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I think there is some sort of mini revolt going on in my house at present. All my valiant attempts to save a few quid on the weekly shopping are being rejected one by one. Last week was the budget Fromage Frais from Tesco. This week is the turn of Asda Smart Price cooked ham.
Now I have nothing against Asda, in fact I think it is a perfectly good supermarket. In fact, their fruit and veg is probably the best of all the mid range supermarkets in my opinion. I shop there occasionally; not being my local, it tends to be when I am passing that way.
So a few weeks ago while passing that way, I popped in and picked up some Asda Smart Price cooked ham. I noted the price was similar to what I am currently paying for my Sainsbury 2 for 1 offer at around the 50 pence for 10 slices. I was in a bit of a hurry and so did not really study much about the product apart from the standard 78% pork content.
My wife is vegetarian, and so that meant I didn't need to convince her to try this one. So that just left me and the kids. Obviously I am a bloke and paying most of the bills, so that's me won over without any further reasoning. So now just the tricky ones left; the little people. You won't be surprised to hear that it didn't go well.
Well once again I have to admit the clues were there, if I am honest. I opened the pack to find that the ham had what can only be described as a patchwork pattern of light and dark bits of processed meat. Now being a connoisseur of cheap ham, I have come to expect some slight imperfections in my ham. I know that ham of this type has been processed to produce the desired effect. But this ham just looks awful, and the dark bits make me wonder what I am actually about to eat. Scrub that, I don't want to know. So how about the taste?
Well, no surprises, that wasn't much of an improvement over the looks. It actually didn't taste much of ham at all. Well maybe essence of ham would be a better description. My eldest came running into the kitchen and promptly asked me if she could have some ham. She has this delightful habit of eating cooked ham on its own straight from the packet. She can devour a full packet without pausing for breath; I blame my mother-in-law completely for this. Anyway, she took a couple of slices from me and started chewing. After only a few seconds she did that delightful thing that kids do when they don't like their food, and so that little autopsy ended up in the bin.
So I was left to finish the packet myself (did I explain the bloke and paying the bills part?). My sandwiches had a dark cloud hanging over them for a couple of days after that; thankfully it lifted when my old brand was welcomed back like a long lost cousin. So only two stars for Asda Smart Price cooked ham from me and a wide birth in future I'm afraid.
I am constantly on the look out for good value alternatives to the top brand offerings being pushed at us on a daily basis. Although I am not a fan of any sort of yogurts, my wife and kids are. So I thought why not drop down a level or two and try Tesco's own Value Fromage Frais. So after about a month of switching to this brand I was all set to announce it as resounding success; almost, but not quite.
So what do you get for your 45 pence? Well, to begin with you get 6 x 60g pots. There are three flavours; Strawberry, Apricot, and Raspberry; 2 of each flavour. As you would expect the packaging is pretty basic, although Tesco do manage to display pictures of each flavour on the lids, which is a step up from some of the basic range. I do wish that sometimes the basic range could push the boat out just a little more with the presentation, as we all know that especially when we are dealing with children, the look is very important. However I accept that they are limited somewhat when producing a 45 pence product.
So, my wife announces that she isn't eating that stuff and I am off to a flying start. However, undeterred I slip a couple of pots under the noses of my children, cleverly distracting them with a Shrek DVD for the ultimate blind taste test! After a few minutes the pots are empty and no one has spoken. That's a good result in my book. So that's the way it went for a few weeks at least. However the old saying 'all good things must come to an end', well it kind of ended it. Firstly my eldest started saying she would only eat the Strawberry flavour, but in the end my wife told me that they both had stopped eating them altogether.
Looking at the yogurts' and I can't really blame them I guess. They do look quite watery. I did try to interview them about what they didn't like about them, but a part from the odd grunt about not liking them I could not put any detail to the evaluation.
To be somewhat thorough I can tell you that although there are 3 flavours, each comes in virtually identical with the stats per pot:
Calories: 55Kcal 3% of GDA
Sugar: 7.3g 8% of GDA
Fat: 0.7g 1% of GDA
Saturates: 0.4g 2% of GDA
Salt: trace less than 1% of GDA
Tesco cannot guarantee that no nuts are present.
So I switched back this week to the next level up, not the top of the range but a mid level one. They seem happy with this one for the moment at least. There are some pretty Disney pictures on this one so I guess some of the extra 50 pence will be going to Disney. Even though it was not a success for us I still think that Tesco Value Fromage Frais deserve 3 stars for effort. The quest for good value continues!
Just to be clear here, I am reviewing the online banking side of HSBC, as opposed to the actual bank itself. I make this distinction as I don't want this review to be about HSBC deals, promotions or offers. These will change frequently anyway.
I have held a current and savings account with HSBC for over twenty years now. There is only one thing that is stopping me switching to another bank for the latest cash incentive and other lucrative new customer offers. No it is not some misguided sense of loyalty. For I know that my bank are in no way loyal to me, otherwise they would not have slashed the interest rate on my accounts to virtually zero (even before the credit crunch). No, the only reason that I am reluctant to leave my bank is because I find their online banking really good. I hate to admit it but it is one of the most reliable and easy to navigate websites I have ever visited.
The current website is adaption of the original online service which I took up several years ago. The first offering came with a CD which contained the program or interface for the banking service. If memory serves me right you had to use the CD to access the service. Then you could make the internet connection (through dial up). Each CD had to be tailor made for each customer, which gave the then acceptable level of security. Now of course everything is done online and slightly different.
The website can be found at www.hsbc.co.uk. Here you have the main home page for all the UK operations. The main heading tabs are Personal and Business banking. You will be struck straight away how much the colour red dominates the website. It is perhaps for this reason that the rest of the colour schemes are kept simple, with only the use of dark grey for text and a simple white background being the norm.
I am not going to dwell on the use of Business banking as I do not use this facility. But under personal banking there are many options which include:
The above are all very interesting but most will click straight to a separate tab underneath labelled Internet banking log in. From here and you are taken to the interface that I use everyday to log in and monitor my accounts. So what is the log in process like?
