waiting staff were fairly efficient and pleasant. Running up and down those silly little staircases with plates of food is no sinecure. One waitress had a face like a slapped bum everytime she was asked for anything but the majority of them were extremely helpful. Here is a selection from the menu taken from their website. Starters Fresh homemade soup of the day 6.20 Endive, gorgonzola & poached pear salad 7.90/14.80 Smoked mackerel & river eel mousse 7.80 Chicken liver pate 6.90 Diver-caught Scottish king scallops 13.90 Pumpkin & Smoked Italian cows cheese tortellini 7.70 Mains Ronnie's homemade fish pie with mash potato topping 15.90 Corn-fed breast of chicken with tarragon sauce 16.80 Fillet of sea bream & sautéed squid 17.50 Chickpea, cumin & aubergine fritter 14.70 Confit of Gressingham duck with sultana jus 18.70 Traditional Cumberland sausage and mash 15.00 Slow cooked suckling pig 16.80 Rib-Eye steak 23.50 Scottish fillet steak 28.50 Ronnie's burger & chips with tomato & caper relish 15.40 (mature cheddar cheese £1) Extra side dishes all at £3.50 I had the suckling pig. All I can say is it must have been about ten years old when it was weaned! Thomas and Stewart had the beefburgers. They ate them and passed no remark about whether they were good or bad. I found them fairly underwhelming to look at. Portion sizes were average, the food was cool or tepid if you were lucky. The meal wasn't awful, it was just indifferent. I felt a bit let down considering the hype on the menus and the web-site. I think that charging £15.40 for a beefburger could be classed as 'Extracting the urine.' but again, I am from the North and not used to London prices! The meal and drinks came to roughly £40.00 which was very close to the ticket prices for the night. One very nice touch was that the staff came round at regular intervals throughout the evening to refresh our water glasses if we needed it. They were also good at checking if we needed drinks from the bar. ~~"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture" --Thelonious Monk~~ Well, we had gone there for the music and it was good! We were entertained by a Jazz guitarist who could make his instrument talk. He sat on the miniscule stage and performed effortlessly. He spoiled the effect slightly by looking at his watch periodically. He was obviously waiting to get off and go and do something interesting. It can't be easy though being on stage when everyone is settling down and making a bit of a din. I was enthralled by the skill of the backing musicians and a bit amused because a couple of times when they went noticably out of tempo the pianist (whose fault it was) glared at the drummer. It reminded me of someone breaking wind in a lift and then giving the person next to them evil looks! Eventually and to much excitement, the main act - SarahJane Morris, came on stage She was backed by Henry Thomas (acoustic bass), Dominic Miller (nylon string guitar), Tony Remy (acoustic guitar), Martyn Barker (drums & cajon) and Alistair Gavin on piano. She sang and talked for well over an hour in two sets. Her music was a mix of songs she had written herself and some old classics. Her commentary on her life and music was interesting at times but I found myself chafing a bit at the amount of famous names she was managing to drop into the converstion with the audience.I must say I am pretty naive about jazz musicians and perhaps this is the way they all talked. (what do I know?) She had a fabulous heartfelt husky voice which I enjoyed very much and I found her subject matters quite moving at times. She has been fairly radically politically involved and some of her lyrics and anecdotes reflected that. I found myself wincing a couple of times because I found some of the rhymes in the lyrics a bit trite. I wanted to go and help her find better words. I think this was partly due to the words, partly due to my arrogance and partly due to me being so bloody uncomfortable in my straightjacket of a seat! As the evening progressed I found myself getting increasingly irritated that my enjoyment of the music was being eroded by physical discomfort. Here is a link to Sarah Jane Morris if you'd like to read more about her. She's an interesting woman http://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/artists/sarah-jane-morris ~~Would I go again?~~ Only if that meant I was going to be with Thomas and Stewart. I enjoyed myself a lot but I would have enjoyed myself wherever I was simply because of the company I was in. I think the music was fascinating and at times very moving. I enjoyed that a great deal (when I could hear it over my sexually disinhibited neighbours). I also enjoyed going out for a smoke and talking to the doormen who were amusing company. I didn't enjoy the ludicrous seating arrangement, the price or averageness (is that a word?) of the food or the fact that I came away feeling a bit embarassed to have had my friends ripped off by an obvious tourist trap. You might love it, I'm really glad I had the experience but once was enough for me. Perhaps having heard so much about it I was expecting too much. Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club 47 Frith Street Soho London W1D 4HT To book tickets, or for more information and some interesting history of the club, you can visit their website. http://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/
~~A shaggy dog story~~ Boots Botanics Daily Hand Therapy SPF10 is readily available in all stores. I got a tube in my Christmas Stocking but have since purchased another one. Not because I had used it all up but because my son's dog Sammy, fancied a chew of the tube (For a while she had the best moisturised mouth in caninedom!). One side benefit of the dog eating the tube, was that I discovered quite by accident, that the cream has a stunning effect on leather upholstery. In fact the bit that the cream had been spilt on and rubbed off, looked so good I had to clean the whole blooming suite! ~~If you get to it before the dog!~~ The cream comes in a flip top tube which it stands on. This means that the cream is in the right place to dispense and doesn't have to be shaken down. The cream is fairly light in consistency and a gentle squeeze delivers enough cream to cover both hands. (or paws and settee!) The usual Botanics logo adorn the label which is pale green and white. I can't remember if it was in a cardboard box, which is a bit worrying because I only bought it about ten days ago. I think not. My hands tend towards dryness and readily absorb the cream with no oily film left on my skin. I enjoy the extra suppleness this immediately gives my skin. I keep it by the soap dispenser in my kitchen and try to remember to put a blob on after each handwash. One benefit that I noticed within days was that my cuticles haven't cracked since I started using it. There is a factor 10 SPF incorporated too but I can't say this had has much of a test given that we have been living in what feels like semi darkness at this end of the country and year! Any premature aging of my skin isn't being caused by free radicals either unless they get through gloves. (I thought Nelson Mandela was a free radical anyway!) ~~Now that's just rubbing it in!~~ Just under £4.00 buys you 75ml. I think this is a bargain because a little does go a long way. You only need a small amount each time you moisturise. It compares very favourably to me with a lot of very expensive hand cream. In this foul economic climate it can be a real saving with no apparent reduction in quality. The plastic tube is clear which enables you to see easily how much of the cream is left. I think the cream itself has a nice pale pink colour. It smells lovely with a light floral fruity fragrance. As the cream contains bilberry extract I was expecting it to smell fruitier than it does. (Although, come to think of it, I am not sure if I would recognise the smell of a bilberry!) The fragrance doesn't last a long time but it reminds me of Spring as I put it on, it's hard to describe but I really like it. (I Think Sammy thinks it smells of bone but I haven't asked her!) ~~Putting the Boot's in~~ This is the promotional blurb from Boots. "Containing Bilberry with AHA's to brighten and renew skin surface and collagen protecting flavonoids and Equisetum which both refines and tones the skin. Plant extracts at levels that really work, combined and formulated for unbeatable product performance. Naturally. Authenticated by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" I have put this in because you might be interested and because someone might be able to explain to me what flavonoids and Equisitum are. Equisitum sounds like an attack of Delhi Belly to me but that can't be right! Flavanoids sound as though they should be being rescued from a distant planet by the crew of Star Trek Enterprise but I doubt if that's right either. From my point of view, whatever the contents are they work very well. I have moisturised, soft and supple skin on my hands and at the price it costs I can afford to slather it on. Not that I need to, like I said, a little goes a long way. ..
