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I was happy with Alliance and Leicester at first, having got £100 for switching accounts with them and £25 for recommending a friend to current accounts that were giving us a good rate of interest.
However, after missing a couple of outgoing payments, I was taken into a spiral of debt. They'd already told me I couldn't have an overdraft on this account, which shocked me as my credit history was pretty good, I'd kept a good account with them for the few months since I'd opened it and was only asking for a small amount just in case I should accidentally miscalculate.
Although their charges originally seemed low, at roughly £12 for a missed payment, I was stung by some of the others for being overdrawn. This is meant to be at a cost of £5 per day which seems fair when you think that you normally only go over by a few pounds for a few days, but there was a minimum of a 5day period to this charge, meaning you always got a £25 fine. They would then take the fine straight away when, if there is no money for the payment, then there will be none to pay the charge either! This means that charge after charge was aplied. These are apparently capped - at £100 PER MONTH, which means that unless you can afford to pay the whole lot in one go, you'll continously be charged £100 each month regardless of whether you're paying off 1 per cent or 99 per cent of that arrears.
I opened a pretty good account with Halifax, pre-Credit Crunch, and was generally quite pleased with the account. I liked the fact my statements came every 3 months rather than 30 days, seeing as I usually am aware of the activity in my bank accounts. At the time it was a high interest account, which means that so long as I paid in a certain amount each month (I would just transfer it from other banks and back again), I would get a pretty good amount earnt on my money each month. This wasn't massive, but excellent for current accounts. The rate did change after a year, however, and whilst still competitive, was nowhere near what it was previously.
Halifax staff are friendly over the phone and help out kindly. They seem more keen to please you as a customer of theirs than many other banks. the premises of my local branch are always clean, calm and cool, which helps when you're stressed with money!
Charges can be high, usually £35 a time, though!
Natwest, where loyalty stands for nothing!
I have been with Natwest for almost 2 thirds of my life now, and over the years have opened up quite a few other accounts with banks offering my various incentives to do so, but have never closed my original accounts with Natwest. They have been my family's bank for many years, for why I cannot understand: it is not like using the same greengrocer for many years and getting a level of service that goes beyond expectation for doing so.
The main problem is their charges and the very hard-nosed people on the phone when you call to query these. The general 'computer says no' attitude is at best unhelpful, especially wehen you have been on hold. I have once, whilst on the phone to the Lending Centre, been kept on the line for an extra 10minutes whilst the advisor tried to get me to sign up to their Advantage Blue or Gold at £6 or £12 per month - I was ringing for a loan, hello?! These are also a con and there is no way that you couldn't get all the offers that you would actually use for cheaper elsewhere.
Staff in my branch are so miserable, they look like they'd quickly suffocate themselves with the next money bag they saw, if only it wasnt's for that big glass screen. The queue is frequently out the door as staff moan to each other between customers and look to the floor as they disappear through doors. Mine has a cashier's area and an information desk, usually I am told I have been standing in the wrong line for my query when I reach the front, yet it's not displayed anywhere which desk deals with what when you have a less obvious reason to visit.
This paper makes me laugh, some of the 'News' is so mundane, surely no-one actually is interested in that?!
The beauty of The Argus is that it has a very dedicated following, and local people who do read it every day, every week. For them I can see a few good points; it tells you what's happening in the local area, which is good if you're a bit mobility restricted and can't gert out much - it makes people feel more in touch with the community - albeit that said community is normally painted in a bad light by commonly exaggerated behaviour of the youths... People seem to like the letters page, and the weather and listings can be pretty useful too. Catching up with local sport is quite easy with the Argus and if your brother's best mate's uncle plays for Burgess Hill Football Club, for example, you may want to keep up with their scores.
When out of work, some of my friends will buy the Argus routinely on a Thursday for the jobs section. There is normally the most random array of jobs from Morning Cleaner to Business Development Executive so finding one suitable isn't always successful, but well done them for trying.
Psychologies has been given to me via a gift subscription. I had picked up a couple of issues previously to this, drawn to having something slightly deeper than most of the glossy tat that's around in newsagents! In searching for a magazine that didn't centre around which celebritities are skinny and which ones are permo-drunk, or ones that make you feel the need to raid the shops for SJP's wedge, Psychologies was a breath of fresh air!
There's still a few celebrity interviews, but the main are normally down to earth, natural-looking women who have possibly been through the kind of struggles 'real' women go through - such as divorce or work stress and so on. The interviews are not all bling and over-excess, but are honest and inspiring.
