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I don?t know about you, but I for one wish Sybil Fawltey had stayed in her hotel in Torquay. Instead, she is advertising Tesco's in every add break between This Morning and re-runs of Prisoner cellblock H at 4am. Really, her words are falling on deaf ears where I am concerned. It?s all lies, and Tesco's is only getting my money because I have no other choice. So why is a normally mild mannered reviewer like me so anti on particular store? Probably because I have been able to enjoy the relative delights of Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the fantastic independent stores & indoor market of Oxford. Sadly, and for not much longer, my fiancée and I are now living in Andover. Andover is a Tesco's outpost. Granted, there is a Waitrose and a Safeway/Morrisons - but these are fairly small, and pushed aside by the Tesco Metro and the Tesco superstore. The main problem I have with Tesco is exactly that - a town that has a Tesco superstore, unless it?s at least half the size of London, will only have a Tesco. You are lucky if you actually have a choice in where you go for your weekly food shop. The phenomenon that is this grocery behemoth has meant that more and more towns in the UK are strong holds for the red and blue. This has basically meant that Tesco has been able to paper over its faults, use its sheer might to reduce choice to the consumer and force small, independent retailers into bankruptcy. Our local store has never failed to disappoint us, and we never fail to come away without what we went in there for. You cant help have a "Shelf is half empty" attitude when wheeling up and down the aisles (I believe Tesco actually won the prestigious honor of having the worst stocked shelves of any Supermarket chain in the 85;K). I am not sure what those Tesco lorries, that hold me up on country lanes are carrying, but it?s not stock for the Andover Tescos. Unlike Sainsbury's, Tesco has ignored the trend towards more interesting flavors and foods. You can buy the whole range of Uncle Ben's sauces, but try and get a jar of Thai Green curry paste, go on, I dare you. Trying to keep the kids off high sugar pop? Oh dear Andoverians - maybe you should get a Soda Stream instead? The final proof that Tesco is a truly useless supermarket came this week. Its been a lovely week or two in the UK (its May after all) and all I fancied for my tea last night was a big bowl of Strawberries. I wandered up and down the fruit and veg aisles (these are in the middle of the store - strange, as most supermarkets have this at the front due to the psychological lift that fresh produce gives shoppers). Could I find Strawberries? Nope. Then I stumbled upon the smallest supply of summer fruit I have ever seen. £2.49 for a tiny punnet, which could be selected from two trays, on one small section of shelf. Its summer time - Strawberries are as much a part of summer in the UK as Wimbledon and getting dumped out of football competitions in the first round. I prefer to cook from scratch, rather then buy a ready meal or a prepackaged dish. This is where my main animosity towards the big T comes into play. I rarely find a decent bit of beef, good quality fish or a nice bit of lamb. If I need some curry powder, I have to send off for it - or buy the generic looking stuff and hope its not too harsh tasting. I understand that the prices are generally good, and often more competitive than practically all the other Supermarkets. However, I think you end up paying more for prepackaged food, and can often ge t far better value from the raw ingredients and a bit of effort. Tesco seems to offer the widest range of Ready Meals, cheap convenience foods and full sugar fizzy pop on the planet, but I can see why Jamie Oliver went with the offer to advertise Sainsbuy's, while the more aggressive Tesco plumped for Basil's acidic Spouse. The problem is, while Sainsbury's slips further behind, and the choice gets smaller (a Tesco near my parents managed to get an extension, despite it putting local smaller stores out of business when it first opened), there is no reason for Tesco to change. In fact, the recent change over of Dillons stores to Tesco Metro means that if the local "corner shop" survives the onslaught, it'll just get brought instead. Thankfully, my girlfriend has just got a job in Aylesbury. This means that we will be heading North up the A34 in no time. Oxford has a lovely Sainsbury's on the outskirts, a smaller one in the town and a metro style too. Can?t wait!
I dont hate M&S... I am a former M&S employee. My partner & my mother are also former workers from this most famous British High Street institution. I have always had a soft spot for good old M&S. As an employer, the Baker Street collosus was a great place to spend my student years. I have many happy memories (and a Fiancee) from my time there. They had a great ethos, certainly in the Central Milton Keynes branch where we worked. The management team was excellent, and we all felt part ofa big happy family. All these happy staff, added to a pretty decent product range, made M&S a near £1,000,000,000 company. Oh how the mighty have fallen. But why? The fall from grace It began as I was wrapping up my degree and getting ready to move into a full time job. That year (1998) M&S started to show signs of slipping a little. The store expansion program was still underway, and the store I worked in was being streached even further (it was already huge, covering two massive selling floors). However, the product line looked pretty much the same as it had the year before. Foods, the mainstay of the business in its darkest times these past few years, had started to introduce strange lines, such as character based kids foods that had been created in M&S board rooms rather than Hollywood studios. The clothes, especially Menswear, that had been nice enough to tempt us youngsters into buying the year before, suddenly looked dated. It was pretty easy to spot the future sales lines, even as we were unloading the lorries carrying the new season's range. The market had changed too. Stores like TK-MAXX had arrived in a big way. They were offering brand names at drastically reduced prices. Alright, these were last years lines, but you had the lable - and were paying maybe the same, but often less than the M&S price tag. Next, River Island, Debenhams et-al had spent years watching what M&S did, and were introducing clothes that matched the quality that M&S was famed for - but with the looks that the cat-walk dictated that sesaon. M&S, always a sesaon or two behind, were delt a sucker punch on all fronts. Even thier famous ready meals (a tea time treat when Mum's everywhere needed a break) were being rapidly copied and bettered by the likes of Tesco and (most sucessfully in my opinion, Sainsburys) Have things got better? This was back in 98-99. M&S hatched a few action plans. For the first time ever they considered selling third party products. This was vetoed of course, but the famous St Michael brand disapeared. The gold and green carrier bags vanished overnight, along with the biege store furniture. M&S was reivented with trendy looking glas and chrome displays, lots of light in the stores, and "Concept" layouts. New food options were added, including Instore Bakaries, butchers counters and deli's. The bigger stores were given Coffee shops and improved Home Furnishing departments. M&S Financial services, always a big winner for the company, got plush looking suites, and a bigger product range. Loss making overseas operations were shed, with some controversy, in places such as France, where employment laws regarding layoffs were overlooked. Red faces all round, and a victory for the French workforce followed. IT worked though - briefly. M&S reported light at the end of the tunnel back in 2001. The Per Una ladies wear seemed a hit. Home Furnishing was so good they introduced homestores, and foods see med to come back with a bang. Sadly, this seems to have been a breif respite before the storm. So, a rather long and winding intro, brings me to my point. M&S - Not my kind of store I went searching fro work trousers yesterday. I dont have to wear a suit, well not every day, but I am supposed to wear "Smart" trousers, and a collar does not go amiss either. I have always brought workshirts, trousers, pants and socks from dear old M&S. Yesterday I went into the Reading store, hoping to get a nice smart pair of single pleat, grey trousers. A quick scan of the large menswear department made me feel saddned. M&S, I thought, would not be getting my cash today. I found the trousers easily enoug, but they ranged from "Italian" pale grey slacks, to 100% polyester monsters, not a million miles away from school uniform trousers. OK, so the choice was a bit nasty. So what was the price like? Expensive - very. The nicer trousers, the ones I would have brought were over £40 - those horrible polyester ones? £25! OFf to next I went. In less than 10 minutes I had a nice pair of dark gery, single pleat trousers with no turnups and a reasonble £32 price tag. I dont buy socks, pants or shirts in M&S either. Why? They dont seem to last. For the same price as a pack of five pairs of socks in M&S I get five pairs from Next (and a trendy logo on each one). My last M&S purchases had holes in the heels in less than five wears. Shirts with the M&S tag in them seem to have developed a dislike for thier buttons - they drop them so quickly. Basically the quality is not there. The products are made cheaply, and have the characteristics of cheaper products, without the longevity. Sadly, I am no longer an M&S devotee. Can it change? I hope so. I am sure that the staff in M&S (they are still great, and still offer fantastic service) could tell the head office guys what needs to be done. I am sure there is still a place for M&S. The food is still good, and you cant beat thier sabdwiches, but this is not the way to keep the company out of the hands of people like Phillip Green. The Per Una range was a good example of what can be done. What M&S needs to do now is look to shops like TK MAXX and try to beat them on quality. The stores are a nice place to shop, whereas TK MAXX can be a bit of a jumble sale. They need to react faster too. The styles need to be changed as quickly as Next manage to. another thing that M&S is famous for is selling Jumpers in the summer. The seasonal change over from summer wear to autumn wear takes place in August. If you remember last year, you had no chance of selling much woolwear in the 100 degree heatwave. M&S will be back, and then maybe I will be buying my clothes there, but thye had better hurry up about it..
