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I ordered two pairs of shoes from Samuel Windsor through The Times offer in August 2007. The deal was, £60 for two pairs of shoes, plus £4.95 P & P, delivery within 10 working days.
After a few days, I got letters explaining that due to overwhelming demand, my shoes would be delayed - one pair until early September, one pair until late September. At this time, no payment was taken from my Credit Card
These letters were followed up by more..and more...until October, when allegedly a pair of shoes was dispatched to my address in Perthshire - except I have no address in Perthshire. Because the shoes were dispatched, the full amount was then billed to my credit card, despite my contacting Customer Service and highlighting that I has not received any shoes. Since Samuel Windsor refused to stop the demand for money, I contacted the credit card company and got the payment stopped.
More letters arrived until in November a pair of shoes finally arrived. Their quality is nothing special, despite the "£99" label on the sole. Having worn them for a couple of weeks the heels are cracking, as though they are falling off.
Because I had stopped the payment with my credit card, I started to receive letters threatening my with court action and bailiffs unless I paid in full (£64.95) I refused, settled the outstanding amount and cancelled the second pair. I am still receiving letters telling me that my shoes will be delivered in late January - 5 months after ordering, and slightly longer than the 10 working days promised.
In summary - the company sell second rate shoes under the banner of "hand-made", fail to live up to quality, customer service or contractual terms. I would urge everyone to avoid this company at all costs - and make sure you avoid their 0870 customer service number!!
Scot Airways are one of the relatively small airlines in the UK ? they fly from some of the smaller airports in the UK (Dundee, Southampton, Edinburgh, London City) and also Amsterdam. The business model they operate is not the low-cost airline model ? you get reserved seats, they have two classes of travel (allegedly, but I?ll come back to that later) and they do provide refreshments (of a sort?I?ll come back to that too!), although they advertise low cost fares. As far as I m concerned, the jury has returned a verdict on that ? and it isn?t good news! OK, flying with an airline, what?s important?safety, price, comfort, extras?.so I?ll focus on those key points. I?ve flown with Scot a few times, primarily because they fly from my local airport (Southampton) to Amsterdam, which is a major hub for world-wide flights. Safety. They are as good as any airline, in that they don?t tend to fall out of the sky. The fleet is all relatively modern, comprising seven Fairchild Dornier 328-100 aircraft. To the uninitiated, that?s prop driven smallish planes, seating about 30 people. Usual drill inside, seat belts etc ? so they are OK on that score, don?t worry. Price. Not good news here. Given the extras involved (or rather the lack of) the price is steep. My return flight to Amsterdam, fixed flights, economy, was £270. You can get a lot cheaper from Squeezy et al (see previous review on them) so these guys are certainly trading on the local airport card. As I mentioned earlier, there are two classes of ticket, economy and business. The business ticket weighs in at about £275 each way, giving you the advantage of the Business Lounge and?bigger seats? No, there is no difference in the seats in the cabin. Better service and crockery? Well, you do get a bottle of wine in the on
-flight service, but otherwise no difference. You do get flexibility in the ticket, you can change flights easily. I wanted to change my ticket and was told it would cost an extra £75, but there were no economy seats left ? so I would have to pay the full £275 to change the flight. THERE ARE NO DIFFERENT SEATS ANYWHERE!!! Scot Airways like to run with some seats set aside ?just in case? Extras. Hard pushed on this one. You get a soft drink, a Kit-Kat and cup of tea in the service ? or in Business Class, you get a Kit-Kt, cup of tea AND a bottle of wine! At that price, I hope it was a Mouton Cadet! Baggage & Handling. There is one desk to check in, in Amsterdam, and it doesn?t offer flexibility ? you turn up and wait for the Check-in staff to turn up. That?s it. There are two in Southampton. They are not well served with ground crew and be warned, their ticketing system does not allow them to check you in for onward flights. Your bags can be checked through, you can?t (not sure how that works either, but that is what happens, trust me!) You need to get to a transit desk in Amsterdam to do the rest. Punctuality. Variable, so the above point should be noted. I have had some exercise in Schipol that would do credit to Linford (but his lunch box is more impressive still!) So there you go?They are not great, not great value, but convenient. I hate Heathrow so this crowd are better than the drive around the M25 in the morning with the current roadworks. I?m lucky ? I?m not spending my money. If I was, I?d be on the motorway right now!
