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In June 2001 I came across the UK Ebay site. Less than two years later I am the breadwinner of our family - and it all comes from trading on Ebay. My first impressions of Ebay were that it was an excellent way to earn money online - but I had no idea when I listed my first book for auction that I would realise a massive profit and take the first steps towards a job that would support my family. The book cost me 20p and I sold it to an American for £36.00. I didn't believe it either. After this initial success I bought more books - including a big lot from another Ebay seller, and made a few hundred pounds on an investment of about £150. I branched out into more different items as I slowly realised the potential to earn money from selling online. My partner is a computer contractor, and earned most of the money - my Ebay earnings were a great way of gaining some financial independence, and I had a job in a local Post Office too, which meant that suddenly I was earning a small but reasonable amount of money. It wasn't enough to support the family yet, but I realised the business had a lot of potential to grow - in fact the potential was limited only by the amount of time and effort I was prepared to spend on it.. It got to August, and I had a decision to make. Would I go back to the Masters degree in Computing that I was doing part-time, or would I put more energy into my Ebay business? After evaluating my progress, my partner and I decided that the best course would be to stick with Ebay. Over the initial couple of months I had taught myself HTML to make my listings better, and had realised that this Ebay business could mean working from home successfully with the added bonus of transferable skills I could take to a future job if I chose. Working from home was great - I could be there for my daughter, and be very flexible about how much work I did on E bay. I still kept the Post Office job, to make sure I had a regular wage coming in, and watched my business grow. In April 2002 my partner went to the doctor after experiencing some odd symptoms - his legs felt heavy, and he had a problem with the vision in one eye. He had just started another contract, which involved driving for several hours a day, and initially put it down to the stress of starting a new job combined with the travelling. I walked my daughter to school while he dropped in at the doctor's surgery - neither of us was prepared for the result. The doctor informed him that he almost certainly had Multiple Sclerosis. Reeling from this news he met me at the school gates, and by that afternoon felt weaker. Only a few days later he couldn't take a shower without sitting down, and I had to help him get dressed. Over the next couple of months he had the diagnosis confirmed by his specialist, and after going back to work part-time for a short while, finally had to stop work altogether. We had gone from earning a good wage to almost nothing in a few months. He got Statutory Sick Pay - which isn't a lot, and I had first taken a few weeks off to look after him, and then decided to give up work altogether to help him over the next few months of recovery from this relapse. There was another reason too. I decided that if he couldn't earn money to keep us at this point, I was going to do it. I threw myself into the Ebay business and it has paid off. From selling one book, I now sell hundreds of items a week, and make enough money to keep us - not in riches yet - but it may well work out that way. I looked at what I needed to do to maximise my sales, and decided that if you sell a lot of different things Ebay is not an ideal way of displaying your stock. I put my HTML to good use and built a website to en able my customers to see what I sold - and also to see items I was selling in other categories. I link to all my Ebay auctions from this website, and have found it increased my sales as well as being a useful tool for me to use when dealing with enquiries - all I have to do is to send a link in an email to the appropriate page. I decided to use Seller's Assistant Pro to organise my listings - I use this to minimise the time spent on administration, and to list and re-list quickly. This is essential - as I have nearly 1700 customers now ? and their number is growing all the time. I have watched my feedback grow from 0 to over 1900, and take great satisfaction in the comments I get from satisfied customers. We will shortly have another addition to our family - our baby is due in eleven days time, and I have been able to fit my Ebay work around the pregnancy as I can control how much work I do by reducing or increasing the numbers of auctions I run. We could have been in a desperate situation now - I worked part-time locally, and to take on a full-time job would have meant long hours and low wages, and missing out on spending time with my daughter. We certainly wouldn't have been able to contemplate having another child. Instead we are looking forward to a bright future, and what looks now to be potentially a very successful business which will be enough to keep our family going without my partner having to worry about working if he is ill - having less stress should keep him fitter for longer. I used to joke that one day I would earn more than him - you should be careful what you wish for because it might just come true - I meant that we would both earn a lot. Looking back on the last couple of years I have gained enormously from my association with Ebay. I am much more confident, my partner has a lot of respect for me and my development of this business, and we don 't hav e to worry about where the next meal is coming from! Here then are my tips for success on Ebay: 1 - Make your listings clear and provide as much information as possible - not only will you get more bids and make more sales, but you will spend a lot less time dealing with email enquiries. 2 - Give good customer service and answer emails quickly before the backlog builds up - ideally you want your customers to come back again and again. 3 - Always communicate with your buyers - and sellers - most people on Ebay are one person operations, so sometimes things go wrong. I had chickenpox at Christmas, and had to delay posting out goods to several customers - they were fine about it as I emailed them to explain the situation, offering a refund if they didn't wish to proceed with the deal ? and they were all happy to wait a few days. 4 - Treat each customer with respect - very few customers turn out to be a problem. I have had a few customers who were rude in emails, but the best response is to be polite and professional - you will find that in most cases they apologise, and you have gained a long term customer, and the others you can always stop from bidding on your auctions with the satisfaction that you were polite even if they weren?t. 5 - Accept as many methods of payment as you can - I use Nochex, PayPal, FastPay, cheque and Postal Order payments, the majority of my customers pay with PayPal and pay me straight away. 6 - Exercise your judgement in dealing with credit card and cheque payments - I tend to deal in relatively small amounts of money so I haven't had any problems yet, and no-one has bounced a cheque on me - but be aware that this could happen. 7 - Don't give feedback too soon - you have 90 days to do it, and I have had goods returned by the Post Office 4-5 weeks after a sale because the customer wasn't in and they haven't picked them u p at the depot - one of the tw o negative feedback comments I have said I hadn't sent the goods - I had - he just hadn't picked them up from the Post Office and had not emailed me to ask me where the goods were. In the meantime I had given the customer good feedback, and then had to deal with a negative I didn't deserve. 8 - Build up a good relationship with your suppliers - this will get you a long way - and everyone likes to deal with polite and positive people - it may just get you discounts too! 9 - This is important - ENJOY YOURSELF! There is no point in working for yourself if it makes you miserable. 10 - This is just as important - be aware of tax issues - you will have a tax liability if you sell for profit, and Ebay will turn records over if asked by the Inland Revenue. * If you sell for profit you are regarded as self-employed - and you must register as self-employed with the tax office within 3 months of starting or face a £100 fine. * I know this because I assumed I could report my income via self assessment, and got a penalty notice. * I was OK because I hadn't earned much from the business in that first tax year, and they cancelled the penalty. * Keep all your receipts and keep a record of any mileage you do for your business - you will be able to write off some of your tax liability if you do. * Remember to keep records of any fees you pay to Ebay and to payment gateways such as PayPal ? again these will minimise your tax liability.. * Remember you will be liable for National Insurance contributions - but these are low and paying these will mean that you can get some benefits if you need to claim them. * Plan ahead for your business growing - one day you may have to register for VAT so keep your prices realistic ? you don?t want to be really successful and then have to shut your business because you haven?t fac tored in VAT liabili ty. * Consider setting up a limited company - this only cost £100, and should make you far more tax efficient ? meaning you get to keep more of the profits! I hope I haven't put anyone off with all this talk of tax, but being aware of the potential pitfalls when you start may save you a lot of trouble later. THE VERDICT I have no regrets about giving up the day job - it has helped my business to grow and meant that I have a lot more control over my time. I get to spend a lot more time with my family, and will be able to fit my business around my new baby a lot easier than I could have with an off-line job. I have had a great time learning new skills and looking for ways to improve my business, and the last year, which could have been horribly stressful,. has actually been one of the best years we have had.