When our ageing Sanyo stereo finally gave up the ghost, we decided to invest in something a bit smarter. We had a DVD player already, but had thought about updating this as well. When Christmas 2003 came round, and I got a few pounds in Xmas money (when you get older people don?t really know what to buy you.. and I?m only 29..) we thought a trip to Richer Sounds might help us out of our music-less predicament. I think I have reviewed Richer Sounds before, and I know many people favour them highly. I personally think they offer the greatest range, best prices and best advice for anyone willing to ignore the fact that the stores are not in glittering big mega shopping centers, and are often crammed to the rafters with customers and stock. A visit to the Milton Keynes store, the day after New Year?s was enough to convince us of the type of system we wanted. A deliberation on prices and funds followed. We went back the next day, and 15 minutes later were the proud owners of a Pioneer DCS-313 and two Gale 3010 speakers (more about that later) What?s the DCS-313? The DCS-313 is an integrated home cinema system. It consists of two parts ? the XV-DV313 DVD/CD receiver and the S-DV313 speaker system. The XV-DV313 is a Multi-region player (well, it is following Richer Sounds modification) allowing you to play DVD disks from around the world. Along with standard DVD playback, it handles various other formats ? DVD-R & DVD-RW (it?s not a recorder though), CD, CD-R & CD-RW, VCD & S-VCD, MP3, JPEG and WMA (Windows Media Au dio format). I have yet to try out anything other that VCD, but I trust in that manual, and it claims all the other formats are perfectly fine. The home-cinema element comes from the various audio functions and decoders built into the machine. You can get the full surround sound effect from discs with Dolby Surround, Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II & DTS soundtracks. Sadly, there is no THX ? but you wont find a system in this price bracket (or at least you could not in January) that does, not without loosing one of the other codecs anyhow. As an added bonus you get a built in FM/AM RDS tuner. This has a 30 pre-set memory in both frequencies. In the receiver box you get ? The machine itself Remote control Manuals & warranty Ariel for FM and Ariel for AM reception Power lead The S-DV313 is a 6 part speaker system. You get four satellites for the front and rear dimension, a center speaker and a fairly compact subwoofer. The package comes complete with leads to connect to the receiver. Sounds good ? what does it look like? Pretty smart! It?s a very slim-line machine at about 2? high. The chassis is silver (aren?t all these gizmo?s silver these days?) with a shiny black front panel containing the LCD Display. The front panel is trimmed off with a gun metal insert that moves over the curved top edge in a shallow arc. There is a cool blue LED in the center of the arc that lights up when the unit is on. The LCD display us multi-line, and about two thirds the width of the front of the unit. Its blue illuminated with red details. You can dip the brightness of the backlight if you choose. There are six ch rome button s, allowing you to play disks, stop fast forward, adjust the volume and power on or off. The Speakers are quite neat. The Woofer is fairly tall (20? approx) but slim-line at around 4? wide. It too is silver, with a chrome trimmed air hole in the front. There is a 7? speaker cone in the left side. You can place this anywhere in the room, but don?t hide it as it looks quite cool. The satellite speakers are quite compact too. There are about 10? high and 2.5? wide. The center speaker is slightly larger than its quad siblings, and built to sit horizontally above or below the middle of your screen. The remote control is quite large, but well laid out and easy to use. It has two diamond shaped multifunction, four way, buttons, the handle most of the system navigation, along with various sub-function buttons ? some covered by a slide in the lower part of the handset. All of the system set-up is done using this unit. Is it any good? Too right it is! Out of the box, the system set-up is extremely easy. The cables are all colour coded, and the instructions are in plain English. You can have it all plumbed in and be watching a movie in less than 15 minutes. The first film we watched with the new toy was Gladiator. This has a DTS soundtrack, and the DCS-313 brought the film to life. The rich bass you get when you add a sub woofer may upset your neighbours a little, but I think you will enjoy the encompassing surround sound. The opening battle is fantastic, with effects such as the giant catapults throwing their flaming shots ? the sound of this moves from one end of the living room to the other. Brilliant! Music disks sound good too. This is where those Gale speakers come in. Typlically the speakers in a Home Cinema system don?t reproduce music wel l. The y are design ed to act as part of a set-up using all the speakers, so sound tiny if you are playing music with lots of treble ? guitar tracks for instance. Replacing the front two speakers with proper HiFi boxes makes all the difference. So is there anything wrong with it? Of course there is ? not much, but a few things I think could be improved. The interconnects provided (cables to connect the lot up) Are OK, but I would like to replace them with some better quality cables. There?s the problem. The speakers are connected using colour coded plugs on the ends of the cables. You have to use the provided bits of wire, and although there is only the one end that has this (so you can still use other speakers) it would be nice to have more standard connections. It?s an integrated unit. You always get better sound from dedicated devices ? a DVD player that is just a DVD player, coupled with a home cinema receiver that is just that. However, if you don?t want to shell out lots and lots of money, and don?t have the highly tuned ear of a purist, these integrated systems are pretty close to perfection. Should you buy one? Definitely. If you live in a terraced house, you might not want to get the full effect (unless you really hate your neighbours), but you will still get much better sound, and a trendy looking machine. And anyway - you can always switch it into "Quiet mode" I checked out the prices on Richer Sound's website - I would recommend buying from these guys too - and the price has dropped a bit since we brought ours - £198.95. You should be able to get the whole package, as listed here for around £278.90 (package, 3 year warranty and Gale 3010 speakers) We were able to get rid of our stereo and DVD player , replacing them with one sleek device. I plumbed the Freeview box in to one of the many connections on the back of the receiver, so now get surround sound football highlights (no actual matches of course ? thanks Sky). All I need now is sound proofing for the flat, blackout curtains and a pop-corn machine and we never need to go to the pictures again!
