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drewboy

drewboy
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Member since: 11.08.2004

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    • The Hunger Site / Internet Site / 66 Readings / 57 Ratings
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      27.03.2006 23:12
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      A click a day to help people less fortunate.

      www.thehungersite.com

      And if you can't remember that, bookmark it. In fact, make it your homepage. Whatever it takes to make you remember to click. Hell, if you can't even remember from that, they will even email you each day to remind you. If you are a Firefox user, there is even an extension you can add that will remind you each and every day.

      Actually doing your bit is simplicity itself. As soon as you open up the site, you are faced with to be fair, a bit of a missmash of things. There are links for more info on the left hand side, and on the right there are usually links for things that you can buy to help the cause.

      The main thing you are looking for though, is the mucky yellow box right in the middle. This is what you click to do your bit. Backed by the UN, this actually enables the mercy corps to deliver 1 cup of rice to area's in critical need of basic food to survive, even just to the next day. Did you know that 25,000 people die of hunger every single day?

      The site raises the money to do this by selling advertising space on the webpage so they do ask you to visit some of the sponsers, which I have to say I have done a few times as there can be some intersting links there.

      Also, if you have the time (like an extra minute or two..) you can click the links on the top of the page that take you to the Breast Cancer site, the child health site, the literacy site, the rainforest site AND the animal rescue site. So whatever cause you want to support, you can do it here.


      So, there you go. It aint the longest review in the world, probably not the best written review in the world. But if it makes you click, then it's done it job.

      Ah go on........



      drew

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      • More +
        21.02.2006 01:28
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        Something a bit different for the weekend.

        Your in Glasgow, you fancy a pint or a boogie, you’re a friend of Dorothy or of the Sapphic variety, where do you go?

        Enter the Polo Lounge.

        In Glasgow, this club is the where you are likely to find most of the action on the weekend. It is now the only exclusively gay club in the city (since the other option was recently burned out) and attracts a very mixed crowd of people – both gay and straight, young and old.

        The club itself is located just to the west of the Merchant City in Virginia Street and is not far from where most of the busses stop in the centre and is close to both Queen Street and Central train station.

        From the outside, you would be forgiven for saying “what, that’s a club?” as it is housed in what used to be a very old, long forgotten, life assurance company head office and is very grand in appearance with the entrance through a pillared doorway with marble steps leading into the main bar. The door policy is fairly relaxed, and the dress code is not strict although if you try to get in wearing tracksuit bottoms and a skip cap you are likely to get turned away! Another pointer for getting in would be not to make a fool of yourself in the pub round the corner (Delmonica’s) as they are owned by the same people and the people on the door communicate with each other. So if you are drunk and lairy there, chances are no matter HOW sober you can act, you aint likely to get in!

        The cost to get into the pub ranges from free up to £5. Monday to Thursday, the place is only open until 1am (it opens at 5pm every day) and it’s limited to just the bar so there is no charge for entry. At the weekend (when it’s open until 3am), the entrance fee is £5 which is pretty reasonable however if you enter the club before 11pm, there is no cover charge. A handy tip would be to visit Delmonica’s round the corner as the give out free passes for a Friday or Sunday night, and a £2 pass on a Saturday, when you buy a drink at the bar. There is a cloakroom and it costs 80p per item on all nights.

        So now you are in, what can you expect?

        Well, the establishment is split into three main area’s. As you walk in the door, the first area you will come to is known as ‘the Lounge’. This is where the club tries to emulate what I would imagine a real polo lounge would look like (having never been in one myself!) and has very grand paintings with big leather couches and large polished (under sheets of glass to save them from the pint glasses!) tables. Its very elaborately decorated with wooden floors, big vases of flowers and large crimson velvet curtains. The atmosphere is very laidback and the music is not too loud so you can enjoy a decent conversation. There is also a balcony section above the bar where you can chill out and chat away (or otherwise….) to your hearts content. You can see what this looks like in the link at the end of the review.

        Next you go downstairs and you hit the ‘club’. This is the main dancing area of the club and is open from about 11pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To be fair, its not the largest dancefloor in the world and if the club is busy it can get VERY crowded with little room to move about so the best plan is to find a spot and stick to it, sending one person to the bar to get the drinks in. If you are quick enough, there are booths with seats and tables down there which is great if you need to sit down though exhaustion, if you don’t like the song or if your just plain sozzled! The music tends to be a mix between chart hits and dance music and usually you find that it is a good mix of the two. One major problem with it though is the air-conditioning, or rather, the lack of it. It can get VERY hot down there and its very likely that you will end up sweating bucket loads however if you are clever enough, you can see where the (limited) air con does come in and if you dance under that, its much better! Another thing to watch is the floor as a lot of it is shiny black tiles that can get very slippy, not the best design for a club where drinks can get spilled in my opinion.

        The third part of the club is called ‘The Trophy Room’ and this is where you go if you want pure and simple cheese! In here the décor is similar to upstairs and you are guaranteed to get lots of hits from the 70’s and 80’s like Its Raining Men, Old Madonna, Grease numbers etc. The good thing about it is that it gives you the choice to chop and change musical genres easily and this room is normally a bit quieter so you can opt to move through here and have a bit of space to go nuts and dance whatever way you want to!

        Drinks prices here very much depend on which night you are there. From Monday to Thursday when just the ‘lounge’ is open all bottled beer and vodka and mix (from the gun) is £1.50 with a Wednesday night special of all cocktails being half price (normally £3). On a Sunday night, you get pints of Millar and vodka mix at £1.30. All other times, you are looking at most drinks coming in at around the £2.50 mark with shots ranging from £2-£3 (I would recommend the ‘Quick F*@k’, midouri and baillys, very nice!) The waiting time at the bar can be a bit long in the main club as well as the Trophy Room, but if you go upstairs you can usually get served quicker and get some fresh air at the same time.

        A quick note about the toilets. Now I can’t comment about the girls loo’s (many have tried to get me in there but I have managed to resist so far!) but when you walk into the mens, there is a one way mirror which separates the urinals from the corridor on the way in so guys, just be warned, that if you choose to pee at that stall then people will see your top half as they walk in but you won’t be able to see them!! The queues can be terrible though, and I would advise taking your own toilet paper with you because it never lasts long in there!

        All in all, it is a good club. I tend to go through spats of going for a while then going somewhere else because as the only gay club, you do get tired of the same faces every time you go out (and you pulling options dwindle!) but then that’s really not the clubs fault. It can be a bit of a meat market at times but the good mix of people who attend the club on a regular basis means that you can usually find someone to talk to if you get bored and the range of rooms to go to ensures that you can move about whole night.

        So would I recommend it? Yes – just don’t wear a jumper if you wanna dance downstairs!

        Thanks for reading, any comments, please let me know!


        drew


        http://www.g1group.co.uk/content/default.asp?page=s45_2

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        • More +
          17.02.2006 12:09
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          The physical, political and spiritual heart of Glasgow

          In most towns and cities you find that right in the middle you have a square of some description. In New York there is Time Square, In Venice there is the Piazza San Marco, in Moscow there is Red Square and in Beijing there is Tiananmen Square. These places are traditionally found in the centre of the city or town and are generally where you will find that the people will gather for various activities such as demonstrations, events, shows of solidarity and New Year celebrations. Here in good old ‘Glesga’, we have George Square.

          The square was originally laid out in 1781 on what was then a marsh. Gradually, it was built around until eventually it became the centre of a bustling city which did very well in the industrial revolution and traded heavily in fabrics, tobacco and shipbuilding. Through the years the Square has evolved and changed and is now very much the heart of the city, both geographically and spiritually, and is an excellent attraction that should not be missed on any trip to Glasgow.

          How do I get there?
          ----------------------

          It couldn’t be easier. Practically every mode of transport you could take will take you here or very close by. If you are coming in by train, you will either arrive at Queen Street station which is actually on the square or to Central which is just round the corner (and there are signposts), if you are coming by bus practically all go through the square, stop round the corner, or arrive at Buchanan Bus station which is behind Queen Street Station, by underground where you get off at Buchanan Street Subway Station (which is next to Queen Street Station) or even if you fly in there is a special bus service that will take you directly from the airport to George Square itself! If you really must drive in then there is usually loads of parking spaces in the Buchanan Galleries Shopping Mall which is, you guessed it, behind Queen Street Train station and is signposted from the George Square exit off the M8 motorway. So it really is easy to get there no matter how you travel!

          What is it like?
          -----------------

          Well for a start, it’s actually rectangular with the north and south sides of the square being the longest sides. The first building you are likely to notice will be the imposing and impressive City Chambers Buildings to the east. This building dates from 1888 (the height of British Imperialism) and today houses the many of the offices of Glasgow City Council. By day, its stands out with its three towers and by night it is lit up at various places with a soft purple glow which shows off many of its Victorian features. To the south, there is the old General Post Office building that was not long after the City Chambers. It is home to offices and apartments now and for a good few years has been covered by a HUGE advertising board that dominates the views to the south of the square and is one of the most expensive advertising spots in Scotland. The west of the square is occupied by another Victorian building which houses a large public house (well, we are in Scotland here!) called the Counting House. This is a very popular pub which is set in a very large and grand room that serves food during the day and is busy with socialising glasweigans in the evening. An interesting policy of the pub is that it never plays music of any kind and this creates a rather unique atmosphere of simply conversations going on. You cannot miss the semi circular window of Queen Street Station in the north west corner of the square which has another pub underneath it that has an area outside you can sit at. The only part of the square that is not Victorian is the North part that has the Millenium Hotel and a 1970’s building housing the Royal Bank of Scotland’s call centre operations. While this is not in keeping with the rest of the square, it serves to provide a contrast from the old to the new and doesn’t detract from the aesthetics of the square as a whole.

          The square itself has a total of eleven statues to various people dotted around and these include such famous figures of history such as Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, James Watt and Rabbie Burns. In the centre of the square, stands a column reminiscent of Nelsons in Trafalgar Square however Sir Walter Scott stands proudly at the top of Glasgow’s version. It is interesting to note that the very person whom the square was named after is conspicuous by his absence because at the time, the Tobacco Barons were very put out by King George III decision to transfer the major trade in tobacco from Glasgow to the American colonies so refused to fund any of the project if a statue of him was erected!

          An interesting and reletively unknown fact, is that George Square actually has one of only two official replica's of the Statue of Liberty in New York (the other being in Paris). If you look on top of the City Chambers, you can see her looking over the square in the same way that she looks over New York across the pond.

          The ground is mostly covered by red tarmac (a very controversial decision made Glasgow City Council to enable the square to them to host more events there) with a few grassed areas to enable people to relax when the weather is nice with numerous wooden benches dotted around for people to sit on.


          What happens there?
          ------------------------

          Many varied activities are on offer at many different points in the calendar. Every couple of months you will find a carnival set up in the south west corner of the square which has many classic fairground attractions like a merry-go-round and a chair swing ride and there is plenty of popcorn and candy floss available for all!! In April the annual Glasgow Art Fair has a display set up, in June the Lord Provost had a parade round the city and the square has street theatre, sports, games and exhibits on show, in July Glasgow holds an annual Jazz festival and one of the venues is a marquis set up in the square and lots of other festivals and events are held year round.

          At the end of November the city’s Christmas lights are turned on by some form of celebrity and the square is transformed into a winter wonderland. In the whole month of December the funfair returns and the city build a real ice rink for people to enjoy open air skating and the atmosphere in the area is fantastic! I would highly recommend a vist at that time to do Christmas shopping in the excellent shopping Glasgow offers and to then end the day in the square to enjoy the fantastic atmosphere generated by the activities on show.

          The council then clears the square in the week between Christmas and New Year to set up what is one of the biggest and most popular (apart from Edinburgh) Hogmanay celebrations in the UK (that’s New Years Eve to the non Scots among you!). The Radio One roadshow takes up camp in the square and provide the entertainment for the evening with various chart topping artists from all over the world taking the city to the culmination of the year with a spectacular fireworks display from the City Chambers. The atmosphere is out of this world and I defy anyone from around the world to come to Glasgow (or anywhere in Scotland for that matter) and not have a magical time leading up to the bells on the 31st! New Year is Scotland’s night and Glasgow is the perfect place to see it in.

