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I should really tell this story chronologically but I’m too impatient – I just want to rant about how awful these people are. To take just one example – the ‘24 Hour Online Support’…It’s not. It’s a FAQ page. It’s not even a very helpful FAQ page. If you want actual support you first have to fill out an online form, click submit, get a ‘page not found’ error message, try again, get the same result, send an email, get a reply telling you to fill out the online form, try that again, eventually get a ticket number for your query and then wait five days for a reply. The reply, when it comes, will be incomplete, so full of typos as to leave you in no doubt how much time they think you’re worth spending and curt to the point of rudeness. The other odd thing about the online form is the fact that, if you go via a link to the ‘members area’, click the ‘I am an existing customer’ link and select the ‘This is a new, DIFFERENT request’ link, you’re taken to a page that says it’s only for new customers who have had their accounts for less than seven days. You’re told to hit the back button and select the correct option. BUT there is only one other option and that’s to update an existing request. If you don’t already have an active request, or, as in my current case, if they’ve closed your previous query because they say they’ve dealt with it when actually they haven’t, you’re stuck. There is another form that you can fill out but there is no link to it that I can see on the site. You have to know what the address is. I was given the address last year when I had my first round of problems with them. They do have a (not 24-hour) live chat with a sales person service, which I have used in desperation several times in an attempt to get noticed. They tend to provide some limite
d help if you explain that you’ve tried to get through every other way and failed. I was also given the helpdesk username and password to access this, as the username and password I was given for my domain do not work…well, I’ve got to hand it to them, they’re consistent. What I’m currently trying to get them to do is to transfer my domain to Hosting UK, with whom I have some web space and who do understand the concept of customer service (just in case I get so incoherent with rage here that you end up thinking I’m a loony who would complain about anyone – I’m not. I’m happy to tell you that Hosting UK have been generally very efficient, helpful and polite and, on the one occasion that they made a mistake with my web space, fixed it within minutes of being told about it because yes, they DO have ‘24 Hour Online Support’…I should write an op about them once I’ve calmed down). I registered the domain name that all this fuss is about with GnxOnline in late April last year. I was attracted by the fact that they provide web space with their domains – they say it’s free but their prices for registering domains are higher than other providers – still, it seemed worth a try as I wanted the domain for a project which would benefit from having space away from my normal web space. I should have complained at the time about the fact that the email confirming my purchase was dated incorrectly – a month and a half too early, in fact but I didn’t really think about it. Also, I was given very little information about actually administering the domain and space…still, I worked it out and got on with it. As it happened, very little came of the project but still, I wasn’t best pleased when, last summer, the pages I had uploaded were suddenly missing. I asked what had happened and was eventually told that they had moved servers, in
order to improve the service. Hmmm…I didn’t feel that deleting all my files and settings and not telling me about it constituted a great improvement in service but, as I was now given a control panel to administer the site, which made life a bit easier, I didn’t complain. Oh yes, again, you have to know the address of the control panel, because you can’t get to it via a link, and they don’t go out of their way to actually give you any information or anything… In November last year, it happened again. Everything on the site had gone, my emails weren’t arriving, I couldn’t ftp any pages and I was hopping mad. When I complained, the reply was: ‘There s a new control panel url ,that all’ Well, no, that wasn’t really all, was it, because not only had they once again deleted all my files and changed my email forwarding without warning, it hadn’t occurred to them to give me the new control panel address until I after I complained and, not only that, but my ftp password and/or username – not sure which - no longer worked. I didn’t manage to get to the bottom of that one and was very busy with other work so I let it lie. I didn’t have access to the web space but was only really using the domain for a couple of email addresses. Then, at the beginning of March I had the following message: ‘Your hosting account is now due /soon to be due for renewal A list of hosting accounts and features can be found at http://www.gnxonline.com/page.asp?p=compare.asp&c=us&b=ie ****************** SPECIAL OFFER ****************** We have discounted our Power account by 10% for customer who have been with us over 1 year http://www.gnxonline.com/page.asp?p=optional.asp&c=us&b=ie Account renewal If you do not wish to host with please ignore this email and your account will be remove from our servers
