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Member since: 27.06.2008

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    • More +
      01.07.2008 17:38
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      The laws of entropy work for hotels too!

      The Derbyshire Hotel was until recently called The Renaissance, it was sold by Marriott to a chain called Principal Hayley Group.

      It is just off Junction 28 of the M1, it has conference facilities so is usually used by business people or companies needing a meeting room. Across the road is a touchbase (a building to hire meeting rooms), a premier inn and the attached Brewers Fayre. So cheaper competition close by (check my hotel reviews to see my thoughts on the premier inn).
      When staying you can use the heated indoor pool & a small gym for free. I've never used these so can't comment but it's good to have the facilities available.

      I've stayed a few times both before and after the switch of ownership. The very first time I stayed I did feel it was a little tired looking, a little old fashioned and in need of a refurb.
      Having said that it was clean and comfortable, the staff were pretty good and the food was good (if not the most exiting).
      So when I checked in under the new name I was keen to see if the new owners were going to spruce it up some what. Nothing seemed to change apart from the bed covers went from Marriott red to black.
      However I've stayed several times now and I've been surprised to see the general standard slip in a few areas. The restaurant is less busy than in the past, and it's easy to see why. While the food is sometimes very good it is not consistent, depending on the night you stay and the dish you order the quality of food can vary a fair bit.

      Other little things that you would only notice if you had stayed before and after are:
      The rooms have generally gone down hill, furniture a little more battered and worn. Things don't seem to get fixed as they did before.
      Breakfasts are not a good, less choice and poorer quality (bacon getting greasier). They have stopped offering those little fruity yogurt drinks at breakfast (I liked those)
      And the classic sign of cost cutting the toilet paper is thinner and less soft.

      Although nothing to do with the change of ownership when I was last there a car was broken into, by having the side window smashed. The staff were good and help the owner, let him park it right outside the entrance until the police and repair people came along. PARK NEAR THE HOTEL, not in a dark corner.
      While on the subject of cars, you can hear the M1 if you have the window open but the rooms are nice and quiet when shut.

      Despite all of this the hotel is comfortable, the beds are very comfortable, the bathrooms are clean and you should sleep well, eat reasonably well and have a nice drink in the bar.

      The Derbyshire Hotel,
      Carter Lane East,
      South Normanton,
      Derby, DE55 2EH,
      Tel: 01773 812000
      Fax: 01773 580032

      Standard twin / double £89 a night
      Breakfast £14.95

      (for the most part also on ciao)

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      • More +
        30.06.2008 21:10
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        The headline says it all (hopefully)

        This hotel is located just off the M1 at J28. It is physically joined to a Brewers Fayre and in the same business park as a Touchbase (office / meeting room to hire facility). On the opposite side of the road is a more expensive Hotel called the Derbyshire; formally called The Renaissance under the previous owners Marriott (I'll hopefully give a review of that shortly as I've just suggested it to Dooyoo).

        You may (or may not) have noticed from my hotel reviews that I seem to stay in this area of the UK a fair amount. While the Premier Inn at Carter Lane East is the cheapest hotel I have stayed in it is far from being the worst.

        In my experience the best Premier Inns are the brand new builds. This is probably just because they have new fixtures and fittings so are cleaner and everything works. This Premier Inn is not a new build but once in the rooms you have the familiar look and feel of "cheap but new and clean furniture". I Like this about Premier Inns, I'd rather have a cheap bed that is replaced every 12 months than an expensive one that stays in the hotel for decades (this criteria only holds good for cheap and cheerful hotels).

        Reception
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Small but functional, the staff were friendly and helpful. Check in and out was quick and easy.

        General condition
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        It's a cheap hotel and this is reflected in the decoration but it is clean. The rooms are better than the dowdy corridors.

        Rooms
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        The classic purple Premier Inn look. Everything is clean and works the bed is comfortable and the duvet thick and warm. You wouldn't want to spend a few nights just in the room but it's what you need to sleep comfortably.

        Bathroom
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Again clean and functional, fittings looked new and everything worked well. A good, hot and powerful shower was appreciated in the morning.

        Food
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        The only food available on site is from the Brewers Fayre next door, which you can charge to your room. I didn't have an evening meal but It's a Brewers Fayre, so don't expect too much. Cheap pub grub! However I did have breakfast and I was very surprised to find it better than many more expensive hotel breakfasts.
        Full breakfast £7.50
        Continental breakfast £5.25.