Well, fairly straight forward really. You have to enter a unique customer internet banking code made up of 10 digits preceded with the IB for Internet Banking. This is provided for you when you set up your account. The second security requirement is your date of birth and the third is another 6 digit pass code. Instead of being asked for all 6 digits though you are asked for just 3, on a random basis. I have found over the years that I can rattle through this process very quickly although still feel that the level of security is adequate without being over the top. Generally the topic of online security is something becoming more and more of an issue to us all. I have not had any issues with this site (apart from the odd fake email that occasionally slips through my spam filter).
Once logged and I am presented with my account summary page, where I can view both my account balances as a headline. By clicking on an individual account and a full break down of transactions is revealed. I find the layout very readable and simple. There is a list of further options down the side including access to your direct debits and standing orders, money transfer, making payments, amending your overdraft, etc. You can look through previous statements with a few clicks, which appear to go back a full 6 years.
Making payments to other cards or utility bills is simple and straight forward, as is setting up standing orders and direct debits. As with all the big banks now days you will also benefit from the instant (almost) transfer scheme. Of course transfers between HSBC bank accounts are instant.
The message system is also simple and easy to use. On the few occasions that I have used this service to ask a question I have found the answer back within about 48 hours. This seems about the going rate I guess.
While there is no one element of the HSBC online banking service that stands out as a talking point, the whole website does exactly what you want from it. Basically you can manage your financial affairs simply, quickly and efficiently without being bombarded (too much) with adverts and distractions. Yes they will promote things on the log in page, but once logged on you are left free to navigate the straight forward and easily readable site. So even though I am getting as near as dam it zero interest on my current account, and not much better on my savings account, I have to ask myself is any other bank really offering anything more?
Over the past few months I had become aware of the existence of a five bladed razor, on some deep subconscious level at least. This shows the power of advertising, as I cannot remember where I saw it, but the feeling that it existed grew stronger until finally one day while shopping in Tesco, I was presented with a full shelf promotional display of the new Gillette Fusion range. Not only that, but on a half price offer as well!
I lasted a couple more visits before finally succumbing to the temptations of the offer and purchased the Gillette Fusion Gamer at a total of £3.74 including two cartridges. Now I am not that naïve; I understand what I have done here. I have basically purchased this razor system for about the same price as the replacement cartridges. In fact I notice that the cartridges usually cost more than this, so why am I paying nothing for the razor? To get me hooked on this device of course. Then I will be forced to buy the replacement blades at full price forever and a day.
So I am justifying this as a small treat to myself. I think that I will use it for a few weeks until the blades become worn and then go back to my old cheaper brand. Well that was the plan at least. So what do you get for your money?
Now I have a love hate relationship with packaging, and continually contradict myself when looking at it. Let me explain. The Razor comes in the now standard rigid clear plastic moulding, revealing the product clearly within. There is a stylish silver cardboard insert with the name GAMER and Gillette Fusion is etched onto the front of the plastic case with its futuristic Orange insignia resembling something from Starfleet standard issue. While it is not the most extravagant packaging I have ever seen, one could imagine from an environmental point of view; there is room for downsizing. However the simple reality is that if packaging is reduced to its simplest and most ecologically viable conclusion then it will look substandard. The idea of purchasing something of quality begins with the packaging, and so it is the consumer that demands the substance and glitter. I digress.
Nothing too much to get excited about here as a fairly basic if not well laid out double sided card is all that is presented to assist in the assembly and operation. There are a couple of labelled colour diagrams of the razor and its features, which can be summarized as follows:
1) 5 blades spaced closer together to help reduce pressure vs. MACH3.
2) Enhanced indicator Lubricating Strip.
3) Flexible Comfort Guard.
4) 1 Precision Trimmer Blade.
The precision trimmer blade has 3 further diagrams showing some of the features of use which include sideburn under the nose and moustache trimming.
In addition there is some repetition on the back of the card regarding features 1 and 4 above, as well as some simple pictorial instructions of the blade assembly. The instructions look more substantial than they actually are because they are repeated in a further nine languages.
So after a short battle with the packaging and I am in; within seconds the first cartridge is snapped into place and we are ready for action. I have to confess the razor looks very stylish with its white, blue and orange colour combination. It also has a very solid weight, making the razor feel satisfyingly substantial. Studying the cartridge itself and it does look impressive. Speaking from an engineering background, this is quite a technological achievement. I was half expecting the five blades to take up so much space that the cartridge would look cumbersome. But no, the blades are much smaller than the Mach 3 and spaced closer together. It all looks elegant and feels very good in the hand.
So after a quick face wash in warm (not hot) water and I apply my budget shaving gel and it is time for the ultimate test. I almost feel like I am letting the side down with my cheap gel, but I am not stretching to the Gillette Fusion gel as well.
After just a few strokes with the razor and I can see what all the fuss is about. This razor feels great to use. There is virtually no drag and even in the difficult areas like around the chin, I can get a great close shave. The extra blades certainly seem to help as my shave seems to take less time than say the Mach 3 and it feels closer.
When I first read about the single blade precision trimmer, my instant thought was gimmick, but on using this feature I have to bow to the Fusion designers once again, as this is a very useful feature. Basically any man who shaves will know how difficult it is to capture those bits under the nose; well no longer as this single blade does a great job of sorting these bits out. Straightening off side burns is also a doddle.
The comfort guard is also a feature that I like; even after producing one of the closest shaves I have ever had my skin felt okay with minimum redness.
After over three weeks use now I see that the lubricating strip is telling me that it is running out (The blue colour is disappearing) and there are indications that the blades are no longer as sharp as they were. So I shall be moving over to my second blade shortly. I shave once a day virtually every day so I think that this has lasted well, all things considered.
My original plan was to purchase the Gillette Fusion as a bit of a one off treat. I am starting to wonder what will really happen when the last of my two blades runs out. The truth is that I really like this razor. The quality of shave is the best I have ever had, the only issue now is the price of the replacement cartridges which of course I will have to pay full price for. On checking with Tesco and I find that the cost for 4 is £8.27, although they have an offer on at present at 2 packs for £14. This still works out at £1.75 each or £2.07 without the offer. With the Mach 3 coming in at £1.25 each, that is quite a jump in price. So although I can see where the extra money is going, am I going to make the ultimate switch to Fusion? Well, ask me again when I run out of blades, because at present I am sitting on the fence, or perhaps more appropriately my decision is dangling on a knife edge!