          The square also plays host to many demonstrations that happen for whatever reason and is very often either the meeting place or the end of many organised walks and when anything happens that people feel they would like to commemorate or show solidarity, it is very often used for large groups of people congregate with this in mind. There are also more than a few candle lit virgils held and these can provide a very poignant and reflective atmosphere for people to openly grieve or commemorate.

          From the square it is also possible to start the Glasgow Tour which is provided courtesy of a red open top bus like the ones you see in most city’s now and will take you on a tour of various sights around the city and is a highly recommended way of getting your bearings if it is your first visit to the city.


          So there you have it. Glasgow’s George Square is more than the just the centre point of a large city, it is the social heart and soul of a community. It is a great place to start a city break here or can be used just to come and relax in the summer to let the world go by and maybe feed a few pidgins!

          If you have any question on the square or Glasgow as a whole, please let me know and I will do my best to answer them!

          Thanks for reading and take care.

          drew x



          Here is a link to a site where you can see two different live webcams of George Square

          http://www.glasgowguide.co.uk/webcams.html

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          • Buyers Guide: Houses / Discussion / 56 Readings / 53 Ratings
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            14.02.2006 11:58
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            A step by step guide through the maze of buying property.

            I have been helping people to buy homes all over the UK for nearly three years now. I have sat all the relevant exams and have the qualifications. I therefore thought it might be helpful for me to try and put together as definitive a guide to purchasing your home as I can, pointing out the pitfalls, and hopefully giving hints and tips to make this as easy and stress free (however there will be stress, believe me, I have done it!) as possible.

            In this review, I will cover how to go through this process in England, Wales and N. Ireland however I will point out the differences in the process for people looking to buy in Scotland as there are significant differences up North that a buyer would need to know about.

            Ok, here we go!

            Finding out How much you can afford
            --------------------------------------------------
            So, of course we would all like to buy that £3/4 mill detached mansion in the country but lets face it, most of us simply can't afford that. Therefore, the first thing I would suggest you do is to sit down and have a good hard look at your financial situation and try to establish how much you can afford extra each month. At this point, it is important to remember that its NOT just the mortgage payment you have to be able to afford, you may have other bills like insurances to pay for (will go through that later), if you are moving to another area you may have to travel further to work which could mean extra travel costs like petrol/train fares etc right down to extra electricity/gas costs if you are moving to a bigger property.

            I would advise doing that first as when you approach a bank or building society they may ask you straight away what sort of repayment figure you think you can afford and if you are able to give them one and back it up, you may be able to get more money in terms of mortgage from them.

            Next, you should start approaching different companies to get an idea how much they would be prepared to lend you. This amount can vary from lender to lender and is usually arrived at in different ways. The normal income multiples (the amount the company will times your income by to get to a figure) is usually around about 3x a single income and 2.5x joint. They will also ask you about any credit facilities you have and take this into account. To do this, they will normally multiply your monthly credit outgoings by 12 and then take this off your salary figure BEFORE they multiply it. This is because it shows how much of your yearly income you will actually get and give them a better idea of what you can afford.

            ***a note on incomes, if you are employed, they will look at your basic gross annual income and are likely to include bonuses and overtime as long as you can prove you regularly receive it. If you are self employed, they will take your average NET profit figure (the figure you declare to the tax man), usually from a 2 to 3 year period.***********

            Now a lot of people will tell you to get an agreement in principle or a mortgage certificate at this point and yes, this can be useful, but it is NOT a mortgage offer and the company will be in NO way obliged to grant you the mortgage, so do not go gung ho and commit yourself fully to anything at this point. The company will want to do credit reference checks (although some can do it at this point) and underwriting checks at a later date and may still decline your application. This is a good reason not to try and overestimate your income to the advisor or skimp on what you actually have in credit as it will only hurt you in the long run. Best to be as up front as possible, they will find out!

            Ok, the figure that the advisor comes back with based on these figures will be a guide and is unlikely to be set in stone. The vast majority of mortgages that I have arranged are for more than this figure so don't panic if you think it is too low for what you will need, there is room for manoeuvring here. Depending on how much of a deposit you are putting down, the company may be willing to lend more money to you. This is because the more money you put down, the less risk it is to the company that they would lose any money if they had to re-posses the property. This top line figure is usually about 40% above the basic one they gave you at the start. The mortgage company will not however grant this unless you can prove to them that you can afford it - the LAST thing they want to do is go through a re-possession no matter how much equity you have in the property because lets face it, if you can't afford to pay the mortgage, the equity aint gonna pay it for you!

            The Mortgage Quote
            ---------------------------

            This is where a lot of people get VERY confused. However, things are not as bad as they seem because all mortgage advisors now have to sit exams (Certificate of Mortgage Advise & Practise) and need to be registered with the Financial Services Authority to be able to give you advice. If you are not sure of things insist on the "Advised" route rather than the "non-advised" . This means that they will go through all of your circumstances and options and then make a recommendation to you based on this. They then have to put this in writing and the letters are kept on file for 6 years should you disagree with anything after anything has gone through, giving you some comeback if what you ended up with is not what you thought you were getting.

            The type of quote you get can be split into three different area's and a general rundown is as follows.

            Interest Only or Repayment.
            This refers to the REPAYMENT METHOD you have on your mortgage. The main difference is that with a repayment mortgage, you will pay off both the capital (the amount you borrowed) and the interest in every monthly payment ensuring that your mortgage is paid off at the agreed end date. If you opt for interest only, you will only pay interest each month and the amount you borrowed will still be outstanding at the end of your agreed term. With this type of mortgage, you can have some kind of investment in place that you pay seperately to pay off the balance at the end of the term. This is how Endowment Mortgages work (although Endowments are not sold as much these days) although some opt not to have anything in place as they may not plan to live in the property till the end date and plan to pay off the mortgage with the proceeds of the house. Other options would be to take out an investment ISA or link it to your pension (where the pension lump sum pays off the mortgage for you).

            ****note about endowments, the problem that came about with these was that they were set up with overambitious growth rates. This is because the plans assumed that they would grow at about 12% when in fact they only grew at about 8% or 9%. This meant that at the end of the plan, there was not enough money made on the endowment to cover the whole mortgage, leaving what is known as a 'shortfall'. Nowadays, plans are set at a growth rate of about 6% so are a lot safer (though i MUST point out that the risk is still there, this is by NO means a recommendation)*************

            The Interest Rate
            There are loads of these about but there are only a few TYPES you can go for.

            Discount/Tracker - This refers to rates which track (or follow) either the Bank of England Base Rate or the providers Standard Variable Rate (SVR). There are usually available for 2-3 years and are NOT fixed. They are usually the cheapest option but if the mortgage rates go uo, so will your mortgage.

            Stepped Discount/Trackers - These rates are the same as above except the deal will be even cheaper at the start but each year the percentage it track the SVR or base rate will change, making your mortgage higher.

            Fixed Rates - These rates do exactly what they say on the tin. They are fixed for a set period and will NOT go up or down with any rate change. They are initially higher than the trackers but if rates shoot up, your mortgage won't.

            With these rates, you may find there is a tie in period where if you were to pay off the mortgage within a set period, you will be charged a penalty. This penalty will usually amount to what you have saved compared to the SVR so that the company can re-coup the benefit they have given you. Make sure you get the advisor to FULLY explain these as they can be costly.

            A newer thing that you can be offered is a flexible mortgage or an offset mortgage. A flexible mortgage is where you can set an agreed limit of borrowing and either pay off as much as you want in overpayments or lump payments to save you money in interest or to fund underpayments on your mortgage for times you think you may be strapped for cash. An offset mortgage is where you can offset your savings or current account against the money you owe so that again you don't pay interest on this amount you have in your savings or bank account. These can all work in very different ways from different providers so again, make sure they are explained fully to you.

            The last part is the mortgage term. This is the amount of time you will spread the payments over and is usually between 5yrs and 35yrs. The longer you take it over the smaller the payments but then the more you will pay in interest. Again, you can ask for advise on this.

            When you decide on this, it will be put in writing to you on a quotation and again when you receive your mortgage offer (after the formal application). Make sure you check these for any mistakes.

            One final thing to look out for in the quotation is the Mortgage Indemnity (MIG) or High Loan to Value Fee. This is a fee some lenders charge to cover the extra risk they take in providing a loan with small deposits. They use the money to pay for an insurance policy to cover any potential losses they may make they need to repossess and when they sell the property they don't make enough money back to cover what you owe. The usually only charge this at a certain lever (if the loan is 90% of the value of the property or more) so it may save you thousands of pounds if you make your loan only 89.9% - usually only a couple of hundred pounds.



            Looking for You New House
            --------------------------------------

            Now that you have a good idea of how much you can borrow and how much it will cost, it's time to get looking! There are various mediums out there to look through from the obvious estate agents, to solicitor firms, property websites, local property newspapers right down to Ebay! It's a good idea to utilise all of these, you never know which one might deliver the house you want.

            I would advise you going round as many properties as you can as this is the best way to be able to compare each one and each visit could throw up different problems with properties that you may not of been aware of in the past. If you are viewing with an agent present, do not let them push you into any commitment at this point and if you are there with the sellers remember they are trying to sell - they may not be entirely truthful with any questions you ask and will have arranged the house in such a way that it looks its best. Don't forget to think about where you would put YOUR stuff and how likely it is that the kitchen will smell of fresh bread every day if you lived there!

            Once you find a house that you like, don't go rushing in and put an offer in. You really should try and go back at least once, 2,3,4 time or more to make absolutely sure. Things you should be concerned at at this point is things like measurements - take a tape measure and details of how big your stuff is, if your thinking of changing things like the kitchen or the bathroom take measurements to go and get rough quotes done, local amenities like schools, shopping, etc, take note of things like how big the garden is, how close to a main road (could be a bad thing if you have kids) and anything else you can think of that you would have to put up with if you were living there. Take a drive in the area at night to see how quite/noisy it is and also when you are not expected to see what the neighbours are like. Don't be shy about knocking on the neighbours door if you want as you will be living next to these people if you buy the house and you don't want them to be the neighbours from hell. Just make sure you are satisfied with everything before making the decision to take it further.



            Making an Offer
            ---------------------

            This is one of the points at which it is different in Scotland so I will deal with that first.

            You will need to have a solicitor to make an offer. You can also get them to put what's called a Note of Interest on any property you are interested in which means that you HAVE to be told of anything that happens ie if any other offers are put in, so that you will still have the chance to get in there if you want. If you want to put in an offer, the solicitor will do that for you and please note that at this point the sale will be LEGALLY BINDING and you can be sued if you try to pull out at this point. So, before putting your offer in you should contact your chosen mortgage provided and ask them to instruct a survey as if you do one after and it turns out to be sinking or worse, you still have to buy it at the agreed price whether it was disclosed or not. In Scotland, unless it a fixed price sale, the situation is an 'offers over' sitiuation.

            You need to be careful here because a lot of the time property's sell for over the valuation price and the mortgage you get will be based on the valuation so you would have to make up any extra, which may not be possible if you had a small deposit to start with.

            When your offer is accepted, you move on to the next stage.


            Back to the other system. Here, you are able to make the offer yourself to the agent who is selling the house who will relay this to the seller to consider. Your offer does not have to come straight in at the asking price unless you really think its worth it or is a hotly contested property. You can start as low as you want but remember to be realistic. The seller may come back and accept straight away but more likely is that they will reject the first offer if below the asking price. It's then up to you to go as high as you think the property is worth or as much as you think will secure the sale for you.

            Unlike in Scotland however, the sale is not binding at this point and will not be until you exchange contracts (more about this later) so if the seller gets an offer from someone else, they can decide to sell the house to them instead. This is known as 'gazumping'. There really is nothing that you can do about this except either up your offer or find another house.

            It is worth noting here for the whole country that your offer can be made stronger by factors like not have another house to sell, or that if you do you have exchanged contacts (ie are in a legally binding contract), or have a quick move in date.

            The Mortgage Application
            ----------------------------------

            Once you have your offer accepted, you can then make your formal mortgage application. If you have not appointed a solicitor, you will need to have one for this part as the mortgage company need to know who it is to be able to transfer the mortgage funds. Make sure you get a FULL quotation from them and that the price they quote you will be the price you pay.

