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RichPrice
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Member since: 04.02.2007

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    • hmv.co.uk / Online Shop / 36 Readings / 33 Ratings
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      11.12.2007 18:05
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      If something goes wrong keep complaining until its' sorted out.

      After reading all the rave reviews about how great the HMV Site was as I needed some CD's for Christmas presents I thought that I'd give it a try...I wish that I'd stuck with Amazon.

      The Site itself looks really good. It is, to be fair, easy to use and to navigate. It has an extensive Catalogue of Albums, Singles, DVD's, Games and Gadgets. There are also lots of Special Offers. The Site advertises free UK delivery. The delivery is similar to Amazon in that there is the free delivery and then, for a fee, premium delivery services.

      The Site is owned and operated by HMV (Guernsey), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of HMV (UK) and is located in Guernsey. As I understand it there are certain Tax advantages. There is a UK Local rate contact number together with a list of email addresses. It is apparently site policy to, in normal circumstances, reply to emails within 24 hours, although around Christmas that increases to 72 hours.

      So I registered with the site. A two minute job of setting up an account based on your email address and creating a password and then giving basic information, home address etc.

      So far things were going well. There is an online search facility which I found to be easy to use and very quick. As I knew what I wanted it was a thirty second job of adding the items to the "shopping basket". The Search results also tell you whether the item is in stock. Prices were actually quite competitive, especially when allowing for the "free" postage. Checkout is easy and takes a matter of a couple of minutes using their secure server. Job done. A very quick and painless process, so I thought...

      Within minutes I had received an email from HMV confirming the Order...

      That was on the 25th of November. I ordered some stuff, including a different CD from Amazon the same day, that arrived on the 29th of November. Nothing from HMV. On the 3rd of December I went back onto the Site, double checked that the CD's I'd ordered were in stock, they were. I checked the contact details and then sent a gentle chasing email to HMV asking when they were likely to be dispatched. No reply from HMV

      On the 5th of December I again double checked that they were still in stock, they were. I then telephoned the Customer Service number. The phone was answered promptly. I then spent around half an hour on the phone trying to sort out what was happening. To cut a long story short the website, apparently, takes the Order and then has to synchronise the order with another computer system. Sometimes it doesn't, he didn't know why...I was promised that his Supervisor would call me back once it was sorted out, as of the 11th of December I'm still waiting for the call...

      I even tried emailing the Chief Executive simon.fox@hmvgroup.com , I know they opened the email, no reply to it though. Christmas is fast approaching so another phone call to the Call Centre. Again the phone was answered promptly. Another half an hour on the phone. By refusing to accept a call back and insisting that I wanted to hold until a Supervisor became free I got to speak to "one of the Managers on duty". He made a load of excuses, none of which actually sounded true, promised me faithfully that he would find out what the problem was and then call me back. Guess what I'm still waiting for the call...

      So would I recommend the HMV website. I think not. You can have the best website in the world, the widest catalogue, the most competitive prices but if they don't deliver the goods its' all a bit pointless really

      Update: Another 45 minute call to the call centre followed by another email to the Chief Executive finally sorted it out. I received a call from the HMV Ecommerce Customer Service Manager who was extremely pleasant and kindly offered to refund the cost of the CD's and to provide them free of Charge and by Special Delivery. Pehaps HMV aren't that bad after all...If the wheel falls off you just need to persevere and keep complaining

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      • More +
        02.04.2007 16:24
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        A Great Place For That Special Weekend Away

        The Priory Bay Hotel is an independent 3 * Country House Hotel located by the sea on the Isle of Wight. I stayed for two nights midweek, whilst on business. It has a website (www.priorybay.co.uk) which has lots of details about the hotel (incidentally – the website refers to the Country Hotel by the Sea - they borrowed the idea from me not vice versa…), including tariff although I discovered that when I telephoned the hotel to book that I was offered a principal room for the same price as a standard. It is a small hotel, 7 Principal Rooms, 9 Standard Rooms and two family suites. The Priory Hotel is one of those establishments that would, if bigger, be 5*. As a small hotel they don’t have the resources for 24 hour room service etc

        That said the hotel is not inexpensive, 2007 tariff for a single person starts at £70 per night low season rising to over £175 per night peak season. I stayed Low season and thought that the hotel was excellent value the high season prices are expensive. The hotel also provides catered and self catering accommodation in cottages on its’ estate. Dogs are not allowed in the Hotel but are permitted in some of the Cottages.

        The staff were extremely helpful and friendly, the Manager seemed to know all the guests by name within a few hours of checking in. The Hotel is housed in a lovely building with lots of character and history, not to mention some superb views. My Room was delightful, a large airy, well decorated, well furnished (Excellent quality large ensuite, with soft fluffy towels and good quality complimentary toiletries) with digital TV, even a DVD player. It also had complimentary bottled water (in my view one of the hallmarks of a good hotel). The Room was immaculate and spotlessly clean with great views out toward the sea. Somewhere I have some photos I took, through my bedroom window, of the Solent. It was really well furnished with a lovely, comfortable, double bed, an assortment of comfortable armchairs, desk, wardrobe etc. Above all it had lots of character. The Room was a corner room which was an added bonus. The hotel proudly asserts that every room is different and has its’ own character. I can say that in my view that is true, my room literally oozed wall to wall charm and character.

        The Hotel had an atmosphere of rest and relaxation. Staying on business meant that I missed out on the relaxation, I didn't have time to walk in the grounds or on the private beach or play golf. The Hotel has its own outdoor pool but it was a bit chilly at that time of the year – so I didn’t bother

        The Hotel has the reputation of providing some of the best food on the Island. Indeed it has won awards for its' cuisine.I have to say that I would agree wholeheartedly with that. I checked in just in time for afternoon tea, proper home made scones. It actually has four restaurants. The Island Room (the A La Carte – where I ate dinner - serves classic cuisine - a small menu - cooked to perfection); The Brasserie (Basically the Bar and Terrace - quite a wide menu with some interesting looking dishes); The Bay Restaurant (Where I breakfasted – although in the summer its’ possible to eat on the Terrace) and The Oyster Bar (Which is a separate restaurant/ café overlooking the beach – when I stayed it was low season and unfortunately closed, although I understand that locally it has an excellent reputation for fresh seafood).

        The Hotel has an excellent bar, prices are, I’m told, average for the Island. They seemed pretty reasonable to me. It has very comfortable and cosy furnishings. All of the public areas of the hotel are maintained to a high standard. The whole place is full of character. There is even a Churchill connection – to find out what it is you’ll have to visit

        Dinner in the restaurant (the Island Room) was a dining experience. The Hotel does a Dinner option on Bed and Breakfast for an extra £25. I had the main restaurant menu which was about £30 (plus wine) for three courses, although that sounds expensive it wasn't. The menu is fairly limited in terms of the number of dishes but the food is awesome. As I've said before I prefer a hotel to have a small menu and cook it well rather than a large menu which is cooked averagely, here I am pleased to say it is the former. The food was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection.

        I had a breast of wood pigeon starter which was outstanding together with a gorgeous lamb dish followed by an awesome hot soufflé which was cooked to perfection. The food was all cooked exceptionally well using local ingredients with some of the vegetables from the hotels own gardens. The wine list was impressive not just for its' variety but also for the fact that it included a wide range of half bottles which for a lone diner is ideal. The wine list is extensive but is not exorbitantly expensive.

        Breakfast was another culinary delight. Not a hot buffet but instead freshly cooked high quality local ingredients, the sausage was delicious. It also set me up for the day

        It is difficult to find much to criticise. I checked out with a nice feeling of having really enjoyed my stay. OK there is no sauna or gym but you don't need them. The location is a bit problematical, the directions seem more complicated than they are. I found the place without any real problem. That said the disabled facilities seemed somewhat limited. The hotel seemed very child friendly.

        If I ever have an excuse to go back to the isle of Wight I'll be staying again (although perhaps not peak season...). Do I recommend it – most definitely!!! If you are looking for a really lovely, relaxing, restful place, with awesome food to stay this is the place to stay. In fact its’ one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

        Priory Bay Hotel is located at Priory Drive, Seaview, Isle of Wight, Telephone 01983 613146

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        • Philips HR1858 / Juicer / 52 Readings / 49 Ratings
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          30.03.2007 16:26
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          A Great Way to Eat More Healthily

          I like gadgets, some things I buy (the ice cream maker, candy floss maker, milk shake maker etc) get used once and put into the cupboard and forgotten. I'd fancied having a juicer for a while, new gadget and I like fresh juices. I was in Makro and saw the Phillips HR1858 on Special,it was about £50 (incl VAT), the list price is £99.99 although you can get for around £65. It was a pure impulse buy.

          So my new toy and I arrived home together, only pausing to call in at Saindsbury's, on the way home, to get some fruit to juice. Like a little kid I ripped open the box to get at the contents.

          It came with what looked like a really useful instruction book, fairly well written, although there were a couple of extra bits of paper with two lines of information on each. It was if they'd written the instruction book, had it printed and suddenly realised that they'd forgotten something. It was all printed on recycled friendly (so very eco friendly). There was also a free book written by Jason Vale (one of the gods in juicing apparently ) - on how to lose 7 pounds in 7 days and they weren't talking about sterling...Were they trying to tell me that I'm fat and need to lose weight...

          I've actually read the book from cover to cover. Apart from a few rather bizarre and incredibly expensive juicing recipes it is full of some nice recipes and some really helpful tips about using a juicer. I've never actually owned one before. The two most important tips I think are firstly don't put it in a cupboard. If you do it'll be like the candy floss maker, you'll forget about it and never use it. So mine lives on the work top next to the Kenwood Chef mixer. Secondly and most importantly always clean it as soon as you've used it. It is actually really easy to clean the Juicer, you dismantle it rinse some of the bits under hot water, the filter takes a bit of scrubbing with a plastic brush. Wipe the machine down job done in about 4 minutes. The instruction book gives a detailed breakdown of how to clean it. If, however, you don't do immediately and let the pulp dry it takes ages to get it off.

          It also has a Manufacturers' 2 year guarantee. You need to keep the original receipt in case of a claim under the warranty.

          The HR 1858 is a whole fruit juicer which basically means that unless its’ a large piece of fruit/vegetable that most stuff can be juiced whole. It saves messing about cutting it up. Most, with the exception of things with thick skins - oranges, pineapple, grapefruit etc, is juiced with the skin on. I have to say I wish that it could handle oranges with the skin on but it can't. There are certain types (not many it has to be said) of fruit that it can't handle. There's a list in the instruction book but its' basically bananas, mangoes, papaya, avocados and figs). Apparently its' all to do with the starch in them.

          The juicer has a 650watt motor, so its' actually quite powerful. It works on a centrifuge. It gets an incredible amount of juice out of both fruit and vegetables. It seems to be really efficient in that way. When I've emptied the pulp container, the pulp feels almost dry.

