- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
A much needed break was to be had with some of my DooYoo friends in Bath. Using the Internet as a reference manual we set about finding a hotel which was reasonably priced for a one-night break. Our needs were few, we wanted to spend as little as possible and to that end were looking for somewhere which was priced per room not per person. We agreed to share twin rooms so we also needed to find somewhere which had twins rather than just doubles. I was to share with KarenUK and lovely as she is, we don’t know each other well enough to share a bed! After searches and phone calls we finally booked in to the Avondale Hotel and we certainly chose well. ~~~ The Blurb ~~~ The hotel has its own website at htp://www.avondalebath.co.uk and from the site certainly looks very impressive. “Avondale is a historic building, residents such as author and novelist L.P. Hartley, anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and Dr. Oliver, inventor of the ubiquitous Bath Oliver biscuit, have all added in some way to the ambience here.” Although not in the city centre this can be an advantage in a city like Bath where space is at a premium. A huge bonus with the Avondale is that it has a large car park as hotels in the centre of Bath often have limited parking and public car parks can be extortionate. The Avondale is also renowned for its food, for which they have won a number of awards. If you are a resident then you can have dinner bed and breakfast for £16 per person, per night, extra to your room tariff. It’s also handy not to have to go into town and find a restaurant. ~~~ Arrival ~~~ I arrived in a light drizzle to find KarenUK already waiting in the car park with fiancé Nick and the kids (they were just dropping her off, not staying). Through the February drizzle I could see the river just over the car park wall, this was pretty much the only time I peered through the constant rain at it but I can
imagine how lovely it is in summer. After a quick hello, we decided to head up to the hotel, Karen told me she had sussed it out and it was up some stairs (I don’t DO stairs!!!). There were indeed lots of little flights of stairs all leading to little terraces with cast iron patio furniture on them, in good weather you can have a meal on a terrace whilst watching life on the river. In February that’s not much of an idea. We proceeded through a door into the bar area where we were greeted by Sid, a man who seems to be the manager and has a very strange sense of humour (he drives you nuts). We know his name was Sid because its tattooed on his wrist (or maybe Sid is his boyfriend???) ~~~ The Bar Area ~~~ The bar area is really very compact as the hotel is using as much space as possible for the restaurant. There is one large square table that was big enough to seat Karen & family plus myself, Offy and Hpoulton. Other than that there is a two seater sofa and a couple of bar stools around the corner. Altogether not much seating for those busy summer months when I imagine the hotel is very busy. The bar is dimly lit with “ambient” lighting (I like to be brightly lit at all times!) and has an olde worlde charm with lots of wooden beams and interesting posters and objects displayed. Leading off in most directions are parts of the restaurant, which are similarly decorated. The bar is promoted as “well stocked” but personally I found it a little lacking. There were plenty of spirits and a couple of bitters but only one draft lager, unfortunately a premium one, Stella, whereas I like a nice girly pint of dingo water. The also serve a good pot of tea, which you get about 4 cups from. The tea must be good because KarenUK certainly drank a lot of it! Pricewise I found it fairly reasonable in comparison to Essex pubs, certainly cheaper than other hotels I have used in the Bath region. It was also a relief
to find that the bar was a smoking area. ~~~ The Toilet ~~~ Yes it really does warrant its own section! Obviously after a long journey we all wished to avail ourselves of the facilities, oddly I think they were unisex and if not I wish I’d seen the gents! The toilet we were directed to had a heavy wooden door with a protruding sculpture of a full frontal nude lady on it. Inside it was clean and nice smelling with pot pourri and flowers and lovely wooden furnishings. Oh and some very weird poems on the wall, the one I read was about birds (the feathered kind) and I believe there was one about dogs too. On exiting this facility I realised that the rear of the door was not smooth and door like but had a carved figure of the rear of a naked lady in it! I wish I’d taken some snaps now as it had to be seen to be believed. ~~~ The Rooms ~~~ For the four of us we had booked two twin rooms for our stay at Avondale, Karen and I being first to arrive got first choice of room. Sid informed us that one of the rooms was in the annexe and that I could pop the car right outside the room, which sold me sight unseen. I also guessed that being able to park right outside meant that it wasn’t on the top floor – I didn’t fancy lugging my suitcase up loads of stairs. Our room was lovely, I think it was actually a family room as we had a double and a single bed. We also got a 2 seater sofa, a 28” telly, tea making facilities, an alarm clock and an en-suite bathroom. My only gripe here is that it was not a bathroom at all but a shower room, that’s right NO BATHS IN BATH! To make matters worse despite running the shower for about 10 mins in the morning I could only get icy cold water out of it. This would have been a major complaint for me if I had been staying more than one night but fortunately for Sid I didn’t really want a shower, just to wet my hair. The brochure also says that all rooms have
telephone and modem points but we didn’t see those in our room although I have to admit we didn’t look particularly hard (yes we managed without an Internet connection). The room was lovely and despite being told it was a no-smoking hotel there was an ashtray in our room. We also had a little balcony (just three steps up from the car!) which would be nice in the summer as it had a cast iron table and chairs and a nice view of the gardens and river. The whole outdoor area looked very well kept with a lovely tub of plants in the corner, masking a cat-flap which led into our wardrobe! There were no furry visitors in the night though. I never saw the second room which was shared by Offy and Hpoulton. This was in the main house and like ours had no bath but just a shower. I know I should have climbed the stairs for reference purposes but I’m just too damned lazy. The others all assured me that Karen and I had made the right choice of room as Hannah and Ophelia found theirs to be very small with two beds practically butting up to one another. ~~~ Dinner ~~~ The restaurant had the same olde worlde charm of the bar, and was just as dimly lit (mood lighting is the pits). Being an old building there was a very cosy feeling as there were lots of little rooms leading off one another making up the eating area. I am the worlds fussiest eater, the best way to describe my diet is odd vegetarian. Fortunately the Avondale did us proud. The menu is extensive with prices ranging from around £11 to £16 for a main course. There is a daily special board and the meals are refreshingly different from your standard hotel fare. Although they do offer vegetarian lasagne (in most places the only veggie offering), they also offer several other interesting vegetarian dishes. For those carnivores amongst us the menu is also well stocked with a variety meat, poultry, fish and game. For our evening meal we all decided to skip s
tarters and just have a main course and a dessert. Everyone there had a sweet tooth, especially Ophelia (I won’t tell you what she had for lunch in town the next day – that’s another opinion!). Ophelia and I chose Moroccan style cous cous stuffed peppers which came with a mustard sauce, I asked to have my sauce served separately and they were happy to oblige. All too often restaurants are unable to serve sauce separately as their food is pre-prepared and reheated. It’s good to know you are getting a freshly prepared meal. My main course was just the right size with two halves of stuffed pepper and it was delicious. It was also served with vegetables and new potatoes, the vegetables were perfectly cooked for me being still crunchy, but although Hannah enjoyed them I think the others would have preferred them cooked a little more. For desert I had Apple tarte tatin with caramel sauce and ice cream which was truly scrumptious. Karen, being a proper vegetarian, found dessert a little more difficult as the desserts were not suitable for veggies. The staff were happy to offer crème fraiche with ice cream making Karen a happy eater too! ~~~ Breakfast ~~~ This, unfortunately, is where the Avondale lets itself down. Breakfast is served until 9-30 (I’m not sure what time it starts). You get a served full English breakfasts with the addition of toast, juice, tea and cereal. The cereal selection is somewhat poor with a choice between Cornflakes, museli and Weetabix, nothing sweeter for the kids although they are warmly welcomed in the hotel. To go with the toast there was only butter and marmalade, no jam and the butter was served in such small pots we had to keep asking for more. The full English breakfast was very disappointing. For me, the high point of the breakfast is fried bread, something you never do at home. The Avondale breakfast was sadly lacking in fried bread. Actually it was sadly lacking
in food. I ordered mushrooms, beans and tomatoes and was astonished to be served a huge plate with a few scraps of food sitting in the middle. Honestly, no lie the plate was practically empty with half a tomato, about 6 bits of mushroom and the most pathetic portion of baked beans I have ever seen. Given how much money they saved with me not wanting my bacon, sausage and eggs they could have afforded to give me a decent sized breakfast. The others fared a little better with Karen getting 2 eggs on toast. ~~~ Lounging Around ~~~ Having spent all day Saturday travelling and shopping we were content to spend the evening in the hotel relaxing over dinner and drinks. Karen and Ophelia were somewhat champing at the bit to watch a rather insipid TV special about some guy who sings (I think it was called Pap Idol????). They had mentioned this to “Sid” the moment they arrived and he told us we could watch it in the lounge where there was “full Sky digital” (I wish there hadn’t been as there was more Pap Idol on ITV2!!). The lounge is on the first floor of the hotel and is equipped with two big comfy sofas as well as magazines, board games and a wide screen telly with Sky digital. You are welcome to take drinks up there but it is no smoking, although there is a balcony where you can smoke if you wish. Those comfy sofas were just what we all needed after a hard day and we had a relaxing evening chatting about our fellow DooYoo’sers with no less than 2 Pap Idol specials drivelling away in the background. I even learned something about Pap Idol – its just as boring as I thought it would be, kinda like the Eurovision song contest without the funny points being awarded and no Terry Wogan to lighten the mood. ~~~ The Cost ~~~ As I’ve already mentioned the accommodation costs at the Avondale are quite reasonable and as follows. Single - from £24 per night Twin
- Ensuite - £69 per night Double – not Ensuite - from £55 per night Double – Ensuite - From £69 per night Family Room (3 people ensuite) - from £79 per night Extra Bed - from £10 per night Cot - £5 per night House (sleeps up to 8) - £195 per night Whilst I was sitting in the bar (strange that eh?) I did hear “Sid” on the phone taking bookings for that night and he was offering the four poster for £100. Obviously worth trying to book on the day if you are travelling off season and looking for a discount. Our food and drinks bill was also very reasonable. Four of us enjoyed dinner and breakfast as well as a few alcoholic beverages and lots of tea. The bill for this came to just over £70, making the whole break a fairly cheap experience (except for all the money we spent out shopping!) The hotel is a little out of town so if you wish to visit Bath you would need to take one of three options. A taxi is roughly £8 each way, parking in the city centre is a nightmare and around £10 per day (only £2 on Sunday), or there is a park and ride service Monday to Saturday till 7-30pm which is free parking and £1.25 for the return journey on the bus) ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Well our gang of four thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Avondale, and we are going again in October! The dreary weather probably did distract from the experience, it would be lovely to sit on one of the terraces having lunch and watching life on the river, I even noticed a boat hut nearby. The strange “Sid” makes you feel welcome if a little uneasy on your own with him and the hotel has everything you could ask for to make your break special. A big thank you to Hannah, Ophelia and Karen for the company