            *****note that it is better to ensure that the solicitor you choose to represent you is on your mortgage providers recommended panel as this will save you money. This is because they can then use some of the legal work done by the solicitor for you rather than them pay another solicitor to do the same work and then pass the charge on to you! Most solicitors are on most panels, so don't worry TOO much about this point but it is worth checking.*******

            The application itself is fairly straightforward, they will ask you details about your work, confirm your income, the house you are buying, direct debit details, etc. Most of this you will know when they ask you so no real need to worry about this bit.

            The will at this point also talk to you about insurances. The types of insurances likely to come up are:-

            Income Protection - designed to cover the monthly mortgage payment should be made redundant or off long term sick

            Life Cover - An insurance designed to pay off the mortgage if you or your partner was to dye during the mortgage term.

            Buildings & Contents Insurance - Insurance to cover the cost of repairing or rebuilding you home or replacing the contents within it.

            *****note - It is more than likely that a condition of the mortgage will be that you have buildings insurance in place form EXCHANGE OF CONTRACTS and not the point you get the keys. This is because after you exchange, even if the house is burnt to the ground you still have to buy it ant the mortgage company will still need ot release the money to you so this is very important for both of you. It is your solicitors responsibility to check this with you but it's better you are aware of it at this point because if you don't take it out with the mortgage provider they will want to know who you ARE going to take it out with.**********

            I could go into each of these insurances in detail but I don't think it is quite as relevant. Again, the advisor will have to be regulated under the FSA to sell insurance and you can request the "advised or non advised" routes the same way as the mortgage and they will be able to go into a lot more depth for you.

            The application will have to go to the underwriters to get final authorisation and you will need to send in certain details for this. This can range from as little as identification (when the underwriting rules allow self certification of you income - i.e you don't need to prove your income) up to 3 months payslips and bank statements to prove to them you can afford it. A tip if you need to send these in is to try your best to keep your bank statements as CLEAN as possible by not going over an agreed overdraft or having anything bounce like cheques or direct debits.

            While the survey will have likely been done in Scotland, this is the point it is instructed (or ordered) for other applications.

            You have a few options on what kind of survey to instruct depending on how comfident you are about the state of the property. The cost of the survey will generally depend on the value of the property.

            A basic survey (called a Valuation for Mortgage Purposes) where the point of the survey is just for the provider to establish the value and re-sale value and does not go into very much depth. Also, while a lot of companies will sent you this report with the offer letter, the don't have to, it is for their benefit only. It is the cheapest option however so if money is tight, it may be the best option.

            Next, you can usually opt for a better survey where the surveyor will write a more in depth report to which you will get a copy. This sometimes also included a years warrantee on the property so that if anything goes wrong they will pay to get it fixed. There are exclusions to this so again, make sure you check what these would be before opting for it.

            You can also get a full structural survey done on the property if you think that there is something that needs checked and don't want to risk it. Now while these are expensive (can run into the thousands) they could save you a lot of money in the long run if they turn up something seriously wrong. The provider will give you a list of surveyors in the area they will accept a survey from so you can still shop around for the best deal.




            Exchange of Contracts/Signing of the Missives
            ---------------------------------------------------------------

            These are both essentially the same thing except that where in Scotland you are already legally bound to the sale, the exchange of contracts in England Wales and N Ireland is the point at which this happens. You will have received an official offer of loan from your provider which details the mortgage you are taking which your solicitor will go through with you to explain all the fine print.

            Once this is signed and returned, and everyone is satisfied, the solicitor will arrange for you to sign all the relevant papers for the exchange, carry out the required legal work and everything is pretty much ready to go!


            The Big Day
            ----------------

            After ALL the stuff above has been done, the solicitor will organise with the rest of your chain (your buyer and the person you are buying from) for everything to go through on the same day. This will mean that you will buy and sell at the same time (known as simultaneous completion) and you can move in. It is a VERY good idea to get everything properly prepared for this day which you will be told in advance. Make sure your removals firm is booked, you have time off work, and you will be fully packed as if you can't move your stuff this can cause problems!!

            Other than that, you will now be the proud owner of a new home!

            Sometimes things can go wrong and you are not able to complete the sale at the same time (i.e your buyer pulled out and you won't have sold your house) but if this happens your solicitor should be able to advise the best course of action. It is very difficult to explain what happens here as each situation is different. All I can say is that although it does happen, it is quite rare. I have had only a handful of customers in this situation in my time as a mortgage advisor out of literally thousands of customers who had no problem.


            Now, I know this review may make the process look very complicated but thats only because I have tried to talk about EVERYTHING that it involves. Your mortgage advisor should be fully trained to help you every step of the way and do not feel scared to contact them and NEVER feel like you are bothering them, it's their job and they are there to help you.


            I hope this review is of help to people whether they are looking to buy their first home or a second or subsequent one and if you have ANY questions, please get in contact with me.

            Thanks for reading and if I've missed anything please let me know!

            drew

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            • Skype / Utility / 55 Readings / 43 Ratings
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              07.02.2006 23:39
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              The new way to communicate the world over.

              How many of us here have a home phone? How many of you have a mobile? Well, if you thought that was all you really need, there is a new phenomenon sweeping the net at the moment that looks like its going to prove to be the next big thing in communication technology.

              For years I have been chatting away to mates on Yahoo or MSN via their voice chat facilities. I have mates all over the world and this has literally saved me a small fortune. However the quality of the 'calls' really wasn't ever up to much. That, and the fact that you had to always click the 'talk' button every time you wanted to say something, kinda stifled the conversation in my opinion.

              Now we have VOIP. Voice Over Internet Protocall isn't really a new thing as such, however since the widespread takeup of broadband all over the world, it is really starting to pull in the masses and works by utilising P2P (peer to peer) protocalls so that you can effectively connect with another persons computer and talk freely without any of the obstacles of a messenger program.

              The leader in the field at the moment, seems to be Skype. Recently bought by internet giants ebay, this program is the first truly accessible program for the masses to enjoy long (or short!) distance free phonecalls to anyone who happens to be running the software at the same time.

              So how do I get it?
              *******************

              Well that's easy enough, just go to www.skype.com and on the homepage there is a handy link for you to get it straight away. Once you have downloaded and ran the set up wizard, you are pretty much ready to go! In the wizard, it should let you choose your skype sign in name and then let you set up how the world can see you. You can be visible with whatever name you want and this is what will show in the skype directory. All you really need is a microphone and speakers however you can purchase specially designed USB handsets that look just like a traditional phone, or you can buy skype branded headsets. I have just stuck with my stereo and mic as I quite like the hands free aspect.

              How easy is it to use?
              ************************

              It really couldn't be easier. The best way I can describe the interface is that of a messenger program. In the skype window you have all the usual messenger stuff like add a contact, conference, chat and search. Then, you have the section where your contacts are stored. Again like any messenger, you can group your contacts depending on who they are (ie family, friends etc) and when someone is online, it will tell you. You also have the option to change your online setting so that people can see if you are about or not. In addition, you also have a call history and a tab with a telephone key pad on it for when you want to dial a traditional phone number (more about that later). To call someone, all you really need to do double click on the contact that you want to phone, and it will connect for you. It will ring on their end and they (if they want to talk to you!) just need to click on answer and that's about it. A handy feature is conference calls where you can add in anyone on your contact list to have a group conversation. The quality is still the same and best of all, its still free!

              There is a very limited chat feature on here, but to be honest I have not had any real reason to use it. You basically highlight the name of the person you want to type to, hit chat in the toolbar, and its ready to go. Personally, I prefer MSN over all of the messengers around so I tend to have that open at the same time and leave Skype to its intended purpose - actually talking. That goes for the webcam too by the way, it can be used in skype but I prefer to have that running in MSN.

              If you do find that you are having problems, there is a very comprehensive help and trouble shooting section in the main site which will ask you a series of questions to get to the solution for you. It also has a feature where you can phone their answering service and it will play back what you said so that you can test to see if your configuration is working properly.

              What was this you said about a directory?
              ****************************************
              I'm glad you asked! When I first started using it before it was taken over by ebay, I was a bit worried about crank calling. When you go into a search, you can search on username obviously, but also on location and it will bring up a whole load of names who have skpye installed and are online. I had visions of numerous crank callers talking in foreign tongues so I very rarely signed into it. This has changes however as you need to accept another user in order for you to receive a call from them and vice versa. If you have chosen to put your normal numbers in, you can choose to show them in the directory or only to people who you have allowed into your contacts so this really isn't a problem now. You can, if you are bored, go into 'skype me' mode however and this allows you to be seen publicly and contacted by anyone who feels like it though so far I have chickened out of that facility!

              Can I call someone who isn't online?
              ***********************************

              Absolutely. While using skype to call other computers is free, there is a low cost option where you can phone literally any phone number (landline or mobile) throughout the whole world and this does work out MUCH cheaper than any landline company can offer. The call it 'skype out' and the cost is split into two sections. The global rate covers Europe, North America (inc Canada), parts of Asia and Auztralia and that is set at 0.017 (about £0.012) Euro's per minute to anywhere that falls within this. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but that works out cheaper than a local call in the UK. The other section is labelled 'other destinations' and on the rates page on skype.com, you can get a complete run down of all the costs. They still seem mighty cheap though. To use this, you need to buy credit in advance in 10 Euro bundles but I actually prefer this as your balance is always visable in your skype window and you never run the risk of running up a high bill as you can see what you are spending. The only thing is though is that the credit does have an expiry date which is set at 6 months at the moment. This is a problem as it never seems to go down very much! I have been phoning landlines for a few months now and I still have a healthy balance….!

              You can if you wish sigh up for extras on your skype account that lets people on traditional phones call your computer which they call 'skype in'. To do this, you have to rent a line however and they will assign you a new telephone number. It costs 10 Euros for three months or 30 Euros for 12 months however the major advantage of this is that if you get a local number (ie if I got an 0141 for Glasgow prefix) then I could basically sign in anywhere in the world and if someone from Glasgow phones me on that number, it would only cots them the price of a local call and nothing extra for me. This feature is bound to be of great use to someone who travels around the world however it DOES work in the reverse such that if you are in a foreign country and THEY phone your local number, they will get charged the international rates. I am not sure about the policy on multiple accounts, but I am sure it must be possible to basically have a number for a few different countries to get over that problem. They also include a free voicemail service with 'skype in'.

              So what is the call quality like?
              ************************************

              I can honestly say that it is better than most normal phone calls I make. This could be because I have my compute hooked up to my stereo however, but then you don't have that option with a standard phone so I would still count that as better overall. The only time I have had a break in the service is if I am maxing out my bandwidth by downloading some hefty files at the same time however I have learned to turn off other P2P software and this has sorted the problem. I wouldn't recommend it for dial up users though, I tried to have a conversation with a mate who was using dial up and it just wasn't worth it. Lots of lag and breaks in her voice which just made it rather pointless. But with other broadband users, it is hard to fault it. I would suggest getting a dedicated microphone however, I tried it using the mic in my webcam but the quality was only so so, but when I switched to the stand alone mic, it works like a treat.



              There really isn't much else to the program, it is very simple to use and has the potential to save people an absolute fortune in telephone bills, especially if you make a lot of long distance calls. I have awarded this 5 stars as so far it has yet to let me down and has meant I can keep in touch with people around the world far easier and cheaper than I could in the past.

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              • NHS 24 / Local Service / 44 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                28.01.2006 02:29
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                An impressive, and useful service.

                I don’t know about you, but when I feel unwell, I have a large tendency to fear the worse and think that I am at best going to suffer my symptoms for a long time or at worse end up in hospital or something similar. For me, I think it is a personality trait and while maybe not a great one, it is there and can cause panic and distress at times that I could be doing with knowing that everything will be ok.

                Up until a couple of years ago, if something like this were to have happened to me, I would most likely sit in a blind panic over what to do. Since I know that I can be this way, I would try my hardest not to get my flatmate to drive me to A & E as I really didn’t want to waste their time however this would just make me get even more worried as I would not be in a position to know if it would pass or not and a couple of times I have went along to the local hospital just to put my mind at ease. However, when the flatmate I had who could drive moved out, I was a bit worried about what I would do if I had any problems in the middle of the night again.

                Thankfully, the NHS 24 service was set up.

                The service is similar to what you guys down south will know as NHS Direct. First set up in Grampian in 2002, the service has steadily grown through their ‘roll out’ and now handles more that 50,000 call per month.

