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Longdown Activity Farm (LAF) is located on the North-west edge of the New Forest National Park near the village of Colbury. The nearest city is Southampton and as such it is within easy reach of the M27 motorway. Rail links are not so good as it is roughly between the stations of Ashurst and Totton, which is a good 45 minute walk from either of them. Totton station is the main station and is more likely to have taxi's close by. Bus links are only slightly better as the no.56/56A bus from Wilts & Dorset passes close by on the main A36 road (Foxhills stop), from here it is 5 min walk down a country lane (no footpath, verge only) to the farm. The easiest and most common way to get to the farm is by car. From the M27 pick up the A36 to Lyndhurst at the end of the dual carriageway section at the top of Hunters Hill take the turn into Deerleap Lane, it should be sign-posted. Drive past Colbury Church on your left and the Farm's car park is on about 100 yards further down on the right. The farm itself is on the other side of the road. ~Admission Prices and Opening Times Opening Times for 2009 were taken from their website and are: 10am-5pm from 14th February to 1st November with last entry at 4pm. Weekends only in November and December. Then daily again from 12th to 24th December. It doesn't say when they shut up for the winter. Admission Fees for 2009 are: Adults - £7 OAP - £6 Child (3-14) - £6 A family saver of 2 Adults and 2 Children costs £24. Children under 3 get in for free. Season, group, birthday parties and other tickets are available but it is best to view the website for these deals. ~So much to do whatever the weather - the LAF experience The above statement is on Longdown Activity Farm's website and is not my bold statement, so when we were stuck with something to do one weekend Mrs Cad suggested the LAF so we could let BC2 go and have a run around. BC2 was 18 months old at the time and not quite walking on her own, which in hindsight was probably why we had the experience we did. Being local we went without checking prices or activities. On entry to the car park we saw the entry prices posted on a blackboard. I choked and Mrs Cad said 'Oh dear'. The car-park is not tarmaced and is made up of gravel and on a summers day it is dusty when cars drive around it. By the time we got BC2 out of the car and in her pushchair the dust was getting up my nose as well as the prices on the blackboard. At the entrance to the car park we had to cross the road, which is in a 40mph limit and requires a lot of care. Not great if you have excited children who want to get to the farm just across the road. Once over the road the metal fencing directs you to the gift shop, which is where you are required to pay to get in. After coughing up the £13.50 (2008 price) for us two adults to get in, we stopped and rearrange ourselves. Even the normally cheery Mrs Cad was mumbling about the prices as she was wiping dust from her glasses and it was down to me Mr Tight-wad to be positive. 'It will be alright,' I said 'We'll find a quiet place to have our snacks and let BC2 have a round around'. It would have been okay, but the cafe for light refreshments only has about half a dozen tables and these were all taken up. We got a coffee, crisps and a muffin, which came to around £5, which damped my enthusiasm even more. Outside there were some picnic benches and chairs, which was great as it wasn't raining just overcast. The picnic benches were okay, but the bins nearby were overflowing and covered with wasps. We ate our overpriced food and fed BC2 before moving on to the farm proper. The tractor & trailer rides at 1pm were very popular and we gave up on them in the hope of finding something suitable for an 18 month old. Eventually we found an old barn with trampolines that had netting and age ranges. We put her on the under three trampoline, which worked well even with other little ones there. That was until someone's bigger brother who was probably just three or slightly older got on a booted BC2 in the head. In search of something animal related we looked around the farm at some of the animals in sheds and barns. There are many areas were children can interact with the animals at certain times, but normally when we arrived, there were lots of other people there with bigger children and BC2 wasn't getting a look in, as she would get scared or want picking up. Small animal handling at 2pm was mobbed and when gave up to meet the ducks at 2.30pm she got bundled over by a boisterous boy and started bawling. Eventually after a three hours we left in to get back to a dirty and dusty car, which could have been silver once but was now a horrible brown colour. Mrs Cad was really miffed now as it was her car. I chuckled to myself for awhile. Except I wasn't laughing later when we got home and I was made to go outside and clean the car. ~Activities to do LAF advertises lots of activities to do on the farm. They say there is Calf feeding, Kid goat feeding, Small Animal handling, more Goat feeding, Pig feeding, Tractor rides and Duck feeding. In reality though only the larger children will be able to get to help with these activities any child under 3 will either be too small or will get bundled out of the way. The alternative is the few barns and activity areas outside that you can let children burn off some steam. There are trampolines, ball pits, climbing areas and slides, both indoors and outside. These again would be very good however from our experience above the older children tend to run roughshod over the smaller ones and even where there are areas which should be for little ones these get invaded by big kids who aren't supervised by their parents. ~The buildings and grounds One item that really didn't impress us was the state of the buildings and the areas around them. Most looked like they had been old abandoned buildings that had been pressed back into service by LAF. Although the inside of them had been made to look new, outside the roof and walls were in poor condition. The paths were mainly made up of hard materials such as concrete and paving flags, fantastic for cuts and grazes and in some places they were uneven or crazed. Where there was no paving the grass had given way to gravel or mud and in the sun these were now stony, dusty and potted with trip holes. ~Conclusion In short I cannot recommend Longdown Activity Farm to friends or family as I think it is over-priced for what you get. As for review readers I can say that if you have boisterous children over 3 and you are in the Southampton area this is a fantastic place to unleash your children on the unsuspecting general public for a hefty fee. They can run round unsupervised bashing into little children, feeding the animals and when they are hungry you can give them junk food from the expensive light refreshments area to send them back out into the general melee on the dirty farm. If you have a small timid child then this is really not the place for them. c2009 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me. ~References Longdown Diary Farm - http://www.longdownfarm.co.uk Wilts and Dorset Buses - http://www.wdbus.co.uk
This baby monitor by Tomy is called the 'Walkabout Platinum Digital'. It has the main features of digital telecommunications between the units, a night light and a few other things. Out of the box you will get two units, two power cables and a charging cradle for the parent unit. Essentially one unit is placed near the baby with a microphone and one for the parent with the speaker. Both had the option of plugging into the mains or running on batteries, which meant they could in theory be taken with you if you left home. The baby unit is mainly white, it's about the size of a large orange with a flat base so it can stand up, or it has a hanging slot on the back so it can be fixed to the wall. The power button on top doubles up as the night light button and when depressed turns on the unit, a blue button to the side resets the min/max temperature monitor. The unit has a blue screen with an LCD display that displays everything in black numbers and symbols. Here you can view the current temperature, the min/max temperature range and battery status. Hidden around the screen are 4 LEDs that provide the blue lights for the night light function, which only light up when in use. Finally there is a small microphone antenna that pokes put of the top to record every sound near the unit. The parent unit is also white, however it has a belt clip and won't stand up on its own. For this it needs the charging unit, which is a docking station to enable the unit to recharge. This unit is really meant to be portable and can be moved around the house or even outside. The parent unit has a similar face and design to the baby unit, but is different as the display has more information, more buttons on it and more coloured LEDs. Firstly the top button has the same power/night light function, then there is a blue button to the side, which allows the parent unit to transmit sound to the baby unit, such as a reassuring 'go to sleep' Next there is a volume control on the back, which can also be cancelled by the 'vibrate' alert button if you're in a noisy environment. Finally one last feature button is the 'last feed timer', which brings up a handy timer in hours and minutes to let you know when you last fed baby. The parent unit display will give you a battery icon, temperature reading, a last feed timer (if its on) and a signal display. The one thing that is different about the display on the parent unit is that there is a visual display that relates to the audible sound transmitting. The 5 green LED's and 3 red ones show the noise level that the baby unit is picking up, this is mainly for when the vibrate mode is engaged, but it is a constant feature. The LED's will light up in order from the lowest green LED on the left side clockwise to the lowest red LED on the right. Baby doesn't have to scream to hit the top red LED, but you should be able to hear them crying a few rooms away. Initially when we set up the units we had the baby unit on the floor near the cot and the parent unit in our bedroom with the volume at 9 the highest setting. Naturally we didn't sleep well that night as either we couldn't hear breathing which brings in the new parent panic attack or baby was crying and the sound was massively amplified through the speaker. Gradually the volume got turn down until it was on silent 'vibrate' mode. This one buzzes when the sound is in the red LED zone, but eventually we found even this was an annoyance as we could hear baby crying before she was loud enough to make the unit buzz. By the time baby was three months old the parent unit had been moved into the lounge as our sleep was being interrupted by the LED lights on the unit flickering intermittently in the night and waking us up even when baby was sleeping perfectly and making no sound. We later discovered that with the baby unit on the floor, it was possibly picking up the creaking of the floorboards in the night so I moved it up onto the wall, however the problem still remains today. The parent unit isn't problem free and issues included the portability of this particular unit. Firstly the rechargeable battery supplied never reached the 10 hours use time that the manual supplied stated. To start with it was about 6 hours, but a year later and the unit will only work for 30 minutes when it is removed from the charging cradle. Also the cradle will always need a power supply for it to charge up the rechargeable battery in the parent unit so the product cannot be used for say a camping trip. Then the belt clip supplied with the parent unit is next to useless as it is weak and will not stay in position. A little bit of upward pressure and the unit will lift up and fall off. Also Murphy's law means that it will always hit one of the two large buttons on the outside and activate either the night light or the talk button. Despite the problems with the parent unit we did use a lot of the functions that came as part of this monitor. The night light was particularly useful in the early months for changing babies nappy as the blue LED's are bright to light the room in a blue glow. The temperature function is still used today to check and regulate the temperature of the room. The last feed timer is very useful in the early months as time between feeds is short and it helps you work out whether baby is crying because of hunger or something else. In summary then this baby monitor was good for a while, but it does have a lot of drawbacks mainly due to the manufacturers statements in the manual and on the box. They say on the box that it is '100% portable', it is not as power will always be needed to recharge the parent unit. The parent unit itself has many faults, like picking up sounds that are not there, the battery time is very short and the belt clip is rubbish. The digital communication between the units is very good, but the communication distance between them is not the 300m stated in the manual, it's nearer 30m, which is when the annoying bleeps kick in as the parent unit loses the baby unit's signal. The temperature function, night light and last feed timer are excellent additions, but I can help thinking that the basic package could be better. This product set us back about £70, but I feel cheated out of my money. A year later and the parent unit needs replacing and that is not good for that amount of money. In short I cannot recommend this product to anyone as I believe that this type of baby monitor is pandering to the new parent neurosis that we all experience in the first few months. Now I'm calmer and more experienced I think that the only things we really needed were a night light and a temperature monitor. A baby is designed with a ear splitting squeal that will wake the nearest sleeping person if it requires attention. A microphone and a speaker as supplied in this product is not really required. If you do want a baby monitor with sound do, by all means get a cheaper one. c2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me.
