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I have been a member of the Portsmouth and Havant freecycle groups for a while now, offering and receiving a number of items. Generally I like the idea of offering items that will not necessarily be of interest to ebay or the local classifieds and that you quickly get the opportunity of working out who is looking for items for car-boot/ebay or who is genuine. I generally make a point of stating what I offer and whether I consider car-booters for a particular item! There are a few downsides that people should be aware of though. Each freecycle is independently run by volunteers. This means that terms of posting each item may vary, for example some will allow a single post with a number of seperate lots whereas others will not. If you are using a number of freecycles it can lead to a request to re-submit when you do get it wrong. There is also a small problem with people who ask for items you offer and then fail to turn up. Some groups will deal with this and collate information about regular problem people whereas some do not. One I know of also collates whether someone persistant asks with "Wanted" posts, never offering back into the community! Well like I said, its good, with a few niggling downsides. I will stick by it though!
Oh Wow! What a machine! For the money that you pay you do really get a good loking, well performing unit that comes with good software that will help you do alot. It will configure your Duplex scanning showing you exactly what to do and when to do it. I only have one gripe though. It is a fax machine that likes to hog the line when you do not answer the phone. My previous unit, an HP 4252, would listen into the answerphone and if it detected a fax it would then intervene and accept it. After reading the manual for the MX310 it still aquires the connection after two rings and if it is a voice call, will still try to force the acceptance of the fax. I have yet to work out how to alter this! Another problem is the ink level indicators. To get the to work you need to ensure that you continue using Original cartridges as many of the compatibles on the market just will not work! You can overide the level indicators so that they just read "unknown" if you want, however when the readers show "low ink" you will not get any of your faxes printed off! Personally I ALWAYS keep a spare set of compat inks anyway, so it does not worry me too much. Overall though it works well, the software means that in reality you should only need to actually press buttons on the unit if you are going to fax something out, as the rest can be done from the included "Solution Menu" software. Oh and did I mention... you can also configure a "quiet mode" which is really beneficial if you are a night owl and your kids and partner are not!!
I have been with Vodafone now since 1997/8ish when I was still at college and my handset was a Telital PV-100 blue brick with a bendy plastic extendable aerial! I have seen many good and bad sides to Vodafone yet I still use the same number as I did all the way back then, albeit with the 03xx "areacode" being replaced with 077. Vodafone are much better than they used to be. I worked part time in the centre of town and still had trouble getting a signal, something which is actually still possbile today as I wander around London. The quality of the digital signal now though is somewhat better and call clarity is obviously much better. I have found that the company can blow hot and cold with me as a long-standing customer. I have had to write and threaten legal action when they started double billing me for no apparent reason and I have had them "reward me" with a free upgrade to a Nokia handset on the first day of its release (the 6230 - many moons ago). They do now try and err away from pushing the handsets for contract renewals in my opinion, where if you want a new handset you sacrifice almost any chance of a tariff discount, but when I renewed recently, I stuck with my faithful Nokia E65 and got 600 minutes a month, unlimited texts and mobile internet for £25. That is a bugbear though. Unlimited Texts, subject to a fair use policy of 3000 a month - although I never actually use that many. Unlimited Internet, subject to a fair use policy of 500Mb - which I do actually get close to, especially when I have to update a computer located in a Landline Internet-free zone at short notice! Customer Services can also blow hot and cold. Once when I asked for the Internet Settings for my new Nokia 6680 and I was sent them as a text message, but when I asked for help about setting my Nokia E65 to send e-mails they just told me to check the website! (Note: To send email out through your phone, you have to use the Vodafone server to do it.... I never realised!) I can not really comment about costs these days though as most of my costs are included in the line rental. I will mention though that data charges abroad are extortionate! I checked my e-mail over 4 days in Portugal and it cost me £40!! But overall... Its Vodafone, useful, does the job, relatively inexpensive for contracts.
I have had a Belkin router for a while now and although I did not directly pay for it (work gave me some gift vouchers) I would possibly buy again.... if they changed a few things! The router itself does its job. I have a Desktop wired to it and a laptop which I use wireless in the house or wired if its on my desk. The laptop I thought would be a problem as when I locked up my connection, I thought that if it was connected on Ethernet and Wireless it might have a fit, but it was fine and I work with it effortlessly. I am using the router in conjunction with my Virgin Media connection and a now rather old NTL cable modem. This can cause problems as the speed of the modem overloads the router and with the firmware that is "tried and tested" it causes the modem to overloadand shut down the Internet connection. Virgin acknoledge this and recommend installing Belkin's "beta" Firmware 9.01.12 which I have done for a while now and works perfectly fine. The routers GUI for setting it up is perfectly easy. I managed to set it up and lock it down in minutes, including being able to specify which computers (identified by mac codes) should be allowed to connect. I have not found it proving otherwise so far! Overall it does a good job, even if your on Virgin Media.