Well on Christmas day my life changed forever with the arrival of my breadmaker. The last thing I did before heading to bed on Christmas night was set the machine to make me fresh bread whilst I slept. Boxing day morning I awoke to the smell of freshly baked bread and my life was changed forever. ~~~ Gadgets ~~~ I love gadgets, hey I even have an electric vegetable peeler! (And damned useful it is too). After reading a number of reviews stating the excellence of breadmakers I began to think about asking Santa for one, the question is would it be a useful gadget, like my electric cheese grater, or a forgotten one like the pasta maker (I wonder where that is???). I needed an extra push to make that decision. ~~~ Confirmation From On High ~~~ I must confess that I am a Delia Smith worshipper. So of course I have a copy of "How To Cook Book 3" and in this cooks bible there is a section on machines which includes the breadmaker. "the advent of the automatic breadmaking machine has added a very special experience to day-to-day living. It's quite simply an outstanding invention, almost miraculous, when you think that a freshly baked, crusty, full-flavoured loaf can be delivered to you warm from baking after just a simple assembly of ingredients and the push of a button." After reading that I was convinced my life wouldn't be complete without a breadmaker. Delia recommended them and said they were easy to use and her word is gospel in my house. (NOT on cooking Turkeys though grrrr!!!) ~~~ The Model ~~~ I swiftly advised Santa that I would be requiring one of these machines for Christmas and then picked one out of the Argos Catalogue. I choose the Prima Home Bakery as it offered a loaf size of 1.5lb or 2lb and I figured that it might be nice sometimes to bake the larger sized loaf. Like most breadmakers it also offers the facility to make cakes and jam although I've not yet tried
this out. ~~~ Ingredients ~~~ With all bread making the ingredients you use are very important. The breadmaker manual stresses this with the following rule – "Best ingredients – best results, poor ingredients – poor results. All your breadmaking ingredients can be found in the home baking section of your local supermarket. They also give a list of quality ingredients that you should use. The basic requirements for a simple white loaf are strong white flour, butter, water, yeast and salt. The flour is very important, it must be strong flour specifically for breadmaking, Tesco value plain flour simply won't do. Butter is also important, although for some types of bread olive oil can be used, you can also use margarine but NOT low fat spread. Yeast is no problem at all as you will find it in handy 7g sachets in the supermarket, one sachet should be used per loaf. You can add various other ingredients to your bread for extra flavour, such as nuts, seeds or anything you fancy! ~~~ Making A Loaf ~~~ Its so simple even my husband can do it! You remove the breadpan from the machine and pop in the kneading blades before adding the ingredients. Firstly you add some tepid water, using the handy measuring jug provided. On top of the water you need to add the flour, carefully covering the water as much as possible, for adding the flour you will need to weigh it which I find easy as I can put the breadpan with the water in on my electronic (gadget girl!) scales and set them to zero to weigh as I add. Next add two tablespoons of sugar to one corner of the pan, again there is a handy measuring device which does tablespoons at one end and teaspoons at the other. Pop in two tablespoons of butter followed by two teaspoons of salt (near an edge or corner). Finally you make a well in the centre of the flour, not down to the water, and pop the yeast in, the yeast should be dry and away from the salt. Once this is all done you push
the breadpan back into the machine and press it home until it clicks into place. Close the lid and set the breadmaker to start. ~~~ It's Cooking ~~~ Watching the bread being kneaded and then growing as it proves is marvelous. This model of breadmaker has a clear panel in the lid so you can watch it without opening the lid and ruining the loaf, every 10 mins or so I peek at it and marvel at the "proving" process! Of course whilst its cooking the lovely aroma of fresh bread fills the house, handy if you are trying to sell your home! ~~~ Beep, Beep, Breads Done! ~~~ Once the bread is done the machine beeps at you to let you know its cooked. If you are not ready/home to turn it out that’s not a problem as your loaf stays warm in the machine until you are ready for it. Turning it out is the hardest part of the process. You need to use oven gloves to remove the hot bread pan and then you need to shake it upside down until the loaf falls out. It doesn't really "stick" but it is a snug fit inside the pan. Once you have shaken your loaf out you may need to pull out the kneading blades from the bottom but you get a little device for that and they only leave 2 small holes in your loaf. Leave it to cool on a wire tray (or the microwave rack!) for 20 minutes and its still warm and ready to eat. ~~~ Mmmm, Fresh Bread ~~~ This particular model takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to make a loaf. It also has a timer so you can set the loaf to be made whilst you sleep, I do this every night now. My first loaf came out slightly sunken which turned out to be because Tesco Strong White Flour wasn't quite up to the job, adding extra flour to the next loaf solved this problem. As for the taste – WOW. Its years since I tasted bread this good, 15 years to be exact because that’s how long ago my Uncle John passed away, he used to bake his own bread and everyone loved it. My cousins said the same thing wh
en I took them a loaf to try so don't just take my word for it. ~~~ Washing UP! ~~~ Aaah one of the best things about the breadmaker is the total lack of washing up. When you make it you need only to dirty the little plastic measuring spoon which washes up in seconds. Once your bread is cooked you have one non-stick breadpan and two non-stick kneading blades to clean which is not too difficult even for me! ~~~ Different Uses ~~~ As I already mentioned you can use the breadmaker to make cakes and jam as well as bread. As I'm not keen on the sort of cake you can make and I only buy one jar of jam a year I don't think I'll be trying those. You can also use the breadmaker to do the mixing for you for things other than loaves of bread. You can make rolls by putting all the ingredients in and setting the machine to dough only, then you remove the dough and cook the rolls in the oven. You can also do this for pitta bread, pizza bases and croissants. Personally I'm going to give croissants a try. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ I love my new toy! Since it arrived I've made fresh bread every day, actually I've made it every night and woken up to a warm loaf every morning. Its no hassle spending five minutes before going to bed popping in the ingredients and setting the timer. Delia was right it is a kitchen essential, now about that ice-cream maker she mentions……
Foolish though it may sound I recently decided the time had come for me to show my face with a web cam. After reading lots of reviews I decided that I would go for the Logitech QuickCam Pro 3000, which I bought for just under £70 from Amazon. ~~~ Technical Specification ~~~ For all those techies out there here is the spec for you. Sensor : high resolution 640x480 (VGA) CCD Lens : manual focus Microphone : built in Video capture : up to 640 x 480 pixels Still image capture up to 640 x 480 pixels Number of colours : thousands of millions Video capture rate : 30 frames per second ~~~ The Camera ~~~ The camera is very sleek looking in silver and grey. It has a built in microphone and a button on top to press for still shots. Of course said stills show you with your arm in the air pressing the button! The area around the lens swivels to allow you to focus and if you want privacy it has "sunglasses" which you flip down to cover the lens. The camera swivels fully on the base and if you are using a flat screen monitor or laptop there is a special clip you can attach to secure it firmly. It does look very nice perched up there on top of my monitor. It also comes with a 2 year guarantee instead of just the normal year. ~~~ Installation ~~~ Installation is simple with this camera as it is a USB device. You simply plug it into your USB port and then install the software to run it. Unlike other reviewers I had no problems installing the software, the installation went without a hitch. The only real drawback is that the USB cable is very heavy and tends to give you a limited position to swivel the camera to. This can make it hard to point it in the right direction. ~~~ Software ~~~ This camera comes with an impressive software bundle. To be honest I've only played with the software a little so I won't give you an in depth opinion on each piece. I will give you a l
ist though. QuickCam image capturing software with fully integrated video email, Web album creator and Web cam software MGI PhotoSuite III SE image editing software (fully functional version) MGI VideoWave III SE video editing software (fully functional version) SpotLife Internet Personal Broadcasting Digital Radar II video monitoring software Microsoft NetMeeting Reality Fusion GameCam SE and screen saver software Cresta Cards Video greeting software (light version) ~~~ NetMeeting ~~~ One of the reasons that I wanted this model was that it came with NetMeeting. I use NetMeeting a lot at work without a camera and I was aware that this is really handy software for chatting, sharing files and generally having meetings. I also know that my cousins, and a number of friends have this and I could use it to video call them. I like this method of communication as I think you get a lot more from a face to face conversation than just a simple phone call, also its cheaper to call them online than offline. Although Dave finds it a little strange that I start doing my make up when I'm going to "call" my friends. That’s what I use my camera for most often and I've found it excellent for this purpose as the image quality is smooth and clear. When I first got the camera though I was itching to use it so I went onto NetMeeting to see who was out there – I soon found out there were a LOT of naked people out there. Since then I stick to private calls with my friends and family. ~~~ Video Capture ~~~ I wasn't particularly interested in video capture but I have found it useful for video capture on the motion sensor function. I have my camera pointing at the back door and set to motion sensor constantly. If anyone ever breaks in (and doesn't steal the PC!) I'll have a handy video shot of them for the police. Provided they walk past the back door at some point. In the meant
ime I find lots of shots on there of my cats wandering around and sometimes hubby in his underwear! ~~~ Live Webcasts ~~~ The software and the camera do give me the option to have a live webcast. I don't think me sitting in front of the PC would really be very exciting for anyone though. Also the sight of Dave running around in his boxers might bring the police running round! I would have liked to have this facility on my wedding day though as then my Internet friends would have been able to see me before I went off to church. Maybe if I ever have children I'll webcast their antics, I know someone who did this and used to watch whilst she was at work and her friend looked after the baby. She said it made leaving him easier knowing that she could just tune in at any time. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ I've had this camera about 4 months now and I'm still really pleased with my purchase. The software allows me to do all I want and much more. The image quality is excellent and I have yet to encounter any problems. I would also like to point out that the camera in the picture on this op is NOT the Quickcam Pro, which looks much nicer. Oh and now I know where to go when I want to see naked people, there are loads of them out there waiting to chat!