~~How did we get to Haller?~~ During our recent trip to Kenya we decided to pay a visit to an attraction that a lot of the other guests in our hotel had recommended. We walked down the hotel Drive and after a bit of haggling with a Tuk-Tuk driver paid over the princely sum of 500 Kenya Shillings. (approximately £4.25) This was to take us there and collect us at 5pm when the park shut. ~~Shaken but not scared!~~ Being driven in a Tuk Tuk feels like being on the back of a yellow three wheel motorbike surrounded by a large flattened and shaped tin can, sat on 'upholstered' seats with all the give and pliancy of Margaret Thatcher's politics. Add the lethal combination of a seemingly twelve year old driver with ADHD and a fetish for speed that would put Jeremy Clarkson to shame! Driving up the Malindi road towards Mombasa took about ten minutes but it put me and God back on speaking terms! It would appear that the driving population of Mombasa had all been schooled at the same place. (Probably founded by Eivil Kneivil!) We got there, shaken but not scared. Terrified? yes, we got past merely being scared! You have got to ride in a Tuk Tuk. It is a defining moment in a Kenyan Tourist's experience! ~~Park yourself!~~ The last half mile of the drive involved going down a dusty track past a concrete factory. Standing at the side of a large fuel tank in the factory grounds was a large and elegant Oryx! I couldn't help thinking that not many factory workers in England would come outside for their lunch break and have to share the lawn with one of these lovely but very large creatures. It puts throwing your crusts down for the pigeons into perspective! We later found out that the herd of Oryx from Haller Park walk out of the park nearly every day to go and graze around the concrete factory. When we had finished our tour of the park we came outside just in time to see them all trooping back in again! They have the most beautiful twisted horns that are about two to three feet long. The males can stand up to six feet tall at the shoulders so I can understand why they are allowed to come and go unmolested. I wouldn't want to argue with them! It was fabulous to be surrounded by them as they ambled past and through the entrance gate. The cleaner told us how dangerous they were but fortunately he told me after they had walked past. (Otherwise I would have done what any sensible person would do and gawp from a distance.) ~~In we go!~~ A little shop and entrance kiosk stand at the park gates, "Jambo Mama" was called out to me as I went into the kiosk to pay. The kiosk man had the widest and most beautiful smile of greeting. He directed us up a path past a large pond to where we would be allocated a guide. At the end of the path was a large Masai type hut/ reception hall. We went in and were invited to sit and watch the documentary that was currently playing on the monitor whilst we waited for an english speaking guide. David Attenborough was playing and we happily sat in the shade of the thatched roof and listened to him expounding on the flora and fauna of Kenya. After about a ten minute wait our guide arrived, a young Kenyan man named Oscar. He spoke excellent english and had an encyclopeadic knowlege of the park. He explained that without the cement factory there would have been no park. The site for the park is a reclaimed lime quarry which when the factory had extracted all the viable limestone (fossil coral) had become an arid wilderness. The Bamburi Cement company decided to reclaim the quarries which seemed to be an impossible job. In 1959, Dr. Rene Haller was hired as manager of the garden department and given the task to beautify the area.He embarked on the reforestation project and with the help of millions of centipedes managed to return the earth to a condition where trees and wildlife could flourish. It really is a remarkable transformation and all credit to the far sightedness of the company and Dr Haller. An excellent account by Dr Haller of how this was all achieved can be found at http://www.cosy.sbg.ac.at/~zzspri/travels/BANweb/bantrail.html ~~When is a rock not a rock?~~ Our guide led a small group of us out into the park and my eyes lit on a sign saying "PLEASE DO NOT SIT ON THE TORTOISES!" The sign amused me. Previously my experience of tortoises hadn't led me to imagine anybody would want to sit on one! As if on cue, a very large 'rock' got up and ambled over to us! Our guide explained that this was one of the many Aldabra giant tortoises that had been rescued and brought to live in the park. They are not native to Kenya but sailors had imported them as pets and some others had been washed ashore. They are very similar to Galapagos tortoises with the same life span of roughly 200 years. They liked to be scratched under the chin, just like cats, and would stick their heads right out and go into a bit of a trance whilst you scratched them. I was fascinated and excited to be this close to them. Bidding farewell to the bold 'boulders' we followed Oscar who gave us a brief outline of the tour and finished by promising us that at the end we could watch crocodiles playing volley ball with chickens. The mind boggled! ~~Snakes Alive!~~ We followed the guide into an area of pens and very large glass fronted observation enclosures. This was my least favourite part of the park, not because of the snakes and reptiles contained in there but because of the dull nature of the enclosures. I felt sorry for the creatures enclosed in them, they were very clean but sparse and utilitarian. I got the feeling that concrete was the material of choice in this area!Some of the snakes were used to 'milk' for anti venom production. All of the reptiles in this enclosures looked healthy and lively but I was glad to leave and enter the more natural areas of the park. ~~I want my Mummy!~~ We were led down a winding trail as our guide told us the story of one of their more remarkable animal rescues. A young Hippo (Owen) had been washed away by the dreadful Tsunami which struck the pacific coast in December. He was brought to Haller park and formed an attachment to Mzee one of the Giant tortoises. They slept, ate and played together. I bet Mzee didn't expect to become a surrogate Mum at the age of 130! There are wonderful pictures in the visitor centre and shop of the two of them together and there is also a book written about them. Eventually Owen had to be parted from Mzee because of his size and boisterousness and he was paired with a slightly older Hippo named Cleopatra who had been a pet, she had to be rehomed at Haller when she caused serious damage to a car which was parked in her favourite resting place! Cleopatra is now very protective of her toyboy and they look set to live happily ever after! We were lucky enough to see the pair of them having a good old wallow in their private pond. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder and Cleo was obviously very smitten with Owen, judging by the way she followed him round and nuzzled up to him. I must admit to some difficulty imagining her as a pet. ~~A fishy tail~~ Haller contains a fish farm where Tilapia are bred for mosquito reduction and they also make good eating. It produces 30-35 tons per year which is a valuable asset to the park. They were originally bred to deal with the algae and weed in the ponds to help make them viable for wildlife. We also saw a series of pens for young crocodiles to keep them safe from the larger members of the family who would happily munch on them given half a chance. There was a pen which contained a large brood of eggs which had hatched into 'white' crocodiles. These were quite large but had to be kept seperate because they were too vulnerable and too different to be placed with the other adult croc's. ~~Giraffe to do that!~~ A real highlight for children (and me!) was being able to hand feed the giraffes. They inhabit a huge forested compound, at one end of which is an observation and feeding deck. The height of the deck meant that the giraffes heads were at the same level as the visitors and at 11am and 3pm a big bucket of pellet food is provided and visitors can feed any of the animals that present themselves. I never dreamt that one day I could have a giraffe eating out of my hand. They are stunningly beautiful close up and they took the food delicately and gently. Their eyelashes are so long I had a hint of envy! It was a truly remarkable and memorable experience and it makes me smile when I remember it. The availability of free food was not lost on the opportunist monkeys of the area, who spend a lot of time stealing the pellets and filling their cheeks with them. Every single monkey on the deck looked like they had a serious case of the Mumps because their cheeks were so full of stolen food! A nice touch in that area was a giant fossil clam shell with a cold water tap over it which was being used for visitors to wash their hands after feeding the giraffes. The park is full of these clam shells some of which measure about five foot across. ~~Flora, not just fauna!~~ One remarkable aspect of the park was the diversity of the plant life. There were indigenous plants and trees growing alongside others which had been planted specifically to aid the reforestation and naturalisation process, I was fascinated by the fast growing Baobab trees. Our guide showed us a massive tree which had only been planted 26 years previously. It was hard to believe the rate of growth there. The flowers growing wild were fabulous in their colours and perfumes. I am no botanist and can't recognise many plants but I could see that there was a huge range of plant life that had been introduced by man or that had arrived courtesy of Mother Nature. The Strangling Fig vine was one of the latter and it was amazing to see how their roots reached down from where they had started to grow in the tree tops and completely enveloped (and often killed) the host trees. Over the years, over 180 species of indigenous trees and bushes have been planted. Of course the ubiquitous Neem tree was present in large numbers. This is known in Swahili as the Doctor Tree and is used widely to treat malaria, sickness, headaches and a wide range of other ailments. Apparently monkeys use it if they are feeling a bit under the weather too! The trees and bushes provide valuable food, shade and shelter for the wildlife at Haller and it's almost worth a visit for these alone. The smell of the flowering jacaranda bushes will stay me as part of the complex and evocative smell of Africa. ~~What else did we see?