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aefra
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Member since: 10.01.2002

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      03.11.2012 13:16
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      A humane, but effective squirrel deterrent.

      Living close to woodland means that the peanut and fat ball containers hanging on a trellis in my garden are well used. Jackdaws, jays, blue tits etc as well as a daily visit from a greater spotted woodpecker are among my delightful visitors. My consideration during cold winters rewards me with bird song during the summer and I keep the feeders full, despite plentiful flying insects. This idyll used to be interrupted only by the arrival of the Great Grey Predator and all his friends.

      You know the one. Some people think they look cute unless they have watched them take baby birds from the nest or destroy our garden crops as well as breaking bird feeders. I am more relaxed watching an occasional rat take a delicate nibble before continuing on his/her way. Added to this, I was spending good money to feed the nasty things. Whoops! I am relapsing into Aunt Betsey mode again and I rarely even see squirrels now.

      I tried just about everything reasonably humane to deter the pests. I used a laser gun which is supposed to irritate their ears with a vibration soundless to mine. Use of an additional switch on the gadget sent out an ear-splitting shriek which must have had every nearby neighbour dialling 999. Neither worked. Missiles aimed close to them just resulted in a hasty retreat, followed by reappearance within a minute or two.

      It came to a head when I realised that I had become as obsessed with squirrels in my garden every bit and more as David Copperfield's Aunt Betsey Trotwood as she ran onto the green with a stick to chase off the donkeys. I, a peaceful animal loving pensioner, was fast turning into a noisy harridan running into my back garden several times a day, whilst throwing clods of earth and yelling "Go get it" to my bewildered dogs. Peace and my heart rate were restored when I found Squirrel Stop in a nearby garden centre.

      Squirrel Stop comes in an 800ml spray bottle and contains capsicum (chilli) peppers which while not distasteful or harmful to birds is totally unpalatable and irritating to a squirrel, which will beat a hasty retreat should your bird feeder be sprayed with it. Indeed, a YouTube video of a squirrel attacking nuts treated with Squirrel Stop and then bolting for the hills demonstrates how effective this is.

      This product is not only safe for your garden birds, but contains vitamins and proteins which are good for them. However, there are a list of precautions on the pack which include the fact that anyone with allergies or breathing problems should avoid its use.

      To use, shake the container well and then spray on to the bird feed covering all sides of hanging feeders. Do think of the prevailing wind. I place a hand over my mouth and nose while doing the deed. The instructions suggest that you repeat every 48 hours to start with to get the message across to the pests. However, I found that it worked from day one. Proof of its effectiveness was demonstrated when I found the bottom pulled out of a nut holder and the contents on the ground. I removed what I could as I didn't want the dogs eating peanuts and then sprayed the remnants (still on the earth) with Squirrel Stop and waited. A few minutes later a squirrel ran across the top of the trellis, before climbing down to finish its spoils. It took only seconds before it was on its way back to wherever it came from. I do hope it tried my next door neighbour's very impressive bird table as that is sprayed as well. I find that the spray lasts well as I bought mine during the summer and there is plenty left. I apply when topping up the feeders and after prolonged rain and can honestly say that I have seen only two grey squirrels since using this stress- freeing product.

      Squirrel Stop seems fairly easily available and cost me £4.99 while I have seen it for slightly less online. The link to the video I mentioned earlier is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hicJveHMMNM and shows that while it seriously annoys the squirrel it doesn't do harm. It is also hilariously funny.

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      • spana.org / Other Service / 105 Readings / 100 Ratings
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        10.10.2012 13:10
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        A charity which really does as it promises and more

        It is about people too.

        There are a variety of reasons why I pick the half dozen charities I subscribe to each month. The Hospice cared for my late husband and the Air Ambulance was there when a friend had an accident on remote farmland to give just two examples. It works the other way as well and I cancelled a long standing direct debit when a charity sent me a huge envelope of magazines and raffle tickets and stuff which must have cost more than my donation. I replaced this with an organisation which had inspired me as I watched a tv documentary made as the program makers travelled with an amazing organisation which I had not heard of before.

        SPANA is the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad. The acronym is originally French, hence the apparent misnomer. The location shown was Morocco and followed the SPANA vets as they improved, and indeed saved, the once short and painful lives of the donkeys used for transport.

        Like many who feel a burning rage when faced with the mistreatment of helpless animals it is easy to condemn. This straight forward, as-it is, documentary also instilled compassion for the man toiling for no more than £3.50 a day with which to feed his family and who, without his donkey, cannot even manage that. It showed an understanding that the sores beneath the ill-fitting harness and the heavily overloaded cart pulled by a sick, lame and weary animal were not mindless or sadistic cruelty but a result of a man's own desperately hard life. As well, I realised that if the owner could not feed himself because his donkey was sick the animal would go hungry as well. There lies despair.

        When tourists returned from the Atlas Mountains and told a city clinic of their distress at the state of the animals used to carry them, SPANA travelled to the area and, after gaining the trust of the local people, now hold regular clinics there. I saw an open sore beneath a girth treated and then on their next visit the heart warming sight of the owner happily showing the soft new girth he had sewn for his donkey.

        Any viewer would have been moved when a tiny dying donkey was brought to the town clinic in a handcart and was put out of its misery by the vet. The man and his son not only felt grief for their animal, but were left destitute. The clinic, meanwhile, had rescued and made well a donkey they were keeping for re-homing. The little family was given the donkey, provided it was returned for inspection once a month and was looked after. This is what SPANA is about and had me wanting to contribute.

        SPANA was founded in 1923 by a mother and daughter, Kate and Nina Hosali whilst travelling through North Africa. Horrified by the condition of the pack animals in the market place she treated a donkey's sore, explaining that it was free. Soon she was surrounded by donkeys and their owners and the rest is history.

        Today tens of thousands of animals are treated free and cared for in clinics from Morocco to Ethiopia. Meanwhile the owners are taught how to care for their horses and donkeys giving both animal and owner hope of a better life. Often it is just a matter of replacing painful bits or fitting rubber pads on hoofs as well as treating injuries and illnesses.

        I would need thousands of words to tell you of the work done by this organisation, so will try to offer a flavour. There are 10 clinics in Morocco and the SPANA Morocco website has a 24 hour webcam for viewers to watch them in action. In Marrakech there is not only a free health service for the carriage horses which carry tourists around the city, but water troughs are now in place where before they went thirsty. More than this are the water troughs in the Sahara. Because there is virtually no water in the city of Nouakchott, 50,000 donkeys are used to cart water to homes around the city. For more than 12 hours in unimaginable heat these little creatures suffered intolerably. SPANA has placed water troughs around the city for the donkeys and more are planned. Such simplicity; yet life changing for the animals and eventually their owners.

        Significantly, SPANA now visits over a thousand schools each year and teach children the importance of animal welfare. Educational buses visit remote areas and children, often responsible for care of farm animals, are taught welfare and the importance of kindness to their charges. As a result attitudes are changing and in one region an adviser was told that injuries nowadays appear to be accidental rather than due to mistreatment.

        I have donated £10 per month for a few years now and SPANA is the only charity which has not asked for more money or sent me expensive brochures. At the beginning they asked if I wanted to be contacted and have kept their word when I replied that I didn't.