UPDATE - JULY 2004 I have now cancelled Tiscali - after a second bout of the same trouble below. Even this was painful. They cancelled the account without so much as a letter of confirmation - leaving me without a service. I have joined f2s - expect a review on them soon... Alternate title - Tiscali Internet ? costs more than you think! - Read on and I will explain.. Broadband ? the brave new world! Welcome to the high-speed age! Broadband internet is here ? and its available to almost all of us (so long as BT feel they will get enough money out of you and your neighbours and fellow townsfolk to make it worth upgrading your exchange). Official figures estimate that there are now around 11% of UK Internet users with Broadband services at home. Quite a small percentage, but the UK actually has the fastest Broadband take-up rate in the world, according to the Oxford Internet Institute?s report of 2003. I suspect the UK telephone network?s slow response to the demand for the technology has made us seem a little backward compared to the US or Japan where home users can get connections of 7mb per second today. BT have announced this week that a trial in Milton Keynes, to extend the distance users can be from a BB enabled exchange from 3km to 6km ? this could mean that only 500,000 people in the UK would be beyond the reaches of high speed access. Getting online with an ISP To get Broadband through an ISP, you need a BT line. If you dont have a BT line, then you will more than likely have a cable TV providor or other service that offers its own flavour of High Speed access. To go along with the basic line rental, BT offers its own connection and ISP service. Its actually one of the most expensive services in the high speed space - £29.99 including ISP access (£27 without) for 512mb. However there are various providers out there that will handle you Broadband business happily. Tiscali are one such company. Formed from L ;ine-one Internet, and based in Milton Keynes, Tiscali offer a whole suite of internet access packages, including traditional dial up, and three levels of Broadband access from £15.99 per month to £24.99. Subscribing to Tiscali is fai rly painless. You can do it all on line, from checking your BT number for Broadband compatibility to setting up your email address and payment options. Once you?ve completed the process you just wait 10 ? 14 days for your start-up pack to arrive. You may have to pay a start up and modem fees depending on what time of the month it is, what deals are available and what package you start your subscription with. What you get for your money This is where things start to get complicated. The market has become very competitive. Providers cannot do much discounting on the prices they offer, due to the cost BT charges them for the access to the network. What they have done is provide you with a selection of connection options that allow them to throttle the pipes they have. You will often have a slower connection speed, a limited time on-line, or a reduce data rate per month. There are often more users to each connection the ISP rents from BT ? this is called contention ratio ? and you often wont find the ISP publishing this ? you?ll have to hunt around for the figure yourself. The cheapest option from Tiscali (this month) gives you 3x dial up speed (150Kbps), and unlimited access. There are no set-up fees with this option. For £19.99 per month you can have 256Kbps (5x dial up), again with no restrictions. Strangely there is a £25 start-up fee with this choice. Also in the same price bracket you can get the full speed package (512Kbps), with either 50 hours online (2p per minute after this) or 1Gb of data downloaded or uploaded per month, then 2p per Mb after that. The choice is yours and it would depend on your usage pattern. £24.99 per month will get you full, 512Kb ps, access with no restrictions. All of these packages come with a minimum subscription of 12 months, and free USB modem. & #89;ou get up to 5 email addresses and 100mb of webspace ? should you need it. Is it worth the money? I first signed up in June 2003. I selected the 256Kbps option that Tiscali were promoting (then only £14.99 per month) The set-up was painless. I simply plagued in the microfilter (stops your high-tech line sounding like two bean cans and some string), a cable for the PC and the CD for the software install. When instructed, I plugged in the USB, then I was off. I have to say that in those early days, I was highly underwhelmed. My 56k dial-up was faster! I called the Tiscali help line and here the trouble began. The ?technical? guy was clearly based ?offshore? ? and his instructions to me were of a fairly basic level, and of no real effect. It took several calls to the ?Un-Help? desk before I had some software that optimised my connection ? actually getting it working. I was pretty unimpressed, but tied into a 12 month contract. After a while I found I needed to increase my access speed. I upped my subscription to 512Kbps access. This was actually rather good, and all was happy in the Clumsy house. Then we moved to Andover. It?s Broadband enabled here too, so I asked Tiscali to move my account over to my new number. This was not the easy task you might think it would be. Tiscali don?t deal directly with BT, so I had to ask both parties to do the transfer separately. This went OK, and we were back on line by the Monday after we moved. A s you know, when you move house, you get a final bill once all the connections are closed off at your old home. I waited (I needed to send this to my old landlord, so I could get my rather large deposit back) and waited. Still no final bill for our old account. I called 6;T after a month, to be told that I still had an active broadband connection, so no final bill could be issued. Four more calls to our friends on the help desk were required, before this mess was cleared up. Three months later, the connection died. Another call the helpdesk and we were left with no access for three days. Then, the best Tiscali mess-up came through, just today. < br>Apparently, I have not been able to pay my bill since January! I am not destitute, so I was quite puzzled by this. The lady on the accounts line was able to tell me that this may have been due to me being issued a new debit card. Strange how this happened in November, yet they took payments in December and February. In total I had racked up £122.20 worth of unpaid bills. I have settled up, but will be checking very carefully next month - to ensure I have actually paid this time. Would I recommend Tiscali? In a word, NO. The painless way you are hooked into a 12 month contract leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, but that feeling quickly dissipates when you first call the support desk. By the time you have had to stump up four months worth of bills in one go you are left looking forward to the day that contract ends, as I am. I will be cancelling my contract on exactly 12 months, and am open to suggestions as to where to find my Broadband service from then on.
Nikon Coolpix 2100 Updated 15-04-04 ? I had a few more thoughts about the joys of digi-cams.. Why go Digital? I was a great fan of the APS format camera. I loved the way it had drop and load, three picture formats, easy reprints and, most of all, a massive reduction in the size of the camera itself. At last, compact camera?s could truly be compact. My first APS, a Minolta model that was more or less indestructible was sadly lost due to a careless moment when I left my bag on a bus. I brought another Minolta APS, and I was very happy with it. There was one thing, however, that I could not really get round with the APS camera. I am not David Bailey ? far from it. If I take a great photo, its accompanied by twenty three pictures of my thumb, the inside of my pocket and random areas of sky/sea/grass (delete depending on location). I always end up paying for these pictures. I send away to get the film of our latest trip to Alton Towers developed, only to find that my £5.99 has been converted into another 5mm layer of an already thick wedge of naff photos. Digital photography changes all that. It gives you the chance to see what you snap, to review the results and to get rid of the chaff. It allows you an instant result, if you have a printer. Digital photos can be shared via the web or on a CD. If you feel that your daughter looks slightly sinister with those scary red eyes, simply run a red-eye remover program on your electronic pics and presto ? those baby blues are exactly that. But best of all, you can simply pay for the pictures you want to keep in an album, or frame. Average prices for digital prints from an online company such as Bonusprint don?t go much above 20p a photo ? not including P&P. I worked out that I hav e saved £25 so far on the 5 photo?s I have had printed. So you?re convinced ? Well I would recommend the Nikon Coolpix as a pretty good place to start out with digital photography What?s in the box? The Coolpix 2100 is based on what seems to be a Nikon ?platform?. You?ll find at least 3 camera?s in the Coolpix range that look exactly the same on the outside. Each has a varying range of features ? the 2100 being the entry level. The Coolpix 2100 is by no means feature-light though. Out of the box you will get ? 2m Pixels Camera with flash 3 X ?Real Zoom? and 4 X Digital Zoom LCD Display CF Format RAM card (16mb) 2 x AA rechargeable batteries AC Battery Charger Wrist Strap NikonView editing software USB Cable 12 Months manufacturers warrenty I paid £169.99 for mine, from Comet On-line. At the time this represented a saving of £30 pounds on the in-store price, and about £10 - £15 pounds on all other e-tailers. You can get a 2100 for around £129.99 now. Features and benefits The Digital camera rings you many nifty little gizmo?s that a simple mechanical camera, or even an APS simply cant give you. Because you remove the mechanical parts, such as a wind on motor, shutter release mechanism etc, you tend to get more space for the electronics that allow some cool ?on the go? image manipulation. The Coolpix is controlled by means of a dial on the top, a cross-key adjacent to the LCD screen, three menu buttons and the zoom control. Its all fairly intuitive. You only need to hit the manual when you get the sneaky suspicion that you are missing out on some great, life chang ing setting. The top dial sets the camera?s shooting mode. You get a basic mode, a manual mode and scene modes ? including sunset, beach/snow and party - indoors. There are four framing assists ? portrait, landscape, sports and night portrait. The dial also allows you to go into video mode, where a 15 second movie can be captured. There is no sound capability on this compact camera. Each of the modes has a menu, where by you can set one of the numerous submodes, such as architecture (in landscape mode) or couple portrait. There is a continuous shooting mode in sports, with a BSS (Best Shot Selector) that ensures you only get the clearest photo. The nighttime features give great low light effects, and even enable you to capture things like fireworks. The flash can be set to auto, red eye and off. The camera also has a self timer and a macro mode for close up shooting of small objects. I have had this camera for nearly a year and I still have not found all the features, or even used half of them. Getting at your pictures The software supplied with the camera is pretty good for helping you to retrieve and organise your photographic masterpieces. Simply install from the disk, connect the USB cable to your PC and plug in the camera. Turn it on and you will be presented with a pop-up from the Nikon software. Alternatively, press the transfer button on the camera. The pictures are displayed in the browser, and you just select the ones you want to download to you PC. You can download all of the pictures, or a few. Once copied to the hard disk, you can clear out your Compact Flash card and your ready for the next set of snaps. (a 128mb card will hold over 270 PC sized (1024 x 768) photos, so unless you are worried about loosing precious moments, you don?t need t o download that often. Once the pictures are on your hard drive, you can use any editing package, including the one supplied with the camera, to touch up your images. Remove red eye, crop the unknown guy standing next to Auntie Doris or simply give your brother the devil horns you know he hides under his hair ? anything is possible. Should you want to get hard copies of any pics, you are going to need a high quality printer. Go for one such as the HP Photosmart 7260, and you will be able to print your pictures straight off your compact flash card. Always use photo quality paper if you plan to keep the shots in an album, or frame. Make sure you have a spare ink cartridge or two ? its quite thirsty work, printing high definition colour pictures. Alternatively, take your CF card to boots, with just your chosen shots on, and they will print them out for you onto nice glossy paper. I use Bonusprint, where I can just upload my pictures directly off my PC, pay a small amount and get back some nice 4 x 6?s in less than a week (www.bonusprint.co.uk) What I don?t like about the 2100 The camera is not perfect ? I doubt you will find any that are. For a start, at over £150, I would have liked to get a carry case that is actually made for the camera. As I said, Nikon have used this chassis for several models ? this being the entry level. The top of the range is over £300, but you still don?t get a case. The battery charge time is quite long, and there is no in-camera charge, so you have to take spares with you, or carry the charger around in your bag. However the most annoying gripe I have is the time it takes to actually capture an image. From pressing the shutter button to saving your shot, it can be around 3 seconds. Ok if you are taking a posed portrait ? not so good if you are snapping your Mum?s dog chasing his tail. There are ways to speed this up, but it?s one of the things I think digital camera technology needs to improve on most. Summary I suggest you invest in a couple of accessories when you buy your Coolpix 2100 (or in fact any Digital Camera). 1. A case. There are currently, as I mentioned earlier, no Nikon cases for this format of camera. Jessops have some generic cases, which look OK, take the camera and a couple of batteries and a spare CF card, and still don?t make it look like you are a paparazzi snapper trying to catch Posh and Becks coming out of the local marriage guidance counselors. 2. A couple of spare batteries. You don?t have to buy Nikon batteries. Go for some that are at least rated 2000mAh as these will last you a bit longer. A pack of four Jesspos own brand will cost you £7.99. You might also want to invest in a fast charger for these. Don?t use the Nikon batteries in this though as I wouldn?t want you to risk your warranty. 3. A bigger Compact Flash card. The one supplied is only 16mb. This will hold about 30 standard size (high quality PC sized) shots. Get a bigger one, say 128mb, and you will expand this to over 200. A 128mb Crucial Compact Flash card (www.crucial.com) is £22 4. Not essential, but handy to have ? a mini tripod. I got mine from Singapore, and it was about £4 (and it?s a Nikon) but you can buy these for as little as £4.99. There are a lot of other goodies you can add ? including some nifty telephoto lens adapters that clip over you built in lens, but it all depends how far you want to take the obsession. For less than £200 you get a stylish little snap camera, that fits into your pocket, has enough features to keep the most gadget happy among you going for at l east a year, and will save you a few quid on photo processing too.