This game is part of the Total War series, which I had never played before. I received this as a birthday present and as a result is the reason why there was a hiatus in my review career for many months! So what's it all about and why did I spend a long time playing one PC game? Well the game is basically a strategy game where you control a historical faction and use it's resources, characters and armies to battle against other factions. The game map consists of an area of land based around the Mediterranean Sea with Italy or Rome at it's centre and covers as afar a field as Britain in the northwest corner, North Africa, the Middle East and The Black Sea. ~The main menu~ As you might have guessed by the title the game involves the Roman era from around 220 BC onwards. After the initial load up the game runs through a quick introduction sequence which gives you a nice feel for how the battle scenes look in the game. After this impressive start you will have a menu screen which I will describe and explain quickly. The Single Player option will give you three options of further choices. A quick battle, a historic battle or an Imperial campaign. For the quick battle you can pick an army, a type of unit and then set up yours and the opposition forces as you wish. A historic battle will give you a choice of battles, with a set situation and two armies to choose from, you cannot change the units here. The Imperial campaign is the main game with two types of campaign a short one or a long one. I'll come back to each mode later. The Multiplayer option will link you up with an opponent over the Wicked Wild Web and you can do battle against them and their faction. I cannot comment on this too much as I have not played it over the web, but I did try it over a LAN network and it was good fun. Other links on this main page allow you to change the graphic, sound and control settings to suit you own preference or load a previously saved game. I personally turn down the graphics and sound quality to increase the speed of the game during the battle scenes as my PC is low spec. Also you can continue a campaign or quit and go back to windows. ~Quick and Historic battles~ These two single player modes allow you to have single battles with the computer controlling one side and you the other. Historic battles are set and are the harder ones to play as you normally have some sort of disadvantage to battle as well as the opposing army. Quick battles are better if you want to muck around or test out formations. I use it to see how cavalry work against infantry units and vice versa. That said I have used both of these modes very little when compared to the main game. ~Imperial Campaign~ This is the main course so to speak where you control a faction against the rest of the world. Here you can choose a short campaign which involves conquering 15 regions or a long campaign which involves conquering 50 regions and taking over Rome. Once you have chosen your campaign you move on to choose your faction. Initially you have only a choice of three, however later this increases as you interact with other factions and they will appear on this screen. The three initial factions are the three great Roman families of Julii (Red), Scipii (Blue) and Brutii (Green). There is a fourth Roman faction called SPQR which is the Roman senate's faction, but you can never control them as they always start with Rome as their only region and your main goal. On choosing your faction you start the game with three regions under your control. From here you play the game using two game modes, the strategic map and the battle map. The strategic map covers a small area of the main map and is where you will spend the majority of the game. Here you can zoom in or out, move around and view the world map, select towns to view their statistics and move your characters around. Also there are many other items you can do in the main strategic map mode such as construct buildings in your towns, recruiting army units, looking at the building types, checking you faction's family tree and asking your advisors what to do. As this is a turn based game each turn or movement happens over a period of six months. After you have finished all your moves you hit the end turn button in the bottom right hand corner and all your rival factions will do their moves. There is a very strong management slant to the game which may be your thing, however if it is not you can do no worse than hit the 'Automanage everything' button that appears on the town information scroll. This hands over control to the computer and means that it will deal with the running of the regions and leave you free to do other things. If you are into management you have numerous scrolls and information bars to check and see what is going on. There are financial scrolls where you can see your factions cash flow, or a diplomatic scroll where you can see lists of who are your enemies or allies and the diplomatic ties of other factions. The management of your faction is quite a small thing to start with when you have only three regions, but later it will be a major part of the game. ~Characters~ There are four types of characters within the game that you can control individually and move around on the strategic map. There are you family members which consist of a Faction Leader, a Faction Heir and other family members. You can set these as Governors of your towns or send them off to war as generals of your armies. Next there are your agents which consists of three types, a spy, an assassin and a diplomat. Then there are your armies which can be as little as one unit or up to 18 units and there are ships which are your navy element. Moving these characters around the map is easily done by selecting them and clicking on the strategic map to move them to it. For the military units you can select them individually and move them about the map or select various units of differing types and bring them together to form a large army. The military units can be used to attack a town or another army if you wish and lets face it this is what you are playing the game for. On attacking an army you will be shown the statistics of your army verses the other army. If the opposing army takes up the fight you are given three choices, you can fight on the battle map, get the computer to resolve the battle automatically or withdraw from the battle. I always fight on the battle map, but navies can only have a battle resolved automatically. Pressing the auto button allows the computer to do a quick calculation and then display the result of the battle in seconds. This is good if you don't want to deal with minor skirmishes or don't rate your battle skills. Withdrawing will let you pull out of a battle if the opposing army is bigger than you thought or one of your units has been attacked and you want to get them out of the situation. If like me you want the battle and you want to control it the game will change to the battle map. Here you get a chance to deploy you troops on your half of a square map before you battle with the opposition. In battle map you can control units individually or group them together. There is a radar map in the bottom left showing the position of units on the battle map and control buttons on the bottom right for unit actions. Moving units is a case of selecting them on the map or from the centre tab and clicking to where you want them to go. Armies versus army battles are good, but I prefer the siege battles where your armies are assaulting a settlement. Here you can use your artillery units or onagers if you have them or failing that rams, ladders, siege towers and sap (tunnel) points. This is what the game is all about and despite my advisors warnings I love to send a large volley of flaming missiles against my foe, just to burn his settlement to the ground. ~Controls~ With all there is to do in the game I'm amazed at how simple the controls are you could get through the whole lot just by using the mouse. Yet the games designers have added 'hot keys' that you can use in the battle map which are really good if you want a unit to do it's special ability or make a unit run to a particular location. You don't always need to use the mouse, but you cannot get through the game without using it. On the strategic map you select your unit with a right click and move it where you want with another click. You can even move the camera with the arrow keys rather than the mouse. In the strategic map you can move the camera around, but you cannot spin it. This in not really a disadvantage, however in the battle map you are allowed to spin and move the camera to different positions which allows you to see beyond trees and walls to pin-point the opposition. Overall the controls are good, fluid and at no time do I curse the game if I cannot control or view something. ~Graphics~ The graphics in battle mode are good and crisp, however as my PC is a low specification rig I had to reduce the quality of the graphics to speed the game up. I don't think that it affected the graphic in anyway as I tended to control my units from wide angles and the difference was not noticeable unless I zoomed up onto a group of figures to see that the figures were basic shapes with no hands or feet. The graphics in strategic mode are just as good with little wave movements of the sea even in the lower settings. There are subtle changes of colour for similar units depending on their faction, with hues of red, green or blue for basic barbarians through to brighter colours or purple for the Romans. Other factions also have specialist types of units like the Germanic 'Screeching Women' or the Carthaginian 'War Elephants' that are well detailed and designed. Even the background building or scenery items are well shown and structured. ~Sound~ In strategic map mode there are lots of background sounds, with wind, birds, dust storms or the sound of the sea. The sounds of the game are just as good as any other part of the game. The main music even changes depending on which faction you are controlling, I noted about three different types, but then I have only controlled three different factions, there could be more. In battle mode the sounds are just as good with shouting, death groans, the grinding noise of the onagers, clashing of swords and more. There is a lot going on and if you put the sound up loud enough it sounds like you are really there. ~Conclusion~ I have only really scratched the surface of what this game is and what you can expect. There is really a lot more in the game that I have omitted to tell you to keep the review a sensible length. As you might have guessed from the review I like this game, but I like it from many different reasons. First I like the depth and number of the sounds as they are quite realistic. Next I like the vastness of the game, it has a huge replay value that has seen me play this game for over six months, which is for me is very rare. I like the way the advisors helped you to start with, but then you can turn them off later in the game to stop them repeating themselves. Finally I really enjoyed the way the game was set out. You can play it fully controlling every unit and character, or you can hand over some controls to the computer to make your life easier. The only thing that I would throw into the disadvantage box is that the long campaigns can get very long and eventually each turn will take around half an hour or more. In this time you will move your characters and organise your settlements as your number of regions your faction controls increases. This doesn't include for any battles which can run for about half an hour again. That said I personally like it that the length of the campaign can go on for a long time, it's just that others might find the main campaign too long. According to the blurb on my box this game was #2 out of the top ten games of 2004 and I would say that it is definitely within that calibre. A full five stars for this one. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me.