I grew up near a large Asda supermarket, where we bought everything from wallpaper to baked beans. I still have fond memories of sausage sandwiches on a Friday night after the big shop. I moved to Yorkshire several years ago, and was disappointed to find that there was no Asda nearby - or so I thought. I have spent the last few years shopping at Sainsburys (nice products but expensive), Tescos (too near the centre of town) and Morrisons (great for convenience foods, cheap but the fruit and veg leave a lot to be desired and are frequently mouldy after a day or two). Then I found out about the Asda at Wakefield, which is only about a 15 minute drive from us. A little difficult to find at first, we ended up in the middle of Wakefield, but did find this a positive move because Wakefield is great for shopping! When we got there, having come back out of the centre, we found an Asda the like of which I have never seen before. I thought the Asda my parents use was big, and the one we use at Llandudno when we are on holiday is fantastic for self caterers or those in B&Bs, as it is close to the promenade and has a very reasonably priced cafe. The Wakefield Asda is something else. Once inside we managed to pick up my daughter's school uniform at a very low price in the clothes section seemingly the size of an aircraft hangar. We went again on Sunday and found that there are brilliant Halloween costumes for children for only £10! I even picked up some very stylish wool mix trousers for £19.99, and was complimented on them by a friend with rather expensive tastes in clothes. The one quibble I would have with the clothing department would be that there are only TWO changing cubicles! Moving on, we bought a CD player for £39.99 on Sunday, and some great CDs - a Beatles greatest hits album for £7.98, and Now That's What I Call Music 48 for my daughter, for £6.98, which she is play ing to death (why are 4 year olds like teenagers these days?). We bought two lights for our bedside tables for £3.99 each, which are exactly what we wanted, and as for the food! Asda does good quality food at brilliant prices. Their range of ready meals is superb, and takes some beating for taste. If you scout around you will soon come across a lot of items with the famous "Whoops" sticker on - go for these - they will have a substantial reduction on them. One department where Asda lets itself down however is the bakery. The bread is tasty and reasonably priced, but even Morrisons has a better selection of freshly baked bread (I am particularly fond of the Morrisons rosemary and potato rolls Mmmm!) I was very disappointed to see that there are very few speciality breads available, with the biggest section by far being pre-packaged sliced bread. We also enjoy the booze section of Asda, where you can get some great bargains and a decent selection of wines and beers. Moving back to the non-food area - which apart from the ready meals section I believe to be the best feature of Asda - we bought a marble chopping board (about the size of a large place mat) for £3.94, and a marble cheese slicer for the same price. I am considering buying a few more of the chopping boards to use as place mats - they look great and the price is excellent. Overall, Asda is a good supermarket, particularly in the non-food area, but I feel it is let down badly by the bakery section, although the quality and prices of the other food sections are very good.
Some people walk into their local newsagents and look up at the top shelf whilst pretending to scratch their heads. Some people leave the house before dawn, opening the fridge door furtively to retrieve their collections of wriggling bait. Some people inject, some people people smoke. I collect fabric. Not from people's washing lines - I am not that bad. Not yet. From my favourite web site - well one of them anyway. www.sunflowerfabrics.com From fabric shops in town, anywhere I can get that rush. I feel it in between my fingers and stroke the surface. At the moment it has to be cotton, but I may have to go on to silks and velvets - who knows where this craving could lead. During the whole of 2001 I have been adding to my stash (a collection of fabric destined to sit in the back of a wardrobe) gradually, until suddenly it seems to have started breeding - that can be the only explanation surely. All I have made so far this year is a gym bag. And that was as a last minute panic, because I couldn't get the Barbie pink one from Clarks. Patchwork is one of my great loves. I love the sensuality of fabric. The colours, the feel of it. Patchwork is an ideal hobby for those who long to be creative but don't think they can draw. For the record I think everyone can draw - although some are going to be better than others. What a shame that creativity is leached away during our childhoods so we end up thinking that it is only other people who can do that sort of stuff. Nonsense. Draw for yourself and just take pleasure in the feel of the pencil as you make marks on the paper. All you need is a needle, some thread, some fabric, a pair of very sharp scissors (and don't ever use them for paper! - paper blunts scissors for fabric after one cut) and some ideas. You can get inspiration for patchwork f rom anywhere. One obvious place to start is by laying different pieces of fabric together and seeing if you like the way they look. I would advise using a geometric design to start with - you will find starting with a simple pattern of squares the same size easiest while you learn how to sew them together in a way that suits you. Americans stitch patchwork by hand differently from us (in the UK). In the UK you would tack a piece if fabric around a card template and then over sew different patches with the right sides together. The American way is to simply plave the fabric right sides together and stitch it. Choose whichever method you like - or use mine - using a sewing machine. I have made patchwork both by hand and by machine, and prefer using a machine. Not being of the school that thinks that using a dishwasher is wrong because it makes people lazy, rather that dishwashers enable me to do more of the things I like and stop my feet itching every time I plunge my hands into a bowl of soapy water, I will use any and every device that makes my life easier. Using a sewing machine to construct your patchwork means that you can go from an idea to cutting out your pieces and producing a finished item in a few hours. It can be deeply satisfying to make something that no one else will have. My gym bag was an instant hit, combining "barbie" pink fabrics from my stash with my daughters name embroidered in backstitch using pink wool on a felt background. I then stitched the felt to the outside of the bag and stitched the inside and the outside together (both made of strips of fabric sewn together). Because the bag is not a commercially produced one, it is easily recognisable to my daughter who is in reception at the moment, and easy for her to find in a crowded cloakroom. A search on Google.com will lead you to many patchwork sites, and you can find a lot of books onl ine and in highstreet stores, although online is probably your best bet. I tend to use www.amazon.co.uk for books on patchwork, and have picked up some great books from Just Books, a highstreet discount bookseller. You may find that artists with a decorative style such as Gustav Klimt will inspire you to produce quilt designs. Here are a few of my favourite books on patchwork: Kaleidescopes & Quilts - this book by Paula Nadelstern is one of the most beautiful I have seen. The quilt photographed for the front cover - Up Close And far Away - reminds me strongly of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt - one of my favourite paintings. ISBN 1-57120-018-5 Patchwork Portfolio - this contains 162 designs by Jinny Beyer, a prominent American quilt designer, and gives the traditional block a twist by using paisley patterned fabrics, and concentrating on contrast and pattern. ISBN 0-939009-46-3 Designing Tesselations - another great book by Jinny Beyer, this reveals the secrets of symmetry, and gives clear instructions and advice on how to create quilts by focusing on geometry and symmetry. ISBN 0-8092-2866-1 Repeat Patterns - this is a wonderful book by Peter Phillips and Gillian Bunce. This book reveals how many historical fabrics are constructed, using mathematical analysis. ISBN 0-500-27687-0 Quilts - an beautiful and informative huge book by Dennis Duke and Deborah Harding. This books travels through the history of patchwork and is packed with incredible examples of quilts both "ancient" and modern. ISBN 3-89508-224-4 All the above books were bought online from www.amazon.co.uk, except for Repeat Patterns, which was bought in Waterstones, and Quilts, which was bought from Just Books for practically nothing. I also use a piece of software called Electric Quilt. For those of us who like to design ourselves, this software is great - you can make up your own design from scratch, by drawing blocks yourself, or by combining blocks from the block library. A block is a bit like a repeat in a patterned fabric - it is made up of a number of pieces of fabric, and can be repeated to make the whole quilt design. One of the best features of Electric Quilt is that you can see what your design will look like before you make it, and there is a facility to scan in your own fabrics and use them in your designs. When you have decided on your design, you can even print out templates to use for making you patchwork pieces, and calculate the amount of fabric you will need to make your quilt. For suppliers online see www.electricquilt.com. I tend to make my own designs up, using art books and books on quilt design and repeat patterns to give me inspiration, as well as simply choosing fabrics that go well together and working from there. I get a parcel of fabric sent to me every month from www.sunflowerfabrics.com as I am a member of the fabric Club. This is a great way to build up your stash and the fabrics are top quality cotton. Go on then - get yer own stash.
Let me first state my position on IKEA unequivocally. I like it. Well I love it. Well I hate it - let me explain. IKEA is like many shops, designed to shift merchandise, and process customers. It scores highly on both these points. Furniture, kitchen utensils, prints, fabric carpets, light bulbs, kids toys... All laid out in "realistic" settings, so that there is no big leap of the imagination to see it in your home. Obviously the version of my home that I use when I am in IKEA is very much the same as the mental image I have of my body. Smooth sleek lines, beautifully maintained and infinitely desirable to the masses. The reality is somewhat different. Things that sag, grubby paintwork, and that general air of being lived in. IKEA is designed to propel customers steadily along, peeling off from the convoy occasionally to test out a sofa or boing on a mattress, and indulge openly in the furtive pleasure of peering into someone else's kitchen cupboards. IKEA makes you feel that you too can aspire to a house straight out of a glossy magazine. It is all too easy to drift along on a tide of shoppers, picking up an unbeatable bargain set of tea lights here, a small but perfectly formed table lamp there, and suddenly find yourself beached in the vast warehouse, at the tail end of a massive queue filled with strained looking families, screaming toddlers and only the smell of the hotdog kiosk beyond the checkouts to keep you going. Halfway round my nearest store is the restaurant, serving up Swedish meatballs, pasta, pastries and even lager and wine to keep your strength up. Interesting enough, this is located next to the start of the children's section, which could leave you needing a stiffener as your kids run amok It is best to avoid hitting IKEA at peak times, such as weekends, when nest building is at its peak, and foot and mouth has left many wal kers with no alternative to milling about in DIY stores and of course, IKEA. Obviously avoiding weekends is a problem for most people who work during the week, but IKEA does open reasonably late so it could be feasible to pop in on the way home from work to browse or buy. The sense of being herded around in a convoy of stupified consumers can be alleviated by getting hold of a copy of the store map as you enter the main doors. This shows you the quick routes and shortcuts through the store - vitally important if you have children whose bladders miraculously fill when you are well away from a toilet. It is also a good idea to pick up a catalogue and browse through it before you go - in my area we get an IKEA catalogue posted through the door a couple of times a year. Hopefully this is from IKEA and not from a neighbour unimpressed by the view through our front window. The thought of vigilante groups trained in flat pack assembly and minimalist flower arranging fills me with horror. The only problem I have with the catalogue is that it tends to give you a broad overview of what you can buy. Once you get to IKEA you will find that there is much, much more than in the catalogue - and it is this that can leave you prone to impulsive purchases. Generally I have found the quality of furniture bought from IKEA good, with the rider that it is usually fibreboard, with associated problems - you only really get one chance to assemble it properly, and if you make a pigs ear of it you may have lost any chance of making it look decent, or even to fit together at all. However, the prices are ok, some of the furniture is really good value, such as the trademark Billy bookcases - see my opinion on those for a guide to buying and assembling them - and the design is still slightly quirky, although much more mainstream now simply because many stores and manufacturers followed IKEAs lead when they first came to Britain. I can only feel relieved that my most nightmarish idea of furniture - that weird "cherrywood" colour with high gloss varnish and unnecessary twirly bits and glued on plastic wood detail seems to have got a lot less common since the IKEA revolution. ~~~~~~~~~~ The Verdict ~~~~~~~~~~ Generally I like the design and convenience of IKEA. What I don't like is the way the store is designed to make people impulse buy, and then strand them in huge queues at the checkout. I also don't like the fact that I always feel like I need to go again, because I have seen other things I like when on a trip planned with military precision to avoid impulse buying. Anything that feeds my partners insatiable desire to buy light bulbs "just in case" (we have a cupboard full already, many bearing the IKEA logo) is generally a bad thing. I love the textiles, although I suspect that the quality may not be as good as I would like. On balance, I like IKEA - unfortunately too many other people do, and as I am not living in the sixties and a member of the Beatles, no-one wants to open a shop just for me and my entourage to browse in.