with 5 days Nisar Sales Desk’ Well, there’s nothing on the page in question about keeping the web space that was supposed to be free with the domain, which still has a year to run, so I replied to the email asking what I was supposed to do and pointing out that, since I had actually bought the domain and space on April 24th last year, there was still a month and a half to go on my account. I was cursing myself for not spotting that wrong date in the original email and I didn’t expect to be credited with the extra time…but I did expect some sort of reply…anything? OK, admittedly, I was a little sarcastic…I did end the email with ‘if, as has been my experience over the past 10 and a half months, GNX is incapable of providing the service it advertises, could you please let me know if there will be any difficulties with transferring the domain to my other provider’ You’d think they’d be as keen to see the back of me as I am of them but they’re not doing much to speed up that longed for event…like replying to me, or anything. I had a go at using the online form, as detailed at the start of this op, and, finally, on the night of Thursday 7th/Friday 8th March, got through with the instructions from Hosting UK about changing the IPS-Tag and the name servers. Late on Wednesday 13th, I had an email saying that my request had been responded to and I could check the reply on the help page. The page in question informs me that the query has been dealt with and is closed as ‘Name Servers modified successfully’ …but that wasn’t all, was it? Hosting UK have confirmed that Gnx still haven’t changed the IPS-Tag, so the domain is still effectively managed by them and I will still have to deal with them in future unless I can do something about the situation. At least the domain is now mapped to my web
space at Hosting UK, so I can actually use it, so I’m up on the previous situation. I’ve tried submitting a new request but a getting the ‘page not found’ message and no confirmation or ticket number. I’ve sent an email to support and I’ve tried tagging a message onto the bottom of my old request, even though they probably won’t look at it because it’s been closed. It’s now 7.30pm on Monday, 18th March and I’ve had no further response yet, so next time I contact them I’ll attach the text of this op and tell them where it’s listed on dooyoo, so that they can see what other people are reading about their service. If that doesn’t work, I’ll join every other opinion site I can find and tell all their members the same thing until Gnx finally relinquish control of my domain name and I can try to forget that they ever existed. Oh yeah… and I want to scream every time I see the front page of their web site. It says: ‘Unhappy with your existing website host? If your web hosting company does not provide the software or level of technical support that you expect, then it’s time to make a move… They can say that again. Do your sanity a favour and steer very clear of this company.
I thought I'd better just update my opinion on the Beaz Neez, Cardiff, to say that, sadly, at New Year 2002 it closed, leaving us South Wales Veggies with one less place to eat in confidence. So, contrary to my advice below, don't keep looking for it - it ain't there. The first thing to say about the Beaz Neez is, If at first you don't succeed in finding it, try, try again. It’s not easy to find, tucked away above the now closed Kaleidoscope shop at the Mill Lane end of Wyndham Arcade in the centre of Cardiff but it is worth the effort when you do. There has been a café/restaurant on this site for many years, although with closed periods between its different incarnations. Even so, a lot of long established Cardiffians still don’t seem to know it exists, which is a shame. At least there is now an entrance from Wyndham Arcade itself, so that you no longer need to go in through the shop below – this also means that they can open in the evenings, when the shops are shut. The Beaz Neez is open every lunchtime until about four o’clock and on Friday and Saturday evenings – although this seems to be a bit variable, so it might be wise to phone before turning up for an evening meal. The other drawback to its location is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any wheelchair access, although apparently, they do have pavement space in the summer, on the stretch of Mill Lane that has been spruced up and marketed as ‘Cardiff’s Café Quarter’. The menu is pretty large for such a small establishment, with daily specials as well as the regular menu. A bit overwhelming for the long-time vegetarian, used to a total absence of choice. The food is wholesome, tasty vegetarian and vegan fare. Light snacks include baked potatoes, falafels and samosas, a choice of home-made soups and vegan versions of familiar snacks, such as scrambled tofu. Larger dishes include such veggie staples as nut roa
st and veggie lasagne as well as exotic concoctions like ‘Black Bean and Chocolate Chilli’ and ‘Red Dragon pie’. Most dishes come with a generous portion of vegan friendly salad – an interesting mix of greens, pasta, coleslaw and rice or bulgar wheat salads – dished out from separate bowls, so that those with wheat allergies can be spared the pasta etc. For the self-indulgent, there are some wicked sticky cakes and desserts, including vegan chocolate cake good enough to fool any non-vegetarian and a selection of dairy and soya ice creams. The juice counter provides fresh fruit and vegetable juices to the customer’s order. Basically, if they’ve got it and you really want it, they’ll pulp it for you. They also do a variety of fruit smoothies, which can be made with soya yoghurt, for the vegan customer. Other beverages include a range of herbal teas, organic fruit drinks and soft drinks and organic beers and wines. The staff are friendly and don’t seem to mind if you want to linger over your coffee, which is good because there are papers and magazines provided so it’s easy to kill time once you settle down and it’s a nice, light, open space so it’s pleasant to slump and read for a while in the middle of a busy day. The prices are pretty reasonable for the generous portions, with the main dishes starting at £6.50 and the snack meals from about £2.50 for falafels. A vegan or vegetarian brunch will set you back a fiver.