          The juicer is two speed, the lower speed tends to be for soft fruits raspberries etc with the higher speed for harder fruits and vegetables (apples, celery etc). There is a list in the instruction book. The instruction book also, rather helpfully identifies which vitamins are in which fruit/vegetables. As you may have gathered it juices fruit and vegetables. I've made some really flavoursome (that's a nice word) mixed fruit/vegetable juices.

          The Juicer is heavy it weighs just over 4.1kg (around 9Llbs), it also has suckers on its' underside to secure it to the work surface, to stop it moving when it juices - it can vibrate a bit. The problem tho' is that it can be quite difficult to move sometimes, it could be difficult for someone who is elderly or disabled.

          It is also quite high, 38 cm (15") so you need quite a bit of height clearance both to store it and also to use it.

          Getting back to the box. The Juicer is, as usual - the campaign to cut down on packaging starts here!!! - wrapped in polystyrene and plastic. It comes in a number of different bits. The Base unit, which is the heavy bit, in my case, is white plastic ( you can get this model in stainless steel). A separate pulp collector that is actually really useful. It holds a lot of pulp, around two litres in volume - which is a lot of fruit and vegetables. It's unlikely that you'd need to empty it mid juicing.

          A jug for collecting the Juice. This holds 2 pints and has measuring markings on the outside. It also comes with a lid and a foam separator (you have to click them into place - its' all the instructions). A Juice collector (basically it collects the juice from the filter and then funnels it into the jug), a Filter, a lid with a feeding chute and finally a pusher.

          After reading the incredibly easy instructions. I washed the washable bits and assembled it. Now as I've said before I am not mechanically minded but this is a doddle. Assembly takes thirty seconds. You put the juice collector onto the base, put the filter into the top of the collector, twist it in, put the pulp collector onto the side, put the lid on, secure the lid with two really easy big white clips. Put the jug underneath the spout and its assembled. Switch on at the plug. Job done. It takes longer to type it than it does do it.

          The actual juicing is a doddle, its' all in the instruction book, but basically you just drop the fruit/veg in and push it though slowly (you get the most juice out that way) or even just put another piece of fruit in (that pushes the one beneath into the filter). I've juiced all sorts of stuff and produced some really great juices. I didn't ever realise how nice pear juice was. The Juicer comes with a pusher to feed the fruit/veg into it. There is no way that small fingers could get anywhere near the business end of the Juicer. It does make a bit of noise when its' juicing- but that's half the fun - you can hear it happen. Kids love to have fresh juices made. It is great to see the look on a 3 year olds' face when you present him with a glass of strawberry juice (well strawberry with a bit of pear to sweeten it) and then have to show him how it works because he tells you that it can't be strawberry because you eat strawberries.

          It also vibrates a bit but the suckers on the underside hold it secure.

          It's a healthy, and cost effective, way of producing extremely nutritious drinks (even the sugar in the fruit is the right sort of sugar).

          Do I use it. Yes. At first it got used every single day, if it moved I tried juicing it. After a while I calmed down a bit and now I use it on average three or four times a week when I create a super healthy drink of apples, Carrots, Apples,Celery, Oranges, Pears and Beetroot. Finishing the juice off by adding some dried Spirulina (a superfood). It takes great.

          The only genuine criticism of the juicer is that I have is that I have to peel the oranges. It is possible to buy juicers which take unpeeled fruit but they cost lots more. It is actually the best impulse buy I ever made and probably one of the best buys. I would recommend the Juicer to virtually anyone, just be aware of the weight.

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          • More +
            29.03.2007 10:52
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            A Great Place for a base to tour the South West

            Rumwell Manor Hotel, a 3* hotel, is part of the Best Western Chain. Best Western is an international group of independent hotels, it is probably the largest brand of hotels in the world. I’ve never stayed at an overseas Best Western but have stayed at quite a few in the UK. All in all I’ve stayed at around 30 different Best Westerns over the years and never had a problem. They tend to be 3* hotels all with individual features. Not the standard big chain (with standard room sizes and incredibly boring….). Best Western Hotels tend to have lots of character and that traditional hotel ambience. In the main they are fairly small hotels (usually under 25 bedrooms – there are a few larger but not many). If I’m paying for a hotel (unless its’ a special occasion or unless work are paying) I tend to stay in Best Westerns’

            Best Western has an excellent website www.bestwestern.co.uk that regularly has some extremely good deals. At the moment there is a 3 nights for 2 offer on selected hotels, it ends on the 30th of April. There are 290 hotels in the chain, the offer applies to 120 of them, I've checked and it applies to Rumwell Manor. There is also a central booking number for all Best Western Hotels 08457 747474

            Rumwell Manor is located just under two and a half miles from Taunton. If you stay here you either need a car or be able to rely on taxis. I spent three days here whilst in Taunton on business. Rumwell Manor was chosen more by luck than judgment (the other side were staying at the Castle – the local 4*). So I and a colleague stayed at Rumwell Manor. We travelled by Train to Taunton and used taxis to and from the hotel. It is a lovely hotel. It even has chocolate connections, it was previously owned by the Cadbury family.

            It is a Georgian country house set in acres of really well maintained gardens with some really nice views. It had been built as a Country House for the Cadbury (of chocolate fame) family. It only has 20 rooms, a mix of singles, doubles/twins. The Rooms are either standard or superior. The Hotel has an annex, the Courtyard which is about 6 feet from the main hotel. The Standard Rooms are located in the annex. With the superior rooms being located in the main house. My colleague and I both had rooms in the main house, so I didn’t get to see a standard room. The Superior Rooms are all on the first and second floor. No lift.

            Room rates vary from tremendously, depending what room, there is a business tariff as well as a standard rack rate. Superior double rooms are currently £118 per night, B & B. Rumwell Manor is one of those hotels which gets 3* because it is small and as such doesn’t have the extras that make it to a 4 or 5*. It only has limited room service, there are no leisure facilities, whilst the restaurant is excellent it only has limited opening (breakfast is 7.30 – 9.30 [mon – fri], 8.30 – 10..00 [weekends] : Dinner is 7.00 – 9.00 [mon-sat] 7.0 – 8.30 [sun]), reception only opens from 7.00am until 11.00pm. That said the quality of service, of rooms and food is very high. As good as the average 4*deluxe.

            I arrived by taxi, took around 10 minutes from Taunton Station on the Sunday evening. The Receptionist was really pleasant and helpful. I arrived after 9.00pm. Fortunately I’d eaten. If I hadn’t the Restaurant had already closed (which wouldn’t have been particularly helpful). I was very proficiently checked in and restaurant times etc explained. Reception also booked me a taxi into Taunton for the following day. I then headed to my room to dump my bags before finding the bar.

            My room was great, excellent decor. A really large airy room with lots of individual character. Lovely furnishings. A four poster bed, its’ the room in the photograph on the hotel website. It had a really soft and comfortable double bed. Good quality furniture, a desk and chair, a couple of very comfortable armchairs. There were also the usual furniture, Wardrobe, chest of drawers and, desk. The whole room was colour coordinated, everything matched. The ensuite was as good. Large bathroom with a full sized bath with overhead power shower. Really lovely, soft fluffy, towels together with the usual range of free toiletries. Both the room and bathroom was immaculately clean and obviously well looked after. Apart from not having a four poster bed my colleagues’ room was as good as mine. Both rooms had the usual internet access, TV, hair dryer, coffee making facilities etc.

            After dumping my bags, having a nosy around and after doing my ET routine (phoning home). I headed back downstairs

            The bar was quite small with a cosy lounge with really good quality comfortable furniture. It was, as were all the public areas, very clean and clearly well looked after. Bar prices were no higher than any other hotel I’ve stayed in. My colleague arrived and we had a few drinks, as you do.

            Breakfast is served in the restaurant, Blackdown. Its’ relatively small and very nicely decorated. Breakfast is part buffet with cereals and juices and the full English cooked to order. I have to say that the Full English was very tasty, plentiful with good quality ingredients and substantial.

            Dinner was excellent. I ate in the restaurant on a couple of nights. Either a table d’hote or a la carte. The Menu was fairly limited in the sense that there were half a dozen starters, mains and desserts. That said I am a great believer in a restaurant having a small menu but cooking the food well rather than a huge menu cooked poorly. Here the food I ate was extremely well cooked. The menu was fairly classically based with one or two nice twists. My favourite starter was a smoked duck salad with a chocolate and vinegar dressing, anything involving chocolate has got to be good. On the mains my favourite (in fact one of my all time favourite dishes) was Lambs Liver and Bacon in red wine. My colleague had a fillet steak that he raved about. Puddings (sorry desserts). My favourite, cos I love Bread and Butter Pudding, was a marmalade and Cointreau Bread and Butter Pudding. It was delicious. Everything was clearly homemade.

            On our way to Taunton on the first morning our very friendly taxi driver pointed out a pub (it took under ten minutes to get to the centre of Taunton at “rush hour), just over the road from the hotel. An easy amble in fact. the hotel bar was a bit limited we tried the pub. A really great little pub, a traditional local. The routine was set. Taxi in the morning, Work in the day, Taxi back to the hotel, a bit more work at night, dinner in the hotel, gentle amble to the pub after dinner. Heaven. Who needs a car.

            Rumwell Manor has a really pleasant relaxing feel to it. It is not the most inexpensive hotel I have ever stayed in. Indeed its’ pricing is comparable with many 4* hotels. It, however, has loads of character, not to mention an excellent little restaurant which produces extremely good quality food cooked to a high standard. The quality of service from the staff generally is exceptional

            On the downside the facilities are limited, there is no swimming pool, no leisure centre, no air conditioning but it is located in a really beautiful part of England where there are lots of things to do. Historic Taunton is a few miles down the road, the gorgeous south west with its' history, its' beaches is literally on the door step. If there had been a deluxe gym or a pool would I have used them, probably not, it was nicer to eat and to go to the pub. I didn’t see any families, but there again my stay was out of season, so I don’t know how family friendly it is. I also didn't see any pets. I don't think that pets are allowed. The disabled facilities appear to be limited. Would I go again, definitely, would I recommend it. Of course I would, it was great.

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            • Sharp AL 1457D / All in one Printer / 35 Readings / 33 Ratings
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              27.03.2007 18:08
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              An Extremely Reliable Multi Function

              A couple of years ago I decided to set up a Home Office and to work from home. I decided on the main equipment, The first was A good Multifunctional System ( a combined Laser Printer and a digital copier, I decided that I wanted a separate fax). I decided that Black and white and A4(ish) sized would be fine. I also needed relatively quick printing.

              So I went shopping, with a budget of around £500. I was surprised that there were quite a number of machines on the market. A significant proportion were ruled out as they seemed quite flimsy, the top covers seemed as if they'd come off the machine with any real use), a second group had built in faxes. I decided that as the fax would often be quite busy that rather than tie up the printer that I'd buy a separate fax.