Read my guide to buying and assembling Billy bookcases for tips on tools you will need, fitting, and customising Billy bookcases. Ever since I accidentally sliced the top of my left index finder off a few years ago (dear reader tremble not - it was stuck on again by a member of the medical profession - well, a shocked friend with a plaster - and miraculously managed to stick itself back on) I have regarded sharp things with some trepidation. The faint-hearted would be well advised to stay away from Billy bookcases - you will need a jigsaw to make them fit your skirting boards. Easy to assemble - as long as you follow the instructions carefully and check off all the screws and fixings as you unpack them - Billy bookcases are the cheapest sturdy bookcases you will find anywhere. I have six in my house, four of them with glass doors with aluminium frames (very stylish). We also have a corner unit to take the wall of books around the study. ~~~~~~~~~~ Here are my Tips and Recommendations for Billy bookcases. ~~~~~~~~~~ 1. Carefully measure the room you intend to fix the bookcases in. 2. If possible, consider the type of walls you are going to fix them up against - they will need bracketing to the wall as they will be enormously heavy when fully loaded, and you should preferably fix them against a solid external rather than a hollow internal wall. 3. Chose a layout for the bookshelves that works well - and consider room for expansion. If you are a bibliophile like me your collection will tend to expand exponentially - to the extent that I am currently putting a whole bookcase full into storage in the attic for a while to make room for more (web design and programming languages). I used graph paper and measured my room's dimensions to plan the layout of our bookshelves. This can be done easily by drawing the room into a piece of graph paper, and drawing th e size of the bookshelf base to the same scale - you can then cut this out and place it on your room plan without all that tedious rubbing out and crumpling up. I used this technique to plan our kitchen last year too, and it worked very well. 4. Make sure you have the proper tools. You will be supplied with allen keys and all the necessary bits to tighten the special IKEA fixings, but you will also need a set of screwdrivers, a jigsaw for cutting the bases to fit your skirting board and make holes for any wiring that needs to be passed through the sides, and some sand paper for smoothing any rough edges. A pen or pencil and ruler will also come in handy for the jigsawing, as will a metal tape measure. It is also a good idea if assembling a number of bookshelves to empty the room of any other furniture as they are very large and can be difficult to maneouvre. 5. When you go to IKEA to buy your bookshelves, seriously consider paying for delivery. Unless you have a van or large car such as a people carrier or estate you will be unable to get the full height bookshelf flat packs into your vehicle. They are also extremely heavy and difficult to carry. Make sure you get a proper trolley in the warehouse to put to flat packs on, and I would strongly recommend that once you have paid for them you take them to the home delivery point. Delivery of six packs of bookshelves cost us £15, and we eliminated the risk of injuring ourselves or dropping the flat packs and damaging the goods - they are trained to do this, and are insured! As it happened one pack was damaged when we opened it, so we simply rang IKEA and asked them to collect it and deliver another one. If we had collected it ourselves that would have been two trips to IKEA, not to mention the queuing up at Customer Services with a heavy flat pack on a trolley, and then going back to the warehouse.... 6. Consider buying doors to fit your bookshelves - we have glass doors on four of ours (80cm wide full height) and they keep dust of the books and make the room look a lot tidier. When we bought our doors they cost £95 per bookshelf, but they were very easy to fit and look great - if you buy glass doors you could also fit fabric panels or even wallpaper behind them to match your room. 7. When you come to assemble the bookshelves, make sure you have plenty of time to spend. Assembling mine took me a full day, and putting the doors on later took a couple of hours. Clear the house of kids dogs cats and partners if you are prone to argue over petty domestic issues. It is perfectly possible to assemble them on your own, and possibly preferable when a certain degree of concentration is needed. You will also be using a jigsaw unless you have the smallest possible skirting boards - so keep people away - and be careful yourself. 8. Use a large tupperware style box to put your fixings in, and check them off as you find them. Unpack one bookshelf at a time and dispose of the cardboard and polythene packaging - preferably by chopping it up and putting it in your green bin if you are lucky enough to have one (we have two and recycle most of our rubbish now). Keep the instructions safe! You may find it helpful to read them through a couple of times and perhaps mark off what you have done with a highlighter, or even write a separate list of what you need to do. 9. The first job I did was to jigsaw out the skirting board hole a bit more to allow the bookshelves to fit flush against the wall (very important for safety!) - I managed to do a really good job, and I had never used a jigsaw before and bought one to do the job, having realised on unpacking the bookshelves that they would not fit flush to the wall becaus the cut out for the skirting is very small. The best type of jigsaw to use is one with a scrolling blade, as you will have to cut curves. You will also need to fit an appropriate blade for the job - consult the manual. When using any power tools I cannot stress enough the absolute importance of safety. Always switch off and preferably unplug as well when you have stopped using the jigsaw - and that includes putting it down to stop for a breather. Use safety goggles. Use a workbench or prop the side of the bookshelf up against a chair - but make sure that nothing is under where you are cutting! If you need to cut a hole in something - as I did in the side of our corner unit for the TV and video cables - draw the hole on first and then start off by drilling a pilot hole so that you can get the blade in. If you are going to have a corner unit like we did - consider getting a couple of the tall CD towers that fit - I forget the name but they match the Billy range - and use them as spacers. That way you will have plenty of room for cables - and we managed to position ours so that they were in front of the power socket. When jigsawing, it is best to saw from the side that will be visible - then any damage caused by the blade will be behind. 10. Having assembled your new bookcase, place it against the wall and fit one to two strong metal brackets to secure it - the last thing you want is to have a bookcase toppling onto you or you children! We have been very pleased with our bookshelves - they have been admired by all who see them, and are strong enough to take whole shelves of thick computer manuals without a whimper. The corner unit easily holds a 14 inch TV set, a video recorder, games console and several large art books. Having cut holes in the side for cables (which you can't see unless you practically have your head in it) we have no trailing wires. ~~~~~~~~~~ The Verdict ~~~~~~~~~~ Billy bookshelves are ideal for those who want a good quality bookshelf without spending a lot of money. There are several different finishes available, including a range of wood effects (ours is light oak) in different shades, and the plain white finish. There may well be other finishes available now. I have found the shelves to be easily adjustable - although you may need to buy some more shelves if you plan to use the bookshelf for a lot of paperback novels. We paid about £175 per large 80cm full height bookshelf, including the aluminium and glass doors. An excellent product.