        The absorbing SPANA website, https://spana.org is well worth a visit and is a reminder that it is so easy for we animal lovers in our prosperous world to forget that it is all about people too.

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          17.09.2012 15:46
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          Please see review

          Today an email informed me that I had received a comment on a review I wrote ten years ago. The nice caseybrady had left me a humorous few words which had me spending a pleasant five minutes re-reading previous comments from my friends of that day. I was also left mulling over how things have changed since then on dooyoo.

          My review of that day (we called them "ops" then for "opinions") stated that apart from my guidey duties I had seriously considered giving dooyoo a rest. The reason was that Aurora, the then new face of the site, was a disaster. It was not always possible to log on, even after waiting 60 seconds to load, or to rate ops. Members' literary offerings could only be accessed sporadically and it became a chore to take part. I then went on to give all the community reasons why I had changed my mind.

          After all this time I smiled and thought, "Did I really write that?" I then began to mull over the site today and the fact that I only have one gripe, but it is a frustrating one.

          After an absence of some 7 years, I have in my opinion returned to a much easier dooyoo. Logging on happens in a trice, any queries for the team are responded to and we seem to be kept up to date with things. Of course, after all this time IT itself has moved on, which helps. The Community Page is lively and the interaction between members and dooyoo seems pretty constant. The new reads keep coming and there is a pleasantly busy air about the front page. I was delighted to find that the Community is still alive and well and, having been welcomed back by old friends, I am now making new. However, and it is a big "however", there is one change which frustrates the reviewer.

          Back in the day a category would be requested and, if agreed, placed on the site in order that a new product could be reviewed by an enthusiastic member. There were times when a little fiddling around would find a cat that would somehow suit and permission (generally granted) asked to use that one. I found pretty quickly this time round that a list of cats for new products is listed on the community page each month. That is it! We cannot request a new item during that month if it does not fall within the list. I am informed that requesting an addition will not result in agreement and that it has been tried. I have a review which has been waiting since before the beginning of last month for a new food item. I have another which has me hoping that next month's list will permit me to apply for a new cat so that I can post in House and Garden. In the meantime I am writing "fillers" to keep my hand in as well, of course, as reading and rating others' work.

          I dare say that dooyoo have a reason for this state of affairs. I presume that they want to keep things channelled in some way. Possible for advertisers? Would it really disturb things to relax the New Products list in order to encourage members to review stuff they want to rather than looking around for anything- will-do to write about?

          Should you agree with me, do comment so that the nice people at dooyoo HQ may have a little re-think.


          NB this is in the wrong cat as I have used up all the other ones

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          • General / Discussion / 74 Readings / 73 Ratings
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            12.09.2012 12:56
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            A new sickness which needs vaccinating.

            Recently, a small annual event near me in aid of a cancer charity could not take place and will probably no longer be held. The reason was that the cost of public liability insurance was more than their small fund raiser expected to take.

            Meanwhile a parent has been awarded £3000 damages because their sprog fell into a rose bush while at school and in another incident a pupil was awarded £16000 when he tripped while running.*

            Has our world gone mad? Some greedy sections of it from avaricious parents to opportunistic lawyers have run out of control and the rest of us check our front paths in fear for our financial security. How this has happened (look across the pond, maybe?) doesn't matter. What does is that the UK comes to its senses.

            We must look partly towards the insurance companies themselves who on too many occasions think in the short term and so encourage petty crime. They fail us all when they pay out without question frivolous claims, often fraudulent. My last job before I retired was managing a busy filling station/shop. Here I saw several maddening examples of insurers allowing fraud rather than bother to investigate. The most outrageous was not for a large sum, but encouraged a serial tow rag and small fraudster.

            Presenting himself to me wearing a pair of ancient and filthy plimsolls with the sole of one hanging off, he said that diesel from a leaking pump nozzle had leaked onto his "trainers" and the result was before me. Of course I disputed this, but he insisted on going through the channels and successfully claiming for something in the region of £120. Meanwhile I had to call out the maintenance firm we employed to test a perfectly working pump and it cost us considerably more than the claimant was asking. I also rang around nearby service stations to find, as I expected, that he had already pulled this stroke successfully at all of them. Incidentally he didn't even have a car. Just walked from station to station with a can. The upshot was that the insurers, as had those of the other garages, paid out without question. Like the no win no fee solicitors, they work out which is the most beneficial financially to them, regardless of ethics, thus feeding an unpleasant and spreading greed which must ultimately affect the lives of genuine claimants with real grievances.

            We have all seen the advertisement where four city folk walk down a broad flight of steps while telling us in chorus that they are "Injury Lawyers 4 you". At the bottom a woman trips and twists her ankle. Are we to assume that she will sue the steps? Esther Rantzen and the nice Andrew Castle have now sunk disappointingly low in my estimation as they ask us to sue for 100% compensation from no win no fee solicitors.

            I am not against the need for compensation when life limb and a whole successful career have been affected. When Lesley Ash received at last her huge pay out for the neglect and culpability of her hospital I applauded (that may put the cat among the pigeons). I suffered an almost identical neglect and catalogue of errors from my own local hospital resulting in, among other things, MRSA and will carry the results always. When culpable negligence results in life changing injuries and/or loss of earnings there needs to be redress. However the time has come for the world to stop looking for someone to blame when it trips up a kerbstone. Accidents happen. Mine was just that. A slip on a wet grassy slope while helping to tend my local churchyard. In fact the result in the long term was a bevy of marvelous new friends and the realisation that I had neighbours to die for.

            I digress. If we are to end the whiplash scamsters, put paid to two thirds of our hospitals receiving huge annual payouts for displaying posters and calling cards for ambulance-chasing lawyers, while premiums soar to ever new heights, something must be done.

            When solicitors were at last permitted to advertise their services they invited us to visit them to talk about wills, conveyancing and grievances we may have. I believe that they have forfeited the right to advertise at all now that the profession appears to have grown a whole new arm which threatens the integrity of the original body. By all means have an easily accessible register of solicitors which may include those who offer no win no fee; but let us forbid the actual advertising of their services.

            Meanwhile let the insurers look to their own codes of practice and not pander so readily to the petty criminals who are responsible in part (along with the health and safety moguls) for small fund raisers being unable to hold their little summer events.



            * source www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9530356/Litigation

            nb I have to give at least one star to publish my review

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            • Gardening / Discussion / 87 Readings / 85 Ratings
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              30.08.2012 13:48
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              A relaxing and rewarding use of your garden

              My title was the weekly assertion of Fred Loads of Lancaster on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time back in the late 50's. It remains as good counsel now as it did then. Enhance your soil and the flavoursome joy of picking your own veg can be enjoyed whatever the size of your garden. It does not have to be back-breaking work, nor does your pretty flower filled plot have to look like a mini allotment.

              I have a very small garden, my shed is not the potting variety and I don't have space for a greenhouse. The outlook from my house consists of flower filled beds around a lawn and a large pond. Yet I harvest courgettes, leeks, carrots, runner beans and strawberries in narrow raised beds out of sight behind a trellis while fennel waves its feathery fronds behind the lavender. At over £2 per bulb from your local greengrocer this last has to be a good deal.

              The jungle- like giant leaves of a couple of rhubarb plants fill otherwise dull corners and tomatoes are in pots against the sunny wall beneath my kitchen window. This has to be a better place than those planted by a young friend on the wide inner sill of her flat above a shop. As the tomato plants grew they not only darkened the room, but from the outside looked suspiciously like plants of another home grown variety.