For interest, this is about a Citizen Modena Perpetual Eco-Drive watch. Long title, fancy thing for a watch! I use to have digital watch when I was a lad, but grew out of them fairly rapidly. I liked the look of some analogue watches and bought a Seiko for about £30 around 14 years ago. This was OK, but the leather strap broke. Fix that, replace the battery and I?ve doubled the cost of the original purchase. When the oil reservoir ran out and I would have to treble the cost to get it repaired, I got a watch from Marks and Spencer. Similar deal, lasted a few years and strap went, then the battery. Moved up market and got a Timberland watch for around £100...(silly me, name like that, you?d think it would last.) The strap went and then the watch started to rust where the lacquer wore off, after less than 4 years. So, I looked around for another watch? Criteria?no batteries, metal strap, lightweight, dual time zone. I got so frustrated stopping the watch to change time zones, especially when you change time zones on a daily basis at times! Sure way to make sure your watch is inaccurate. So, I looked around and found the Citizen range of watches. Very nice, very stylish, some very classic, quite expensive. However, there are some redeeming features if you think about the life of the watch. So here goes?. Weight. The watch is Titanium cased and the strap is titanium. This was a plus, since it co-ordinates with the rods in my back. That apart, it makes the watch strong, corrosion proof (rust free!!) and nice to look at. Battery. None, part from the rechargeable built into the watch. The watch will run for three years in the dark and a days normal wear will charge the battery up. The watch dial is the solar panel and it will auto detect the lack of light and stop the
second hand. As soon as there is light, off it goes again! Accuracy. About 2 seconds per two months, from experience so far. Date ? Perpetual up to 2100. Given I expect to croak it around 2068 (101!) I think that will suffice. Once the month is set, there is no need to set the date again ever, it knows about Leap Years etc. Dual Time. You can set a second time zone by adjusting the bezel to L.Tim and then pulling the bezel out and turning it. The watch keeps going on your home time, but also remembers the time zone you are in. Simply twisting the bezel a couple of clicks switches between the two zones ? wonderful. Once you pull out and twist the bezel couple of clicks, the hour advances by one then stops ? easy to jump four time zones for example. Alarm. OK, but wouldn?t want to rely on it for an important meeting. Lasts about 20 secs and is annoying but no more. Chrono ? no idea, never used it, but it?s there. Water resistance ? Allegedly 200 meters, so good for about 10-15 meters of diving. Certainly enough to use when bathing the kids. OK, price. Got mine through the ?Net for about £255. Expensive, but I figured I was spending between £60-100 every four years on ordinary watches and this puppy should last for about another 64..so a nett saving of about £1000! It?s also as pretty as the Gucci I already have, so will double as a dress watch! Not for everyone, but practical, robust, useful watch that keeps good time and is free to run. I would certainly recommend it to people ? I bought one for my wife! PS - Why like Natasha Kaplinsky - cos it looks good and tells me what I need to know!!
Novatech are a supplier of computer and technology parts, in the mould of Dabs, E-Buyer and others. They are not a chain, they are based in Portsmouth, but they work over the web and accept internet orders. You can drive down to the store and collect your order, should you desire, but the petrol versus the delivery makes me prefer the comfort of my office. I wanted to buy a couple of webcams to be able to see the family whilst travelling. A friend had bought a Logitech QuickCam recently and was happy with it, so based on that recommendation, I thought I would buy a couple of these. Once they arrive tomorrow, I'll maybe review their performance.... Back to Novatech. Started in 1987, they are based in Portsmouth and ship products all over the UK. They are very competitive on price (I'll come back to that in a minute) and run a professional internet order service. The website is easy to find and navigate, even for a dummy like me. Finding the website, you can track down your desired goods either through manufacturer or through type (i.e. webcam) or even do a search on the item you want - normal stuff then! Adding the goods to the basket and ordering is easy and is secure - very large Verisign symbol next to the Account Management enables you to test the security of the site. Viewing the basket and the goods is all straight forward, paying even easier (isn' t that always the case!) Once the goods are ordered, an automated system will follow up wth the summary of the goods, their price and the estimated delivery. This is the only problem area! I ordered two Logitech webcams, which were inidcated as 3 -5 days Internet delivery. OK, I thought, that's fine since the P & P is only £1.79. But then the email went on to mention that since the goods
were out of stock, despatch would be about 2 days later....Still fine. The email also contains a link to check the status of your order, which I followed. There, the website shows that the suppliers (as well as Novatech) are out of stock and the delivery date can be requested. I clicked on the request button and was informed that I would get an email within 4 hours to let me know the delivery date - sure enough I did, telling me not before 7th May (order placed on 21st April). Fair to their word, I get an email on Thursday 6th telling me that the items were being despatched, with a link to the DHL website with my consignment number. There I can see where my package is, where it was picked up and when it will be delivered. Price. Well, Amazon are selling my webcam for £29 plus delivery. Argos are selling them for £39-95, plus delivery from on-line ordering. Novatech are selling them for £16-28 plus VAT plus £1.79 delivery - put another way, I get 2 webcams for 41 pence more than the Argos price? Cheap? Even Jordan isn't as cheap as that, and that's saying something. Service. OK, a delay in receiving the goods, but the order process kept me informed all the way through. Automated system, but this an internet order, so I don't expect anything else. Delivery price - excellent (cheap!) I can see why Novatech are growing. They sell goods quickly, get the dosh before they've been invoiced and with good working capital, pass the savings on. Works for me. I'll be using Novatech again, based on an informative syste, easy to use website and cheap prices. They beat DABS and others in this case, but it still doesn't hurt to shop around...If they were in Southampton instead of Portsmout, it would
be excellent. Still it's kind to give Portsmouth something nice, other than the M27 out of it!