This is the updated IL2 Sturmovik game by Maddox Games and distributed by Ubisoft. The game is designed around the Russian fighter-bomber of the title, which mimics a realistic flight model in a World War 2 environment. My game came in a DVD case with two discs, there is a small inlay for instructions to the manual, which is in electronic format on disc. The game is rated for players 7+, which in my opinion is low even though there is no blood, only the ragdoll effects of dead bodies, it does require patience and is probably best for teenagers or older. There are several options for game play and these include a Multiplay mode, a single mission mode, a career campaign mode. I tended to only use the single missions or the career mode. Single missions allow quick access to the planes and you generally start flying in the sky. For the career you start by you selecting the side (Allied/Axis) and a type of career. Multiplay mode requires an Internet connection to play with others online. There are four types of difficulty level in the game and these are set in menu screen before play. The four are Easy, Normal, Realistic and Custom, the first three are set by the game, whilst the fourth is set by you on a difficulty setting screen. The easy level gives you unlimited ammo and fuel, which is not always an advantage. You will also be given marker tags to air targets to allow you to tell the difference between friend or foe and how far away they are and you start missions in the air. At the opposite end the realistic level is so named as you get no external views and a map with no marker on it so you have no idea where you are unless you can read a map properly. Realistic yes, Easy no way! The game basically consists of flying a plane to a destination and attacking a ground or air target and getting back. A standard mission lasts up to 60 minutes, there is however a time control that allows you to speed up the game up to 8 times normal or slow it down to a 1/4 of normal time. Speeding up is good if you want to reduce the flying time and slowing down is best for when you get something in your gun sights. Flying the plane is relatively simple on Easy, but there is a steep learning curve trying to find all the controls and getting used to flying the plane in a formation. Controls can be through the keyboard, but I use a joystick with a 'twist' rudder capability and a keyboard for all the additional functions. For attacking targets there are four weapon groups available, they are main guns, secondary guns, rockets and bombs. Additionally in the heavy bombers you can rotate through the views of the other crew members and fire defensive machine guns from these locations. Ending the game is easy, you can hit 'escape', die, bail-out or land safely in friendly territory. Only a landing alive in friendly territory will allow you to progress to the next mission, but in all cases you get an end mission statistic screen. There are now two types of planes available, single engine planes or multiple engine bombers. The planes are too numerous to mention here, but include the standard planes of the era available on the Eastern front including Lend-Lease planes such as the Hurricaine. There are many more AI planes that you cannot fly, these planes range from small fragile spotter bi-planes through to multiple engine transports and bombers. Other AI items on the ground include artillery guns, cars, trucks, trains, tanks and ships. The graphics for IL2 FB have been upgraded and improved from the original game, with better rendering to the planes interior and exterior. The detail is so great that there is sometimes even a fully functioning clock. Externally there are puffs of smoke when an engine starts up, vapour trails at altitude and smoke or flames if you get terminal damage. One of the best aspects graphically is the damage model. Any damage to the plane is quickly felt in the way the plane flies. The damage model will even show bullet holes exactly where you got hit, panels falling away and missing dials internally. In IL2 FB there are so many ways to die that it is nearly a pleasure to get shot up, as invariably you will never get damaged the same way twice. The engine running sound is one of the most realistic parts of game package as the various different planes are given totally different engine noises. Sounds during combat are good with realistic sounds of bullets as they race past your cockpit or 'thud' as they make impact. Another well-done aspect is the radio chatter as you get to hear actors talking Russian or German radio chatter as you fly and see it instantly translated for you as text at the top of your screen. Luckily there is a link that allows you to communicate back in any language when you hit the 'tab' key to call up a list of commands. From here you can hit the number key that references the command you want to give and select who you want to give the command to. This adds an extra dimension to the game, but also increases the complexity as it is not easy to control your plane and issue commands in a dogfight. For me the replay value is huge, as a World War 2 plane enthusiast I love it and have spent hours playing the game. As for other people all I can say is you will either love it or hate it. The learning curve is steep, but by customising the settings you can make your plane indestructible and hence impossible for the AI planes to shoot down. From here you can learn the basics and then turn of the protecting items one by one. This is a game that I enjoy enough to keep on playing it, but I can only recommend it to gamers who are into flight simulators. There are problems with the game such as the career campaign mode, which makes you fly missions again and again until you get them right. Also some functions are hard to control when you are in the middle of a scrap, such as the fuel mixture, air vents, etc.. A thoroughly enjoyable game, but not one for everyone. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found at other websites under the same user name and is also written by me. ~Further Information~ Released by Ubisoft (see www.ubisoft.com) IL2 Forgotten Battles (2002) £9.99 or less ~Technical information~ My PC Specification Pentium 4 2.66 GHz Memory 512MB of RAM Windows OS XP SP2 DirectX 9b An internal Video chipset An internal sound chipset A 40GB hard drive of which the game only needs 1.1GB For Multiplay an Internet connection of 56Kbps or better is required, but I used a broadband connection.
Located in northern France west of St. Malo on the border between Brittany and Normandy is what can only be described as a large rocky island in the Bay of Mont St Michel. They say that in 708 the bishop of Avaranche created a shrine to Saint Michael on this isolated island. Instantly it became a pilgrimage destination for medieval Christians. Over the next few centuries the shrine became a sanctuary with an imposing abbey built on top of the hill. During the hundred years war the village below the abbey was surrounded with huge ramparts and the strong resistance to the invading English made the abbey a symbol of French nationality. The monks soon left and it became a prison, with the degradation that occurs over time the abbey fell into decline. It was given historical monument status in the 19th century and eventually it was entered onto the roll of UNESCO World Heritage sites. With the addition of a causeway the accessibility of the island was opened up until today it is an island no more. The abbey has been restored to its former glory and even now there is evidence that works are continuing to repair and maintain the structure for future generations. Getting to Mont St. Michel from the UK requires a ferry trip with the nearest ports being St. Malo or Cherbourg. From St. Malo it's a short drive along the coast to along the N176 to Pontorson. On a clear day Mont St. Michel will be visible with the abbey on top of the island standing proud. From Pontorson take the D976 north to the coast. As you approach, the advertisement signs for shops, restaurants and McDonalds alongside the road will increase until they end just as you reach the causeway to the island. About 200m from the island you are directed right to a car park on the tidal area. One thing to mention now is that this car park can and will flood as the tide rises so take note of the high tide time and make sure you get back to remove your vehicle. You will have to pay a fee to park, which was 5 euros in 2007 for our car. From the carpark it was a short two minute walk to the ramparts and the entrance to Mont St Michel. You don't pay anything here to get in to Mont St. Michel, but you will later on need to pay to enter the abbey. Once in Mont St. Michel there is seemingly only one way to the abbey and that is up the main street. It was a bit of a bun fight to start with as there were people come down the street, which is quite steep and people like us going up. Coupled with the narrow street, souvenir shops, people standing in the street and the dead weight of a 6 month old baby on my chest I wasn't having fun. The serenity I felt as I we approached the island was evaporating fast. We gave up trying to climb the hill and went up some stairs and on to the ramparts. Here at least it was level in places and there were less people. The view back to the Brittany coast was uninspiring and eventually we found a restaurant to rest and fed baby. After the first restaurant failed to serve us as they were too busy we headed further away from the entrance and found one that was busy, but at least had the time to serve customers. Both myself and BC2 were starting to get grumpy as it was well past 2 o'clock & we were both hungry. The restaurant was expensive for the food that we got, but then we were in a UNESCO world heritage site and I suppose that gives everyone the right to fleece us. Fully refreshed we moved on along the ramparts and up to towards the abbey area. The abbey itself being at the top of the hill has many steps to reach its entrance and it is a long hard climb even for fit people such as myself. The abbey tour though is the toughest part of the whole island. We paid another 8 euros each to get inside the abbey and found even more steps. I cannot remember the whole tour as later parts bored me, but to start with my interest was held by the architecture as we climbed the stairs to the abbey. I do remember becoming interested when we reached the upper part that had a terrace with views to the western part of the island and the bay. From here you do get a good sense of the scale of Mont St. Michel. There is the bay with its sands stretching out to the north and west, with a good view of the Brittany coast line. I think that I was just about able to see Cancale in the distance, though it was a slightly hazy day. From the terrace the tour took you back inside the abbey to one of the later higher levels with a lovely built church with pews, an altar and vaulted ceilings. The tour moved north into an area that was quoted as being the garden of the monks. It was a very nice area, but it had been amended with a large pane of glass on the western side that allowed views into the real garden below. In truth it was an area that had been made into a quite garden of contemplation for the benefit of the tourists. In truth I think that it was a part of the abbey that hadn't been finished and the owners were keen to ramp up the reverence. In either case it was a nice spot to be on a warm sunny day as the glass keeps the wind off the area and increases the light levels. It was the highlight of the tour for me as it was a good place to rest my weary legs. The tour from here goes downhill, literally as well as physically. Basically the tour works it way through the bowels of the abbey going through the lower older levels. Unfortunately due to the way in which the abbey was built the levels are uneven and the tourists are forced through a convoluted route up and downstairs. For me this was a killer and even for Mrs C who wasn't carrying baby it was beginning to wear her legs out. This is the point when the tour became boring and all I wanted to find was the exit, however the route became even more tortuous as it went up, down, left and right. Then when we did find the outside it was to the north-west corner right underneath the fancy abbey garden and we had to do a windy tour of the gardens to the north to get out of the exit which was in the south-east corner of the abbey complex. Mont St Michel is definitely a wonderful place to view from outside with its grand ramparts as you look from a distance. Unfortunately the majesty, the reverence and the serenity of the place are slowly removed as you walk inside and explore the island from within. Firstly there is the general hustle and bustle of the main street, it is really hard going if you have a little one like we did and we didn't even take the pushchair. Next the sharp inclines and numerous steps will not suit everyone, there are at least 20 to 30 steps to climb in the abbey to pay for the entrance fee and another 30 beyond that just to get to the top terrace. Then there are about three or four times as many on the way back down as you are constantly descending or climbing stairs. It is not really a place for the old or infirm, only the fittest will survive those steps. Finally my biggest complaint is the money element that starts when you pay to park your car on a tidal range that could wash it way. Once you approach the ramparts you are slowly stripped of money for the tidal parking, entrance to the abbey, restaurants, souvenirs and even money to use the toilets. If you weren't a poor and penniless peasant when you arrived, you will be by the time you leave. I suppose that is what you are meant to do if you wish to take the righteous path, but for me I won't be visiting another UNESCO world heritage site. My wallet just can't take it anymore! c2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me.