The magazine is generally aimed at more mature women, but has a level for all. The quizzes and articles about being more in touch with your feelings are really quite interesting and can reveal a lot about you, too.
If you rush through life moaning about your job, but never do anything about it, then Psychologies is probably not for you!
Duplo can be expensive, as with all Lego products, but this lasts such a longer time than most toys in both children's enthusiasm for playing with it and in it's general construction. My son was given a box box for his 2nd birthday and still plays with it 3 years later! No pieces have got broken, despite being thrown around, attempts to chew etc, and the ideas for playing with it are endless - great for their creative skills, and even if they build a tower just to knck it down, it helps them understand cause and effect, perfect for preschool science!
If you are thinkinga about Duplo as a present, I would highly recommend it, especially if the child is not your own because if they get more from someone else it only adds to the fun! Also you get a pretty big box for them to unwrap, always good!
My son is also into the main Lego, but like playing with this for making 'big models', eg great for making into a ship to carry his pirate figures around!
This was a much sought after Christmas present last year, and thus one very much enjoyed too! As a top-of-the-list toy, this one is not expensive either. I got it online for about £13 delivered, possibly from Amazon, after using comparison sites to find the cheapest.
There are a few types of this toy with pretty simillar names, so be aware of this when choosing which one to buy. This is particularly important when choosing online. This one is not a time-telling watch but a wrist worn game. It's quite bulky but the flashing lights and design seem to make it really appealing to children.
I am not entirely convinced that my son actually understands how to play the game but seems happy pressing the screen to see the aliens change! He likes to use for pretend play rather than working out the instructions. The main criteria for a toy is that it must engage the child's concentration for a reasonable amount of time, and this alternative use is meeting that so I can't see any problem with finding a different way to enjoy it!
Usually the latest website for downloading free music is recommended to me by a friends and this was the case with Spotify - which would "change my life forever"! Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's certainly pretty amazing.
What's best is that I no longer have to download all the rubbish songs that my friends want to hear when they come over to mine! This is going to save a significant amount of space on my laptop
The streaming is great, as it also means that there's no waiting time as I would expect downloading with my usual slow internet connection. Talking of which, I was sceptical as to if the music would play with my connection seeing as I have trouble playing youtube videos, frequently (mobile broadband), but it's been absolutlely fine and have no stop-starts as expected.
Ads might annoy some, but they're pretty short. And actually isn't it clever how they pause if you mute the volume?! I think there are few things that could be tweaked in the future, like adding shuffle etc, but they seem to be developing it as they go anyway, eg adapting for iphone etc.
I love the way you can make playlists and search for other people's ones as well. Means I can save further time and become a bit of a Musical Guru, having a collection of songs lined up for various different groups of friends!
Borders Brighton is a great bookshop and I remember thinking when it first opened that it was different from most others. There is such a good range of books, and also CDs with listening posts.
I like the fact it has a bit of a bustle; with the coffee shop at one end and the fab children's area at the other. Children's area is colourful and inviting with comfy seats. I also like the bit in the middle which is quiet enough to look through books on some of the random-placed seats. I think you could sit there all day and read a whole book, or have a little snooze while your friend tries on that dress for the third time... hey, some people probably do. It's like a little library - but without all the shushing.
What else is good is the downstairs bit where all the bestsellers and sale books are. This is great at Christmas as there is loads of display space which makes it more likely for items to jump out for that special someone. normally a comical, non-comittal 'Secret Santa' book can be found here too!
I have been to many events at The Brighton Centre. It likes to think of itself as quite a versatile venue, hosting everything from craft and wedding fairs, ModelWorld, Labour conferences (well, not anymore) and also loads of concerts and gigs: Lee Evans, Status Quo, Bloc Party as well as family events like Holiday on Ice.
I'm not so sure that The Brighton Centre is as amazing as it thinks and would only choose to go there because I wouldn't want the hassle of going to see whoever in London instead! I think it just a bit tired and dated. There is pretty much the same list of events each year and it looks dreadful from the outside.
My biggest annoyance is that at the recent Scooby Doo show, balloons were being sold for £8 for bigger ones and £5 for the hardly-worth-it small ones!! I thought this was outrageous as most families had at least 2 children - and because someone was selling the same balloons right outisde for £3 less!
The acoustics aren't always quite right if you're not in the stalls, and I have never understood why the side balconies are at exact right angles to the stage - how can anyone see anything from there?!