                What does it do then?
                ********************

                I think the most basic function of the service is really to provide some advice to people who need it outside of their GP’s business hours as in area’s where the service is provided, when you phone your GP at out of office hours, you are automatically transferred to them. I personally have never actually phoned my surgery other to make appointments so really don’t know how much help this has been however for people who do use phone their GP’s during the day are most likely to have found this useful. It also means that these people can now use this service through the day for their problems meaning that the doctors are free to carry out consultations.

                It is much more than this though. It can also provide useful health information for things such as healthy eating, giving up smoking, advise on drug abuse, the number for late night chemists and a whole host of other things.

                What Happens when I phone?
                ****************************

                Well, the first thing to mention would be the number. It is 08454 242424 (text phone 18001 08454242424) and it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The aim to answer 90 % all calls within 30 seconds, and so far, their record sits at 98%, which is very impressive. I have never had to wait to get through to them, and hold time is kept to the bare minimum when you speak to them. They also work on a virtual basis so that if the call centre in your area is busy, then another one can pick up the call to avoid any queues from forming.

                First point of call will be a call handler. The call handlers job is to take a few basic details from you (name, address, telephone number, GP and any medication you are on) and then ask you what you are calling for. Depending on that, they will then refer you to the correct person to help with your problem. They can refer you to one of three different people, if you are having a serious problem they will refer you to the Scottish Ambulance Service. If it is still a medical problem, but they don’t think you would need immediate medical attention, they will refer to to one of the nurses they have in the call centre. If it is just for general health advice, they can put you through to a health advisor who will give you the advise that you need (i.e smoking, late night chemists etc).

                Every time I have phoned, I have been put through to a nurse. The total number of calls that are referred to the Ambulance Service or A & E comes to about 5% of the total calls so it is good to know that the service is able to deal with so many calls itself, which has resulted in less time being wasted by the overstretched Ambulance staff.

                The nurses, while not actually being able to diagnose illnesses, are able to give advice based on what you tell them and give you details of what you can do to help. If they think you should see someone, they are able to arrange for the out of hours GP on duty from your practise to call you and arrange to come and see you. They also of course, refer you to the Ambulance Service or local A & E if they think this action is required.

                I have found the nurses to be brilliant. It’s all done on a first name basis, and so far each one I have talked to has done a fantastic job in calming me down. On one occasion, not long after I was diagnosed with suffering from panic attacks, I phoned up at about 4am in such a state you would not believe it. The nurse I was put though to was very understanding and due to the fact that I knew that that was what I was having, there was very little he could do but confirm that I was right and talk to me until I calmed down. He offered me advise on things that I could do to help me calm down in the first instance and then offered talked to me about other ways to deal with them. The problem in that instance was that my beta blockers had had no effect whatsoever and this had made me even worse, initially thinking that there must be something else. He calmly explained that that medication will not always be effective and that if they were not working, then it would be a good idea to go back to my GP and discuss other options. He also arranged for information on stress and panic attacks to be sent to me, which arrived a few days later.

                The most recent time I phoned (Thursday morning at 5am) was due to me taking to many of my anti depressants (prescribed after the above incident) by mistake. I wouldn’t say that I was having an attack, but I was pretty damn worried about the consequences and had experienced some pretty bad side effects. I went through the process and got put through to a lovely nurse called Liz who took the exact details of my pills, looked them up comparing the doses, and came back to me to tell me that I would be fine. She told me what I could expect in terms of side effects and told me that if they were still happening after a certain time to contact my GP. She even said that she would fax the details to my GP so that it could be kept on file. Again, she was so nice and did a very good job of reassuring me that everything would be ok.

                I must point out at this point that if you would rather that your GP was not made aware of your call, you can opt for this and the service will treat your enquiry confidentially.



                All in all, I think this is an excellent service and I for one would miss it tremendously if it were not there. The service they give is second to non and for me, the off shoot that the emergency services are left to deal with more serious calls is fantastic. I can honestly not think of any drawbacks or cons at all and would urge everyone to have a note of their number handy to call for any health related problems or questions.

                They also have an excellent website at www.nhs24.com which gives information on the service.

                Oh, and also for those not in Scotland, the NHS Direct number is 08454647 although I cannot comment on this service as it is not available up here but I would imagine it works along the same principle.

                Thanks for reading and take care ya’all!

                drew

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                • earth.google.com / Internet Site / 48 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                  20.01.2006 03:13
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                  An intriging look at the planet we live on with fantasic features and possibilities

                  How many of us has wondered what our house would look like from space? What the area from above actually looks like to impending invasion? How much easier would it be to plan a route that we intend to travel if we could actually see what the route looks like? Well, thanks to the seemingly endless innovative talents of the guys at google, we now can.

                  Enter GoogleEarth. After Google took bought over a little known application called Keyhole in late 2004, they set to work googleizing it, adding more and more data, and have now released it as a free downloadable application that anyone with a half decent graphics card and a broadband connection can enjoy. Basically, GoogleEarth works as a collection of images taken from satellites all collated together so that anyone with the aforementioned technology can literally zoom into any part of the world they want to. The main thing that this joining of technology means for the masses is that the excellent technology developed for keyhole, can now be used in tandem with the (now legendary) searching capability of google.

                  Still currently released as a beta program (not fully tested so they get the general public to test it for them) the program can be downloaded from http://earth.google.com. I have only so far downloaded the free version however you can opt for the plus version at $20 (giving you GPRS and apparently better printing options) or Pro version at $400 (cited as being for commercial use). The download itself is 400 MB and there are some technical specs that they advise you have. It will only run on Windows 2000/XP or Mac OS X for starters, it requires minimum processor speed of 600 MHz, a minimum RAM of 128 MB, screen resolution of 1024x768 (32 bit colour) and an internet connection speed of 128 Kbps. Luckily, if that is double dutch to you, they give a guide that if your computer is more than 4yrs old, it is very unlikely to work, and if its about 2yrs old, it MAY work. Also, if you are on dail-up, forget it as you are just not going to be able to cope with the imaging at all. If you are on the threshold of these specs, then it is likely that the program will run a bit slower than if you were way over them. My desktop has 1500MB of RAM however my laptop only has 512MB, and I did notice the difference. And if you are running other programs, this is likely to slow things down further. So my advice here would be to make sure that if you are planning on touring the globe with it on a low spec machine, don’t have your browser open at the same time.

                  So, now that the technical junk is out of the way, its time to fly. And I mean this literally. Once you have installed the program and opened it, you are faced with a neat interface with a picture of the Earth as we know it in front of you. So where do you start with the world at your fingertips?! If you are in the UK, then the best thing I would suggest is typing on your postcode in the search box at the top left and see what happens. After you have hit the return key (or search if you are an ingrained mouse user) the program will kick into life. It will likely start over the US (as most things do these days!) and they gradually the earth will spin round to show the UK, at the same time zooming in on the area that the postcode is located. Now, even on the fastest internet connection (I’m on 8MEG) the image WILL look a bit blurry when it first stops on the postcode you selected. At this point, there is a small bit of streaming info at the bottom of the image view that will tell you how much of the download is completed. For me, it takes about 10 to 20 seconds to catch up, so if you have a slower connection it will take a bit longer. This is where the first downside of the beta program may come into play. When I first started using the program in the summer of 04, my home city of Glasgow was not mapped very well. What this means is that google had not bought up to date images of my city that gave a clear resolution of where I lived. This has since been rectified and when I put my postcode in the market actually shows directly above my bathroom window however some areas of the UK are still not as clear as they will eventually be. This is because Google have to actually buy the digital images from space from companies who have taken them and they are updating all the time as they continue to buy them. However, this may take a while as they do have the whole world to cover!

                  So, your home is not quite clear yet, so is it worth it? Well yes. At the moment from want I can see, most of the major urban areas of the UK have been updated to an impressive standard so zooming about just for the fun if it, is in fact, fun. Using your mouse’s middle scroller (can’t say I know how this will work on the MAC version), you basically scroll down to zoom in, and then scroll up to zoom out. You can also hit the left button and drag to move the screen about. The best I can liken the action to is a PDF document where you can scroll up and down with the mouse. Also, you can type in place names in the search box and it will take you there.

                  One hint here though, is that sometimes you are best searching for something with the map over the general area that you know it to be. This is because the search facility seems to search the immediate area for anything similar before going to what may be the most obvious location.

                  A pretty neat feature of the program that can be turned on or off when you are zooming around is the ‘terrain’ layer. What this means is that you can actually have a 3D image of certain terrains (maps permitting of course) that you can see. Coupled with the tilt function (where you can tilt the angle of the image) this means you really can get the feel for the location you are looking at. The best images for this that I have seen are the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam.

                  But is that it? Hell no! The application is integrated with an awful lot of very useful things. On the left hand side of the image, is a box that has a plethora of different tick boxes in it. These tick boxes have things such as hotels, pubs, banks/ATM’s, schools, roads, churches, you name it, it’s likely there. These are called ‘layers’ and are as they sound. You can have as many layers on as you like, or as few. The main advantage to this is that if you were going to a different place, and you wanted to know (for example) where all the banks were in the area, all you would do is to put that layer on and zoom into where you are going, and there would be markers showing exactly where the banks are located. Another option you can do is to just put that in the search box. For example, type in London and Banks, and it takes you to London and shows you place marks of different banks around about the Hyde Park area.

                  Want to know the directions from one pace to another? Well all you need to do is to type them both into the search box and type ‘to’ in between. This will then show you the way to go to get from where you are to where you want to go. This uses the road feature which actually shows the name of every street, road and motorway using the proper name or number (eg M4 etc). In the left panel, it will show you each step and if you double click on the step, it will take you to it. Then when you double click on the next one, it will zoom out and follow the course and actually show you what the route looks like to get to that step. Beats AA route finder hands down!

                  The application itself gives you various other options that you can use. Like most programs, if you hit F11 on your keyboard, it will give you the full screen view without all the toolbars and options so your entire monitor can be taken up with the different place you zoom about to. If you want to bookmark a certain place, all you do it hit the right mouse mountain and it gives you the option to do so in the context menu. On the free version, the printing option is not that great and if I have wanted to save an image, I have found that the best thing to do is to hit the print screen button in the full screen mode and then paste it into Paint and save it that way. However, you can save it as a Kmz file (the file name for a google earth application) in a specific folder that when you open, will direct google earth directly to that point.

                  As with any program, there is major help and support for it. The help pages provided by google are very comprehensive however you will rarely find any need to use them if I am being honest. As with most Google programs, this is very easy to use and pretty self explanatory. And finding out the best bits of it are actually more fun if you just fly over the earth and search for things you want to see.

                  A very useful site to visit in conjunction with the program however is www.googleearthhacks.com. On this site (which is unofficial) you can find help with almost any problems you will come across but the best bit, is that it has a forum there where people post the Kmz files that they have found. In here I have found files that show pictures of World War 2 bombers flying overhead a city, Google’s headquarters in California, basecamp for Mount Everest, and many, many more. When you click on the file in the post, it will automatically instruct googleearth to fly to that point to show you the weird and whacky anomalies or sites that can be found worldwide.

                  Ok. I have gone on a bit here to be fair, however this program is one of the most engaging and interesting online tools I have used, so my enthusiasm for it can easily be forgiven. In my opinion, this is very much the future for so many different uses. I have even managed to find an RSS feed to install into it that gives me live news feed from an area (ie when I zoom in somewhere, if something newsworthy is going on, it will tell me with a marker). The possibilities are endless and its no surprise that Microsoft are currently scrambling to release their version as soon as they possible can.

                  So to conclude, I just cannot give this less than 5 stars. Yes, some areas are not quite as good a resolution as others but that just doesn’t stop you getting lost in it for hours. If you have the proper specifications on your PC, then I urge to have a look at this program and see exactly what it has to offer.

                  Happy flying!


                  Drew :o)

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                  • More +
                    15.12.2005 11:38
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                    Still as griping and magical as I remember it.

                    As evacuees from London in the second world war, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy find themselves in a grand mansion in the country. Put up by a rather eccentric old professor, they find that the housekeeper takes an instant dislike to them and in order to escape her wrath they must try and amuse themselves away from wherever she may be.

                    So, one day as they are pottering about exploring in the upstairs of the house, they find an empty room with a large oak wardrobe. Taking no notice, three of them turn and continue to explore however the youngest, Lucy, decides to take a look inside to see what is there, not realising the adventure she has set in motion for herself and her siblings…..