The dust hasn't yet settled in Manhattan, and through the rest of the world the aftershocks and tremors still cause unease. I heard about the attack on the World Trade Center whilst at work yesterday, and although I have seen footage and news reports for many hours both yesterday and today, the sheer scale of this hideous crime has not yet sunk in. I shed more than a few tears today, watching footage that seemed to take you right onto the streets of New York's financial centre. And yet I wonder if this is just the start of something more terrible still. Now that the rescue operation is underway (fruitlessly it seems) I can't help thinking about civilians all over the world who have been caught up in ideological battles. Should we (as Tony Blair states that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the US against a common enemy - whoever it turns out to be) retaliate? I can't help thinking that this would compound the horror we have already seen. Scenes like that witnessed by a global television audience yesterday have been played out countless times - particularly in the Middle East. Is it right that anyone else should be killed to avenge the terrible deaths of these people? Will it make us feel any safer when we hear that a daycare centre or an office in another country has been hit in collateral damage? The path to peace must not be trodden over the dead bodies of anyone. I cannot believe that another attack can be right - however justified it may seem to a nation reeling with shock and anger. We will never achieve peace by shedding blood. Should we rule by fear? Is that democracy? Should we answer terror with yet more terror? My answer would be NO. Let the USA match the courage of those who saved others lives and lost their own yesterday, and the courage of those who escaped unhurt in body but horribly injured in their percept ion of the world. By all means persue the perpetrators of these outrages - and don't ever feel the regret we feel that Nazi war criminals got away with their terrible crimes because too much time had passed, and governments gave them shelter. Punish them judicially. But bombing? Retaliation? Give peace a chance and show the children of the world what adults must do - forgive, and learn from this dreadful day that violence can never be the answer. Retaliation will only lead to more acts of terror, and a new generation growing up safe in the conviction that hate is ok as long as you believe you have right on your side. The older I get the more the issue of crime and punishment becomes a grey area. When I was younger I was heavily into politics, but I never felt that killing was right. Then I was attacked by someone. For a long time I tried to make sense of the whole mess my head was in - but never really hated the person who did it. It wouldn't have made me feel any better - and focussing all my energy on hating someone would leave me no time to get on with my life and put the pieces back together. Hatred is a deeply destructive emotion. We can see in our own cities and towns what hatred does - Stephen Lawrence, the Holy Cross primary school, the BNP gaining votes in the North West. Hatred is divisive. Hatred does not heal wounds - and one day your wounds will have to heal if you want to move on. It was hatred of the USA that made those terrorists hijack planes yesterday, and made their ears deaf to the screams of the people whose lives they used for political gain. Can we hold our heads up if we are deaf to the screams of the "innocent" people who will get caught up in the firestorm looming on the horizon? Innocent people - now that is a phrase that judges and divides - like some people are innocent and so me are guilty - so they deserve what they get. Who are we to judge? And doesn't this mean that some peoples lives are worth more than others? The minute you start devaluing some peoples lives, you start along a much travelled road that has led to bullying, rape, racist attacks, genocide, and acts of terror like the one we saw yesterday. Muslims all over America must be fearful for their safety - one shopkeeper in Manhattan was punched in the face yesterday - and protested that he had been helping people and that his kids were Americans. The man who punched him just saw a stereotype, and a target for his anger - not a human being. See people as stereotypes - the Mad Mullahs and the Great Satan, and all those people who don't live like us and look like us - and you don't see that they too have children, they have hopes and fears, and they wish for a better future too. Stereotypes strip people of their rights and make it easy to forget that they too feel pain and love. They wake up in the night worrying about the future too. If anything can be salvaged from the wreckage of the twin towers today and every day afterwards, let it be a tolerance and forgiveness. For every child who lost a parent today, let's hope they learn forgiveness and understanding instead of hatred, or the terror will never end. American bombs have wreaked the same kind of devastation in cities inthe Middle East - and who can forget the desolation of Hiroshima? Hatred filled the camps in Germany and Poland with people like you and me. Expediency leads to desperate measures and shameful acts of terror. Playing one power off against another to protect commercial and national interests is just as bad as a hijacked airliner being used as a bomb when it means that children are dying and the sick get no medicine. Hatred writes history in blood and tears - let our new century be the one where wars became a thing of the past, where humanity realises that love and peace are what matters, and don't let any more children grow up hating the regime that killed their parents. Breaking the cycle of violence is never easy, but this must happen if we are ever to live in a world without the threat of terrorism - whether fundamentalist, sectarian, racist or state sponsored.
Initially drawn to the Leeds Costco by reports of cheap TVs, my partner and I ventured in there a few weeks ago and joined with Trade membership, which cost us £23.50 including the VAT. If you do not have your own company, you can join under the Individual membership rate, which is approximately £29.37 inc. VAT. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ JOINING AS A TRADE MEMBER ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ To join as a Trade member, you will need to bring along two forms of ID: "1. An original copy of a current utility bill (ie, gas, electricity, telephone) from business address or a business bank statement. (Utility bills and bank statements must be dated within the last 3 months) and 2. VAT registration certificate Or 1. An original copy of a current utility bill from business address or a business bank statement. and 2. Two pieces of Business ID (ie, Business cheque, Letterhead, Invoice to your business address)" (quoted from the Costco website, at present still under construction). This trade membership will get you two cards, one for you and one for your spouse. Another six cards can be purchased at £14.10 each, any over that are available at £23.50 each. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ JOINING AS AN INDIVIDUAL MEMBER ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ To join as an Individual member is a little more problematic. Firstly you must be 18 or over, and secondly you must be a current or retired member of the following professions: Banking/Finance, Civil Servant, Education, Fire/Rescue, Local Government, Medical/Health Service, Police Force or Post Office or qualified as: an Optician, Dentist, Pharmacist, Solicitor/ Barrister/ Magistrate or Advocate. (list taken from, www.costo.co.uk) You will need to take along one item of ID from each of the following lists 1.Employee ID Card or Employee Payslip or Certificate of Professional qualification Plus 2. An original copy of a current utility bill (ie, gas, electricity, telephone) from home address. or Bank statement from home address (utility bill or bank statement must be dated within last 3 months). (list taken from www.costo.co.uk) As you can see, the limited list of professions/employments could be enforced by means of the requirement to produce ID such as a Payslip or Certificate of Professionsl qualification. You can get round this by asking your employer if the company has a Costco Trade card - if not perhaps you could get together with your co-workers and lobby the management - after all it will not cost them much, but it could be a valuable benenfit to the workforce. If the company that employs you has a Costco Trade card, you will be able to get additional cards at the Trade rate of £23.50 each. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ WHY BOTHER JOINING? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Costco have a huge range of products at very low prices: they supply small to medium sized businesses. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ WHAT CAN I BUY THERE? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Anything from TVs, to saunas, to swimming pools for the kids, a huge range of barbecue equipment, computers, stereos, car accessories, DVDs - latest titles at £14.91!, books, clothes, trainers, and a massive range of household products and foods. We buy: packs of part-baked french sticks - 8 for £1.60 = 20p each, 99p for 3 at Sainsburys = 33p each, saving of 13p per loaf. Comfort Easy Iron - 5 litre bottle for £4.05 = 81p per litre, £2.15 for 2 litres at Sainsburys = £1.07 per litre, a saving of 26p per litre. Kellogs Coco Pops bars - 24 for £3.75 = 15.62p each, 99p for 6 at Sainsburys = 16.5p each, a saving of 0.88p per bar. Flash Wipes - 4 packs for £5.28 = £1.32 per pack, £1.79 per pack at Sainsburys, a saving of 47p per pack. On Sunday we bought 10 x packs of part-ba ked french sticks = 80 loaves @ 20p each,saving us £10.40, one bottle of Comfort Easy Iron, saving us £1.30, one pack of Coco Pops bars, saving us 21p, and one pack of 4 flash Wipes, saving us £1.88. This saved us £13.79. When we buy our TV there we have worked out that we will save a minimum of £30 on it, and we have already saved money on our lawnmower (about £15) and other items. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ TACTICS FOR SHOPPING ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The best tactic is to compile a list of all the items you buy normally, and which you use in reasonable quantity, such as cleaning products, toilet tissue, bread, condiments and crisps, and compare prices between Costco and where you usually shop. My partner works near Costco, so it doesn't involve an extra journey for him to shop there - but any extra petrol costs must be factored in when you are working out whether you will save money or not. We invariably come out of Costco with more items than we had on our list, so be disciplined (we impulse buy in any supermarket though). Remember - you have to be able to fit it in your car!! We are hanging fore until we get the estate car we have been waiting for for the last few weeks until we get our TV. Also - popular items such as TVs will be out of the store in no time - so you may have to make a couple of visits before you get the big items you want - it is worth ringing up before you go to check availability first. Don't take your credit card - debit cards, cash and personal/business cheques only I am afraid! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE COSTCO GUARANTEE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "On Merchandise : We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. On Membership : We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ WEBSITE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.costo.co.uk
A letter arrived recently from my bank. After a rather extended period of student and graduate banking covering my ordinary degree and Masters, they kindly informed me that my TIME WAS UP. Not wanting to bother me with unnecessary paperwork, they told me that I didn't have to worry about a thing - they would simply change the status of my account from graduate to current. That £1800 pound overdraft could stay, but from the end of June I would be paying hideous amounts of interest and charges to use the account I had been using for free for the last four years. Now I have grown weary of the usual shade of red attached to such a large overdraft, and fancied a change. Being fashion conscious I looked for an online bank in a more flattering shade. According to the word on the street (my street and the gang of 4-6 year old girls who currently occupy it) Barbie pink is the only colour these days. I decided that I would also love an interest bearing current account, as I was going to pay off the £1800 overdraft with a rather convenient and bacon-saving dividend payment from my partners company. Phew! Wonder what it will be like being in credit for the first time in six years?? My current (soon to be defunct) current account is with Barclays, and although I have used their online banking for as long as it has existed (not sure when it started), I do have a few niggles. I found that there were a lot of improvements I would have liked - not least being that I always had to manually move the cursor along to the next box when entering sort codes for account details. I also find it exasperating that it takes them so long to come up with money in my account when it has been electronically transferred from another bank - it seems to take on average at least a week, which makes me wonder what they are doing with my money when it should have got there straight away. My partner already banked with Smile, and w hen I learned of the attractive interest rate for Current account credit balances on Smile (4.07% gross), and that there was a fee free overdraft of £500 attached to each Smile Current Account (handy for those occasional lapses in budgeting), I was very interested. Two other big plus points were that transfers between Smile accounts are instant, and that you can pay money in through your local Post Office. Today I put my wages from a part time job into my partners Smile Savings account (interest rate 4.25% gross, increasing to 5.25% if you also have a Smile Current account). All I had to do was fill in a deposit slip in his paying in book, hand over the book and the cash, and wait for the cash to be checked and the counterfoil and the deposit slip to be stamped. Funnily enough I found that I could have been depositing over the Post Office counter to my original current account with Barclays! Unfortunately I have been taking the bus 5 miles into town for the last four years at £1 each way in order to deposit cash and cheques, because they have not made any attempt to let me know about this - another niggle! Rather than waiting the three working days for cash deposits, or four working days for cheque deposits (made over the Post Office Counter in a special sealed envelope, or posted to Smile), I will be able to get at my money tonight to pay my bills. This is because my partner will transfer it to me when he gets in from work, and it will immediately appear in my Smile Current Account. The reason I deposited cash into my partners account was that I am waiting for my paying in book, cheque book and debit card to arrive. I have a cheque to deposit, but this will have to wait until my paying in book arrives, as you can only deposit cheques made payable to the same name as is on the deposit slip. ~~~~~~~~~~ How long did it take to set up the account? ~~~~~~~~~~ 25/05/01 applied to Smile f or a Current account and a Cash Mini ISA - whilst the application procedure is simple, and I didn't have to send off any ID because I already had a UK bank account, I found that there wasn't quite enough explanation of how to fill in the form (I was tired though). a few minutes later received an email notifying me of a secure email at Smile. used my enrolment number (make sure you write it down - my partner didn't and it was difficult for him to access his secure messages) to log in to read my secure message, which informed me that my accounts would be opened, and that a few more checks needed to be done before the accounts would be open. 26/05/01 another two secure messages. These informed me that my Current account and Cash Mini ISA were open, and that I had passed the checks. I had expected to be turned down for the current account, because the terms and conditions of Smile Current accounts state that you must have £1000 per month going into your account to qualify, and I have nowhere near that going in - I put my annual income down as £4000! The messages told me my account numbers and sort codes, and that I would be able to log in to my accounts in two days. It also stated that I would receive the necessary paperwork and cards for my account within two weeks, which included: 1. a Visa debit/Electron card (whichever one I chose - can't remember which but was probably the Visa), 2. pre-paid and post office deposit envelopes for paying money in, (took 6 days) 3. a chequebook and paying in slips, (Cash Mini ISA deposit slips arrived 7 days after account application) 4. a salary mandate to request that my wages would be paid straight in to my new account, (took 6 days) and 5. a standing order mandate, for paying in money regularly (took 6 days). 30/05/01 I managed to log in to my accounts. This is longer than the two days specified, but bear in mind that I applied late on Friday night just before the May bank holiday weekend. In that case it did take two working days for me to log in to my account. I made my first transfers into my Smile accounts to see if they worked - £1 to the current account and £1 to the Cash Mini ISA. I cocked up slightly because I had written my sort code for my Cash Mini ISA down wrong - each type of account seems to have a different digit at the end of the sort code - 86 for current, 88 for savings, and 82 for the Cash Mini ISA. I transferred another pound over to the Cash Mini ISA to make sure that something went in, and will update if and when the other pound turns up somewhere. persuaded my partner to transfer a tenner from his account to mine, having realised that the Barclays transfer probably won't make it over for at least four working days (ETA - 06/05/01). The tenner did not appear straight away - I was logged in on another browser window when he did it - so my partner suggested that he had found if you logged out and logged back in again it should have appeared. He was right (curses! - well he says he is always right). transferred a pound into my Cash Mini ISA to marvel at the speed - and it was there! I then decided to open a Savings account, so that I can shuttle money back and forth between accounts without worrying about my ISA limit of £3000 maximum to be deposited during the course of a year. With the current account, I will get a higher rate of interest on my Savings account - 5.25% rather than the standard 4.25%. My only niggle here is that I