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bobbieal

bobbieal
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Member since: 31.12.2011

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      07.01.2013 22:24
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      Good cleaning device but you have to keep your head upright.

      I was thrilled to be asked to test the Colgate®ProClinical® A1500 by Bzz. I'd seen the adverts on the TV and wondered how exactly it does its stuff.

      In the shiny red box is an electric toothbrush, one toothbrush head, a charger, a travel case and a 6 page, easy to understand manual. I was rather disappointed to see that only one toothbrush head was supplied with the brush - I had expected at least two.

      Colgate claims that their ProClinical® A1500 electric toothbrush is the "only toothbrush in the UK with smart sensors that automatically adjust the speed and direction of the brush strokes for a superior clean -- so you get different cleaning and care for your teeth and gums." Additionally, Colgate claims the brush has sonic wave cleaning action, removes 5 times more plaque than a manual toothbrush and also polishes the teeth.

      I have used a Braun electric toothbrush very happily for some years now and I was surprised how light the Colgate®ProClinical® A1500 was when I picked it up. The Proclinical has two buttons - one to select the mode of brushing (auto, which adjusts automatically depending on the angle of the brush, optimal cleaning and deep cleaning) and and on/off switch. I thought I'd try the 'Auto' setting first.

      The brush head is like a standard manual head in its shape - so rectangular rather than circular. But there are three different types of bristles - including some special spiral bristles that polish teeth. Having been used to a circular brush head, I found going back to a rectangular one rather strange. Be very careful not to turn the brush on until it is in your mouth or you will find toothpaste redecorating your bathroom!

      When you place the brush in your mouth, it 'chooses' one of three actions - a fast, up and down motion which is meant for the flat surfaces of your molars, a medium speed motion for your gums and a slow soft speed for the fronts and backs of your teeth. You can choose one of these settings using the 'mode' button on the handle, if you find you have a strong preference for one particular mode. I like the auto mode - I find the fast up and down motion is very effective at cleaning in the deep crevices of my molars, but is too harsh for the rest of my mouth, so I like the fact that the toothbrush 'knows' which surface it is cleaning. The problem is that the sensor is like a gyroscope and so it only knows the direction with reference to the ground - if you do not hold your head upright, it doesn't 'know' which region of your teeth it is cleaning. I tend to clean my teeth leaning over the basin to catch the dribbles (I know, too much information!) , but if I lean over while using this brush it changes its action and I end up scrubbing my gums and stroking my molars. This brush definitely works best if you have good posture!

      I found the toothbrush rather noisy - there have been many smutty jokes along the lines of 'what are you doing in the bathroom?!' Anne Summers would be proud to listen to this little toothbrush. Having laughed at the noise, I did find it rather wearing after the 2 minutes recommended brushing time.

      The other problem I found with the brush is that the on/off switch is positioned exactly where I hold the brush, resulting in my turning it off several times per cleaning session. Having said that, I do exactly the same with my Braun, so perhaps it's just me!

      But, having had a little moan, I have to admit that the new Colgate® ProClinical® A1500 electric toothbrush does give a good clean. I am probably neurotic about my teeth (I have dentist for an aunt who made me feel that it would be better to be an axe murderer that to have a cavity!) so I am very demanding of my toothbrush. I found that, on Auto mode, the Colgate did not get the front and backs of my rear molars as clean as I would like. However, the deep clean mode is phenomenal - very noisy but a fantastic deep clean. I am not sure how my gums would cope with 'deep cleaning' twice a day every day, so I restricted it to once every couple of days, and that seemed to be a very good compromise.

      I haven't noticed any significant stain removal; I am not a smoker but I am a tea and coffee addict so I am always keen to find something that will remove those everyday stains that dull the teeth. But even a super toothbrush won't give me a bright white Hollywood style smile. However, I think I have noticed a slight improvement and am hoping that it will continue to improve the colour of my teeth.

      You can buy this toothbrush online directly from Colgate for £164.99 but, at the time of writing, Boots are selling them for £84.99. Still, that's an awful lot of money for a toothbrush, no matter how advanced.

      I've given the new Colgate® ProClinical® A1500 3 stars (if there were halves, I would have given it 3 and a half); the price, the on/off switch, the noise and the fact that you have to keep your head upright are all negatives for me. But the clean is good, particularly interdentally and the idea of the adjusting speed is inspired.