Dawson?s Bar Cuisine - The Castle Hotel, High Street, Conwy, LL32 8DB. Tel - 01492 582800. URL ? www.castlewales.co.uk Welcome to Conwy Conwy is a typical tourist?s dreams come true; shops selling stuffed toy dragons and daffodil-shaped rock are to be found on every corner. We found a shop that sells swords and muskets! Great! It?s a pretty little walled town, complete with an intact and very impressive castle, a small harbour and lovely narrow streets. There is an abundance of fairly decent fish ?n? chip cafes if you feel like raising your cholesterol a tad. Two competing bakers seem to try and out-do each other on giant pastries ? the world?s biggest cream slice vs. the world?s biggest pasties. But what if you?re looking to experience something a bit more ?upmarket?? I would recommend an evening at The Castle Hotel for anyone who truly cares about food. As soon as you sit down in the sumptuous, yet relaxed and cosy surroundings of the hotel?s bar you know that the staff will be attentive and that the slightly higher-than-average prices are going to be worth it. You can eat in the main restaurant, where a main course will set you back between £15-£20 and starters and desserts are a pricey £5-£10. The hotel is obviously a favourite local eatery so I advise that you book early, especially at weekends and during the peak holiday season. We chose to have our meal in the Dawson?s Bar, which is more relaxed and also a bit cheaper! There is a downside of course - you can?t book a table in the bar, so get there early, or be prepared to hover and pounce as other diners leave. Prices Drinks at the bar are regular pub prices, so a pint is £2.75, soft drinks are £1.25 per large glass, and wine starts at £11.75 per bottle. Starters range from £1.25 for olives, to around £6.00. Main courses are around £9.95, although doorstep sandwiches and other choices are available for around £5.00. Desserts are a ll priced at £5.25, and a cheese board will be £5.95 should you have less of a sweet tooth. Our meal Starters I chose a light starter of a mix of breads, served with a very good extra virgin olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar, along with a bowl of mixed olives, tossed in herbs. My other half had Thai noodles topped with a prawn toast. The olives were wonderful. The bread was all ?home-made? and ensured I was not too full up before my meal began. The noodles were served cold, and were perfectly cooked, with a crisp quarter of sesame encrusted prawn toast. She was delighted with the presentation, and the flavour was exceptional. Main course I chose a dish of Conwy Mussels in a Cream, white wine and garlic sauce, served with crusty bread and a green pesto dressing. Not one mussel was closed, and the creamy sauce set the seafood taste off perfectly. Mussels are always very labour intensive to eat, but this was the most enjoyable seafood dish I have had since I ate moules and frites in Brugee. My girlfriend had a Pan fried Fillet of Salmon served on a creamy crab risotto. I pinched a bit of the rice ? amazing! I would never of thought to use white crab meat in a risotto dish, but this was a great addition to a creamy, al-dente rice dish, with the subtle seafood taste you get from really good white crab meat. I assumed the chef used a fish stock, as the rice had kept a lovely white colour. Dessert Desserts were a matter of much debate ? the menu was tempting, but the meal was filling enough. In the end we were both unable to resist. I went for a Rum-baba served on a hedgerow berry coulee, wi th whippe d vanilla ice-cream. The Rum baba was very light, spongy and delightfully sticky on the outside. The berry coulee had a lovely sharp bite to it, set off with the excellent vanilla ice-cream. The girlfriend never believed me when I told her how good a Crème Brulee could be, but the dish served at the castle did a lot to make my point. The set cream was served over stoned, half cherries, and had been given a great, hardened sugar top. Cherry Madalaines and more of that wonderful ice cream completed a sugary treat. Both desserts came served on stylish, tempered square glass plates ? I was so impressed I had to ask the waitress where they got them. The bill The whole meal, including wine and a couple of beers came to just under £54. A lot for your average pub meal, but trust me ? this is no pub restaurant. I think it?s a good price for a three-course meal that contained two seafood dishes, and the service and atmosphere of such a friendly bar made the whole evening well worth the money. Our companions for the weekend have actually stayed in the hotel, and would recommend this to anyone too. I think next time we are in the area, we will be trying out the full Castle experience.
I have been a DooYoo'er for over three years now. I am a lapsed addict, but I am back, and I have a few things to say about how one of my favourite sites has evolved... First Impressions - Its good to be back. The layout has been polished a little, but it all looks very professional and well thought out. The number of products that come under the reviewers heavy gaze seems to have snowballed, although there does seem to be a number of categories where a product exists, but there are no reviews for it. Come on guys, get typing! I am not too happy with the frequency of pop-up messages I am seeing now. I understand that DooYoo is not a charity, but its a bit over the top I'm afraid. Never mind though - Google Pop-Up blocker takes care of them (sorry guys). I am pleased to see that the quality of products, that the adds are tempting us with, are generally good. Big names seem to have picked up on the power of DooYoo - The Vodafone banner that?s flashing above this window is a testament to that. What I like about the site - The diversity of products that are being reviewed has, as I said before got even wider. There seem to be some great reviewers on the regulars list now. I always felt like it was an exercise in pulling teeth where feedback was concerned. You were lucky if you got one comment about a spelling mistake. Not so now. You are more or less guaranteed to get a comment within a few minutes of your review appearing live. I got a great tip from one member about how I can add capital letters to my posted text - very very useful. I seem to be able to accrue DooYoo miles as quickly as before, I think its going to be a long time before I get 50000 again, but I'm on the way. The quality of the reviews seems to be, in most cases as high as always. I feel I can rely on information contained within them, and have already made a couple of decisions on products and places to visit on the stre ngth of one reviewer. The humor and wit in the reviews is great. It seems we have some really talented writers contributing, and some very unique styles have been developed. Keep it up guys. What I don?t like - I may sound like I am contradicting myself here but the quality of some reviews has dropped a little. Spelling and grammar (not one of my strong points to be honest) seem to have lost some of their importance. I have read several crowned reviews with fairly simple mistakes left in, that in days gone by would have been reason enough to refuse the accolade (and extra DooYoo miles) that a crown brings. The Response from DooYoo seems to be a lot slower than it was. I have suggested several products that I am all geared up to review - Over one week hence and I have not seen the product appear, so my opinions remain unshared. I always felt that the attention to members that DooYoo gave in its infancy was one of its strong points. Don?t let that change please. On the same subject, the process for suggesting a product is pretty complicated nowadays. It took me twenty minutes to figure out how to get to the form where I made the, as yet unanswered, suggestions. This was much easier in DooYoo's previous life. Pop-ups. I've said my piece on this. I don?t mind, as I have my ways of dealing with them. Capitalisation in reviews. I don?t understand why this seems to be such a problem, but the scripting used to publish the review seems to strip caps. There is a site - http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php - that fixes the issue. Still, why? External reads seem to be amazingly high - yet DooYoo'ers get no kudos for this. I wrote a review on the 206 I own. Its had over 800 external reads. Imagine if I had just 1 DooYoo mile for each of those? - that sounds fair to me. Keep up the good work - Over all, its good to be back. I have hammered away over the last week , and including this one, written 4 new reviews. Those that I have read and rated have been informative (mostly) and keep up the tradition of DooYoo - Unbiased, useful information on products and services. Fix those few little niggles and all will be well in the world of consumer opinions.