Let's be honest about this, when we do the annual phone around for car insurance, the actual purpose of the service, or the possibility that we might have to use it, is not uppermost on most of our minds. It's the cost that matters and in that respect, so long as you're a low risk driver, Direct Line is a winner. Fine. I'm a safe driver and Direct Line offered me the cheapest quote. At the time (this actually happened about six years ago but I’ve heard nothing to suggest that anything’s changed) I had turned twenty-five in the previous year and was therefore able to protect my full no claims bonus – fortunately, as it turned out. There was a ring on the doorbell late one Saturday night – my neighbour, a little the worse for wear, had been coming back home and had surprised someone acting suspiciously around a car outside. I had only changed my car a few months earlier and it was only when he went inside and asked his wife if she knew who owned a blue maestro that he realised it was mine. When he went out again, the man was back and actually inside my car, trying to take the ignition apart (or whatever you do to start cars without the key – I’m not an expert on these things). My neighbour scared him away, so I still had a car, thanks to him but one look at the mess that had been the ignition told me I wasn’t going anywhere in it for a while. Never having had an insurance claim before, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to deal with it. Before ringing Direct Line, I checked for the nearest Rover garage in the yellow pages. I lived in Pontypridd at the time and the nearest Rover garage was in Cardiff, so I rang Direct Line with the yellow pages open on my knee so that I could pass on the details of the garage I assumed I would use. The person I spoke to was very helpful. In fact, I had no problem at all with the standard of customer service I received from Direct Line. I a
ccepted the fact that they only worked with approved garages, so if I wanted to use the Rover garage I had found I would have to organise it myself and submit the paperwork to Direct Line for approval. I accepted that it would be much easier to let them send their own people to collect the car and deal with it. Everything was taken out of my hands and I was delighted. A breakdown truck duly arrived, driven by someone who had the sense to phone from the main road to ask for directions – useful because I lived in a little tucked away street at the Treforest end of Ponty – the other end from the town centre. Fine – no problem. OK, so I’d been under the impression that I was entitled to a courtesy car and it turned out that there was some loophole I now forget which meant they didn’t have to give me one but I didn’t complain – I should get my car back in a couple of days. I could phone the garage on Tuesday to see how it was going and in the meantime I could get a lift to work. On Tuesday, I rang the garage – Sosnas, based in Newport, which seemed quite a long way to go when there were garages in Cardiff. I was put on hold for a while, told I would need to speak to the manager and that he would phone me back in an hour. On Wednesday, I rang the garage – a little disgruntled now and explained that no one had rung me back as promised on the previous day. I was put on hold for a while, told I would need to speak to the manager and that he would phone me back in an hour. Two hours later I rang back – fairly annoyed now and explained that I was trying to be patient but that I’d been told that I should get my car back soon and would like to know when. I was told that they hadn’t done it yet but I should ring tomorrow. On Thursday I rang the garage, was told the manager would ring back in an hour, I rang back two hours later – pretty steaming
now and told them more or less what I thought of them. Eventually I was told I would get the car back the next day. Fine. Good. I mentioned the fact that the street was a little difficult to find and they may want directions but was told not to worry about that. This seemed reasonable – after all, they could ask the man who’d collected it in the first place, or phone, as he had. By four o’clock on Friday, when there was no sign of my car, I rang the garage again. I was told that someone had left with my car and would be bringing it to me soon. Fine. By five o’clock I rang the garage again and was told that there was no word from the person driving my car or his colleague who was following in another car, ready to take them both back to Newport when they had finished. It doesn’t take an hour to get between Newport and Pontypridd – this was a little worrying. By six o’clock I rang the garage again – I was told that both cars had arrived back, as they had driven round Pontypridd town centre for two hours asking people where my street was and finding no one who knew. The man I spoke to said he had already stayed at work longer than he should have done, to wait for the drivers to get back and did I really want my car that night. I said yes. I think I managed to restrain myself from saying more than that but the memory is lost in a bit of a red mist. Finally, at seven o’clock, my car was brought back on a breakdown van by someone who knew my area and seemed a bit smarter, if cockier, than the other people I had dealt with. He explained that there was nothing unusual in dealing with Direct Line claims in Ponty as Sosnas dealt with Direct Line claims as far from Newport as Swansea – they were the only approved Direct Line garage for South Wales, it seemed. I made him wait while I checked my car over – fortunately as it turned out because (having only one