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      • Britannia Building Society / Bank / 58 Readings / 56 Ratings
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        19.11.2012 09:29
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        A safe but average rate paying place for savings

        The Britannia Building Society is part of the Co-operative Banking Group. Although it is technically a bank, it remains has no share holders and acts like a building society. Like a true building society, it is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

        The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

        The Co-operative Banking Group, of which the Britannia is a wholly owned subsidiary, has assets of £75 billion (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) - this would make it the second biggest building society in UK after the Nationwide (if it were part of the BSA). Britannia's Head Office is in Leek, Staffordshire. It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Britannia were to go bust. However, this £85,000 covers all parts of the Co-operative Group, so accounts in Co-op, Britannia and Smile must all be taken into consideration when calculating how much capital is at risk.

        I have been a customer of the Britannia Building Society for about 7 years. I first joined because they were offer a great regular saver, offering a good rate of interest. Since then, I have opened and closed several savings accounts with the Britannia and currently have 2 accounts with them.

        I have opened accounts online and via the post. Their online system is fairly basic but, as they don't offer current accounts, it has no need of many of the more exotic options than can be found with bigger institutions. It is intuitive to use and I have found it to be robust.

        I have found it fairly easy to deal with the Britannia. However, I find that it is best to spell out in a letter exactly what I want to do. Whereas some intuitions are good at making sure all the ends are tied up, I have found that I need to make sure that I have asked the Britannia to do everything to make sure all the last bits and pieces are effected.

        So, how do their products stack up against the opposition?

        As of November 2012, all their current offerings can easily be bettered by a quick trawl through the price comparison sites. For example, Britannia has a regular saver paying 2.10%, but 4% is easily found, with 6% or even 8% possible on some accounts; Britannia's1 year fixed rate ISA is paying 2.35% whereas ING have an instant access ISA paying 2.80% and WestBrom have one paying 2.52%. None of these is a terrible deal, just mediocre.

        Having said that, occasionally, the Britannia has some cracking rates. I have found that these almost always appear on price comparison sites, and so there is no need to check the Britannia website directly to find out about their best deals.

        As well as savings accounts, the Britannia also offers mortgages, credit card, insurance products and current accounts, although these are more often under their Co-operative Banking name.

        In short, worth using if they happen to have some great rates, but, more often than not, just a safe but average place to keep savings.

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        22.10.2012 00:42
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        A small local building society that it worth checking directly for both savings and mortgages.

        The Market Harborough Building Society (MHBS) was established in 1870 and has about 50,000 members. It is a true building society, it is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

        The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

        The MHBS is the 23rd biggest building society in UK with assets of £ 409million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Market Harborough, Leicestershire (no surprise there!). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the MHBS were to go bust.

        I have been a customer of the MHBS for about 5 years. I first joined because they had a monthly saving account with a great rate of interest. When that matured, I opened a small savings account which I have kept open to keep my membership current.

        I have opened accounts either by post after having downloaded and completed an application for online, or online for their internet accounts. I have found the MHBS to be very efficient in opening my accounts - it generally takes a week from my posting the forms to my receiving the details of my new account.

        The MHBS has a great website (www.mhbs.co.uk), especially when you consider that they are a small, local building society. I keep track of my accounts using their online system, and have found it very 'ronseal' - it does exactly what it needs to do. I have not been into any of their branches nor spoken with any of their staff, but have had heard from family who live in the area that they have been pleased with the friendliness and knowledge of MHBS staff.

        At the moment (October 2012), the MHBS have some pretty reasonable rates on offer; a Junior ISA paying 3.05% (only beaten by the Coventry) is by far their most competitive offering, but they have a range of internet, postal and branch accounts paying above average but not table topping rates.

        Their mortgages are similarly positioned in the market - good rates but not top of the tables. They do offer some interesting products - first time buyers, holiday lets, equity release and, most innovatively, a mortgage designed for professionals such as doctors, vets, opticians etc. under 40 with 85% loan to value.

        MHBS also offers insurance, although I have never used them for this. I would always advocate running a couple of searches through comparison sites before considering buying any type of insurance. I have found it has saved me a small fortune over the years, and I have picked up extra money from cashback websites in addition.

        In summary, a small local building society that it worth checking directly for both savings and mortgages.

        This review may appear on other sites under the same username.

        © Bobbieal 2012

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        20.10.2012 22:22
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        Look elsewhere for better rates

        The Darlington Building Society's motto is "Looking After Local Interests". Like a true building society, it is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

        The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

        The Darlington is the 21st biggest building society in UK with assets of £525million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Dralington, Co Durham (no surprise there!). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Darlington were to go bust.

        I have been a customer of the Darlington Building Society for about 5 years. I first joined because they had a stunning regular saver account. However, once that ended, I now just have a basic share account with the minimum money in it to keep my membership open because their current rates are, frankly, rather poor.

        I have opened all my Darlington accounts by post, but printing the forms online. I have had no problems with the openings of any of my accounts, which usually take a couple of weeks from when I send off the forms to when I receive my new account details.