I would like to say that I know all about the interest rates on credit cards - but I don't. I pay off the balance each month, so to me, the only attraction on a credit card is the "added extra". If you were expecting anything about APR's and interest rate games, quit now! This is about the quality of the service you get - not how to juggle credit. I have had a Morgan Stanley (Dean Witter) Platinum card for about four years and in that time they have paid me a cheque every year for my custom. MSDW use a policy of awarding you a percentage of your spend with them as a cheque at the end of the year. Noticeably over the years, the percentage has gone down. Initially the card paid 1/2% of the first 2k spend, followed by 1% on everything else. That changed in the last year to 1/2% on everything. Sneaky... Since I used to use the card abroad a lot, I noticed when they started adding a surcharge recently of 1% of your transaction amount for exchange rate transfers - they charge you 1% of the amount for changing from whatever currency back into good old pounds, shillings and pence. On top of that, they give you an exchange rate based on changing whatever into dollars and then into GPB - because MSDW are a US bank I presume! So what they give with one hand they take way with another. Fair enough, I can still see some advantages of using the card. All I now do is pay for as much as possible with my Amex Blue and where the Amex isn't accepted, use this. Man cannot live on cash alone, not in the modern world. Where I thought initially that MSDW gained was the Customer Service. "We're open 24/7/365" they claim - and as far as I have tested, they are. Initially you always got to spe
ak to a human being straight away, now there is an automated telephone system to navigate. After entering card number, DOB etc and the automated system telling you you're balance (But I don't want to know!!!!) you hold and are eventually connected to a human being. Takes a while, but at least the call is free (0800 number) Now, if you have a problem with a transaction, you talk to the Chargeback Department. I am probably going to malign people here, but, speak as you find - the whole review is, after all, based on experience, not the ideal world. I had a problem with Europcar, covered in a previous review, the crux of the matter being that I was charged for damage to a car (cigarette burn) which I didn't do - for the record Europcar, I DON'T SMOKE!!! They included the charge for damage into the rental charge and this I disputed, via MSDW. MSDW's charge back department were somewhat haphazard. I had to chase them for the normal dispute forms (twice) then explain the situation over the phone to get the charge suspended (placed into dispute). The process then began for the charge to be taken to a tribunal with Mastercard. In the meantime, MSDW's rules say that any item in dispute for more than 13 weeks are automatically released - so I then had to chase them to place the item back into dispute. MSDW represented me/their own interests to Mastercard and won the case - plus costs. Strike one to MSDW!! Since that time, MSDW were (allegedly) paying the remainder of the money owed to Europcar. I paid them the balance, net result, matter closed. Not so. MSDW sent the money somewhere, but not to Europcar. So now, I have paid MSD
;W and I am being taken to court by Europcar for non-payment. Trying to get MSDW to engage now is like knitting fog - not our problem, we've paid everything, got all the documentation to prove it. Documentation - Chasing MSDW, I am quoted the Data Protection Act and the divulgence of information. According to Section 7, 8 and 13, you are entitled to get information about or pertaining to you, in hard copy - MSDW don't appreciate this and I am fighting to get the information about where my money has gone from MSDW, so I can pass the trail on to Europcar. MSDW refuse point blank to do this on my behalf, Data Protection Act gov, more than my job's worth!!! So, my experience of MSDW - good to start, but things go downhill. Benefits are eroded and the facade wears thin. I don't think they are the worst credit card supplier, but they aren't the best either. There comes a point where they are not interested any longer. I've used MBNA, RBS, AMEX, EGG and all vary - some give you less and are OK, others give you more and help less. Summary - MSDW used to be one of the best freebie cards on the market, IMHO. Now, the story has changed. They give a little, but miss out on a lot. I'm beginning to get the impression that with Credit Cards, you get what you pay for...so I may be getting a Lloyds card soon Good spending...!!!
Never land in Moscow after a plane of Koreans! I landed in Sheremtyevo and it was early afternoon on Ladies Day (this is a National Holiday for, you guessed it, Ladies!) Once you get off the plane, you have to go through the dreaded immigration. Oh boy, that is fun! There are five channels for foreigners and two for Russian citizens. Fine, a bit like the UK. Except that for each foreigner, you need documentation, plus visa and this takes between 5 to 10 minutes per person (and for the Koreans, because of the communication difficulty, we are talking 10!) Multiply that by about 150 and you get the idea! So, you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. After one and a hald hours of not moving, I chanced going through the Russian channel. After all, I reasoned, I already was at the back of the queue, so what more could happen to me? Be sent back there? Another difference between Sheremtyevo and Heathrow is that the Security personnel on show are all young ladies in very fetching mini-skirts. Very distracting, but I guess they knew that the foreigners would be there for a while and the girls would stop a riot. I figured if I was going to get pulled in and questioned, it could be worse than these girls... Anyway, getting through the immigration is a long process and took over two hours. Then you go through the Customs, filling in the forms to describe all items of value (laptop, mobile phone, currency, watch etc) Then you get out into the zoo area - crowds milling and general chaos. But then you get outside the airport and try the car park system and the roads! When it is snowing in Moscow, everything looks wonderful, but the roads and pavements are filthy! Beware, shoes, trousers and coats will all get filthy very quickly! Sheremtyevo is a long way from the centre of Moscow,a
bout an hour in the taxi. The driving is OK, a bit scary at times! Whe you get dropped off at Departures though, expect to walk a ways to get into the Terminal. Then you need all baggage X-rayed and you walk through the metal detector...just to get into the building. Getting into the terminal is OK, but they will not let you check in before exactly two hours prior to the departure. Once they announce the Gate, the problems begin. You need to fill in nother Customs formin duplicate and get that signed and your passport checked. Then you check in - but you have to get all your bags X-rayed again of course. Check in, drop the bags and then you get to the immigration again. Oh boy, they make you feel uncomfortable - repeated checks against the passport photo (OK, so I look a miserable s**, but that's no excuse!!!) Once you get through this, you are into the duty free area. This is a relatively small area and not the cheapest, nicest or most friendly. There are cheap things to be had (Crnberry vodka, for example, but I would be careful - evrything is charged in dollars, not as it seems) The airport itself is very Eastern European - that will only mean something if you've been to Hungary or Poland or Slovenia for example. The buildings are functional, without charm, cheap wood panelling (like bad 70's G-Plan) and, although clean, have an air of decay and neglect about them. The windows are saved for the holding pens before you get on the plane (would call them gates, but they are more like a pen!) You need the airport, it is functional, but don't expect to look forward to spending quality time there - it is basic, functional and that's as good as it gets!