The New Lanark Mill Hotel is an unusual hotel, once a working mill, now restored to a fully functioning hotel and located right in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The hotel itself is part of New Lanark an 18th Century cotton mill & village built on the banks of the River Clyde and surrounded by woodlands. The hotel has 38 en-suite bedrooms, eight river side cottages, a restaurant, a function room, a bar and a pool/spa area. The visitor centre part of the world heritage site is part of the same trust, but is not reviewed here as we did not visit that area. So how do you find New Lanark, well from the South (I don't know of the northern way) it is best to come up the M74 and hang a right at junction 12 to Lanark on the A70/A73 and follow the brown tourist signs saying 'New Lanark' with a Scottish thistle emblem next to the words. It takes about 15 minutes from the motorway to get to Lanark 'old' town and then less than five to New Lanark. At New Lanark ignore the signs directing cars to the car park above the village. As a hotel guest you can turn right and drive down to the village. In the village you will need to drive carefully for there are speed bumps and wandering pedestrians as you turn right into the visitor centre area. Turning almost 180 degrees drive down past a man-made waterway over sharper speed bumps, the hotel is the eastern most of the large mill buildings and car parking is in front and to the right rear of the hotel. The hotel has been modernised to meet today's comforts without losing any of its original structure or charm. It has six floors, which are long and narrow, the rooms are mostly on the top two floors facing the river with the function room in the middle and the restaurant on floor 2, the ground floor has the reception, bar and spa. The reception is to the right of the doors with a lounge area, there are lifts and stairs to the upper floors with a set near the reception and another to the left behind the bar area. The Falls bar is open from 11am to 11pm every day it is small and a little on the dark side. The spa which can be found behind the bar area is new and quite modern. There is a gym, a steam room, sauna, a pool and a spa pool. Changing facilities are good and the whole spa is free for hotel guests. Things to note are that the spa also has non-hotel paying members and programmed things like aqua-fit in the pool. Also there is a restriction on times that children (even accompanied ones) are allowed in the pool. I cannot remember the times or the age limits, but they were not unreasonable restrictions and we were able to use the pool twice during our stay with our one year old daughter. The Mill restaurant on the second floor is where we went for breakfast, it is open from 6.30am to 9.30am on week days and 8am to 10.30am at the weekends. The items available at breakfast included, cereals, fruits, juices, bread, and cooked items all as part of a serve yourself counter, with only coffee and teas provided by the waiting staff. Cooked foods on offer included, eggs (scrambled and fried), bacon, sausages, square sausage, tomatoes, beans, potato scones, black pudding and some sliced haggis. It was a good eat up for me in the morning and I didn't need much at lunch to keep me going in the daytime. As for the evening meals in the restaurant I cannot comment as we didn't have any meals then. The bedroom was probably one of the most spacious rooms we've had in a while and this was thanks to the original design of the building as a long thin cotton mill. Too narrow to have rooms either side of the building the hotel builders placed the corridor on the land side and the rooms facing the River Clyde. The rooms are very large for two people, but perfect for a young family of three such as us. Our room (no.20)had a walk-in wardrobe area to the left of the door, a bathroom to the right and a good sized area with king size bed, chairs and drawers for TV, kettle and mirror overlooking the river. The room was very well laid out and even with the inclusion of a cot for little BC2 it is massively oversized. The bathroom with toilet, sink and bath/shower all in white and clad in timber was nice and clean. Only thing that concerned us was the towel rail, which reached a low level and didn't have any user controls, hence we had to be careful when BC2 was being dried after a bath. Those hot white bars just attract those little hands in reaching over to grab it, despite all the 'No's' one can muster. Now for the price, our room for bed and breakfast in 2008 was £59.60 per person, per night. For the cot we had to pay an additional £5 per stay so for two adults and a one year old it cost us £243.40 for the two nights we stayed. Other costs that a guest may have to pay for include a £20 single person supplement, Z-beds at £10 per stay, or well behaved pets at £5 per pet, per night. The prices for the one or two bedroom riverside cottages are variable depending on the time of year, so it is best to contact the hotel for prices if you wish to stay there. In short the New Lanark Mill Hotel was ideal for us, it was quiet, well away from the masses and the room was spacious for our needs. Sure we probably paid a little extra for staying in a UNESCO world heritage site, but Lanark is not that well stocked with hotels and we needed to be nearby to visit family. Overall I can recommend the hotels as it clean, tidy and the staff are very helpful. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me. Useful stuff: New Lanark Mill Hotel, New Lanark, Lanarkshire Post Code: ML11 9DB www.newlanark.org
The Seamill Hydro hotel is located near the village of West Kilbride, on the Ayrshire coast between Largs and Ardrossan. Its closest metropolitan centre is Glasgow and hence it is better known by Scots going on holiday rather than invading Sassenach's. So how do you get to Seamill Hydro, well for me it was a drive up the M74, then I struck out across the windy A71 towards Kilmarnock and continued in the A71 towards Irvine, once on the coastal A78 road you head for Largs, bypass Saltcoats and Ardrossan and pitch up in West Kilbride. To help you out the local council now have a village sign stating 'West Kilbride incorporating Seamill Hydro'. The hotel is on the coastal side of the road and the hotel has views across the sea to Arran. My route may not be the quickest, but after seven hours on a motorway it is nice to get off onto slower roads. Bizarrely a quicker route is to head up to Glasgow, get on the M8 head west, then turn south on the M77 to Kilmarnock turn on to the A71 to Irvine and pick up the coastal A78 road to Largs. On the map you think that the zigzag north/south route is crazy, but it helps you get to the west coast a little more quickly. The hotel is a two story building that has a classic West Scottish stone finish, however a quick look with my engineer eye and I can see that it has been extended and added to over the years. This gives the hotel at strange feel to it. In some places it is modern and fresh, but in others dated or tired and even somewhere in the middle. The entrance and reception area is on the south side of the hotel and has an airy feel to it. From here it got confusing as there are stairs to the right of the reception, yet the lift is to the left and behind it. First we couldn't find the lift and had to save face and go up the stairs. Eventually when we did find the lift we discovered that it could also be reached by walking out the entrance, back into the restaurant entrance on our left, past the restaurant and there it was. Confused? We certainly were. The Aura restaurant we used for our breakfast was on the ground floor between the car park and the reception. It was very modern and new and probably the best part of the hotel. Seating was good and the high chairs available were clean and new. The items available at breakfast included, cereals, fruits, juices, yoghurts, bread, and cooked items all as part of a serve buffet. Cooked foods on offer included, eggs (scrambled and poached), bacon, square sausage, tomatoes, beans, potato scones and black pudding. The coffee and teas were served by the waiting staff and breakfast was very efficient. As for the evening meals in the restaurant I cannot comment as we didn't have any meals at that time. The bedroom was quite small for our needs. The cot which was free had replaced a table in our room. The table instead of being taken away was left outside our room as if we had dragged it out ourselves and that didn't please me. The double bed mattress was a little on the soft side and the wardrobe concertina doors had a habit of sticking when shut, so we left them open. The TV on a drawer unit was okay, but the reception was not great. The tea making facilities were on a drawer unit near the door and just a little bit too low for our liking and with reach of our crawling one year old. The bathroom was relatively clean, but the décor was fading and after a shower the damp air took a long time to clear, despite the presence of a fan. In short our room was not the greatest so we spent a lot of the time in the hotel at the spa or in the lounge bar. The spa was new and modern, with a large pool, steam room and sauna. There was also a separate gym and beauty parlour. The changing facilities were good and the showers were okay. We liked the spa and this was a place where we were able to take BC2 for a swim and relax. The Pladda lounge looked out across the sea to the island of Arran and on a good day you could see it clearly. The lounge itself has two levels, with a lower level that was clear of tables were we could let BC2 burn off some energy without having to pick her up all the time. The only down side to the bar area for us was that of the three high chairs available only one was suitable for a one year old. Even then it was a bit dirty, the other chairs were for older children and made out of wood, they didn't have a food tray and one had a broken lap strap. Our room for bed and breakfast in 2008 was £44 per person per night. Which for the three nights we stayed cost us £264 and we didn't even get a sea view with that. Just as well that they gave us the cot for free. In short the Seamill Hydro Hotel was only good for one thing and that was getting us a room as close to our family as possible. As for everything else we felt that the hotel was not great value. The room would have been adequate for a couple, but for us it was too small. The layout of the hotel takes some getting use to, the latest additions to this sprawling hotel namely the restaurant and spa are modern and clean, but the rest of the hotel needs a bit of an overhaul to match up with these newer parts. I cannot recommend this hotel to anyone unless you want to pay for the privilege of staying in a hotel that has seen better days. It is not a terrible hotel, but it not the best either. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me. Useful stuff: Seamill Hydro, West Kilbride, Ayrshire, KA23 9NB http://www.seamillhydro.co.uk/