Before you begin reading through this - bear in mind that I am an avid Liverpool Football Club supporter. I make great efforts to travel up to Liverpool as often as I can, and I have already picked the square foot of the Anfield pitch where I would like my ashes to be scattered. With that in mind, you might forgive me for a certain biase to this review... The original www.liverpoolfc.tv was probably the best club site in the English Barclaycard Premier Division, maybe even in the whole of English Football. It certainly overshadowed the English FA's own site (www.thefa.org), in my opinion. It?s the official web site of the (current) most successful football club in English history, and the only place for exclusive news on the team and the club. As Liverpool FC gets ready to announce the final details of the, soon to be started, new stadium, this is the place to get the information first. You often find that the BBC website "lifts" news directly from www.liverpoolfc.tv - although I am sure they have permission to do so. If it?s not on this site, it?s not true! (sorry koptalk, football365, Sky Sports News et-al) With the update of April 1st 2004, I think the creators, of an already slick site, have raised the bar again. The various shades of red, along with a fairly slow refresh time have gone, to be replaced with a corporate looking white background, intuitive frame style layout and altogether faster experience. LFC have teamed up with Granada (who currently has a 10% share in the club) to provide users with a very good basic content, including interviews, news, various downloads and club information. You can get wallpapers of the team, ring tones for your mobile and check up on how our injury problems are improving or worsening. Match reports and post game news is normally available within a few minutes of the final whistle. A payment of £3.99 per month opens up the full power of the site. For this fee you ge t an "E-Season ticket". This gives you a wide range of interactive services, including a match day show - with a live feed for all games; video is available for home matches. There have been complaints regarding speed on this service, but a recent update and move to Windows Media format, over Real, should improve this. Needless to say, don?t subscribe to an E-Season ticket if you haven?t got, or unable to get a DSL or cable connection. A further benefit of E-Season ticket membership is the chance to get the Holy Grail - home tickets to a premiership match. Be quick if you do get the opportunity to buy. LFC reserve a tiny portion of the ground for sale over the web in this way. Tickets go on sale through ticket master at 10am on the stated day of sale. They are all gone by 10:10 at the latest! If you a Priority Ticket Scheme Member (an service LFC offer as an extension to their fan club) you can actually buy PTS tickets through the site too - again using ticket master. A great new feature, of interest to all footie fans I think, is the online European Club Championship game. Opened as a pop-up window, once you select the game from the front page, you get to take your chosen team through to the European Championship final. The game takes the form of a sequence of penalty shootouts. You are told at the start of each match how many penalties you must score to progress. You shoot your penalty by watching the moving guide, and clicking when the shot direction is to your liking. You can loft the ball by holding down the mouse button. I find its quite ha rd to get past the keeper once you get to the knockout stage, and have a high score of 3940 - beat me if you can. It goes without saying that www.liverpoolfc.tv is the first site I hit most days. It has its small faults, but these are getting better. A live chatroom would be good, even if it?s only for the E-Season ticket (There is a message board open from 9:30am to 10:30pm). I underst and why this is not available - its very hard to moderate a live chatroom, and the club does not want to be exposed to the issues that Microsoft has had in recent months. The reliance on Ticket Master to sell the match tickets, that mean so much to those of us who have not been able to get a real season ticket, causes many many message board complaints. A final niggle I have is that you often get a new window open, advertising Ebay - I know all about Ebay thanks! No need to push it to me every time I visit the page of my favorite football team. However, in these days of slightly dodgy on pitch performances, its still the one thing where LFC are always top of the league.
Singapore Zoo, is by all accounts, well worth a visit. My recent trip to Singapore was unfortunately for business, so I was sadly obliged to be indoors for the whole day - limiting my chances to visit most of the daytime attractions. The zoo is not much fun at night really, so I missed out on that one. Never fear though - Singapore has thought of us poor business travellers. They have a Night Zoo! The Singapore Night Safari is in fact part of Singapore Zoo, and is situated in a lovely pocket of rainforest, a little way outside of the main built up "city" area. We were staying on the Sentosa Island, and were able to reach the park in a little over 20 minutes (mind you, you could do a circuit of the whole country on a Uni Cycle in an hour). Due to our meeting finishing at 5:45, we were a little rushed to get to the turnstiles by 6:30, when the attraction opens, but it is possible to stay inside until 12am - so there was no need to rush. Entrance to the zoo is Singapore $18.00 with a $6.00 charge for the optional (but in my opinion, essential) tram safari tour. In UK money, that works out as about £7-£8.00. As most visitors to the zoo will be skipping their tea, a good "International" buffet is available, as well as the usual fast food options. You can eat all you like for sing $13, with a Tiger beer on the side for about $7. Pretty good value all round. Once you have had your fill of the buffet, you can begin the tour of a very well stocked animal park. We were able to look at a couple of displays, including some impressive Sumatran Tigers, before hopping on the tram for a tour around the larger exhibits. The motor train takes you through various zones, where animals are grouped by their natural region. All enclosures are subtly illuminated to giv e a moonlit effect. Most animals were fairly active, and a good commentary gave plenty of information on each species. The tour in broken up with a chance to take in some of the walks - such as the big cats and fruit bats. The bats were a particular favourite of mine. Expecting to have to really scan for small Pipestrel sized creatures in the walk-through aviary, I was fairly shocked when a giant fruit bat around 18" across swooped over my head. Outside of the aviary you can find snow leopards, Asian Lions and other big cats. we were lucky enough to catch the male lions in a full display of their vocal talents - pretty impressive! You rejoin the tram and complete the tour through the rainforest, often moving through enclosures where animals such as Taiper and deer are roaming freely. The guide makes a strong effort to enforce the environmental message - stressing how lucky we are to be able to see the animals at all, such is the precarious state of some of the species. Once you get back to the tram station you can take in the very informative, and entertaining Nocturnal Animals show. The display includes some great tricks from Civets (those little cat like creatures who apparently spread SARS), Asian Otters, Hyenas and a huge Python. All the animals seem to be in great condition, and handled with care and respect. We were unable to take in the fishing cat trail - where you can see the small cats actually working for their supper, hooking live fish from a running stream in their enclosure, but in our three hour visit, covered pretty much all of the other exhibits. The Night Safari was an excellent evening out of the hotel, and at the current exchange rate, better value than most UK attractions. Its a fairly unique experience, and would have to go on the must see list of any visit to this small, but fascinating country.
I always seem to come back to DooYoo when I have been either extremely pleased by something, or made to feel so angry I have to hammer the keyboard and tell you all about it. Sadly this is a case of the latter. To celebrate a few birthdays that all fell close together, a big group of my friends all decided to head off out our home area of Newbury and do something a bit more interesting for a weekend. We plumped for a trip to Nottingham, as, by all accounts, its just the place young trendy types (like us?) want to be. We hunted around and found a good web deal on Holiday Inn hotels. Basically, if you book online, 21 days before you want to travel, you get the room at £58 per night. The normal rate is £99, so it?s quite a discount. To start the day off with a bang, we all met up at F1 Carting in Leicestershire, had a few laps of the track (during which my Girlfriend forgot to steer and crashed quite hard - more on that later). Once we were done with the go-carts, we headed off into Nottingham, where our hotel and our evening out awaited us. On first impressions the Holiday Inn, St James' Street, is a fairly nice, mid range, hotel. The car park is a little tricky to get into (we ended up in one round the corner from it - a luck break actually - more on this later too), and is £13 per night - which seems a little expensive, but you don?t have much choice. Check in was fairly smooth, despite the fact that a group of fairly noisy, quite rude people were demanding rooms on the spot. Never mind we though, taking our room keys. The room was the smallest £99 hotel room I have ever stayed in. It was no bigger than your average single room, and yet the owners had managed to squeeze a double bed, TV, armchair and desk in. It looked as though it had been last decorated when Wham were doi ng their farewell tour, but was clean enough. My friends, some of them not in couples, found that their rooms were no better - some were asked to make d o with double beds - despite the fact that they had booked twins. The evening was getting off to a good start. My girlfriends go-carting crash started to play a part on events, as her knee swelled up rather quickly. I expected to be able to find things like Ice in a hotel that charged £100 per night for rooms - but nope. It was a bit more basic than your average travel lodge. Any way, we put it all to one side and went out. Nottingham is a great city for a night out, its got chain bars, trendy individual little clubs and restaurants, and generally feels pretty chilled, so we had a good time. Things started getting worse when we got back to the hotel. Remember those charming guests that were checking in beside us? Well they had been on a bender in town too - it looked like a bare-knuckle fight may have been enjoyed by all. They were ion good spirits as we left them at 2am. I managed 1 hour of sleep before the fire alarm went off. The staff were highly trained it seemed in this, as they left all the guest in the bars etc, made no effort to evacuate, nor were at any pains to tell us what was going on. We were just left to wait around for 30 minutes or so until the lifts came back on and we could return to our rooms. Following that, it was quite hard to sleep, as we were kept awake by more of our fellow guests, trying to find their rooms - using handy door openers such as their feet. In short - it was worse than an 18-30 hotel in Falaraki. In the morning we were delighted to be told that 15 cars in the £13 per night car park had been given extra ventilation. Luckily we got lost trying to find it - so my aircon was left as it was - along with all my windows. So - for potentially £99 per night, idiots fighting, setting the fire alarms off and giving your car the feel of a convertible at half the price could keep you to up until 5am. My advice would be to find a small B&B instead.