Moscow is a lovely city. The buildings are inspirational to look at, the people are very friendly and the way the lights are used on buildings and bridges are lit up at night is wonderful. Hotels are a different matter. If you are a grockle (non-local) then you need to have a hotel booked by an official Travel Agent to get the documentation required to get a visa (unless you have multi-entry business visa, which requires an HIV test!!!) and hotels for grockles are expensive! As a result, I ended up at the Radisson Slavyanskaya. Not an easy name to say, but afer about a week I got it off pat. The hotel looks very nice with the sculpture and the fountain out the front, especially nice with the footbridge lit up next to it at night. The hotel is next to the river, a fair distance from key landmarks like the Kremlin, but is very close to a lovely heating plant - my bedroom looked out onto two wonderful chimneys. That said, it is convenient to places like Arbat Street (THE place to go out for beers and to be seen having beers in Moscow) Inside the hotel, the reception area looks a bit shoddy, no single thing that points to that impression, but there is a general air of old Soviet about it. The rooms are similar, they are very comfortable but there are odd touches that indicate that they have been superficially revamped. They all have minibars, internet access and phones - -but don't bother trying to get an international line, they are always busy. Even trying to use a calling card with a local number was a futile exercise - but the mobiles work just fine! The future is Orange as they say... The hotel foyer is something to see, with shops of all sizes and costs, you can buy underpants and a Faberge egg to go with them, should you desire (and your purse strings stretch to it!) You can also buy Russ
ian dolls too. Hhmm, underpants and dolls - what would Freud say! The hotel also boasts a cinema and seems to be a favourite haunt of the Moscow Mafia - I got swept out of the way by two Jeeps with blackened out windows, out of which jumped thugs wearing all black, guarding a guy who did a credible imitation of Danny De Vito. Still it takes all sorts. The bar is an open affair, just off the foyer. No real atmosphere, but it is not frequented by the girls of negotiable virtue which inhabited the bars of all the other hotels I visited (At one bar, there was a girl who may only have been wearing four pieces of clothing, and you could certainly see three of them..I think the fourth cost 200 Euros...) The restaurants are expensive, but the Russian buffet was wonderful - recommend the borscht. The sushi restaurant was great but hugely expensive (It is SO nice when someone else pays!) I don't think the hotel was worth the money, it is aimed to rip off foreigners. Everything is costed in CU (currency units) since the Rouble is devalueing so fast that they can't keep up with it - so the Rouble - CU exchange is shown at reception and everything else in the hotel then is priced in CU's. Even so, it is VERY expensive! The hotel had things like an Exchange Bureau and an ATM, but you are best off taking Euro's or Dollars and changing only when required. I survived with Euro's - taxis prefer them since they are a stable currency. Overall, I think there are better hotels to stay in, but if you don't want to mix with some of the seedier side of life, this will do nicely. Dosvidanya!
There are some hotels that you really warm to as soon as you walk in the door. Maybe the fact that the Hilton had someone waiting for me at the airport with a sign, the airside of Customs and with a car outside was something to do with it. Maybe it was because I got an upgrade to a "junior suite". Maybe it was because the Receptionist flirted a bit and made me smile when I went through the normal boring formality of checking in? Who knows - but there was something about the hotel. The location of the hotel is not the most impressive view wise, but it is central to Bucharest. Travel from the airport is about 1/2 hour, and the hotel provides a shuttle bus to the airport as required. The hotel is very olde-worlde, dating back to the 1920's. A lot of the original decoration is still in place, but modern features (speedy lifts etc) have been married in to provide a wonderful base to stay in. The hotel boasts, of all things, an English bar and has a good selection of beer, including Kilkenny (Irish!). There is a cigar club, which meets monthly to provaricate, combust and ingest tobacco (and drink some of the HUGE range of malt whiskies available.) The restaurant provides reasonable value for money, but there is the attention to detail, with finishing touches on the meals being evident, knowledgable and friendly staff being present, but not overly so. Fully recommend trying the local dishes - they are extremely tasty and not too filling The rooms are as per most hotels in the world. They are clean, provide all the necessary features and are a reasonable size. The junior suites are actually rather large...not so big though, that you need a map! All mod cons provided - safe, internet access, hot water, complimentary bottled water (and piped Chris de Burgh and Enya - is that a plus or a m
inus, I wonder?) From the hotel, within about 10 minutes walk, are some of the really interesting buildings - the Atheneul Roman Concert Hall and the National Art museum for example. The taxis are common, easy to get and the Concierge and Doormen are extremely helpful with directions. If you want to go somewhere interesting, glimpse some of the former Soviet architecture, try some good beer (Ursus) and relax in comfort, try the Athenee. If you are lucky, like me, you'll get a chocolate cake left in your room, compliments of the management. Who wants a little chocolate on your pillow - give me the cake! Noroc! (that's good health in Romanian!) I'll be back there as soon as I can.