Since I was a child I have enjoyed being creative through various crafts. For a number of years now I've been very keen on counted cross stitch and recently I've also started rubber stamping. So of course when HobbyCraft opened in Basildon I was pretty happy. ~~~ Craft Superstore ~~~ You name the craft and you'll find there are materials and equipment stocked in HobbyCraft. I've found a great range of threads and patterns for my cross stitch. I also made all my own wedding favours from materials bought in HobbyCraft. Most recently I've started doing rubber stamping and HobbyCraft is where I head for all the materials. There is a fantastic range of art materials as well; although I'm no artist I've bought paints, card and paper to use for my other pastimes. There is also a large section of ready made frames as well as a framing service for all your craft needs. ~~~ Prices ~~~ The prices in HobbyCraft are very competitive. For cross stitch they stock both Anchor and DMC threads and the prices are a few pence cheaper than in other stores although not as cheap as you can get mail order. For my rubber stamping I have found a great range of stamps and I've found the prices again to be slightly cheaper than elsewhere. If you are looking for cards, paper and sundries you will find not only are the prices competitive the size of the store allows them to carry such a wide range that you always find the item you need. There is also a large number of sale bins around the store where you will find everyday craft items at knockdown prices. I've bought a glue gun and a number of rubber stamps from these bargain bins. Bargain prices are also to be found on shelf ends, so its worth walking round the whole shop to see what bargains you can find. ~~~ How To Leaflets ~~~ In your local HobbyCraft store you will find a large display of free how to leaflets. These give you the basic information you
need to start a new craft or complete a certain project. The step by step information makes the instructions easy to follow and a list of all the equipment and materials you will need is given. You will also find a skill level and time needed information panel is included on the leaflets. I've used these a couple of times to make small projects, today I picked one up for making "festive foam friends" a snowman, penguin, santa or reindeer Christmas tree decoration, this one even has a template on to help me cut out my basic shape. ~~~ Workshops ~~~ Every month there are a variety of workshops you can attend to learn a new craft or improve your skills. Within the store you will find a display cabinet which shows what you will make at each workshop. All of these workshops are run by professional tutors and include all the necessary materials to get you started on your new craft. Prices for workshops range from £10 to £40 and last between half a day and a day. Where a workshop is more expensive this is to cover the cost of the materials needed, for example in October one workshop costs £40 and is "Bob Ross Painting", the price includes a 20 x 24" canvas. I did a HobbyCraft workshop on rubber stamping and decoupage. I knew I wanted to try rubber stamping but the materials are quite expensive and I wanted to try before I bought so I signed up for a workshop. I had a great day, we learned all the techniques and were allowed to practice as much as we wanted using a huge range of materials which were available. At the end of the day none of us wanted to go home! When you do a workshop there is a special deal for you to get a 10% discount on any purchases you make that day. At the Basildon HobbyCraft there is also a special deal where you get your car parking at a reduced rate. There is a new schedule of workshops every month and a leaflet detailing them can be picked up in store. You can also sign up fo
r an email alert system from the HobbyCraft website – http://www.hobbycraft.co.uk. I fancy doing another workshop this month I just cant decide between patchwork and quilting though. ~~~ For Children ~~~ There's plenty at HobbyCraft to help keep the kids amused too! There is a special area full of kids craft materials, lots of kits to get them started. In amongst the how-to leaflets you will find a variety of projects suitable for children as well. There are even workshops for children which last about an hour and a half and cost just £5 each. Kids workshops in October include a variety of different Halloween themed items which can be made such as a witch puppet or a skeleton in a coffin. You can also book a craft party for your kids at HobbyCraft. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ I still remember visiting HobbyCraft just after it opened, I've never been in a store like it! I went over in my lunch break and when I looked at my watch I'd been in there for over an hour. Ever since it's been one of my favourite shops, I find their range is so amazing that I just want to keep trying new crafts. I would recommend these stores to anyone who enjoys a craft, you will love them.
The Advanced Photo System (APS) was designed to give you greater flexibility, quality and ease of use when you were out taking your "snaps". APS was launched in May 1996, to coincide with the 96th anniversary of the launch of the first Kodak camera. With APS Kodak were hoping to revitalize the market by making cameras cheaper and easier to use. Is it really an improvement though? I'll give you my experience from a lay-persons point of view and please remember dear readers that I am no photography expert, just your average "point and shoot" type. ~~~ The Camera ~~~ Last year my Mum's camera, a bulky 35mm which prints the date, started to go rather wrong. Given that Mum couldn't actually change the film herself (OK so I'm one step better than her there) I suggested that instead of getting the bulky monster repaired she could instead buy a nice compact APS camera. This camera is a sexy little thing, very small and has a lovely zoom lens to boot. Mum loves it, she can load the film herself as you just drop it in the slot. She can also have the date printed on her pictures, although she's knocked the setting and its not coming out at the moment. If she really wanted she could have a message such as Happy Birthday printed on her snaps. Not that she ever will, that would mean working out which buttons to press! Anyway Mum is pleased with the camera and she lent it to me for a recent weekend break. ~~~ Three Different Picture Formats ~~~ With an APS camera you get three different picture formats to choose from just by flicking a little button. The first format is "Classic" and is said to be the same as with normal 35mm film. I've just read on a web site that the "classic" format is a 6"x4" format, and having checked my prints I find that is indeed true. The "Panoramic" format gives you a lovely long picture slightly thinner than normal, (10"x 4") again
this can be done on some 35mm cameras. The third format is "HDTV" which is said to be "a new format with an aspect ratio that is more pleasing to the eye as it is closer to the way humans naturally "frame" a scene". I don't know about that but I got a print from that format which was sized at 7" x 4". I also found when I was trying to frame a picture that switching from "Classic" to "HDTV" made little difference. I realise now that this is because APS negatives have the same format as "HDTV" and are merely cropped if you have chosen the "Classic" size. ~~~ Processing Advantage ~~~ I had always thought that the main advantage when you had APS pictures processed was that your pictures were returned in a nice plastic box with an index print for quick reference. I realised a while back that this was no longer an advantage as I have all my films processed in Tesco's (hey I get my Clubcard Points!) where they Kodak Photo Plus and I get a nice plastic box and a handy index print. Having done a bit of reading I now realise that one advantage is you can take all your pictures in one format but ask for them to be printed in another (this doesn't work for Panoramic pictures). Other than that there is no advantage. ~~~ Processing Disadvantage ~~~ Having used up my roll of film (a roll of 40, handy if you want lots of pictures but unlike 35mm film you never get any "extra" shots) I duly trotted off to Tesco to get it processed. Being a regular at Tesco I know that they offer three different sizes of prints and I always chose "Standard" which gives me a nice big 8" x 5" print. I told the Lady I wanted this size and she told me that APS prints don't come in different sizes as you select the size when you take the picture. OK I thought, but I was wrong. I like my pictures in that "Standard" sized print but the APS pri
nts are smaller! I have a whole plastic box full of 6x4 and 7x4 prints (I didn't take any Panoramic shots). In comparison to my usual shots these look small and I'm definitely not happy with them. I'm particularly not happy with the shots I took in HDTV format, I think the long thin pictures just look odd. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ The only advantage I can see with the APS format is that my Mum doesn't have trouble loading the film (anyone remember having a 110mm film – that was easy too). The other good point about these cameras is that they are a lovely small size, easier to stuff in your handbag. I can't see any improvement in the picture quality, despite this being an expensive camera when generally I use a disposable. There certainly doesn't appear to be any advantage in the processing, not having a choice of print size is a big disadvantage as far as I'm concerned. I won't be using APS again, I'll stick to my trusty disposables in the future.