        Summary
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Cheap, functional and next to a pub, what more could you ask for?

        Address
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Carter Lane East
        South Normanton
        Alfreton
        Derbyshire
        DE55 2EH
        08701 977 180

        Costs
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Monday - Thursday
        From £57 per room
        per night

        Friday - Sunday
        From £49 per room
        per night

        Worth noting
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Free Parking but no disabled facilities

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        • More +
          30.06.2008 18:43
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          Great!

          This hotel is just off the M1 at junction 27 and it's about 12 miles from Nottingham. It's in Sherwood Business Park, which has various new office buildings scattered around it. The hotel itself is very modern looking, a black tower structure probably around 10 storeys high (don't quote me on that it might be much shorter or taller).

          The initial impression is that's it's very new, clean, comfortable and well designed. This impression continues when you enter the reception. There is a really modern "trendy" feel about the place, expensive looking sofas and a modern open fire. To the right of reception is the bar and restaurant.

          The staff on reception are well presented, efficient and polite.

          Everything about this place conveys a professional and well designed feeling. They have obviously put a lot of effort into making the hotel a step above the competition priced at around the same level.

          Usually I find that as you progress though a hotel its appearance goes down hill, the reception is the plushes part, then the lifts and corridors start to do look a bit scruffier and finally the room looks like it is from a different hotel than the reception you've just walked though. However I was delighted to see the Dakota was different, the lifts and corridors are sparkling clean and the rooms are great.

          While the room I stayed in was not massive it was by far the best at this price range that I've ever been in, at home or abroad. The bed was very comfortable the sheets looked brand new, the carpet was thick and clean, I had a big desk, comfortable chairs and a 30" flat screen TV, even the air conditioning worked well and quietly (I always seem to get rooms with broken air con. or heating, until the Dakota that was). The one tiny criticism I would level at my room and the hotel in general was that it was a tiny bit too dark. Most of the fixtures are dark wood and there is subtle lighting everywhere. While this generally looks great, I was staying for 2 weeks so by the end of that time I wanted some magnolia!
          By the way if you do ever stay here and can't find where to hang your stuff, instead of a wardrobe you get hanging space hidden behind the bed (that should save you 10 minutes looking).

          The bathroom was great as well. Mine was fully tiled from floor to ceiling in black and white tiles making a checkered effect. It was spotless and unlike most hotel bathrooms it had better fittings than most homes, posh looking taps, toilet and basin. Even the built in mirrors were heated so they didn't steam up. The towels were like something you would buy from John Lewis, thick and fluffy. The toiletries were very nice too.

          The final important parts of any hotel for me are the restaurant, menu, bar and breakfast. While the bar and food is relatively expensive compared to other hotels offering the same room rate the quality is much better. The variety of food was good and the standard of cooking and presentation could not be faulted. I particularly remember the fish options and steak to be very good. The breakfasts are cooked to order too, so no cold eggs and bacon swimming around in a greasy hotplate. The smoked salmon and scrambled eggs were a favorite of mine while there.

          I've mentioned the value in comparison to similar priced hotels but not said the room rates yet. When I stayed the rooms were available from £89 a night, which is cheaper than I've paid for some truly awful places, and this is the weekday business rate (Hotels seem to stick the price up if they know the company are paying) At weekends I'm sure you can get a better price.

          I know by the way that I've been banging on about this place it sounds like I own shares in it! That is not the case, it's that it's such a delight to find a hotel this much better than the usual competition, I can't but help tell you all about it.

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          • Canon FS100 / Digital Camcorder / 18 Readings / 18 Ratings
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            29.06.2008 20:58
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            • "Ease of use"
            • "Ease of use"

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            Good but not great

            The key feature of this video camera is that it records onto flash memory. Because it uses these SD and SDHC flash memory cards you get some useful benefits;
            1) The battery last longer than HDD, DVD or tape cameras. The standard filming time is 3 hours.
            2) Transferring video and photos to a PC is incredibly simple, you just stick the SD card into your PC card reader (I haven't seen a PC sold without a built in reader for years) and drag the files over to your PC.
            3) The video camera is small and light, not much bigger than a digital camera. So it can fit into your bag without it being a pain to carry around. It's also pretty good looking which is a nice bonus and really well designed to fit in your hand comfortably.