I like toys. Preferably techno toys. That's why I bought the Olympus camera last week. Once I figure out how to use the thing, I'll write a review on it! Digital cameras need memory cards of some description. There are various types, my Sony uses the chewing gum shaped ones, the Olympus uses the xD card. This card type was developed between Fuji and Olympus and is amazingly small - think of something the size of a postage stamp for 256 Mb of memory and you get the general idea. As with all camera memory, it's a bit on the pricey side, so you tend to shop around to try and find the cheapest deal. I bought my camera from a local shop since they sold for the same price as Amazon (which was the cheapet price I could find) but I could get my grubby mitts on the goods immediately. The memory card was a different situation - the same local store were asking £100 and even when pushed for a discount for cash, they could only get to £90. I checked Amazon and they were selling for £98.49, but offered new and used for £72.19. "Hmmm" went the old grey matter, "Cheap stuff, lets have a look." Click on the link and it takes you into a sub-section of the vast site - where the partners/associates of Amazon sell through the marketplace. There is the card I want, for sale at £72.19, new, boxed, guaranteed. Not only that, but you pay through Amazon, so a reputable organisation to boot. What can go wrong I wonder? Absolutely nothing. I order as per normal and the delivery charge is added to the total price, giving me a grand total of £77.20 for a card that was £90 cheapest offer anywhere else. Order it and I get a confirmation email from Amazon, stating the order and moeny has been deducted. Within an hour, I have an email from Digifocus
, the Amazon partner, telling me that they are processing the order and that I should check the order they have received from Amazon and let them know if it is wrong. No, everything looking good so far. Within 4 hours I get a message saying that the order is processed, despatched and with Parcel Force - expect delivery before 3:00 pm tomorrow. The email also requests that I confirm back to them on receipt of the goods, to let them know I'm a happy bunny. Today, 11:00 am, Parcel Force have gone and there is my memory card. Less than 24 hours and 23% cheaper than Amazon, I have my card through Amazon. Digifocus do no have a website, but sell through the Amazon site (and others I would imagine) I have now been sent a followup email, thanking me for my custom and giving me a name and number to contact for future business. Digifocus are established with Amazon, having sold through them for over 2 years. There are 475 (now 476) comments on the Amazon website giving feedback on them, everything I saw was 4/5 or 5/5. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone base on my experience of price and delivery. Remember the name if you want some low price techno toys or bits...you'll be sorry if you're don't.... PS - price today is £69.98....Grrrrrr!!!!!!
I bought this book from Asda and I'm glad I did. I say that because at least I didn't have to pay the cover price for it - I would really have been annoyed to pay the full price for this story. The plot of the story - "Will someone rid me of this turbulent priest?" Anyone old enough to try and wade through the 927 pages of this book will remember the attempt on the Pope's life - this is basis of this story and therefore you know the ending of the book. What Clancy does is try and fill in some of the historical blanks with fiction/researched fact or bunkum. Who will know the truth? Brehznev and other characters of the political scene at the time are woven in there too, some The story is a jump back in the life of, you guessed it, Jack Ryan. This story occurs after the IRA storyline (Patriot Games) but before the remainder of the series and see Clancy filling out characters such as the Foleys. They are high placed CIA agents in the later books, this details their development. I guess from a character potrayal, there is a depth of focus, but I'm sorry, detailed descriptions of cigar smoking, nicotine stained teeth and clandestine meetings are not my thing. The Red Rabbit in question is a defector who is the key to the outcome of the assasination attempt. Red, 'cos he's Russian, Rabbit because he wants to run. Lots of detail again about the character, his family and their Russian lifestyle. So there we have the plot. Russaans want to kill the Pope for his views and stance on things, all the powerplay of Russian politicians is described in great detail, nice man with conscience and family wants to escape nasty, oppressive, cold, dark, Communist country and come to live with the good, kind, lovely Americans in the land
of the free and the home of the...Big Mac. Some people in a country called Britian help a bit. In a changing world, the number of plausible scenarios for a writer like Clancy is declining. With this book, it seems to me, he is trying to keep his income boosted, mainly by playing on previous good work like Sum of all Fears, Clear and Present Danger and Debt of Honour. Clancy has branched out into Op-Centre, Powerplays and NetForce (although he seems to have franchised those now) They are a new style of book for a new world political situation. Sorry Tom, but Jack Ryan has been shot, saved the world numerous times, survived China invading Russia...I think he is ready for a bus pass and hanging up the CIA pass for good.