              After several office suppliers I visited Office World (since taken over by Staples) where I discovered the Sharp AL 1457D. Which seemed to tick all the boxes, it was on Special (always a good sign) at £210 - well under budget. The current equivalent machine in the Sharp range is the AL1553 which retails for around £320. The display model looked really solid and substantial, not only was the top lid securely attached the whole thing seemed to have an industrial feel to it. The nice man in the shop ran off some trial copies from it. They seemed extremely good quality. The deal was done, they even delivered it several days later.

              When it arrived it was in a huge box, with absolutely loads of polystyrene (as usual). I unpacked it to discover, a drum, a toner cartridge, a power lead, the machine itself, a user manual and a CD. I have to say that I have found the user manual really helpful. It is very well written and easy to follow. The only complaint I have about the manual is that it is not totally comprehensive. The CD which apart from containing the software also has what is referred to as the online manual, which is more detailed than the paper one. That said I've never really needed to consult it. I've had a look out of interest, it's well written, has a bit more information on problem solving and a bit more information on the operation of the printer and scanner. The paper manual has adequate information.

              This was, apart from the computer (a Sony Vaio PCV RS404) was my first big equipment purchase. So I read the handbook through from cover to cover before I tried to install it. The Sharp doesn't come with any cables and has a couple of different ways of being connected to the PC, the first question was which one (cos I had to go and buy the cable), USB or Parallel interface. I hadn't a clue - so quick call to a mate. I was told that Parallel was the old way of connecting printers to computers and that the USB connection was the best one and to buy a good quality USB cable. I then realized that the scanner also only works with a USB connection. As I do as I'm told off to the shops one USB cable. My PC has lots of USB connections (seven - if you include the three on the front), so no problems about where to plug it in..

              Then, the real fun, the installation. I have to say it went like an absolute dream. I just followed all the instructions carefully. The first job was make sure that I'd removed all the bits of tape etc, the manual helpfully told me where they all were, release the head locking switch. There is a switch which secures the scanning/copying head for when you move the unit. Install the toner, the drum comes pre-installed. Plug it in and turn it on. One fully functioning stand alone photocopier. Like most photocopiers it jams occasionally, I've always been able to sort it out, again its' in the manual.

              The next stage was to connect it to the computer, again text book, Insert the disc load all the software up, plug the USB cable into the printer at the correct time. Job done. It was literally a piece of cake. Installed in under 15 minutes.

              The instructions in how to print are a doddle, it operates as a standard copier, only prints A4 but will reduce and enlarge. It has a really clearly marked instrument panel for copying and scanning. You can either use the scanner from the computer or directly from the AL1457D

              I've only ever used it as a straightforward printer, copier and scanner. There are lots of extra settings contained in what is known as the Sharpdesk and the Button Manager. To be honest I've never bothered to use them. They're actually designed to make operating the Sharp quicker and easier - it is so easy anyway - even a complete technophobe can work it.

              A bit more detail. The Copier produces extremely good quality black and white images. Start up to copying is under 60 seconds. It has a countdown counter for up to 99 copies.
              It has a sheet feeder on the top, holds about 30 pages. I actually use this quite a bit. Yes on occasion it jams but then I have yet to find one on any copier that doesn't. It copies quickly and almost silently. It has a paper tray that holds 250 sheets. This is where, had I more experience in buying copiers, I might have bought a different copier. It is fast enough for me in terms of copying speed, around 12 pages a minute. When Printing it has never jammed.

              The instruction manual says that the paper tray can only handle 56 g/m2 to 80g/m2 paper (that's the weight of the paper). Anything heavier and, only up to 128 g/m2, has to be fed in through the bypass feeder which only holds about 25 pages. I write most of my letters on 100g/m2. I've found however that the paper tray copes perfectly well with the 100g/m2 stuff for both copying and printing. It is a point to think about. When the sharp goes to the great photocopying room in the sky I'll check more carefully the specifications of its' replacement.

              The Scanner, well its' a scanner - 600dpi x 120dpi (that's all about the resolution of what it scans) - it scans in colour and a reasonable quality image. For Scanning documents its' fine. It takes a bit longer to scan than it does copy. It's also a three stage process, it scans, you preview, it finalizes the image. The only quibble about the scanner is that if you've been printing it can take a few attempts to persuade the scanner to scan, it keeps telling you that the scanner is busy. You can't scan, copy or print at the same time.

              The Printer gives a good quality laser print. Print speed is probably between 6 and 10 pages a minute, depending what I'm printing out. The manual says 12. Its' more than fast enough for what I need.

              When I was looking for a copier/printer one of the things' I didn't think about and, with hindsight should have thought about, was running costs. That is the number of copies per toner cartridge and also per drum (as that needs to be replaced periodically – I’m on my third). Toner cartridges are quite expensive, around £80 per cartridge with replacement drums around £100, although it does help to shop around. A Toner Cartridge lasts around 3000 copies (the manual says 4000 but that is at 5% coverage - the industry standard) a Drum lasts 18000 copies. Both are really easy to change. It is possible to buy machines with better returns (or yields), they cost more. I'm actually fairly happy with the costs, although next time I am going to factor it in

              It weighs around 19kg (around 39Llbs), so it is heavy. It is 607.6mm wide, 492.5mm deep and 380.4mm high. It doesn't actually have that big a footprint and is actually fairly compact. It is a quiet machine to operate, although when its' scanning it makes quite a loud clicking noise.

              One drawback is that it only a small memory 16mb, so you can't send a load of stuff to print and then turn the computer off and it just prints it, you need to leave the computer on.

              It has been extremely reliable, never once broken down, the odd copier jam is always easy to sort out. I've never had to call out the engineer.

              Would I buy another, probably, but this time I'd work out all of the comparative costs of different products before I bought it. It has been a solid reliable machine.

              NB - Does not include a Fax, Sound and Battery talk time are both irrelevant so you can ignore those ratings

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              • Au'Some Fruit Juice Nuggets / Sweets / 29 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                26.03.2007 15:23
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                A Premium Product for a Premium Price

                I've always had a sweet tooth, over recent months' I've been putting the weight on a little too much. So I decided I needed to lose a bit (No I'll rephrase that "lose a lot"). The problem is I have no willpower. I need to eat more healthily. So it was like manna from heaven when I saw a new sweet line at Makro (the wholesalers). Florida's Natural Au'some (No its' not a typo that's the name) fruit nuggets. The Manufacturers have a website www.ausomesnacknaturally.com

                An interesting example of the global economy. An American Company, the sweets are made in china and, distributed in the UK by a British Company based in Salisbury

                They were on Special buy a pack of 12 get another pack free. Even on BOGOF they worked out at 25p each wholesale, their normal wholesale price is 50p a box, I haven't n seen any in the shops yet, but when they do appear, they're likely to retail a around 70p a carton, In my view that is expensive, and as I'll explain later I don't think they're worth it. A carton only contains 43g (just over an ounce - Sirloin Steak is Cheaper).

                So what are they. They are a range of fruit sweets (marketed as fruit snacks, makes them sound healthier) made from 66% concentrate fruit juices and purees, which was what drew my attention. The Range has three flavours, Orange, Strawberry and Blueberry that are packaged in miniature versions of the fruit juice cartons that Florida Natural fruit juice comes in. They have different coloured caps, Orange juice flavoured is green, Strawberry is Pink and Blueberry is purple. Each carton is individually shrink wrapped. Once you get the shrink wrapping off and open the top there is a foil cap that needs removing. The different types all have very juicy examples of the relevant type of fruit all over the carton.

                The cartons state that its' 66% juice, all natural flavours, an excellent source of vitamin C, (the website says they've got vitamins A, B1, B2, C and B3, Iron, Zinc and finally Calcium although I couldn't find out how much of these vitamins and minerals [apart from C - which is on the packet] the sweets actually contain).

                No Artificial colourings, No Preservatives, Its' fat free, nut free, no Gelatine (So its' OK for vegetarians) and its' Kosher. So just about anybody can eat it. It reads impressively. The whole thing is designed to give a healthy feel to it and objectively it has to be said the contents are much healthier than the vast majority of other sweets. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the packaging and marketing. The cartons weigh 43g. So you don't get a lot for your money. I dread to think how much they cost by the pound, about £11.20 retail.

                All three varieties have the same nutritional information, 303Kcal per hundred grams, a box is just under half that, so its' probably around 130Kcal, which isn't at all bad. This snack gets healthier as we go along. There is no fat and no protein and 75.6g carbohydrate per 100g, so its' around 35g carbohydrate. A pack provides 85% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C. So it is appears to be a pretty healthy sweet (sorry snack)

                What is interesting is how long the products last. The cartons I've got have Best Before Dates of 13th November 2008. The cartons also have a Keep Kids Safe heath warning on them, warning that the snacks (note they don't use the word sweets) should only be given to children who can easily chew and swallow

                I have, as you might expect and in the interests of my readers, tried all three but I'm only going to Review my favourite the Strawberry. I found the Blueberry quite nice but I didn't particularly rate the orange it was a bit too sharp.

                So turning to the Strawberry. The Carton is covered with happy, juicy, smiling Strawberries. The ingredients are (in order of quantity) Pear Puree, Pear Juice, Strawberry Juice, Blueberry Juice, Sugar, Starch, glucose syrup, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Natural Strawberry Flavouring, Ascorbic Acid, Acidity Regulator E331, Gelling Agent E440, Colour E163, Glazing Agent E903, Maltodextrin.

                It's interesting that in the Strawberry flavour that the greatest single ingredient come from pears (although I suspect the pears are there to add sweetness). There is also a lot of Sugar, the natural sugar in the juices but then Sugar, glucose and dextrose. So perhaps its' not a healthy as we first thought although I have to say it is much healthier than most other fruit flavoured sweets (I must stop calling them sweets - the box says that they're snacks. A fruit snack is of course perceived as being much healthier and acceptable than fruit sweets).

                OK so what do they taste like. I've managed to get the shrink wrap off. I have to say its' not particularly easy to do, its' probably a little too well wrapped. In the end I had to resort to sticking a key into the wrapping. I've opened the little screw top (it really is dinky) and removed the foil inner cap. I would have expected there to be a mouth watering strawberry smell but there isn't. How disappointing.

                The sweets (sorry snacks) are tiny nugget shaped squares. They are a very pale pink colour, I think they're designed to look natural. Even taking a handful and putting them under my nose there is still absolutely no smell of anything, let alone Strawberry. I think that this is a missed opportunity for the makers. The absence of any smell for what is sold as a natural product makes it less appealing. So what do they taste like. If you try sucking them nothing much happens. You need to chew. Chewing one is Ok you get a clear taste of Strawberry both on the palate and also as an aftertaste. I love Strawberries, there is a real Strawberry taste which is sweet and pleasant. There isn't any tartness to it (obviously the effect of adding the pear juice). However to get the real taste you need to chew half a dozen. The Strawberry taste and the after taste of Strawberry is really there, even after swallowing the pleasant Strawberry after taste lingers. There is unfortunately also a slight chalkiness when you chew.