            Its worth mentioning that if you forget to put a SD card in you can still record directly onto the internal memory. Also as SD and SDHC cards get bigger and bigger in capacity you have a camera that will never be limited by a shortage of memory space.

            So this is a well designed, good looking, easy to use camcorder and it's well priced. However the price reflects the fact we will be getting standard definition not high def. footage. Online prices I've seen are between £200 and £250. You also get a good optical zoom of x37 which is great for distance shots, the digital zoom of x2000 is something you probably won't use.

            I think this is a perfect camera for anyone wanting to point and shoot and be able to quickly transfer and share their films. It's Ideal for holidays and active filming, the small design and lack of moving parts makes it a study choice for any knock about film making. If you want to get serious with high def. you will have to pay more and you may still loose some of the advantages of this camcorder.

            Specs:
            Record To Memory Card
            Definition - Standard Definition
            Video Recording Format SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card,
            USB Connection
            Optical Zoom Factor 37x (45x with Advanced Zoom)
            Digital Zoom Factor 2000x
            Image Stabiliser
            Colour Viewfinder
            LCD Screen 2.7" widescreen colour
            Media Card SDHC Card, SD Card,
            Sound Stereo
            Manual Focus
            Backlight Compensation
            Built-in Light
            Top Shutter Speed 1/2000th sec.
            Minimum Light (Lux) Approx. 1.7 lux (Night Mode)
            Remote Control
            Dimensions (WxHxD) mm 58 x 60 x 124mm
            Weight 260g

            (also on Ciao)

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            • More +
              29.06.2008 20:46
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              Great music phone but build quailty not top notch

              I've had this phone for a month now so wanted to let others know what I think of it.
              Now, your criteria may well be different from mine but the features I wanted from a new music phone were:
              Good music features (obviously)
              Easy to use
              Good memory
              Decent camera
              Looks

              While the 5610 ticks all of these boxes it has let me down in an area that I hadn't even considered before I started using it in every day life. First however I'll cover off the 5 criteria I had thought of:
              Music features
              As you would expect from a music phone the music features are spot on. The sound quality is excellent from the built in speaker, the headphones and via my bluetooth stereo headset. All the various music formats I have tried work just fine. The FM radio works well with good reception. My playlists and album art all transfered to the phone with no problems at all.
              Easy of Use
              I find using the phone very easy, if you're used to a Nokia you'll be familiar with the navigation straight away but if not it is still very intuitive so won't cause you any problems. A nice feature is music slider key that lets you quickly and easily switch between music, radio and phone. The navigation pad and keypad work well and feel nice to use. All the features you'd expect are available and easy to use, set your own ringtone music, send & record audio messages, email, play online games and surf super fast with 3G (the web browser is Opera).

              Decent camera
              The camera is 3.2megapixel and to be honest the photos look just as good as the ones I take on my 5MP N958GB. Good auto focus and video messaging looks as good as any phone I've used.
              Good memory
              Being used to 8GB with my old N95 I have been spoiled but this phone comes with 20MB built in and up to 4GB easily added with a microSD card. To get all the music i needed loaded I had to use the extra memory but this was easy to do.

              Looks
              I really like to looks of the phone, the screen is really really colorful and clear as well as being a good size 2.2inches (apparently). The slider looks and feels nice to use. While not very slim the phone fit nicely in a small pocket and is a joy to carry around in comparison to an N95.
              So what let me down?
              It was the build quality. The music slider key I found so nice and easy to use broke after a couple of weeks. While I got a free replacement from my network it doesn't bode well. Even the replacement seems to be a little shaky with a few rattles. A few buttons seem looser than I would like. I think after my 12 months contract is up I will be in need of the new model. Having said all that i've never kept a phone for more than 18 months, so will it really be a problem?

              (Also on Ciao)

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              • Martin Miller's Gin / Spirits / 22 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                29.06.2008 11:22
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                The headline says it all "this stuff is fantastic"

                More than any other spirit (perhaps with the exception of whiskey) gin seems to be the one that a lot of people just don't like. I was one of these people until around 2 years ago. However once I tried some well made gin and tonics and gin cocktails I started to appreciate the favor of gin. It also opened up my eyes to the fact that there is a wide variety of flavors and qualities in the different gins available, not all gins are the same! So if you've only ever tried a home made Gordon's and tonic and are indifferent to gin take the plunge and try the best, made properly, with a good tonic. It just might be a revelation.