        For me, the real disappointment with the Darlington is their interest rates, for borrowers and savers alike. As an example, their instant access savings rates range from 0.10% to 1.50% (but only if you have more than £50,000 in the account and make fewer than 6 withdrawals in any year). You can easily pick up rates well above 2% for instant access accounts with no restrictions on balances from £1 - just do a search on any comparison website. As for mortgages, they have some discount mortgages starting at 3.49% (for 78% loan to value) and working upwards, most with a £499 fee and a £75 completion fee. There is free valuation if you live locally to the Darlington (County Durham, Tees Valley and parts of North Yorkshire "as defined by them"). I do not have a mortgage with the Darlington and so cannot comment on the efficiency of their mortgage administration.

        The Darlington also offers insurance, but they outsource this element to a 'broker' who in turn searches the market for you. I believe that you would do better doing to a websearch on a comparison site yourself, and pocketing the broker's commission via a cashback website.

        I will keep my share account open in the hope that the Darlington will once again have a great savings rate that I can use. But, for now, they have nothing of interest for a canny saver.

        This review may appear on other sites under the same username

        (C) BobbieAl 2012

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      • Leek United Building Society / Bank / 42 Readings / 42 Ratings
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        19.10.2012 23:44
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        Always worth checking as they can have some stunning deals

        The Leek Building Society's motto is "The friendlier face of finance". It was established in 1863 as The Leek United Permanent Benefit Building Society. Like a true building society, it is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

        The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

        The Leek is the 18th biggest building society in UK with assets of £783 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Leek, Staffordshire (no surprise there!). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Leek were to go bust.

        I have been a customer of the Leek Building Society for about 5 years. I first joined because they had a cracking monthly saver offering a good rate of interest. Since then, I have opened and closed a couple of monthly savers and now just have a simple easy access account (paying low interest unfortunately) to keep my membership current.

        I have opened all my accounts via the post having downloaded the forms online. I have only ever dealt with the Leek via post, and so I cannot comment on their branch network. I have found them extremely efficient, usually turning round my new account within the week.

        The Leek specialises in 'no frills, no bonus rates' accounts. They have, in the past, had some really great rates on monthly savings accounts. Currently (October 2012), they are offering a regular savings account paying 3.50% - a reasonable rate but not table-topping. Their instant access rates pay a paltry 0.10%, although their instant access business account pays 1.50%. They also offer a range of bonds and fixed rate ISA account; all offer reasonable rates, which can be easily beaten with a quick look around the price comparison websites.

        But does that mean that the Leek is not worth doing business with? In my opinion, it is worth a check. Like most building societies, the Leek offers great rates when it want to get money in, and not such good rates when it has enough money on deposit. It is always a question of timing. So, if you are looking to put some money away, it is worth checking out the Leeds directly, to see if they are offering any great rates. Because they tend to offer simple accounts, the Leek is particular suitable for anyone who does not want the hassle of bonus rates or difficult terms and conditions, but wants something more straight forward.

        The Leek also offer mortgages - they have a good range of fixed rate mortgages on 2-5 year terms, and well as buy to let and of course the dreaded standard variable. I have never had a mortgage with the Leek and so cannot comment on their efficiency. They also offer insurance, through RSA. I would imagine that you could find much better insurance rates through one of the well known price comparison websites.

        Please note that this review may appear on other sites under the same username

        (C) BobbieAl 2012

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      • Halifax / Bank / 46 Readings / 45 Ratings
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        15.10.2012 20:50
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        Truly awful service but some great products

        The Halifax, or to give it its proper title, Halifax Bank of Scotland Group became part of the Lloyds empire when the government arm twisted Lloyds into buying out the then failing Halifax. Halifax were (and I believe still are) the biggest mortgage provider in the UK.

        However, Halifax is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Halifax were to go bust. Lloyds has a separate FSCS 'account' and so you could have £85,000 in both Lloyds and Halifax and have full protection on both sets of savings. It is worth noting that, at some point in the future, it seems likely that Lloyds will move Halifax under the same FSCS umbrella - if so, only one lot of £85,000 would be protected.

        Although Halifax was originally a building society, it is now a 'for profit' bank with share holders. This means that their primary objective is to make money for those share holders, not to help its customers. This is true of all the main high street banks, and is not a reason not to consider using them. But, despite what they all say, they are in the business of making money.

        I have had current accounts, savings account and children's accounts with the Halifax over the last 10 years or so. They have some cracking products, as well as some not so hot offerings.