The Dog & Bear Hotel at Lenham is one of those little jewels that you can spend a lifetime looking for. Than when you do find such a treasure you sit and wander how everyone else just pass it by. I found the Dog & Bear one night after my old man 'Jurassic Spark' mentioned that Lenham was a nice village to go to enjoy a fine ale. I found it last year on one balmy August night when it was too hot to sleep or eat and I fancied a real nice English ale. The Dog & Bear is a 15th Century coaching inn that has been modernised to meet modern comforts without losing too much of its charm. It is a pub first and foremost with a bar area or a good dining room to choose from as soon as you walk in through the front door. The rooms are mostly upstairs with a few on the ground, they are equipped with modern furniture, however the single glazed sash windows are much older, although this adds to the natural feel of the place. So how do you find this little jewel hidden away from sight? The village of Lenham is not far from the main artery of Kent the M20. Indeed it is right alongside it, but you will have to journey along the older artery of the A20 from junction 8 until you can reach Lenham. Once in Lenham the Dog & Bear is easy to find, the village is small and the car park in the square (middle) of it is adjacent to the pub. The first time I visited Lenham I parked the car and looked around to see the Dog & Bear right in front of me. All I had to do was cross the road and I was there. Inside, the whole pub has the feeling of a much older world. The bar, the décor and the wares available behind the bar have an ancient feel to them. The fine ales from the Shepherd Neame brewery are ready to be tasted for their good quality of Kentish hops and even their wines are perfect for the atmosphere. There are oaked white wines and fruity reds all waiting to be drunk. So once you have enjoyed the bar it is on to the restaurant. The restaurant area is to the left of the main door and continues with the old world theme. The smell of the oak beams permeates through the air as you sit and read the menu, which has a wonderful choice of foods. I think I had a steak and ale pie one night and bangers & mash another. I recalled a few other meals that caught my eye, which include a lamb roast, a lasagne and a cod dish. All the meals I had in the restaurant were faultless and reasonably priced at around £20 all in for one adult. The bedroom I had, although decked out in modern attire still retained that old feel to it solely due to the sash windows. It wasn't the largest room, but the bed was comfortable with a mattress that was just about right for me even though it was on the softer side. The TV was small and placed on a desk/drawer set, it only had the terrestrial channels, but as I spent most of my time in the bar, restaurant or at work it wasn't a major problem. The en-suite was clean, the shower was a little low on power, but overall the facilities there were good enough for me. I only spent two nights in the room and I can say that I did get a good nights sleep on all nights. Now for the price, the single room with breakfast costs £60 and a double/twin £80, which for my company is expensive, however I was able to get the two nights out of them for the as the normal Premier Travel inns that I used were fully booked up. For the price I felt that I had a good deal as the room was comfortable, the restaurant served excellent nosh and the pub was right for me as I couldn't see any alcopop rubbish and the ales were knock out perfect. It was a shame for me that I only found this hotel right at the end of the contract in Kent, as I wish that I could have stayed a few more nights in this little haven beside the A20. In short the Dog & Bear Hotel is brilliant for short stops in the Kentish countryside either on the way to the ports or for business. As for a place to spend a whole week I'm not so sure. The rooms are small and larger groups may struggle with the amount of space. There are no lifts, but there are a few rooms on the ground floor for those who struggle with stairs. Finally Lenham itself is no ball of fire, a two minute walk in any direction will have you standing in a field, but that it is part of its charm, its appeal. You really are detached from the rest of the world. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me. Useful stuff: The Dog & Bear, The Square, Lenham, Kent Post Code: ME17 2PG www.dogandbearlenham.co.uk.
Abbey are now part of the Santander group, which is apparently the largest banking group in the world. So hopefully with a large conglomerate behind them Abbey would be a decent bank to go with, right? Abbey has numerous services that they offer at the moment and I've had the misfortune to use three of them, a current account, a credit card and a mortgage. That was in a short period from 2006 to 2008. Now I don't have any services with them such is their competence. Lets start with the current account. When I opened my account in 2006 the interest rate was okay. Unfortunately this was an introduction rate which dropped about three months after I had started. By this time I had been sucked in to a credit card and moved house and had a mortgage with them. Although that said the current account wasn't that bad. The problems though were elsewhere. The credit card also had a good introduction rate to start with 0% on purchases for three months. Once this good deal ended though the rate went up and the way the interest was calculated went to a different planet. The problem I had with their credit card was even if I paid off all my purchases I would pick up an interest charge of the days between the bill and my payment. I only worked this out when I paid off a month and then had no purchases the next month only to receive a bill for £2 in interest fees. This credit card was finally dropped about six months after I had started it. The mortgage I had with Abbey was a decent one for the time and throughout the two years I had it there were no problems. I paid them on time and they gave me a statement every now and then. The only time it became a problem was when the two year discount tracker rate was due to move up to their base rate. I now had a Financial advisor and he started putting things in place to change the mortgage and keep it on decent lower rate. Abbey though had other ideas and as I had arranged them mortgage directly with them they wouldn't deal with my advisor and I had to do all the leg work. Even though I started the ball rolling a full four months before the rate change, Abbey dragged their feet long enough to delay the switch over to the very last month of the discount rate. With the paperwork done by me and my financial advisor sorting out the new mortgage I thought everything was done and dusted. The Abbey account was paid off and the new lender was good to go. That was until Abbey took out a payment at the higher rate from my current account (in another bank now) the following month. This was bad as it dropped my account beyond the overdraft limit. I was now paying for two mortgages, one at a new lender and one with Abbey, which should have been closed. Worse was to follow as once I had contacted their call centre they refused to return the funds until they had 'cleared' their account, which could be up to 10 days. Then there would be a further unspecified delay of 5 days before it got back to my account. Despite requests and pleas they would not budge so I had to go cap in hand to my current account provider. Through my current account provider I was able to fill out a form, cancel the Abbey direct debit that should have been cancelled anyway and apply to get my money back. The overdraft limit was increased for a few months until I got the funds back and the charge for going over my limit was dropped. I got the funds back in about two weeks, which was too long in my book, but at least my bank was trying to help me out. Unlike Abbey, which was trying to make me bankrupt. Even though I had actually over paid the mortgage by about £100 and they had given me a letter stating this I got a letter from their debt collection department asking for two months worth of payments, the one they took and I got back, plus the next months. I tried to get some sense out of the call centre, but I had keep going one higher. Even the managers were useless so I had to solider on until I got to the complaints department and finally met someone with more than a shared brain cell. He sorted out the mess, registered my complaint and finally three months after I changed mortgage lenders, I got back the £100 they owed me. Later I got another letter with £30 as a bribe not to tell the FSA what a waste of space they really were. As a recall then the current account was okay and worked well for the nine months I had it before I found one with a better rate. The credit card was cheap for a few months before they started clawing money back through ramped interest charges. Finally the mortgage was a complete and utter disaster when I wanted out, with no help, lots of time wasting, rubbish call centres and incompetence on all levels. I will in future avoid using this bank altogether as once you are in you won't ever get out. (c)2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found at other websites under the same user name and is also written by me.