key for the ignition and all doors, all the locks on the maestro had had to be changed) the lock on the hatchback was jammed. The man fixed this, grumbling about the apprentice and, when everything was done, I let him go. I’ll repeat the fact that the actual Direct Line people I dealt with were fine – in fact, because I told them at great length exactly what I thought of their approved garage, they let me off the £50 excess – well, at any rate, they never billed me and I never asked. However, one question I always ask now when renewing my car insurance is, if I needed repairs, who would you send me to? The last time I checked, the answer from Direct Line was still ‘Sosnas’, so I don’t insure with Direct Line. It isn’t worth the risk. When a friend of mine pranged her Citroen a couple of years ago, I found out she was also insured with Direct Line. In her case, it turned out that there was no Direct Line approved Citroen repairer anywhere in South Wales. She had no choice but to sort it out herself. Presumably this is simply the price to pay for cheap car insurance – they cut corners on their repair services and hope that, because they only want low risk drivers, they won’t be used that often. Perhaps, once you have a claim, they’re no longer confident that you’re low risk, so they don’t want you anyway and are happy to lose you. Who knows? The main thing I learned is: for any sort of insurance, don’t just go by price, ask about what happens when you actually need them.
I’m going to tell you why I think Wickes Home Improvement Centres’ own brand of power tools are a good thing to buy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no DIY expert – not even a particularly gifted amateur. Until we moved into our present house nearly two years ago, I had never owned a power tool of any sort. I also no longer own a Wickes drill – my boyfriend’s parents gave us a Black and Decker one for Christmas, a month after I had bought one from Wickes, so I had to keep that one and pass the Wickes one to my friends. The only Wickes power tool I do now own is a jigsaw. So, I’m not going to tell you that Wickes power tools are better than any other brand – I don’t know (although the Wickes drill did have a really useful slot for the chuck key in the handle of the drill itself – it’s only a matter of time before I lose the Black and Decker one for good). I’m also not going to tell you that the tools are the cheapest on the market – I was too busy doing the DIY to spend as much time as I normally do shopping around – they were cheaper than Bosch and Black and Decker but that’s about all I registered. I also don’t know if they’re likely to last better than any other brand – but that does bring me to my point. The really great thing about Wickes power tools is the little message on the last page of the instruction manual for my jigsaw. It is this: “Environmental Protection Wickes take back worn-out machines for the purpose of resource-saving recycling. As a result of their modular construction, Wickes machines can be very easily dismantled into their reusable materials. Return worn out machines to Wickes.” Ideally, in the future, legislation will require manufacturers to build recyclability into their products. Some, far sighted, manufacturers are already heading in this direction and I, fo
r one, would like to support this effort. I want to buy products that, at the end of their useful lives, can be broken down into their component parts for reuse or recycling, rather than products that consist of dissimilar substances so moulded together that they can only be separated at a disproportionately large cost, both in financial and environmental terms. I should say that I don’t know if there are other power tool manufacturers who are already taking the recycling issue into consideration. Wickes may only be one of many. I should also say that, beneath the paragraph I quoted above is the worrying caveat: -Subject to change without notice- I would like manufacturers to feel that this is an important matter. I’d be lying if I said it was something I did think about when I bought the drill and jigsaw – it hadn’t occurred to me. Now I know that it’s possible, it will be a major issue to consider when I next find some piece of DIY that I’m not yet equipped for. We all have different priorities when making purchasing decisions. I don’t want people to think that I’m claiming credit for making an environmentally sound choice that I didn’t even know about at the time. What I do want to do in this op is to make a few more people aware of the fact that it is possible to buy recyclable power tools, then you can use the information as you see fit.