"So where's the other one?" I asked the Parcel Force guy. "Sign 'ere" he replied, thrusting a handheld and a stylus out to me. And so it begins I think to myself. What am I talking about? I ordered a box full of goodies from Screwfix, those stalwarts of the daytime satellite and cable channels. Who? Well, they were an independent company who were acquired by Kingfisher (a la Ellen Macarthur), the nice people behind Messrs Bodged and Quickjob (B & Q). They sell hardware and tools to DIY'ers and trade folk. Not only that, but they also sell at greatly reduced prices compared to people like B & Q - mainly because they sell in higher quantities and they don't have a high street or retail park footprint. The price differential between B & Q and Screwfix is anywhere up to 4 times the price - I bought screws from Screwfix at just over £2 for 200 - B & Q were selling the same screws for over £2 for 50. The difference? Someone had to split a large pack and then bag the smaller quantity, which all costs - and guess who pays? Back to my problem. Check the reviews on the Screwfix website (www.screwfix.com) and you'll see the comments about Spanish inquiries for goods that were missing or any delivery problems. That was why my heart sunk. I had ordered some shelf supports (5 feet long) and the box delivered was just over 3 feet. Now, when I was at school, you couldn't fit a quart into a pint glass or get a five foot support into a smaller box without turning it into a banana. Check the box - sure enough, they are missing. OK, get on the phone. Very helpful guy, he checked for items being out of stock or on back order. "Must be the last job of the day" he jokes. "Right, we'l
l get those sent this morning". No fuss, no hassle, no questions. Next day, as promised, four supports looking very lonely in a big box arrived from Parcel Force. "This what you're looking for?" the Parcel Force guy asks. Screwfix have redeemed themselves and gone the extra mile every time I have contacted them. The goods they sell are appropriate quality for the price - by that, I mean you aren't going to get a drill suitable for heavy trade use for £30 - it'll cost £200, but that's still maybe 10 -15% less than elsewhere. If you buy the cheaper tools, they won't last as long, but if you use a cordless drill once a year to put Christmas decorations, the cheap one will last you about 300 years.... Screwfix sell Ferm tools with a 3-year guarantee. They are cheap and well made, if you do flog them to death, Screwfix will replace them....what more could you ask? I killed a cordless drill that only had a 12 month guarantee, four months outside the guarantee period. Screwfix credited the value of that drill against a new one with no questions, and then sent someone to pick up the old drill. Top marks Screwfix! Quality of their laminate flooring was excellent - 5 years on the floor and still looks good, in spite of my children abusing it with cutlery, food, plates, toys etc daily. Browse them online, they are fairly easy to navigate, but the paper catalogue is easier to browse and work through. You do need to know what you want in the way of fixings though, easy to get confused over Turbo Extra, Turbo Gold and Quicksilver Twinthread!! One thing I can't recommend enough if you are a parent - the rechargeable batteries. They cost about £8 for 4 AA Ni-Mh, which can be recharged about 1000 times and hold their charge much longer than, say, Duracell.
Pricey to start with, but they do pay for themselves big time. Same batteries and charger were about £6 more expensive in B & Q. Delivery from Screwfix. That's the only thing. There is a threshold of £45 for free delivery. If you get to £40 on your order, it is worth ordering extra to get the free delivery - the cost is the same, but you get more for your money essentially! I've got a group of friends who club together to get the order value up - it is really easy to spend that much money! If you don't get to that amount, delivery is £5-95, so the savings depend on how much you spend... Ordering and delivery - I ordered last night at 17:18, the box was here about 10 minutes ago. All goods correct and accounted for (but then, thirteen Ni-Mh batteries and a few light bulbs would be hard to get wrong.) I haven't had any problems at all, some people have, but I think that depends on the delivery agent. If you are a regular at Bodged and Quickjob, then think about Screwfix. You will probably spend more in the long run, but that's because you'll find all the tools you've ever thought about buying but never managed to justify - until now.
So there I am, just minding my own business when in comes an email from CD-wow. "Exclusive offer, just for you" it says. Yeah, me and the entire CD-Wow database of customers. So, investigate the email and there is an offer from Amex for a Blue Card - fill in the card and get 2 free CD-Wow vouchers, or two free CD's put another way, plus 2% cashback for 3 months and 1% after that. Knowing that I had quite a bit of furniture, tools and hardware to buy over the next few months, and given that I regularly stay in hotels (plus I'm a cheapskate) I decide to give it a go. Having filled in the forms on-line and then printed them off and sent them to Amex, I waited for the CD-Wow vouchers to come flying in. Got the new Blue, as did my wife and started spending - ouch! I'm relatively patient. I have to be, I have two kids. So after a month and no Cd-Wow vouchers, I phone Amex. 01273 number, wherever that is. From the accents of the people I spoke to on different occasions, I would suspect somewhere just outside Bangalore or maybe Pune? Anyway, regardless, I explained the situation and why I was phoning. 28 days after you first use your card, you will get the vouchers, I am told. But, I explain, I've already been using it for over 28 days (I used it within 2 hours of receiving it) "Ahh" is the reply - you'll get them within 14 days..... I already have a Corporate card, so I have set up internet access to the Green, I then add the Blue to the account. Wish they did yellow, I could go for the rainbow wallet effect. The website is a bit clunky compared to say Egg or Morgan Stanley (IMHO), but it is getting better Two
and a half weeks later, I'm on the phone again. Definitely within the next 14 days I will receive the mythical vouchers...so three weeks later I'm a bit miffed. Phoning again, I get a distinct feeling of deja vue. I then write a complaint to the online note service within the Amex website, mentioning fraudulent claims, watchdog etc. If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly.... Within 24 hours, an automated response is received telling me I will receive a response within 48 hours (like Catch 22 that, I thought) Sure enough, I got an email from Amex shortly after another 24 hours saying they were chasing up the deal - then I got a phone call from Cd-Wow, telling me they had sent the vouchers via email - sure enough they had. Happy camper then. But wait, there's more. I came back from a trip to find the postie had been and dropped off a large padded envelope. I know I've upset some people, but a letter bomb? No, opening the envelope there is a Sony Walkman inside, with a packing list that references Amex - no letter though. I think that was Amex apologising. So, in terms of service, shaky start but the follow-up was good. Would recommend the email system rather than the phone approach, it certainly gets results faster. use of the card. As per the normal, Amex are not accepted in a lot of places - Woolies, John Lewis etc. However, all the major supermarkets, petrol stations, hotels and most online stores do. The beauty is the 2% - that mounted up very quickly. Compared to some other credit cards, the conversion of currency is quite good as well. One of my other credit cards charges you a percentage fee of each transaction for daring to use Jonny Foreigners cash, and gives you a poor rate of exchange for the total as well (and now
only give 1/2% cashback!) Amex give you a reasonable rate of exchange, no separate feed and still give 2% (initially) cashback. Overall, I'm a little Blue convert. Amex have given me a CD player, 2 Cd's and currently one hundred and something pounds for using their card to spend money I would have spent anyway (Sainsbury's, petrol etc) The customer service redeemed itself eventually, so 4/5 for the Amex Blue. Mr Amex - can I get a Gold now?