                So the best in my humble opinion is Martin Miller's. This gin is a beautiful thing when mixed correctly. I'll give you a bit of background but if you want all this first hand why not check out their website, (just google the name) as they obviously do a great job of writing up the history, and do you really just want me to rewrite details from their website? I hope not.
                This gin is made in batches (which is apparently the best method) in a 100 year old still called Angela. This spirit will be over 96% alcohol by volume and this is what they call a neutral spirit alcohol, basically it is a tasteless base on from which the gin we know is made from. Next the Botanicals are added, which ones, how much and how they are added varies between brands and these details will be a closely guarded secret. However in Martin Miller's gin some of the hundreds of botanicals used are:
                Juniper - This is always the main ingredient in gin
                Orange peel
                Lemon peel
                Liquorice
                Coriander
                Cassia
                Cinnamon
                Nutmeg
                Orris root

                To get the gin to the correct strength water needs to be added, in Martin Miller's case they take great pride in the fact that they use water up to ten time purer than those well known bottles waters . The water used in this gin is glacial water from Iceland.

                If you are trying Martin Miller's for the first time I recommend making a gin and tonic by adding the gin (straight from the freezer) to a glass full of ice. Then adding Fever Tree tonic (this stuff is great), then finally a slice of lime, not lemon. This will be a truly great gin and tonic.

                Martin Miller's has a crisp clean taste, you can smell various botanicals but mainly citrus and juniper. It's very hard to describe a taste so I'll leave you with this;
                If you like gin already but have never tried Martin Miller's you will love it! If you don't like gin the gin and tonic described above just might change your mind forever!

                Usually £18.99, although I noticed that Oddbins have it at £16.99 at the moment.

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                • Sony KDL-40D3500 / LCD TV / 23 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                  28.06.2008 15:53
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                  Love it!

                  I've been resisting a new TV for years now but my hand was forced when the old one gave up the ghost. After a bit if research I plumped for a Sony KDL 40D3500.
                  The first thing to say it that I think this TV looks great, that was probably why I ended up with it in my house. It 's a classy number, understated and very well built.

                  Picture
                  ~~~~~
                  The 40D3500 is full high def. 1920 x 1080 resolution, which makes Sky digital look great and sky and BBC HD look amazing. I don't have a PS3 but a mate brought his round to see the picture quality. This TV makes the most of the top end 1080p output by the PS3 and it shows the PS3 output as it is meant to be seen.

                  I've also checked out some blu-ray DVDs and those looked fantastic as well. It may be partly due to some fancy stuff the TV can do; '24p True Cinema' allows a film to be seen in the original 24 frames per second format (the fps they are filmed at) and 'Theatre Mode' that automatically adjusts the colour, contrast and brightness to the idea settings for a particular film.

                  Switching back from Blu-ray or BBC HD to standard definition is a disappointment, this is not because the SD display is poor but just because the HD is so good.

                  Sound
                  ~~~~~
                  The sound equaled the picture in my opinion. Both with surround turned on and in standard mode. The TV offers "S Force Front Surround" Sony's version of virtual surround sound, this works great for me as I don't have speakers dotted around the front room.

                  Operating
                  ~~~~~~~~
                  The D3500 is as easy to set up and use as any LCD TV, it took about 15 minutes to plug in all the HD and scart sockets and the auto tuning with the built in freeview tuner took about 2 minutes.
                  The TV has two scart and two HDMI sockets.

                  This LCD TV is available online for as little as £600 in some places and I think it is amazing the picture and build quality you can get for that amount of money!

                  If your looking to spend around that much on a TV, check out the D3500 from Sony before you make your decision!

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                  • More +
                    27.06.2008 21:44
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                    I would go again

                    We took my six year old daughter to legoland for a weekend treat. It was a last minute thing so we didn't have time to invite any of her friends. However not being with other kids didn't stop her having a really great time, she really didn't want to leave.

                    The thing I've always noticed about legoland was that it's pretty expensive but you can always get at least half price tickets from various places. We had the option of some tesco vouchers, a voucher from school or some other one we picked up somewhere. I worked out which one got us in the cheapest and used that.