Pinecone Research is an online research company. Members are sent links to their email address with invitations to surveys appropriate to them. Now as you may be aware there are numerous online survey sites scattered around the internet. Pinecone is different in two ways; first it is notoriously difficult to join and second it rewards remarkably well for its surveys. Interested? I certainly was when I heard of its existence.
I have been a member of Pinecone Research for about four months now. How did I get a foot in the door I hear you ask? Well after having it recommended on the Martin Lewis site MSE, I studied a few forums, and found out that the best way to join is to stumble across a banner link on a website. Now these links come and go and exactly where they appear will depend greatly I guess on what sort of person the company feel they are looking for. Reading the forums, it was clear that finding a legitimate link was not easy. However I gave it a try and amazingly after only about twenty minutes of Google searching I found one. Using this link I was able to enter the top secret inner sanctum of Pinecone Research.
After a short registration process, there was the usual selection of questions about me, my family, job, lifestyle, etc. All the usual stuff you would expect from such a site. All this sounds good so far, so what else is on offer?
Well the site itself is quite basic, with few bells and whistles. Apart from the home page with member log in, there is a page for current surveys. Now I found this a bit odd, as surveys are by invitation only, so I guess this is a back up if your email link doesn't work perhaps. There is a newsletter page which I can best describe as obscure, as it basically contains a list of seemingly random articles on various subjects from history to trivia games. I am not saying that some of them are not interesting but considering the nature of the website, I have to ask the question; why are they here? There is also the facility to ask the site moderator a question. To complete the tabs there is a FAQ section which is fairly extensive, and covers most of the topics well, and finally a 'who we are' section, which ironically doesn't say much about Pinecone Research.
In the four months in which I have been a member I have received a total of two surveys and no product trials. Both of these surveys I have to say were very interesting and the company had obviously spend a lot of time coming up with fresh approaches to online surveys. I should mention at this point that I am a member of several online survey sites. Some offer pitiful rewards for mind numbingly boring and repetitive questions. Not this one. I guess one of the reasons that I found it even more interesting is the fact that there is so much secrecy involved with the whole process. I am feeling a little nervous as I type in case my I am violating one of the sacred oaths of the fellowship. Seriously though, you are warned in no uncertain terms not to discuss any of the surveys that you are taking part in with anyone. Both the surveys I took part in involved new product ideas for very large companies', so I guess I can understand the need for the secrecy to some extent.
As for the reward, well I got £3 pounds for each survey paid out in luncheon vouchers. The surveys were the usual 25 to 30 minute variety, and so I felt this was very generous. I believe that older members get £4 per survey for some reason, but I was more than happy with my rewards. I wasn't sure what to do with luncheon vouchers, as I associate the concept with Green Shield stamps and war rationing! But it turns out that they are accepted in a variety of places including my local Tesco store. In the past few weeks they have been offering PayPal payment too, so I guess they are moving with the times (hint, hint, Dooyoo).
So all in all I have been reasonably happy with Pinecone Research. The links have worked and the surveys have been interesting. Payment has been swift and without quibble. The only problem is there just aren't enough surveys. Shame really, and they loose a star for that.
Having two Vue cinema complexes in Leeds and noting that most people choose the Light; I have chosen to review the Vue at Kirstall Road. The simple reason why we choose this cinema is that it is the most convenient for us to get to and use. Not the closest, but the quickest.
If I had to pick one I would say that the Light is probably a better complex than Kirstall, having more screens and its just a little more modern and glitzy experience. But to get to the light I have to get into the centre of Leeds and pay to park. At Kirkstall parking is free at the Cardigan Fields Leisure Park.
The cinema itself is virtually unchanged from when it was a Warner Village, just a few years ago. Through the main doors, you are presented with several pay kiosks which are open at peak times only. At off peak times tickets can be purchased only at the food areas inside the main foyer. This can be a little frustrating at times as long queues can form as obviously those purchasing food and tickets will slow proceedings down. I guess it does make sense though as most people will buy some sort of food or drink while treating themselves at the pictures.
The other thing worth mentioning is the automatic ticket machines. There are two of these in the reception area and these are for pre-booked tickets only. Now I used to like the idea of pre-booking my tickets; by phone originally and then through the Vue website as the process evolved. My one gripe with this process is that there is a booking fee (called a card handling fee) for online purchases. Now of course this is relevant to all sorts of other websites from theatre to flights, but it still winds me up somewhat that I am being charged a fee for something that actually saves that company money. Anyway, mini rant over, what is the rest of the place like?
The main foyer has a modern and airy feel about it. There are lots of TV screens high above projecting the same images of whatever film trailer happens to be on. These can be a welcome distraction while queuing for your food, drink or tickets. The number of staff on duty varies greatly depending on peak or off peak times, but there are the usual selection of popcorn hot dogs and Nacho type snacks, complemented with large bags of sweets, chocolates and the ever popular pic n mix. From the ice cream stand there is a good selection of ices, with cold drinks and a range of hot beverages too. My wife and I particularly enjoy a large Latte while at the pictures, as I have noticed of late a tendency to want to fall asleep as soon as I sit down in my seat (I am sure it is a sign of age creeping up on me).
There is a small selection of amusement arcade type machines in the corner; I have no interest in such things and so cannot comment on this area. Apart from the toilets, which are usually clean and fresh smelling, there is one other item of interest in the foyer; that is a machine which sells and dispenses films in various formats. I have noticed these sprouting up recently in various places. The idea seems to be that you can select from a list of films on a touch screen and purchase in whatever format from DVD to memory stick or media card download. Again I have never tried this, or in fact seen anyone use this facility.