        I always try to open my accounts with the Halifax either online or by post, even though there is a branch in the town where I live. I have had several experience of trying to do business with my local branch team, but I have found them unhelpful, rude and ignorant of their own products and so will not deal with them directly if it is at all possible. To give an example, I closed an account with them and asked them to transfer the tiny credit balance to my current account. They managed to do this twice, leaving the account overdrawn. I then received the usual 'slapped wrist' letter, stating that I had to pay £25 as I was overdrawn that month, followed 2 days later by an identical letter for the next month - making the account over £50 overdrawn. Now, mistakes happen, so I went in to my branch to ask what was going on and to get them to correct their error and remove the charges, only to be treated as if it were entirely my fault and asked in a rather rude manner how I was going to pay off the £50+ overdraft. To cut a long story short, a letter to head office soon sorted it out, but there was neither apology nor any realisation that I had not been treated well. For the record, I have been in finance for most of my working life, and I am well aware that human and computer errors inevitably happen. What sorts out the good firms from the bad is, in my opinion, how they deal with problems when they occur.

        For me, this is not an isolated incident - I can think of another 3 or 4 times when there have been similar errors or problems which have been dealt with badly by staff in my local branch.

        Despite the appalling service, I still continue to use the Halifax. Their online banking system is fairly robust and easy to use, so it is very rare that I need to speak to a 'real person' and, as I mentioned earlier, Halifax does have some great deals if you are willing to read the small print and satisfy their conditions. Currently (October 2012), they offer a great current account that pays you £5 per month that you credit the account with £1000. The credit can be in your account for just seconds before moving to another bank, so you don't have to keep your money with them. They also offer a Clarity credit card which pays you £5 per month if you spend £300, with the added benefit of fee free spending abroad (note that this is for purchases and NOT cash withdrawals where you would be charged a fee and interest from the instant you withdrew the cash). For us, we get £20 a month (that's £240 a year for doing nothing!) from our current accounts and credit cards, without doing anything special, and we then send the money to a Santander 123 account where it earns a great rate of interest.

        The Halifax also offers some good saving accounts. My particular favourite is the Kids Regular Saver which pays 6% on monthly deposits of up to £100 per month - useful if you are trying to save up for your children. They also have some good cash ISAs, Junior ISAs (but only if a parent has a cash ISA with Halifax) and some fixed term bonds. They are not currently table topping rates but they are always changing their rates and were extremely competitive only 2 months ago.

        Halifax also offers loans and mortgages. I have had neither product with them and so do not feel able to comment. However, as you would expect from such a big provider, there is a wide variety on offer. It is always worth looking at Halifax as they may have just the product you need.

        In short, the Halifax is worth using for its specific, good value products if they suit your financial situation. However, be under no illusion that Halifax will help you if there are any problems - they have the worst branch staff of any bank I have ever used.

        My reviews may appear on other sites under the same name

        (C) BobbieAl 2012

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          12.10.2012 21:45
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          Too much of a boost for me - I'll be sticking to my normal multi vitamin.

          I was sent a month's supply of Pharmaton Active Life as part of a BzzAgent campaign. I was given a pack of 30 tablets in its brightly coloured box. Pharmaton say that these tablets, if taken every day, will give that little extra lift. And we all need a little more energy from time to time, so I was happy to give them a go.

          Each pack contains 30 orange-brown caplets. They are about the size of standard pain killers. I found them easy to swallow with a drink. They're not cheap - £9.99 at Boots for a month's supply (October 2012).

          The packet claims that the "specific combination of unique Ginseng G115, vitamins and minerals can help you stay at your best, supporting your active, busy life". Because Pharmaton Active Life contains vitamins, it is not a good idea to take any other vitamin supplements at the same time, to avoid taking more than the recommended daily dose (RDA). Nor should you take Pharmaton Active Life is you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

          Ingredients:
          Panax ginseng extract G115,Betacarotene, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Ascorbic acid, Nicotinamide, Biotin, Folic acid, Selenium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Calcium

          I was looking forward to some extra energy - with 3 teenagers, a husband, a job and a household to run, I need all the help I can get! I noticed no difference for the first 3-4 days; however, the product makes it clear that it takes a while for the effect to build up, so I wasn't expecting an instant result.

          After a 5 or 6 days, I started to feel a little edgy and nervous - like I'd been drinking strong coffee all day. I certainly had more energy, but it wasn't a pleasant feeling. I don't drink anything that contains caffeine, having kicked my 25 cups of coffee a day habit 10 years ago. I checked that I hadn't mixed up the decaf tea and coffee with the full caff versions that I buy for the other members of my family. After about 10 days, I stopped taking the Pharmaton Active Life. I was just feeling shaky and anxious. Within a couple of days, I was back to my normal, chilled, laid back self.

          I did some research and it seems that Ginsing is a stimulant similar to caffeine, so it's hardly surprising that made me feel like I had been main-lining coffee. If I had realised this before starting the month, I would not have commenced the trial.