              Firstly, should you wish to tentatively embark on this fascinating and economically rewarding pastime, there is no need to be too ambitious. For me, two of the most rewarding vegetables to grow for a variety of reasons are also among the easiest. Runner beans need only a small area against a fence with long stakes round which their tendrils can wind. Courgettes appear quite bushy and do take a little space, it helps if they are on the edge of a raised bed so that their offspring can reach downwards. The joy of both of these plants is the hide and seek game they play with their producer. Both conceal their fruit behind or beneath leaves so that you will have to search for them. The courgette produces beautiful, very large edible yellow trumpet- shaped flowers, behind which grow their babies. As you pick them you see some small fruits which in days have become ready in their turn to pick. Last year I had 3 bushes and had to give away most of the crop so fast and for such a long season did they grow. Even then I discovered some of marrow size which had managed to escape my watchful eyes.

              Both runners and courgettes may be easily grown from seed. I start mine off on my kitchen window sill in early spring and keep them well watered until the seedlings push through. I then reduce the watering to a more even dampness until ready to plant out. If I hadn't wanted to sow seeds, the plants were available from a local nursery for £1.75 for 3 or £3.50 for 9.

              Tomatoes are a doddle and so rewarding. Grown in pots in good compost they just need staking before the weight of the fruit bends the stems then carefully remove non flowering little stems as they appear in the v of established branches. None of this attention needs haste about it, but is a gentle way of passing time when you think about it or pass the plant.

              The three I have mentioned are all flowering plants and so will always benefit from an occasional watering in of Tomorite; an inexpensive and convenient way to top up the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous in your soil. Not suitable for stuff you don't want to flower, though, like rhubarb.

              Leeks will grow in ordinary soil and don't like manury stuff if you want them tender. They will stay in the soil until you need them, so there is no hurry to harvest and worry about storage. I have a couple of dozen (half of which will mature earlier than the other variety).

              You haven't tasted rhubarb as it should be unless you have grown your own. Here it is that Fred Loads of Lancaster's insistence that "The answer lies in the soil" is proved. Last year I asked the nurseryman from whom I bought the crowns why my fruit was so sweet. After all it was just an old fashioned and standard Victoria variety. He told me that it was the soil it was planted in. This happened to be the used stuff from pots emptied at the end of summer, thrown in a heap in a corner and forgotten for a couple of years. There was so much I used it to start my rhubarb bed and added some old manure. A lucky chance.

              The single strawberry plant I put in last year has now set so many runners that I shall have to find a tub with holes in to transplant the little ones for next year. These also have the advantage of actually liking frost.

              Most of my veggies were bought in single pots and cost a fraction of what I would have to pay with the weekly shop Everything is behind this year, but I am about to harvest my first large juicy tomatoes (money maker).

              "Huh!" you ask, "What about all that digging and bending and gum boot stuff?". Don't worry. I am not talking rows of potatoes, although I do need help to bring in my bags of compost. This is a few plants transferred to their space at a time. The same with harvesting. It feels so relaxed and leisured to wander around my garden with a handful of runner beans, a courgette for tonight's stir fry and stop for a moment to twist off a few stems of rhubarb. This last will have re-grown in just over a week.

              A most important task is watering. Most vegetables need plenty of water and reasonably good light to prosper. Should you feel the tug of addiction, you will hopefully become bold enough to look for varieties of choice and take a peep on the internet for added tips.

              My review is not an expert's guide to gardening, rather in hope that the reader with a patch of ground can know that veg growing can be an unhurried, absorbing pastime with real benefits. When you reach the moment when you proudly hand a friend a few leeks and a handful of tomatoes with the words, "Picked 'em half an hour ago." there is no going back.

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                22.08.2012 16:00
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                An excellent country boot which ticks all the boxes

                During these hot, dry days it seems a strange time to think of wellington boots. My early morning walks with friends and our dogs need little care underfoot, just an eye out for tangled brambles or the odd fallen log. But all too soon, as the clocks go back and our daily stroll becomes pre-dawn, choices have to be made.

                The woods are favoured because a thousand years of loam are soft underfoot. However the very nature of woodland means that pre-dawn means pitch dark. It is easy to see the dogs' flashing collars which can probably be viewed from space, but the uneven paths beneath our feet are out of sight. The country park instead is ideal as the light pollution from the seaside town a few miles away means that fields are just visible not to mention the awesome sky as we look to the east. However, after rain the Essex clay in open countryside turns to very slippery mud, as well as nasty deep puddles whose depth cannot be gauged until I am in the proverbial.

                With one leg now shorter than the other and a fear of slipping left after a bad accident caused by just that, I decided last winter to stop mucking around and buy footwear which would enable me to safely enjoy the start of my day. So it was that a visit to my local farm and countryside suppliers led me to pay more for a pair of gum boots than I have ever paid for shoes. I chose Tay boots made by the Muck Boot Company and am now a far more confident walker in all conditions.

                My boots are made from neoprene, a material resulting from experiments made to produce synthetic rubber way back in WW11. This material is resistant to oil, heat and light as well as oxidation. It is easily shaped and reshaped and is the material used for wet suits.* I am also informed that manure and fertilisers will not affect its wear. Eminently suitable then for quality wellies.

                The Tay is a serious piece of footwear, but not as heavy as some. Its lower half is dark green and, above a curved line, is the softer suede- looking foam green upper showing the words, Muck Boot Co. The same name is etched on the outside of the foot above the deeply patterned sole. So, all in all, a smart utility boot.

                As I first slipped my foot into the softly lined Tay and then slid my leg easily downwards, the neoprene closed around my calf comfortably. Welly wearers will know the feeling of a hard boot edge knocking against the leg just below the knee while walking. Particularly important for me as my left leg is tender because scarred. This does not happen with the closely fitting Tay. Back to Ernest Doe's shop. My foot passed through the narrower lower boot leg and then was welcomed by the soft, warm and roomy foot part. The assistant said something about £80, but I put that to the back of my mind as I handed him my card.

                I keep my boots in my car (they are not suitable for driving in) together with a boot jack for removal and have had them for a year now. Unfortunately the heavy rain of the early summer has meant that they have had plenty of use. The thick, deeply patterned rubber sole makes walking on heavy ground feel safer and the boots are waterproof to the top. I have not experimented with this last statement, but have enjoyed a smug confidence as I walk through deep puddles covering mud that my friends skirt round carefully.

                The Tay can be worn comfortably over or under the legs of my jeans and, if I choose, I can turn over the tops of my boots, so malleable is the neoprene. Regardless of temperature, my legs and feet do not feel cold or overheat. These are thermal footwear, but I find that they will accommodate either light or thick long socks as the feet can stretch to another half size if need be. A bonus is that once my jeans legs are inside the Tay, they don't ride up, nor do my socks work their way half way off my feet as I have found with ordinary wellies.

                I have since found that the Tay is the work boot of choice for farmer friends as well as some serious competitors of dog working trials. So I seem to have chosen well. Prices seems to range from £63 at Amazon to £99 from more ambitious suppliers, but the £80 I paid seems an acceptable average.