Many years ago, my mother was very kind to an old lady who, as an extra special thanks, gave her her secret recipe for Oat Biscuits. They're really simple to make and very scrummy. Not only that but, since they're made with oats, you can sort of kid yourself that they're not that unhealthy - good for the cholesterol levels? Hmmm, shame about the fat though... Enough guilt. Here's the recipe: 1 cup of oats 1 teaspoon golden syrup 4oz marge (naughty me tends to use butter, though) 3oz sugar half teaspoon bicarb of soda 1 teaspoon boiling water 4oz self raising flour optional few drops of vanilla. 1)Cream the fat and the sugar until smooth. 2)Add the syrup, diluted with the boiling water and the vanilla, if wanted. 3)Work in the flour and bicarb, then the oats. 4)Make small, walnut sized balls of the mixture and place them on a greased or non-stick baking tray. 5)Bake in a moderate oven - 325F or 160/170C or Gas mark 3 for about 15 minutes. Finally, try to let them cool down a bit before you scoff the lot. Yum
‘All you need to know about everything that matters’ is what ‘The Week’ says it offers you – a bit sweeping perhaps? After all, it doesn’t tell you what your other half was really up to at that office party, or how to open a milk carton without creating a dairy fountain. It does, however, give you a pretty good briefing on what’s happening in the world and how people are dealing with it. I’ve had a subscription to The Week for about...umm…four years, as far as I can remember – it works out cheaper that way - just over £1 per copy, rather than £1.65. I took up the special offer that you can still find inside the magazine to get six free trial issues before subscribing. I hadn’t really intended to keep up the subscription after that but it was too late – I was hooked. Since that time I have recommended it to friends and family and I know for a fact that my sister has become similarly addicted. The basic idea of the magazine is that the week’s news stories from around the world are presented in a condensed format, with quotes or précis from relevant media sources. The great thing about this is that, not only do you get the important points of the issue, with the minimum of padding, you are also shown how different sides of the argument are presented by different journalists in different countries, giving a far more balanced picture. The layout of The Week is very well planned. Usually, the two main stories are covered on the first two inside pages, giving you four separate columns on each, covering: What happened What the editorials said What the commentators said What next? If there is a third major news story in a week, this format is sometimes upset. These pages also contain a section of weird or touching stories, headed ‘It wasn’t all bad’, and a brief message from the editor. The next page cove
rs politics, with ‘Controversy of the week’ which is fairly self explanatory, a smaller column, sometimes headed ‘Boring but important’, although I notice that they sometimes leave off that heading when they’re covering something too sensitive to call boring. There’s also light relief at the bottom of the page with sections on the latest opinion polls, who or what has had a good or bad week and the latest examples of over-enthusiastic political correctness. Next page is ‘Europe at a glance’, followed by two pages of ‘The world at a glance’ – with brief reports of the most important stories. ‘People’ is next, covering the personalities in the news, then a page with a ‘Briefing’ on a topic of interest, giving the pros and cons. The next three pages are for the best newspaper articles. I’ve always found it interesting that these are headed: ‘Best articles: Britain’ ‘Best of the American columnists’ And ‘Best articles: Foreign’ – which covers the rest of the world, including Europe. Perhaps these titles were devised by someone who sees British and American interests as being far more closely linked than British and European – I pass no judgement on this. Next up are pages covering ‘Health & Science’, ‘Talking Points’ ‘Sports’ (The only page I never read) and then an arts section with reviews of books, drama, art, film etc. A letters page usually picks the best from the UK broadsheets. Then there a couple of pages of impossibly expensive houses that are currently on the market, followed by food & drink, consumer and travel pages and an obituaries page which I tend to find surprisingly interesting. The city pages give you the low down on the movers and shakers, what’s going up, coming down or crashing out and a page on t
he shares being tipped for buying or selling – this also has a form guide, telling you who’s tips performed best and worst out of those listed three months ago. ‘The last word’ presents an essay, sometimes on the subject of a new television programme or book, or sometimes linked to a recent event or commemoration. It’s usually worth a read. Finally there’s a crossword, to keep you busy over the weekend and a round up of the week’s weather – just in case you missed it! Not having the time or the inclination to buy a daily paper, I’m a big fan of The Week. It gives me about the right level of information to keep me up to date with what’s going on in the world and a good, balanced selection of viewpoints. The one drawback that I can think of is the fact that there’s an element of Chinese Whispers in it - you are relying on someone to interpret someone else’s opinion and put it before you. Just once or twice, having read an article in the New Scientist and then seen it interpreted in The Week, my boyfriend has said he thought that the original article hadn’t been represented entirely accurately. I don’t know if this is the case for other sources as well. That said, it’s a good read each week, it’s entertaining and informative and I’ve certainly no plans to give up my subscription for a while.