There are nine screens in the complex and I think numbers one and nine are the biggest. Screens 1 to 5 are accessible to the right and 5 to 9 to the left (5 is therefore accessible from both sides). We try to arrive early if we are seeing a popular film as it can get very busy, and being set in our ways we like to get a particular seat.
The actual theatres are comfortable and spacious. All are air-conditioned, and in fact sometimes can be a little cold because of this. The sound is of course excellent stereo, if perhaps a little loud, especially during the adverts for some reason. Each theatre is cleaned after every performance and I have never been bothered by someone else's rubbish. The seats all have hinged armrests with the essential cup holder and of course they all fold upwards in the usual fashion. As for the viewing itself, the main feature will never start at the allotted time, instead the adverts and trailers will begin at this time. I find that up to half an hour can pass from the ticketed start time to the actual main performance.
Ticket prices are as follows:
Adult - £5.10
Senior - £3.85
Student - £4.35
Teen - £4.10
Adult - £6.10
Senior - £4.60
Student - £5.20
Teen - £4.90
If booking on line then there is of course that dreaded card handling fee of £0.60.
For those of you with an Orange phone then consider the Orange Wednesday deal which basically gets you two tickets for the price of one. I am not on Orange but I believe it is a very popular offer.
As I mentioned in opening, we usually choose this cinema complex as it is convenient (and free) for parking; but to be fair the whole experience is usually very enjoyable. The food and drink is expensive, but then that has always been the case for every cinema I have ever been to since a kid, so you just accept this. In the rest Cardigan Fields Park there are plenty of restaurants such as Frankie and Bennys, Nandos and Pizza Hut. If you like bowling then Hollywood Bowl is next door, and if you are feeling really energetic then pop into Virgin Active for a work out and swim. So all in all I can thoroughly recommend a trip to the Vue at Leeds Kirkstall for a great all round cinema experience.
For those of you who have been living on the moon, eBay is an auction website, which specializes in allowing anyone to buy and sell just about anything, new or old. It began in California in 1995 and from humble beginnings has spread throughout the world, employing over 15,000 people and taking revenue of over $7 billion in 2008. With such a dominating presence in the online arena it is small wonder that most people choose eBay when looking to buy or sell their stuff.
I have been a member of eBay for about six years now. In that time there have been many changes to the site; not all positive.
When I first registered with eBay, the process was not difficult. Choose a username and password, and you are off and running. Of course you don't need to register to search on eBay, but to take full advantage of the service and certainly if you want to buy or sell anything then this is essential.
The other important thing to sort out is the ever important PayPal account. Again this is straight forward, but requires your bank details as you must create a PayPal account which is linked to your bank account. PayPal, surprise surprise, is owned by eBay, but I do find the service secure and with only a few minor exceptions it works well. Basically PayPal acts as a middle man, so that none of your precious bank details are given out during a transaction. All eBay transactions in the UK must now offer PayPal as a payment method. PayPal has evolved and spread beyond eBay itself, and is now a common method of payment for other retailers.
So once registered you are free to buy and sell on the site. I bought quite a few items before I was brave enough to sell anything. One important factor of buying or selling, that people will take into account is your feedback score. Basically after every transaction has been completed, both the buyer and seller have the opportunity to rate the other as to the level of service, positive, negative or neutral. To begin with you have zero feedback, which can put people off buying from you. This is why purchasing items successfully will help you build up a feedback score. Interestingly, recently eBay changed its rules on seller's feedback options. It has basically made it impossible for a seller to give neutral or negative feedback to a buyer.
The type of auction options available has also adapted over the years. The traditional auction which can be anything from a day to a month, has now been supplemented with a buy it now and a nearest offer option. These can be helpful if you just want to get something quickly without waiting to the end of the auction.
So what do I think of eBay these days? Well I have been fortunate in that most of my transactions have gone smoothly. I have on one occasion bought something and not received the goods. I went through the lengthy process advised by eBay of contacting the seller, leaving it for a while, contacting them again, until eventually it was clear that they had gone with my money. After many weeks using eBay's lengthy resolution system I was rewarded with some of the money back, but not all. I believe that now if you pay by PayPal you will be covered for the entire amount, but luckily I have not had a similar situation since.
Buying items has become much more of a mine field these days too. If for example you are looking for a mobile phone (one of the most heavily used areas on eBay), you will be presented with many thousands of traders offering the same deal time after time. This is one area of eBay that has exploded; the international seller with their online shop. While I am not saying don't buy from an international seller, it is wise to study their feedback carefully, and do note the postage cost and delivery times (often in weeks rather than days). That said, I have bought some bargains from Hong Kong and China. Again though if you don't quite get what you were expecting, the follow up can be long and tiresome. Checking the sellers returns policy is also a wise choice before bidding, if you are unsure.
You can filter out unwanted sellers in the advanced tab though if you are looking to reduce your search to a more focused approach. If for example you are searching for a washing machine then choosing within a few miles from your postcode could help as you are obviously going to have to pick this one up (or have it delivered at a high cost).
For the traditional auction (where you place bids against others up until the end time) you will find that most of the action will happen in the closing minutes and seconds of the auction. On popular items, if you are on dial up then this is probably not going to work well for you. I tend to time my maximum bid very carefully so that it is placed at the last possible second of the auction. Obviously this means that someone else cannot have time to react and up their bid slightly. It can get quite exciting at the end of the auction for both the seller and bidders. Another helpful recent addition I have noticed is that in the closing minutes of the auction there is now a countdown timer on the screen. I am not sure if this is now standard or an optional (cost) add on though for the seller.
For the seller there are many enhancements to help you set up your stall with pretty pictures (and video now) with countless other enhancements. There are step by step guides for just about anything and everything to take you through the process. Be careful not to go to overboard though. If you are selling an expensive item, fine if you want to add lots of photos and bold highlights, or have your listing appear at the top for a premium price. But if you are only selling something cheap then just keep it simple; a photo is always a must. A full breakdown of the cost is always given prior to listing. Also be aware that there will be fees to pay depending on the selling price of the item. Again it is worth studying this area so that you are aware of what the total cost will be.