This HP Photosmart C4280 is a Multifunction device (MFD) which can print, scan and copy documents. In the past MFDs were a compromise unit designed for users who want several functions from one unit. The only downside of these combined units is the poor quality of one aspect of the unit and the bulky size. With progress in technology you would hope the later MFDs would come down in price and size, whilst improving quality. The question is this, does the C4280 produce good quality prints, scans and copies for a small size and smaller price? I found this MFD on offer in November 2007 for £53.99. This was not bad as the pre-sale price was £78.99, it was reduced by £19 and then an additional 10% saving was thrown in when I bought it in a store after reserving it online. This was an even bigger bargain when I saw it in a High Street store a week later for a shade under a crisp one hundred pound notes and even now in February 2008 it is still sitting around the £50 to £60 mark. In the box there was lots of stuff, but I'll skip to the interesting items such as the sample of HP photo paper with the small print warning, 'May contain products from Switzerland'! Also there was a HP installation CD for Windoze 2000, XP and Vista or Mac OS, a HP black cartridge HP350, a HP Colour cartridge HP351, a manual and some easy set up information. The power cable & AC adapter were included and at the bottom was the printer. One thing to note from the items above is NO USB CABLE! This could be a bit of a pain if this was for a new system set up, but as I was replacing a printer and a scanner I had the choice of two existing USB cables so it was not a problem for me. Once on the desk the MFD took up a space larger than my old printer and smaller than the old flatbed scanner. Its dimensions are approximately: 43cm(17") wide, 17cm(6 1/2") high or 41cm(16") with the lid open, 27cm(11") deep, and it weighs in at around 5kg (11 lb). Start up instructions are in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, but the manual user guide is in English only. Set up was really easy and the start up guide has pretty pictures for anyone to follow. In all it took me less than ten minutes to get it on the desk and powered up. For installation on my PC I selected the EASY install, but instantly ran into difficulties. The problem I had here was on my main PC was the installation failed due to the printer spooler programme not running on my OS. I'm not sure if the installation kicked it offline or the problem was already there, but suddenly I had no printer spooler even for my old printer. I fiddled with the OS for a while trying to 'restore' my settings, but nothing would work. So whilst the MicroSerf website suggested a complete Windoze XP reinstallation I switched off the home PC and turned to my work laptop. Could I bugger this up as well? Yes! On the laptop things were progressing well, the installation software was at step 4 of 9 and asked me to plug in the C4280 then turn it on. Here the installation went and hung itself as the installation programme could not find the set-up information on it's own HP supplied CD disc. Thinking that the unit had come with the wrong installation drivers I went and searched on the HP website. Here I was able to find the most recent drivers, which were exactly the same as the ones on the CD supplied. Also at 150Mb the download would have taken a long time even with my 1Mb Broadband connection. For the second time I cancelled an installation and went for expert help. My work's IT department is filled with the usual computer-know-it-all's, but they have given me some useful pointers in the past. The suggestion here was that instead of the easy installation I should go 'CUSTOM' and cut out the chaff. I was advised not to install the 'HP Update' programme as it is normally slow and not very good, then deselect anything that I thought was of little use. So I deselected the following programmes 'HP Customer Participation', 'Shop for HP Supplies', 'HP Solution Center' and 'HP Smart Web Printing'. This left me with the standard drivers and the HP Photosmart Essential 2.01 editing suite. So when I started again on the laptop again I managed to do a complete installation by using the CUSTOM install function and installing as detailed above. The installation when it did fire up took around ten minutes to a quarter of an hour to complete. Finally I could print something. The test page came out bright and clear with good black lettering and clear colour graphics, which was a better quality than my now redundant printer. As this MFD has some memory card slots for XD, SD, MMC, MS/Duo and CF cards on the front I was able to place in my camera's XD card to the relevant slot. The colour LCD screen at the front in not adjustable so you have to move your head around to see which photo you are selecting, it isn't bad, but any light at the wrong angle will distract your vision of this small colour LCD. Using the buttons on the top to control quality and quantity, I was able to print a 6x5 photo without referring to the manual once. Unfortunately the photo quality was quite poor and I was disappointed with this aspect of the printer initially. Although I had not bought it as a photo printer it does have the word 'photo' in the title leading me to believe that this would be it's strong point. It wasn't even close, however there is a small trick here that I hadn't seen yet. The printer side of the unit has space for two cartridges, Black and Coloured, however there are five cartridges that you can purchase for the unit. Two are black and two are coloured. The fifth cartridge is called the 'Photo' cartridge, this replaces the black cartridge in the black ink slot, but this special photo cartridge has three colours, Black, Light Blue and Light Red. Apparently this is for more realistic skin tones when printing photos. I only recently purchased this cartridge and tried it out and the results are better for photos. The only problem I have here is why is the hell is this cartridge not supplied as the standard cartridge? The answer can be found when printing graphic documents as the black text is very dark grey and looks smudged. In short an average photo printer although it is better for text and graphics. Moving on to the scanning and copying function of the MFD, I found that to do the scanning I had to use the buttons on the unit itself rather than placing an item on the unit and clicking the mouse. This was the opposite of what I used to do on my old scanner, but I soon got the hang of it and preferred this way more. The initial image scanned by the MFD came out with very good quality as it was a photograph, another image scanned in on card was not so good, but looking at the original it was not a great print, however the scanner made it worse. Photocopies from the unit are of a good quality, depending on the original image and this is the crunch point. The scanner is okay, it will not reproduce fully faithful copies, but then what scanner/copier does? In conclusion if we go back to the question I asked at the beginning. This Multifunction device is still a compromise unit with a below average quality photo printer, however with the purchase of the special 'photo' cartridge the quality improves marginally to an average quality. So don't buy this if you want a printer that does excellent photos, it won't happen. The other item that really pulls the unit down is the troubles I had installing the damn thing. I can't remember how long it took overall, but the unit was not fully up and running on my home PC until late December 2007, over a month after I bought. Even on my more modern laptop the installation failed on easy installation and only worked when I went into advanced mode and deselected many of the optional (buggy?) programmes. In short I cannot recommend this unit to anyone who is inexperienced in the PC field and even if you're an expert the installation is a hassle you won't want. On the plus side once installed it is a competent printer for text or graphics and as a scanner it does reasonable copies. Overall I'm satisfied, not overjoyed with my purchase, as I've replaced two older peripherals with a single multifunction device. Throw into the equation the space I freed up on my desk and I'm pretty content with my purchase. c2008 buzzard_cad This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me. I dunno how this is down in the fax machine section. It wern't me guv'. I will talk with higher Dooyoo people.
My Dyson DC04 has been completely reliable, it picks up everything including cat hair and it is easy to empty and maintain. On the flip side the Dyson brand has reliability problems, its noisy and some of the plastic fittings may not fit very well. I bought my DC04 from Powerhouse back way back in May 2000, I paid £269.99 and it came in a coloured box. To get the box in the car I only had to put one side of the rear seats down (Model used 1992 Vauxhall Cavalier Saloon). I had just bought my first house a tiny one bedroom terraced place with stairs and nice thick carpets. I had heard how wonderful the Dyson vacuum cleaners were and a liked the bright yellow colour. I picked the DC04 as it had the minimal amount of attachments and I didn't need the extra cleaning and filtering of the higher spec' models. The DC04 is an upright cleaner, it is bagless with a large clear plastic container for the collected detritus, the rest of the cleaner is also plastic and is coloured light grey or bright yellow. It has a handle for upright use that also converts to the extension hose and it has three cleaning attachments available to go on the end. All this came in a large box with good clear instructions so I had no problem in putting it together and using it. This cleaner is powerful it works really well on carpets and lino floors. It picks up everything including cat hair, building waste such as small lumps of plaster and the occasional Monday morning cornflake explosion. The DC04 has an extension hose for cleaning stairs, nooks and crannies, however on stairs it will not reach right to the top step. The extension hose is much better than other cleaners of the time, as they had a separate hose mounted on the side. A push of a yellow button and the handle lifts up, there is a yellow cap that flips open and you can attach one of the three nozzles onto the end. Two of the nozzles are located above the plastic container in shaped recesses, the other thin nozzle is attached to the handle and all stay on the cleaner when I'm using it around the house. The only problem I have had is the flexible extension hose always comes away from the metal extension pipe. I guess the plastic clip doesn't fit or work very well. It has never been much of a problem as I hold the plastic end of the hose when using the extension and it is not in an uncomfortable position. It is also a very noisy cleaner, making the cats dash out of the house every time it starts up. It is slightly heavy to carry up stairs, but when is an upright easy to get upstairs? I solved this problem by moving to a ground floor maisonette. To empty the cleaner is very easy, push a yellow button and the collector comes away in one large chunk. Place it on the floor near the bin and unclip the top filter housing from the collector and empty the collector into the bin. It's easy and you don't have to find a new paper bag and attach it on. Yes you get a little kick back of dust, but you get that from the old bags when you put something on top of them in the bin. I tend wash out the clear collector every other empty to wash away the dust stuck on the inside. The cleaner has numerous little plastic items that can be removed for maintenance. The filter on the top needs removing and wash every six months and I tend to take apart the extension hose and some detachable bends and wash them out once a year. I do this as dust can get clogged on the bends and in my view looking after something is better than paying for an extended warranty. The DC04 came with a two year warranty, I've had no need for this as everything so far has held together. Dyson offered me an extension to the warranty of up to five years, but I didn't bother with it as I think warranties are a waste of money. If any thing goes wrong it is usually within the first year or two and the manufacturers warranty should cover it. I my view there should be no need to pay for any extensions, they are not worth the paper they are written on, particularly if the item needing repair is not covered by the small print in the warranty. For me this has been a good vacuum cleaner, true I have looked after it, but I do the same to any appliance in the house. It has given me over seven years of trouble free use and I haven't spent a single penny on paper bags or getting it fixed. I would definitely buy another Dyson, despite what people say about the brand being unreliable and noisy. It does a very good job picking up the mess and it is very easy to maintain. Thanks for reading (c)2007 buzzard_cad This review can be found at other websites under the same user name and is also written by me.