          It's not all bad. As a caffeine free zone, I am sure that I reacted atypically to the Pharmaton Acrtive Life. It did give me more energy and I think that, for a caffeine drinker, they would give a pleasant, gentle lift. But I will be sticking to my normal multi vitamin, a balanced diet and as much fresh air as I can get. Hopefully, that will provide the lift without the shakes!

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        • More +
          12.10.2012 20:06
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          Good solid building society with some cracking deals if you look carefully

          The Norwich and Peterborough Building Society (N&P) merged with the Yorkshire Building Society in 2011. Its head office is in Peterborough, but the group's head office is in Bradford. N&P is now just a trading name of the Yorkshire, but offers quite different products to the others parts of the Yorkshire group.

          The Yorkshire Building Society is the 2nd biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £33,177 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the unlikely event that the Yorkshire were to go bust. It is worth noting that all your accounts with the Yorkshire group are included in this £85,000, so add up everything you have with N&P, Yorkshire, Chelsea and Barnley building societies when calculating how much you have in the Yorkshire group.

          The Yorkshire (and hence N&P) is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

          The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

          I have been a customer of the N&P Building Society for about 20 years. I have had a number of savings accounts and current accounts with them over the years.

          I tend to try to open my accounts with the N&P online, although I do pop in to one of their branches from time to time, if I am in the area. They have 45 branches, mostly in the Norwich, Peterborough and Cambridge area. The staff have always been friendly and helpful, although I find that they like to stick to what they know; so if I have something a bit out of the ordinary to do, I try to do it by post at head office.

          The N&P does have some very good accounts. Currently (October 2012), they have several high paying regular savings accounts with their E-Family regular saver and Gold regular saver accounts both paying 5% fixed for a year. That's a great rate. However, the one catch is, once you have had one, you can never have another one again - it's a one shot account, if you like. N&P also has other regular savers paying 4% - also a very good rate - but with the same 'one time only' catch. Having said that, get one for a year and enjoy the interest rate.

          The N&P also offers a steady-eddy E-saving account paying 2.50% for instant access (October 2012). Of course, like all building societies, it has its share of poor accounts - for example the NetMasterGold Saver II, which only pays 0.35% - so it pays to check out the rates before deciding where to put your hard earned cash.

          There is also a range of cash ISAs (the N&P does not offer JISAs nor stocks and shares ISAs), but none of these is remarkable, all paying decent but far from table-topping rates.

          N&P offers 2 current accounts - Gold Classic and Gold Lite. Both accounts have minimum activity requirements to avoid paying a £5 per month fee - for the Classic you have to pay in a minimum of £500 per month and for the Lite you must make 5 transactions a month. Although neither account pays interest on credit balances, they both have the advantage of free card usage abroad (so you can take cash out of an ATM or pay in a shop without that sneaky 2.5% extra charge being added on top) and they offer free Sentinel protection for your keys, cards and documents. The accounts do all the usual things - direct debits, standing orders, cheque book, debit card etc. While I don't use my N&P current account as my main account, I do like to know that I have my cards protected for free and I do use my N&P debit card for all my overseas transactions.

          The N&P offers a reasonable credit card, a variety of mortgages (including discount and fixed rates) and insurance. I have not used them for these products; although I have obtained insurance quotes, I have always found that I could get the same or better cover cheaper elsewhere.

          I use the N&Ps internet banking and find it easy to use and efficient. Nothing too exciting, but it does what I want it to do, so I cannot complain.

          In short, the N&P offers some good savings accounts and offers one of the only UK current accounts to offer a debit card that is free to use abroad. It's definitely worth considering, especially if you holiday abroad.

          My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
          © BobbieAl 2012

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          • More +
            09.10.2012 08:39
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            Worth checking directly when looking for a new mortgage or savings account

            The Buckinghamshire Building Society was founded in 1907. It was originally called the Chalfont & District Permanent Building Society but was renamed the Buckinghamshire in 1961. Its head office and only branch is in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.

            The Bucks is the 40th biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £172 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the unlikely event that the Bucks were to go bust.

            The Bucks is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

            The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

            I have been a customer of the Bucks Building Society for about 5 years. I have had a number of regular savings accounts with them over the years.

            I live too far away from Chalfont St Giles to travel there just to open a new account. However, most of their accounts can be opened by post. I have found the Bucks to be very efficient and it rarely takes more than a week from my posting the application form to my receiving my passbook.

            The Bucks does have some good savings rate. Currently (October 2012), they are offering a kids' JS100 account paying 3%, a Cash ISA also paying 3%, a regular saver paying 3.50% and a 2 year fixed rate bond paying 3.30%. However, their instant access and notice accounts pay paltry rates and are easily beaten.