                    We had seen the adverts for Viking land so we went straight there. 1st up was a rapids type ride, were your round boat spins around, bounces off the sides and generally gets everyone involved very wet. The getting wet part is helped even more because people watching at the sides can grab a water gun and squirt you as you spin past them. This ride was enjoyable, loved by a 6 year old and took about 25 minute to que up for.

                    Actually most rides involved 30 minutes or so waiting, which as it was a Saturday and sunny I though was fine.
                    The other memorable rides were:

                    The log flume (had to go on this twice as it was my daughters fav.)

                    The larger roller coaster (Sorry I can't remember the correct name). This is tame by some standards but just scary enough for a thrill seeking tom boy.

                    The driving school was another fav. with a photo license costing a few quid at the end being a big hit. The kids can drive around a mock road system with the usual round-a-bouts, junctions, turns and even a petrol station where the little cars were charged up.

                    The one thing that I didn't like was the food available, as with most places like this it was a little too expensive and a little to "turkey twisler". If I went again I would take a picnic as near the main eatery there is plenty of grassy space to stretch out and have a nice break.

                    All in all I was pleased with the day and so was my daughter.

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                    • Breville JE24 / Juicer / 16 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                      27.06.2008 16:32
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                      Does it well, but why you you bother?

                      My review may be tainted by the fact I received this juicer as a present from my wife, only a few days after I told her I prefer to buy smoothies rather then make my own juice.
                      After all I wanted liquefied fruit as a way to get some more of those 5 a days into my life. And juice is just juice with less bits of the 5 a day I wanted.
                      I thought it only fair to put my comments in context.

                      So the juicer does what it is supposed to!
                      The juice is a little foamy but a plastic separator in the collection jug helps to remove that and the juice is as lovely as you would expect from a freshly made wait for it ....
                      ....juice.
                      All of the pith, seeds, skin, pulp and fibre gets spun out into a second jug to be thrown away. This is my biggest problem with this juicer, I don't want all of that thrown away, ok I don't particularly want seeds, apple cores and pith in my drink, but I do want as much of the fibre as I can get. If you could somehow keep some of this goodness in the liquid it would be ideal.

                      Next comes the cleaning. While it is pretty easy to take apart and rinse off, with a little wiping it does come up clean quickly. Apart from the metal bowl that actually does the juicing. This has a metal bottom surface like a very fine cheese grater and getting the fruity bits out of that took a lot of soaking time and nearly wore out my washing up brush! The juicer then takes up all of my drainage board and half of the kitchen surfaces in it's detached state.

                      My final comment is on the cost of the fruit vs smoothies. My wife assures me she did the maths and it is more economical to juice your own, but to me it seemed I had to juice about half a tonne of fruit to get a glass of juice. Add in the time preparing, cleaning and the 700 watts of electricity I'd rather let a smoothie specialist do all the hard work in a "economies of scale" kind of a way.


                      Having said all of the above (which probably applies to all juices not just this one), this one does do it's job very well. You want a juicer that juices? Well this one does that!

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                      • More +
                        27.06.2008 15:24
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                        please don't stay there!

                        I stayed over at the Gateway for a meeting in Nottingham during June 2008.
                        My stay was easily one of the worst I have ever had when staying in a hotel for work.

                        While first impressions were ok; lots of trees, a nice "moat" (well watery ponds in front of the building), things started to go down hill quickly when I arrived inside.
                        The lobby area looks cheap and old fashioned, more like an old service station than a comfortable modern hotel.
                        The staff were fine and check in quick, but then the walk to the room.

                        The carpet in the corridors looks like it was host to a 16 year olds birthday party, with stains all over it. The corridors smelled of smoke.
                        When I arrived at my "non smoking" room I was truly disgusted. The room had must have been lived in by a heavy smoker as it reeked of stale smoke, the window was open obviously to try and help but it really didn't.
                        The bathroom had been cleaned but you can't really clean off moldy floors, corners and the joint around the bath.
                        I didn't even want to sit on the bed let alone strip off and get in it.
                        To add insult to injury the room phone was broken so I couldn't request a different room without going back down to reception.

                        They did give me a cleaner, better and less smelly room for which I was eternally grateful. However I met 5 colleges in the bar and each of them had similar problems to me. One was moved from a room smelling of sick to one smelling of smoke (probably my first room).

                        If this hotel was the only one available for my next overnigher I would rather stay at home and get up at 04.30 than stay here again.

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