Well today its official. I'm unemployed and overdrawn by £9,500. Yes nine THOUSAND five hundred pounds overdrawn, just think of the charges that I'm going to incur because of that! Well there had better not be any as this is really down to the incompetence of NatWest and their "Customer service officers". Now you may see some errors made by me in the following processes these were a direct result of me being a customer who expected a quality service. Had I remembered I was dealing with a bank who employs "customer service officers" I would have just converted all monies owned by myself to used fivers and stuffed them under my mattress. ~~~ Secure Payment ~~~ Mistake number one by myself was in believing that a Bankers Draft offered a secure payment method when I sold a car. Having paid me a substantial deposit, which had duly cleared my buyer arranged to get a bankers draft made out to me for £9,500. He appreciated that this was a large sum to take from a stranger so we made an arrangement wherby he would phone me with the number of the bankers draft after he collected it from the bank. I could then phone the bank and verify that they had indeed issued a draft with that number on. My purchaser called me at 1-30pm on Thursday to tell me that he had collected a bankers draft from Grays branch and gave me the number. ~~~ Customer Service Officer Number 1 ~~~ Armed with the number of the draft (like a cheque number) and the branch information I duly called NatWest. Of course I didn't phone the Grays branch as you cant get a phone number for a branch anymore, I phoned the service centre and spoke to a customer service officer. Originally he said I would have to speak to the branch but he wasn't sure they would give out the information I wanted. He tried to put me through to the branch but no-body was answering so he asked me to call back. At this point I got a bit annoyed, after all what's the
point in calling back, the branch might still not answer! He then spoke to a "manager" to ask about the information I wanted and came back and told me that a branch would not give me that information as it would be in breach of the "data protection act". I asked exactly how confirming that they had issued bankers draft number xxxxxx would breach anyone's privacy and he mentioned that I wouldn't like them telling people that cheques have been drawn on my account. Of course bankers drafts are not drawn on your account but on the bank's actual account, and I wasn't asking which drafts had been drawn but for confirmation that they had issued a particular one. I asked what was the point in trying to take a bankers draft for security and he told me they were "as good as cash" to which I replied, "oh and you never get any forged bank notes!". Basically I may as well have asked this stranger to pay me in used fivers for all the security I got with a bankers draft. ~~~ Bank Employee ~~~ My next sorry experience was with a bank employee. I've just been made redundant and on Friday a large sum of money was paid into my bank account. I'm a smart cookie financially and I didn't want to leave this cash in my current account for a minute longer than I had to as it earns peanuts in interest there. I wanted it in my Egg savings account, instant access but a great interest rate. Its easy to transfer money to an Egg savings account, you can do it with your Switch card, which I did, I tried to make a transfer of around £3000 and it was refused. As I had to pay in a bankers draft (hopefully not a fake) to NatWest I thought I'd ask why I my Switch payment had been refused. The bank employee was very helpful (or so I thought at the time) and spent a good five minutes looking at my account details on his PC whilst shaking his head and saying there is no reason why the transaction should get re
fused. I explained that once the bankers draft I was paying in had cleared I would also want to transfer that larger amount and he told me it would be no problem. I thought that maybe I'd put some details in incorrectly and left it at that. ~~~ Egg Customer Services ~~~ Naturally, having been told there was no reason for the original refusal of my Switch payment I tried again when I got home. It was refused again. As the helpful bank employee had told me there was no reason for the refusal I called Egg Customer Services this time. The nice chappie (they are always nice at Egg) explained to me that there is a transaction limit on Switch cards, if I had tried to spend £3000 in a shop they would have been told to call the card centre for verification as it exceeded the unverified limit. Of course Egg's online system can't make a telephone call to verify the transaction so it ends up as a refusal. He told me I could ask my bank to increase the transaction limit on my switch card, I explained that the bank staff didn't even know about the limit on my Switch card and decided to do a transfer from my bank using my online banking system. ~~~ It All Goes Smoothly ~~~ Finally something went smoothly. I set up my Egg savings account as a beneficiary from my NatWest account using the online banking service. The transaction couldn't be done for the same day as it was past close of banking but I set it up to transfer the money at close of business Monday (yes that did mean I'd lost a few days interest – grrrr). ~~~ Bankers Draft Clears ~~~ On Sunday morning I checked my bank account and was pleased to see my balance was extremely healthy as the £9500 bankers draft was showing as a cleared item. I did briefly think that clearing overnight was a bit fast but I (foolishly) assumed that this was because it was a bankers draft drawn by a NatWest branch. I duly tried to process a transfer of £10,500 to my E
gg savings account (I didn't transfer enough the first time and I didn't want to lose any interest!). The transfer was refused, the message told me it exceeded the transaction limit and gave a telephone number to call and discuss this. ~~~ Online Banking Advisor ~~~ I rang the telephone number given fully expecting to be told to call back during business hours on Monday (its what I get from the NatWest card centre – see my op about that shower). Surprisingly my call was swiftly answered by a helpful young man. He explained that, yes I should be able to transfer £10,500 but during the transition to a new online banking system, transfer limits were set at £5000, but he would have mine changed to £30,000 within 15 minutes. I trusted this chap and went off to the pub for the rest of the day. ~~~ It All Goes Smoothly Again ~~~ It would appear that the online banking chappie I spoke to on Sunday was indeed a man who knew what he was talking about. On Monday I set up a transfer for £10,500 to my Egg savings account, due to be effective at 6pm that evening. That night I duly checked my Egg savings account and all my transfers had been made, yes I was finally earning interest on my money. Tuesday I checked my NatWest account which showed all my transfers had been made and I still had a healthy bank balance. ~~~ Pizza Hut Buffet Lunch ~~~ Some of my regular readers may know I frequent the Pizza Hut Buffet fairly regularly for their buffet lunches. Today I hit the hut and ate and drank for the princely sum of a little over £6. Like the Queen I don't carry cash so I paid with my Switch card, imagine how surprised (and a little embarrassed) I looked when it was refused. As I handed another card over to the waitress I explained to my friend it must be an error as I had a healthy balance yesterday. When I got home I checked my balance online and it was healthy, I put it down to dodgy computers. Later I ordere
d some Bath Ballistics from the Lush website and decided to pay with my Switch card – it was refused again. ~~~ Customer Service Officer Number 2 ~~~ As you can imagine I'm pretty hacked off now. I have a healthy bank balance and yet my payments are being refused left right and centre as if I don't have any money. I called NatWest again, this time I didn't even have to look up the number as this morning I received a load of bumph through the post about their improved telephone system. The woman I spoke to told me my payments were being refused because I was £9,500 overdrawn! Obviously that figure rang a bell, I mentioned that the bankers draft for that amount had cleared Saturday and I'd transferred the money out on Monday. Yes she said, I can see all that, except the bankers draft hadn't cleared. Just like cheques bankers drafts apparently take 4 days to clear. I pointed out that it showed as cleared online and she pointed out a little sentence that the "balance displayed may include items which may not yet have been cleared". I said this was a bit daft to show my balance with the amount cleared when it wasn't and was told some utter rubbish about how they are doing that for customer convenience. It certainly wasn't looking very convenient for me, imagine what the charges are for an unauthorized overdraft of nearly ten grand? I swiftly complained that if the bankers draft hadn't cleared then NatWest should never have allowed me to transfer the money into my Egg account. I was assured that there was a note on my account saying no action was to be taken regarding the unauthorized overdraft. I've printed off all my online balances and statements from today showing the amount as cleared just in case. It'll be a cold day in hell before NatWest get any charges out of me for this. ~~~ Online Banking ~~~ You may wonder why I've put this under the online banking secti
on, I didn't do it just to get reads because I've already written under the high street bank. I've done all the work myself here, I've set up the transfer agreement, I've made the transfer instructions. I even tried to make the Switch payments online. I've already written extensively about online banking in general and I've talked about the NatWest online banking site there. The point I'm trying to make here is that I want to look after my own banking, I want to do the work myself. It can't be done though, I still have to resort to branch staff (only if I'm forced to go in there to pay in a cheque though) and telephone help line staff. In this respect NatWest online banking is no different to offline banking, the online banking help line is only for technical queries. If all your transactions are going awry you need to call the service centre, the same service centre you would call if you were a high street customer. Also don't believe that what you view on your online banking service is the same as the bank staff see. The bank see me as overdrawn by that huge sum, the online service shows a healthy little balance in my account. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Well I'm afraid that this sort of treatment from NatWest employees seems to be par for the course. I get the same sort of problems from their card centre regarding a credit card problem I've been having. It would seem that whatever a staff member tells you should be taken with a pinch of salt, no two people seem to give you the same advice. As for my overdraft, perhaps I should charge NatWest £27.50 for each of my failed Switch transactions, that’s what they charge me when a payment doesn't go through. As for online banking, yes it can be more convenient but I believe that because WE now do all the work on our accounts this is what allows the bank to employ less competent staff.
Two months ago me and Mum stood outside a hospital smoking. Dad was inside dying of lung cancer – we certainly felt very stupid being outside having our puffing away at the killer weed. We said to many people who came to visit the hospital that we would be giving up. Its not our first try though but now we are both ex-smokers and we know we will never smoke again because we have found the magic formula for quitting. No its not watching Dad die a painful death, we always knew about lung cancer, neither of us have any "will-power" (if we had that we would both be a size 10). Neither of us are spending a fortune on nicotine replacements. ~~~ Previous Attempts ~~~ I've tried to give up a couple of times in the past. The first time was around 10 years ago and I used the patches and managed to give up for about a month. I spent most of that month wanting a ciggie. Because I did so well at giving up my Dad, a smoker of 40 years gave up. Unlike me he didn't start again, maybe he would have died sooner if he had. Sadly he never knew I started again until a week before he died, he genuinely thought I gave up 10 years ago. I actually managed to deceive him all that time. I did try again to give up, second time I used patches and smoked cigars – how attractive! That wasn't a winning formula for stopping either. ~~~ Medical Assistance ~~~ This time I could have made the same mistakes as before but I know what they are. I didn't give up smoking for nearly 2 months after my Dad died, I knew I needed to wait until the time is right. I had a Doctors appointment and whilst sitting in the waiting room I picked up a leaflet about the stop smoking programme on the Net Doctor website. When I was talking to the Doctor he saw the leaflet in my hand and asked if I wanted to give up smoking. He told me that nicotine supplements were now available on the NHS and he could refer me to one of the practice nurses who was trained