                I did a little market research test on an assortment of children, aged 3, aged 12 and aged 9. The older two loved them all, the younger one liked the strawberry and blueberry but didn't like the orange as it was too sour. Not the most scientific of samples but a useful illustration nonetheless.

                They have an enjoyable taste and actually taste of what they're supposed to - which is a bit of a result. That said they don't have an exceptional taste enough to justify the cost. I think that they are over priced for what they are. If I see them on Special again I might buy them but I won't go looking for them and I certainly wouldn't pay full price for them. If however you want to buy a product that is clearly one of the more healthy sweets on the market and are happy to pay a premium price then these are for you.

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                • More +
                  25.03.2007 21:25
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                  One of the Best Whiskey's in The World

                  This is a Whiskey (note the spelling - Scottish Whisky doesn't have an "e") Review, not of a Scottish Malt but of an Irish Malt instead, Bushmills. I’ve only got two Irish Whiskey’s in my collection one a 12 year old Jameson’s (a blend), the other Bushmills 21 Year Old , which is the one I’m going to Review. Its’ a rare malt, the distillery only releases a limited number of bottles every year. It’s a standard 70cl (unless you pick one up in the US where it is 75cl) bottle , and is 40 % Alcohol by volume. I haven’t actually opened it yet so I don’t know what it tastes like. It’s only available in specialist whisky outlets and online. It can be very difficult to obtain. It is not inexpensive retailing at around £120 a bottle. (although if you are happen to be in the US it retails there at around $120 US a bottle).

                  This is going to be my last whiskey review for a couple of weeks as firstly, I don’t want to bore everybody and secondly, my liver probably needs a break – its’ a bad sign when you drink on your own…I’m not sure if using the excuse that I’m doing it in the interests of writing a Review actually lets me off.

                  It is matured for 21 years in casks before being bottled. At first it goes into barrels that have held American Bourbon, it then goes into barrels that have held Spanish Oloroso Sherry (it spends most of the 21 years in these casks) it then gets finished off in barrels that have previously held Madeira. Any Whisky picks up much of its taste, colour etc from the casks it has matured in. The theory behind the Bushmills 21 year old is that maturing it with three different types of barrel will create a very complex and hopefully exceptional taste (we shall see).

                  Whisky is matured by being put in casks. Unlike rare Scottish single malts which are invariably bottled from the same cask ( so you can often buy a bottle from a specific cask, sometimes you may even see reviews of whisky from a specific cask), this particular whiskey is different. The process is that this whiskey goes into a barrel (the American bourbon) some time later the contents of that particular barrel are transferred into (in their entirety and with nothing else added) to another cask (the sherry cask). Then, and this is where it differs from the Scottish fine whisky’s, the contents of the Sherry Cask are mixed with the contents of other identical sherry casks (its called vatting). The mixture (or whats’s called the married whiskey) is then put into one final cask (the Madeira) where it finishes its’ maturation and from where it is bottled. The theory behind this is that you ensure that all the bottlings’ from one years’ production are of the same quality and taste the same as each other, it also means that you need fewer Madeira casks, as it matures malt whisky evaporates ( it’s known as the Angels share, so after 20 odd years you have significantly less than you started out with). That’s also one of the reasons why older whisky costs more – the distillery gets fewer bottles to the barrel…

                  Incidentally unlike Wine which ages in the bottle, Whiskies only age in the cask. So if you buy a bottle on 10 year old Macallan and keep it for 10 years its' still only a 10 year old.

                  There are currently only three Whiskey producing distilleries in Ireland, Midleton , Coole and Old Bushmills. Irish Whiskey has been overshadowed by the larger Scottish industry. That said there has in recent years been a major growth in Irish Whiskey Production. Irish malts have been in production for as long, indeed if not longer, than their Scottish counterparts. It may be smaller but good Irish Malt is as good as the best that Scotland has to offer.

                  The Old Bushmills distillery is probably the biggest name in Irish Whiskey production. It has a rather helpful website at www.bushmills.com, although unfortunately it does not operate an online shop. There is a quite a wide selection of Bushmills whiskey on the market, including lots of quite rare stuff. The distillery currently produces Black Bush (a blend), 10 Year old Bushmills, 16 year old Bushmills and the 21 year old. Up to this point I’ve only ever drunk the 10 year old. I have to say that the ten year is not my favourite malt but is a nice pleasant whisky which many people like. It is well worth trying.

                  Now to the good bit (I hope), the tasting.

                  I’m sat in front of my PC (where the light is the best) with the bottle, a tasting (nosing) glass (its got a bowl and a narrowing neck – it cost me £3.99 from a Whisky shop – if you haven’t got a one a brandy glass is as good)and a jug of still water (Highland Spring to be precise – I couldn’t get any still Irish Water…I prefer bottled water as tap water often has its’ own sometimes unpleasant taste). The Whiskey is in a square shaped clear glass bottle. I have to say that even before I open it the golden colour looks distinctly attractive.

                  So here goes, I’m told that professional whisky experts don’t sniff it from the bottle but I do – I don’t care – I know I’m common. WOW what a smell. It is probably the best whisky smell I have ever experienced, and I’ve smelt a few (No I am not an alcoholic – I can stop any time I want….honest I can). There is an incredible rich oakiness about it yet at the same time its’ got an almond fragrance...

                  I pour a decent measure into the glass. At this point I haven’t added anything to it. So I hold the glass up to the light , it’s a gorgeous golden colour. I can’t be bothered to play around I just want to taste this

                  At this point I’m adding water, about as much water as there is whiskey. Don’t swirl it around just stick your nose in the glass and sniff, which is what I’m doing. There is an incredible (and I mean incredible) smell of oak, chocolate, it’s spicy, it has a real sharpness, a freshness, a vitality, this is an awesome (I’m running out of superlatives) complex mix of smells. Do they work – too right they work. What a fabulous smell. This really is the best I’ve ever smelt.

                  Then taste it, I’m not just swallowing it. Its’ almost like chewing , moving the whisky around my mouth to spread the taste all over my palate. This is a complex mix of truly wonderful tastes that work together. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford anything better than this. At first its’ hard to work out what all the tastes are, there’s oakiness, a richness like chocolate, a sweetness (from the sherry casks I suspect), there’s fruit, there’s coffee, there’s spicyness, there’s hints of the Madeira. There is so much happening but it works. This really is the finest malt I have ever tasted.

                  Then as I swallow it there is a smooth sensation, there’s a taste I can’t quite figure out, it’s almost like a faint taste of really clean crisp chardonnay, there’s a really comforting faint oakiness, I’ve never actually tasted anything like it before So many different tastes and sensations and they all work together in a perfect balance to create an awesome Malt Whiskey. I am stunned I expected something good I never expected anything this good. Whoever created this is a genius.

                  In my somewhat arbitrary rating system 9 and three quarters (Nothing is perfect although this comes close) out of 10. It has to be the Manchester United of the Premiership of Malt.

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                  • More +
                    25.03.2007 01:12
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                    Expensive for what it is BUT the kids will love it

                    Up to now the only things I’ve ever really resented buying have been Birthday Cards (for a small sheet of card folded into two they cost an absolute fortune – a rip off). Well now there is another item added to the List the “Manchester United Celebration Cake” at £6.98 a rip off to end all rip offs.

                    Whenever I usually buy a Birthday cake I normally purchase the Asda Chocolate Birthday Cake – cos not only is it absolutely delicious but you also get quite a lot of cake for your money. This week I thought I’d be different, one of my nephew’s birthdays. He’s a real Manchester United Fan (I make no comment as to his allegiances save to say that for a netball team they’re not bad….). I literally had the Asda cake in one hand when my eye caught a bright red box with Manchester United all over it. It looked appreciably smaller than the Asda one and cost only 50p more (there is logic there somewhere – I’ve been struggling to work it out ever since I bought it…) Well there were only going to be four us to eat it so what the hell…One Manchester United Cake duly purchased.

                    The Cake was in the trolley and the deed was done. So what had I got for my £6.98, a 22cm x 22cm x 8cm box, the cake inside was, of course, appreciably smaller than the box. The box proudly proclaimed that it was Manchester United Official Merchandise (clearly the club doesn’t care about its’ fans being ripped off) and stated that it was a moist, Genoese Sponge Cake coated with sugar paste and filled [not a literal interpretation – but we’ll come to that later] with Butter cream and Strawberry Jam. The cake itself was bedecked in Manchester United Colours with the club crest and pictures of some of the players in the icing on the top, there was a Red Tape/band around the sides with free (the generosity of these people) stickers on the cake band. The whole thing was on a cake board and iced all over.

                    So the first job was to get it out and open. Removing the Cake Band (with the free stickers – tacky bits of paper) was the first challenge. Unfortunately removing the band also removed half of the icing from the sides. Once cut the cake appeared to be a sponge, split into two with a very thin filling of butter cream with an even thinner layer of Jam with icing on the top and sides. The sponge looked quite appetising.

                    So what did it taste like – average – certainly not almost £7 (why do they do that £6.98 – just call it £7) worth. The extremely sweet icing almost wiped out any taste of the sponge. Indeed the whole thing was extremely sickly and sticky, if you eat any you need to clean your teeth afterwards. So I removed the icing and tried it without. In all fairness it was a moist sponge (I’m not so sure about the Genoese bit – it tasted like the average shop bought sponge to me). I have a reasonable palette but I couldn’t work out what sort of jam was actually in the cake (the box said Strawberry so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt). The sponge tasted OK (on a very arbitrary scale 7 out of 10). It was moist, yet light and not too sweet. It was not, in my humble opinion, worth £7, or indeed anywhere remotely resembling £7(I would expect to pay around £4 from the average bakers).

                    The box called for closer inspection. The cake is made under licence (from Manchester United) by Elisabeth the Chef. Website www.elisabeth-the-chef.co.uk I had a look at the website they appear to make a variety of these sorts of cakes, All the Premiership Clubs, Barbie etc. Something I found really interesting was that nowhere on the box did it give me the weight of the cake. So I weighed it 800g. Surprisingly the nutritional information suggested that the cake was designed for 12 portions (66g a piece). Call me difficult but how many people eat portions that small. Personally I would have thought 8 portions maximum (that’s still less than 4ozs each). Why do they do that – is it some sort of con to persuade us that its’ better value than it really is….