            I find that it is worth checking the Bucks website directly as they are too small to appear on most price comparison websites, yet the FSCS guarantee means that your money is as safe with them as with any other UK building society covered by the FSCS.

            The Bucks also offers mortgages. While their range is much smaller than some of their bigger rivals, they do have some interesting products. They are currently offering a stepped owner/occupier mortgage and a buy to let mortgage. I have not used them for any of these products.

            The Bucks is always worth checking directly when looking for a new savings account or mortgage. Although they may be small, they are efficient and fully protected by the FSCS.

            My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
            © BobbieAl 2012

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          • Skipton Building Society / Mortgage / 26 Readings / 23 Ratings
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            08.10.2012 22:07
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            Steady Eddy

            The Skipton Building Society was founded in 1835. In 2009, it bailed out the Scarborough Building Society and in 2010 it merged with the Chesham Building Society

            The Skipton is the 4th biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £13,849 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Skipton, Yorkshire. It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Skipton were to go bust.

            The Skipton is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

            The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

            I have been a customer of the Skipton Building Society for about 10 years. I have had a number of online and regular savings accounts with them over the years.

            I try to open my accounts with the Skipton online, as they have rationalised their branch network and sadly closed my nearest branch. Only designated online accounts can be opened via the website. However, it is usually possible to open the other accounts by post. You can either download an application form or Email head office in Yorkshire to ask then to send the forms directly to you. In my experience, accounts are opened within a week and without hassle.

            When I did have a local branch, the staff were fantastic - they seemed to know their product range well and were helpful without being pushy. If my branch is a fair example of the rest of the branch network, I would happily recommend them.

            The Skipton has occasional good savings rates but, at the moment (October 2012), they are offering very mid-range savings; an instant access saver paying 2.25%, a regular saving paying 3.25%, and an instant access ISA paying 3.10% on balances of above £50,000. None of these rates is terrible, but they can all be very easily beaten by checking out any price comparison site.

            The Skipton also offers insurance and mortgages. They also offer buy to let mortgages. However, they do insist on a high loan to value ratio for almost all of their mortgages. They currently are not offering any first time buyer deals. I have not used them for any of these products.

            While the Skipton is a good solid building society, their rates are rarely table topping. I would suggest they are worth watching for their occasional good deals, or for those who want a slightly above average rate and don't want the hassle of shopping around or moving money when bonus rates end.

            My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
            © BobbieAl 2012

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          • Leeds Building Society / Bank / 23 Readings / 22 Ratings
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            07.10.2012 22:39
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            One of the bigger building socieies, offering some good savings rates

            The Leeds Building Society was formally the Leeds and Holbeck Building Society. It was founded in 1875 and renamed itself the Leeds Bulding society in 2005.

            The Leeds is the 5th biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £9,829 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Leeds. It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Leeds were to go bust.

            At the risk of repeating myself (the following 2 paragraphs originally appeared in my Coventry Building Society review, but are important and relevant so I have included them in all my building society reviews), the Leeds is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

            The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

            I have been a customer of the Leeds Building Society for about 6 years. I have had a number of online savings accounts with them over the years.

            I always open my accounts with the Leeds online as there is not a branch near to where I live. Their online opening arrangements make it easy to open an account with them. Of course, you have to go through the 'proof of identity' requirements, like you would opening any account, but the forms are easy to complete. The accounts are set up quickly and without any hassle - something that it surprisingly unusual in the finance industry.

            I find that the Leeds have some particularly good online accounts from time to time, often instant access but sometimes fixed term bonds. At the moment (October 2012), they are offering an instant access saver paying 2.65% - not a table topping rate, but not too shabby either. They are also offering a 3% 90 day notice account with unlimited withdrawals.

            The Leeds also offers credit cards, insurance and mortgages. They are currently offering a 95% loan to value mortgages. I have not used them for any of these products.

            I would recommend the Leeds Building Society ease of opening online accounts with occasional great rates.

            My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
            © BobbieAl 2012

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          • Saffron Building Society / Bank / 29 Readings / 28 Ratings
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            02.10.2012 10:59
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            A modern building society with a traditional attitude to service and consistantly good rates

            The Saffron Building Society was formally the Saffron Walden, Herts and Essex Builidng Society, but changed its name to the far more memorable 'Saffron' about 10 years ago.

            The Saffron Building Society is the 13th biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £1,065 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Saffron Walden, Essex. It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Saffron were to go bust.

            At the risk of repeating myself (the following 2 paragraphs originally appeared in my Coventry Building Society review, but are important and relevant so I have included them in all my building society reviews), the Saffron is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

            The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

            I have been a customer of the Saffron Building Society for about 10 years. I first joined because I wanted an instant access passbook account for one of my children. Since then, I have opened and closed several savings accounts with the Saffron and currently have 2 accounts with them.