Although I have only sold a few dozen items in total on eBay, on the whole I have had a favourable result. Most of the time the items have sold for a fair or even surprisingly high price. If you have a desirable item like say an iPhone, then you are more than likely going to attract a large audience. But to really stand out from the crowd then there are some things that you will need to do to make this happen. Here are some of my personal tips. These are only suggestions, from my experience though.
Tips for selling on eBay:
- Always take at least one good sharp well lit quality photo of what you are selling. Preferably more if the cost justifies it.
- An accurate title spelt correctly with a punchy sub title will attract attention.
- Use bold text for headlines and/or underline key selling points.
- Type out the description in your normal word processing package so that it is more familiar to you, then copy and paste into place. You can also check spelling more easily here too.
- If you can, set a very low starting price, i.e. 99 pence. This will encourage the bidding to begin. Bidding on items is infectious, and will encourage and attract others. High starting prices often deter bidders.
- Look out for offers of free or reduced listing days from eBay.
- Be very honest with your description and list any defects clearly. Do not be tempted to gloss over a fault as it could easily come back to bite you. Negative feedback and having to refund the customer for miss-selling are likely outcomes here.
- Time your auction to end at peak times for browsing. I usually choose a weekend evening, but unless you are offering to sell to an international market then I would avoid the middle of the night.
I am sure that there are loads of other tips I have missed, and of course how you pitch your items will depend largely on what it is you are selling. For balance, here are some of my suggestions for buyers:
Tips for Buying on eBay:
- Check the item description carefully and be very clear what you are buying.
- Check the seller's feedback rating and note any negative or neutral experiences.
- Factor in the cost of postage. If the item is expensive then can you have recorded delivery as an option?
- Note the estimated delivery time also (don't miss that Birthday due to delayed delivery).
- Try a common miss-spelling of the item you are looking for in a search. Sometimes you can find a bargain this way.
- When bidding, set yourself a maximum amount that you want to pay from the outset and write it down in front of you. Don't go for this figure straight away, but if the auction is nearing the end and is getting frantic, at least this way you can have some control over your actions.
- If you are not clear about something then ask the seller a question. The clarity and response time of the answer can also tell a lot about the seller too.
- Does the seller offer a returns policy? This can give you some added peace of mind.
So just for a bit of variety, here is a list of likes and dislikes of my experience of eBay:
Things I like about eBay:
- The vast choice of goods available
- The chance of getting a bargain
- Being able to sell my unwanted items
- Best auction site to find greatest range of items
- Extensive help and forums available
- Payment is received immediately when selling with PayPal
Things I don't like about eBay:
- Too many shops and power sellers vs private sellers
- Less bargains available, in fact can be cheaper to shop elsewhere
- Can be expensive to sell items
- Fees for sellers are not taken out straight away but billed later
- Private sellers have less power than the big power sellers and can feel obliged to give away more than they would like to avoid negative feedback.
I would have to write a book in order to fully cover eBay and all it has to offer, but I have included here a brief insight into how I find it works (and doesn't). To find out more visit at www.ebay.co.uk
So in summary I still use eBay for buying and selling stuff, I find some of the changes positive, some lets say perhaps somewhat questionable. If I had to state the one major change that I dislike about eBay, I would say that it is simply the size of the organization. It is just so big now that it has lost some of the small time auction feel and is becoming more of a main stream online shop. Which is a shame really, because if you really do look hard enough there is still the odd bargain to be found.
The long running saga of our broken washing machine finally came to an end last weekend. For those of you who are interested, please see my review of the Hoover HNL6166. So in the end I decided not to repair the old girl, but instead opted, on the recommendation of a qualified washing machine engineer, to buy one from John Lewis. Here is my experience.
John Lewis are a well known department store which have stores located throughout the UK. They sell everything you would expect from a large department store, and this is also reflected in the website. The site is tastefully set out and easy to navigate. All deliveries for orders over £30 are free of charge. For anything less than this, store pick up can be arranged.
Find the John Lewis website at: www.john.lewiscom
So after a short search, I was presented with a selection of washing machines. After some deliberation, I made my selection and clicked to add to cart. Now one of the reasons for selecting John Lewis over the abundance of online retailers was their reputation for good warranties. Basically any John Lewis own brand equipment carries a standard 2 year warranty. I understand that televisions have a standard 5 year warranty, which sounds excellent value.
Anyway, I didn't choose a John Lewis brand, but instead opted for an Indesit model at a very budget price of £219. Now although this comes with the standard 1 year warranty, for £99 this can be upgraded to 5 years. I have checked the small print and yes this does include call out, parts and labour. So with this in mind I added the warranty upgrade.
The next choice I was offered was the option of having my old machine disposed of. Seeing as washing machines weigh a tonne, and I am currently spending far too much time going to the dump (Leeds bin men strike!) this free service was also added to the checklist.
After this, I was happy with my selections and so made my way through the checkout process, which all went very smoothly. My postcode was checked so that delivery and pick up options could be assessed. I think that some more remote locations don't offer the free disposal service, but my city residence didn't produce any problems. A few minutes later I received an email confirming the purchase details and informing me that a representative would call within a few days to confirm the delivery options.
Sure enough, after a couple of days I duly received a call from a very pleasant Scottish lady, asking when I would like to have my new washing machine delivered. I asked when then next available slot was and she said that the following Saturday was available. I was amazed to hear that not only could I have a choice of morning delivery (between 7am and 2pm) on a Saturday, but it was also free of charge. Needless to say, I bit her hand off for that one.
So Saturday morning came, and at around 9am I got a call from the delivery driver saying that they would be with us in ten minutes. Sure enough a few minutes later two friendly looking lads turned up at the door. Within minutes my old machine was whisked away and the new one installed. After a quick look through the instructions, and registering the machine with the manufacture, we were in business.
Having never ordered anything previously from John Lewis, I did not have any real expectations. However after a superb all round performance from browsing, ordering and through to delivery, I can honestly say that their customer service is second to none. While it is still early days for the washing machine, my experience of the John Lewis store and website so far has given me a great first impression. In these difficult times for all retailers, perhaps that is just the edge that sets them one step ahead of the rest.