in smoking cessation. I took the referral and made the appointment for the following week. ~~~ Intervening Period ~~~ I knew if I was going to stop smoking that I would need help from those around me. I told everyone that I had this nurses appointment and that I would be stopping after I had seen her. My colleagues particularly were incredibly supportive, even helping to think up activities to keep me occupied when I had stopped. I also told a couple of colleagues who had recently stopped that I would soon be joining them as a non-smoker. One of these ladies told me that there was a marvelous book I could buy which would help me to stop. I didn't think a lot about it but I stored that information in my brain. ~~~ Smoking Cessation Appointment ~~~ I duly had my appointment with the nurse which I approached with some trepidation. She advised me to set a quit date and stick to it, it didn't matter if I gave a date weeks away but I should set a date. I set one two days away as I knew that would be when I ran out of cigarettes. I was given a machine to blow into which checked my carbon monoxide level, it was 26, the nurse told me that would soon drop once I stopped smoking. I have to admit that when she told me a non-smokers level would barely register I thought it would take months to drop that low. I also got a prescription for 600 nicotine tablets. ~~~ Preparing To Stop ~~~ With my prescription in hand and my quit date two days away I set about preparing to stop smoking. I told everyone when my actual quit date was and my lovely colleagues were again really supportive, as were my family. The day before I stopped I went into town with two colleagues to fill my prescription, whilst I was there I also purchased the book which had been recommended, Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking. I was ready to quit. ~~~ Yippee I'm a Non-Smoker ~~~ On my quit day I got out of bed and didn't light a cigar
ette within five minutes. I took a nicotine table about an hour after I got up and a few more times during the day. When I was bored at work, instead of going outside for a cigarette I went outside for a walk! It still got me away from my desk and relieved the tedium. Three days after I stopped I went to a party, previously I would have spent the night in the kitchen with the smokers but now I was free to mingle completely and I enjoyed myself more than ever. I actually spent about 20 minutes standing in the kitchen talking to a smoking friend and I didn't want a cigarette. I felt better in myself from my very first day as a non smoker. That night my husband came home from the pub and gave me a cuddle and he stank of smoke. I actually commented to him about it because I thought it smelled so bad. Funny it smelled nice when I was a smoker and one day later I realized it was actually an awful smell. When I pass the smoking rooms at work (previously my second home!) I find the smell quite repulsive. A week after I stopped hubby and I saw the doctor and whilst we were there he tested my Carbon Monoxide levels again – they were down to just 2, from 26! My husband was bursting with pride for me. I know I will never smoke again – hey why would you want to? ~~~ The Book ~~~ I've mentioned that I bought the book and it's the book which has made it so easy for me to stop. The book is packed with common sense ideas that help you alter your mindset towards smoking. I started reading the book at work the afternoon I bought it, I finished reading it the next morning in the bath. I finally understood the mindset I was in as a smoker, and changed it to one of a non-smoker. I know now that I didn't enjoy smoking, it didn't relieve stress, boredom, worry etc in fact it actually caused more of those things. This book doesn't preach, it doesn't try and frighten you with the SMOKING KILLS messages it simply helps you chang
e your mindset. Thanks to what I've read in this book I actually feel sorry for smokers now. I've been a non-smoker for 2 weeks now and I don't even need the nicotine replacement. I love being a non-smoker. ~~~ Mum ~~~ Mum was very impressed with how easy I've found it. She went out and bought the book too. She stopped smoking yesterday and has found it just as easy as me. Today she sat in a smoking room talking to friends (she has no sense of smell so the bad smell didn't put her off) and didn't want a cigarette at all. Mum agrees with me that stopping was one of the easiest things she has ever done. Like me she now has a non-smokers mindset. ~~~ Why I don't Need To Smoke ~~~ Thanks to the book my minset towards smoking had totally changed. It took all the ideas I had about why I smoked and threw them back at me, convincing me I really didn’t need to smoke. Start thinking about it yourself, you start smoking because it is cool, go home and watch TV tonight and see which characters smoke. Would you call the likes of Dot Cotton (Eastenders) and Waynetta Slob (Harry Enfied & Chums) cool? We all say we smoke to relax, think back to the old days when the Snooker was really popular on the television, Steve Davies playing Hurricane Higgins – one cool as a cucumber the other chain smoking. I certainly know which one of them was most relaxed. As you read through these examples you start to realise that you have been thinking about smoking in totally the wrong way. Once you start to think correctly you simply don't want to smoke anymore. Simple really. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Two weeks ago I was smoking at least 20 a day. Today I am £80 better off and I feel a little less breathless when I run upstairs. Stopping smoking was one of the easiest things I've ever done. If you want to stop smoking I would recommend that you buy the book "Easyway to Stop Smoking" by Allen C
arr. I would also recommend that you tell lots of people, you will be surprised how supportive they can be. Most of all I just like to tell you how wonderful it is to be a non-smoker. Far better than being a slave to the expensive, smelly weed all your life. If anyone wants more information about the book feel free to email me. I will add an opinion of it over the weekend as well.
Yesterday as I drove to work there was a story on the news about a woman who was going to court for the right to end her life. Because her wishes were known her husband spoke on the radio saying that he had been told he would be prosecuted if he helped her to die. I don't know what disease she was suffering from but I do know it was terminal and that she would eventually die a slow painful death. She simply wanted to die quietly and with dignity. Surely she should have the right to do so? ~~~ Personal ~~~ Before you read on please understand that this opinion is written from a personal an emotional point of view. I should also warn you that you may find this opinion upsetting as it contains a fairly graphic account of my Dad's death. I have not researched the subject extensively but I have had first hand experience of it. I understand there is a lot of opposition to it, mainly on religious grounds, but personally I am not a religious person and I don't live my life according to the dictates of a church. ~~~ Suffering ~~~ As many of you know my Father recently died of lung cancer. His was not a prolonged illness, as diagnosis took a long time. From the day we were told Dad had incurable lung cancer to the day he died exactly a week passed. Dad spent that entire week in hospital. He was never coming home, but would have been moved to a hospice had he lived. That week was the worst week of my life, I can honestly tell you I hope that none of you ever have to suffer a week like that one. During that week the suffering was mainly done by Mum, me and the rest of our family, Dad was not really aware of anything that happened. ~~~ Do Not Resuscitate ~~~ When Dad was admitted to hospital it was not his lung cancer causing the problems. He had a large secondary tumour on his pelvic bone and this was causing a high calcium level. This high calcium level in itself is potentially fatal, it can cause a patient to
slip into a coma from which they will not recover or it may cause heart failure. The noticeable symptom of this calcium problem is that the patient is extremely confused and in Dad's case was even hallucinating. Confusion may not sound bad but believe me it was, we asked Dad if he knew where he was and he told us "in the car park". Dad was not capable of deciding what he wanted for breakfast so when decisions needed to be made the Doctor asked Mum. Mum consulted me on all decisions as she felt we had equal rights and fortunately we both have very similar thoughts so there were no arguments. We had both read up on Dad's condition and knew that lung cancer can cause a painful prolonged death, we didn't want this for Dad so when the Doctor asked if we would want Dad resuscitated if needed we said no, just make him comfortable. ~~~ Prolonged Agony ~~~ A week after being admitted Dad's condition severely worsened. Although he seemed less confused and could hold a coherent conversation by the time we left eh hospital Monday night we could see his kidney's had failed. Mum and I were called to the hospital and arrived at 4am to find Dad had been put on oxygen and was literally gasping for breath. The house doctor explained that they thought the secondary cancer had caused a blood clot which had travelled up to his lungs. I cannot explain to you how distressing the next four hours were as we sat by the bed watching Dad struggle for every breath. He was given regular Diamorphine (heroin) injections to help him and as they wore off he was trying to grab the electric fan and saying "more air". Mum and I spent four hours sitting next to Dad hoping that every breath would be his last. Mum is still suffering sleepless nights because she sees Dad in her dreams, not the man she was happily married to for over 35 years, but Dad gasping for breath and trying to grab that fan. ~~~ Assisted Death ~~~ My Dad
39;s doctor arrived at the hospital just before 8am having travelled a considerable distance from his home. We were looking desperate by the time he arrived, the nurse was looking pretty upset as well. The Sister came into Dad's room and another Diamorphine injection was given. Within five minutes Dad had finally gone, the suffering was over. Mum and I firmly believe that this final injection was administered to assist Dad's death. A death that would have happened that day as his heart could not have taken the strain indefinitely. There was no way forward for Dad, death was his only option and life was a living hell for all of us. His death was a blessed relief to the family members gathered at the hospital. We were sad we had lost him but glad he was no longer alive and suffering. ~~~ Your Choice ~~~ I would not say Euthanasia was a subject I had ever thought very deeply about. I always had a vague notion that people should be allowed to choose to die rather than suffer but I didn't think about it much. Like many other people I have seen people helping friends and relatives to die in TV shows. I now understand the pain and suffering a terminal illness can cause, suffering not just endured by the patient but by their loved ones. Who would have thought I would want my Dad to die? I did want him to die though, I wanted it desperately and so did my Mum. If my Dad had been given a choice of being quietly assisted with death or waiting to die he would actually have chosen to wait. He was always very afraid of death and would have hoped for a miracle. After he had been told there would not be any treatment for his cancer the only thing he said to Mum about it was "the Doctor didn't mention remission, I'll probably get remission". I think he would have struggled on until that morning when he was fighting for breath, I believe he would have asked to go then. If my Mum was put in the same position she would chose
that injection without hesitation, then she would say her goodbyes and die with dignity. I too would make the same choice. Prolonged suffering should not have to be endured. I wouldn't let my pets suffer, why would I let myself and my family suffer. I wish there was a way of legally asking a doctor to "put you to sleep", just like the vet does. ~~~ Breaking The Law ~~~ Sadly (from my point of view) Euthanasia is not legal in this country and therefore I wouldn't be able to choose to die peacefully and with dignity. If I was suffering from a terminal illness my choices would be to let it take it course or to take my own life. Sadly many terminal patients who wish to die are unable to take their own lives and have to ask friends/relatives for assistance. I wouldn't want to murder one of my family but if it was what they wished for I would do it. I could then be jailed for my actions and even if I am not arrested I would have to live forever with the knowledge that I killed that person. I wouldn't want to ask any of my loved ones to do that, I would want to ask a doctor to help me but that is not an option. If you think about this do you even know how to kill someone, quickly and painlessly? After all you would want your loved one to die easily. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ The experience I suffered has led me to believe strongly that we should have a "right to die". Life is wonderful but it can also be terrible. Terminal illness can cause unbelievable pain and suffering. I wouldn't want my loved ones to suffer and watch me die. I would like the option to say my goodbyes and slip peacefully away before the pain claims me and my mind and body fail. I want my loved ones to remember me as I lived and not as I die.