                    While shopping in Asda the other day, I was given a right blast from the past with the cover of this particular DVD. Out from the shelves, stared the White Witch – a woman who had scared the life out of me as a youngster! So, £11.99 later, I was back at home eager to re-live what I remembered as one of the most enjoyable childrens dramatisations I could remember.

                    The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is a BBC dramatisation of the second book in the much loved series The Chronicles of Narnia and for me, was the reason I read the books in the first place so its for that reason I hold the program so high up in my memories of my childhood. The screenplay was written by Alan Seymour (based on the book written by the wonderful C.S Lewis) and his influence can easily be seen by looking at his later work on the House of Elliot as he works hard to capture the essence of the time in which it was based and very much succeeds in this.

                    The costumes design fits very nicely with the writing of Seymour with the children dressed in kids clothes of the time and with nice details such as the gas mask boxes they carry from leaving London up to the arrival at the manor house. In Narnia, the costumes are wonderfully overstated and very much convey the fantasy land as a place full of eccentric and pantomime like characters, giving the feeling of how Britain would actually have been like in the time of Kings, Queens and Knights of the round table! Looking at it now however, I do feel that the beaver costumes were a little over the top and unfortunately, they do seem to hinder the characters who play them however they do their best to get over the rather restrictive costumes they have to wear.

                    The acting in the piece is actually quite hard to characterise. As a child, I remember wanting nothing more than to have been one of the kids in the tale and at that point they all seemed quite old to me. Now, they are obviously very young really and while they do an admirable job there will always be the ‘overacting’ problem that happens in many films and TV shows that children have to be cast in. The adult characters however could not have been cast better in my opinion. Undoubtedly stealing the show was Barbara Kellerman’s portrayal of the White Witch. From reading the book the character was always meant to be played with over the top theatrics with the sheer evilness of the character at the very forefront of the dialogue. She manages to carry off the load booming shouts and cries while showing the manipulative and calculating tactics of her bribery of Edmund in fantastic style. Her interaction with the other characters around her is superb and she succeeded in making me feel a little scared of her even now! Michael Aldridge (Seymour in Last of the Summer Wine) is marvellous at showing us the eccentricity of the Professor and a great at showing us how to truly confuse a bunch of kids when they are trying to explain what in there mind, should be utter nonsense!

                    The special effects are to be fair, quite awful! As a child, I cannot remember this affecting my viewing pleasure however now, they really do stand out like a sore thumb against todays technical wizardry. A lot of the mystical creatures and animals are shown through animation placed on top of the live action shots and even at that, the animation isn’t actually that good. It’s not in the piece too much, but when it is, it did distract me slightly from what was actually going on. The Lion Aslan however, was actually not too bad. Obviously not a real lion, the puppetry was smooth and (kinda) realistic and the actual look was very close to what you would imagine a lion would look like that close.

                    The DVD itself is actually a bit of a disappointment on two counts. The first is that they really haven’t seemed to put much effort into the digital re-mastering as at various points throughout the DVD the colour is a bit off and is reminiscent of a old and worn video tape. At first I thought this may have just been my copy however a friend of mine has since commented that her copy was the same. There are also practically no extras at all on this which is a shame as I do remember watching some programs as a youngster about how they made the show, the lion etc. They do have a gallery but I have never really seen the point of these to be honest as if you want a picture, you can usually just go online and get one and these are stuck on the DVD so of no other use to you! Other than that though, the menus are straightforward enough and its only a few clicks until you are watching the show.

                    To conclude, even though watching as an adult there are some things that are not quite right about it (i.e the special effects) and the DVD quality is far from great, I still watched all six episodes in succession and was just as gripped to it as I was all those years ago. I do feel however that that has a lot to do with the fact that I have such a fond memory of it and youngsters now would now be quite as forgiving. Therefore, I would say that if you saw this when it was originally screened and loved it like I did, then it’s a must. Other than that, it is still enjoyable however you may just wonder about those special effects!

                    On rating, I have decided to give it 4 stars as it really could have been re-mastered better.

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                      10.10.2005 21:38
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                      A nice way to end somewhere in the middle.....

                      War is in full swing in the Republic, a far far away galaxy from our own. The Jedi Knights are fighting side by side with the soldiers from the Republic to try and regain peace against the threat of the separatists from the Trade Federation. Obi Wan Kenobi is landed with the missions to save the Chancellor of the Senate from the dark force after he was captured, and flanked by his student Anakin Skywalker, he flies into enemy territory. Will their efforts pay off and start the Jedi and the Republic on the road to peace? Will he still be able to keep control of the young Skywalker as once again he defies his orders in the battle? And ultimately, will good triumph over the perceived evil they are facing?



                      I defy anyone to say that they know nothing about the Star Wars saga. Having been around in some form or another for nearly 30 years, this 'episode', has been a long time coming and has been billed as giving the answers to all the questions that the original trilogy of films posed.

                      After what has been generally accepted as a disappointing couple of films by George Lucas, I was very hopeful that the third in his series of 'prequals' would live up to the hype that has surrounded it. In essence, it was THE Star Wars episode that all fans were waiting for. However did he pull it of?

                      Plot
                      ********

                      To describe the plot is any kind of detail, would give away too much about what happens in the later films. The best that I can think of, is that it does pretty much clear up everything that I can remember of the films I watched as a very young boy. I have deliberately waited for this film to come out before re-visiting the earlier three films as I didn't want to be sitting the whole way through the film waiting for things to happen to explain them. I am very glad that I did this. Watching the plot unfold, I found myself remembering different parts to the story and having various un-answered questions answered without me knowing it and feel that the plot development did move in such a way that people who are not fully aware of later goings on, would actually be able to enjoy this for what it is truly should be, a continuation of the previous, yet later made, films.

                      Characters
                      ****************

                      For those of you who have seen the previous efforts, you will know the characters pretty well. We have all the Jedi masters from the previous films, Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor), Yoda et al, and their continuing mistrust of the Chancellor follows on through the course of the story. Obi Wan is still mentoring the young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and the bond that the two have developed is very well portrayed by the actions of the two in the various battles they partake in. We get to see Chancellor Palpadine (Iain McDiarmid) tighten his grip on the power he has over the Republic and the characters trustworthyness is very much brought to the fore as his relationship with Skywalker develops. I didn't personally care much for the love story side of the characters of Skywalker and Padme (Natalie Portman) and felt that the characters well just not that realistic in how they were written. While yes it was obviously an important part of the story, the dialogue reminded me of some awful American teen TV show and could have been handled in a more intelligent way. In previous films, Padme was an important character and her wisdom was apparent. She just seemed like a necessary yet unwanted side show for the plot, and feel this could have been done better.I have read a lot about how the humour of the droids that was worked in the film just didn't work however I have to disagree. I very much liked the one liners that they came out with earlier on in the film, and gave them a much needed personality that I think fitted well along side the, now well known, personality of the droids R2D2 and C3PO that most people are accustomed too. Before, when the other droids were mindless robots, the two well known ones just seemed to stick out for me, whereas now, it is more believable that they have these qualities.


                      Direction
                      **************

                      As well as being written by George Lucas it was, like the other films, directed by him too. This shone though in the film but not always for good reason. While I do feel that it was quite a spectacular feature, one that really should be seen in the cinema for full effect, I do think that he reverted to a bit of over indulgence on the part of the special effects, and after the criticisms of the previous two films, I had hoped he would take this on board. The special effects were very well done but at a couple of points, it all moved just that little bit too fast for me, and I was left wondering if I had missed something as to how they got out of that particular predicament. I also think there was a major error at the beginning with regards to the enemy ship going down on the planet, as we ALL know that there is no gravity in space, so why would they all fall when it is attacked and ends up on its side? The CGI was for the most part, very effective but at the beginning, I did fell that the first couple of times the Jedi's jumped down a great height, it was a bit fake looking. Having said that, when I start to watch the originals again, I know I will be wishing they had the same technology back then! Of course the standard short scenes with little dialogue were used throughout the film, Lucas and Star Wars just wouldn't be the same without them, although some were just that little to bit short for my liking, but on the whole the worked well and continued what Star Wars has been in the past and firmly stamped his name on the feature.

                      Acting
                      ***********

                      Overall, this was good with a couple of people standing out for me. Christensen, while improving dramatically from the previous film, was still rather wooden for me although he seems to have managed to perfect the evil and confused look rather well. Portman managed the best with what she was given, but I really didn't manage to build any empathy for the character as she just seemed to be either loved up or whiney about her troubled husband. I did feel that McGregor did very well at a rather dead pan Kenobi, managing to get in some subtle humour along the way however the star of the show for me was without a doubt Ian McDiarmid who was outstanding in the part of the Chancellor. He carried off the part with just the right amount of mysteriousness and the development of the character was handled spectacularly.

                      Soundtrack
                      *****************

                      You really cannot talk about Star Wars without mentioning the famous soundtrack. The opening credits of course booms out the now very well known orchestral piece, and thoughout the film the music carries on with the orchestral theme although I have to say there were some instances where I couldn't help but recognise what I though were musical themes from other music. I doubt this would have been intentional, however for a film that has always had a distinct sound I was slightly miffed at this. Of course the famous death march was ushered in at the end, it just wouldn't have been the same without it!

                      Conclusion
                      ***************

                      So, did the film answer those well known questions from years ago? Did it manage to stand on its own two feet as a film in its own right? I would have to say yes, is most definitely did. Where the previous two films were too obvious in the fact that they were there to set up the story, this one took the lead in giving fans and non fans loads of stuff to think about when re-visiting (or watching for the first time) the last three episodes and sets the scene up nicely for the episode four to finally have the correct place in the saga. I would so like to give the film five stars, however with the few points I have made above, I do feel that four stars is more appropriate.

                      Do go and see this at the cinema though, I do feel that it may loose a bit of the magic if you wait for DVD.

                      May the force be with you.


                      drew

                      (p.s - this is a film only review)

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                      • More +
                        01.08.2005 00:46
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                        A great place to make your holiday want you want it to be.

                        Nestled in the hills above Turkey’s most famous beach (the Blue Lagoon at Olu Deniz), Hisaronu offers its visitors an interesting complimentary range of possibilities. Having just returned from a week of glorious sunshine there I think it would be a good idea to let you know just why that simply wasn’t enough time and why I am sure I will be making the 4 hour flight back there at some point in the future.

                        Weather
                        ***********
                        One thing that everyone should be aware of before travelling here is that if you go here in the summer, its gonna be hot. Having just been there in July, the temperature was about 40 degrees at the bottom end, and 45 at the other end of the scale. Here is where Hisaronu’s first advantage comes in. As it is set up in the hills of the area, it is a little cooler than down at sea level but also there is an intermittent breeze at most times through the day and at about 2pm, this is such a welcome thing. You can experience the heat without the breeze by going down to the beach at Olu Deniz where there is no wind at all and trust me, you will be right back on that Dolmus (local bus) up the hill for respite! The sun goes down at about 7.30/8pm and at that point the temperature is very pleasant and walking around in a t-shirt and shorts/jeans is best.

                        Location
                        ************
                        Set in the south west of the country known as the Turquoise Coast, Hisaronu is in the main tourist area of Turkey. Flying into Dalaman airport, you will find that it takes about an hour and a half transfer time by coach to get there.

                        It is worth mentioning a few points about the airport itself here though as it is going through major renovations at the moment. Just now it does feel rather small, crowded, dirty and rather lacking in technology. For example, my boarding card for my return flight was actually hand written which is something I have never come across in the past. The toilets quite frankly stank and the waiting areas for boarding were tiny. Also, when returning from your holiday make sure you take food with you as it actually costs about £5 just for a slice of pizza and believe it or not, a Burger King meal actually cost £12. Duty free however IS cheaper than in the resorts so it may be worth holding out for here to buy your cigarettes and alcohol if you can. The renovations are due to be completed by the beginning of 2006 so for next summer this should be a lot better.

                        The transfer to the resort very much highlights how much money is being poured into the area to try and boost tourism in Turkey. In every resort we passed through there are new buildings being built, new roads and tunnels being built and existing roads being upgraded. We arrived in Hisaronu at about 1am so it was obviously dark but the initial impression was that this village had not escaped the barrage of building work. Luckily, in the light of day we found that this work was not intrusive into our holiday at all however the sheer number or estate agents in such a small place offering holiday apartments for sale was quite surprising.