had to fill in al the details again - despite having filled in details of address and the five different security items a few days before for the other accounts. got the standard secure message about my Savings account. printed off the Smile User guides for each account from their site. 31/05/01 successfully deposited some cash into my partners Smile Savings account - he will transfer it tonight and I can pay some bills straight away - very handy for exchanging money between partners or friends quickly! received my paying in envelopes (both to post directly to Smile, and to deposit over the counter at the Post Office) for the Current and the Cash Mini ISA accounts, the Inland Revenue form for receiving interest without paying tax for my current account (will have to calculate if I am above or below the threshold at the moment - think it is just below), and a declaration to keep on the Smile Cash Mini ISA, which I need to keep - this states my personal details and the rules of the Cash Mini ISA. ordered envelopes - for deposits at the Post Office, and for deposits to Smile by post. 01/06/01 received my book of deposit slips for the Cash Mini ISA. received a secure message notifying me that my savings account was open. received a secure message confirming that my request for envelopes was being dealt with. paid my first bill successfully from my Current account. transferred £1 from the Current account to the Savings account - it worked. ~~~~~~~~~~ So how does Smile compare with my previous online bank? ~~~~~~~~~~ So far it is much better. It was very easy to apply online for the accounts. The secure messaging facility is great - overall I am very impressed with the security of this bank - the only one in he world to have a British Standards kitemark - as they trumpet all over the site. I like the fact that your log in and transactions take place in a secure Java applet. The navigation is logical, and it is easy to keep track of my money, as all the accounts are displayed on the balance page, with a "net worth" figure, currently +£10 (woohoo for the +). T he overall feel of the site is friendly and very customer orientated - it remains to be seen whether this is true, but I always felt like just a number with Barclays. I love the savings calculator (find it under "diy" on the top menu bar), and found that I would be able to save £1,000,000 in 36 years and 2 months if I saved £1000 a month. If I am realistic that is not going to be possible, so I will extrapolate that my £10 a month will need to go in to my saving account for the next 3,600 years to make my million, as if your savings term is over 50 years they do not calculate it for you. By then a dooyoo mile will probably be worth a million pounds - or will it be Euros....
I used to have a fashionista manifesto based on the wise words of Henry Ford: "Any color so long as it's black" Black is slimming, black is cool, black is sophisticated...well, you get the gist. I'm not slim, sophisticated or cool. The pretence is over. I know many of you readers look to me for fashion tips such as: how to look like "a renegade window cleaner" and which bag will turn into "an exorcist-like green cardboard vomiter" (both from my op Billy Liar in the Wild West) Fear not though - I have reinvented myself as the anti-fashionista. I made a start at the recent Opinionated Community meet in London by wearing flares with beaded tassels (so that jo1l would know where I was on the London Underground). It was there that I acquired my second version of the dooyoo T shirt, this time in green instead of black. Of the two I would recommend the green: it is understated and cool for summer, whilst the black version has a bright green themed logo like the one on the site, which is a little too colourful for me, being a fan of muted shades. The T shirts, of whichever colour, are comfortable and of good quality. The black is very black and the green is of a khaki shade. Enough said - I ain't gonna write 3000 on a T shirt (even though I probably could on a XL).
There is nothing quite like the swimming head and blinky eyes you get having speed read half a paperback in a bookshop and suddenly realising you have cramp in your leg. Stretching your toes out and grunting, it is usually at this point that you decide whether to buy the book or furtively put it back on the shelf. The offline bookshop browsing experience is not one to be missed, and many an afternoon as girl and woman has been spent submerged in the pages of a book in a friendly bookshop. Buying books online is something I do regularly now - but only when I know exactly what I want to buy. I use www.alphabetstreet.co.uk (low prices and no postage & packing), www.amazon.co.uk (huge selection of books), www.ottakars.co.uk (free delivery if you can pick up from your local shop), and a wide variety of other online bookshops. I have never had a problem buying books online - all the books I have bought have arrived quickly and in good condition. I have found a lot of textile and craft books online, whereas offline these books have been forced off the shelves of book shops by the vast numbers of cookbooks and DIY manuals/makeover guides spreading over the shelves like a rash. When I want a big offline fix I go to Leeds. Waterstones in Leeds (both branches) is particularly good for craft books, and other areas of personal interest to me, including film theory, gender studies, linguistics, cultural studies and computing. Every time I am in town I pop into Just Books, which is rather conveniently on the way to the bus stop. This is one of my favourite bookshops; I have bought many fascinating non-fiction books, often at very low prices. Just Books is particularly good for academic books: highlights of my Just Books acquisitions are a three volume Dictionary of Women Artists, bought for £30 a couple of years ago, which sells for £190 on amazon at the moment, and many books on qu ilts, rugs, ornament and artists. I also bought a huge amount of pamphlets from Just Books whilst studying for my English degree around the subject area of film and literature. Just Books are also very good for cut price computer manuals. I have recently bought books on HTML from there at about a third to a quarter of the price they sell at in the shops. A favourite haunt of mine when I was at the university full time was the Waterstones branch on campus, which usually had a reduced stand as well as specialist books on lingusitics, literature, gender studies, textiles .... the list goes on. Second hand bookshops are also good, but unfortunately they seem to be dwindling in favour of discount bookshops. In short - I buy books anywhere and everywhere - charity shops, discount bookshops, chain stores, even Morrisons, online and offline. One word of warning - books need bookshelves, and you may find your collection growing exponentially once you discover more and more "dealers" for your habit. We currently have six Billy bookshelves from IKEA. These are the cheapest self assembly bookshelves available and actually went down in price a couple of years ago. You can buy a large Billy bookshelf for as little as £60 these days. Ours have glass doors, making each bookshelf cost approximately £175. These are well worth it, and are very strong. The glass shelves make them look a little tidier, and most importantly keep the dust off our huge collection. To finish - my fantasy. A large library such as you might see in an archetypal country house, all wood panelling and deep sofas. One of those ladders on wheels and of course millions of books.....bliss. Latest buy: Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich, bought from Waterstones,
Using a Lush Bath Ballistic is quite a heady experience. First there is the depth charge effect, when the tennis-ball shaped bomb hits the water of your pre-run bath, and starts to fizz like a giant alka-seltzer. Just imagine the average bloke settling back into a warm bath and turning on the "Jacuzzi" they develop after a few bitters or beans and magnify it ten-fold for an idea of the effect of the fizzing bomb going off. Second there is the "Ahhhhh" which follows you laying back in an incredibly relaxing bath. The ballistic I used last night was called "Big Blue", and contains sea-salt and kelp (seaweed). Having been used to bath products that look very promising colour wise, and turn out to be rather insipid in reality, I was amazed at the colour of the water. It was a rather mediterranean postcard blue, so blue that my four-year old daughter pointed at the empty carex bottle on the sink and asked me if I had used the whole bottle in the bath to make it that colour. In this deep blue pool (I have a strong imagination) floated little bits of seaweed, which enhanced the non-bath feeling. I was prepared to be sceptical, but once in the bath, I found it very relaxing: the water felt very soft against my skin (this would be the effect of the sea-salt I presume) and the deep blue colour of the water really helped me to relax - maybe David Icke wasn't totally off the wall with his turquoise tracksuits. Another plus was that the scent was not too strong, it just smelt faintly of the sea. Once I had got out of the bath, my partner got in, and found it very relaxing too - you can easily stretch this bath for more than one person provided you let some water out and add more hot. My partner even left the water in after his bath and topped it up for a quick dip just before bed time, with no loss of colour or scent.