~~ I realise that this recounting might be getting a bit lengthy so I will skim over watching the other set of mighty hippo's emerge from their lake to be fed. Except to say that a flock of Geese nearly became history as they stood, rather negligently, between the hippo's and their dinner. The grazing antelope showed a bit more sense and scattered at the first ripple in the lake. The keeper made me smile because he was obviously cursing the Hippos for something or other, the hippos were totally and magnificiently impervious to his shouting at them. He might as well have tried arguing with the food bucket. The birds were spectacular and amongst the ones we saw were... Crowned crane, Marabou, Oxpeckers (very obligingly sat on some oxen), Egyptian geese who were oblivious to Hippopotami!, Weaver birds and their 'balls of string' like nests, Guineafowl and Yellow billed storks. We saw lots more but I don't know what they were called! At one stage we rounded a corner of a trail and came across a huge Water Buck grazing unperturbed in a clearing. He was very calm and stopped his grazing for a minute to have a good look at us. His eyes were dark and liquid and so beautiful! We saw so much wildlife in our two hour visit to the park that it is really impossible to do justice to it all. We didn't have enough time to see everything and will definitely visit again next time we go to Kenya. In fact it's quite a good reason to go back isn't it? "Quick Russ, book a flight now! We missed seeing the Zebra at Halller". I wish! ~~That Crocodile is Offside!~~ Our tour finished at the crocodile lake where dozens of huge crocodiles were amassing at one end. A lot of them were just asleep on the banks, presumably they were still full from previous days 'Volley Ball Matches'. When we arrived we saw a cable strung across the end of the lake and one of the keepers was busy stringing a chicken carcass to another cable. An ingenious pulley device enabled him to position the chicken over the crocodiles and raise and lower it quickly. I was told by Oscar that this wasn't simply to entertain the tourists, it also provided exercise and competition for the crocodiles. He also said that in the wild, croc's could last a year after a good meal.( It's a good job my husband isn't a crocodile, he can't last four hours without being stoked up again!) The keeper reeled the carcasse over the lake and then the skirmishes began. It is very impressive to see a fully grown crocodile launch itself more than ten feet in the air to snatch it's food. It is unbelievably impressive to watch a dozen or more trying to do the same thing at the same time. I was amazed that they didn't seem to come to any harm in the resultant melee! The keeper was very skilled at snatching the chicken out of reach if he thought one crocodile was getting too much to eat and then allowing others to succesfully snatch the chickens. All in all it was an odd but exciting spectacle. I am glad that I saw it and it was a spectacular way to end the tour. ~~General Points about Haller~~ The tracks and paths are uneven and sometimes quite hilly so wear comfortable shoes. The heat is blistering so a hat is necessary, not all areas have shade. Take water, two hours is too long to go without a drink, (unless you're a camel!) There are a lot of water areas and the Tilapia fish don't get all the lavae so mosquito repellent is a good idea too! I wouldn't try to visit Haller if I was confined to a wheelchair, the access paths are too uneven. Some of the paths are difficult but not impossible for buggys or pushchairs too. The toilets are clean and well maintained but scarce. This is a great place for children but they have to be meticulously supervised, many of the areas are not child proof and little Fred could easily become part of an impromptu volley ball game! The place is fabulous and good value for money but give yourself plenty of time to have a wander after your guided tour. We missed quite a few things including the restaurant where you can eat Eland or Crocodile! I would have liked to see the menu if nothing else! If you are lucky enough to be in the vicinity of Momabasa do go and say hello to Owen from me. It's a place not to be missed! ==Contact and Entrance Details== 8 km north of Nyali Bridge Mombasa on the Malindi Rd, Telephone 041-548 5901, Open daily 0800-1700, Adults approx £6.50, Children £3.20.
~~Why African Safari Club?~~ I have just been on a two week holiday to Kenya, we booked with African Safari Club who have been arranging Safaris, Nile Cruises, Egyptian Holidays and beach holidays for over 40 years. The information on their website looked ideal to us and the price they offered was very competetive. We booked by phone with no hassle, we got a very cheap holiday and everything went according to plan. Our payment and booking were confirmed immediately, flight information was accurate. Our hotel was wonderful, a bit down at heel in places but still very pleasant. In fact I have never had such a great holiday before. However, it might suprise you to hear that I doubt if I will be booking with ASC again. I'll try to explain why. ~~How do they keep smiling?~~ The staff at the Dolphin Hotel were extraordinary. They really went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. Some of this I knew was because they wanted to be tipped, but it felt to me that most of it was because they were good, hardworking and genuinely friendly people. Tipping was expected and it was no hardship when you were paying so little for stuff anyway. What I didn't realise and was horrified to find out, was that for the staff here and in the two sister hotels, tipping wasn't an extra. Tips were all that they were getting. Nothing else! ASC had not paid most of them for months. This was not a one off anomaly. The problem has been going on for years. Some months they would be paid some of what they were owed some months they would not. One villager from nearby Shanzu village told me that his contract had been terminated 10 months previously and he was still owed 17 months pay. Out of a total of 40 months he had been paid for 30 and he had been lucky to get as much as that.! The staff are rarely on full time contracts now and they believe (and so do I) that this method of hiring staff and letting them go for a few weeks then hiring them again, means that it is harder for the workers to do anything about the appalling treatment they are receiving. ~~So why work if you're not going to get paid?~~ One day towards the end of our holiday I was sat with a group of villagers from Shanzu. Shanzu has relied heavily in the past for employment from ASC. In it's heyday they had five hotels open in the immediate area. When the government of Kenya changed three years ago many of the hotels were shut. I asked the men why they continued to work for ASC. The explanations were simple and very saddening. This is what I was told. There was virtually no other employment. There is no unemployment benefit in Kenya. It is better to work and hope to get paid. If you are working you will be respected in the community. If you are working you can be proud of yourself. If you work you will get tips and so there is some money coming into the household. If other hotels reopen they will already be trained and more likely to be offered jobs in them. ~~All power tends to corrupt....~~ Basically ASC or their agents, have these people by the short and curlies! They can treat them exactly as they wish and nothing is done about it. I was told on the day we left that the government is aware of the problem and the following Tuesday a question was going to be raised in the Kenyan parliament. I asked the man who told me this if he thought that would do any good. "It depends Mama, it depends!" He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together in the universal language that signifys money changing hands. I asked if the government officials were being bribed. He rolled his eyes and said the Swahili equivalent of "Does a bear sh*t in the woods?" He did say that the people were a little more trustful of this government, they seemed more honest than previous ones and in fact some of the previous politicians had been sent to the Hague for trial for corruption. "But not enough Mama, not enough of them go." As I asked around it became more and more evident that the staff were under threat of the sack if they mentioned any of this or talked about it if asked. One of the staff said to me "Do not ask me Mama Gill, I am Christian man and I may not lie, if I speak you the truth I will have no job." Some were more forthcoming and confirmed that they were not paid. "I have had no wages for seven months, my father feeds me and I give him not enough. I cannot get married because of this." Another said he was owed nine weeks wages. I asked how long he had worked there. "Ten weeks in four months." was the reply. I was also told that the staff had agreed to a reduction in their wages due to the economic downturn. ~~Coming home~~ When I got home and had caught up on things a little I rang ASC, in the course of the conversation I asked the girl I was talking to whether her wages were any good (on the pretext that my daughter was thinking of working in travel). She said they were "Not bad for this kind of a job." I said "I hope you don't mind me asking but do you get paid monthly or weekly?" She said she was paid monthly. I really wanted to ask outright if the staff in England had any trouble getting their wages. From the way our conversation went it was obvious that she was happy with the way she was paid and had no problems around wages. I just wanted to confirm my suspicions that only ASC staff in Kenya had problems getting paid. Now I know a sample of one is pretty meaningless but I assume that if there had been a problem with wages going missing for years in the UK we would have heard something about it. I have to say that every member of UK staff I have spoken to have been professional, helpful and very pleasant. ~~A Swiss or a Swizz?~~ I was told by a very well educated young man (A rep from another company) that the owner of ASC is Swiss, that is where he is domiciled and the name of one of the three directors* certainly leads me to believe that this is true. None of the directors are Kenyan. So what we seem to have is a Swiss businessman, who wouldn't have a hope in Hell of acting in this way in his own country or any other part of Europe, playing fast and loose with the lives of hundreds of his African employees. I went onto their website (address below) to see if they had anything to say about the situation. Interestingly their PR page reads like this........ "This section is currently being updated with copies of our latest press releases and other news media. If you have a PR enquiry please use the form below. " (I used their form and nothing happened. Big suprise there!) It has been this way for a while now, you might draw your own conclusions. You can also draw your own conclusions from the fact that I also eMailed them twelve days ago, politely asking some questions, and I heard nothing back until this review was read by them on Ciao. If you Google 'ASC wages issues' you will be led to a website devoted to discussions of past ASC behaviour. It doesn't make pretty reading. This is their website if you want to read about their charitable works and their company history. The stuff about their charitable works is very interesting. I'd be interested to hear what you think. http://www.africansafariclub.com/press/index.php Another quote from their website "Nothing is left to others, or indeed to chance, as all aspects of our cruises and holidays are managed and personally controlled by our own well trained and highly motivated staff." (Incidentally, we didn't see an ASC rep all the time we were in the hotel!) It's a shame that those "well trained and highly motivated staff" can't see their way clear to paying the "well trained and highly motivated staff" in Kenya whose lives and livelihoods are definitely being "left to chance" I asked what I could do to help. The general consensus from the staff and the reps was to " tell your people about what is happening to us!" So that is what I am trying to do here. Thank you so much for reading. 25/12/10 Last week I was contacted by an employee of ASC. She was pleasant and professional. She told me of her dismay that stories of their workers in Kenya were still being told. She assured me that it was her belief that the workers were being paid albeit on a negotiated reduced rate because of the economic climate in Kenya. I believe that she believed what she was saying. I told her that I would add her comments to my review. She did say that the workers in Kenya were paid by agents and not directly by ASC. This made me wonder if they were not being told the truth about what was going on. I still believe that the men who told me that they were not being paid were telling me the truth. Most of them (but not all) had nothing to gain by lying or exaggerating. The most compelling stories and evidence was given me by the a university educated employee who was able to be supported by his family whilst he waited for his wages. He refused a tip because he did not want me to think I was being told all of this for sympathy. I brought the subject up, he didn't. I believed him, I still do. Many people told me the same or similar stories. Something is going badly wrong there and I would love to hear from the people I am still in touch with that all their wages have been paid. *Source: Company House London
==How did I come to own a pair of Racing Nuns?== It's a tradition in our family that I will be given at least one silly present a year. Two Christmasses ago my son gave me these two Racing Nuns (he also gave my Mum two Racing Grannies on zimmer frames. She was not amused!) I loved them and all over that Christmas period we would race the little nuns up and down the table. They languished in a bowl on the dining table for a while and then I had the brainwave of taking them to Ireland with me as a present to Sister Carmel. I work at a conference centre in Carlow about one week a month and Carmel is the amazing nun who runs the place. Carmel is no ordinary nun, she is the sweetest natured woman you could wish to meet and has a very robust sense of humour. She absolutely loves the Racing Nuns and they have pride of place on the dining table in her kitchen. ==What do they do?== They simply run by a friction motor located in the base, you press down lightly on the figure, pull it back and let it go! It then whizzes along on it's little wheels for about 6 foot in whichever direction it's pointed. Since my two Racing Nuns arrived they have been joined by another identical pair brought from Australia. Picture the scene!! A round dining table, four staff members on a break, four racing nuns! Put together they inevitably cause a bit of fun and chaos as steam is let off. The nuns are about three inches high and made of very durable plastic. I know it's durable because of the amount of times the nuns have collided head on with one another or gone shooting off the table! (We can't all catch!) They are dressed as demure little nuns, heads slightly down and hands tucked under voluminous habits. They have a permanently shocked expression on their faces (as well they might!) Unfortunately one of my colleagues once remarked that their faces reminded him of blow up dolls (yes, the sex toy ones!) and I have never quite been able to view them the same way since. We have not shared that information with Sister Carmel, she has enough to contend with! ==Nun too useful!== The Racing Nuns have been played with regularly and none too gently for the last eighteen months and they are still going strong. The elderly Real life nuns who have popped over from the adjoining convent to visit, often confuse them with novelty cruet sets, one old girl regularly complains that "Sister Carmel never fills these things up!" I have to say that it's an easy mistake to make. I have stopped trying to explain to her now, Racing Nun novelty cruet sets is just too much for her to get her head around! I just give her the real salt cellar. ==Nun sequiturs== # You can buy them for about £6-8 from Hawkins Bazaar, Amazon, eBay or Bluw's own website. http://www.bluw.com/bluwtoys-category-1-16742.do # Racing Nuns do not like carpets, they prefer to be active on flat smooth surfaces. # If you don't hold them down firmly whilst pulling them back you will never win a Nun race! # Occasionally they will veer from the straight and narrow and hurl themselves face down in an act of contrition. # One Nun will always want to go faster, she is aiming to be Mother Superior. # They do not make good salt cellars. It doesn't matter how often you turn them upside down and shake them. # Don't try the above with a real nun! # Like a lot of real nuns I know, they seem to last forever. # Unlike real nuns they come in those bl***y irritating hard plastic blister packs! # No batteries required. (Don't even think of where they'd go if they were required!) # Visiting bishops don't seem to think they are very funny. (But then, neither are visiting bishops usually) # You'd be amazed how stupid and giggly adults can become, playing with these nuns! # They wipe clean easily so they don't have any dirty habits. ==Nun too soon!== I've said nearly all I've got to say on the subject of Racing Nuns. They are good clean fun and probably if they weren't housed in a conference centre that used to be a novitiate, the novelty would have worn off more quickly. As it happened they made a great and suprisingly long wearing stocking filler.
~~How did we choose the Dolphin?~~ After a particularly damp and dismal year we decided that a bit of sun was necessary. We looked online and after a lot of searching and indecision finally lit on The African Safari Club. We paid about £400 each for flight and 14 days Half board in The Dolphin Hotel, Shanzu Beach, Kenya. Then we paid extra for one of the two suites the Dolphin offered. Working on the pricipal that if we were going to go a bit mad with our money we might as well do it in style! ~~Arriving in style?~~ I am going to review African Safari Club (ASC) seperately because there is a lot needs saying about them. For now I will just tell you about the Dolphin Hotel. We were taken from the airport to the hotel and dropped at the front entrance. The hotel drive was fairly impressive with lawns and lakes and a herd of asses grazing there. The front of the Dolphin is a bit of a non event. A nice little pond with the eponymous Dolphins, A concrete awning and that's just about it. However, things soon started to look up! (After the state of the bus that brought us it would have been difficult for them to look down!) ~~Booking in~~ We walked down some steps into a circular entrance foyer. There was a central water feature, not working, reception and money exchange etc to the left and shop and ASC offices to the right. Porters and staff milled about and we were greeted warmly with cries of "Jambo!". Booking in was very swift and efficient and helped along with a nice cool drink of something unidentifiable but pleasant. A member of staff carried our luggage away and we followed, eager to see what awaited us. Our porter/ cleaner/ general helper was named Mohammed and he really did his best for us during our fortnights stay. More about him later. We were taken down some more stairs. Looking down from here, spread out in all it's beauty, was the white sandy beach and the fabulous blue expanse of the ocean. The sight was breathtaking! We just stopped and stared and grinned at one another. That first sight of the ocean from the first floor of the hotel will stay with me a long time. Eventually Mohammed coughed politely and we caught up with him and walked along the verandah style walkway in front of the main dining room and bar to our block of accomodation. Up some more outside stairs and we were finally going to see what our suite was like! ~~Housed like royalty~~ Our suite was perfect! Much nicer than I expected. And it was big! The hallway was spacious and to the right was a huge 'wet room' consisting of a shower, footwash, towel rail and clothes hooks.