OK, it's half French, it has some history and its in the deep South. N'Orlins is a kicking place! When you are down in Loosana, you have to go and experience New Orleans. It has everything you would imagine that it should - it has the steamboats, the impressive bridge on the way out, the great Mississippi, the French Quarter and about 200 million voodoo and black magic shops (OK, maybe I exaggerate slightly!) You probably don't realise that the origins of New Orleans date back to about 1699 when two French brothers tried to colonise the New World. The brothers teamed up with two French engineers to design a city street plan, making New Orleans one of the first planned cities in America. The French quarter has some real charm and little corners where you come across some surprising things - Jackson Square near the river, for example, was the centre of the original planned city. Add in a big dollop of fire, a soupcon of spanish ownership and it makes the city intriguing. There is of course Bourbon Street....it's a street, it's cheap, brash and very touristy. Probably get flamed for that, but why go to New Orleans to go to a street full of people getting drunk on over-priced, over-coloured (spelt with the obligatory U!) cocktails, just because that's what its famous for??? I don't do it justice, there are a lot of great Jazz clubs, nice bars and really friendly people there too, but Bourbon Street is most famous for one thing only - and mostly it's sold in plastic glasses. Move off Bourbon a bit and the atmosphere changes quite drastically. There are loads of very arty shops, full of antiques, curios and in some cases, old tat. The same could be said of Winchester, but New Orleans adds th
e French chique to it. There are some really nice places to stay in New Orleans, I stayed in the Holiday Inn French Quarter, which has the added bonus of making you wake up and wonder where you are - the rooms are the same as the ones in Heathrow, Phoenix, Sydney...you get the picture. They do have a TGI Fridays included ('scuse me, I did a lonesome Mexican wave at that point) and that's about it, except they are very handy for Mr B's, a very good Cajun bistro, excellent food and deserts! You need to dress up there, though. The Place D'Armes Hotel, just off Jackson Square, however, is excellent. It has real character, the rooms are as you would expect (warped floors, creaky floorboards, really tall windows) and they have a great courtyard that is really secluded. Both hotels are about the same price - guess which one I like best! Place D'Armes is also really handy for a great restuarant called the Gumbo Shop. The food there is fantastic (rice 'n' beans, gumbo, softshell crab and jambalaya, but there is a drawback - they only sell beer in really tiny glasses (about 1/2 pint!) or by the pitcher (about 3 pints). The Japanese tourist next to me smiled, looked at my pitcher and said "It's going to be a long night!" With comments like that, it was. When you get to the end of Bourbon Street, the vision changes and you emerge into modern day America, wide streets, shops selling cut price electrical goods (tax free sir!) and lots of other cheap goods. There is of course the Riverwalk (shopping mall) or places like the French Market, there are the Tarot readers on the edge of Jackson Square and all the Voodoo shops (yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck, "My Daddy went to New Orleans
and all I got was this Voodoo tat T shirt"), if you like that sort of thing! N'Orlins is a fantastic city, it has great spirit and real variety. There are loads of tourist traps, but the place has a great vibe. If you are travelling nearby, stop there - live it up for at least one night. Flights are really cheap, I got Gatwick to Houston to New Orleans return for about £350. Hey, you could even visit a Voodoo shop!!!???