Well I hit the hut with some of the DooYoo gang on Sunday. There were 15 of us in total including KarenUK, Linda01865, Wulise, Squiggles, Angusreid, Wigglypuff and Offy. So expect to see a sea of opinions on Pizza Hut and Oxford from that lot. Pizza Hut pizzas are vastly inferior to Domino's in my humble opinion. Having said that I eat more pizza hut food than Domino's simply because Pizza Hut have restaurants as well as take away. I eat a Pizza Hut because its somewhere I can sit down and have a meal. Trouble is I'd rather have a meal at McDonalds, it's cheaper and I'd probably enjoy it more. ~~~ Buffet ~~~ Whenever I go to Pizza Hut its for the Buffet at Lunchtime. For £4.99 you get to eat as much as you like from the buffet selection. The selection includes the salad bar, a selection of pizzas, choice of two pastas and garlic bread sticks. This may sound like a lot of food but the reality is somewhat different. Most of the time there are a couple of sad looking pizza slices sitting on the hotplate, as soon as fresh pizzas come out a swarm of hungry people go and grab all the slices. When you want your next slice you inevitably have to wait about 5-10 minutes before fresh supplies arrive. Bearing in mind this is a lunchtime deal and I'm on my lunch break I think that’s pretty poor really. The pasta you get on the buffet usually comes in a vegetarian (plain tomato sauce) and a meat option. This is what I really go for, the vegetarian pasta, it's never piping hot but its tasty and plentiful. Once on a Friday I got a plateful of the vegetarian pasta and found it to contain fish, no warning, no label and when I complained I was told that "fish isn't meat so its OK for vegetarians" not this vegetarian. The biggest con at the buffet is the garlic bread sticks. The price of the buffet used to be cheaper and when they stopped doing garlic bread (which everybody loved and used to grab really quickl
y) they put the price up. I wouldn't like to sound like I was complaining about all the food but visit any Pizza Hut buffet and notice how the garlic bread sticks don't seem to get eaten very quickly, says it all really. Oh and check out the menu, these bread sticks are not on the regular menu, probably because nobody would buy them. ~~~ Restuarants ~~~ I've been to a few Pizza Hut restaurants, most recently one in Oxford with a number of opinion writers you might know. I've generally found them to be clean and well laid out. In the one in town where I live I find the staff to be rude, unhelpful and surly and guess what? I don't go to that branch anymore, there are a couple of better ones in the out of town retail parks. Some branches are even No Smoking, great for those of us who don't want to choke on other peoples smoke (non smoker of 10 days here!). The branch I visited today had excellent staff, which is what I have found to be typical of the chain. The waitress who served us was very young (I'd say under 20) but was professional and competent. She wasn't fazed when she asked "Table for how many?" and we replied "fifteen". She efficiently pushed a number of tables together to seat us and then passed menus around as we sat down. When it was time to order she was not remotely put out about us wanting separate bills (I've been in expensive restaurants that have refused to do this for a large party) and took our orders quickly and efficiently and didn't bat an eyelid when I asked for "no cheese" on my pizza. When the meals came, remarkably quickly, she even pretty much remembered who had ordered what. My usual complaint in Pizza Hut is that there are always children running around screaming and generally treating the place like a playground. Today's visit to Oxford contained no such behavior, although there were a number of kids in the place. I guess now tha
t the kids problem has more to do with Basildon than with Pizza Hut. Always important to me in a restaurant is the state of the toilets. I'm pleased to report today's Pizza Hut got a 7/10 for toilets. I found them to be clean, have plenty of toilet roll and nice clear signs about the hot water. They would have got a score of 8 but Offy managed to pull the handle off of one! ~~~ The Food ~~~ Oddly enough for a restaurant called Pizza Hut the food consists mainly of Pizzas. There are typical starters such as garlic bread, breaded mushrooms, salad bar and a somewhat poor selection of 3 different pastas. Still you generally go for Pizza and here they have quite a range. Ordinary pizzas come in a choice of either Grand Pan (formerly deep pan) or The Italian (formerly thin and crusty), these are available in three sizes of individual, medium and large to suit all appetites, numbers of people sharing. As with all pizza outlets there are a variety of suggested pizzas, such as met feast, Hawaiian, vegetable supreme etc or you can create your own pizza adding toppings to a plain cheese and tomato (margherita) pizza. I don't think Pizza Hut are particularly generous with the toppings though, even when you have something like sweet corn there is not enough of it. In addition to the regular pizza types, there are also three special pizzas that you may have seen advertised on the telly. These are the stuffed crust pizza, which is a pizza where the crust is filled with mozarrella cheese. The twisted crust pizza that has a large twisted crust for you to twist off and dip. The Edge pizza, which has a lot more toppings than usual (allegedly) and no crust at all. The major problem with these specialty pizzas is that none of them come in the individual size, in fact stuffed crust and twisted edge only come in a large size which is to feed 3 to 4 people. I've never seen 3-4 people all want the same pizza toppings. Which is another drawb
ack of Pizza Hut, my trusty Dominoes advertise that they will do you a half and half pizza with two different lots of toppings but Pizza Hut don't mention this option on their menus. Shame really it would be the only way I'd ever get to try that twisted crust I fancied. ~~~ Children's Menu ~~~ I have to admit that the children's menu is not something I've ever taken any notice of until today. KarenUK had two of her daughters with her and they were both under 12 and qualified as children. As such they were handed a packet of crayons each when we sat down and the reverse side of the children's menu was available for colouring. The children's menu itself was very limited and none of the items were marked as suitable for vegetarians, although the cheese and tomato pizza definitely was. I would say if you visit with children, carefully consider what you order. LittlePenguin (Karen's older daughter) was young enough to be classed as a child but old enough to want to order from the adult menu which she did. The mistake was that KarenUK ordered a margherita pizza for herself at the adult price which was exactly the same as the one her daughter Vikki ordered from the children's menu. If we hadn't been so hungry at the time we might have realized and got LittlePenguin the children's pizza for Karen, saving £1.20! Also when you order off the children's menu you get a toy with your meal, you also get a toy if you chat up the waiter – look out for an opinion from Wulise on Play dough! ~~~ Deserts ~~~ A good range of deserts can be found in Pizza Hut, although most of them are not suitable for vegetarians (I wonder what exactly is in that chocolate fudge cake?). The big desert here is the Ice Cream factory, a hit with adults and children alike. For a mere £2.50 (£1.50) for kids you get unlimited access to ice cream and toppings. A Mr Whippy machine is there for you to fill your bowl from and then
you can finish off with smarties, jelly bears, jelly teddies, sprinkles and a variety of sauces. It’s a great way to finish off your meal if you are a big kid like me. ~~~ Drinks ~~~ My biggest gripe about Pizza hut is that they don't do draft beer. I'm really not one for drinking poncey bottled beer at poncey bottled beer prices. Give me a pint of draught Aussie lager (or dingo P*** as my Dad used to call it!) any day. The prices are not the cheapest but are pretty much what you would expect in a restaurant. To get real value for money order a soft drink as you get free refills, these are even cheaper for kids who also get free refills. ~~~ Prices ~~~ Other than the lunch buffet, Pizza Hut is not somewhere you go for a cheap meal. My meal today came to £12.50 for Garlic bread, Individual Margherita pizza with 3 additional toppings, Tango drink and a visit to the Ice cream factory. If I'd gone to McDonalds I'd have got change from a fiver. The cheapest pizza you can get is an individual Margherita for £3.99, the most expensive a large twisted or stuffed crust Super Supreme at £14.19. Beware of the bill if you have kids, I know KarenUK paid over £30 for her family to eat, lucky she didn't have all four kids along! ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Pizza hut is a handy place to have lunch when the buffet deal is on. Other than that I wouldn't recommend it unless you are in a large group needing to cater for many tastes. If you don't finish your pizza ask for a takeaway box to put the leftovers in and you get some supper (cheers for the tip Angus). The food is average quality and the prices are a bit steep but at least the service is good and its somewhere to sit and eat. We all left with nice full tummies and muttering "must write and opinion on that" to the bemusement of our waitress. Next meeting will be planned for London I think and there is no way we will eat at Pizza Hut – hav
e to be somewhere we can write an opinion on!
I cannot understand the lunacy which drives grown women (and men) to cling onto their childhood friend – the teddy bear. Anyone who continues to "love" a teddy and becomes an obsessed collector into adulthood clearly should be treated for a mental condition. Simple as that really, teddy bear collectors are barmy. Now if they were penguin collectors….. ~~~ The Beginning ~~~ When I was a mere babe in arms I was given a penguin as a christening present. This penguin was named "Peter" and soon became my constant companion. A few years later (don't ask me how many I really cant remember!) Peters son, also named Peter came into my life and took over as my companion. The original Peter was renamed with the revered handle "old-one" and continued to live peacefully with the young Kathryn and her precious Peter. Over the years more and more penguins came to live with us. ~~~ Best Friends ~~~ My Peter, was always my closest friend, as an only child I had the companionship of Peter Penguin. Peter went everywhere with me, in fact I don't think I ever spent a night without Peter. As will happen with such close companions Peter became worn and his stuffing started to poke out. Mum (who hates sewing) performed many surgical procedures on him over the years, he was recovered from head to toe numerous times, underneath is the original Peter with only the eyes still being original. As the years passed Peter acquired many new friends and one special friend, his wife Freddie. Whenever I was lonely or sad Peter was there for me, many is the time I drenched him with tears and he always listened patiently and comfortingly. ~~~ Kidnapped! ~~~ I can still remember that dreadful day with clarity. I was about 23 years old at the time and Peter and I had spent the night at my boyfriends house (I told you he went everywhere). Later that day we met up with some friends for the afternoon and Peter was le
ft in my overnight bag in the car. The event we attended finished and we all left to head for Pizza hut. As we crossed the car park some of our friends were sitting in my boyfriends car, laughing at us because he hadn't locked it. Of course he had locked it, some scumbag had broken in (not hard in a Mark IV Cortina) and stolen my overnight bag. I was inconsolable, Peter had been stolen! I was really upset, tears were pouring as my friends tried to comfort me. I was in a daze for the next hour as we sat in Pizza hut, someone said we should go to the police station in case my bag had been handed in I thought it was pointless. My friends persevered as they could see how upset I was and we headed for the police station. The policeman asked us to describe the missing bag and was asking lots of details when my boyfriend twigged and said "you're looking at it aren't you". The policeman was indeed looking at my bag and he handed it over asking me to check if there was anything missing. I ripped that bag open, grabbed Peter and hugged him and started crying and babbling thanks to the policeman. Looking back he must have thought I'd flipped! Peter has never been left with unattended baggage since that day. ~~~ They Take Over ~~~ The penguin collection has taken over my life. I have hundreds of cuddly penguins, each with individual personalities and every one named. Some live in my bedroom, the rest have a colony in the second bedroom, where Old-One is in charge. Peter, Freddie and their son Plonka all sleep with me. I still take them everywhere, my wedding night, honeymoon they were there. When I go away now my husband packs them! ~~~ Expansion ~~~ What started off as a collection of cuddly friends inevitably grew. I have all sorts of penguin things in my house. Every room contains penguin objects of some description, some decorative some functional. At work there is a teeny beanie penguin on top of my monitor
and a fluffy penguin pencil case on my desk. When my father died my colleagues bought me a lovely penguin shower radio to cheer me up. Birthdays and Christmas rarely pass without a new penguin addition to my collection. The little blighters even have their own website, and they love reading their guestbook! http://www.penguinweb.org.uk/penguins ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Whether you collect bears or some other animal you can derive great pleasure from your collection. There are many collectors out there, each as barmy as the other you are not the only one. Children should be encouraged to love their toys, it shows a healthy imagination, which may carry on for life. Hopefully they will have friends and partners who understand.