Three years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first brand new, off the forecourt car.... albeit on a budget. The Skoda Fabia drove well and considering the market available in March 2005, I opted for the base model 1.2 with 54 (or 56)bhp and none of the extras. I am still enjoying driving it today and although I got what I paid for, I suspect I would have done the same again. Compared to my previous cars, a Renault Clio, a Ford Escort, etc I like the Skoda. I find that it handles remarkably well and to me, responds like a car should, I do not need it to do more than the speed limit, grip the road while cornering at 70 in a built-up estate or out pace the unmarked police car (which funnily enough around here are also Skodas!). I have only one concern though which has come from my service last year. Being still in warranty I got the car serviced at my local Skoda dealer who advised my that my rubber "boot gater" (if thats how you spell it - something to do with the axle joints?) was starting to wear. Now that concerns me as the service centre receptionist said "You could get it done here, but the part is cheap and with our labour charges you would be looking at £270, I would say ask your local mechanic." I like honesty, but surely it should not NEED replacing after 3 years... should it? and surely a Skoda dealer should be pushing dealer-servicing... shouldn't it? Overall I still love my Skoda. It does what I want it to do and I actually like driving it, unlike my other halfs Daewoo Matiz! Ouuuu I nearly forgot. MPG for you figure loving economists out there! I average about 40-45mpg driving 7miles each way to work on a 75/25 mix of motorway and town driving. Driving Portsmouth to Great Yarmouth recently I averaged 60mpg predominantly on motorway.
Hewlett Packard have always been a forefront company for business quality machines. I have been using the 4252 (there is no difference I can find) for 2 years now until I finally managed to break it. I have printed on paper, card and photo. I use it to scan in all of my charity work documents and duplicate them from the desktop as well as stand-alone. I have not been able to fault it except for two small niggling things. Firstly is the quality of paper it accepts. If your paper is quite heavy, now I am talking 250gsm quality, it is not brilliant. The paper feeds from the front which means that any heavy paper gets jammed in the rollers as it prepares. Unlike my previous printer this does not have a rear feed for just such an occasion but the back of the printer does pop off when your force in too thick a media. The second issue is the ink. It does take a black and a colour cartridge which are relatively expensive to purchase as originals. In one shop I found the HP57 colour cartrigde priced at £30(!) although online it is around half the price. The cartridge does last though and my high output (100-150 sheets a week) would still last me 6 weeks or so on draft print settings. So its not a bad printer, its not the best, can you afford a couple of thousand though? I am now shopping for my next new one... I am considering sticking with HP for sure...
I have used a Nokia E65 on a vodafone contract for around 20 months now. I was on an 18 month "special" contract of 1000 minutes and 100 texts for £35 a month and then renewed keeping the E65 handset for 600 minutes and unlimited texts for £30. I love my little E65. It is handy at reading and sending e-mail from a number of accounts, although it does ot use push-email lke the blackberry and you do have to manaually set this up. Note to the wise though, if you are going to be doing a lot of e-mails, consider getting a "data-inclusive" bundle in you contract as it cold become costly! The phone is also handy as an office. I keep my diary on there and backup to Microsoft Outlook on my desktop on a regular basis. This can be done by Bluetooth or cable connections. The cable connection can also allow you to connect a computer to the Internet, although obviously again there is a data charge involved so bundling it into your contract is wise. I found that this is very useful away from the office and when the E65's built-in web browser just would not suffice, especially as it has a real problem with Java based web-sites like facebook! For technophobes, my laptop generally connects to the Internet via my mobile at 460Kbp/s (about 8 times faster than a dialup modem?). Its easy to install new applications to the phone - I currently have my TomTom through the handset, as well as music. A MicroSD card can be used to expand the memory although it would only accept up to 2Gb on mine because of the differences with the cards. My high useage of the handset means that mine has to be charged daily or during travel via an in-car charger, however battery time obviously differs from person to person.
Living within a few miles of the Portsmouth showroom, I generally make good use of the Novatech "reserve and collect" service. I use them for myself, I use them to buy hardware for one of the charities I work with and in both instances I have never had a problem with the purchase or use of equipment. The only concern I do have is with the returns/after-service desk, located in a small room around the back of the building. Are Novatech concerned with what usually appears as a queue which seems to be 5 or 6 people long? Granted the two occasions that I have had to use the returns desk were for minor issues and on both occasions the guys on the counter have been able to resolve them, but it does make you wonder... I have found some of their own (or un-)branded items to be very good in value. I have always stuck to Novatech DDR Ram which I can tell no difference to the top-range stuff and when it comes to their motherboard bundles, I have re-built quite a few computers for friends and relatives and some are still going 2 or 3 years after I have built them, including the original processor fan (which some of you techies out there will know can sometimes be lacking if they are stock units).