I became a member of Lightspeed about the same time I joined Dooyoo. I suspect the reasoning is familiar to most here; basically I want to generate a little spare cash while using the internet, something I spend a large part of my day linked up to in some form or another. So why not get something back?
So for those of you who do not know, Lightspeed is an online market research company. There are many of these scattered around the internet, of which I am a member of two or three. Lightspeed does not charge for membership (be aware that some of the more dubious ones do!) in fact you will receive bonus points for just joining (150, if I remember correctly). Points, I hear you ask, what is that all about? Well put simply, you earn points for doing the surveys, typically around 80 seems to be the standard for a fifteen to twenty minute stint, although occasionally you will get more for a longer survey. One point equals one pence; pretty straight forward really.
Now of course points are of no use to man or beast, so you will want to convert this to a more meaningful currency. This is achieved by redeeming the points for prize rewards on their website. The prize list is quite varied and includes music CDs, jewellery, computer accessories, magazine subscriptions, tools, toys, etc. Although you cannot be paid directly by cheque or bank transfer, you can choose a Paypal account to be paid into, which I guess is the next best thing. They also offer Amazon vouchers which again increases the options somewhat.
So what's it like? Well when I first started I found that I was asked a lot of background information, basically to match surveys to my particular lifestyle. Having children is an advantage here, as they feature strongly in surveys. Once you have built up some background you will start receiving email invitations for surveys. I find that the frequency varies but I usually get an invitation every couple of days, excluding weekends.
Now this all sounds too good to be true you may be thinking, and yes of course there is a downside. One of the main frustrations with this and indeed all survey sites is the rejection rate. What I mean here is you get an invitation to a survey, great. You start answering the questions; they always start with your age, sex, do you have kids etc. Then after a few screens they start homing in on the area they are interested in. You can spend several minutes and be asked a dozen questions before suddenly be told that you have not met the criteria for the survey.
Another slightly annoying factor is the shelf life of the surveys. Although they state that the survey will not expire for several days, I find on most surveys if you have not taken it within twenty four hours then it will have been closed due to their maximum number being reached. Some surveys close hours after being sent! If you do not qualify for a survey for what ever reason then you will be awarded so many entries for the prize draw. I currently have 541 entries in prize draws but have not won anything in the three months since joining.
Still, I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth; after all you are being paid (usually) for answering simple questions. Some of the surveys can be a little dull and repetitive, but on the flip side some can be very interesting. You often get asked about new products about to be launched and sometimes shown TV commercials to rate.
A word of warning; if you get bored doing a survey, do not be temped to just tick random boxes in an attempt to get through it quickly. They do warn that this will not be tolerated and you risk loosing your reward and/or face barring from future surveys. I do not speak from experience, but have seen the warnings.
As a sort of bonus feature on the website, there is also a list of mini polls which are basically simple one question surveys; these do not have any rewards other than entry into the £2,000 prize draw. Again I have completed all of these, as yet without any wins.
So all in all I would say that this is one of the better survey sites, and although you have little control over how much you earn and you won't' qualify for all the surveys, its still money for doing very little at the end of the day.
Find out more at uk.lightspeedpanel.com
Ever since the dishwasher gave up the ghost in our house there has been a new and improved method of washing the dishes. Yes you guessed it, yours truly gets that job. So any little methods to help that I pick up along the way are gratefully received. For fifteen pence a packet I had to check out these value pan scrubbers from Tesco.
So the vital statistics run like this; you get five sponges in a packet, yes that's right a massive three pence each. Surely they must be rubbish? Well I don't think so, and I have had the expensive ones to compare. Which expensive ones would that be I hear you ask? I have no idea, lets just say my wife bought them so they must have been branded and therefore expensive. Okay, now that I have offended all you ladies out there how did the little devils actually perform?
Well, you get the standard sponge, rectangular in shape with the all important abrasive coating on top. I guess this is the bit where it all makes the difference. The whole sponge is very flexible, which is the biggest difference from the branded ones, as these tend to be more rigid. I find this useful though, as it makes it easier to get into all the nooks and crannies of my pots, pans and glasses. The flip side of this one would think is that the coating must be so thin that it will wear through quickly. Well no actually, because I have been using this packet for the last few weeks and on checking have still got one left.
I notice on the blub that it is not suitable for non stick surfaces, which is odd because I have been using it for this purpose constantly. Well I guess only time will tell on that one. Am I killing our pans slowly? The other strange thing stated is that it can be used to scrub vegetables. Now this seems like the most bizarre thing to me, as I find the idea of mixing washing up with food preparation wrong in every way (bacteria and all that), but that's just me I guess.
So for a quality yet great value product that can last the distance, I can thoroughly recommend Tesco value sponge pan cleaners. For a fifteen pence packet of five, what have you got to loose?
I have been using Roboform for the last two or three years. It is one of those applications where you don't really think about it, it just quietly sits in the background making your life run just a little more smoothly with minimum effort. So what's it all about then?
Roboform is an application (or group of applications now) which helps you perform repetitive tasks such as filling in forms and managing passwords simply and efficiently. The original Roboform which I started with consists of a free download to your pc. From here you run the application and within minutes you have the application running on your desktop. I must point out that I am using Internet Explorer, so please check if you are using a different browser for compatibility. When you open IE you will find Roboform has settled into your tool bar where it will reside.
Now you can start getting the benefits. First thing you need to do is create a master password. Now this is the bit you have to think about, as basically what you need is one great password that you will use to hold all your other passwords; so not your birthday or wife's first name. Once you have created this unbreakable code (and this is the one you need to remember) you can really get stuck in. If you click into a website that has a login required, Roboform will pop up with a window asking you if you would like it to remember it for you. After accepting this, the next time you want to visit that site just log into Roboform using your master password and you will be able to click that site from the Roborm menu, from here on one click on the menu (called a passcard) will log you straight into any site set up. When you close your browser this effectively logs you out of the application.