                        As a base for the area, you would be hard pushed to find a better location as there are plenty of busses running down to Olu Deniz (2.5 new Turkish lire) and along to Fethiye (3 new Turkish Lire) both taking about 10 to 15 minutes each way.

                        A very good aspect of the location is that the scenery is nothing short of spectacular here. Rolling green hills leading right down to the water fronts leaving small coves and beaches everywhere are idyllic while the resorts themselves are all set on the few flat areas there are meaning that there is never a very steep hill to walk up.

                        What can I do there?
                        ***********************
                        A better question would probably be what CANT you do here! It has to be said that if you come here you truly do have the option to do as little or as much as you want. Following on from the location, the fact that it is set in rolling hills, means that there are various different sports available for the more adventurous traveller.

                        Walking down the main street in Hisaronu, apart from all the estate agents, there are also various ‘travel agencies’ who basically act as agents for all the various activities. This means that you are usually in a very good position to negotiate a good price. In the list you have the option to try Paragliding from one of the highest paragliding points around the Mediterranean (about £50), whitewater rafting (about £45), either a beginners try dive or more difficult dives in full scuba gear (about £35), a jeep safari through traditional Turkish Villages and then up into the mountains (about £12), various boat cruises around the area (from about £25 depending on the cruise) and loads more. As I said, there are various people all along the main road in the resort who WILL try to stop you and ask you ‘how many days do you have left’ so there is plenty of opportunity to book the trips that you want to do. A good thing about almost all of the trips is that they usually come with transport direct from the hotel you are staying in to where the activity takes place and back again. Also, the majority of them include lunch and a couple of drinks as well, so on the most part, they are pretty good value.

                        Personally, I had a go at Scuba Driving and would highly recommend this. For the money you pay you get two dives with all the equipment included. I would suggest making sure that the organisers are PADI qualified however and also that you do get English speaking guides as another person in my complex had a nightmare time as he couldn’t really communicate very well which is not what you want as it really is quite complicated. It’s well worth it though as I was able to dive to about 10 meters and you get to feed the fish down there. My trip was with a company called ‘Pro-Diving’ and I would highly recommend them as they took very good care of us. We sailed at about 9am and arrived at the dive site and then went through everything that we need to know and then went for our first dive. It was in a lovely cove with fantastically clear water that was just the right temperature. A good thing if you have mates who don’t want to dive is that they can come on the boat trip for £12 and snorkel on the surface so that people don’t feel left out!! All in all, it was a very long day with us not returning to the hotel until about 7pm at night so I would advise packing at least something to eat as you only get lunch provided with everything else needing to be paid for.

                        The other trip that I tried was the Paragliding. This is only for a couple of hours as you basically get driven to the jump site, given basic training, then you are off! Is a tandem dive with an experienced person taking all the controls so there really wasn’t much for them to tell you to be honest. This is the best way to see the famous blue lagoon as you ride the air currents for about half an hour from the top until you land on the beach at Olu Deniz at the bottom. A good one here is that you can take your own photo’s so you are not hit with those tempting action shots at the bottom where you are charged a fortune for them.

                        As I was only there a week, I left it at just the two trips but I was told that the Jeep Safari is well worth trying as you get to see some of the real Turkey as well as an ancient ruin whereas I had to make do with the ones that are built into the hills in Fethiye. So that left me with basically relaxing around the pool for most of the week apart from the day I mentioned farther back where we went to the beach. Other than that every Monday there is a market where you can go and haggle for loads of designer rip off clothes and other trinkets. There are a few good buys (I got a marble chess set for about £8) but most of the fun is in the haggling and banter with the traders. They are very much aware of the fact that it is mostly a British resort as there are people shouting ‘cheap as chips’ and ‘cheaper than ASDA’ all over the place and I actually say one of them do the famous slap the bum move with an ASDA top on!

                        At night time, the resort comes alive so to speak but for me it was far too reminiscent of somewhere like Benidorm where its basically run for the tourists with flashing lights and loud music (that’s about 4 years out of date!) everywhere. Best thing is to go out for dinner just before the sun goes down at around about 7pm where it is still a bit quiet or head down to Olu Deniz where it is a bit more relaxed. There is plenty of choice for what to eat with various country food offered. One thing that amused me was the Turkish interpretation of Chinese all you can eat. Here, rather than a buffet they have a set menu where you can choose two dishes (a starter and a main course with either rice or noodles) but while you can eat as much as you want you have to finish that course before they will take another order from you. Very effective as by the end of the second course you are very unlikely to be able to manage another! It is about £8 though and you do get a bottle of wine between two in most places. Other than that you can go to restaurants where main courses are usually about £10-£15 and the quality really is good, if not a bit expensive. Drinks wise, I mostly either stuck with wine which is usually about £8-£10 for a house bottle or the local beer, Effes, which is usually about £1.50 to £2 for a large bottle.

                        Money
                        *************
                        As you can see from above, its really not as cheap as it used to be, or at least what I was lead to believe so the businesses in the area are obviously cashing in on the increase in tourist traffic in recent years. Its not too bad though as you can get some meals a bit cheaper and when it comes to it, you can get a proper Turkish Kebab for about £3 and they are not to be missed!

                        One really annoying thing for me though is that a lot of the prices are quoted in both Turkish Lire AND UK pounds which I just found confusing. Also, that is hard to trust as the Turkish currency is quite volatile and changes on nearly an hourly basis so I just tried to stick to Lire.

                        I spent about £200 for the whole week that I was there however I really didn’t go on any big nights out and mostly eat food during the day at the pool bar in my hotel. If you want to have more fun on the activities you would obviously need to take more but there are cash machines all over the place so getting money out if you run out is simple. Most places do accept credit cards however so that is always an option but make sure you know your PIN as they use that system over there and are not too happy about you signing for payment.

                        Conclusion
                        *************
                        So to conclude, I very much enjoyed my week in Hisaronu if not for the place itself, but for the options that it gave me for the immediate area. Its simply not as cheap as you may expect but then what is these days?! The scenery is fantastic, the food is good, the activities on offer are endless and you are pretty much guaranteed good weather.

                        What more do you really want from a holiday??


                        Happy holidays,

                        drew




                        P.s - a good place to get info on Hisaronu is http://hisaronu.co.uk/

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                        • Pipex / Telecommunications Service / 39 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                          14.07.2005 20:49
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                          A quality, good value service.

                          What a minefield choosing a broadband supplier seems to be these days. There are literally hundreds of offers out there. So the main question is, who the heck should you choose to take your money from you then?

                          Well, when I wanted to loose the dreaded two hour cut off on the Freeserve anytime dail up ‘service’, I set about surfing (though now it feels like I was pedaloing!) the net to try and find a deal that balanced both cost and features. A good place I found to start was www adslguide.org. They have all of the major suppliers listed together with the specifications and costs of each respective service on offer. The also have the facility to let you know whether or not you can actually get broadband (pretty important first step) by letting you input your postcode and telephone number. However, after all that, I actually got a personal recommendation from an internet junkie mate of mine so thought that it would be best just to go for what they said.

                          So, off to www.pipex.com I pedalo’d and took a look at what was on offer. At the time I signed up in June 2004, prices were similar however the speeds you get have now increased. They offer two types of plans, PIPEX Lite and PIPEX Solo. The first type is priced on how many gigabytes you are limited too downloading in a month and comes with a standard 2Mbps connection speed. The second is priced around have no download limits and how fast you want the connection to be ranging from 250Kbps at £14.99 through to 2Mbps as £33.99. At the time, I chose to go for the Solo option for £23.44 (£19.99 inc VAT) giving me download speeds of 512Kbps and upload speeds of 250Kbps although due to BT’s recent upgrade program, the same price now gets you double that for new customers. PIPEX are upgrading existing customers but more about that later.

                          Now you may think “but I can get that cheaper” however I have to point out that you do get a lot of extra’s for your money. For starters, you get 50Mb of webspace, 12 email boxes, access to thousands of newsgroups and BT broadband services. Not only that, but you are actually signed up to the first UK ISP and one of the leaders in supplying internet connections to the business sector. So for me, that’s a pretty good thing to have behind your connection.

                          Signing up was very straightforward indeed. All you have to do is first of all confirm to them that your line can handle broadband then fill out a few simple online forms (name, address, payment method – either direct debit or credit card) and then wait the quoted 7-10 days to be up and running. One of the major plus points for me with the process was that they kept in touch by email at every point from confirming the initial order to telling me when the service would start from. All in all, about 4 emails. They supplied the relevant equipment (broadband modem, two micro filters for the phone socket) and once set up, I put that old pedalo of a dail up service firmly in the past.

                          Using the service has been largely a pleasant experience. With the equipment they supplied I was a bit miffed about the fact that I still had to double click the connection icon and technically ‘dail’ to get connected, but other than that no hassles at all (and have changed to a wireless router now anyway!). To my knowledge, I have actually only experienced downtime twice now in the year and a bit I have used PIPEX and while one was unexpected by the company, one was planned. The only complaint I have with regards to the planned episode, was that they only announced in in the ‘mypipex’ part of their webpage which since I don’t check it regularly (I just don’t see the need!) I had no idea what was happening and when it came back up, I was still under the impression it was a problem with the network and didn’t even think to reset my router. An email would have been better, specially after praising them so much for their contact during the installation!

                          Talking of ‘mypipex’, this is an area for members where you can go to view the details of your account, change minor things like payment methods and upgrades to your service, activate your email aliases, webspace and newsgroup settings and to wade though their extensive online help section on any problems that you may be having. Thankfully, I have only really had to use this a couple of times but it has been pretty good which it has to be as the helplines and customer services departments are not open past 6pm. They are however local rate numbers which is another major plus over other ISP’s who can (and do) charge you a fortune for any kind of help. With regards to email, I personally don’t use it as I prefer my mail to be kept online however you can choose to have them send you any emails to another account. They do also give you access to your email on a web based site so that if you are using it as a main email account, you can access it when you are out and about and it really is quite a simple web mail setup.

                          Going back to the upgrade program BT are currently carrying out (a major reason for the recent drop in broadband prices) they did promise all existing customers that they would be upgraded for free when each telephone exchange was upgraded by BT however I was told via mypipex that this should have happened in April. So far it still hasn’t and while this is not really PIPEX’s fault, on the occasions that I have called to enquire about it, they always said “oh it will happen in a few weeks Mr Kerr”. Well, it still hasn’t. I am currently out of the years contract that I had with them so after phoning to complain they did decide that since I had been a loyal customer (or rather I could easily leave them now) they would waive the £15 fee that they had offered customers who didn’t want to wait for BT and upgrade early so I should have turbo charged surfing in about a week. Yay!

                          However, while that is a good example of their customer service, there is a bad side too. The friend of mine that had recommended PIPEX to me in the first place had to move during the first year of having their service but when she phoned up to enquire about taking her broadband service with her, they said that it would effectively be a disconnection and that they would have to charge her the £60early cancellation fee regardless of whether or not she took up the service at her new flat or not. I can understand them maybe starting the 12 month contract again but really feel that they should waive that charge if the customer takes the service out at the new property.


                          So, in conclusion, I can thoroughly recommend taking out PIPEX as a broadband supplier as I really have had a relatively hassle free time with them. Certainly compared to some of the horror stories I have heard from people with other providers (no pointing fingers AOL!). So, if you are sure that you are unlikely to move within the first 12mths, you will find that you have a reliable, stable and good value package to allow you to surf the net however due to the problems my mate had with moving and the communication issue during planned downtime, they just miss the 5 star mark for me, though a highly respectable 4 stars non-the-less.

                          drew

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                          • Mozilla Suite / Communication / 43 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                            30.06.2005 23:27
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                            It knocks the socks of Internet Explorer while making your surfing much safer.

                            So what are the bets that you have heard something about this but are really not too sure what it is? Or maybe you are just too scared to take the plunge and leave Internet Explorer?

                            Well, with any luck, this review will make sure you are a bit clearer on what Mozilla Firefox is and why you should use it.

                            What is it?
                            *********

                            Well, starting at the beginning, it's a web browser. As far as I am aware, about 90% of internet users will be using Internet Explorer (some monopoly Mr Gates!) and the vast majority of them will simply have no idea that this isn't the only way you can get onto the sites that they want to see. Firefox is Mozilla's offering to the internet world to ride the cyber super highway and works largely in the same way as I.E only it offers quite a lot more in the process.