            I tend to open my Saffron account in person at a local branch as I am in the Society's "catchment" area. However, many of their accounts can be opened online or by post, so their members are not just Essex locals.

            The Saffron has the feel of a modern building society with a traditional attitude to service. The staff are always polite and helpful and know their products.

            Generally, I have found that the Saffron offers pretty decent rates across the board. For example, at the moment (Oct 2012), their regular saver is paying 4% with instant access to your money should you need it, their instant access online Esaver pays 2.5%, and they even have a business savings account paying 1.75% - which is amazing as most banks seem to want to charge businesses a fortune to look after their money rather than paying them interest. There is a range of children and teenager's accounts, again paying decent rates (2.25% and a free Ladybird money box!).

            The Saffron also provides mortgages and insurance, although for these you have to telephone or visit a branch. I have had some good insurance quotes from the Saffron, but the cover didn't work for me and my family. Their current first time buyer 95% mortgage fixed at 6.49% until 29 Feb 2016 seems a good deal, and they have a wide range of other mortgage offers.

            I would recommend the Saffron Building Society for consistently good rates and good service.

            My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
            © BobbieAl 2012

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            • Chorley Building Society / Bank / 25 Readings / 23 Ratings
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              01.10.2012 21:31
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              Friendly, knowledgable and helpful staff and good rates too

              The Chorley Building Society is a small friendly building society offering some cracking deals, if you are willing to be selective. Its motto is "Traditional values in a modern world".

              The Chorley is the 38th biggest building society in UK (out of 47) with assets of £175 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Chorley, Lancashire. It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Chorley were to go bust.

              At the risk of repeating myself (the following 2 paragraphs originally appeared in my Coventry Building Society review, but are important and relevant so I have included them in all my building society reviews), the Chorley is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

              The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

              I have been a customer of the Chorley Building Society for about 5 years. I first joined because I was looking for a good regular savings account. Since then, I have opened and closed several savings accounts with the Chorley and currently have 3 accounts with them and my children also have accounts

              While the Chorley does have some online banking capability - they call it U-2-View - it is more to be able to look at the balance of an account, rather than to make a dozen transactions and open new account. I find this works well for me as I use the Chorley to take advantage of their good rates as and when I can.

              All the accounts I have opened with the Chorley have been managed by post. Normally, I would run a mile from dealing with a financial institution by post, but I have found the Chorley to be very quick and efficient. It usually takes 5 days from my posting the application for to my receiving my new account details.

              I have needed to telephone to check account terms several times. The ladies (and it always has been a lady) at the end of the phone really know what they are talking about, even when I have asked some difficult and unusual questions. For me, it is the ease of doing business with the Chorley that puts them above the 'run of the mill' building societies.

              While some of the Chorley's accounts offer low rates, they currently (Oct 2012) have a great kids regular saver paying 4% on up to £150 per month with instant access and no obligation to pay in every month. Their Santa and Summertime savers are one year regular savers paying 3.5% - not stunning, but not too bad. They also offer reasonable rates for their Young Chorlean (2-2.2%) and Junior ISA (2.9%); not table topping but a good rate without any gimmicks or bonus rates.

              The Chorley also provides mortgages and insurance, although for these you have to telephone or visit a branch. I have had neither type of product with the Chorley, so won't comment on things about which I know very little.

              I would recommend the Chorley Building Society for good, old fashioned service and the occasional great rates.

              My reviews may also appear on Ciao and other sites under the same user name.
              © BobbieAl 2012

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              • Coventry Building Society / Bank / 27 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                30.09.2012 18:45
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                Great rates, great service and fully FSCS protected - what's not to like!

                The Coventry Building Society's motto is "TLC not PLC", which, for me, pretty much sums up its attitude. Like a true building society, it is owned by its members (it's a mutual society) and so has no share-holders. While this might seem quite a minor difference, it means that there are no big investors baying for huge profits at the expense of the customer, as could happen with the high street banks like Lloyds, HSBC etc. It also means that they are governed by slightly different legislation to the banks. They are not allowed to take part in some of the more risky types of investment instruments, such as some derivatives trading, and they are only allowed to speculate if it is to minimize their risk, Whereas the big banks, as we all know, can speculate on a huge variety of instruments and often derive their profits from this speculation.

                The advantage of this for the members (all borrowers and savers are members of the society subject to meeting certain minimum criteria) is that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises in the form a huge trading loss, and that any profits can be kept within the building society rather than being paid out to external investors.