As a non-company car driver I was looking for a cheap to run, yet fun and stylish small car. I owned a Rover 100 for three years, and despite its old looks dubious safety features and odd driving position, found it an economical car that would be hard to replace. Peugeot fit the bill and then some with their excellent 206 GLX 1.4 The 206 was launched in 1998 to replace the much loved, but ageing, 205. It was given reasonable reviews, as most thought it had taken the 205?s heritage a little lightly. It was viewed as being a bit too sensible by some, but most agreed that it was an all round good car. I have to say I never liked the 205 much. Sure the GTI was a great pocket rocket, but it lacked a distinctive shape and got left way behind by the likes of the Nova, Fiesta and small Volkswagens in the small hatch market. The 206 is a big improvement in my opinion. As a used car, the 206 GLX is a great choice. My S reg came in at £6995 (3 years old when I brought it) with fewer than 30K on the clock. This was an average main dealer price for the model, mileage and year. It came with a 12 month Peugeot Platinum warranty, MOT and 12 months tax. Spec level The GLX trim level is, it seems quite popular (Don't you hate it when you buy a car then drive out of the garage and notice that everyone else is driving exactly the same model, colour and all?) You get a great set of features "out of the box", including Air Con, Power Steering, 6 disk changer with a 6 speaker stereo, Electric windows, electric heated mirrors, fog lights, rear head rests and best of all - Auto sensing wipers. Options on this model include ABS, front passenger airbag and sat-nav. Drivability The car is a great all round drive. It accelerates well in low gears, but tops out a bit around 60 (hold 4th for longer and its is fine). Noise levels are OK - not the quietest, but better than my old Rover!. Fuel economy on the 1.4 engine is exc ellent. I regularly do more than 390 miles on a single tank (it will do over 420 before I get the orange warning and start to panic). Drive comfort is the best I have found in any of my cars. The driver seat is height adjustable, as is the steering wheel. The pedals are nicely spaced and a clutch footrest makes all the difference to lanky blokes like me. All the instrumentation is easy to see, and there is a great digital display for radio, temperature and time. You get a rev counter, temperature gauge and all the other usual warning lights in the dashboard. My only gripe is the odometer and trip counter is on the same digital display. You toggle between the two using a small push stud. When you first switch the ignition you are given a service reminder (the 206 has a whopping 20000 mile service interval) which mysteriously goes down 50 mile each time I get in the car. The stereo is controlled from a handy stalk just behind the steering wheel - takes some getting used to, but is a welcome inclusion. All lights are operated from a stalk, as are the automatic wipers. The passenger cabin is huge for such a small car, with good leg room in both the front and rear. The boot is a bit short, but quite high. It comes with a handy storage net, useful mounting points for this and a couple of Velcro storage straps for bottles etc. Folding the seats is a bit tricky, but give a massive load space if needed. The rear seats are, of course, 60/40 split. Ownership costs As I mentioned, service intervals are huge on this car. This does mean that of course that the service costs a bit more, but its not too bad when you consider you will only be doing it every two years if you are an average mileage driver. I recently had my 40k service carried out by a main dealer at a cost of £275 including new front brake pads. The tank is 45 litre and costs around £38 to fill (at 74.9p per litre from the low fuel mark) You will, as I mentioned get a t least 400 mile out of this with mixed motorway/town driving. The car comes with Energy tires, but I am not sure of the impact these have. Speaking of tires - expect to pay around £50 - £60 per corner for branded rubber. A bargain tire will set you back around £30. Best news though - due to its economical performance and small engine you will only pay £100 to tax this little hatch back! Overall roundup I love this car. I wouldn't part with it for any other model or make (Well, maybe the GTI or CC could tempt me). Later models have even better spec - including digital climate control, auto lights on and better seating. I expect to be visiting another Peugeot dealer in three years time when I reluctantly change this Diablo red beauty.
It's been a long time since I wrote an Op on anything at all, so please be gentle with me ;-). I decided to mark my return with an opinion about a superb website that I discovered some time ago completely by chance. As a movie buff living in Oxford I am not that well served with cinematic treats. Yes, we have cinemas, but they are not the sparkling Multiplexes of my hometown of Milton Keynes. They are small, and despite a refit last year, not that comfy. The general moviegoer in Oxford tends to be a bit less considerate than I am used to (sorry Oxfordians, but you need to stop talking as you enter the cinema!). Never mind you say there's always Blockbuster. Rent the movies you want to see later on. That's OK for most of us, as the local Blockbuster is just that - Local. Sadly my local store is a car ride across a very non-car friendly town. Renting a movie is a logistical nightmare, involving a scary parking experience on the Cowley road (any one who know Oxford knows the Cowley road..). This all means I miss out on lots and lots of films. I was talking about this predicament one day at work. A college of mine lives out in the sticks, and has much the same woes as me. He mentioned some website's he'd heard of, but never used, that did DVD rental. It sounded a bit far-fetched to me, but I had a hunt round and came across Movietrak.com. The concept of Movietrak is quite simple. You choose your film, enter your details and credit card number then check you post the next morning. The film is yours for up to seven days, giving you ample time to watch it a few times, loan it to your Mum, your friends then watch it again. It arrives in a clever little wallet that doubles as your return envelope, and is marked up with you return by date. All this for a mere £3.49. (Cheaper than a new release at Blockbuster I think). Watch the film, rip of the address label part of the envelope, pop the disk back in, reseal and post . That's it. Movietrack is quite a simple looking site. Its front page gives you a list of the newest titles available, a side bar with category links, forthcoming releases, favourites and a top twenty. A search function is provided for title, actor or director searches - handy if you are looking for a specific movie. Select a film and you are taken to a new page showing all the information for that title. You get a good description of the movie, including the normal synopsis. You are given guidance about availability and the chance to view the trailer, in both low band (a normal dial up connection to you and me) and for you adventurous types, high bandwidth. The trailers are shown in the page via a Windows Media player viewer. If you decide to rent the film, just click Rent (obvious really..) and you will be taken to a secure server page where you can enter you details, make a payment on you card or return to select a few more discs. Once you have completed your order you can expect your films to pop through the door as early as the next day (if you order before 12 noon). My boss and I both ordered Harry Potter the day before it was due to release and received our disks the very next morning, an impressive turn around I think. There are numerous advantages to this type of service. As I have already said, you get to keep the films for seven days, you can select from the comfort of you Internet browser and best of all its cheaper than a real rental store. However there are a few downsides. Movietrak is quite a new service. They have all the big movies of the last 12 months at least, but they don?t have the back catalogue that the big high street store might have. You are placing a lot of faith in the reliability of Consignia (Royal Mail to most of us), meaning you can be waiting a couple of days for your order. This sadly means you might not get the full seven days before your return date looms. Initially you can only order two disks at a time. Once you have placed three orders you will be allowed to order up to six films at once. They seem quite intent on staying around, and I hope they can win over anyone nsure about this new type of service. The site has recently seen a few tweaks and new ideas. I was pleased to see the introduction of an early return bonus scheme. Rent 6 titles and return them straight after you've watched them (next day after you receive the disk), fill in the special card included with the film and you will get a free rental when you next order a film. You can also buy pre-viewed copies of some films. I recently rented "The Fast and the Furious" and noticed you could get a copy of this for just £9.99 (don?t think I will though). I tell everyone I know about this service. Try it out at least once. I hope you will be a convert, sorry Blockbusters, but you can have my membership card back!