I have been with Barclays since completely losing patience with my previous bank, Nat West, in about 1992. What happened then was that, after years of offering a service ranging from middling to teeth-grindingly awful, Nat West refused to reinstate my student account when I returned to college for my MSc. I toured the local major bank branches. My impressions were these: The Lloyds branch still had the old fashioned layout where the bank staff glare at you from behind toughened glass. They also had a tendency to look blank when I asked about their services. The Midland branch had a modernised version of the same layout but with an addition. There, the bank staff were further protected from customers by a dragon at the gate, in the form of a receptionist whose main job seemed to be to try to get rid of you by a clever combination of scowling at you and ignoring you. The Barclays branch had an open plan layout, with personal bankers sitting at tables in the main room, where they couldn't get away from anyone wanting to plonk themselves down in front of them and try to get help. Help, in fact, was what they seemed to want to provide, in marked contrast to my experiences in the other banks. I went with Barclays. Since then, there has been one single mistake on my statement, which was corrected without question as soon as I pointed it out - a payment for a loan I had taken out and then managed to cancel just in time when a client actually paid me on time. That mistake didn't bother me as, if you're sensible and check your accounts and so long as they fix it straight away, it doesn't matter in the long run. My next major dealing with the bank was when I decided to move house. I'd been pretty unhappy with my old mortgage provider but was tied in to them following a cut rate deal. However, when they made life difficult on account of my having been self employed for fewer than three years I had to see what else was on offer - 11 y
ears of paying them the mortgage didn't seem to make any odds with them. I didn't hold out much hope with Barclays but I asked anyway. The mortgage advisor was brilliant. She gave me a mortgage offer on the spot, based on the money passing through my current account, so I didn't need to bother with my tax accounts. I still didn't expect to take up the offer but it was nice to have it. In the event, because I was buying an unusual property, my old provider turned me down flat even after I'd sorted them out with all the guarantees they'd demanded. Barclays, on the other hand, said yes - they looked at each case on its merits. Not only that but, having phoned round and heard a rumour that Barclays were about to introduce a base rate tracker mortgage, I got a better deal than I'd expected from a high street bank - the brilliant mortgage advisor even fought my corner with her head office and arranged for me to get the deal when I wasn't actually borrowing as much as I was supposed to to qualify. Meanwhile every other part of my house sale and purchase was going horribly wrong. My solicitor turned out to be incompetent and managed to delay the purchase so that I had to move out of my old house with nowhere to go for three weeks because I didn't want to risk losing the sale. My mortgage advisor was wonderful - she and the morgage head office people were really supportive and gave me help on issues that I really should have been going to my solicitor for. When Barclays were telling me that the mortgage money could be transfered to my account as soon as my solicitor requested it and my solicitor told me that Barclays had told him it would take another week I knew exactly who to believe. Right enough, I was in the house several days before my solicitor had planned to get around to exchanging contracts. The online banking service is easy to use and easily customisable to your own needs. Being a bit of a miser, I appreciat
e the chance to keep track of my finances on a day to day basis and set bill payments to go out of my account on the last possible day. So far, everything's worked as promised. The only part of Barclays I haven't had excellent service from is Barclaycard - I don't know how closely the two are connected. The only problems I've had there were that trying to exchange my reward points online didn't work properly and that some forms for me to fill out to get card protection either weren't sent out or got lost in the post. On the whole, especially since my mortgage dealings, I've been a real fan of Barclays. The main points are: Staff in the branches are friendly, easily accessible and generally pretty bright, as far as I've found. If you phone the branch (well, the South Wales Valleys Group of Branches, anyway), the phone is answered straight away and you are not unnecessarily put on hold. If you phone to talk to someone in particular and they're not available, then your phone number is taken for them to call you back and, stunningly, they DO. These last two points also apply, in my experience, to the mortgage call centre in Leeds. Barclays have also recently scrapped overdraft charges and made some other changes which, I believe, is in keeping with what the other banks are up to at the moment - presumably they follow each other fairly closely on these things. Over all, Barclays have built up such a big stock of goodwill with me that they'd have to do something pretty foul to me before I'd think of moving my current account.