Being fashionable is an art form for some - for others they become fashionistas for a brief period of their lives, only to fizzle out and become all too human again. The 1980s ushered in a time when I was truly fashionable. Hair - flat top (this came after the Bonoesque cut gelled hairspayed and backcombed until it had to be flattened using the spilt pint of lager bowl-head technique.) Clothes - leggings, black poloneck jumper, short skirt - ah heaven). Make-up - white pancake foundation, mucho eyeliner, pale lipstick. Footwear - the totemic and ultra cool DMs. To complete this look I wore very thick socks - often two or more pairs at a time. This was the only problem with the Doc Marten shoe. After a couple of weeks they were enormously comfortable - and I was never without them when marching against Apartheid, the Tories, in support of the Miners and more - but I could only wear them with huge amounts of sock in place. DMs are really only suitable for those with average or wider than average feet. My feet have always been very slim (AA - when they still did that fitting as a child, and now a C) and to my eternal regret, the DM was only for me with a woolly Wonder Bra in place. If you can't wear DMs because your feet are too skinny like mine - do not despair. Suitable alternatives are: Monkey Boots (if they still make them - haven't seen a pair in years, although these were still a little on the wide side). and my favourites: Kickers. Kickers do a black ankle height boot that is an extremely slim fitting, and they fit my skinny feet perfectly. Looks like I will miss out on being a fashionista yet again because of the feet - but what is new - my entire childhood was one long letch through shoe shop windows coveting the unattainable average shoe.
I can still remember the time I smoked my first Peter Stuyvesant. The memory is vivid, because after I had smoked that first pack of twenty I vowed never to smoke that brand again. I had been walking along Parliament Road in Middlesbrough on the way home from work, when I looked in the junk shop window again, as was my habit. When I say looked I really mean peered. The window was grimy to the point of looking like there were nets up in there. Right in the middle of the window was the lamp. Huge, about three feet high, turquoise in colour, and in the shape of a fish rampant, complete with scales embossed into the quality pottery base, it would go brilliantly with that orange and purple light shade I had bought the week before. Heaving a sigh, as I didn't have quite enough money to buy the framed picture of the woman with the green face, I scraped open the door and was soon to be seen groaning under the weight of my trophy to the incredulous stares of local residents. Next stop was the newagents for me Silk Cut. Unfortunately, due to my prize, I hadn't got quite enough money left for my usual brand, so I bought a pack of Peter Stuyvesant, which were slightly cheaper. Once safe within the confines of my rented terrace, I sat on the floor and began to clean up the beauteous lamp. I lit up a cigarette, and as the acrid smoke brought tears to my eyes, began to wonder what my housemate would say when she got in. What she said was barely printable. "Have you trodden in some dog s**t - and what is that f***ing monstrosity? You are not putting that in the lounge - no way." Sniffing the air like the hound that I became on joining dooyoo, I agreed with her - something smelt bad - real bad. I checked the bottom of my shoes, and then looked with some suspicion at my lamp. Surely not... No, it wasn't the lamp, encrusted with nameless fil th it may be but there was no poop on the pot. Having narrowed down the possibilities, I picked up my neglected cigarette from the ashtray - oh yes it was the Peter Stuyvesant. Harsh, smelling of a dog's bottom, and leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Peter Stuyvesant were not for me, and I have yet to meet anyone who actually smokes them unless they are totally desperate or devoid of reason.
Smoking Silk Cut can be surprisingly economical, although they are one of the premium priced brands. I smoked Silk Cut for most of my smoking life, after an initail skirmish with Marlboro (the pack looked cool, but I could never talk after a night out). Economical? Why?? Quite simply put: get your fags out and offer them round, and most smokers will turn their noses up in disgust rather than take one. The few people who took me up on my offer (apart from my fellow girlies who also smoked the purple poison) ripped the filter off, explaining that: "Last time I tried to take a drag on one of these I nearly gave meself a hernia trying to get a hit off it" In fact the benefit for me of Silk Cut was that the tobacco doesn't taste of much at all. Silk Cut and Silk Cut Ultra are more of a poseurs prop than a real cigarette, although they will give you cancer just the same - after all it isn't just the tar that gets you, each cigarette contains hundreds of different chemicals all of which contribute to smoking related illnesses. I wouldn't recommend Silk Cut if you are trying to cut down or stop smoking - they offer a sanitised version of smoking that will keep you hooked, and most people end up inhaling deeper off low tar cigarettes, especially the Ultra low variety, in order to get a hit of nicotine. In short Silk Cut are very much a cigarette aimed at the young female part of the market, with the pack colours of white and purple and the Silk part of the name part of the ploy. You can be the judge of whether this is a victory for feminism or a cynical move on the part of manufacturers to gain new markets.
I have tasted many cheeses since I decided I liked cheese in my late teens. I was put off by: 1) a visit to a French cheese factory aged 11. Clothes pegs ahoy! 2) that's it really. In spite of coming from a family that didn't really eat any cheese at all, I now love the stuff, and will try any variety at all - apart from a smoked cheese I tried once which smelt and tasted like something that had died. Jarlsberg is an ideal cheese for those starting out from the usual Chedder, Lancashire, and Red Leicester available everywhere. Produced in Norway from pasturised cow's milk, Jarlsberg is mild in flavour, but with a sweet, nutty and buttery taste. The smell is also very mild, and there is nothing too strident about Jarlsberg. The cheese has middle sized holes through it, and is slightly rubbery in texture, with a buttery colour. I tend to eat it in sandwiches, or just on its own, cut straight from the wedge - it comes as a round cheese, and you will typically buy it in small wedge shapes. You can buy it from all major supermarkets - if it isn't on the deli counter try the pre-packed section, and you will usually find some either in the wedge form or pre-cut into slices. I would recommend buying a small wedge initailly, as the slices tend to dry out quickly once the pack has been opened, although they are ideal for the impromptu picnic of a french stick, some passata and a few slices of cheese - not forgetting the chilled small bottles of French lager.