                To sum up; although I would choose to wear my waterproof walking shoes for a lighter feel, there are times when I know that they will not be enough. I need to feel safe without sacrificing comfort and do enjoy the confidence of striding through bad conditions rather than picking my way warily around. Not to mention the fact that while I am busy having to watch my feet instead of the dogs, the little angels have managed to disappear somewhere over the horizon. They do recall to the whistle though.



                *source http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/lib/what-is-neoprene.htm

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                  11.08.2012 12:53
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                  A premium complete feed for dogs.

                  Eighteen months ago a tiny black and white bag of bones was put into my arms and I named her Susie. Abandoned in a river side town some 20 miles from my home, she had so little hair on her underside, that all I could feel against my hands was warm wrinkly skin. Her backbone and hips stuck up and out, her legs looked liked chicken bones and whoever had clumsily docked her tail left only an inch. She was not a pretty sight, but was to become my shadow and the best of dogs.

                  I felt privileged that her rescuer trusted me to bring her to health and started with scrambled egg. This was to be the last meal I would persuade her to eat for almost three days. In the mean time she had a warm bath in the kitchen sink accompanied by a gentle massage to relax and clean her and, on the morrow, a visit to the vet. He assured me that she was not malnourished enough for lasting damage, despite appearances, and just needed care and reassurance.

                  The next days were fraught as I tried different varieties of dog food, cooked chicken, fish and easy to swallow stuff like scrambled egg. Little Susie was very quiet (that wasn't to last long) and depressed. Eating was just too much trouble, but cuddles were obviously very beneficial. Even watching Ryan gobbling up his James Wellbeloved kibble spiced up with a little meat interest did not tempt her. The goat's milk which Ryan had for his supper was fortunately, although lackadaisically, lapped up by her.

                  I had still to introduce her to the friends who I joined with Ryan at 6.30 every morning for our daily walk across a country park or through local woods. They fed their dogs on Nature Diet and suggested I tried it. The only reason that I hadn't included it as an addition to Ryan's kibble was because the pack is 390g and I envisaged having it in the fridge for a couple of days once opened. It was now that I was told that this is a feed which can be kept in the fridge for a day or two and warmed in the microwave before use. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had found the beginning of Susie's recovery.

                  The origin of my dogs' food is very important to me and Nature Diet is produced by a British company based in Norfolk. The company has been in production for over 30 years and prides itself on natural ingredients and balanced nutrition. Their range is nicely wide enough to cover the needs of most dogs from puppyhood to old age.

                  The food comes in a well-sealed recyclable plastic tray with clear labelling, listing all ingredients; which have no artificial additives, preservatives or colourings. The only cereal used is rice, which contains a different gluten to other cereals and is therefore tolerated by gluten allergic dogs. I was pleased to note that the lamb, rice and vegetable example I bought contained 65% lamb, 10% rice, 7% vegetables as well as natural ground bone and seaweed meal. It goes without saying that the necessary vitamins were included. This sounded tasty, which was important if I was to tempt the awkward Susie to eat. It is also free of the ingredients often found to cause skin problems in our dogs.

                  The range includes fish, chicken, lamb, rabbit and turkey - all with rice and vegetables. Added to this is salmon veg and rice for the more sensitive tums of seniors and puppies. I favour lamb and rice which I add to Ryan's kibble for meat interest, while Susie has mainly Nature Diet with a little kibble added. To access the contents just pull back the lid and you will see beneath a nicely soft yet firm looking feed which is gentle on the eye and nose and easy to cut through. I use two thirds of a pack between my little hooligans per day plus kibble and the remains sit happily unaffected in the fridge. When removed for the next due meal, a short zap on low in the microwave takes the chill off.

                  I must mention here that Nature Diet is in itself a complete meal and does not need any added kibble unless you choose. My dogs' digestion is first class and so are their poos. Non dog owners won't appreciate the importance of easily picked up you-know-whats.

                  This is a feed which I have found to be readily available and cost varies from .70p for a 360g tray in my local garden centre, through .98p at Pets at Home to over £1 in some smaller shops. All in all a good value food.

                  Back to the difficult Susie. With fingers crossed and bated breath I offered a morsel of ND lamb and rice with veg in my fingers. The little black nose sniffed warily then, joy of joy, her muzzle touched my hand and down it went. A little more followed, then more and........we were away! It took four months of care and very carefully managed feeding of Nature Diet before the now secure and self confident Susie came into her own. Tiny as she is, her muscle tone as she streaks at top speed along farm tracks is impressive and endearing. I have taught her to do the clever things with her amazing nose that big dogs do, like tracking and searching for property and agility. At ten inches high and with a harness which has been likened to a thong, she is often lost from sight in long grass as I track her on a long line. I am told by onlookers that I look as if I I am water divining.

                  ................almost forgot. Susie will now eat anything and everything, but still has Nature Diet as her main.


                  Much more information is available in a really comprehensive Q&A section under the advice button on the Nature Diet website. http://naturediet.co.uk/aboutus.html

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                    05.08.2012 19:22
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                    A household cleaner effective on lime, soap scum and rust

                    When the seriously \annoying Barry Scott (actor Neil Burgess) sprang merrily on to our tv screens back in 2004 brandishing a purple container, topped with an orange pump dispenser and fronted with a pretty pink, orange and white label with the words Cillitt Bang slashed across it, it had to be a spoof. I mean he actually finished a camp presentation which reminded me of my bright orange '60's kitchen with the words, "Bang, and the dirt is gone."

                    Since then the advert has been discussed on forums, remixed with a heavy beat on you tube, spawned questions on the ASK website and generally crushed we sniffy cynics into submission. I was still, for all that, determined not to use it. In fact a freeby presented by a friend had proved not to do what I wanted and been duly binned.

                    The fact that Cillit Bang had been used to clean off plutonium at the Dounreay Nuclear Power station did not impress. After all, that power station is now defunct so Cillit Bang perhaps removed more than the plutonium. They wouldn't tell me when I asked.

                    All came to a head in January of this year in Stoke when a Mr Richard Jablonski's home was surrounded by police after reports that he was wielding a gun. When they stormed the building he was found to be holding a bottle of Cillit Bang. A gun was found but he was released from court as police could not say that he was holding it during the raid.*

                    It was a couple of weeks ago that I bought my first bottle of Cillit Bang Lime and Grime. I don't really know why. I already had the necessary cleaners in my bathroom and kitchen and it sat on Asda's shelf sort of calling to me. My bathroom is always hygienically clean, but is old and tired looking. Whenever I have the funds to replace it I need the car replaced, something expensive for my dogs or a non essential but happy purchase of an artificial lawn. Always at the expense of a trip to the Bath Store and a call to my favourite handyman.

                    So it was that on the day of my purchase, I squeezed Cillitt Bang's trigger and aimed the nozzle into my bathroom wash hand basin. The contents flowed out in a sort of white, thin foamy stream. I wiped it round the basin with a cloth and was delighted. As for the taps........they shone as they haven't since new. I took off and sprayed around the shower doors, tiles, chrome toilet roll holder and pretty much everything in sight. It works! It more than works! Next the lime scale bit. What about my shower head, which normally needs a soak in vinegar and lots of pricking with a pin to release the results of the Essex hard water?