**UPDATE***** I wanted to add little prologue to this Op..Developments over the last few days have, I think, highlighted the madness of this current campaign. Comments from Donald Rumsfield have incensed me again and I wanted to vent my spleen. The allies have pounded the Taliban into submission and they are leaving Kandahar. The Northern Alliance is back with a vengeance, and they have decided that we are no longer needed, and the use of US & UK ground troops in their country is unwanted. Well there's a surprise. I could have predicted that at the start of this campaign, sadly our elected leaders could not. Mr Rumsfield has vowed to smash anyone who supports or harbors terrorists. Look out Boston - your Irish American community best stay off the streets, and you wont find me in a McDonalds now - least I become a figure in the collateral damage column in this silly campaign. (The IRA found great support in America, and McDonalds have been, speculatively, linked to funds that have provided support to our Anyway, read on... Sunday, at 11am we remember the dead of wars past. Those veterans who are still with us from those awful conflicts will no doubt be thinking of friends and comrades lost the things they saw and did and the reasons they went to fight, often in far off places. Why bother? Harsh you might say. Those brave men and women who gave up so much for us deserve that reflective silence as Big Ben strikes the hour. And I agree, they do. But there’s more to Remembrance Sunday than just honoring the dead. We should be thinking back to the events that lead us to spill so much blood, the causes of war and the outcomes of actions taken by the participants. We should learn from the past. But we have not, and will not. We will all be hypocrites on Sunday, remembering the dead of past wars while the bodies stack up in our current weapons testing exercise. Afghanistan is one of the world 217;s poorest countries. Its people are blighted by war internally, and have yet to know a lasting peace. The current rulers, the Taliban have often been mocked by the west as crazy extremists. Ed Halliwell in FHM has, until recently kept the Lad population amused with tales of Taliban madness. For instance they invited the Pakistani football team to play, then shaved their heads and sent them home in disgust when they ran out onto the pitch in shorts an T-shirts. However the iron fist of this brand of Islam is far more sinister than that. Women have been stoned for removing their veils in public, most education has been banned, technology is practically no-existent – in fat where Pol Pot failed in Cambodia, the Taliban have excelled in Afghanistan. The country has been under the boot for many years, not just since the rise of the current dictatorship. Those in control of the west’s best friend, the Northern Alliance, had power after the Russian occupation ended. They were viewed as no better rulers. The USSR were brutal in their attempts to maintain occupancy of the area, and fought a hard battle against the resistance fighters, armed and trained by the west. In fact we in the west have been aiding Afghan fighters for many years, although we had our own pop at taking the country by force swiftly stamped out in the last century. All in all, most of the world has tried to control the region and its people. The key point to remember is – ALL HAVE FAILED! So now I come onto the real point of this rant. Afghanistan is unfortunate; it seems to attract the attentions of aggressors, both external and internal. Yet, it is a fortress of a country, with both dessert and mountains and extremes of climate from hot to freezing. It was unlucky for them that Osama Bin Laden choose to relocate there, but I think he gave it a lot of thought. Now America has decreed the country Public Enemy Number One, I fear we will be able to add another countr y to the list of those who failed to take Afghanistan by force. I am 100% against this conflict, and they way it is being executed. There seems to me to be no reasoning behind it, and no clear plan to guide it. The USA were hurt badly on September 11th, and none of us will forget the horror of watching those planes slam into the WTC. They need an outlet for the pain and grief caused, but to repay grief with more brutal grief is not the way to rid the world of fear and terrorism. This war is not like recent conflicts such as the Gulf War. It is not a CNN special; it is not a short sharp shock with America’s Big Stick. It is not a conflict backed by the UN to liberate an occupied country. It is, as far as I can see, a giant Band-Aid to salve the USA’s open wounds. The aim of this conflict is, we are told, is to target and bring to justice those responsible for the terror attacks on New York and Washington, but it appears to be an open assault on Afghanistan. The people taking the full brunt of this attack were, I am sure, not in any way involved with planning or perpetrating these evil acts. Imagine if the UK government were to respond to the bombing of Manchester, Canary Warf or Hyde Park with the same style and subtlety. Ireland would be a wasteland and we would have raised an entire nation of terrorists instead of a handful of radicals acting alone. I do agree that we have to bring those responsible to justice, but we need to attack the cause of this type of horror, rather than the hiding place of its supporters. Financial attacks on the funding for terror, negotiation and diplomacy to solve the reasons for these attacks are much more appropriate responses in the 21st Century. This current aggressive response only goes to harden the resolve of those wishing to commit acts of mass destruction, and will serve as a fine example for future Osama Bin Ladens. On the 11th November we should maybe imagine how those remembrance para des would look when we they are made up of hundreds of young faces returning from a far off war that was allowed to escalate and drag on. All because the leaders of the 21st century failed to learn from the mistakes of the past.
I am getting on in years now. I am a bit long in the tooth I suppose, at 27, but I do like a good night out. I love the dance scene, and can spend hour’s bopping away in a sweaty nightclub to the right music. To top all that, endless Ibiza fly on the walls had really whet my appetite for a big old Balearic blow out. My girlfriend and I decided to get it out of the way this year while we had it in us to spend all night out and still have enough energy for sun bathing. So was it worth it? Did Ibiza really live up to its hedonistic reputation? Would we go again? What should you do to make your Ibiza experience on to remember, and is there more to the White Isle than big name DJ’s and boozy Brits? Hopefully this review will give you an idea of what we thought of Ibiza, and maybe what you can do to make the most of your stay out there next year. I’ve tried to break it up into nice manageable sections for you, with all the interesting bits of our holiday covered. All prices I might quote in this rather long review were at the rate of 253 pesetas to the pound. Booking – We decided back in January to go on a group holiday at the start of September, in an attempt to catch a few of the big club closing parties, and avoid most of the younger “beer monsters” (they all go back to school around 3rd September). It is possible to get late deals to Ibiza, and you’ll save yourself a few pounds if you opt for one, but the island does get booked up quite heavily through July and August (Both Radio 1 and MTV have their big events in mid August). We noticed quite a steady stream of arrivals throughout our two-week stay, so it would be best to book early if you are really keen on an Ibiza outing next year. We went with Thompson’s Club Freestyle (more about them later) and the Club Pariaso Hotel in San Antonio. Six of us each paid £285 for two self-catering apartments for 14 nights. The last week of o ur stay (ending on the 18th September) we noticed more and more families arriving. Our hotel was essentially a clubbers retreat throughout the whole season, but seemed to switch from a Club Freestyle location to just a normal Thompson’s hotel on the day we departed. Hotel – This was my biggest worry when I booked the holiday. I know that many hotels in the San Antonio area are quite well used, and expected, for the price to get a fairly basic place with resident insects as roommates. How wrong I was! The Club Paraiso is fairly new (built in ’98) and is a very clean, modern looking place. It is a bit of a maze, but you get used to that. There are two main pool areas, three bars, plenty of sun loungers, pool tables and games machines, an onsite supermarket and 24 hour security. The studio apartments we had are bright and airy with two sofa beds and a pull out bed, a balcony, bathroom and kitchenette. You can choose a 1-bedroom apartment in the complex, but these seem to get snaffled up quite quickly. The pool is rather cold (colder than the sea in fact) and the prices for extras such as food and drink are a bit steep. We used the local supermarkets; just few minutes walk away for provisions and had all our meals and drinking sessions outside of the hotel. The staff at reception are friendly enough, and the maid service is excellent. The hotel is situated a short walk from the “Sunset Café’s” Mambo, Café Del Mar and the ultra cool Coastline Café. It’s an ideal base for a holiday in San Antonio. The only complaints we had with the accommodation were due to the neighbouring hotel being a home for drunken idiots – making noise 24 hours a day 7 days a week. A lovely Scottish guy offering us cut price donkeys while his mate tried in vain to rouse “Gaareey” serenaded us one night, for several hours. Not a problem if you are out till 8 in the morning. Unfortunately, on that par ticular night we decided to go to bed at 2am. Club Freestyle reps – These guys really do leave you alone. Freestyle has a policy of letting you get on with your holiday. You won’t have much to do with your rep at all, which is not always a good thing. We chose to book our club tickets through them, and take