                            What does it look like?
                            *******************

                            To be honest, it largely looks a lot like I.E does. But then this is deliberate as if they want to attract people away from I.E why (with so many millions of users) would they want to make it a browser that the average net user would have to spend hours getting to know before being confident enough to use it? So it has a lot of what you will recognise - the same buttons such as stop, go, refresh (called reload) etc, the address bar, the status bar etc. It does however look a lot fresher, cleaner and up to date. I have added a picture at the bottom to show what it looks like and will refer to it through the review. That's only the standard look though, it can be changed but more about that later.

                            Why is it different then?
                            *******************

                            Well, for me the main thing is the security aspect. Lets face it, I.E is full of holes that any half decent internet hacker can pick though quicker than a bowl of spaghetti. Firefox has been designed with this in mind and the security is top notch. How do I know this? Well before I started using it I had to run my spybot program quite a lot and would always find countless amounts of spyware hidden in my computer and was constantly having to delete them. Since changing to Firefox however, I don't need to do this half as often and when I do, there is usually only one or two files that I have to delete to ensure my data is safe. Big thumbs up there from me, and all the evidence I need.

                            Then there are the 'tabs'. This is the feature that all Firefox users RAVE about. It's simply brilliant and I just couldn't do without them now. If you look at the picture at the bottom, you will see that underneath my favourite buttons (which again are much better than in I.E as they save the logo of the site on them) you will see that I have about five different tabs showing. If you look at the picture in the largest view, you will see that they have names of website on them. So, that means that I have five different webpages open within the ONE browser page and all I have to do to go to each one is click on the tab that corresponds to the webpage I want to look at. This makes the buttons at the bottom of your screen (where I.E would show five different browser pages) much cleaner looking and you can have loads of pages open without having to resort to cluttering up the bottom of the screen. If you click on a link in a webpage, it does normally open a new browser but then if you right click on the link, it will give tyou the option to open the new page in a new tab. Also, you can set up Firefox to open up more than one tab when you load it, and program it to open multiple webpages at this point. This means that you can have ciao as you home page, you can have your email account as your homepage, and any other you fancy and they all load up from the moment you connect to the net! SO handy! But what if I hit the X button? They have thought of that. If you accidentally try to close the window and you have more than one tab open (you were perhaps trying to close just one of the tabs), you will have a warning come up asking you if you actually want to do it so you wont loose the 6 tabs you have open!

                            A master stroke that Mozilla have up there sleeves is the fact that the initial download of the program is really quite small as they don't automatically fill it with all the options they have at their disposal. What they do is give you access to 'extensions'. To do this, you go into the tools option at the top and choose extensions. It will show you the ones you have installed and give you the option to search for more on the extensions website. An extension is basically a feature that you can choose to build into the browser. For example. Do you know the REALLY annoying advert that is likely on this page at the moment? You know….the one that scrolls down with you? Well I don't have it. That's right, it just aint there. Neither is the one at the top that flashes at you! This is because I chose to download an extension that can actually block adverts within a webpage. All I have to do when opening any page is click a little button in the very bottom right that says 'ad-block' and it gives me all the things on the page that can be blocked and all I have to do is choose the one I want to block and its gone (or right click on the advert and choose adblock). If I even wanted too, I could choose for it to block out pretty much anything on the page I wanted - including all your coloured dots over on ciao that a lot of users hate! How cool is that?!? I also have an extension that tells me if I have an email in my gmail account that sits at the bottom beside my ad-block button, I have one that allows me to simply right click and instantly access my blog and write about the page I am looking at (and adding the link at the same time) and a few others. What this allows you to do, is have your Firefox as feature filled or as basic as you want. There are hundreds of extensions and obviously some will be more useful to certain people and not others. Also, with the basic set up, Firefox runs so much faster than I.E does with a similar processor so if you have an older computer, you will be able to have a faster time online with the basic set up.

                            Have just added another extension....this one allows me to control Windows Media Player (and most other music players including Itunes and Winamp and loads I havent heard of..) from my browser! Ok, it maay be lazy but very cool!

                            Now, the themes! Remember at the beginning I told you you could change the way it looked? Well this is done in a similar way to choosing your extensions. You go into tools and follow the same steps (except choosing themes) and you will be led to a site that has a plethora of different looks you can choose for your web browsing time. There are serious ones, there are animal ones, there are sport ones, and many more.

                            Built in to the browser is two other great features. How many of you have the google tool bar in I.E? Well this comes ready made for you with this and does exactly the same thing without having an ugly bar hiding yet more of your web page view. At the top and to the left (see picture) you see a box beside the address bar which houses the Google search. "But Drew…whats so special about that over I.E" I hear you cry! Well, if you click on the G then it gives you the option to not only search google, but amazon, ebay, dictionary.co and yahoo. Not only that, but you can add many other sites to search automatically as well in the same way that you add extensions and themes!!! At the moment, there is not a lot of them to be added however they are working on more and they are getting added all the time. And of course, like the google toolbar it has a pop up blocker pre installed into the browser which stops those annoying pop ups in a very similar but (from my experience) more effective way.

                            Is there anything wrong with it?
                            *************************

                            As with any product, there is usually something that is annoying. For me, I find that when you initially click to open Firefox, it can take a bit longer to open than I.E does but this is only really an extra 30 seconds I have (almost) got used to this now. Also, I have had problems with PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files which has meant I have had to Ctrl-Alt-Del to get the thing to work again. I hate those kind of files anyway as they are such a pain to use and take ages to load so pretty much try to avoid them like the plague anyway.

                            The only other problem at this point is the fact that you will sometimes (though really not very often at all) come across a web page that has not been written with Firefox code in mind so looks a bit different. I really don't come across this very often and the only example I can think of is that when I get a private message in ciaochatting, it doesn't flash the way it would in I.E. No biggie though, I can deal with that! This is something that will change in time though as Firefox gets more and more popular as web page designers will have more need to write and test using Firefox.

                            How do I get it then?
                            ***********************

                            All you need to do is go to this link.

                            http://download.mozilla.org/?product=firefox&os=win〈=en-US

                            The download is quick and painless as the file is reletively small and installation is easy with the wizard guiding you along.

                            There is a very good help section provided within the browser that will link you directly to the Mozilla webpage if need be and will take you step by step though anything you need. However, it is actually quite straight forward anyway and I have personally not had to use this very much.

                            So to finish off…..
                            ****************

                            If I could give this product 10 starts I would. It really has changed the internet for the better for me and I hate having to go back to using I.E when I am in university or work. I love it. The fact that I can personalise it whatever way I want and can add and take away extensions make it a truly adaptable browser in a way that no other browser has for me in the past. I urge you to at least give it a go, trust me you will not regret it.

                            Take care and happy surfing,

                            drew x

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                            • First Active / Mortgage / 26 Readings / 23 Ratings
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                              28.06.2005 20:19
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                              Those of us with mortgages out there will know the feeling. Your introductory rate on you mortgage is coming to an end, you are about to be out of the dreaded tie in period so now is the time for those of use wise enough to steer clear of Independent Financial Advisors (just DON’T get me started..) start to trawl the net to try and find another fantastic (if we are lucky) mortgage deal to transfer to in the hope of saving a bit of money.

                              So, in March this year, that’s exactly what I did. After seeing the advert on TV about how First Active (FA from now on) were making mortgages ‘the way they should be’, I was happy to find they had a great deal on offer of a Bank of England tracker rate for two years. I grabbed the phone.

                              Calling them and getting through was straight forward enough, no major queue to wait through and a nice friendly chap answered the phone and took me through the details needed to complete the application. Now at this point, I should point out my circumstances. I am student, so my income is a lot less than it was when I first took out my mortgage at the size it is at the moment, but more importantly, my part time occupation is actually a mortgage advisor, so I know what I am talking about with these thing.

                              He went through my income, and while I knew that it was a bit of a stretch on standard multipliers, it was far from impossible as my income is actually still quite good from my job. Also, I have a lodger and as well as that my guaranteed student loan so while there would have been some further underwriting involved, my type of income and the fact that I have about 40% equity in my flat I knew that I would underwrite it in the same situation. He was far from sure however, so put me on hold for a good while and then came back to say that his supervisor had advised to go ahead with the application, so he did.

                              The call lasted 18 minutes. Great I hear you all cry? Well no, not really. For a start, the mortgage industry has gone through some MAJOR regulatory change in the past six months, and as I have to adhere to them I know exactly what should and should not be done, and my calls last a minimum of about and hour and that’s if I am lucky. The words ‘Financial Services Authority’ was not mentioned once, the way in which the ‘non advised’ route of choosing the rate that you want was skimmed through. The key facts of their mortgage Services (also known as the Initial Disclosure Document) was not explained to me and the Key Facts of This Mortgage (new name for a quote) was not explained to me, and both of these are regulatory requirements. This may have been because the advisor was aware of my background but at the end of the day, I was still a member of the public to him so should have got the correct process. On another note, I was asked about some of the mortgage related products they offer but this was very much an after thought and not to the standards of my work and the actual requirements of the FSA as a lot of these insurances (eg Unemployment cover) are MEANT to be put at the forefront of the application so make sure that customers are aware of it.

                              So anyway, after that was done I received the application pack pretty quickly so filled it in and sent back the required documentation (three months bank statements, identification and my payslip). However, when I got a call from them, they told me that they couldn’t approve my loan. So, once again I explained my circumstances and the guy on the other end of the phone went to his supervisor. Once again, I got the answer I was looking for and was told that as long as I could send in a recent mortgage statement to confirm I wasn’t in arrears, it would be authorised. A bit of a pain as I had to wait for it to be sent to me, but understandable. So, once I had this I duly sent it on and low and behold, I had it authorised just like they said.

                              Great I thought. So, the survey was organised which my flat easily passed easily, and all I had to wait for was the offer to come out. But hang on, it wasn’t correct. I have an interest only mortgage however they had set it up on a repayment basis which was no use at all. So I phoned them. To my absolute surprise, I was told to just manually change it on the offer and then send it back to them and it would all be fine. Bringing this back to the regulations, this is simply not allowed. If there is what is known as a ‘material change’, meaning that if changing anything will affect the monthly payment, the overall cost of the mortgage, the term, or in otherwords has a financial implication, then they really HAVE to send out a new one. And think about it, would you want to sign a legally binding offer that meant my payments would be way higher than they should be?? The only thing is, when I pointed this out I was told that my rate would only last till the end of the next week so there really would not be time for that. “Hang on” I said, “but it says at the very top of my offer letter that it is actually valid for 3 months?” Well its not I was told.

                              So, after all that I have decided that I just cannot take out a mortgage with a company that is blatantly flouting so many legal regulations. So I have told them that I am not proceeding. Here comes the final sting from them though. When I said this to the advisor, she informed me that I would have to pay a £99 withdrawal fee for not going ahead with the mortgage however I have never at any point been told about that. I plan to write a letter to the company to explain that the reason I am withdrawing from the mortgage is that I lost all confidence in them and if they still try to charge me it, I will be taking it a lot further to the regulators.

                              I obviously cannot comment on the workings of the mortgage once it has been taken out however having worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland in the past, I can honestly say that their mortgage operations really did run pretty smoothly and I very rarely came across anyone asking me about problems they were having so I don’t doubt for a second that if I had proceeded, things would have been fine.



                              So, to summarise my opinion of First Active, I would say that while their rates really are very good, I for one would never want to give my business to a company that is so inept at sticking to mortgage regulations. Yes, I may have the advantage of knowing that but let me write down a few things that you SHOULD expect from a company taking you through a mortgage application and do not accept any less.

                              1 – Firstly, they should at LEAST be telling you about the regulations and they should be offering you the option of ‘advised’ or non-advised’. If you are not sure what rate to go with, get the advice.

                              2 – The need to fully explain the Key Features Illustration (KFI) to you so that you understand the full costs of the deal you are taking out. All lenders have to produce these so that they look the same for customers to compare them.

                              3 – If they get things wrong or you want to change something, make sure you get NEW documents out. Do not accept them telling you just to change it yourself and initial it.

                              4 – Don’t be afraid to argue with them, they may not be right you know.



                              And that’s that. I am giving First Active 2 stars but only just, and that’s only because of the rates they offer. Not recommended though…..