                    I unscrewed the head and sprayed the Cillitt Bang into the holes, leaving it upright in the sink for a short while. The result was a joy. A full spray of uninterrupted needles of hot water for my next shower. The lime scale around the bottom of my taps has disappeared without trace and stayed that way until the next CB treatment. Advertisements suggest waiting times for the magic cleaner to be effective, but I don't have a problem. While trying to describe the flow of liquid, I took time off from my review to spray into the kitchen sink. Since my new cleaner tells me it deals with rust, I sprayed it at the same time on to the rusty hinge of a cupboard beneath my sink. The steel plug holes shone immediately and a few moments later I wiped the rust off the hinge. My cupboards have been treated to the magic spray and I am happy to grovel to Barry and say sorry.

                    An added bonus is the pleasant scent. It is a clean smell without that strong bleachy eye- watering tang found with some very good cleaners. There are surfaces which the pack advises us not to use the product on and I would suggest that you to check on the rear label before spraying on other than the items I have tried.

                    I paid £1.50 in Asda, which I think is a good buy as it will last me.

                    Does the Lime and Grime clean coins as shown by Barry Scott. Blimey! Not 'arf!


                    *source; Sunday Telegraph

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                      27.07.2012 22:17
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                      An easy to apply and palatable supplement to aid the prevention of plaque

                      Each of my dogs came off the streets of the Essex Thames side towns where they had been abandoned. Ryan from Tilbury and Susie 5 years later as a tiny bag of bones when picked up in Averley. Both appeared older than they were because of their yellowed teeth. In fact their subsequent development proved that they had each been below a year old.

                      Ryan became so used to the vet and the huge fuss made of him as I took him for his regular weigh-in that, if allowed, he would fly into the hospital section or a consulting room at the drop of a hat. Therefore dental inspection and treatment would not be a problem.

                      However, the loving, clever and magical spirit which is Susie, a black and white jack russell cross with a smidgeon of Chihuahua and all of ten inches high, becomes as a demented lynx when faced with claw or tooth attention from anyone apart from myself. No aggression, just a panic stricken little monster wriggling and struggling in my arms and almost impossible to hold without making things worse for her. Thank goodness for ProDen PlaqueOff which will, hopefully, reduce these traumatic visits to my, fortunately, good humoured vet. Her last visit for regular inoculations resulted in Nick reassuring me that the dose accidentally injected into his thumb was not life threatening and Susie was finally jabbed, albeit with a bent needle. You don't want to know about the microchip, although I insisted that Nick scan his thumb (same one) in case. You get the picture. However, back to PlaqueOff.

                      I first used this when recommended by friends who had used it for some years. I had used a toothbrush and special paste, but both Ryan and I could think of better ways to start the day than lifting his muzzle and wielding a tool with bristles on the end. I then tried a couple of rather sticky pastes which were rubbed on to his teeth and gums. It came down to the fact that I had a young animal who had clearly been very badly treated and "first catch your dog" was not the best way to gain his trust. So, when the opportunity was offered to use something which was dropped on to his breakfast from a minute spoon it begged to be tried.

                      What is Plaque Off? Some time during the 70's a Swedish dentist noticed that a patient who had consistently suffered from extreme plaque suddenly presented with greatly improved dental health. The dentist's investigation found that his patient had begun to regularly include a type of seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum, in his diet. It was, however, twenty years later that this same dentist and a colleague came across a dog whose teeth had been kept healthy by the fact that his dog food contained this same seaweed now known as D1070. Two years later, after extensive research and testing (on humans for those who like me care about these things) ProDen PlaqueOff was launched.*


                      The treatment is a fine green/yellow powder which is added with a tiny spoon to the dog's feed daily. So small is the amount dispensed that a 60g pot will last from 6 to 12 months depending on the weight of your pet. The treatment acts through the blood stream and subsequently the saliva and is believed to prevent plaque from sticking to the teeth. It is also rich in the natural trace elements and iodine found in seaweeds and has no added preservatives, sugar or gluten.

                      How useful have I found it? Very. It took about 6 months, as expected, for both Ryan's and, later, Susie's teeth to lose that dull yellowy shade. Their breath is not offensive (except perhaps just after their weekly fish treat) and their gums are healthy. Ryan had been with me for over 5 years before he needed any tooth attention and little Susie now has such an impressive set of white healthy gnashers that I am pleased that she has such a sweet temper.

                      I would not suggest that any additive should take the place of regular dental check ups. That would be like saying because we clean and floss every day we don't need to make sure with a visit to the dentist. Of course an annual check up should be made in case there are hidden problems. Ryan had cracked the inside of a tooth and if the routine inspection had not been made, infection could have made its way inside. Poor Ryan lost a tooth, but this was not due to plaque.

                      Proden PlaqueOff can be sourced from pet stores and online and the prices vary quite widely. I have just bought an 180g pot delivery free from Amazon for £18.86. I certainly won't have to buy another this year, so find it economical.

                      Are there side effects? The manufacturers say that there are not. As far as over dosing is concerned, I can find no warnings, but in any case it would just be wasteful to dispense more than recommended. However, because PlaqueOff contains iodine it should not be given to dogs/cats being treaded for hyperthyroidism.

                      To summarise; an easy to dispense supplement to aid in prevention of plaque and associated problems.


                      *Source
                      http://www.plaqueoff.com/wp-

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                      • Kodak ESP C315 / All in one Printer / 102 Readings / 99 Ratings
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                        18.07.2012 15:04
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                        A basic printer copier

                        I have had a few printers, beginning with my dear little Epsom over ten years ago, through a very large and pleasing HP all-in-one to my last, a space saving printer/copier/fax machine from Lexmark. This last did its job, but I became more and more frustrated with the need to have exactly the right amount of paper in the holder to prevent it jamming or issuing sheets of plain paper at a rate of knots. That was without the annoyance of knowing that the price of cartridges meant that I had paid for the thing several times over just by feeding it. As our relationship deteriorated, I decided that enough was enough and I would look for a replacement. Something which only needed 2 cartridges (seems a rarity now days), that didn't cost an arm and a leg and which I could turn my back on while it did the job for which I had bought it.

                        Whilst browsing PC World I found what looked like just the thing, the Kodak ESP C315. It was one of only two inkjet printers I saw which needed only 2 cartridges and, what is more, they were truly inexpensive. I paid £21.98 for a duo pack of tri colour and black and they can be obtained for less. The machine cost me £69.99 and I have seen them for £61 at Pitman online. It came as a neat matt black 42cms x 28cms x 17cms width, depth and height and sits easily on a small table beside my computer desk. The paper tray folds down from the front and the whole thing is pretty space saving. As is the norm these days it prints and copies.

                        No usb cable came in the box and fortunately I had a spare. I plugged this into the front of my tower and connected the electric cable to the trailer socket. The disc- prompted link to my computer was a doddle. I will stress here that if you want a wonder machine or if you are in a hurry, best switch off now. Only kidding, I hope you don't.

                        Printing with this device is a very thoughtful process. Having pressed the correct button on my task bar there is a short pause before the paper sheet slides half way down in its slot. Another pause---wait for it, it will happen---- before I hear the printer start its measured pace towards the first sheet sliding neatly into the tray. The whole thing is accompanied by the sound of cogs turning and wheels whirring. It has all the finesse of Wallace and Gromit and the heavy speed of " The Wrong Trousers". However, both printed and copied work is clear and clean and accurate.