(It was bigger than some hotel rooms I've had the misfortune to stay in.) You had to go up a couple of steps to get into the actual shower with a large step down. It was tiled throughout with no cracks or breaks and it was very clean. It obviously wasn't brand new but it was in good repair and hygenic. The only drawback could be that it would be totally useless if you had mobility problems but I think there were ground floor rooms for those that had. The shower was fairly powerful but the hot water was a bit sporadic. The fact is though, in such high temperatures most of the time I wanted a cool shower. The first time I had a shower I thought I must have been sweating profusely because I kept getting the taste of salt in my mouth and then I remembered that the water supply was saline! Doh! ~~Bathroom~~ The bathroom was similarly tiled and clean. It housed a large washbasin with loads of room at the sides for toiletries and the jug of fresh drinking water that was replenished daily, This was useful for teeth cleaning, taking tablets and sometimes rinsing the salt from my hair. The towels provided were light brown and none too luxurious but they were plentiful and changed regularly. There was a full sized bath with overhead shower which, again, was not new but in good condition. The toilet was unremarkable! The mirror over the basin showed some signs of wear, it wasn't one of those magic ones that make you look twenty years younger so I didn't bother looking in it often! ~~Lounging about~~ We had a beautiful lounge with a long sofa and two very comfortable easy chairs. At one end of the lounge was a full size patio window that overlooked the beach and sea. At the other end was a dark wooden unit that housed the fridge and shelves with glasses and more glasses. We could have held a party! There were quite a few large terracotta lamps stood on small tables dotted about the room. A long G- Plan type coffee table graced the centre Pictures of Dolphin Hotel Shanzu Beach Kenya, Mombasa Dolphin Hotel Shanzu Beach Kenya, Mombasa ..of the room. Often hotel rooms have bizarre or banal artwork on the walls. Throughout the suite were a range of prints that were montages of African wildlife, they were actually very beautiful and I wouldn't have baulked at having them at home. The soft furnishings throughout were a heavy dark material with a repeated leopard design in each square. They were tastefully done too. I never expected the place to look so good. ~~Bedding in~~ The bedroom was a decent size and contained two single beds joined together, a walk in wardrobe which also housed the safe, (safe keys cost E35 per week) a large desk/ dressing table, bedside cabinets with lamps (which worked!) a small table with drawers and full sized patio doors, which, like the lounge doors, led out onto our balcony. The curtains were completely lightproof and were kept shut most of the time because they kept a fair bit of the heat out too. Both sets of windows had gauze curtains. The bedroom was comfortable and the beds were very restful. The cleaner, Mohammed, changed the beds twice a week and made them daily. He kept the place clean and tidy for us and was unobtrusive. ~~Balcony tales~~ The balcony was a lovely place to sit and relax. It was well shaded with one side being exposed to the sun. There were two very solid wooden sunbeds with comfortable mattresses to laze about on and a couple of upholstered rattan armchairs and a glass table for drinks and books etc. As I always woke early I spent a lot of time out here watching the sun rise over the ocean and as dawn came watching the antics of the monkeys. We were on the top floor and some very impressive coconut palms were growing alongside. This meant that the waking monkeys used to drop down from the trees onto our roof and balcony and start their days being very sociable, grooming, chattering, having stand up fights with the crows and stealing every edible thing that wasn't nailed down! One day we came back from the beach to find one end of the balcony about six inches deep in what looked like white wood chippings. A trail of them led to a discarded plastic bag under the table. I was baffled! Under one of the sunbeds the culprit was found, stuffing his face and burping loudly. He had stolen a huge bag of cut sugar cane from someone, hauled it up to our balcony and scoffed the lot! I imagine his friends helped him. I picked up a piece to have a look but put it down again quickly when I saw the evil look the cheeky monkey was giving me. He wasn't about to share them with anyone. Every day we found evidence of their piratical activities. Our balcony was the ideal place for them with a quick getaway if they needed it. I resisted the urge to feed them (not that they needed any help in that way) until the last day when we had had a fresh pineapple for lunch. I decided to put the peel on the balcony rail for them. Within minutes a baby monkey had come down and was gorging herself on the juicy pieces. Big Daddy monkey came down and helped himself too! (did you know that male Vervet monkeys have flourescent pale blue testicles?) Then the fun began, more and more monkeys arrived and it fascinated me to see the very clear order of heirarchy. One set of monkeys, including the baby, ate freely, the others sat around and watched, the thing that I found really amazing was that one of them kept holding her hand out in a very human gesture, when that didn't work she kept 'kissing' the biggest female and attempting gently to take the pineapple rind from her mouth. I was expecting David Attenborough to appear and explain what it all signified! He never did though. The other area of entertainment was the daily Crow versus Monkey war. The crows relentlessly dive bombed the monkeys giving them vicious pecks as they flew past. The monkeys ran screaming after any crow that dared alight. This went on every morning and evening and I'd say that the honours were about even. I never tired of watching it. ~~Dining Dolphin Style~~ On our first evening we were shown to our table which we shared with two German Ladies. One of them, Miel, was delightful. The other one behaved as though she gargled with vinegar. She was not a happy hoppelhaschen! (German bunny!) Curiously enough when we addressed her, she always answered in French. I didn't know who to bribe to get a different table so we stuck it out for a fortnight. If it hadn't been for Miel there would have been a diplomatic incident or she'd have ended up in the pool. (About twenty foot below the dining room balcony) Food at the Dolphin was filling but monotonous. There was always soup, a fish dish, a meat dish, rice and potatoes and the same salads. The food was fresh and kept covered at all times. There were very few insects about for some reason so this wasn't really an issue. The beef dishes were usually pretty diabolical, it was the toughest beef I've ever tried and I've eaten in some strange places! The lamb dishes were usually good and different herbs and spices tarted them up a bit. There was often a choice of meat dishes and most people seemed to prefer the lamb or the chicken dishes. There was usually lots of fresh fruit, jelly, and cardboard cakes. The Germans seemed to eat a lot of these cardboard cakes. The English never really got the hang of them. It amused me that there was always custard or chocolate custard to have with the desserts. I have never seen anyone put custard on fresh mango before! You had to get there early to get the fresh pineapple which is why we bought our own at the supermarket! There was always loads of passion fruit which I love the smell of but the pips give me the pip! Breakfast consisted of fresh bread, toast, sausages, cheese, salads and any variety of egg dish. The egg chef was a wizard at omelettes which he cooked whilst you waited. They were absolutely delicious. You could also have a different variety of cardboard cake for breakfast too. I tried it. Once! Overall the food was nutritious but unambitious. I got bored fairly quickly and we ate out in the local village for a change quite a few times. The service from the staff was always efficient, humorous and a little quirky. Our particular favourite waiter was James. He would produce what we wanted almost telepathically. I was asked by him if I wanted cow milk or elephant milk for my tea one morning, I went along with the joke and asked for elephant milk. He looked at me gravely, rolled his eyes and went off to the kitchen. He came back pretending to stagger under the weight of a huge jug. "Look Mama! Look in the jug!" I got up and peered theatrically into the jug. There was a speck of milk in the bottom. "What happened to my elephant milk James?" James giggled. "I think my hands were cold Mama and the elephant she ran away!" "Oh Dear!" said I, "Is there anything left of the kitchen now?" "Only the roof Mama, only the roof!" The staff loved to joke and they particularly like practical jokes and party tricks. I do too so we spent a lot of time acting daft and getting on really well. Frau Vinegar face was less than amused but Miel loved it and would often join in or translate to the other German guests. It sort of made the holiday being able to play even when we didn't have any Swahili. My 'fame' must have spread because one night when we were eating out in the local village a masai Lady sat at our table and asked me to show her the 'pencil trick'. She only spoke Swahili so the whole conversation was mimed. Amazing! ~~Pool, bar and Upwords!~~ On our first morning I was savvy enough to give the pool man a huge tip. (about £4.00!) so we had a pair of sunbeds, a parasol and table ready for us anytime we ventured near the pool. Our towels were laid out neatly and Jethediah (I kid you not, that was his name!) would hail us from the poolside wherever he saw us and tell us our place was ready for us. Unfortunately Jethediah was a total nutcase and reminded me a lot of Dobby the House Elf from Harry Potter. One day I looked up and he was dancing around our sunbeds, wailing a song and crossing himself. I was stupid enough to ask him what he was doing. "I am singing a song to the Lord Jesus to thank he for a work!" Me, "Oh right!" Jethediah " I thank He morning morning morning and now when I go home home home!" he carried on singing and dancing around our sunbeds." Are you going home soon then?" "I am singing and dancing to our Lord thankyou that I can go home home home when I put away the lass lass mackless." Eventually it dawned on me that I was in fact lying on the very lass lass mackless. "Jethediah, would you like me to go so you can put my mattress away?" "Hakuma Matata Mama, I will just sing and praise while you are resting" I got up and left him to put the 'Lass mackless' away. How could anybody resist that kind of non-pressure? The pool is quite small but clean and refreshing. All of the public areas are kept incredibly clean and tidy. The bar served beers and spirits and although they were dearer than outside the hotel they were still reasonable. I think the two main choices were Tusker or Pilsner. The Tusker was strong like Stella, so we tended to stick to the cheaper weaker lager. Half a litre cost about £1.40 but that's a 'guesstimate'. I can't remember precisely. The poolside bar also served burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. The sandwiches were a bit expensive and not very exciting but the pizzas were delicious. The chips were too good to be healthy too! Not very Kenyan but very appealing! We tended to sit over a few beers in the bar most evenings and enjoy a game of Upwords. One of the lovely waiters referred to the game as "Scrabble but with mountains!" He also used to pinch my tiles to help my husband win! ~~Put it on the bill?