                The Coventry is the third biggest building society in UK (after the Nationwide and Yorkshire Building Societies) with assets of £28,848 million (as of Dec 2011; source - Building Societies Association) and has its Head Office in Coventry (no surprise there!). It is protected by the FSCS, meaning that all savings up to £85,000 per person are fully guaranteed by the government in the very unlikely event that the Coventry were to go bust.

                I have been a customer of the Coventry Building Society for about 7 years. I first joined because I was looking for a second current account (their Coventry First account) and it offered a good rate of interest. Since then, I have opened and closed several savings accounts with the Coventry and currently have 4 accounts with them.

                I have opened accounts online, over the phone and via the post. I tend to use their online banking system for most of my day to day banking, but also use the phone and post to manage my accounts. Put simply, I have found them to be one of the easiest financial institutions to deal with (and I have dealt with virtually all of the UK banks and building societies, both professionally and personally). Their staff are always helpful and knowledgeable about their products and their systems and procedures.

                Even my mother (who is over 70 and can be difficult!) opened an ISA with them and said how 'lovely and helpful' they were.

                It's all very well that they have great people, but are their products any good?

                In my opinion, yes. The Coventry often has table topping rates, especially on some of its saving products. For example, they currently (September 2012) offer a junior ISA paying 3.25%, a 60 day notice ISA paying 3.25% and a Family Saver paying 3% (provided that you arrange to have your child benefit paid into the account). Additionally, they frequently offer great instant access saving rates guaranteed for 1 year; the recent closed Telephone Saver was paying 3.25% for instant access - the best rate I have seen for ages.

                It is worth noting that a number of Coventry's best saving rates are guaranteed for one year, but the rate drops after that time. Personally, I just write a note in my diary and move my savings to a new account once the year is up. Usually, the Coventry has a new offering at a good rate so I don't even have to move the money to another bank or building society.

                Their current account - Coventry First - offers 1.1% on all balances (up to £250,000). For the first year provided you pay £1000 per month in to the account. The account comes with a debit card but no cheque book. This rate can be beaten by the likes of Lloyds Vantage or Santander 123 but both of these accounts have restrictions and/or fees which might make them less suitable for some. The Coventry First is a no-frills account - no free travel insurance, cashback or other freebies - but, like Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin, efficiently and politely.

                As well as savings and current accounts, the Coventry also offers mortgages, travel money, travel insurance, home and contents insurance and 'family protection' insurance products. I cannot comment first hand on these products as I have yet to use them, but I would definitely consider getting a quote, if I were looking for a mortgage or insurance.

                In short, great rates, great service and fully FSCS protected - what's not to like!

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                • More +
                  25.09.2012 13:38
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                  7p tasty, healthy, guilt-free snack

                  My 14 year old daughter loves fromage frais and I am keen that she gets as much calcium as possible to ensure strong bones in later life, so fromage frais is a staple in our fridge and in our shopping basket.

                  When I saw that Tesco had a range of 'Everyday Value' fromage frais costing 42p (25 Sept 2012) for 6 x 60g pots, I thought I'd give them a try. To be honest, I had very low expectations. I thought it would be a one off purchase and that my fussy teenager would refuse to eat them.

                  Each pack of Tesco Everyday Value Fromage Frais 6X60g contains:
                  2 x Value strawberry fromage frais
                  2 x Value Apricot Fromage Frais
                  2 x Value Raspberry Fromage Frais

                  However, she ate all 6 pots in 2 days. She says they are creamy, without being too fatty, and with a good fruity taste. The pots are small - but just the right size for a mini, guilt free snack for a teenager or for an everyday pudding for a toddler. If you are super hungry, then these are not for you (my teenaged son would eat two six-packs in one sitting). The nutritional values are good too, so as a parent I feel good about giving these to my kids.

                  This week, I bought some more upmarket fromage frais which were on special offer, thinking that they'd be a 'treat' for my daughter. But when were talked about it over dinner yesterday, she said that she actually preferred the everyday value fromage frais, and please could I keep buying those in future! In these days of tightening of belts, I don't need much encouragement to by the value options!

                  Ingerdients:
                  Low Fat Soft Cheese,Water ,Sugar ,Strawberry Purée (5%) ,Cornflour ,Natural Flavouring ,Colour (Anthocyanins)

                  Allergy Information:
                  Contains: Milk
                  Other Allergen Info: Recipe: No nuts.Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free.Factory: No nuts.


                  Typical Nutritional Values
                  Each pot contains no more than
                  Energy - 215kJ (55kcal)
                  Protein - 3.8g
                  Carbohydrate - 7.3g
                  Sugars - 6.0g
                  Fat - 0.7g
                  Saturates - 0.4g
                  Fibre - trace
                  Sodium - trace
                  Salt Equivalent - trace

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