                        Replacement of the cartridge duo is simple. Just lift the top section and the unit beneath swings over to show you the spent cartridges ready to be lifted out and replaced with the new.

                        For me the C315 comes into its own when reproducing photos. The Kodak printer appears to have attached itself neatly to "My Pictures". This means that a right click on the pic of choice brings up a doorway into the Kodak Home Centre, ready to adjust and print - although slow to load as I have now come to expect. A generous preview of the picture lays to the right of the window with zoom invitations on the photo itself.

                        With Lexmark, I gave up fiddling with adjustments as I followed endless instructions followed by "next" which was rather like those annoying requests on the telephone to "press 1 for.....press 2 for....". The Kodak has 1 button choices, but editing was, even for me, simple and rewarding. A left hand box offers slider or button adjustments to be played with, including a border and a text option with change of font, size and colour with which I experimented for the sake of this review. A picture of my carp swimming in their pond was adjusted in brightness and exposure in a flash and the result compared with the original photo. It worked and I was pleased with the result.

                        Would I recommend my new toy? In all honesty I can't say that I could as I am sure that there are better printer/copiers out there possibly for this price. Is this the printer for dummies that I really want? Yes it is. I don't need to create a run of company reports for HSBC shareholders or the minutes of a parliamentary select committee. I am retired and have time to play a game of free cell as it clunks away. Actually it is not that slow, but you get the picture. So why am I so comfortable with it? Because for me it works. It churns out good reproductions of documents and I find the photo prints pleasing. The replacement of cartridges will not be resented because of price and above all I can go and pour my coffee knowing that I shall not return to either the "paper jammed" report or several blank pages which have sneaked out behind the single page I printed.

                        I suppose, to sum up, this review is for someone who wants to know what they get for not too much money and truthfully I am comfortable with my C315.

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                          04.07.2012 14:16
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                          A pond filter which is easily hidden and almost maintenance free

                          Technology doesn't actually sprint past me, but I tend to be looking the other way as its gentle jog leaves me behind. Nothing too retro, just putting up with inconveniences because I hadn't realised that things could be different. So it is that over the past decade I have found maintaining my 2000 gallon fish pond gradually more time consuming as well as expensive. Sitting grandly surrounded by raised beds and in front of a trellis - formerly hiding "the works" - it contains my precious fish. A couple of these are more than 30 years old and another five not far behind.

                          Until recently the works consisted of a giant black plastic tank on bricks containing another smaller tank, within which a filter medium cleaned the water flowing back to the pond via a large UV unit beside it. Once or twice a year I needed to empty this reservoir sized monstrosity before cleaning it of the nasties which had accumulated since the last time. Added to this was the fact that something drastic was about to happen. My helpful fortnightly gardener didn't have to point out the bulging sides of the tank, but his prognosis made it clear that something should be done fast if I were not to be the cause of a flood of Noah-like dimensions cascading into next door's garden. In any case, my system was clearly no longer doing its job as I battled weed and algae.

                          I had already discovered that Hozelock had brought things up to date when replacing my submerged pump and separate UV unit, so made straight for their shelf in my local pond and aquarium centre. I was looking for a suitable tank with the appropriate 2" holes already cut for the pipe work and hoping that the boot of my small car would be large enough to carry it home.

                          The Hozelock Bioforce 8000 which was to be my choice is 270mmx270mmx456mm (10.6"x 10.6"x 18" in old money). The hose needed would be only 1" internal diameter. Something had to be missing and I asked for help from an assistant. He assured me that this was the complete job and when installed would only show a few inches above the ground. What is more it contained an integral UV bulb and dispensed with the need for the final bulky piece of equipment. Oh Joy! I happily left the store hugging the box and telephoned my obliging gardener.

                          The Bioforce consists of a neat round head with a white tube hanging beneath which contains a UV lamp. For the uninitiated, water passes over the lamp and causes that awful algae to clump and so not green the water. Sunk into the ground, backfilled with sand and close to my pond is now a neat container holding three doughnut - shaped biomedia foam pads one on top of the other. The pads being this shape offer a central hole in which the tube beneath the head slots when it is lowered, before being fastened with 7 clips. All that remains is to connect hoses from the submerged pump and back out towards the pond. In my garden the outlet hose leads to a little rill which pours as a waterfall into the pond. A generous length of cable leads to the electric point. What is left for the eye is a few inches of grey plastic head from which 2 neat hoses enter and leave.

                          To summarise; I began with a vast ugly tank needing many yards of hose and accessed behind a fence and now have a small device behind my pond, easily hidden by plants and needing a very few feet of pipe. So a good start, but how efficient is this little machine and how high maintenance?

                          I already knew that it would take a while for the water to clear and, sure enough, I found myself daily removing thick floating algae from the surface of the pond. At least this meant that the UV lamp was working. It took a few weeks before I noticed that the water was becoming less murky. Then one morning all was clear and clean and it has remained so, even on sunny algae - forming days, during the past few months of early spring and summer. The water which gurgles into the pond is clear and I can see my precious fish.

                          Coldwater fish, especially those the size of mine, need a regularly maintained environment. This has become a pleasant pastime once a week instead of a daily unproductive chore. I rinse away water- slowing solids from the submerged pump weekly. However, the Bioforce has needed hardly any attention. In fact it has proved to be a formality which I have attempted only twice since installing it.

                          I unclip the part of the filter exposed above the shingle behind the pond. Lifting the head I lay it carefully to one side (after all it contains that UV lamp) and reach down for the filter foam rings. A quick rinse out in the bowl I have taken with me and they are replaced and the head tightened into place. I would stress that all the clips must be securely back in place. Switching the electricity back on (don't forget to switch off first) I hear the welcome gurgle of water flowing once again through the Bioforce and out into the pond.

                          A UV bulb should be replaced every 6 months, the instructions for doing so are not complicated and my trusty gardener will do this for me. The violet glow can be clearly seen from above the head of the filter to show that all is well; however, it is not advisable to look actually into the light. The foam medium is replaceable, but I can't see me needing to do this for a long, long time.

                          The cost of this little wonder varies a lot. I paid £130 from Swallow Aquatics, yet have seen it at Amazon for £114 and much less on other sites. Do I think it worth the cost? Absolutely. I am delighted with the space I have reclaimed where once there was an untidy tank and "works" as well as the clear water, weed free pond and lack of attention needed.



                          Note: The instruction booklet states that the device does not have to be buried.

                          There are other sizes available to deal with higher or lower volumes of water than the 8000 provides.

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                            24.06.2012 13:58
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                            An easy to use floor steamer

                            When I replaced the carpets in my hall and most of the ground floor with laminate it seemed that the floors looked cleaner for longer and appeared more hygienic than before. Especially important for me as eight paws speeding towards the kitchen/ breakfast after their early morning run in the woods seemed to promise less follow up work on a hard floor. You would think so, wouldn't you?

                            A daily vacuum, followed by a spray with floor cleaner and wipe over with my trusty Vileda was all I needed until the 'morrow's doggy trail.......or so I believed until I first used a steamer. Horror of horrors!