~~ The system throughout the hotel was that you usually signed for food, drinks, excursions etc. You could pay cash but it was a lot easier just to put it down on your room bill. There were a couple of problems with this, one was that it was difficult to get change to tip the staff with. The main problem was going to the cashier to pay. First you had to wait until he was open, then you had to wait until the bill was added up, then you had to check it, not because they were in any way dishonest but because if you had signed for stuff in the sister hotel just down the beach, the bills weren't always sent down promptly. This caused chaos on the last day. We had all paid our outstanding bills the night before yet the cashiers still held the buses up whilst they chased people for bits of their bills that were left unpaid. We waited outside for a good three quarters of an hour before we were allowed to leave for the airport. ~~What else is on offer?~~ *A little office next to the reception offers internet connection. That was 500 KS for an hour. It took about ten minutes to get a connection! It was an old and clunky computer but at least the room had air conditioning! *Two more private restaurants were on site. I never saw anyone dining at them so I don't know how they stayed open. *A large bar with a Television which was set to a sports channel. It was quite fun to be sat outside and listen to the guests and waiters roar at the football players and try to guess who was winning. *Entertainment was offered on most evenings, either at the Dolphin or The sister hotel The Flamingo. The entertainment was free and good quality. One night a troop of four acrobats did a remarkable show worthy of Cirque du Soleil. There was of course an African Night where folk dancing and tribal singing was performed. My favourite was an evening reptile show where a very learned man came in from the local reptile sanctuary and talked to us about the snakes, lizards and other reptiles indigenous to the area whilst his assistants brought them around and allowed us to handle the safer ones. I was delighted to be able to handle a large monitor lizard. (Our friend Ron was a little less delighted when said lizard swept his pint of the table with his tail!) *A small free library was offered for guests in the ASC office next to the shop. It relied on guests donating books they didn't want to take home. Unfortunately most of the books were in German but I managed to find a few decent English ones. Added to all this there was a delightful animation team offering games, aqua-aerobics, swahili lessons, beach volleyball, etc. They were a lovely team of mostly young people who did their best to get us all off our bums! Hearing the team leader singing Hakuma Matata, often with his own words, during Aqua-aerobics was extremely entertaining in itself. ~~Alarms and excursions~~ The hotel offered a great many excursions, mainly they were different safaris and boat trips. We had been advised not to book with ASC before we went to Kenya and to book trips in the village with local tour operators. It was good advice, ASC offered by far the highest costing excursions. The safari we went on cost £110 less than the one the hotel offered and we stayed in superior accommodation inside the safari park. The ASC safaris tend to use lodges outside the parks so time is wasted travelling in and out to them. It's tempting to book it all online before you go but if you do you will pay through the nose. Competition is fierce for custom for excursions so bear in mind that you can haggle and with more expensive trips you will often be offered a free cheaper trip. Just take your time and ask the advice of people who arrived before you. ~~Other oddities~~ The Dolphin tended to turn the electricity in the rooms off in the afternoons. The air conditioning was always turned off between 9am and 5pm. We were told that if you were sick you could ask to have it put on again. When it was on it worked perfectly and not noisily. The hand held remote made adjusting the temperature very easy. Once or twice the water went off too but that was fixed very quickly. There was no problem with insects, I was bitten by mosquitos quite a few times but they didn't seem to come into the rooms much. I don't know why. I expected them to be a problem but they weren't. Water can be bought at the shop. It is the only thing in there that is reasonably priced. I think the shop owners got the prices out of a lucky bag because they were ludicrous! Trousers and shirts must be worn into dinner! No shorts and no going topless for men. (or women!) ~~Overall~~ The Dolphin is a good value hotel. The staff are it's main asset, they are remarkable. Some parts of the hotel are looking a bit dated but it is all in good repair and looks fairly smart. The management of the hotel cut costs by electricity cuts. It never really bothered me but some of the guests were truly annoyed by it. It is in a fabulous location right on the beach, if you can deal with the beach traders it's a lovely place to be. The beach is enclosed by a coral reef so is fairly safe. The ocean life is prolific and absolutely wonderful to see. If you can put up with monotonous food you will be well fed. Standards of hygeine seemed good to me throughout the hotel. It's not expensive to eat out locally. A two course meal for two with drinks will cost about £10.00 on average. Kenya is a stunning place to visit and the Dolphin is a fair enough place to do it from. It is about 8K from Mombasa and the local travel links to the rest of Kenya from Mombasa are good.Don't go if you like to be on holiday and pretend you're still in the UK. Do go if you can be open minded and enjoy the differences. I loved it and I want go back. Tomorrow if it were possible! I will review the African Safari Club who runs this hotel and others, seperately.
The rewards of Guilt! I was lucky enough to be given this at the end of November, as a very late Birthday gift. (My Birthday was in May) I think my Brother in Law might have been over compensating a bit because he usually gives me a very uninspiring box of Maltesers. Having been given this lovely gift, I'm hoping that he will forget again next year and we'll see what gift the power of guilt can extricate from him then! I think this product is probably aimed at a younger demographic than I belong to but I don't mind if my BIL thinks I'm younger than I am! Lacoste have brought out a number of perfumes in the Pink range and this is a variation on their theme. They are widely available in department stores and perfumeries. Amazon have them for sale at the moment at around £27.00 but that is not the cheapest place to purchase this set. As the EDT was part of a set I will review that first then add some thoughts about the rest of the set. Smelling Pink! I do like the smell of this Eau de Toilette, at first I thought it smelt a bit harsh and artificial and as it dries on my skin it felt a bit flowery for me and a little too sweet. Fortunately as the first tones subside it is possible to smell a lovely spicy woody fragrance that I really enjoy. That's the smell which endures and it balances the sweetness nicely. The perfume lasts for about an hour and then it's possible to get little whiffs of it now and again. It is a medium strength perfume which isn't overpowering and doesn't make you gag in lifts, when someone has bathed in it. (Don't you just hate that?) The bottom line for me is that the perfume is an interesting mix of floweriness and woodiness, but in order to be a bit more helpful I looked up what the experts said about it. Which was... "Heart Cedar Woods, musky notes. Top notes Grapefruit. Base notes Blue Curacao, Peony" I can smell the pleasant woodiness and the 'Peony' floweriness, but the 'Grapefruit' scent doesn't smell like any grapefruit I've ever eaten! It is certainly a sharp citrussy smell but it doesn't ring true to me. My guess is that it is an artificially constructed perfume but I am not an expert. (Unlike some of the amazing perfume reviewers on here) I am a bit dubious about the 'Blue Curacao' too. I have a feeling that that description is advertising speak for alcohol. There is a very faint muskiness. I would have liked that element to be a bit stronger. Having said all that, at around £25.00 it would be ridiculous to expect pure essences with no help from the chemical industry. As a middle of the road scent it is good enough. I use it as a light day scent but use a more classical perfume for an evening out. I find that the scent doesn't taint my clothes like some stronger perfumes do and this is a bonus. The bottle is a pretty glass one which is shaded in tones of pink which grow darker towards the top. It isn't a perfect cylinder and the indented shape makes it comfortable to hold and unlikely to slip from my grasp' The spray nozzle works well and doesnt clog. It delivers a comfortable amount of scent easily. The clear lid clips on fairly tightly and prevents evaporation. A few comments about what came with the EDT. The shower gel is contained in a plastic bottle with the Pink Logo written across it. I was glad to see that it is one of those bottles that stands on it's top to make it easier to squeeze out. It's a flip up top which is much better to handle in the shower than a screw top. The gel is pink, fairly thick and foams up nicely. It rinses off easily and doesn't leave my skin feeling dried out as some perfumed shower gels can. It doesn't smell as sweet as the EDT, more spicy, and the smell lingers in the bathroom which is nice. I use a shower puff to apply it and this makes a little go a long way. The Body Lotion is in a bottle very similar to the shower gel. The lotion is easily absorbed and doesn't leave a greasy residue, just a faint sheen on my skin. The squeezy tube means that there will not be much wasted. It's a nice set. It won't 'set' the world on fire but it was a very acceptable and generous present. It is on special offer in Boots at the moment for £25.00 and a hundred extra Boots points. As the EDT retails at about £25.00 on its own this is a pretty good deal! It looks nice and is well presented so if you give this as a gift you will accrue a lot of Brownie Points along with the Boots points.