                              drew

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                              • Hocus Pocus (DVD) / DVD / 28 Readings / 26 Ratings
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                                22.06.2005 16:43
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                                Three hundred years ago in the United States, there is a house on the edge of Salem Massachusetts. Inside this house you hear the cackling of three old witches known as the Sanderson sisters as they huddle around their cauldron, adding ghastly ingredients into a wicked brew. Across the room, there sits a young girl dressed in white robes of the time, waiting for the witches to finish their spell and take her soul so they can live in eternal youth.

                                Unknown to the witches, the girls brother is watching in the shadows, waiting to leap to his sisters rescue and foil their evil plan. So, as the witches edge towards their victim, forcing her to drink their poison, Zachery leaps out in a desperate bid to snatch her from their clutches however they were just too strong and the eldest sister, Winnifred (Midler) uses her powers to immobilise him then casts a spell on him to turn him into an immortal cat so that he can wallow in his failure to rescue his sister for all eternity.

                                However, just as they finish sucking the life force out of the young girl, the townsfolk of the olden days storm the witches house, capture the witches and set them up on with nooses to be hanged for their retched deeds. Unremorseful, they cast a spell from their evil book bestowed to them by the devil himself that will raise them from the grave when a virgin lights the black flame candle on all hallows een so that they can return and carry out their evil plan. Then the witches hang.

                                It’s now 1993 in Salem and the 31st of October has become the day that kids the world over know as Halloween. Witches, goblins, devils and fairies walk the streets in search of candy. Max is uninterested however has been forced by his parents to take his younger sister out trick or treating. Luck comes his way however when they end up at the house of the girl of his dreams who tells them the tale of the old Sanderson sisters house and that her mother used to run a museum there. Not letting the chance to spend some time with his perfect woman he suggests they go down there to take in the atmosphere of the evening.

                                Once there, they have a look around and Max finds a candle with a story attached to it. Trying hard to impress Allison he suggests they light the candle to see if it really is a black flame but no sooner has he done this all the lights go out and the distinctive cackling of the sisters can be heard coming through the doors………..


                                This film is fantastic. I remember watching it as a kid and even though I was in my early teens when it came out, I was still captivated my the interacting between the three sisters and how they adapted to the strange new fangled devices and how people act that have changed in the three hundred years since they were hanged. Simple things that we use in our daily lives were used to twart their every move with hilarious consequences and the very inventive use of a vacuum cleaner had me in stitches the first time I watched it.

                                The characterisation of the sisters was spot on and provided no end of laughs as the story progressed. From Winnifred who is the elder and leader of the trio being rather vain even though she really has no reason to be, to the second rather plump sister Mary (Nanjimy) who clumsily hung on every word Winnifred utters to the beautiful but rather dim and slightly insane Sarah (Parker) who never listened to a word said to her rather preferring to go after any male she could find. They bounce of each other with hilarious dialogue unending enthusiasm for the purpose they have.

                                The acting from the three main characters is faultless and you could easily imagine the laughs they must have had making this film. Midler is perfect for the role of the scheming and evil Winnifred and carries this off with such great effect while Nanjimy take sthe goofy Mary along with perfection and leaves you rolling about as she tries to get the approval of the elder sister. Parker for me stole the show as she just threw herself into the part of Sarah as she pranced about singing little ditties and shows little care or regard for anything around her and happily stays in her own little insane world. The other characters in the film did a good job as the heroes however I did not feel that they had a chance of shining next to the evil three and did kind of fade into the background as you were left itching for the witches to make their next appearance.

                                Director Kenny Ortega did a marvellous job of making the film suitable eerie even though it is primarily a comedy. The fact that he is more known as a choreographer (notable films Pretty in Pink, Dirty Dancing, Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar) shines through as the witches move around in such well timed and dance like steps throughout the film. This also leads to the hilarious song in the middle where they cast a spell on all the parents, also giving Midler her chance to show off her vocal talents. He ensures that the comic timing of the dialogue is perfect and that is all flows like it should and adds to the whole fantasy. Costumes and make up well so over the top with a camp feel to them and added to the acting to make the witches the most lovable characters, even though the were essentially the baddies of the piece.

                                The only downside that I would see in the film is that there are a couple of themes in the film that I would have said were a bit to old for a kids audience. The fact that the candle has to be lit by a virgin would in my mind, make a lot of parents squirm when their little eight year old pipes up from the corner to act what that is. Also, with Parkers character being a little sex mad, I feel this does not quite fit in with the family theme that the film was supposed to be going for. This does add to the enjoyment for us older kids though..!

                                As for the DVD side of things, that is really about it. There are no extra's other than being able to put subtitles on and have the language set to English, French or Italian. The menu system however is fairly easy to navigate with Middler in the background crooning away until you hit the play button.


                                All in all though, a highly recommended film that will have you laughing and singing along that I can easily sit an watch time after time. I have given it 4 stars as with the couple of themes that I think were out of place but other than that, a joy to watch.

                                Cast List

                                Bette Midler .... Winifred Sanderson
                                Sarah Jessica Parker .... Sarah Sanderson
                                Kathy Najimy .... Mary Sanderson
                                Omri Katz .... Max Dennison
                                Thora Birch .... Dani Dennison
                                Vinessa Shaw .... Allison
                                Amanda Shepherd .... Emily Binx
                                Larry Bagby .... Ernie/'Ice'
                                Tobias Jelinek .... Jay
                                Stephanie Faracy .... Jenny Dennison
                                Charles Rocket .... Dave Dennison
                                Doug Jones .... Billy Butcherson
                                Karyn Malchus .... Headless Billy Butcherson
                                Sean Murray .... Thackery Binx

                                Thanks for reading!

                                drew x

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                                • Co-Op / Highstreet Shopping / 22 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                                  21.06.2005 01:18
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                                  • Clenliness

                                  Picture the scene. It's 10.45pm, a slightly alarmed drew finds that he is on his last ciggy and that he has no milk left for his morning bowl of frosties. What's he gonna do?

                                  Well, luckily enough, from the window of his Victorian tenement he can see a shop known the country over as the Co-op.


                                  What is the Co-op?
                                  --------------------------

                                  Well that very much depends because there are various different types of Co-op about that could sell anything from a pint of milk to your car insurance right through to the coffin we will inevitably need (unless of course you are cremated, but hey, they can do that too!).

                                  The Co-op (or co-operative movement as its official title is) started many moons ago in an 1844 street called Toad Lane in Rochdale. This was around the time of the Industrial Revolution in this country and people were finding that local shopkeepers were cashing in on the new social change of making profit that was sweeping the nation. Customers were finding that prices were artificially inflated and to maximise profit even further, the shopkeepers were adding 'secret' ingredients like chalk to flour and normal leafs to tea.

                                  So, 28 men set up what they called the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society and opened a revolutionary new shop that would not overcharge its customers and sell good quality goods. The revolutionary aspect of this was that they were effectively pooling their resources and any customer buying from them were effectively adding to this pool and thus became members of the 'co-op' meaning that they would benefit from this resource.

                                  This practise became very popular and similar shops sprung up all over the country. The shops and services we have today were all started under the same principles and although we have many differing co-op services, they effectively all still come under the same banner in the market place and were founded under the same principle laid down by the 28 men in Rochdale.

                                  So, that brings me to what I am going to review here, and that is the descendant from that original shop in Toad Lane, the Local Co-op foodstore. This one in particular in on Paisley Road West in Glasgow's Southside.


                                  What are it's good points?
                                  -----------------------------------

                                  Most people have one close to them. They are generally the first port of call to pick up something either missed in the main shop of the week or to go get something that was either forgotten or has inexplicably ran out (my brother would ALWAYS eat every single munch bunch yoghurt by the Sunday night after they were bought on the Saturday......). The particular store I am reviewing is literally across the road. I can nip down during a commercial break, buy something, and be back on my couch before the programme comes back on! You just cannot beat convenience like that (well, the off licence is actually closer but I aint gonna grumble at that!). I would imagine that most of the other stores are similar as they are normally positioned in housing estates rather than in retail parks like the bigger foodstores are tending to do nowadays meaning that it would only be a short drive in the car or walk to get to one rather than travelling farther to get to a 'proper' supermarket. Quite a clever bit of market positioning!!


                                  The range of products, when you take into account the size of the shop, is actually pretty decent. All the major brands are represented in the four isles it has and it also has a sweet section as well as an Alcohol section which does actually have a decent selection of wine on offer. It also has a separate section for their offers of the week and you usually find something worthwhile stockpiling to get around the normally high prices. I find that I usually take advantage of the 3 for £10 offer on bottles of wine (normally Jacobs Creek or Blossom Hill) and 3 for £2 on mix and max multipacks of Kit Kats. They also have a promise that if they do not have a pint of milk in the fridge, you can claim a free one the next time you are in! I have yet to catch them out on this one though to their credit.

                                  One very good brownie point for the chain (which harks back to the original principles it was set up under) is the range of Fair Trade products they sell. For anyone who has not heard of these, they are products that are produced in a way so as not to exploit the people who make them in third world countries. Things like coffee and chocolate through to bottles of wine are covered by this and they are generally of a high quality. They can be a bit more expensive than the leading brands however this is a fair compromise when buying with the knowledge that you are not contributing to the evils that some companies in the Western World commit against people who struggle to survive in terrible conditions to get your cup of coffee to you in the morning.

                                  The opening hours of this store are very flexible. It opens up at 7am (have yet to go there that early so far.....) and doesn't close its doors until 11pm at night, seven days a week. Very handy at 10.45pm when the above situation arises!!

                                  What Don't I like?
                                  -----------------------

                                  The Staff. I really do NOT find them helpful and they never apologise for the queue and when you ask them to find something for them it feels like you have asked them to most difficult and petty task in the world. I think I have yet to see a smile in the shop! A lot of the time they are quite scruffily dressed, the uniforms are usually dirty and un-ironed and they are prone to have conversations with each other when they are serving customers - I find this SO rude.

                                  The shop can be in quite a mess a lot of the time. The till area's are never cleaned as far as I can see, the floors are normally dirty and a lot of the time, they have cages out on the shop floor just sitting there and it can be quite hard to manoeuvre around them with your basket.

                                  The queues in this particular store can be horrendous. A lot of the time, I can find myself behind about 10 other customers while one solitary member of staff calmly plods through each persons shopping without really thinking or bothering about trying to get another till point opened to help keep up the idea that this shop is all about convenience!

                                  This may be a complaint about only this shop in particular, but its a complaint nonetheless. At the end of the night, the staff put all of their cages, rubbish, pallets and crates out the front of the shop for the lorry coming in the morning to collect. Why is that a problem? Well as I said, this shop is close to my home and is on a main road and at certain times, when the pubs come out, the local hoodlums like to have fun with them and 5 nights out of seven, I can hear a crash bang wallop and yip, the stuff is all over the place. Now it can be hard to park my car here sometimes, and these things are placed next to a part that I COULD park however I simply will not do this for fear of them being pushed into my car and causing no end of damage. This causes me to have to park my car quite far from my door sometimes and I find this unacceptable. I have mentioned this to them but they take no notice of this at all.

                                  The Adverts. I know this is not to do with the store in question but I HATE them! If anyone has missed them they consist of animated animals who are given human characteristics who proceed to sing about the shop to the tune of long forgotten pop songs that should have stayed forgotten in the first place.

                                  And last but not least, the prices. It is expensive. I would say that on average, its at best about 5% more expensive and at worst, about 20%. I accept that because the stores are smaller the distribution costs will be higher and therefore the price of the convenient nature of the stores will be apparent at the checkout, however I do think its a bit much to charge over a pound for a tub of butter you can get for about 70p in Asda!


                                  So there you are. Despite the complaints I have about the shop, I do use it daily simply because it is across the road and is a lot easier than getting in the car and going to a bigger, less expensive, cleaner, friendlier store. So therefore I AM going to recommend it to potential buyers but I am only going to award it 2 stars as I feel (having worked in a supermarket for 3 years in a past life) they really should do something about the staff and the cleanliness of the stores.

                                  So all that is left to do is to thank you for reading and as always, any comments are welcomed!


                                  drew

                                  PS - The shop I have reviewed is in the Southside in Glasgow)

                                  (historical information sourced at http://www.cooponline.coop/about_intro_origins1.html)

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