                            My attempt to protect my shiny new floor with jute runners had been a non starter. Within days I found the emphasis was on protecting the rugs and that jute does not wash. What I needed was an effective steamer. My majestic Polti Vaporetto de lux of yesteryear would have been overkill as I needed something that was light, didn't take up much room and without all the bells and whistles. A friend's recommendation that I try the Vax S2 Stick Steam Cleaner fitted the bill.

                            The one I am reviewing is not the new one widely advertised which includes a soap dispenser, but the original basic still available from Amazon for half price at £42.99.

                            The device came as a crisp blue and white body with water tank, the handle and a triangular floor head which was to prove beautifully manoeuvrable in use. Also provided were 2 micro fibre cleaning cloths one of which was to be fitted and tightened over the head, along with a small pad for curtains and a carpet glider, use of which I shall explain later. Easy to read instructions helped me connect the parts with the aid of the enclosed screws and I was ready to roll.

                            The first action needed was to fit one of the soft triangular pads over the head and tighten well. Secondly I removed the tank at the front of the body and filled with water from the provided plastic jug. Here I have removed a star as I needed a little strength of fingers, but soon had the knack and even my slightly arthritic digits managed ok. Once plugged in, a wait of a few minutes found that the orange LED light on the front of the machine was joined by its adjacent green one and the steam was at working heat. Now came the fun bit followed by the horror.

                            I pushed the Vax easily and slowly over the floor to the sound of a playful hissing of steam. I had been told by the booklet that my new toy would eliminate bacteria and allergens and would also break down grease and grime. "What grease and grime could be on my floor?", I asked myself. When I looked at the pad beneath the head I realised that my shiny laminate had been filthy and I shall be grateful for the spare at some time despite the pads being washing machine proof.

                            The water didn't need refilling until I was ready to try the bathroom vinyl; and fortunately here I found that things were not as dirty and was happy with the shine. It was at this point I found that the cord could have been a tad longer and I needed an extension. It would be churlish to remove a star though.

                            Very helpful was the lightness of the machine. I need a vacuum cleaner based in a bedroom as well as another in the hall cupboard as I find them too heavy to cart safely upstairs. This was joy as I walked upward with one hand free for the bannister.

                            I mentioned a carpet glider provided in the package. This is a plastic triangle which is placed between the head and carpet. With this in place the steamer freshens without soaking the fabric, although we must not expect it to actually act as a cleaner. I did like the effect, but haven't really bothered with it after the first couple of uses.

                            I have had the vax stick steamer for a few months now and would miss it greatly if I didn't have it to hand, although I would not have paid the full price for it. I use it only about once a week or fortnight to improve the daily wash and brush up and must stress that this is not the powerful all-singing-all dancing of the super steamers. However, there is no doubt that after use my home smells fresher and the laminate and vinyl have that squeaky clean look we hope is there when an unexpected visitor arrives. In my case the dogs have usually just walked in from a wet garden when I have unexpected visitors.

                            Note. The machine contains a hard water filter which turns brown when replacement is needed. Amazon are selling these for £10 and mine is nowhere near needing changing despite being in a hard water area.

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                              25.05.2012 14:22
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                              An audible warning when reversing.

                              Ladies. We have all experienced the tiresome little man who cannot bear to watch us parking without interfering. Y'know the sort of thing. Some years ago, I recall the same little man leaping from the driving seat of his flatbed truck as I parked in the firm's car park. "Want some help, dear? Right hand down a bit..............." You will also know, ladies, that nothing is more likely to interrupt our concentration and thus vindicate his unwanted assistance. I childishly let him know after the embarrassing episode that his little truck was nowhere near as large as my horse lorry. So there!!

                              However, time and tide have caught up with me and after 40 plus years with a clean licence (not counting the speeding tickets in 1965) my poor old stiff neck makes me long for the annoying little man's help. When a friend told me that the rear parking sensor on her brand new car was not a factory installation, but a JML addition, I was persuaded that here was the answer to my problems.

                              This handy little tool comprises two ultrasonic sensors placed beneath the rear lighting covers on the vehicle. Whilst reversing the driver hears quite loud beeps, increasing in tempo the closer to an obstacle the car becomes. At the last minute the beeps become a long warning signal which says "Stop Now".

                              JML were offering the device at half price for £14.99 and I hastily ordered. When it arrived the few parts looked tempting for the handy motorist, but I handed the pack to my friendly mobile mechanic.

                              Dave first connected the sensors, helped by panels already available on my car which led the wires through the lights. However, the instructions say that they can be placed over the boot edge, provided they will not be pinched when the lid is closed. The wires are very generous in length and certainly more than enough for my little Mercedes hatchback. They led beneath carpets from the boot, under the rear seats to the unused front armrest which I keep in the up position between the driver and front passenger seats. Here the blue and white control was placed close to my left shoulder (my friend has hers simply laying in the cubby space behind her gear lever). This is chevron shaped and at 6 ½" x 3 ½" not exactly discreet, but not monstrous either.

                              The control has an on/off switch on the narrow end and two terminals for the wiring connected to the wider top. A jack plugged into my cigarette lighter and that was that. The whole thing is clearly not with the invisibility to be expected from factory fitting, but nonetheless acceptable. I should mention here that battery power is also possible.
                              When I turn the ignition key a light appears on the cigarette lighter end and a double beep tells me that the sensor is alive.

                              The device is useful with one or two limitations. Whilst parking in the nearby woods on the early morning dog run, it was soon evident that a post and rail fence with gaps between the rails is not solid enough to activate my sensor. No damage done though as I hadn't been too much of a trusting soul at the beginning of my relationship with the new toy. Gently bumping into a pile of compost sacks at a garden centre was not the fault of my JML. Seems that one of my dogs had managed to switch the device off with his nose whilst peering over my shoulder, despite the seat belt harness he wears.

                              Then there is the traffic queue! Yes, you have it! As the car behind creeps closer, so the sensor springs into guard mode and I am beeped. I shift forward, the tail-gater behind moves closer etc. I switch the darn thing off, until moving again. We must not forget the ghost bleep which I can only assume is caused by the odd leaf drifting by on a windy day. Handy, though, when I back too close to the lavender bush at the rear of my drive. I still use my driving mirrors, but do like the reassuring back up of an electronic sound.

                              Would I recommend the JML rear parking sensor? I believe it would be unfair to take off a star for each niggle and I am happy with it at the discounted cost. I can no longer find it at the price I paid, but Amazon are offering it at £24.99 and that is acceptable at a pinch. However, the full cost of £30 would have left me disappointed.

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                                11.05.2012 13:19
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                                A natural looking, maintenance free turf.

                                Lose That Mower

                                Those dooyooers who remember me from back in the day will know that I am a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. It took me years of reading reviews on laminate flooring before I finally caved in and scrapped the carpet and I have yet to replace my paved patio with decking. However, my resistance to change has proved a good thing in one direction.

                                As a gardener, my disapproving sniffs of outrage when I first stood upon artificial grass were, to an extent, warranted. However, that was some years ago. Now days things have improved so much that my reluctance to change has been vindicated and my new Lazylawn was worth the wait.

                                Once the decision had been made to replace the unsightly remnants of a lawn outside my window, I viewed the gardens of friends and neighbours who had already taken this progressive step and this led me to www.lazylawn.co.uk. which is well worth a browse. The website demonstrated a good variety of yarns suitable for use as play areas, displays, roof gardens and even putting greens. My goodness! They even have a blue one. Usefully, I entered my post code and was directed to my local installer.