Little did I realize, many years ago when a beautiful selection of figures caught my eye in a little shop in Hastings that I was about to make one of the best investments in my life. For the princely sum of £8.50 I purchased a small pewter looking figure of a dragon with a lovely Austrian crystal in his hand. Fifteen years later I have over 100 of these figures, many of which are worth 3 or 4 times what I paid for them. ~~~ Myth & Magic ~~~ The Myth and Magic range of figures are produced by a company called "The Tudor Mint", there are similar figures available but these are merely cheap copies. Each figure is mould cast and detailed spectacularly. The figures of witches and wizards have hair, the dragons have scales and as you look at a figure you often see little extra details which surprise you. The figures all look like burnished pewter and each one has an Austrian crystal mounted in it. What surprises most people when they pick one up is the weight, the first ever figure I bought is 3" tall and weighs 12oz (I have electric kitchen scales!). These figures are made in solid metal then plated with the pewter effect. When a piece is retired the mould is destroyed so no more of that figure can ever be made again, this helps your figures increase in value on the secondary market. ~~~ Purchasing ~~~ Myth & Magic figures can be purchased from many gift shops, H Samuel's and at one time were sold on QVC. Prices range from around £16 for a regular sized figure (about 3 or 4 inches tall) to around the £60 mark for a large study on a wooden plinth. Today there are many figures sized and priced in between those two sizes. Years ago there were also some extra large figures which retailed for around £500 but I havn't seen any that size in a long time. ~~~ My Collection ~~~ From that first figure I bought in Hastings my collection has grown. Every year new figures are brought out, far more than I would
ever buy but it does ensure that there is always a good selection to choose from. As the name suggests the figures are all of mythical and magical figures, dragons, wizards witches etc. I personally collect mainly dragons, although I do have a few of the other figures too. The crystals originally were all small round or square ones but now I have figures with large oval and heart shaped pieces. My husband always buys me a figure for my birthday, Christmas or any time he thinks I need a treat. ~~~ Collectors Club ~~~ Back in 1990 the Tudor Mint started a collectors club. For the price of (then) £9.50 which was the cost of one figure, you got a years membership. Included in the cost of your membership was a figure, which was specially produced for collectors club members, that original figure is now worth around £150 in my mind a worthwhile investment. For your membership fee you also get a magazine twice a year called the "Methtintdour Times" – Methitintdour is an anagram of The Tudor Mint. The magazine is packed with information about the figures, new pieces, members stories and a list of which figures are due to be retired. Membership of the collectors club also entitles you to purchase 2 special members only pieces during the year. ~~~ Roadshows ~~~ During the year there are various "roadshows" held by the Tudor Mint around the country. Collectors Club members flock to these for the chance to buy special "Roadshow Only" pieces. You also get to meet the staff who design and make the figures and enter competitions to win special pieces. I went to a local roadshow about 4 years ago at the end of the day, whilst I was browsing round my name was called – I'd won the prize draw! My prize was the piece that had been getting everyone's attention all day, a gold and silver dragon in an egg never before had anyone seen a piece in anything other than pewter. As I left someone offered me
£1000 for my prize – I didn't sell it and I've been told now its worth around £3000. A few weeks later I got a letter from The Tudor Mint saying I'd won a prize which would be delivered shortly, I thought they had made a mistake as I already had my prize. It turned out I'd also won the other competition held that day and the second prize duly arrived, a bronze Pegasus again worth a lot of money because its not in pewter. I couldn't believe my luck! ~~~ Rarities ~~~ As I mentioned earlier, whenever a piece is retired the mould is destroyed so it can never be made again. Buying pieces which are due to be retired is a good way of ensuring the value of your collection increases. If you are a member of the collectors club the magazine gives you notification of retirements. If you use a good gift shop to purchase your pieces the staff will also know which pieces are due to retire. Other rarities include pieces where the mould had to be changed. Occasionally a figure has been produced that had lots of production problems which has caused the Tudor mint to make a new mould, figures produced from the original mould shoot up in value due to their rarity. All the collectors only pieces are only available for a short time so they all end up with a good value within a year of you buying them. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ I fell in love with these figures as something pretty to collect. I love looking at my collection in its special cabinet and I love receiving new pieces. My collection has been valued at around £8,000 but cost a mere fraction of that. By becoming a collector I have found something I enjoy and a good investment. I doubt if I'll ever sell my figures but at least I can always enjoy them.
Who likes wearing glasses? Certainly not me but although my vanity has driven me to extreme measures to avoid spectacles I still find them very sexy. I like my men to wear glasses and I often think they make women look sexy too. Despite my dislike of my glasses I actually miss them, I love summer when I can dress my face in a pair of sunglasses. Its taken me a long time to realise that glasses are good, I hope someone can read this and feel better about wearing their specs. ~~~ Failing Eyesight ~~~ I first realised I needed glasses at about 11 years old. Mine was the usual story, I couldn't read the blackboard at school. A trip to the optician confirmed my eyesight was failing and glasses for distance work were needed, not that I would have to wear them all the time. I'll never forget that day, my Dad wanted me to have a nasty pair of NHS specs (remember them?). They were truly ugly things and the choice was not of frames, but a single frame in three colours – bright pink, bright blue or black. I cried and ranted for two days until my Dad caved in and said I could choose my own frames and have the NHS glasses for a "spare" pair – ha, like I would ever wear them. ~~~ Wasted Money ~~~ My Dad wasted his money buying me those glasses, I never wore them outside my house! At school I would sit in class and squint at the fuzzy writing on the blackboard, I certainly wasn't going to let anyone see me wearing my glasses. I would be labeled "four-eyes" or just looked upon as a total geek. Vanity already had me in her stranglehold and I wasn't getting away easily. ~~~ Marilyn Munroe ~~~ Not wearing my glasses probably made my eyesight deteriorate at a more rapid pace. After a couple of years I really couldn't see very well at all. I'm sure many of you have seen "How To Marry A Millionaire", the film where Marilyn Munroe wanders around New York walking into
walls, following the wrong people etc because she won't wear her glasses. The character thought she would never "pull" a man in glasses after all "Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses". Of course she was wrong, and so was I. But I didn't realise that then so I spent a few years wandering around, never seeing anyone's face clearly and bumping into things. ~~~ Contact Lenses ~~~ After a few years of badgering my parents they finally caved in and bought me contact lenses for my 15th birthday. My mum had worn them happily for years, so it was my turn. With contact lenses came hassle, remembering to clean the regularly (I'm not an organised person!), buying solutions, having to take them out because my eyes were dry and tired. By the time I was 18 I was thoroughly sick of them, when I went out for a night, having worn them all day 9 times out of 10 I would end up having to take them out halfway through the evening because my eyes were so sore. Once again I was wandering around without my sight, never saw anyone's face clearly and always bumping into things. ~~~ Surgery ~~~ Yes my vanity was such that in 1994 I had laser surgery to correct my short sight. If anyone is interested in this surgery, I've moved the opinion to the front page on my profile. Within a year I had experienced a little pain, been separated from £800 and I no longer needed glasses! Finally my vanity was no longer a problem, I could look good and still see. ~~~ Glasses Again ~~~ A few years later I found I again needed glasses, I wasn't badly shortsighted but I did have really bad astigmatism. I dug out my old frames and had new lenses put in. I got disposable one day contact lenses for special occasions and became a spectacle wearer again. This time I enjoyed wearing my glasses, I know I looked sexy in them plenty of people told me so. The contact lenses rarely went in and I thought I
9;d solved my vanity problem forever. ~~~ My Wedding ~~~ Forever turned out to be until I found out that I couldn't get any contact lenses to wear for my wedding. My vanity was still lurking, I was horrified at the thought of wearing glasses at my wedding. I was horrified at the thought of not wearing glasses and not being able to see on my wedding day. I had the surgery again (all in the opinion!). On my wedding day I could see clearly with one eye, the one which had been operated on, and this made up for the poor sight in my other eye. I didn't have to wear glasses and I had actually helped to establish a family tradition. On my wedding day I could only see clearly from one eye, when my parents got married my Mum had to remove one of her contact lenses and she was one eyed too! I wonder if I'll have a daughter the same? ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ The second surgery has treated my astigmatism so I probably won't have to wear glasses again. Not wearing glasses is great in many ways, sports are better when you can see especially as the only sports I'm interested in is swimming and scuba diving. I do miss my glasses though. I think I looked sexy in them, I wouldn't mind wearing them from time to time, just not constantly. I think my husband looks really sexy in his glasses, he has a large nose which is more prominent without them. Vanity shouldn't rule your life as its ruled mine, if you need glasses learn to love them they really are an accessory for the face and they give you a bit of mystery which adds to your sex appeal.