a boat trip to the island of Formenterra as well. The total cost of this little package was £120, which we thought, at the time, was very good. What we found, later on it the holiday, was that the nights selected were not the best on offer, and that the prices were not the lowest possible. As an example of this - we found that a trip to Amnesia, where Cream were playing on Tuesday nights this year, was 1000 Pesetas (£4) cheaper from the pre club bar. The coach we had thought was included in the price was in fact a freebie coach, running on the hour after 1am from Coastline bar. As you can imagine it got rather busy and when the heavens opened for the biggest downpour of the season we soon lost interest in the clubbing. We saved the ticket for another day. Our advice would be to choose your own nights and ask other people how much they paid for their tickets on previous nights. Clubbing – That brings me onto the clubs. Most of your will go to Ibiza with your dancing shoes, so what are the clubs like? Well, I have to say I was a little let down by Cream. Amnesia is a great looking club, but its location is a bit of pain, out there on the “Death Road” between San An and Ibiza Town. Cream itself threw a good party, with some cool décor. Sadly the night we went along it seemed to be a single thudding beat that none of us could get into at all. Maybe one to leave out if the DJ list is not jewelled with a good name (The downpour night would have been better – but alas we opted to go the next week) Es Paradise, on the front in San Antonio is a great looking club. It is t hemed like a lavish garden and includes comfy cushions, lots of dance floors and bars and an open-air area. We went to the Water Party, and it was a fairly good night out. The music was OK, and the atmosphere is quite relaxed. If you plan to go in the water make sure you don’t wear those expensive Acupuncture’s. Manumission, at Privilege is spectacular. This year the club was themed in a nautical style in the main room, with a huge ship stage for the various performances. Another one on the nasty San An – Ibiza Town road – use the Disco bus and you can get there for just 250 Pesetas. This night maybe needs no explanation, but bear in mind it’s the biggest club in the world, so it gets busy. The music is fantastic – trance and house, and the 7 rooms are all brilliant. My favourite was the chill-out area under the Privilege dome. The main arena went from a few hundred to at least 5,000 in about 30 minutes and we had an excellent night in the rather sweaty climate this massive crowd created. The best night by far though was had at Eden. This club is situated next door to Es Paradise, and is quite distinctive – it the one with the dome. We went along to the “Biggest night on the island” according to Ibiza uncovered, Judgement Sunday. Judge Jules was in residence for 4 hours, two in each room and he really got us going. However, we also got treated to a wicked set by trance master Ferry Corsten. Lisa Lashes took over from Jules, and sadly it all went down hill from there, but by then it was 6am and we’d had an amazing night. The whole club was entertained by a crowd of odd balls – from midgets in bags to a mad gang with a huge Lycra sheet they dragged over half the crowd. This night is one not to be missed if it runs in 2002. A word on drinks prices. Yes, its true, they do charge £4 for a bottle of water – AT LEAST! Manumission takes the most expensive drink award at 100 0 Pesetas for a 50cl bottle. This was the largest on sale, as the others charge 800 for a poxy 30cl mouthful. They all have toilet attendants asking for tips on the door, and if you need loo roll you’d better cough up! San Antonio – It’s Blackpool in the Sun. I could leave it at that, but you’d all give me a NU. Enjoy it for its bars, shops and a little bit of sand. Treat it as a base for good holiday and you won’t go far wrong. It’s a bit of a building site, and does look really bad at 4am. Best bits – The sea front area where all the café’s and boat trip operators can be found. The sunset café’s are a must. Mambo is great, the classic Café Del Mar is worth a look, but my favourite by had to be the brand new coastline. This place is so cool, and even offers swimming pools for you to cool off in. A great place to watch the sun go down. Joe Spoons, in the West End, was a firm favourite for us. Cheerful staff and cheap drinks make it a good starting point. San An has plenty of places to eat too. Our money went to the Mexican Cantena (near the West End) where we had several meals. The staff is excellent, the portions are huge and the restaurant is great with an open-air balcony for those warm evenings. However, my girlfriend, brother and I decided to blow a whole chunk of cash on one excellent meal in the Villa Mercedes. This amazing restaurant is right by the night bus stop and is the coolest place I have ever eaten in. We had an interesting meal including dishes such as kangaroo; chocolate soup and pan fired gilt head (a fish) obviously not all on the same plate. The total bill for the three of us, including wine was £70 – not too bad but still one to mull over if you are trying to watch the pennies. The one annoying thing about San Antonio is the lookie lookie men. These are African street traders who train in the art of selling crap jewellery and hash by watc hing Only Fools and Horses. When you first get called Dell Boy and offered “any hash, any blow?” it’s quite funny. After the first few hours it becomes irritating. By the end of a fortnight you’ll hate the sight of Dell and Rodney. Other things to do in Ibiza – Scuba diving is a must if you feel adventurous. You can get a try dive from several operators on the sea front in San An. We chose the Serina Dive School. For 7500 Pesetas you get a whole day out on the boat, with a 30-minute dive and all the time you want to snorkel or sunbathe. Photos will be taken, and you can buy the for 1000 Pesetas each. Take a boat trip out to the aquarium, for just 1500 Pesetas, and you get a great tour of the coastline. We really enjoyed this as a chilled afternoon activity and it didn’t exactly break the bank. The aquarium is set in a cave and is not that impressive, but the boat trip made up for it. Formenterra is a smaller island off the coast of Ibiza. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Med and is a bit of a millionaire’s playground. We took a catamaran trip out to spend the day soaking up the sun, swimming in the blue and enviously eyeing up massive yachts. At the end of the day we got to dive off the boat before watching an amazing sunset. Don’t forget to take a bus trip to Ibiza Town. It has a real variation of modern and old with the Dalt Villa dominating the skyline and its trendy shops, bars and marina drawing the jet set. Take plenty of water though, as it’s a bit of a trek up to the top of the old town. Aquamar is also a good diversion from the hardcore clubbing. It offers a few good water slides, and is right by Space and Playa den Bosa beach. Would I do it again? – Yes! I would only take a week, and I would stay else where, maybe Playa den Bosa. You can blow a huge amount of cash and not have much to show for it, and you can also get the feeling that you’ve been had when you look at the rather tatty view that is San Antonio. But if you look under the mounds of beer bottles and hamburger wrappers there is a lot more to Ibiza than the three S’s
Cyberdog.co.uk is one of the coolest web sites you will ever come across. Its more than just a clothing and accessories site, and is so slick and well designed you will be sure to be lured into placing an order soon after a few visits. Cyberdog is the home of all those funky clothes you may have seen if you are a clubbing regular. If you have ever wondered where people get those strange rubberised shirts, fluorescent trousers, electric powered T-shirts and all the other "crasher kid" accessories you see Cyberdog is probably the place they got them. The web site welcomes you in with a black starry background and lots of cool flash text and sound. Let the intro run through and you will be presented with an option screen. You'll notice the strange "Cyberdog" space ship that is the company's logo (it features in all their designs - once you've visited the site you will notice just how many people are wearing Cyberdog gear in clubs). Select one of the options and you'll be whisked off to another part of the site by the cyber ship, all to a funky dance track. The site is broken up into areas including Earth stations (Store locations), News (new stores, new collections & job vacancies) Contacts, Interaction (which includes a picture puzzle game and public gallery) and the Virtual Store itself. Enter the Virtual Store and you can shop for those wacky clubbing items you've seen on the dance floor. The light-tee's (T-shirts with a cool electronic panel that illuminates at the flick of a switch) are my favourite item on the site. They are quite pricey, at £40 each, but look cool and are easy to wash thanks to the removable light panel. Items are categorised well, in groups such as trousers, tops, T-shirts etc. each item is clearly illustrated, in all colours. A size chart is included to help you get your order right first time (more about that later) Ordering is simple, and can be done on-line or over the phone using your credit or debit card. The site is secure, and easy to use. Telephone ordering can take time, as the lines seem quite busy. Delivery costs £3.50, and orders are normally dispatched to you on the same day. Should you get your sizes wrong, or find the item is not quite what you wanted returns are simple and quick. Simply pack the item up in the original wrapping, send it back and you'll be refunded full price (minus postage) I ordered the wrong size shirt and had a replacement dispatched and the refund credited to my account in just two days. All in all Cyberdog is a great web site. It’s THE place to go for that different looking outfit for a hard nights clubbing. Even if you don’t want any cyber gear its worth a visit just for the great design of the site itself.