It's funny really to think of Drusilla's as a zoo as there's no big cats and such. Still maybe that adds to its' appeal to youngsters as there isn't anything too scary! It's not just about the animals, though, at Drusilla's; there's a lot else.
There's the Thomas train, which is really good as the level of detail and size is what children expect of the 'real' Thomas, you also get too see a lot of other characters such as Cranky on the way too. There's a big playground and crazy golf too.
Another thing about Drusilla's is that they have character days or special exhibitions almost every week throughout the year and as these are included in the price, it is worth checking if you will be going on any of these days.
One of our highlights was the penguins because you can see them swimming from underneath as well, and, of course, watch them getting fed which is quite funny. Another good area was the farm area, where you can scratch the pigs backs and see how a cow digests it's food. Being interactive makes a difference to how much the children take awy from their day.
The cafe can be quite expensive if there's a few of you, so best to bring your own food.
This place was absolutely massive!! WE had a quite a few hours to spend in the zoo, but were really rushing to see it all towards the last couple of hours. There is the main park and across the road is the Out of Africa section, so do allow yourself a whole day, especially if there are little ones too.
Getting the negatives at the way, there was nowhere to leave bags for the day which was pretty annoying as we were on the way back from a 3day break! The other thing, which isn't really a criticsm to the zoo, but for some reason we though there would be elephants and there wasn't.
Be sure to check out the enclosures that you can walk into. There's a tropical birds one, butterflies and, best of all, is the Squirrel Monkeys. It's quite strange to be allowed in with them as they scamp around and you could spend a lot of time watching and taking pictures as they're pretty curious of people!
Try to get to the displays, but you can't do them all in one day
When looking for a place for a short break this summer for myself and 5 y. o. son, I ended up choosing Windsor. There's not many places that have a castle and a theme park based on Lego! Aside from that, it's easy to get too and went we could venture to London Zoo on the way back. As well as that there's so much history to tell him about from the castle, the Queen's train, The Queen, which allowed a direct link with Brighton way back when and also Eton College and the fact many of our Prime Ministers have studied there. There's so much more, we really didn't have enough time.
We loved sitting by the river (although didn't get time for a speedboat trip as planned), all the lillte quaint coffee shops (including The Crooked House of Windsor) and fudge shop (get a free sample!), watching a wedding at the Hall where Charles and Camilla wed), playing in the castle maze, looking out for The Queen, talking about ghost stories and Windsor even had a tourist train and crazy golf! When we were there was The Windsor Wheel up too, giving amazing views over Windsor and Eton.
There's loads of restaurants, too and were spoilt for choice - many chains such as Bella Italia, Pizza Express, Wetherspoons and Pizza Hut, amongst many others are on the main hill beside the castle and there's plenty more in the shopping arcade.
There's 2 stations, Central was shuttle to connecting trains from Slough and Riverside was at the bottom of the Castle hill. From Riverside, head towards the Castle for Windsor and around the corner and over the bridge for Eton.
Orsino is a lovely, well-established and stylish Italian restaurant offering a menu that is different from all the other Italian restuarants around. It does serve all the traditional dishes you'd expect, but also is more than your standard Margerita! The set menu is good value but nothing from that ever really stnads out to me.
It's really centrally located in Hove, near George Street so is perfect for afternoon coffees, and also ideal if you want to have a good evening with friends or family and try their wine which I remember being very drinkable.
The decor is simple and elegant. The main light fitting is amazing and looks like a collection of twigs! There is also little items around the sides of the restaurant whic add a bit of depth to the feel.
I've always been here when it's been quite busy, yet have never felt looked over by other diners or rushed by the staff, who are not the most charming of all restaurants in Brighton and Hove, but nice enough, while being smartly dressed in white shirts and long black aprons.
The Buddha Bar has a reputation for being an amazing place to socialise in Paris; the place to be seen in. We, however, found this to be a typical 'tourist' bar. We were directed there by our hotel team, who had probably heard about it from other guests staying there. I doubt it was the kind of bar that this particular member of staff would have gone to, as one of the locals!
Many seemed to love the fact it's a big, bold bar, but we found it was a little too big to have a good atmosphere. It was lively, by all means, just overcrowded, I guess.
Drinks were very pricey, roughly 3 times what we would expect to pay here for cocktails, and actually weren't that nice. Mine had too many leaves in it! The cocktail range was fairly good, but didn't live up to expectation, especially at that price. This seems the norm for this area, though, on the Champs Elysses. Our hotel room up the road was so nice, we could've stayed quite happily there anyway!