Now the other side of Roboform is the form filler, again this is accessible by first logging into Roboform. You basically have to fill the details in for the first time like you would with any form, i.e. Name, Age, DOB, Address, Phone number, etc. There are lots of standard fields and custom ones too like credit card details if you are brave enough. The form filler works in a similar manner to others available such as the Microsoft version, but somehow I feel that this one is less vulnerable than Mr. Gate's offering. Just like the password system, when you find your way to a web page that requires your details to be entered (such as an online purchase requiring a delivery or billing address) you can click on form filler and all your details will magically appear. Be sure to check that the form has filled correctly as sometimes the odd field gets missed or misread in some form.
So that is the free version of Roboform in a nutshell. There are other features which I have never used such as the random password generator. In theory it sounds good, I have just never found an opportunity when I have needed this feature. If you use the internet a lot (and I know you lot do) then you will probably find that the ten free passcards will not last long. Annoyingly you will get a pop up to alert you that you are only entitled to ten free and so must purchase the Pro version to get unlimited access. I did reluctantly invest the $29.95 (this being an American site) to upgrade. I now have over forty passcards and growing.
The other useful side of Roboform is the mobile application Roboform2go. Basically this is almost identical to the original but you guessed it, you can use it on the move. The application can be downloaded onto a USB device and then when plugged into any other pc will activate the application. You will have all the features of your home based version but with the security of simply pulling the USB device out to disconnect any of your details. The application does a clever little clean up when you sever the link to destroy any possible trace of your existence. Again there are only ten free passcards with the Roboform2go version and upgrade to the Pro version costs $39.95.
If you are like me and have a terrible memory, or just seem to have more passwords to remember that you would like, then I can thoroughly recommend this application. If you want to try for free then visit; www.roboform.com and see what password managing is all about.
Tissues are one of those products that if you think about it, have just about the shortest useable shelf life possible. I mean from taking one out of the box to putting in the bin could be a matter of a few seconds. So with this in mind what do you really require from the bit in the middle?
For me then, no surprise to hear that I want something cheap and cheerful. Don't get me wrong, I still want a tissue that will provide a soft and pleasant nasal experience. I just don't want to pay those mansize prices. And with a box of Kleenex coming in at a staggering £3.52, the Tesco value brand at a mere 25 pence does grab my attention. So what's in the box?
Well, you get an average of 150 sheets and although not the 3 ply which is all the rage nowadays, nevertheless 2 ply still competes with the Kleenex variety in this respect at least. The box is unremarkable like all the Tesco value range, but does manage to provide a perforated oval to ease access. What about the sheets themselves? Well they are thin; let's not beat about the bush here. The texture while not super soft or scented in any way, does provide a basic soft feel which is all I can really ask at this price. There is no pattern or colour, just white tissue and the size of the sheets unfolded is about 20 x 20 centimetres. Of course at this ridiculously cheap price we use them in abundance for all sorts of tasks which are unrelated to blowing ones nose. They double for kitchen roll for small spills, and blood blotters for all sorts of minor injuries which befall our little ones.
Our six year old is going through a stage of wanting to store tissues under her pillow, right now. She needs a small handful just in case some nose related incident occurs in the night. Of course the stash has only one night's shelf life and must be replenished whenever she remembers about it, but it gives her the security she needs to go to bed quietly and it gives us the reassurance of only a few pence investment. As any parent will confess, getting their child to settle quickly in bed is to be frank; priceless.
So in summary if you require a luxury velvet soft tissue coated in aloe vera and imprinted with puppies, then you have got the wrong brand. If you need something to wipe your nose without making it redder than it was to begin with, then try these.
I have rated a couple of coffee related products since starting on here, so it will come as no surprise to you that I like my coffee. After settling into a happy routine of alternating between Tassimo pods and Nescafe Alta Rica I had to go and upset the apple cart by buying something different; Tesco Gold Freeze dried coffee.
So starting with the packaging, Tesco have gone down the tried and tested route of disguising their Gold coffee like just about every other brand out there; a brown label, a picture of some coffee beans and Gold writing. Interestingly there are the words serving suggestion next to the coffee beans, which I think would be quite challenging as this is freeze dried dried coffee and not beans! Other points of interest are that the coffee is suitable for vegetarians and has a strength of 3 (medium).
So what does breaking the seal reveal? Well not a lot really. Yes there is a pleasant enough coffee aroma, but nothing to compare with the Nescafe Alta Rica, still at least there is a smell. So onto the taste; one heaped single teaspoon for me and plenty of milk, with the added boiling water reveal a quick to dissolve drink. The taste is pleasant if not exciting, smooth, without the unpleasant aftertaste sometimes found with the cheaper brands. I find that while I never get blown away by the taste, I do end up drinking every drop.
Tesco Gold 100g jars can be purchased from, you guessed it, Tesco stores and are currently at the excellent price of £1.29 (10 pence off until 5th October). I think that I will probably continue to buy Tesco Gold coffee as it tastes okay and my preferred instant brand isn't on offer at the moment. So in summary; an above average coffee for a below average price, good enough to offer work colleagues and casual friends alike. If I was being generous I would offer 3.5 stars, but I can't so it gets 3.
Our children were born a mere thirteen months apart, and so it was evident that we would need a buggy system to cope with this set up. I remember spending hours trawling the internet to find the perfect solution. We wanted a buggy that would obviously hold both our two kids securely and comfortably, but also be easy for us to push and essentially have a footprint that would allow access through standard doorways and shop isles without attracting abuse from anyone who happened to get in the way. Did the Phil and Ted tick all those boxes? Well yes it did and more besides.
We paid around the £400 mark for the complete kit from a small independent outlet in Leeds. When we bought ours they were very rare in this country and so the major retailers had not picked up on it yet. Now I see them everywhere including Mothercare, but do bear in mind that the basic buggy costs around £365 (single) you have to purchase the extra seat attachment to make it a double. There are also other extra attachments and accessories which can be purchased, such as the rain hood and cocoon.
We bought just about everything, and I think in hindsight this was a good decision, not only because they were nearly all useful but also because my mother-in-law was paying! So what do you get for your hard earned cash? Well to start with the buggy now comes in a range of colours; we only had the choice of the navy pictured above or a garish red I think. So navy it was then. Next came, the extra seat attachment of course, a rain cover and a cocoon for transporting babies. So with the package complete and unpacked how did it all fit together?