                    Talking of nutritional information you may have guessed that its’ not the healthiest item on the planet, but then what cake covered in sugar with sugar in the middle is going to be:-
                    Per 100g
                    Energy 396Kcal (I have to say lower than I expected)
                    Protein 3.1g
                    Carbohydrates 65g
                    Of which Sugars 55.8g (I did tell you)
                    Fat 13.7g
                    Of which Saturates 4.2g – you can’t beat a bit of saturated fat for the heart condition…
                    Fibre 0.5g
                    Sodium 0.2g

                    Normally I wouldn’t list all of the ingredients but here I think its’ important to do so:-

                    Sponge (44% - that leaves almost 56% for the added sugars in the icing etc) – Sugar, Wheat Flour, Whole Egg, Vegetable Oil, Lactose and Milk Protein, Soya Flour, Humectant [E420], Emulsifiers [E471, E475], Raising Agents [E450, E500], Salt, Flavourings, Preservatives [E202, E282]
                    Sugar Paste (37% - loads of sugar), Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Vegetable Oil, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (contains emulsifier E471), Water, Humectant [E422], Invert Sugar Syrup, Stabiliser [E413], Acetic Acid, Acidity Regulator [E262], Flavouring
                    Butter Cream (9% - more sugar), Sugar, Butter, Glucose Syrup, Water, Wheat Starch, Dried Egg White, Stabiliser [E406], Citric Acid
                    Strawberry Jam (5%), Glucose Syrup, Strawberries, Sugar Syrup, Gelling Agent [E440], Colours [E163, E150a], Acidity Regulator [E330],
                    Edible Plaque (the icing bit with the photograph on), Sugar, Glucose, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Invert Sugar, Water, Emulsifiers (E414, E471, E415], Humectant [E422], Colours [E104, E122, E133, E153].
                    Over 20 different E Numbers.
                    Suitable for a vegetarian diet, not suitable for nut allergy sufferers.

                    I have to say that had I stopped and read the Box in the shop I would not have bought the cake. I am not a chemist or a food scientist. I have no idea what those E numbers actually equate to. In my experience responsible manufacturers’ put the chemical name next to the E number unfortunately this particular company doesn’t (they can’t even be bothered to put the weight on the box). What is the point in putting a list of meaningless numbers, how can that possibly help parents make sensible decisions. What is clear from the ingredients is that there is loads of sugar in various forms, sugar, glucose Syrup, Invert Sugar etc not to mention quite a bit of fat, including rather worryingly hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil contains Trans Fats which have a "strong and reliable connection to coronary heart disease" [wikipedia]. The Concern is so great that by the end of 2007 most of the major supermarkets will no longer include Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil in their own brand products. Whether Elisabeth the chef will do likewise remains to be seen.

                    So do I recommend it. No I don’t. To me it was an average cake sold for a premium price (obviously aimed at exploiting, in every sense of the word, the loyalty of Manchester United Fans), although in fairness the children thought it was great. The fact that a product may be unhealthy doesn’t usually deter me from recommending it, life’s too short – eat, drink and be merry…unfortunately here it does. Ultimately we as Adults have to take responsibility for what our children eat, the massive amounts of sugar coupled with the list of meaningless E numbers is enough for me. I don’t know what’s in it I can’t recommend it. Will I buy it again. No – next time I’ll go back to the Asda old faithful, I’ll recommend that any day of the week. I may even buy one so that I can Review it…

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                    • More +
                      24.03.2007 13:55
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                      They Make an Excellent Cup of Coffee

                      I drive a lot. So, about four years ago, I bought myself a brand new Hyundai Elantra. "A What?" I hear you ask, to cut a long story short, its a car about Mondeo sized. The main I reason I bought it wasn't the dazzling good looks or performance it was the Five Years (Yes Five whole years) unlimited mileage warranty. My car has done well in excess of 100000 miles already.

                      I've been fairly careful to make sure that the warranty is up to date. The Service Record claims that you have to have it serviced by a Hyundai dealership. OK I know technically that's not true, but, to save future arguments (by the time you've wasted time arguing about whether its' in warranty or not its' cheaper to have it serviced at a Hyundai Dealership) its' always gone to the Dealers to be serviced.

                      I've used the same Dealers from whom I purchased the car. Unfortunately the service interval is only 10,000 miles(which is a bit low - especially as my car is a diesel). The service cost, on the basis of the average over the 4 years, has been around £600 a year or about £171 a service - its' tax deductible). The Dealership I use is a Company called Autoworld (website www.autoworld-uk.com) who are actually quite a big organisation. At their Chesterfield Site they have a substantial second hand operation and also, in addition to Hyundai, are main agents for Citroen, Seat, Fiat and Kia (they were Rover dealers - but we won't talk about that....). More importantly they are the closest Hyundai Dealers to home 7 miles away. Incidentally when I first bought the car they offered me a really competitive APR, something like 7%

                      I have quite a bit of experience of dealing with them. They've always been courteous, extremely helpful and friendly (but then I am a good customer). I've never had cause to complain about the quality of their workmanship. Apart from Servicing the only work I've had done on my car has been under warranty, so I can't comment on their mainstream prices.

                      The reason for writing this review is, however, the fact they've recently changed how they repair and service vehicles. Until about a year ago the various dealerships operated as quasi independent garages. I'd take my car into the Hyundai garage where the Hyundai staff would maintain it. if I booked work a month in advance I'd get a courtesy (or should I say Loan Car). drop the car off quite quickly literallly just hand the keys in, sign for the Courtesy car and be off in 30 seconds. Collecting it was as quick, in and out, pay them the money and swap keys and be off. It was a fairly amateurish system but it worked.

                      Now all that has changed Autoworld has built itself a new state of the art Service Centre (No sorry "Service Village"...). All the repairs and servicing for the whole of the Chesterfield operation are dealt with in one building.I've only been twice to the new place and I much prefer the old one. The New Building is actually very nice. You walk in through the automatic doors to your immediate left is a very nice carpeted seating area with very comfortable leather seats, tables and the latest magazines. To your immediate left is an area designed to look like a cafe, with a bar type thing from which staff dispense complimentary tea and coffee, I have to say its' quite nice coffee, on a wooden floor with matching tables and chairs with free newspapers. Directly in front of you are about ten, or so, desks where the "Service Advisor's" sit.

                      The first time I booked my car in for a Service I was pleasantly surprised at the ease in obtaining a courtesy car. I phoned, under the old system sometimes it could be difficult to get through, got through almost immediately and was able to book a service with courtesy car for around three days later. I arranged to deliver the car at around 8.30am

                      I was then told there was small charge (about £8 a day) for insurance....bloody expensive insurance at that rate £2900 a year...what were they lending me a Porsce. One of the drawbacks to my Profession is that I read smallprint - its'a bad habit and I remember information which might otherwise be useless. Blinding flash of light those nice people at Norwich Union not only insure my car fully comprehensively but also insure any car loaned to me whilst my car is being serviced or repaired. The Service Advisor seemed a tad upset when I told her that I'd drive on my own insurance...Just make sure you bring your Insurance Certificate.

                      Tip for the day - if anybody tries to charge for insurance on courtesy cars - check your own insurance policy.

                      Well I duly turned up at 8.30am to be met with a queue almost out of the door, with four or five "Advisors" trying to cope with lots of drivers dropping off cars and keys. Note to self - next time don't drop the car off at peak times [guess who forgot]. Under the new improved system it took three times as long to leave the car. Then if you were doing my trick of own insurance, they had to copy everything and mess about. The New system didn't really seem to be an improvement. Collecting the car that night was even worse. You could only collect it from the same
                      "Service Advisor" with whom you had left the keys with that morning. Of course everyone coming to collect the cars at the same time. It was horrendous, the queues were a nightmare.

                      A couple of weeks ago I started to hear a bit of a whine on the back end. Erm - wheel bearing, this could be expensive it won't be covered under the warranty, I'll check anyway. It was, those lovely people from Hyundai. So I phoned Autoworld, 10.30 on a Monday morning, got through almost instantaneously, things were looking good. I told them I thought it was the Near Side Rear wheel bearing, booked it in. In my naievity I thought to have it done. The earliest date for a courtesy car was the following Monday, so I booked it in and arranged to take it in, yes you've guessed 8.30am Monday Morning. I also made the point of confirming I'd be driving it on my insurance

                      Well I duly arrived walked in, no queue, a very efficient lady with a clipboard took my name and ushered me off to a comfortable armchair and offered me a free hot drink. Within 5 minutes (still not as fast as the old system) I was seated in front of a "Service Advisor"s desk. The same paperwork as last time but a bit quicker. I was promised a call after three. I was even handed a sheet of paper with his name and mobile number on it . My only real gripe was that he didn't tell me exactly where the courtesy cat was just it was a red Kia Rio (not knowing what on earth it looked like I resorted to checking the number plates of all the Red Cars in the car park)

                      Around three I received a call from my "Service Advisor" telling me that my car was ready it needed a near sided rear wheel bearing (that's what I told them) they hadn't got any in stock. He'd book the car in for the work when I collected it. I remember the good old days, if you took your car to the main agents they fixed it, especially if you told them what was wrong with it....Main agents used to have things called a "Parts Departments" where they used to have things called wheel bearings in stock

                      I turned up around 4.30ish to be met with a queue to the door of owners collecting cars. That said I was actually seen quite quickly, they seemed to have abandoned the idea of seeing the same person. I was handed several pieces of paper confirming what their inspection of the vehicle had found and what work was needed. This time, unfortunately, there wasn't a loan car free for about 10 days. So the car is now booked in for the 23rd of February. I'm going to drop it off bang on 8.00 when they open and avoid the queues.

                      So what do I think of Autoworld, up to now they've done a good job in terms of maintenance and repairs. The're not cheap in terms of servicing costs, but no main agents are. Unfortunately the new improved sooper dooper service centre hasn't actually made things any easier for the customer. Although there are nice comfy seats to sit on . Will I go back, yes, at least whilst the car's under warranty after that I'll be going somewhere cheaper...That said if you don't mind about costs and a bit of a delay in getting a courtesy car, their repairs and servicing are good AND they make an excellent cup of coffee.

                      Autoworld in Chesterfield is on Brimington Road North, Whittington Moor, Chesterfield, S41 9AJ

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                        24.03.2007 00:46
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                        Something Different

                        Cakes and Chocolate have got to be good was my immediate reaction as I saw a box of McVities Heat to Treat Double Chocolate cakes in Morrisons’. Suddenly and without warning a box hurled itself into my trolley, followed swiftly by a box of Heat to Treat zesty Lemon, Heat to Treat Jamaica Ginger and, Lyles Golden Syrup and Custard (the whole range). I didn’t have the heart to put them back on the shelves, clearly they wanted to come home with me.

                        The Heat to Treat Range is a new range of four types of cake, made by McVities (United Biscuits). They come in boxes of two and can be eaten hot or cold (microwave only). In the interests of Research (I know – I am a martyr – the things I have to do for my readers - I do it so you don't have to...)I have now sampled the whole range and have eaten them both hot and cold. I have to say that my favourite was, perhaps unsurprisingly as I’m an addict, the Chocolate (which is the one I’m reviewing), followed by the Lemon (the cake had a nice gentle lemon taste with a lemon hit in the centre), the Golden syrup (which was pretty nice – a bit too sweet tho’)and finally the ginger which I won’t be buying again (a very strong ginger taste but an almost medicinal aftertaste – yuk). The whole range contains a lot of sugar and is very sweet as a result and only, in my opinion, for those with a sweet tooth.