This Premier Travel Inn (PTI) is on the western outskirts of Ashford just off the A2070 and is only a short hop from junction 10 of the M20. It is located in an industrial estate to the east of a dual carriageway which means it is easy to get to, however this location is also part of its downfall. The hotel itself is modern in design with three floors, a good sized car park for 200 vehicles and a restaurant alongside. Sure the bones of this review is like my previous review of the nearby PTI Ashford North, however there are differences between the two which I will go into detail later. Bookings for this hotel like all PTI hotels can be made via the Internet or over the telephone. The web site is www.premiertravelinn.com and the central reservations telephone number is 0870 242 8000. For this hotel the direct line is 0870 977 305 and the fax line is 01233 500742. You will normally be asked for a time of arrival, which in my case is always after 6pm. If you wish to cancel you room you can ring up the hotel directly, no later than 1pm on the day of your first night. The reception desk is always manned whenever I have arrived, but that has never been later than 8pm. The check in should only take a few minutes to get a key and go to my room. Unfortunately every time I have arrived at this hotel it has taken at least ten minutes even if there are no queues, such is the incompetence on the front desk. The rooms are spread out over the three floors, to get to the higher rooms there are some stairs and a lift. There are also 3 disabled rooms that are conveniently located on the ground floor nearest to the reception. The décor in the rooms is bland, with cream walls, red speckled carpets and gaudy red checked curtains. The rooms are large, a wardrobe to hang clothes, a desk, a wooden chair, a T.V., a kettle, a hairdryer and beyond another door a bathroom. The bathrooms have a sink, W.C, and a bath with a separate shower nozzle, so you can have a bath or shower as you wish. Unlike the nearby Ashford North PTI the rooms are not cleaned properly and the bathrooms seemed to be missed the most. There are spider webs lurking in the corners and scum marks on the bath. Yuk! To make things worse the mattress on the beds are soft and after a few nights here they will do my back in. This is slightly strange as a different bed in a hotel of the same chain five miles away is soft, but not to the point of screwing my back up. The rooms do not have air-conditioning, but they do have a rudimentary heater control mounted on a wall, which on one occasion did not work at all which was especially annoying as there was snow falling outside. Once again the windows do open, but they are restricted and will not open far enough to let in air. In short the rooms are average or worse. On previous visits in the winter of 2005/6 the pub alongside called the 'French Connection' was marketed as a 'Brewers Fayre' which is a woeful chain of shoddy pubs run by the same Whitbread chain as the hotel. During my last visit in July 2007 it had been re-branded to look like an independent pub with new printed menus and different signs. Under the changed fascias I could still recognise the sordid drivel of Brewers Fayre, which was confirmed by some familiar faces behind the counters. Main meals on offer consist of meats, fish and pastas, with prices ranging from £5.99 for a water scampi and chips through to £13.99 for a 14oz rib-eye steak. Of course I initially fell for the marketing ploy thinking that the 'French Connection' had been through a major makeover, but I was disappointed not once but twice. As the saying goes you can't make a silk purse out of sows ear and that is true in the case of the 'French Connection'. If your masochistic tendencies are not abated by the rubbish dinner you could go for breakfast. You can have a full 'chubby' breakfast for £7.50 or a lighter continental breakfast for £5.25. I never tried it but don't be surprised if it is no good as this pub is so poor that the locals I know still refer to it the 'Sh*te Connection'. Room prices are variable depending on what day you stay, with £54 for a week night or £52 at the weekend, these were current rates on July 2007 and can change on a regular basis. This hotel is the not the worst PTI I have stayed in but is very close to the bottom for the following reasons. Firstly the location is poor as it is right alongside a dual carriageway which is used by the local 'lads' and their tuned-up cars. It's great fun in the early hours to listen in bed as another big bore exhaust blasts up the road. Next the rooms are not maintained or cleaned properly with evidence of spider webs and malfunctioning equipment. Finally the pub alongside is very poor, the staff are slow and the food is dire. The 'French Connection' may have had a lick of paint on the outside, but you can't paint over a rotten piece of timber forever. You are better off getting a supermarket pasty and eating it in your room... cold. It's much cheaper and you won't be disappointed, well not much anyway. If you are looking for a hotel to stay in the Ashford area then this is not the one, for that you could try the nearby PTI Ashford North, which is much better for the money. (c)2007 buzzard_cad This review may be found at other websites under the same username and is written by me.
A car seat for a baby is cited by most parents as the most important decision that they can make for their little bundle of joy. Before I start this review I'll confess that I didn't really see it that way as I know, that when I was born I was cradled in my mothers lap when ever they drove the car anywhere. I suppose that is where my reckless nature comes from. Anyway Mrs Cad was sucked in by the hype and took it on herself to drag me to superstores over several weekends to look at car seats before buzzard_cad 2 was born. It wasn't the best idea, but it gave us an overview of the massive choice we had. In the end we choose a few that we liked and Mrs Cad booked her car in to a high street store chain so she could test a few car seats. In the end we purchased the Maxi-cosi cabriofix seat for several reasons, firstly and most importantly it fitted her car and secondly it was easy to fit in other cars as well. This seat costs around £100 on the high street, but like the pram we bought the car seat online saving us about £10. The seat itself has several fixing options which may require additional expense. The first is to use the seat belt to hold the seat in position with no extra fixings. The second is to use a separate plastic fixing base called the 'easy-fix base' that is held by the seat belt and allows the car seat to be locked into position easily. This costs around £60 and will only work on some cars. The safest option is the 'Iso fix base' this can only be used if your car has the 'Iso-fix' system and again has a lock system that holds the seat in place. For those who wish to know what an iso-fix system is, this is where the car manufacturer has installed some small metal lugs to the car body which are located behind the rear seat. These lugs will enable an Iso-fix base or car seat to be fixed rigidly to the car. The idea being that this will retain the seat in an accident and protect the baby more than the seat belt would. The Maxi-Cosi 'Iso-fix' base is an additional £100 extra to the car seat. Unfortunately despite owning a car with an 'Iso-fix' system namely a Honda Jazz, the Maxi-Cosi 'Iso-fix base' would not fit the car. The 'easy-fix base' held in by the seat belts would not fit either so we were left with the only option of fixing the car seat by using the seat-belt. It's all very confusing as the Honda website and Maxi-Cosi's website have conflicting information and Mrs Cad was slightly upset about not having the safest option for BC2, but at least we tried the options before we bought the seat. So after discovering that Mrs Cad's car was unable to take the bases that would allow for easy 'clunk-clip' fixing we were left with just the standard car seat. The car seat itself is in the group 0 category, which means it is suitable from birth up until the weight specified which in this case is 13kg. The seat is rear facing which is the standard for all group 0 baby car seats. The one we bought is black in colour although there are other colours available such as grey, blue, pink and red. The car seat has a large handle for carrying, which can be rotated towards the head end so you can get baby in and out of the seat easily. To move the carry handle there are two buttons at the point it joins the seat, when pushed simultaneously these allow the handle to be moved and will lock into position when it is moved back. For restraining the baby in the car seat there is a three point harness with two shoulder straps and one between the legs. This harness can be loosened off or tighten by pushing a grey button at the leg end of the seat. Clipping the harness in with a wriggling baby may require two hands, but to release it will only require one. For very young babies there is a head support which stops their heads from rolling sideways and a foamed insert that can be removed when baby gets bigger. The car seat also has a sun shade which can be found at the join of the plastic base behind the head end of the seat. If you pull it out fully it has two hooks which will attach on the carry handle and so negate any need for the 'look I'm a parent now' sun shade stuck on many car passenger windows. With baby inside the car seat it can be a little on the heavy side and Mrs Cad did hurt her back within the first month. Mind you this was probably due to her historical back problems and the fact that her 'pelvic floor' was shot to pieces. Since then we try to carry it with both hands and close to out bodies, but this is not always possible. So in one hand and by the side of the body it can put a strain on the back especially as the babies weight increases, but normally distances to the car are quite short. Lately we have taken to leaving the seat in the car and carrying BC2 to the house now that she is breaking the 9kg mark. Finally fixing the car seat in the car by using the seat belt is quite easy. It is a five point operation and uses the lap belt part across the seat with the shoulder harness around the head end. To tighten everything up the final action is pull the seat belt tight once everything is secure. Despite our initial disappointment over the easy fix bases we feel that we have a good deal now as this baby seat will fix into any car modern or older and always feels secure. My Focus is newer and is was okay in that and my mother has an old Pug 306 and it fitted well in that car too. So overall the Maxi-Cosi CabrioFix is a good car seat and will fit well into any car due to its easy seat belt fixing system. The easy fix clip on bases will added extra safety as well as cost, but it is worth checking these out at a baby car seat fitting centre before you buy as they may not fit the car you own, despite the information your car manufacturer gives you. This car seat can be used with the Quinny pram for a complete travel system, however we felt that it was better to have a separate pram and car seat for the baby. I can highly recommend this car seat as it is practical and comfortable for the baby. (c) 2007 buzzard_cad This review may be found at other review websites under the same username and is also written by me.