Well to start with there are several ways in which the buggy can be used. Our starting point was with a newborn and a one year old and so we used this set up, which consisted of a flat canvas platform for the baby and then an attachment seat above for the older child. The optional cocoon, made from a tough canvas is essential for a newborn in our opinion as you can place the baby in this first and then position all into the buggy. This makes the whole process of lifting the child in and out really easy as the cocoon has handles. We found that we could easily lift our sleeping baby in or out without waking her.
So with the baby sorted, next comes the older child option. Like most tubular equipment, any pieces that need to be joined in some way are achieved by the use of little spring catches which click into a suitable hole in the second piece. This buggy uses these throughout. I have mixed feelings about this method as sometimes they can be awkward to operate. I found this one reassuringly easy yet secure, which was a bonus. So the seat attachment clicks into place at two points above the baby and there is the standard five point harness which secures them safely in place.
When your baby gets to an age when they can sit up then you can lift and secure the canvas platform up and snap the other seat attachment into place. Now this is the only minor disadvantage we have found with the buggy; the fact that the child who sits in the back position does not have a great view, other than the seat in front. One other thing to note is that the heavier child must always go on the top/front seat, otherwise the buggy could tip backwards; logical really, but we have had the odd moment of minor panic especially when the wrong child has got out first!
The rain cover is a bit of a hassle also, but then again we have found this with a lot of buggies to be fair. It does have quite a lot of clips and fasteners and so takes a lot of setting up. Not so handy for the good old British sunshine and shower routine!
Although it has been a while since we needed the use of a buggy, I remember how handy and useful we found it. For a double buggy it can be collapsed down to a very small size. The wheels can also be taken off, which we found essential for packing into the boot of the car for going on holiday. For quick trips though it folds quickly and easily, although you do have to remove the back attachment first, if you are using it that way. The brakes are good and lock a gear in the wheel rather than on the tyre which I found to be more secure. The most important feature though has to be the fact that this three wheeled buggy even when loaded with two toddlers handled beautifully. There was hardly anywhere we could not take it, doors and shop isles were a doddle. We used to get stopped in the street and questioned about where we got the buggy from, but as I said this was in the early days before they became commonplace. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone who has two young children close in age. It may be quite a lot of money to outlay initially (if you can't talk your mother-in-law round) but when the time came we sold ours on ebay for over £300, so that is worth bearing in mind.
When we were looking for an oven to set off our newly fitted kitchen the Belling G707SS stood out as beautiful and stylish, yet had the all round specification we wanted for our family requirements. Now three years on, what has become of this perfectly formed machine?
Well actuallywe threw it out about two months ago, and no it was not exactly all that we hoped it would be. The reason this cooker was not a match made in heaven is surprisingly simple; it was appallingly designed and manufactured. So lets get to the nitty gritty.
Once again on paper this machine should impress, with its double oven, cast pan supports, its sleek silver polished finish and its stylish sweeping door handles, no wonder we were lured into purchasing it. This Belling creation had a price tag of over £500; a reassuringly expensive purchase surely?
When we had it settled into its final resting place, installed by an old fashioned Corgi registered engineer (they have a new name now), the Belling G707SS did look a splendid sight. We even had a matching silver polished extraction hood hovering proudly overhead. So what really burst the bubble in the end?
Well, the first noticeable issue came when using the main oven. There are two ovens of course, the top one doubling as a grill as well. We found that the main oven would not cook food in a traditional manner; instead it would defy the normal laws of physics and actually provide greater heat in the centre of the oven than the top. This bizarre concept resulted in many a burnt pizza until we learnt the strange ways of the Belling. To this day I cannot explain how or why this happened, but we would consistently place food on the top shelf instead of the middle and adjust the cooking time upwards anything up to 50 percent higher than the instructions recommended. After much trial and error (mostly by my wife to be honest) we learned to work with this odd arrangement of oven cooking. So was that the limit of the eccentricities'? Well no, to be frank.
The next odd feature we discovered (not made widely available by the sales rep) was the grill set up. We discovered that in order to use the grill you have to slot a metal plate around the top of the grill in order to protect the control knobs from excessive heat. Yes, bizarrely the oven is designed first of all so badly that large amounts of heat leak out to the front of the oven, and secondly the control knobs are made of a composite which will not withstand this heat! The mind boggles as to how that design review meeting must have gone. So surely we have reached the climax of our faux pas list? No, perhaps just one more then.
After about a year of use we discovered that the main oven door became difficult to close. We would have to lift the door slightly to make the flimsy catch contact. Eventually one memorable day the top hinge just snapped off, leaving the door hanging helplessly by the bottom one. Obviously being outside its pathetic one year warranty I then began a long series of patch up jobs in a vain attempt to keep the beast alive as long as possible. The door seal fell off shortly afterwards and so we limped through almost a further full year using the top oven whenever possible, although its small size was a limiting factor.
So apart from looking pretty did the Belling have any other redeeming features? Well the gas hobs worked well; two large rings and two smaller ones, with the previously mentioned cast pan supports gave us no complaints. The smoked glass flip down top also worked and performed admirably providing the standard function of auto gas cut off to boot. The grill did work reasonably well but suffered somewhat from uneven heat distribution, but to be fair I find this with most gas grills. The electric clock and timer also preformed without issue.
Well at least she looked good; for a while at least. Yes the silver polished finish did tarnish quickly and a layer of grease worked its way around the control knobs. Why didn't you polish I hear you say. Well Belling in another inspirational moment of design genius decided to paint the makings for the hob layout etc on top of the polished finish. So any slight rubbing in this area would result in removing the paint.
You won't be surprised to hear that I am not recommending the Belling G707SS in any way, perhaps it matters not as I don't think it is available any longer. So I guess I am sending a warning to anyone out there who spots one on eBay looking for a bargain. Luckily it won't be ours as it is currently residing at the local council waste recycling area; or the dump as we used to call it!