                        Currently they are on Special at Morrisons’ for 99p a box, the price will go up to £1.29 (which I think is expensive). Once you open the box there are two little cardboard cases containing the cakes (they’re small muffin sized – the cakes weigh 90g each – I know cos I’ve checked) – they can be eaten hot or cold. The general consistency of all of them is the same. A very sticky, moist and chewy mouthful. After trying the whole range hot and cold I prefer them hot. They all have slightly different calorific values which range from 339 to 349. The individual cakes are wrapped little plastic bags which have to be removed before microwaving (they all take 20 seconds in any size microwave). There is the usual advice to allow to stand for one minute and to be careful as the contents may be hot.

                        So the “Double chocolate cakes with a rich chocolate sauce filling”, are 344 kcals per cake, have a very nice chocolatey smell (which helps), they have 3.4g of protein, 51.4g of carbohydrate, 27.4g of sugar (lots of sugar reflected in the taste and ingredients), 13.9g of fat (not the healthiest snack on the planet), 1.3g of fibre and 0.2g of sodium. How do they taste:-

                        Cold: there are instructions on the box to tell you how to get it out whole by unfolding the box. The cake inside has a light chocolatey, almond flavour which I really like. As you bite into it you hit the runny sauce which has a much more intense plain chocolate flavour. It is fairly sweet tasting, one I could happily eat, two at a push but three would be too sickly

                        Warm: you heat them the cardboard wrapper they come in, warming them up lightens the texture of the cake, the chocolate sauce does get quite hot. It works much better warm/hot than cold. It would probably be even nicer still with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the top. The chocolate sauce has just the right after taste of sweet chocolate, something you don’t get when its’ cold. It is still sweet with that very nice chocolatey almond flavour.

                        For the food techies amongst you – the boring stuff – what’s in it
                        Chocolate Sauce (28%) – Glucose Syrup, Sugar, water, Dextrose, Humectant [Glycerine], Chocolate (5% in sauce), Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Emulsifier [soya lecithin], Modified Starch, Cocoa Powder, Pectin, Citric Acid, Potasium Sorbate, Wheat Flour, Water, Sugar, Glycerine, vegetable oil, Chocolate (6% in cake), dried skim Milk, Dried Whole Egg, Wheat starch, Pottasium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Salt, Emulsifiers [E471 E481], Quanthum Gum.

                        The whole range is produced on a line handling peanuts in a factory handling nuts.

                        Are they worth the money. No I don’t think so. Will I buy them again – Yes if they’re on special…

                        On my rather arbitrary taste testing scale
                        Cold 7.5 out of 10
                        Hot 8 out of 10

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                          23.03.2007 17:36
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                          They Turned My PC into a Surround Sound Stereo

                          The Speakers on my PC were getting a bit battered. They were the original Sony Speakers that came with the PC when it was new. So, I thought, about time for a new pair. I was fully intending to pick a pair up from Maplin's ( an inexpensive chain of electrical retailers) costing about a tenner. I happened to mention to a friend that I was going to get some to be told that she had some that had come free with her PC, that they'd never been out of the box and, (most importantly) did I want them free, gratis, for nothing. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

                          I am not technically minded, so for the purists among you, sorry if this review isn't particularly technical.

                          Anyway she dropped them off. I couldn't believe it when I picked the, rather substantial, box up. They weighed a ton. Up to this point my PC speakers have been fairly basic. I eagerly opened my new toys. It was a bit of a shock to discover (in addition to the usual polystyrene and plastic bags) the contents:-

                          4 - I think very trendy looking - surround sound satellite speakers
                          1 big (well 275mm x 160mm x 270mm and it weighed a ton) - sub woofer
                          1 (rather dinky) centre speaker, with metal stand
                          A cable which had three outputs and one input
                          Rather bizarrely a spare fuse….
                          An instruction manual

                          The Subwoofer is in a black MDF case, the others are all black with metal/metal effect stands. They look very contemporary, even trendy.

                          This could be difficult I wasn't quite expecting this much kit, and did I have room to set it all up in the small room where my PC lives.

                          First job read the instructions. I have to say idiot proof is not the word. The instructions are so clear that almost anyone (except perhaps my ex - no we won't go there) could set it up. The First Job, to rearrange my desk to fit the subwoofer on it. Basically all the speakers plug into the subwoofer which in turn plugs into the mains and into the PC Then to plug it all in. I have to say that Dell have an excellent truly idiot proof system. Not only are all the cables colour coded to the relevant connection but also the connections are designed in such a way, they have little knobbly bits, which make it impossible to plug a speaker into the wrong connection on the subwoofer. Then plug the subwoofer into the cable that goes into the PC. Its' the Cable that reduces from 3 to 1.

                          Set the speakers up. I have to say that something else that really impressed me about the surround sound speakers is how much cable they have. I could literally position them anywhere. Fortunately my main stereo has an excellent surround sound system, that I set up, so I have a reasonable idea how to position the speakers. That said the Dell instructions were pretty comprehensive. Then to switch it on and play

                          The Controls are dead easy. Power switch at the back of the Subwoofer then on/off and volume control on the centre speaker (which is actually quite nice looking). There is another control on the sub at the front for level.

                          Over the past 72 hours I have experimented with varying types of medium, from CD's, to DVD's to downloaded stuff, to digital radio. I'm not really a PC games person but I've even borrowed a couple to have a play. I can say that the sound quality is awesome, not quite as good as my Pioneer speakers ( but then it costs a lot less than they did) but not far off. The sound is crystal clear. Not to mention fairly loud (100w). The sound effects on the games, I borrowed an army type thing with tank noises and gunfire. It sounded real If I were into games these speakers would be ideal. Even at quite high volume there is no loss of tone. It gives an added something I can't think of the right word, you can hear noises you couldn't hear before. Got it, the phrase is depth, it's sharp and precise and crystal clear. No matter what I have played and no matter how loud there has been no distortion.

                          I thought that I'd better check out the cost. Dell is a manufacturer that supplies online direct to the public. Their website is www.dell.co.uk. I checked the speakers, including
                          VAT and delivery retail at £78.73 They are a 5:1 system (that means there are 5 satellite speakers to one subwoofer - its' one of the better sorts of surround sound system). Connected by cable and with magnetically shielded satellites and centre ( that means its' safe to put them near other equipment such as TV's). They have a 40hz to 20khz bandwidth (which means they are incredibly responsive and able to produce sound at lots of different frequencies and wavelengths)

                          So what do I think of them, a doddle to install, exceptional sound quality. Even if you buy them under £80 delivered, although Dell do say that they have only been tested on Dell Equipment and that their technical support is only available if used with a Dell System, They seem to work OK on my Sony PC. I think they are great and good value. I'm not sure if I actually need speakers this good, for gaming they are outstanding, I really only use them to play a bit of music through and for that they are exceptional. One other thought, my PC has a rally good sound card. I think that to listen to their full effect you would need a good sound card.

                          In terms of volume its' loud enough for me - for the technies it is 100w combined system - the 4 Satellite speakers are 9w each, the Centre is 14 watts and the subwoofer is 50 watts. More than enough volume quality and depth

                          Do I recommend them - course I do.

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                          22.03.2007 21:41
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                          A Great Place to stay for a few days away touring the Wolds

                          The Bell in Driffield is a 3* Hotel and is part of the Best Western Chain. Best Western is an international group of independent hotels, it is probably the largest brand of hotels in the world. I’ve never stayed at an overseas Best Western but have stayed at quite a few in the UK. They tend to be 3* hotels (although there are a handful of 4*'s scattered around) all with individual features. Not the standard big chain (with standard room sizes and incredibly boring….). Best Western Hotels tend to have lots of character and that traditional hotel ambience. In the main they are fairly small hotels (usually under 25 bedrooms – there are a few larger but not many). Best Western has an excellent website www.bestwestern.co.uk that regularly has some extremely good deals. At the moment there is a 3 nights for 2 offer on selected hotels, it ends on the 30th of April. There are 290 hotels in the chain, the offer applies to 120 of them, I think it applies to the Bell in Driffield. There is also a central booking number for all Best Western Hotels 08457 747474. As part of a major international chain the usual hotel web sites can also sometimes offer discounted rates

                          The Hotel does not accept guests under 16 years of age, so no screaming kids. Apart from Guide Dogs it also does not take pets, very few 3* hotels do. It also does not have air conditioning and, in common with most small hotels, only provides limited room service. It also provides fax and photocopying facilities. There is a lift.

                          I stayed for two nights at the Best Western Bell in Driffield last year. I was on a stag weekend (an old friend was due to get married and we went away on a drunken weekend) and Best Western had a similar promotion, 2 nights for the Price of 1. The Hotel has 16 bedrooms, a combination of singles, twins and doubles, including 10 Non Smoking Rooms, 3 Specially adapted Rooms for the “physically challenged” and three suites. The main reason I booked it is the Bar, The Oak Bar, which carries over 300 different types of Malt Whisky. Current room rates range from £86 (single B & B) to £150 (double/twin) although as with most hotels they are negotiable.

                          Apart from that I knew very little about the place until I arrived. I have to say it is a really neat place. When I got there I discovered that it was an 18th Century old Coaching Inn slap bang in the centre of Driffield. Driffield is a little market town (known as “the Capital of the Wolds”). It is in the middle of some lovely countryside and located relatively closely to some major tourist attractions. Castle Howard (Brideshead Revisited) is 15 miles away, Kings Mill Gardens and Deer Park is 25 miles away with historic York only 30 miles away with the East Yorkshire Coast not being much further (Bridlington for the traditional seaside – memories of childhood come flooding back). . Incidentally there didn’t seem any real town centre noise actually in the hotel.

                          Lots of free Hotel car parking. I checked in to discover really helpful, friendly staff, nothing was too much trouble and a hotel really nicely furnished with antiques. The Hotel has lots of character. The place is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. The hotel itself, all the public rooms, was spotlessly clean and well maintained. The hotel has been extended. My room was located on the ground floor in part of the new (well it’s probably early 1980’s – but in terms of an 18th century building that’s new…)next to the car park. Basically the rear of the hotel is a bit like a quadrangle with hotel on two sides, a leisure centre (I’ll come to that later) and the car park in the middle with the road on the outside. Purely by chance I’d parked my car directly in front of my room. The hotel also had a beauty salon, but I’m gorgeous enough so I didn’t bother with that.

                          The Room itself was a really big twin, at first I couldn’t understand why it was so big. With two very comfortable single beds with lovely bedding, very tastefully furnished and decorated, a couple of comfy chairs, wardrobe, drawers, a desk, some quite nice pictures on the walls. It was well lit with lamps everywhere. The room was spotlessly clean and had all the usual facilities, TV, Internet, Hairdryer, Trouser Press, room service, coffee making facilities etc . The door to the room seemed quite a bit wider than normal hotel rooms. The bathroom was huge. It was only then that I actually twigged. The Bathroom was fully adapted for disabled use. You name it, every possible aid was installed from a walk in shower to fully equipped toilet to special taps. There were also quite nice fluffy towels and the usual range of complimentary toiletries. I was chatting to the barman later that evening and was told that the hotel has won awards for its’ disabled facilities. I can well appreciate why. I am not disabled I just happened to get the room because it was a free twin. Looking at the corridor outside the room it was wide with ramps to facilitate wheelchair access.