Update: It's now May 2004, 17 months since I rented the car from Europcar, nearly a year since I paid the bill to Morgan Stanley. What do I get in todays post - a threat of "pay up or we send in the bailiffs" Morgan Stanley refuse to send information, Europcar won't talk to their bank, instead, they try and send my account to a debt recovery service. Lessons: If you want to rent a car, DON'T USE EUROPCAR. If you use Europcar, make sure you have a good credit card company If you use Europcar AND don't have a very good credit card company, GET A GOOD LAWYER!!! So, currently, I've paid the bill to my credit card company and owe nobody any money. MOrgan Stanley won't send information to anyone and won't talk to the other credit bank (Citibank). Europcar won't talk to Citibank OR Morgan Stanley - but insist that they have not had any money and are about to get my credit rating killed and take me to court! Hmm, time to get lawsuit going and stir up a hornets nest! Just another Saturday then.... ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --- Let's get a few things clear up front on this one. I don't smoke, I never have, I never will. That doesn't mean I don't like smokers or that I want smoking banned (or that I don't either!) but I just want to be unequivocal about the smoking thing. OK, now we know where we're at! My wife doesn't smoke either, nor (to the best of my knowledge) do my 3 and 1 year old! I needed a car to get from Aberdeen to see my brother and sister-in-law up in
9;lgin. Given it was December and I had my family with me, I rented a car - why Europcar? Because they had a special deal with AA members. That won't be a strong enough incentive in future, that's for sure! Arriving on a cold wet December afternoon, I hand over the obligatory license and credit card. It's dark, my youngest (then nearly one) was hungry and tired and good old BA had lost our pushchair. Getting the rental form, they highlight the damage on the outside of the car. Arriving at the car and getting the car seats installed and the bags stored, I manange to locate the damage by the car park sodium lights. Nothing else is apparent, so in we get and off we go. The car is fine, smells of cleaning solution, smaller than my normal Volvo, runs fine and goes faster when you push the pedal that makes the car louder. Does everything I want - get's me and the family from the airport to Elgin, safe, sound, dry and comfortable. My youngest son has demolished a pack of cheese biscuits and is now content too. At the destination we pile out of the car, unload the bags and go inside. The car is locked and forgotten until we return to the airport two days later, also in the afternoon. By now, BA have found our pushchair - just in time to check it back in again! At the airport, there are no Europcar staff to check the car, so we unload in the rain and the dark, walk to the terminal and return the keys. The car has been filled with petrol and has driven about 140 miles without incident. Expecting an invoice there and then, I am told I will receive th bill through the post. Nothing needs signing, so off I go - nightmare flights, hyper children etc - usual journey home! Sure enough, a couple of days later a bill from Europcar. Happy and secure in the kn
owledge that the bill will be £78.37 I open he envelope - and stare at the bill for £172.37. You know what's coming don't you? A charge of £80 + VAT (£94) for the damage to the interior of the car. On phoning up to enquire about the alleged damage, I am told tht I put a big cigarette burn in the carpet! If you dispute an item, there are two ways to go with Europcar. They can investigate (which means you pay them all the dosh, they think about it and keep your money) or you can dispute with your credit card company (they freeze the item and get Europcar's attention) If you go with the latter, Europcar refuse to talk to you anymore - guess what I did!!! Lots of letters, insurance claims forms and documents later, Europcar are still pressing for the additional money. After many calls to the credit card company, it turns out that Europcar are breaking the credit cards rules by charging both damage and rental together and are given a chance to drop the charge - they refuse. They go to arbitration with Mastercard and they lose, are forced to refund the £94 AND fined 500 Euros. Yeehaaaa! I pay the £78.37 (which I never had a problem paying since the car was fine) and the matter is closed after 6 months of wrangling... How wrong I was. 14 months after the rental, a lovely letter from Europcar, demanding the £172.37 AGAIN. Talk to the credit card company and they refer to the arbitration, documentation, proof etc. Europcar are demanding a cheque or credit card number and refute all mention of the case. They also refuse to talk to their own bank who have copies and proof of payment of the rental charge. After playing piggy-in-the-middle for a couple of days, the two sides are finally talking, hopefully putting the matter to rest. Either that, or I now have an annual
appointment with Europcar and their solicitors! Summary - Europcar car's are fine, the staff were fine, the rental was fine. If you have a dispute with them, or miss any damage, expect to be in for a really long and frustrating fight with faceless, unhelpful people who all have a "jobs-worth" attitude. Make sure you have a good credit card company behind you. Given the number of rental agencies around, there are better ones than Europcar around!
Lucky me, I get to go all over the place and someone else picks up the tab. Ahh, the jetset lifestyle, business class travel, limousines......Easyjet? Why go Easyjet? Because for the same destination, they were £321 cheaper than BA. Pretty good reason I'd say, especially when I get to spend some of the difference on beer (hee hee!) My chosen route was Luton to Aberdeen and I've travelled the route three times (return ) in the last couple of months. I've seen all the Airline programs and, sure enough, when I get to Luton, there are the vultures hanging around. Having been firmly warned by "er indoors that I was not to appear on the program, I wandered down to the check in desk. Having duly presented a passport (and watched a woman being thrown out because she hadn't read the T & C's and didn't have one) I got my boarding pass - no 32. One super mega woppa humungous burger later, arteries now requiring excess backage payments because of the cholesterol, I go to the gate for departure. Standing in our line, everyone else anxiously maintaining the uniform distance between themselves and everyone else, I look around. Just about every strata of life is represented in the gate - anxious young mum's with crying kids, hackneyed old business travellers (maybe that was a reflection!), teenagers, people going on holiday - you name it. Then we start to board. The excellent thing about Squeezy - get there early, get on early. No frills, no perks, just orderly school-like order. Whatever else you might say about the airline, the planes are new. No frills, agreed, but compared to the BA ageing fleet, the Olympic smoke preserved fleet or Thai basic fleet, the Squeezy planes are new. Got to be an advantage to a fleet with a combined age greater than that of the House of Lords..... Take-off was smooth I think (not sure, fell asleep every time) nd travel time was less than that stated. Last flight (11th Feb)
we took off 15 minutes early and arrived about half an hour early. The steward/esses have always been cheerful, even the corny jokes are at least intended to help things along, some are genuinely witty the first time you hear them. A lot better than some of the miserable staff who have to endure these nuisances called customers - typically the attitude on one airline (whom Virgin don't like...) I like Easyjet. You get what you pay for, it's fun and it has reduced air travel to what it should be - a commodity. The staff have always been helpful and friendly, the services have been on time, clean and true value for money. Secretly, I always wondered if I'd look good in orange too.....