~~L'amazing crinkly fun~~ Eddie the Elephant is the latest Lamaze goody to enter my granddaughtere's menagerie. I have previously written about Sir Prancelot. Eddie is from the same range of toys and when I saw him on sale at our local car boot sale for 50p I swooped on him as all doting Nanas would! Even though the sellers assured me that the toy had been well played with he still looked spotless and as good as new. A quick spin through the washing machine when I got home (just to be sure) and Eddie the Elephant was ready for his new owner. ~~Consumer views~~ Olivia, Eddie's new owner is very vocal in her appreciation of Eddie. She smiles and giggles when she is reaching out for him and takes particular delight in fingering his ears which make a crinkly sound when touched. She keeps returing to the ears and is delighted by the feel and the noise they make. Recently she has learned the co-ordination neccessary to pinch the elephant's tummy to make him squeak. Fortunately it's not a particularly loud squeak because she does this a lot, smiling every time she manages to do it! In the last two days she has started to make a squeaking noise for herself as she copies the elephant. It made all of us laugh out loud the first time she did it which really amused her in turn. ~~What's this on Eddie's legs?~~ On Eddie's left leg a bright green plastic leaf is attached. This has quite pronounced ridges making the veins of the leaf and Olivia likes to chew this and sometimes makes a sound as she draws it over her front teeth. The other leg has two little plastic textured rings attached. These are used for chewing on, picking the Elephant up with, or just for the nice clanking noise they make when rattled together. The elephant's legs are made of differently patterned plush material which is ideal for stroking and squeezing. The bright colours make pleasing and eye catching contrasts. Unlike some of the other Lamaze toys this elephant doesn't make a different sound in each limb, just a slight rustling effect. All the seperate pieces are firmly attached with attractively striped little tags. All the pulling, shaking and chewing has not evinced any sign of wear or pulling away from the main body of the toy. In fact the whole toy is stitched together very firmly and none of the stitches or seams show any signs of weakening. This is important of course because any wear in a baby's soft toy could cause a potential choking hazard if pieces become detached. ~~How do you pack an elephant's trunk?~~ All of the toy is packed with a hypo-allergenic stuffing which is washable and non toxic. Eddie's trunk and head are firmly stuffed and keep their shape well. This particular part of the toy seems to be made of slobber resistant grey plush. His eyes are slightly suprised looking and accentuated cleverly by little 'wrinkles'. Olivia will now poke the eyes and say 'Eye'. I hope she doesn't start poking my eyes and saying 'Eye!' but Eddie the Elephant seems unworried by her poking as yet! There's an elephant hanging around the pram! On the top of Eddie's head a generously sized rounded clip is attached. This is made of a resilient plastic which enables the toy to be easily clipped onto the pushchair, cot or even the baby's dungaree straps. It is an easy clip to use but firm enough not to be tugged off by the baby. The size means it is not fiddly for larger hands. Olivia quite likes to chew on this too! ~~Educational value?~~ Lamaze bases it's designs on the concept of "Learning through play." These are a few things I have observed as I have watched Olivia play and interact with the toy. Olivia is a year old now and it has been possible to see newer and more subtle developments as her play becomes more interactive. 1. Fine pincer movements between fingers and thumbs are developed by reaching out and manipulating the toy. 2. The child is stimulated visually by the bright colours. 3. Sensual and Aural stimulation is encouraged by the various textures and sounds that the toy possesses. 4. The idea of 'cause and effect' are reinforced by Olivia being rewarded by learning to do a repetetive task. ie. squeeze the right part of the toy and it will squeak. 5. Interaction with the adults is reinforced as Olivia notices us smiling at her and talking to her about the toy. ie, different colours are pointed out and features are learned, eyes, ears etc. 6. Olivia will sometimes stop playing with the toy and simply hug it to herself whilst crooning. She is learning to take comfort and pleasure from hugging and learning to do it for herself to objects and people. 7. Although not yet able to ask for the toy she recognises it's name and will search for it in the playbox if asked. She is learning discernment and co-operation. I am sure I have missed some aspects out of this list but it is clear to me that the design and structure of the toy does stimulate some areas of learning. ~~Other points in favour of adopting this elephant~~ It is extremely hard wearing and cleans up very well. I think it is well put together and the seams are holding up to a lot of fairly rough pulling about and chewing. (as a good elephant should!) I like the simplicity and effective design of the clip, it makes the toy portable and makes the environment a bit more fun for a child in a buggy or cot. It is a fair size for little hands (22cm x 10cm x 20cm) and it is not too heavy for a child to handle easily. His cute little knotted tail also makes it easy for a child to pick up. I got it for the bargain price of 50p but even at full price new, (around £4.99 on Amazon) it is a very reasonably priced toy. It is aimed at children aged 0-24 months but even after this age I think Olivia will still want to play with it. There are sixteen 'Play and Grow' characters in the Lamaze range all of which bear similar developmental attributes. I like them all and they make good little stocking fillers! ***More information on Lamaze products and exercise regimes can be found at .......*** www.lamazetoys.co.uk/
~~Why did we get this one?~~ Our toaster, a Prestige 50634, has sat in the same place in the kitchen for the last five years. It's used almost daily and just does what it's supposed to do. We bought it from Woolworths when our expensive De Longhi toaster stopped working after a mere 18 months! We liked the look and the price of it. ~~Let's keep it simple!~~ Toasters, to my mind, aren't supposed to be all singing and dancing, programmable, works of art. All I want them to do is quietly and efficiently make our toast for us in the morning. No thinking involved! Shove the bread in, push the levers down, potter about assembling butter, marmalade, hummus, marmite etc. Pour the tea out. Hear a reassuring clunk from the toaster as the toast pops up, and that's it! ~~What makes it so useful to me?~~ The Prestige Appliances 50635 does the job perfectly. It toasts between one and four slices simultaneously. It has extra wide slots if you want to toast really nice thick slices of fresh bread or crumpets and if you want to use a sandwich toasting bag (Which are absolutely great!), they fit in easily. It is possible to select one of six settings on the 'browning control'. This is very handy because each side of the toaster has a dial to adjust the toast to the colour you want it. So if you are making toast with white and brown bread it is possible to make the appropriate adjustments for both at once. It is also good for when you are toasting crumpets because they need longer to toast than bread if you don't want them to be soggy. If the food you are toasting is smaller than an average slice of bread there is a High-lift facility for easy removal of them. No more fishing around with a kitchen utensil trying to fish out something that is too small to get hold of properly when it pops up. This works well with crumpets and pop tarts. You simply pull up the lever at the front and the crumpet or whatever slides into reachable view. If you wander off and the toast pops up and goes cold before you get a chance to butter it, there is a setting to gently reheat the toast. This works well and doesn't seem to dry it out too much. There is also a setting for defrosting bread, so you can defrost as many slices as you need straight from frozen. This is handy if, like me, you forget to buy bread and have to fall back on the emergency supply in the freezer. There is a bagel setting too but I must confess to never having used this because I prefer to only toast one side of bagels. All the control buttons are illuminated so you can see at a glance if your toaster is working and on what setting. The width of the toasting slots is adjustable by using the little sliding buttons immediately under the slot lever. I don't bother to use these much but they seem irresistible to any blokes using the toaster, they seem to have to have a fiddle with them! ~~Let's keep this clean!~~ Cleaning is easy, a wipe down with a slightly damp cloth brings it back to it's pristine shiny condition. The removable crumb tray makes it simple to remove any residue of crumbs from under the elements and reduces any fire risk that such a build up might present. (One of my elderly Aunts set fire to her kitchen many moons ago because the bits kept on smouldering, so I'm a bit paranoid about emptying the crumbs out!) The feet of the toaster are slip resistant rubber. I don't know whether this is useful or not, the toaster seems heavy enough to me not to be sliding around the work surface anyway. The lead is about three foot long. This means that it needs a power point close to the work surface it lives on but it also reduces the hazard that longer leads can cause on electrical appliances. There is enough space to tuck the excess lead out of sight around the feet so it doesn't catch in anything or dangle where inquisitive little fingers might pull on it. It came already fitted with a normal black safety plug. ~~Good value for money?~~ I like my toaster, it does its job well. It still looks reasonably smart after five years of service. The metal is showing very little scratching or dullness. This particular model seems to be available in a two tone version but mine is just plain silver coloured. It cost us £19.99 five years ago from Woolworths. I don't know how much they cost now but this particular model has been reliable and very good value as far as I'm concerned.