Tangs was the best Chinese Restaurant in Cardiff. My friend and I stumbled in there a year and a half ago after a midweek afternoon skiving in the pub and after having been told that the restaurant we'd initially intended to eat at was full. Tangs was also nearly full but they found a place for us, explaining that it was a set menu that night. We both vegetarians but they said that was OK. We didn't know what to expect but Tangs was a high quality restaurant so we trusted them. It finally dawned on us that the date was actually Chinese New Year, so we sat back to see what they would give us. We had to sober up pretty quickly to appreciate the meal that was put in front of us. It remains to this day, not merely the finest Chinese meal I have ever tasted but actually the finest meal of any kind. My friend, her partner and I went back for Chinese New Year this year and had a meal that was almost as good (but much more expensive)and shortly afterwards, the restaurant changed hands. I was a bit dubious about the idea of it being taken over by an ex rugby player - it's just opposite the entrance to the Millennium Stadium so it's ideally placed to take advantage of the rugby crowd - I assumed I'd never set foot in there again. When my boyfriend said he was booking a table at a good restaurant for my birthday it didn't occur to me that the Tangs menu was hanging up in the kitchen and of course, not knowing that it had changed hands but knowing how much I'd raved about the place, he would try to book there. As we reached the door on the night, he said 'Did you know it had changed? I thought you'd want to try it. Apparently they have the same chef.' I tried to look pleased. The thing is, the food on Chinese New Year was always extra special, so I mustn't compare my birthday meal to that. It was quite good, though. It would have been more interesting if the waiter hadn't mis-heard 'bean curd' as 'be
an sprouts' thereby giving us two dishes almost the same (I never send things back, even if it's obviously a mistake - unless I'm given meat or fish, of course). The staff were friendly and attentive though, I don't want to suggest that there was any problem with them. The rugby memorabilia on the walls is a bit odd, as is the blurb in the front of the menu explaining that Barry John's nickname used to be 'The King' so welcome to his new kingdom, oh yes, and a plug for his autobiography, if I remember rightly. I probably won't go back, but if you're a fan of all things Welsh Rugby then I should think you'll appreciate it.
There aren't that many completely vegetarian eating places in the Cardiff/Vale of Glamorgan area, so it's a real treat to be able to go out for a meal and know that there's no chance that something non veggie will have found its way into your food. I'm not a strict enough vegetarian to ask about every last ingredient and where they bought their cheese (I'm not vegan) but I do wonder sometimes when I'm ploughing through the one so-called vegetarian dish in the restaurant that friends wanted to eat in whether the cook really bothers not to use meat stock or other unpleasant substances. An added advantage of going to Tomlins is that the food is wonderful. The menu changes regularly so you get an interesting choice each time you go. (It can be a bit overwhelming when you're used to having the one 'vegetarian special' on a standard menu). Each dish comes with a parchment bundle of roast potatoes, shallots and garlic - gorgeous. Also, they try to use organic ingredients as far as possible and sell organic wines. It's not the cheapest place to eat but it's worth it for the quality and the wine is surprisingly affordable - my friend assumed that organic wine in a restaurant would cost at least £15 for the cheapest bottle but there are several for under £10. Non-vegetarians also enjoy the food, although may be less familiar with some of the ingredients. Oh yes and there are always choices for vegans, who have a harder time than us veggies anywhere else. The menu says that Tomlins is allergy aware, so let them know if you have any problems and they'll try to help. I've never needed to ask them about this, so I can't comment on what kind of help they can give. What else can I say? There's plenty of on-street parking in the area and the staff are friendly. They open Tuesday to Saturday in the evenings, Friday and Saturday for lunch and they do every other Sunday lunch.
I did it all backwards - saw the TV series, then read the books and, finally, heard the radio series. OK, I was only 9 when the radio series was first broadcast so I guess I can be forgiven. Elements of all three versions appear dated now, causing some people who didn't catch them first time round to wonder what all the fuss is about. The fuss is about the fact that though many have imitated, Douglas Adams did it first and (in my opinion) best. Douglas Adams writing combines an incredible breadth of imagination, unique humour and, unlike many imitators, a beautiful literary style as well as a real understanding of human nature. The characters and their interactions are funny largely because they are recognisable but set in unrecognisable surroundings. I've read all the books many times and I know a lot of the lines by heart (I'm really that sad) and it's funny how relevant a lot of what Douglas Adams wrote really is to everyay life on our utterly insignificant little blue green planet - even though most of us no longer think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.