                          The Hotel has its’ own leisure centre with pool, nautilus gym, Jacuzzi, Sauna, Solarium and flotation tank. Now I’ve never been in a flotation tank and to be honest I wasn’t totally sure what one was – so of course I had to visit the leisure centre to inspect the facilities. The pool was quite nice, not too big (but then hotel pools seldom are) I had a dip, the temperature was about right, warm enough but not too warm. The Gym looked very well equipped. The Flotation tank was a fibreglass cylinder full of water with lots of salt in it. The idea being you got in it, closed the lid and relax in the dark. You have to book and pay extra to use it. I thought about it and bottled it. I’m not too good on really confined spaces, don’t mind the dark or silence, so I didn’t do it.

                          I spent a bit of time in the bar, as you do ,no I’ll tell the truth I got absolutely hammered in the bar. It has a really nice atmosphere and seems to act as a local as well as a hotel bar. So you don’t pay hotel prices, which is a bonus. I was a bit disappointed with the Malt selection. Yes they’ve got a lot, and a few I hadn’t tried before but they only really have average Malts, the sort of stuff that costs under £30 a bottle. I was hoping to try something really good that I hadn’t tried anywhere else. They also, or so my mates told me, have a good selection of very well kept hand pulled real ales. I don’t know as I was on the Malt. The bar also serves quite a nice selection of home cooked bar food. I had the Cottage Pie which was really lovely, clearly home made with lots of meat and fluffy real mashed potatoes.

                          The Bell has a very impressive looking oak panelled Restaurant. Unfortunately I didn’t eat dinner in it, we weren’t there to spend hours eating, food was in the main of the more liquid variety (if you know what I mean). That said I had a quick look, as you do, at the menu. It sounded really good food, nothing too fancy. I did eat breakfast. Help yourself to cereals and juice, Full English cooked to order. The Full English was exceptionally good, very fresh local produce, a good plateful. Breakfast set me up for the day. If the quality of the breakfast is an indication of the quality of the Restaurant food generally then the restaurant is going to be good.

                          The Hotel is at Market Place, Driffield, East Yorkshire, YO25 6AN (Tel 01377 253228). I think it would be a great place to stay and use as a base to explore the whole of that area.

                          Would I stay there again. Most definitely. It is a really good hotel with lots of character and individuality. I would recommend it to anyone. If you have a disability the facilities are exceptional

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                          • More +
                            22.03.2007 13:35
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                            Unless You're a Millionaire its' one for Special Occasions

                            The De Vere Grand Hotel Brighton is an impressive hotel, part of the De Vere chain of over 25 luxury hotels. The De Vere website www.devere.co.uk has lots of information on the hotel and also some special offers. As a relatively large chain it is also possible to get some good room rates from the usual web sites. The Grand (as it is commonly referred to) is located on the Sea Front in close proximity to all of Brighton's major attractions. It is a 5* Deluxe (basically the highest rating a hotel can get). The Grand is Grand in every sense of the word.

                            The hotel has 200 rooms, ranging from Inland Singles (8), to Inland Twin/Doubles (115) to doubles/Twins with sea views (31) to deluxe doubles with sea views (42) to suites. Prices range from £80 GBP for a single B & B to £250 GBP B &B for a sea view deluxe to £530 for a suite. There is a Presidential Suite, I dread to think what that costs…I stayed in a Sea view deluxe, checking in on a Saturday and leaving after lunch on the following Sunday. I ate in the hotel for breakfast and Sunday lunch. The Brighton Grand was built, as a hotel, in 1864, for the wealthy visiting Brighton (well not much has changed…) It was, and still is the most expensive hotel in the City. The Hotel was bombed in the early hours of the 12th October 1984, in a failed IRA attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher (the then Prime Minister). The Hotel suffered major damage and was extensively rebuilt and very sympathetically restored.

                            The Hotel looks Grand when you arrive. It is a really handsome building both internally and externally. Reception is impressive, as indeed are all the public rooms. A huge lobby with elegant marble pillars and a superb sweeping staircase. Spotless, really good quality furnishings, chandeliers, the works. There are lots of helpful, friendly staff who at the same time are very proficient and professional. Its' actually quite a difficult balance to achieve however the Grand does it to perfection. Check in was smooth and exceptionally efficient with helpful staff who seemed as if they genuinely wanted to be helpful. Right throughout the hotel from reception to restaurant to porterage to housekeeping to bar all of the staff seemed genuinely to want to look after the guests. The Management at this hotel understand Excellent Customer Service.

                            The Room was outstanding, admittedly not the cheapest I've ever stayed in but, an incredibly comfortable King Sized bed, excellent quality bed linen. The Room was immaculate with sumptuous furnishings, quite a large room with separate seating area (nice comfortable chairs) and French windows opening onto a balcony with a good sea view. The bathroom was very spacious room bath tub and power shower, again spotless with very good quality complimentary toiletries and lovely fluffy towels and bath robes. The Bedroom had air conditioning, although somewhat bizarrely not all bedrooms do. The Bedroom, indeed the whole hotel, had lots of character and was really well decorated and cared for. The room had the usual facilities, TV, Satellite TV, mini bar but the prices (in common with every hotel mini bar were massively expensive), trouser press, Internet Broadband etc

                            In common with most 5* Hotels the Grand has the usual Hotel Facilities, 24 Hour Room Service (at the usual exorbitant rates), 24 Hour Porterage. Lifts serving all seven floors of the hotel, Leisure Complex (more of that below), Restaurant, Bars, Beauty Parlour etc. The Bars carry a wide selection of alcoholic beverages. A word of warning they are expensive, I wandered out into Brighton and visited local hostelries. The Hotel, in common with most 5* hotels allows dogs. There is charge of £5 per day, they are not permitted in the public areas and may only stay with prior arrangement

                            There are apparently also some rooms in the hotel with disabled facilities, I didn't actually see any but I understand that they have wider doors which are wheelchair friendly. There is a ramped entrance to the main hotel

                            I didn't eat at the hotel on the Saturday evening, I had a wander around however, there was live jazz coming from the Restaurant, the rather impressive King's restaurant, that I thought was a nice touch. A 4 course Meal on a Saturday evening is £30 plus drinks, which actually is not a bad price. I had an inquisitive look at the Main Restaurant A La Carte Menu, The food sounded rather good, a tad expensive. Starters ranging from £6.85 GBP (Crispy Duck Spring Roll with Cucumber Salsa) to £8.50 GBP(Smoked Salmon and Raspberries – that sounded like an interesting combination). Mains ranged from £15 GBP for a Cheese and Bacon Salad to £29.50GBP for Beef Wellington, creamed horseradish, caramelized baby carrots and Madeira Sauce (I thought that sounded delicious). Desserts ranged from £5.50 for Rum and raisin brulee with hazelnut shortbread to £7.50 for a steamed chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream.

                            I ate Breakfast, it was absolutely delicious food, fresh good quality ingredients with a good selection and lots of it. Basically a very good hot and cold buffet. Everything was cooked to perfection (even the porridge). Guess who ate too much but I still managed to make it to lunch. Sunday lunch was equally good, A three course set menu for £25. A Choice of 5 starters, ranging from Caesar salad to Duck, Chicken and Foie Gras Parfait (I don’t eat foie gras on principle) I actually got to try the Smoked Salmon and Raspberries – it was delicious – the Smoked Salmon and Raspberries work together.. A Choice of five mains, including an interesting sounding vegetarian option Saffron Potato Gnocci but it was Sunday so I went for the mouth watering Roast Sirloin of Beef (carved at the table) followed by a lovely pud (sorry should I say dessert...). This time there was a choice of four. I went for the baked Alaska. Baked Alaska is one of those dishes which has to be served just right (and it was)The Restaurant operates a dress code, no Jeans, Shorts, T Shirts when having dinner. Children under 14 years of age eat at half price, under 4 years eat free. There are also, incidentally some family rooms in the hotel

                            There is also the Victoria Lounge and Terrace which is less formal than the Restaurant which serves bar snacks and afternoon meals. Rumour has it that afternoon tea is pretty good, although on this occasion I didn't try it...next time perhaps

                            I didn't use the Leisure facilities but had a look, a bit of a nosey as one does They were impressive (and extensive), a really well equipped gym, the Pool seemed the right size, 12 metres, . There is a Relaxation Suite, I didn’t actually go in there. That is where the Sauna, Steam room and tropicarium are located. The Beauty Salon appears to offer all the usual body and facial treatments. As I am beautiful enough already I didn’t feel the need to actually price any of the treatments up. Although I suspect that they would be somewhat expensive. The Hair Salon is located in the Leisure facilities. The Hotel even has a special Leisure Club Menu of sandwiches and hot snacks ranging from croquet monsieur at £5.95 to Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad at £13.50.

                            Cost to one side. This hotel is one of the best I've ever stayed in, although not the best (that accolade goes to the Imperial in Torquay – another 5* Deluxe) I can understand why all the politicians stay at the Grand. Even after the extensive building works following the bombing the hotel has managed to retain both its' atmosphere, its’ style and its’ ambience. When I checked out I left feeling really good about my stay and the hotel. I knew and felt that I had stayed somewhere special.

                            Its just a shame it costs so much...

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                            • More +
                              21.03.2007 20:40
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                              A talking point in its' own right

                              All I wanted was a new Kettle; the old one was looking a tad worn after God knows how many years of use. Why do they have to make so many different types, there must be hundreds of them (I’d much sooner Review Whisky any day – at least you get to taste it…).

                              All I wanted was a kettle that boiled water, it didn’t have to be as high tech as the space shuttle – just a kettle. So I thought go to Sainsbury’s have a choice of a couple get one that looked half decent (I suspect this may be a familiar story to some), I didn’t particularly care how long it takes to boil or how much it holds (it’s just had got to hold enough), I didn’t even think about how heavy it got when full or whether it dripped from the spout when you poured it.

                              Anyway I arrived at Sainsbury’s and was shocked to see that even they sell about a dozen different sorts. So move to plan B (what’s plan B I hear you all gasp – what’s cheap – or should I say inexpensive). Whereupon my eyes were drawn to a prime example of inexpensiveness, half price in the sale no less – it must have been divine intervention. The massive sum of £19.99 (yes I know I could have bought a bottle of that rather nice malt from Waitrose for the same price, and had three pounds left over –but I wanted a kettle).