                                I will pause here to say that, knowing that artificial turf is displayed on rolls in the larger DIY sheds, I researched the instructions for " laying by the enthusiast". Those which I read appeared to have a few instructions for a base, once a simple preparation had been made. Having watched the 5 stages my guys employed, together with the care and expertise needed, I am pleased that I chose to use professionals.

                                A telephone call brought the Lazylawn installer to my door and I was shown samples from which I chose a weave 26mm high within which was a natural looking thatch. The sad strip of grass in my garden was then measured and a price quoted. "How much?", you ask. Well, this is not cheap, although I regard it as well worth the outlay. Varying from about £40 - £50 per square metre laid and including the dreaded vat mine came to £900.

                                My original lawn lay with one side curving in waves as it followed a crazy - paved path. It graduated to a point on that side before returning to a more regular shape edged by flower beds. My suggestion that I wished the new lawn to follow that pattern caused no concern and the landscaper was to prove true to his word.

                                I knew that my drive would not be able to accommodate the 2 quite large vehicles needed to cart away my old turf and also transport the new stuff, so asked that the landscapers park by my back gates. Now these and my fence form one side of a cul de sac in which half a dozen neighbours live. They have their own businesses and park their vehicles on the turning circle. So the polite note left on my gate explaining that I would like them kept clear from early that Saturday morning was in hope.

                                How uplifting to wake and look out of my bedroom window to the sight of vans and cars parked on pathways and squeezed onto driveways, leaving the entire area totally free for me. It was going to be a good day.

                                So it was that a short time later I made myself comfortable in an easy chair, picked up a book and watched through the dining room window as Eugene and partner set to work

                                Once the original scrappy lawn was dug out (point of no return), a weed-repellent membrane was laid over the area. This contained holes which have subsequently proved to enable perfect drainage in the worst of the recent downpours. There followed a dark grey aggregate levelled with a vibrating plate, which left it flat and compacted. A further membrane was added and all was ready for the exciting part.

                                The "grass" had been cut from a 25metre roll, so the fitting required the skill of a carpet fitter and then some; particularly bearing in mind my request that the original shape be kept. Finally the finest of sand disappeared miraculously into the green sward and I was told that this would ensure that the grass would remain upright regardless of traffic. In fact when some weeks later I left some dog agility jumps with heavy bases on the lawn and saw in horror the flattened result, I need not have worried. It righted itself within minutes and I don't think that had anything to do with the frantic brushing with a broom I had embarked upon. As importantly, the colour remained unflawed and is guaranteed not to begin to fade for 12 years and the sward itself for 15 years.

                                Less than 4 hours later I gazed over and then stood upon my lawn for the first time. The colour is vibrant but in no way unnatural, the texture is soft and inviting and I am looking forward to watching my young grand children using it as a safe play space.

                                To sum up, I have tried to see any disadvantages and cannot. My dogs thought a good scratch with hind legs would establish it as theirs, followed by the usual christening with no harm done. I know that it can be washed if I so desire and I like the fact that it dries very quickly after dew or rain and that there will be no mud or weeds to flaw its pristine glory..

                                I am sure that many of us have anticipated something expensive, enjoyed for a moment, then felt that perhaps it was a little extravagant. Well, I look out on my garden every morning and smile.

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                                  25.07.2005 13:41
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                                  A psychological thriller encompassing cyberspace

                                  Like millions of others, I think of myself as a web person. I have at my fingertips nearly all the knowledge in the world, move through virtual playgrounds and visit distant friends with the touch of a key. But, oh! How I fool myself.

                                  I and most like me are stumbling on the edge of things. We ask permission to step on pathways, move through already opened doors and think we are adventurers. But there are superior, nay supreme, keyboarders who will not be led or directed. Those who create their own secret portals and hidden passageways and, with infinite resource, evade pursuit as they seek and explore. Travelling at the speed of light they expose all the hidden places just because they can, then withdraw and fly onwards in pursuit of more. Such are the super hackers, like Wyatt Gillette who mean no harm and only need to know that they can overcome any challenge. But, as in the real world where light is balanced by dark, so it is in the Blue Nowhere. Here in secret corners of virtual space are to be found the Crackers, like Phate, who damage and infect and, when mischief turns to evil, kill.

                                  Somewhere a killer is using "social engineering" to lure his victims. With the advantage of knowledge gained from their personal computer he is able to track, manipulate then win over his prey. More, he is choosing those with the tightest security. Yet this slayer is not intruding on emails, rather reaching deep within the computer itself and, using his own software, cannot be traced, stopped or reached by the finest cyber minds of the FBI. The only man who can prevent Phate from continuing his ultimate computer game is Wyatt Gillette - and he lies in solitary confinement for the peace of mind of the Defence Department. Released on licence, Wyatt flies out into the Blue Nowhere, reaching into a world in which he can create his own virtual step ladder to hidden highways as Phate, recognising his adversary, now has to evade discovery and capture, while still continuing the deadly game to which he is addicted and in turn pursue his enemy.

                                  The pace of this novel is satisfyingly fast and we are permitted to get to know the characters and enough about their lives to care for their welfare or not. FBI agent Bishop, who initially had a more earthbound investigation to pursue and appeared disinterested in the case. Shelton, unlikeable and with scorn and disapproval for Wyatt and his ilk....... why should this irritating character possess such hatred for computers? Assisting with the operation is the unattractive Patricia Nolan, who seems unable to accept Wyatt's disinterest of her. As for likeable Wyatt Gillette, he is the ultimate pale nerd with fingers permanently calloused from keyboarding at 110 words per minute for days at a time, as equally addicted to the internet as Phate for reasons hidden in his own secret past.

                                  As Wyatt and the FBI desperately try to establish Phate's true identity, their efforts are repeatedly thwarted by Phate's partner the mysterious Shawn. Who is Shawn, how close is he and does he observe from within or outside of the investigation? Vitally, what is his status in all this and is he playing a game of his own?

                                  As author, Jeffery Deaver, took me on a breathtaking ride through cyberspace with Wyatt, I realised that this is not the cosy stuff of science fiction or fantasy, but a real possibility of today. The most naive among us are aware that our secret lives whether on our own PC's or on data bases can be accessed by the unscrupulous. Yet what if our actions could be manipulated by that knowledge? What if we could be made to believe a truth presented by another hiding within the intimacy of our computer, a godlike figure who can reach inside us from his own chosen distance? Supposing we could be lured by one who knows what no other person knows? Something which has not even been whispered on email? This is the reality of Phate's control of the Blue Nowhere and there is little time left if he is to be found and stopped.

                                  For those of us for whom the computer world lies no further than just behind a pale screen, we do not have to worry about Jeffery Deaver blowing our minds with technology. I was able to follow the protagonists wherever they wanted to lead me with ease, however convulated the labrinth, as I held tight on to their coat tails and enjoyed the ride. I found this an absorbing, thrilling and satisfying crime novel which at 430 pages was exactly the right length. Despite the flight through Nowhere, the reader is allowed to keep one toe safely on the ground and I think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. Another is that Phate is not kept a secret from the reader and we are thus given a privileged view of the cyberspace as well as the earthbound battle.

                                  My title is the apt name Phate gave to the entry to his secret world and the book may be purchased from Amazon for £5.59.

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