This Premier Travel Inn (PTI) hotel is on the northern outskirts of Ashford just off the A20 to Lenham and is only 2 1/2 miles from junction 9 of the M20. This hotel has two storeys high with a good sized outside car park for 128 vehicles. The outside lighting is good and the shrubbery around the hotel is well maintained. The entrance is at ground level and as I recall there is a ramped entrance. Bookings for this hotel can be via the Internet or over the telephone. The web site is www.premiertravelinn.com and the central reservations telephone number is 0870 242 8000. For this hotel the direct line is 0870 977 018 and the fax line is 01233 713945. As I use my companies business account I have to get the cardholder (my boss) to fax a confirmation to them before I arrive so they can process my reservation quickly when I get there. You will normally be asked for a time of arrival, which in my case is always after 6pm. If you wish to cancel you room you can ring up the hotel directly, no later than 1pm on the day of your first night. I do this occasionally and can get away without paying any charges for the cancellation. The reception desk is always manned whenever I have arrived, but that has never been later than 8pm. The check in as long as my boss has sent the fax takes a few minutes to get a key and go to my room. You can expect a longer check in around 5 to 6pm on Mondays when reps and other travelling workers such as myself come crashing through the door. There are 61 rooms with rooms 1 to 30 on the ground floor and the rest upstairs. To get to your room there are some stairs on both floors as the block steps downwards away from reception. The hotel seem to know me and for some reason always give me room no. 61, which means I go upstairs and the down and couple of steps to get to my room at the very back of the hotel. There are 3 disabled rooms and I assume that these are on the ground floor before the ground floor section steps down. The décor in the rooms is bland, with cream walls, red speckled carpets and gaudy red checked curtains. The rooms are large, with a double an easy chair, a wardrobe to hang clothes, a desk, a wooden chair, a T.V., a kettle, a hairdryer and beyond another door a bathroom. The bathrooms have a sink, W.C, and a bath with a separate shower nozzle, so you can have a bath or shower as you wish. The rooms are always clean and tidy even during a stay of several nights, the beds are well made and clean. The bathroom is just as clean as the room and there is a soap dispenser and a shower gel dispenser that is very handy if you forget to pack yours. The TV only has the terrestrial channels, but I don't tend to watch it preferring to sit at the desk and write. The only things in the room that are not really to my satisfaction are the mattress on the bed which I feel is too soft and the heating. The rooms do not have air-conditioning, but they do have a rudimentary heater control mounted on a wall. The heater is an electric wall heater which takes a while to produce enough heat to warm your room. As such the rooms can be cold in the winter and too hot in the summer as there is no way to cool the room down. The window does open, but it is restricted and will not open far enough to let in air. Sometimes in the summer you will find a fan in your room to cool you down, but for the money I'd rather prefer air-conditioning. This PTI doesn't have a bar or restaurant located on the premises. What it does have though is a 'Beefeaters' pub right alongside. 'The Woolpack' is a quaint old style country pub with wooden beams. It is sectioned off into bar/restaurant areas, with the former a smoke filled den and the later nice place to have an evening meal. Main meals on offer consist of meats, fish and pastas, with prices ranging from £7.75 for a gammon steak through to £19.99 for a fillet steak and lobster. You can also eat your breakfast in the Woolpack if you wish. For breakfast you can have a full 'chubby' breakfast for £7.50 or a lighter continental breakfast for £5.25. Unfortunately I have never tried the breakfast in this particular PTI as I can normally find a 'chubby' breakfast for under a £5 in a local café and I have to be out and about before 6.30am which is when breakfast is first served. Room prices are variable depending on what day you stay, with £52 for a week night or £48 at the weekend, these are current rates and do change on a regular basis. This hotel is better than some of the PTI's I have stayed in and is certainly better than the Ashford Central PTI for two reasons. Firstly 'The Woolpack' pub serves better food, with a nicer selection than the restaurant at the Ashford Central location. Also despite being alongside the A20 it is in a quieter location than its local rival and as such I get a better night's sleep. The rooms are large, spacious, they are maintained and clean. The size of the room is okay and would be plenty for two people sharing although the bed is too soft. The bathroom is a decent size and everything works as it should. The hotel is good for a night or two's stay, but anymore than that and I sometimes feel like I'm getting cabin fever. Even though I don't really like staying in PTI's hotels generally this one is one of my pet favourites and has made working away from home that little bit more bearable. (c)2007 buzzard_cad This review may be found at other websites under the same username and is written by me.
In choosing which pram to buy we looked at a few prams in a high street store and then bought this one online. There were a few things that we wanted in a pram and these were cost, ease of use, weight and size. We plumped for the Silver Cross as in my view it manages to tick all of the boxes. The 3D pram system is named in such a way that a buyer should understand at once that it is one of these new type of prams that is almost like a Transformer toy. By this I mean that it can change from a pram with a flat cot type bed for young babies, into a standard buggy by pulling levers and rearranging items. It sounds hard, but once you have played with it you can understand how it works. Just make sure that the Grandparents don't touch it before they get instructions on how to use it as they could get into one hell of a mess! For the first criteria the pram cost us £250 via an online website, which was cheaper than the high street store where we first saw the pram. For the savings made we were able to buy the extra pack at £60 which included a Sun shade, a matching carry bag with mini changing mat and a foot warmer for use in buggy mode. As a cost comparison I'll use the Mamas and Papas Pinco Pramette which looked really nice, had a similar style but was too expensive in our view at around £350. With the pram we got everything for using it in the pram and buggy positions as well as a rain cover. The pram comes in three flavours and I really mean flavours as one is called 'Pistachio'! We went for the 'Marina' style which will get you a pram coloured in shades of blue. The 3D pram duly arrived before the baby which was a good thing, but only by a few weeks. I read the manual from cover to cover and afterwards I realised that I was confused by all the options that I could do with the pram. So I followed each item step by step to make it into a pram for a young baby. Looking back it wasn't too hard to make the pram into what we wanted, but at the time I felt as if I needed a degree in pram building to make it work. From the box the pram is in a closed position, the same state that you will need when you are storing it away in cupboard or in the boot of your car. In a closed position it is still a large size, but the front wheels are still in contact with the ground and there is a carry handle on the back for help in lifting it up. These items are good as you can wheel the pram about locally and then lift it up into a car boot. This is particularly easy for Mrs Cad as she is after all the main carer and she has found the pram easy to move around when it's closed up. Getting the pram from its closed position into its useable state is relatively easy once you know what you are doing. The only problems you might encounter are during the first few times of use. I won't go into a detail description of how to open it out, however once you have the knack it should only take no more than a minute to get it ready for use. The only quibble here is the pram was stiff when new and could be difficult when you tried to open it up for the first few goes. After a week or two it became easier to unfold and hence easier for Mrs Cad to use. Once opened the pram is still not ready for use and it is at this stage that it can be used in either pram or buggy mode. This is where you will need the manual for the first couple of goes. All the fixings to the pram are by various means like poppers, plastic cleats, Velcro and metal lever locking systems. Again I won't go into detail as after a few times it can be make ready in no time at all. The end result is a pram that has a very good solid feel to it yet it is not too heavy or too bulky. Out on the streets the pram handles well and easy to get up and down small steps like kerbs and minor steps. The double rubber/plastic wheels are good over most surfaces including gravel and the front wheels can be unlocked for better turning circles. One minor thing we did find a problem with was the seat of the pram. For some reason it wouldn't lock in its flat position needed for a young baby. If you ever got it stuck say in a door way or on a large step and tried to push it by a knee or leg on the seat you would lift up the seat. This had an undesired effect of pushing the cot bed up and taking poor babies feet up in the air, the base would then lock in position and would not come down until you reached under and unlocked it by pulling a lever. It only happened once or twice, but after that we realised that trying to go through a doorway forwards was bad and the best idea was to go through backwards. Getting the pram back to the closed position requires the reverse of the procedure for erection, but is so much quicker and easier when you are trying to get it in the boot on a rainy day. Other things to note for the buggy is the carry area at the bottom of the pram for small items, which is a little difficult to get to as it is right at the bottom. It will require you to get on your knees which is okay in the dry, but not so good in the wet. Talking of wet the rain cover that comes as standard fits well over the pram and also allows the handles to stick from the cover. In short it has been well thought about and fits the pram very well. In conclusion then both Mrs Cad and myself have used the pram without any hitch so far. We have found that it is easy to use, carry around and lift up. It is light enough to picked up and carried short distances to a car or up flights of stairs. It is well built, feels sturdy and never feels cheap or flimsy. We have no real problems with it so far, however we have only been using it for about two months now. The only advice I would give someone owning the pram is to practise opening and closing the pram a couple of times in the dry comfort of your home. It helps you hone your technique in private and stops you looking like a fool in public. I can certainly recommend this pram to people with young babies who are looking for a pram that is good, not expensive and is easy to use. (c) 2007 buzzard_cad This review can be found at other websites under the same user name and is also written by me.