~~Where is it?~~ Voi Safari Lodge stands high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the vast plains of Tsavo East game reserve in Kenya. It is possible to see for about thirty miles in three directions. This means that wildlife can be observed making the trek to the water holes situated immediately below the lodge. When we arrived there a solitary male elephant was having a drink and a bath and generally getting some relief from the blistering heat. The reception staff waited patiently for our attention and then led us to our room. ~~Booking in~~ We had travelled from our hotel close to Mombasa and were in need of a cool drink, whilst we were gawping at the elephant the staff brought us both a glass of fresh mango juice and a cold flannel for our faces and hands to rid ourselves of some of the red Tsavo dust. What a lovely welcome to the place! We signed the registers and followed our small amount of luggage along a specially sound dampened corridor at the back of the building. Up a few flights of stairs and avoiding the lizards and rock hyrax who were oblivious to the humans, we were ushered into our room. ~~A Room With A View! and what a view it was!~~ Our room was large enough to house two single beds comfortably, a desk, a couple of easy chairs and a small wardrobe. The bathroom was next to the door and contained a loo, a good sized handbasin and surround and a powerful walk in shower. The room was pine cabin decorated and all of the fixtures and fittings were made of natural wood, it was lovely but it could have been a complete dump and I would still have been happy for two reasons, one was that the air conditioning was humming away quietly and efficiently. The main reason though was the incredible view. Right over the water holes, surrounding terrace and Tsavo plain! It was magnificient and the air was so clear that you could see for miles and miles and miles and miles! We watched in amazement as about two hundred wildebeest made a progression from the left towards the water holes. We tried to guess how long it would take them to get there but we were both out by about half an hour! (When they did finally arrive, a family of lions decided it would be a good time to leave.) The windows opened and were meshed against mosquitos. All the rooms have been recently refurbished and although fairly basic were comfortable and clean. The mosquito nets were in good order and it was possible to turn of the bedside lights without getting out of them. The beds were very comfortable and we both slept well in them. The shower was powerful and refreshing (if a bit salty) and ran hot after a few minutes. If you are a light sleeper then you might want to consider wearing earplugs because although the lodge itself is quiet, the same can't be said for the wildlife that surrounds the lodge! That just added to the pleasure for me but you might feel differently about lying there wondering what on earth was upsetting the elephants. ~~The man with the catapult~~ Going in to dinner later that evening I was suprised to see a young man dressed in khaki stood on one of the paths just outside the dining room. He was armed with a large catapult and had a small mound of pebbles stacked up on the wall next to him. I asked him what he was shooting at. "Nothing yet." came the cryptic answer. He smiled rather sheepishly when I asked him if he was a good shot. "Sometimes I hit and when I don't I run!" It turned out that it was his and another young man's job to repel boarding baboons, who sometimes find the aroma of dinner a bit too tempting and run in to the dining rooms and help themselves off guests plates. They have also been known to help themselves to the odd handbag, hat, camera and anything else that wasn't guarded, crisps being a particular favourite. I wished him good hunting and went on into the fairly open plan dining room. I was tempted to select my meal on the basis of what a baboon wouldn't fancy. As it was the food on offer was so varied and so good I soon stopped worrying about the simian pirates and helped myself to the buffet. On offer was three different kinds of soup, about six varied main courses served with rice or potatoes, a large table full of different salads, breads and fruit and another table full of desserts. The variety and quality of the food on offer was excellent and everything was meticulously kept covered to deter flies. We chose a table overlooking one of the waterholes (and close to catapult man!) and tucked in. The tables were set with gleaming glassware and cutlery and the napery was white linen. We could have been dining in a five star hotel, not a small lodge in the middle of a safari park. Whilst I was eating my salad, a rock hyrax climbed up the wall and came to have a companionable snuffle around my feet. I was dying to give him something to eat but was deterred by a stern look from one of the waiters. Dinner over we retired to a lower level of the dining rooms for a smoke and a coffee. ~~Tunneling to the water hole~~ A unique feature of the Voi Lodge is that it is possible to walk down to the water holes undetected by the animals, by way of a tunnel that has been constructed from the terrace. From the bottom end of the tunnel it is possible to see the wildlife far more closely. The end is closed off by a metal grid so it is a safe place to be if any of the more dangerous beasts get wind of you. We went down quite late at night and a few strategically placed spotlights made it easy to spot hyenas, storks and baboons having their after supper drink and wash. The tunnel itself is unlit so when the power to the spotlights failed for a few minutes it was a bit unnerving to say the least. It is hard to describe the sheer beauty of the evening and the privilege of being able to watch the animals in the wild. The day before a group had seen a pride of lions take an unwary wildebeest calf and then battle with hyenas and vultures to be able to eat their kill in peace. Every day a new spectacle presented itself. It was awe inspiring. ~~Overview of the Lodge~~ As if the views from the Lodge, the fantstic food and the lovely little rooms weren't enough, Voi offered a neat little swimming pool on one of the terraces. There was also a great little bar overlooking the plains and one of the smaller watering holes. It was a lovely place to sit and have a beer and watch the sunset. Just to the left of the bar area is a specially constructed photographers hide. We never went in because we didn't want to disturb the people already using it, they looked like serious photographers! It looked roomy and fairly comfortable from the outside. The lodge is built using the rock from the hillside it is built into which means that it is on various levels and some of the floors can be a bit uneven. There is good wheelchair access within the lodge itself and some of the rooms are at ground level. There is free parking at the rear of the lodge. I am sure I read somewhere that there is a gym but I never saw one! Just to the right of the entrance hall is a little shop selling typical souvenir type stuff for rather silly prices! One thing that I found really interesting was a large book in the entrance hall for people to report what animals they had seen. As my husband was stood reading the entries for the last few days he was hit on the head by a very large flying beetle. One of the gamekeepers identified it as a Goliath Beetle so that was duly written in the log. (I guess it just didn't want to be left out!) Surrounding the Lodge are well tended but wild terraced gardens and some smaller pools which are stocked with fish that particularly like to eat mosquito lava, I can't remember their name. I do know that they enjoy the odd bit of left over toast too. The gardens were a fantastic place for us to watch the smaller wildlife. I have never seen so many different species of lizard in the wild before. I was particularly intrigued by one kind which was bright blue with a bright orange head. There must have been ten species of lizard there, in fact they were virtually everywhere you looked. Tiny blue birds hopped around the sisal plants decimating the ant populations and hyrax trundled around looking like oversized guinea pigs. The flowers and shrubs were beautifully coloured, it was like sitting in paradise. The only problem was having to be vigilant about the baboons. ~~Monkey business~~ Six oclock in the morning found me standing on one of the walkways outside the restaurant having a peaceful smoke and waiting for my husband to join me. All was quiet except for the tree frogs. Inside the restaurant the waiters were setting the tables for breakfast. Suddenly there was a loud drumming noise like thunder and two of the waiters ran like Hell out of the dining room and disappeared up the walkway in the opposite direction to where I was standing. The noise got worse and suddenly baboons started dropping from the roof all around me. I was scared witless and just froze. To be surrounded by about twenty of these beasts is a scary experience. I quietly backed up to the wall with my bag behind me and prayed that there was nothing edible in it they they might smell. Another half dozen baboons ran out of the restaurant being chased by a waiter brandishing a dining chair. At the sight of him the baboons lost interest in me and with a lot of screaming and baring of teeth they hopped over the wall and carried on down to the water hole. The waiter put down the chair and grinned at me. "Jambo!" he said "Hakuma Matata!" (Hello! Don't worry!) I went in for breakfast on wobbly legs! "Don't worry?" I hope I never ever get that close to a troop of baboons again! Russ wandered in for breakfast ten minutes later and told me there were about forty baboons at the waterhole and it was a pity I hadn't seen them! I found out later that these aggressive animals did this about once a week. If they couldn't be bothered going around the lodge, they just took a shortcut over and through the dining rooms. Where is the man with the catapult when you need him? ~~Cost and Booking~~ We travelled from Shanzu Beach to Voi Lodge on a safari package which lasted two days and one night. During that time we went on three guided safaris and spent one night in the Lodge. Next time I will go for longer. All meals were included but any drink except water, coffee or tea had to be bought seperately. The price for beer at Voi lodge was not much higher than at our hotel in Shanzu. (about 200 Kenyan Shilling for a half litre. 112 KS = £1.00 approximately.) The trip cost us £120.00 each, board, transport, safari and safari guide, Lodge and Park entrance fees included. This seemed like very good value to us because overnight accomoation in the Lodge is approximately $100.00 per person per night if you travel independently.