A year ago I married for the first time at the tender age of 31. It was a big white wedding with all the trimmings and in realistic terms nothing in my life actually changed. I still felt it was a commitment which I needed to make before starting a family. Both Dave and I felt the need to commit to each other and so marriage was right for us. ~~~ What is Marriage? ~~~ "Marriage is an Institution - Who wants to live in an institution?" An old joke, but hey I like old jokes. Well the definition in the Encyclopedia Britannica is as follows. "a legally and socially sanctioned union between one or more husbands and one or more wives that accords status to their offspring and is regulated by laws, rules, customs, beliefs, and attitudes that prescribe the rights and duties of the partners. The universality of marriage within different societies and cultures is attributed to the many basic social and personal functions for which it provides structure, such as procreation, sexual gratification and regulation, care of children and their education and socialization, regulation of lines of descent, division of labour between the sexes, economic production and consumption, and satisfaction of personal needs for affection, status, and companionship" Quite long winded really isn't it? For me marriage is all about comittment, I believe that if two people love each other enough to want to spend their lives together they should be willing to make a formal commitment. We also believed that we needed to make that commitment before we started a family. Marriage to me means that Dave and I have made a commitment to spend our lives together, as equal partners. ~~~ Living Together ~~~ I lived with someone for just over a year and realised that the relationship wasn't right. Simple really, we were the best of friends but he really didn't want to be "tied" to a permanent relationship, he wan
ted to be out with his friends and enjoying his favorite activities. If I hadn't lived with him we may have ended up married and unhappy. I also lived with Dave for a year before I married him, this gave us the chance to really get to know each other and helped us to know that marriage was right for us. Yes we argued, I'm an argumentative person but Dave can hold his own. Yes we both have annoying habits, I'll spend all night on the Internet and he leaves his clothes (dirty) draped all over the living room! But we still knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. ~~~ Traditions ~~~ Many people think that marriage is a tradition. I sometimes feel that we do things like getting married, having children not because we want to but because we feel it is what we have to do. Traditions definitely play a part. So does your upbringing though, my parents were married for nearly 35 years, happily. There may have been times when they had rough patches, everyone does but they both realised that the grass isn't greener on the other side and worked through the bad times. My parents were not a "lovey dovey" couple, when Dad died Mum said she wished she'd told him she loved him, but then I asked her when was the last time she had said that and she couldn't remember. My parents didn't need to tell each other that they loved them because they both knew it. Having an example like that has certainly made me believe that marriage is a good thing. On the other hand I have a friend whose parents have each been married three times. She doesn't feel any need to marry her boyfriend as she simply doesn't see marriage as a permanent thing. ~~~ Take Your Time ~~~ Divorce statistics show you are more likely to get divorced if you marry young. When I look at who I was in my early 20's I certainly don't feel I was really "grown up", I was a very different person to who I am now. Had I
married then I feel that I may well have outgrown my husband and got divorced by now. One friend of mine married the day before her 21st birthday, she was a junior secretary with little ambition. Over the next few years her job became more technical and she discovered she was capable of a lot more. She progressed up the career ladder, enrolled on a degree and started earning a lot more money. Her husband was very put out that she earned more money than him and started an affair with a young girl with little ambition. My friend is now divorced and living a very different life, her ex husband is now married and his new wife has given up her job to be a full time mother. I know that my friend has changed a lot in the last ten years, she is a much stronger and more interesting person than she was when she married. The change was inevitable for her as she needed to grow up, the unfortunate thing is that her husband didn't want her to change. She says her only regret is that they rushed into marriage rather than living together for a few years first. ~~~ My Marriage ~~~ I feel that it was very right for me to marry my beloved Dave. He was asking me to marry him within 3 months of meeting him, he just felt very strongly about me. I made him wait for just over a year before I said "Yes", fools rush in don't they. Once we got engaged Dave moved into my house with me and we began to really get to know each other. Our wedding day was a dream, Dave actually started crying when he saw me enter the church, he didn't stop until we signed the register! He just felt completely overcome with emotion. Together we both feel we have the strength to face all of lifes troubles. When my father died Dave really was my rock, he was strong and comforting when I needed him most. I'm looking forward to bearing his children and growing old with him. To me that’s what makes my marriage special. ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ Marriage can be
different things to different people. Living together is interesting, but not much of a comittment. I feel that marriage is right for me but its really an individual choice to make. My only real advice is that you shouldn’t rush into marriage, take time to grow up first and get to know each other properly before you take the plunge. Make a commitement if and when it is right for you, if you don't feel ready, don't make the commitment.
"Thank you for calling NatWest card centre, we are experiencing unusually high call volumes at present and as a result your call may be held in a queue, we do apologise for any delay this may cause but please be assured your call will be handled as soon as possible." This is the latest message you get when calling the NatWest card centre. They seem to be making it sound like it is unusual to be held in a queue. In the 14 years I have been a customer it has always been normal to be held in a queue for ages when I call. Frankly I find this latest message an insult to my intelligence. ~~~ The Card ~~~ With a NatWest credit card you get a high APR or 19.4% on purchases and 21.2% on cash advances and there should be an annual fee on top of that. I've never actually paid the annual fee as they always waive it (what's the point in setting it if you then waive it?). The card is a good idea if you always pay your bills on time and never use cash advances. Its only a good idea to have one of these cards because you can claim British Airways Air Miles at the rate of one per £20 spent on the card. Over the years I have collected these Air Miles and enjoyed a number of free flights. ~~~ Problem 1 ~~~ My first problem with this card was some years ago. I paid my full monthly balance as per usual but the next month I received a statement showing no payment and a nice chunk of late payment interest. I checked my bank account and found that my cheque had been cleared for the payment. I called Nat West who denied knowledge of any payment, so I went to my bank and got a copy of the cheque. The copy of the cheque was stamped on the back with a Nat West Access stamp, clearly they had received my payment. ~~~ Write To Them ~~~ I wrote to them and sent a copy of the cheque, no reply. I wrote a second time and copied in the Chairman of NatWest bank, oddly enough I received a reply within days. They admitted there ha
d been an error and told me they would credit my account, remove the interest I had been erroneously charged and sent a small ex gratia payment. They also sent a statement showing the balance had indeed been refunded. ~~~ Not Again! ~~~ Next month I received my monthly statement and found that NatWest had put the previous "non payment" back on and now charged me two months interest! More letters were sent and a refund was again made, with another ex gratia payment. As they had cashed my cheque in the first place I can only assume they credited my payment to another account. Since then I have never posted a payment to them I have always paid my credit card bills at a bank branch. ~~~ Problem 2 ~~~ I used to be a member of Compuserve (see my opinion for more details). I cancelled all my Compuserve subscriptions last year. Then I realised Compuserve were still making a monthly claim on my credit card. I didn't really use my Nat West card any longer as I am getting a much better deal with Egg so I decided to cancel the credit card rather than try and ring Compuserve. Once I had cancelled the card no more payments could be made – or so I thought. ~~~ No More Payments? ~~ A month after I cancelled my credit card I received a statement showing a payment had been made to Compuserve. I called NatWest who refunded the payment and said that no more payments would be made. A month later another payment was made. This time I called NatWest and was told I needed to put it in writing, which I duly did. I also phoned Compuserve and again asked to cancel this payment, which they said they would. ~~~ Problem Solved ~~~ I got a nice letter from NatWest in April saying they were investigating the matter and would credit my account on a future statement, this was in April. As some of you are aware, my father has recently died following a short illness. Because of this I have been a bit slack with my af
fairs for a couple of months. Today I received a statement from NatWest showing some unpaid amounts and a July payment to Compuserve. I searched through my paperwork and found that Compuserve had continued charging me monthly and that despite the letter, there had never been any refund or attempt to stop these payments. ~~~ Call Again! ~~~ I called NatWest again, after being held in the queue and speaking to the customer services advisor I was passed to their "Internet" team, being held in a queue on the way! I explained the situation to this chap and have now been told that I will be sent a claim form to complete and a refund will be made and no further payments will be made to Compuserve. I'll wait and see if this happens. ~~~ Calling NatWest ~~~ As you can see, over the years I have needed to call Nat West card centre a number of times. I have always been held in a queue for a considerable time when calling. Its annoying being held in a queue, nobody likes it. Most of the companies I deal with thoughtfully provide either freephone numbers or local rate numbers so that you do not incur huge phone bills whilst sitting in their queue. Not NatWest. There number has a Southend on Sea area code so you could be paying for a national rate call whilst you are held in their queue. Fortunately I live in Basildon, so Southend is a local number. I'm glad I don't live in Blackpool! ~~~ The Bottom Line ~~~ A NatWest credit card is a good idea if you pay your balance off in full and want to collect AirMiles. Should you have a problem, don't expect it to be sorted out at your first attempt or even when they say it is sorted out. Don't ever think that canceling a card will stop payments being claimed from it. Don't call them unless you absolutely have to as you will be held in a queue whilst BT make money from your phone call. Oh and for those who are wondering about the title, origina
lly this was an Access card – remember their "Flexible Friend" adverts?
Well that’s what I get when my Husband cleans the windows. I also get grumbling, moaning, muttering under his breath about me being a lazy cow etc. So when I saw the offer for a free 40 pack of Cif glass and window wipes I thought I'd sign up. Anything to make Dave's life easier. ~~~ A Parcel ~~~ A few days ago my window wipes arrived, I caught the postie trying to squeeze them through the letter box as I left for work. My initial thought was surprise at the size of the packet, I knew there would be 40 but I didn't realise they would be so big. I opened the parcel with glee and left the wipes on the side, hoping hubby would see them and try them out before I got home. ~~~ The Product ~~~ Well there weren’t really any instructions on the packet so I ripped it open and thought I'd have a go myself. The wipes themselves look, feel and smell like those little face wipes they give you in some restaurants. Very fresh and lemony smelling. Best not to use them as face wipes though as the packet says to avoid contact with eyes and not to use for any other purpose which the product is not intended for. It also tells you not to use them on polished or untreated wood or plasma TV & Laptop screens. These promise to "wipe away dirt, grime and fingerprints quickly and easily leaving a dazzling shine". ~~~ Application ~~~ With all of the above points in mind I figured I'd better try them on a window. It was a fairly small window, the one next to the back door. The window was not particularly dirty but it did have a few muddy paw prints on. I gave it a good wipe over with the wipe, which removed all the paw prints. But it left the window looking very smeary indeed, for good measure I ran over it again. Still streaky. Just prior to writing this op I used another wipe on that window, figuring that now it wasn't in direct sunlight that might make a difference bit sadly not, the window is sti
ll streaky. Not wanting to give up I ran it over my PC screen, and I've had to get a screen wipe out to get rid of the smears! When Dave sees what a mess I've made of that window he's gonna moan like mad. ~~~ The bottom line ~~~ I'm that unimpressed with this product its heading for the bin as we speak. The packet says "Quick Easy Sparkling Results" – I say, quick easy smeary windows. Tesco charge £1.59 for 20 of these, don't waste your money on them.