My partner and I visted Wetherspoons in Manchester City Centre on a Wednesday evening towards the end of November. We went in for dinner and a few drinks and we regretted it from start to finish. We had a few drinks, stood at the bar long enough for my partner to go to the toilet, downstairs, come back and I was still waiting. The two members of staff behind the bar were kept busy throughout. We headed to a table after playing the fruit machines for 10 or 15 minutes and decided to order some food, a 5 Cheese and Bacon Pasta and a Xmas Special (Turkey Dinner). The food came out after about 15 minutes, although at the bar there was no indication when we ordered as to how long it would be, but to be honest the time was not too bad. The food though.... well it was bad. Lets start with the pasta, which just about covered a single layer of the bowl and was very bland. The Turkey did not come with the advertised stuffing, the roast potatoes were overdone to the point they were solid and the meat itself was not too warm. With a high-output kitchen though, we could not expect too much more. We finished what was edible and waited to have the table cleared. It was busy, but not overun so we were not surprised to wait 5 minutes or so, with napkins clearly on the plate and cutlery lined up supposedly showing we were finished. 25 minutes later we were still waiting and we had ordered and drunk a second round of drinks, so I thought it prudent to have a word at the bar asking for a complaint form. They DON'T do them. I was advised however to contact head office on the address on the back of the receipt. Would have been nice if the local management could address my concerns, but they would rather Head Office deal with it. Personally, if I was going to eat, I would go elsewhere... in this case, Chinatown is nearby!
My partner and I travelled from St Pancras International to Manchester Oxford Road (via Sheffield) recently for an overnight stay in Manchester. We joined an ageing Intercity 125 at St Pancras for the journey north in the early morning and found the train to be very clean and well presented despite just bringing commuters in for the startof their day. The staff were polite and the announcements prior to departure helpful, including for one fellow passenger who had purchased an invalid off-peak ticket! The buffet service on the service offered a full range of stock throughout the journey, the staff must have thought I was mad asking for a whiskey at 9am (to go in my coffee - of course) but were professional and polite regardless. The ticket check was carried out properly with each railcard and season ticket requiring the relevent documents and it was good to see the staff dealing with those without tickets appropiately. We changed trains at Sheffield and joined a 4 coach train, or rather 2 trains couple together. Something suggested we might have taken a wrong turning with our train quite clearly being branded as South West Trains, something I would be accustomed to on my commute to work in the south! Again the staff were polite and this time there was a trolley service being offered. I could not really fault East Midlands on our journey, they offered all we needed without going overboard and certainly worth what we paid for the service.
South West Trains are an important part of my life. I work for them and I use them to see family and friends on a regular basis. Comparing them as a private enterprise, passenger transport company I would have to say that they are mid range in the UK. SWT is a commuter service primarily and it shows in the manner of a "passenger numbers" service which sacrifices large luggage facilites that other companies offer. When you consider the operating area of SWT with Southampton and Bournemouth Airports, Southampton Cruise Terminal, the traditional British Seaside, it seems that the users of the above facilites probably do not need luggage?!? Commuters however feel that they are still considered as hindering the company. The 3+2 seating of the outer-suburban trains often appear across the south coast and are complained at as uncomfortable, however one must also consider that other local commuter services operated by Southern also offer the same seating configurations on a lot of its services in the area. For both commuters and travellers of course, one important feature is refreshment. SWT offers catering services on its London to Portsmouth "direct" (via Guildford) Fast services and its London to Bournemouth/Weymouth services, but thats it... what about London to Portsmouth via Eastleigh? What about London to Portsmouth via Guildford stopping services? There are long-distance and commuter passengers on these... and what about the London to Poole stopping services? One would consider this an oversight on the part of the company, although if you ask the buffet staff, its because SWT do not contract them for these except during engineering works.... occasionally. So overall. SWT... could treat its longer-distance commuters a bit better, offer a buffet service on the mid/long-distance services regardless of whether they are express or local and offer a bit of luggage space without encrouching on the wheelchair bays. Personally I would not commute on them if I did not work for the company and hence get travel concessions. (My views are my own and not necessarily the views of my company)
I took my partner to the Palace Hotel for an overnight Christmas Shopping trip on November 26th, 2008. Arriving at just before noon at Oxford Road, we expected to be asked to leave our bags with the concierge but we were able to check in and head to room 159, a high ceilinged room with very tall windows viewing the corridor that the room was on (no city view unfortunately) a large, very soft double bed and excellent en-suite. I have only one reservation about the room though... the plasterwork around the Victorian pillers in our room was not proven ideal, with gaps large enough to stick my little finger in. It did not cause any problems though and overall it did not detract from the comfort. In the morning, the traditional telephone call waking us up was replaced with the TV turning itself on, a welcome change although if I was still inebriated from the night before, I would question what would happen as I slept through the welcome screen! The facilites themselves were very good. The bar was quiet and professionally run with the staff able to collect orders from the table as well as standard bar service, the restaurant was quiet but both were reasonably priced for an AA 3* hotel. At breakfast, the restaurant was well stocked and the staff appeared to want to be there working, opposed to being there for the money! Overall, I will be making recommendations to a national charity I work for to consider The Palace as a venue for its annual conference. Aircrew use the Palace as their residence from Manchester Airport, which must surely show an economic luxury in the hotel market.