                              So I bought the Breville JK82 Keep Warm Lightning Jug Kettle. To me in the shop it looked like what I wanted, inexpensive (not cheap), a decent brand name, it was a kettle (which was of course crucial), it looked half decent (actually its’ quite snazzy really), its’ cordless in white plastic – which actually looks as if it's been well made - with a big see through panel on both sides. it looked as if it held enough (in this case 1.7 litres – so it was more than enough). I paid, claimed my nectar points (as you do) and the deed was done. Result

                              I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived home and started to unpack it to find a really helpful and well written instruction book (13 pages to be precise), although my immediate reaction was why do I need an instruction book – its’ only a kettle. All you do is fill it with water and boil it, empty and repeat a couple of times and then you have a fully functioning kettle. Even I could work out how that to switch it on you just flick the switch down on the top of the kettle and hey presto it works. So why the instruction book, did they think I was stupid (don’t answer that…).

                              I subsequently discovered that it has a built in filter, to deal with calcium, and that this had to be cleaned after first use as well (good job I read the instructions). It also has a 12 month Manufacturers guarantee (tho’ you need to keep the receipt - guess who's lost theirs'...).

                              This kettle has extra features. When its’ plugged in there are LED’s in the base of the kettle which lights the whole thing up red or blue, at night it lights the whole kitchen up – its’ unusual, kids stand and look at it in awe (OK minor exaggeration) but they do find it interesting. I discovered why it needed an instruction book. The colours are intriguing. If there is no power (the plug is switched off) there is no colour, if the plug is on but the kettle is off then it’s lit up blue. If its’ boiling normally then the inside is lit up red. If its’ on keep warm and boil the inside is red (I suspect to remind you that you’ve switched the keep warm function as well as the boil). If its’ on keep warm on its’ own it is red or blue depending whether its’ heating the water up or not, It sounds confusing but it actually isn’t. It’s quite gimmicky but I’m actually not sure whether it really serves any useful purpose.

                              There is a little button on the top, the keep warm button, which can be pressed either during or after boiling it then keeps the water at a fixed temperature (77 degrees Celsius – why 77 degrees I have no idea) whenever the temperature drops the kettle heats it up again automatically, that fascinates the grown ups – we have a result a kettle that amuses children and adults alike, and you thought it was only a kettle…. On a more serious note this keep warm function worries me a little. The button is quite easy to catch, if it got left on with a small amount of water it would potentially boil dry, (not to mention waste loads of electricity). The instruction manual very helpfully notes Never allow the kettle to boil dry or drop below the minimum mark. With the kettle filled to the maximum level (1.7 litres) the kettle can be left with the keep warm function for up to 12 hours. Although to be fair there is an automatic cut off in the event that the kettle does boil dry (No I haven’t tested that bit – well not yet anyway)

                              I discovered that the Kettle boils quite quickly, its’ got a 3000 watt fast boil element (which is hidden inside the kettle - avoids problems with different types of water and makes it easier to clean). It’s easy to fill, either down the fairly wide spout or by lifting the lid (which is hinged and fixed to the kettle). The only real maintenance that it needs is a very infrequent cleaning of the filter, I’ve haven’t had it long I’ve only done it once when I first bought it, which is dead easy, the manual explains how to do it.

                              The kettle also, very helpfully, has measurements on the outside to show how much water is inside it.

                              The only real problem that I have experienced with the kettle is that the spout shape is not perfect, if you’re not careful pouring it there can be a tendency for hot water to spill over it. I gather this can be a problem with a number of kettles. Whilst the kettle is a jug kettle its’ got a fat bottom and narrower top, makes it harder to knock over. It lives on a stand with a raised plug thing (very technical I know) in the middle, once you’ve put the kettle on its’ base you can swivel it around for ease of access to the handle. So it can be used by either left or right handed people. The electric cable wraps away under the base so you can adjust the length depending on where the kettle is in relation to the plug socket. The handle itself is firm and chunky, with a non slip grip on it. It’s clear that some thought has been given to the safety features.

                              When I decided to write this Review I thought that I’d collect some data and do some field tests (OK - I'll the truth - I wanted to play...):-

                              Weight (I had to find some scales to do this (in my house not easy – but I managed)
                              Empty: 1kg (about 2.2 pounds)
                              Containing 500ml (just under a pint of water) 1.5 kg (about 3.3 pounds)
                              Full containing 1.7l (about 3 pints) 2.6 kg (about 5 and a half pounds)

                              How long to boil (It boils fast enough for me) – using ice cold water
                              Containing 500ml 1 min 20 seconds (I even got to play with a stopwatch)
                              Full containing ice cold water 1.7 l 3 minutes 10 seconds

                              The Kettle does what I want it to, its’ got a few novelties (lights etc). It is fairly lightweight and easy to use, is easy to grip and handle (and was a bargain), it also holds enough fluid and is fairly easy to fill, the only negative is that you need to exercise care when pouring (but shouldn’t you always when handling boiling water…). So would I recommend it. Yes its’ a good, well made, solid product.. It currently retails from £29.50 to £38.99

                              For some reason dooyoo seem to think that it is a TV - hence the stuff about picture quality - I'd just ignore that if I were you

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                              • Canon Pixma iX4000 / Inkjet Printer / 47 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                                19.03.2007 18:24
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                                One of the Best on the Market

                                I bought a Canon Pixma ix4000 about four months ago. I'm not a technical expert, either in computers or in printers, so this review may be bit lacking in some technical details.

                                I already have a Sharp AL1457D (a multi purpose laser printer, scanner and copier) which I use for most day to day printing. The sharp only prints out onto A4 and is Black and white. I like taking photographs so I set out to buy an extra printer that was good for photographs and could handle A 3 printing, occasionally I need to print out some poster sized stuff. I also wanted something that wasn't going to cost a fortune to run, I had been using a Lexmark colour printer which only took one cartridge which I thought was expensive.

                                I had a look around and decided on the Canon. I paid about £225 for it, I've checked and you can get them now for around £170 (sods law really).

                                The Canon meets all of my needs. It prints up to A3, fairly quickly (especially if its' B&W and A4). it produces excellent quality photographs (both colour and black and white), to look at them you would think that they were produced by a Professional photo Lab, they are that good. I take lots of digital photos using a Canon EOS 300D. The printer produces stunning picture quality that is just awesome, the subtlety of tones are great. I took some photos in the autumn in the peak district with the sun going down the quality of the shadows is amazing.

                                Incidentally I've printed out, recently, quite a few Black and White photographs. The image quality is exceptional, in some ways its harder to get shades and tones right in Black and White than colour, well this printer does it.

                                The man who sold it me told me that its all to do with the droplet size of the ink and the fact that Canon Full-photolithography Nozzle Engineering (FINE) creates accurate inkjet nozzles. OK I don't really understand it either all I know is that it works. I've also been told that the ink canon uses for the printer lasts for years. I don't know if it does ask me in ten years time.

                                Its' also compatible with my camera and also pictbridge compatible, which is a bit of a bonus. It also prints direct from memory cards. I've never printed out this way, usually because I've used photo editing software. But it will take Compact Flash (Type 1 and 11), Microdrive, Smartmedia, Multi Media Card, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro.

                                It will also take Mini SD, xD Picture card, Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick Pro Duo - but you need to buy a separate adaptor.

                                The Printer comes with some Canon Software - I've never used it - I tend to use photoshop or microsoft digital imaging. The Canon stuff is Canon Photo Record (allos you to create digital albums) and Canon Easy Photoprint (a fairly basic editing package) and Canon Easy Web Print - which is useful as it makes it easier to print out web pages. It also makes duplex printing easier

                                It's also not particularly noisy, its' louder than the laser printer but not intrusive, I can still work whilst its' printing without being distracted, its only about 2 feet away from my desk, so noise isn't an issue.

                                I also wanted something that was more efficient in terms of ink. The Canon has four ink cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow). Apart from the first set of Cartridges, which didn't last that long, (I gather that the free ones that come with it are only half full...something most manufacturers do...) the replacements have all lasted well. They're not cheap but equally they're not undully expensive. You get what you pay for.

                                In terms of Ink - it has a nifty system of telling you when the individual cartridges are empty. Each individual ink tank has a built in LED - when the ink is low it flashes periodically, when it is empty it keeps flashing, quite quickly. Something I learned early on is that there is still quitea bit of printing in the tank when it starts with the slow flashing. Gives you adequate time to pick the cartridges up. It also flashes if you put it in the wrong way.

                                In terms of speed, standard A 4sized, I tend to get around 16 pages a minute (I've only used it a few times for B&W - normally when I've forgotten to pick up new toner for the sharp), that said black and white text is crisp and clear. Colour speed is variable around 4 - 12 pages a minute, depending on what I'm printing. That's a bit slower than the book says but its' fast enough for me. If I print out on A3 in colour it takes much longer, even A4 can take longer if I print out on colour with the settings on Fine. The type of paper also has an impact. So its' actually fairly difficult to give precise speeds.

                                All in all it was a good purchase. the only real drawback was setting it up in the first place.

                                It arrived in a big box full of packaging, canon must have shares in whoever makes polystrene.... after I unpacked it I was unhappy to discover that it didn't come with a USB cable. I then turned the house upside down to find a spare. I put the print head in and inserted the ink cartridges. Before buying it I'd been told it was fairly easy to set up. I'd read a few reviews saying it was "fairly straightforward". well it wasn't, perhaps its' my fault for not being a technical expert. Anyway after about an hour and being ready to throw it through the window a few times I got it to work. I had a problem installing the drivers. Anyway It worked and I got to play, the anger and annoyance evaporated when I saw the quality of the photos.

                                Since then I have used it to print out loads of photos and I have never had a problem with it. There is a bit of ongoing servicing that is supposed to be done, there's a bottom plate that should be cleaned, I haven't yet, it catches ink from borderless prints and you should clean it off occasionally or it can catch other photos etc. I will at some point. It also has never jammed or chewed up paper (yet - touch wood)

                                It ticks all the boxes for me, it does everything I want.

                                For those who need technical detail:-
                                Its' an Inkjet colour photprinter that weighs about 9kg and is compatible with pc's and mac's. It works on USB connections and prints, importantly for me, with a max colour resolution of 4800dpi x 1200 and is pictbridge enabled.

                                It is quite a big printer - you need a lot of space to fit it in. The Width is 60.1cm, Depth 31,2cm - so it has quite a big footprint (then it does print A3), for completeness the height is 19.3cm

                                It prints on almost any sort of paper you want it to up to and including A3. It has a sheet feeder of 150 sheets (which isn't particulary big but is adequate). It will also print borderless. It will print on paper weighing anything from 64g/m2 to 273g/m2 (Kodak Ultima photopaper is 270g/m2 - most are less than that).

                                It needs windows 98 or better or MacOS X 10.2.8 or later (at this point I'm copying off the instruction book). talking of the Instruction Manual, its' helpful and fairly welll written. i could understand what I had to do to set it up I just couldn't do it. The Manual is actually extremely useful.

                                Set up problems to one side it has been an excellent investment. I would seriously recommend it

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