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I wanted to draughtproof my rotting, rattling original box sash windows in my 1870s seaside house and I called this company because they advertise widely in home and garden magazines and sound rather good. They sent me a brochure talking about how they work with "the very best of English architectural heritage" and making frequent references to Georgian and Victorian houses. However, when I called to ask for a survey of my house in Brighton I got a quite breathtakingly rude salesman who told me curtly "Brighton is a long way from Windsor you know" (their HQ is in Windsor but their adverts are country-wide.) I said I wanted advice on whether my windows could be made efficient and draught-proof, or if they should be replaced or double glazed. He asked me if my house was listed and I said it was - just Grade Two, the ordinary old wreck sort of listing, and he told me that my business "was not worth the hassle" and he would not do a survey. He added (and I took a note of his exact words) "Look love, we don't work on listed buildings, bureaucrats have made it impossible. "Councils are a nightmare. There is enough work without touching listed buildings." I said there was no reason for the council to be involved if the windows were just being repaired and draught-proofed. "Nah," he said. "We won't touch them. No way." The whole conversation left me feeling as if someone had spat at me - he was really unpleasant. I thought perhaps he was a rogue salesman so I wrote to the company managing director Mr John Rose, asking if it was really true they didn't touch listed buildings. No reply. So I called another company called The Sash Window Workshop and things were very, very different. See my review of them in this section to find out about a GOOD window company.
As the owner of a 140-year-old house by the seaside I'm a bit of an expert on draughts. When there's a storm the whole place shakes and all my sash windows used to rattle. Unless you had thermal-lined curtains and kept them closed all the time you couldn't keep any heat in any of the upstairs rooms. I dreaded getting the windows fixed because I had heard so many horror stories about dodgy salesmen and awful bodged jobs but after 11 years of freezing every winter I began calling round the firms who advertise in period property magazines. Some were just as slimy and nasty as I'd feared. One was so horrible it has now got its own special (bad) review on Dooyoo. Another said they should all be replaced at heart-stoppingly vast expense. Then I called The Sash Window Workshop, which is based in Bracknell, Berkshire but covers most of the country. Huge, huge difference. Easy to make a no-strings appointment over the phone. A stout, middle aged gentleman turned up, measured up, told me that actually my windows were in much better nick than I'd thought and could easily be repaired and draughtproofed for a total of about £4,000 for all seven windows, most of them really huge, several of them with rotting cills and lower sashes. He also said they could actually double glaze them on the existing sashes, which would cost more obviously and be marginally warmer, but that he thought the draughtproofing would be the most sensible option. Double glazing good for cutting out sound if you live on a noisy road, he said, but as you don't, hardly worth the extra money. No hard sell at all. He said the firm would write to me with a proper price when they had sorted his survey out and looked at the work involved. A few days later, they did. £3,818 for the whole thing, including VAT. I accepted. A date seven weeks away was fixed. A carpenter turned up bang on time with all the stuff as agreed and worked incredibl
y hard for two days, taking each window out of its frame, replacing all rotten wood, renewing sashes and locks and glazing bars and cills and painting the new bits and putting it all back together. Result: All the windows open and shut perfectly, top and bottom, so I can now clean them easily for the first time ever. The draughtproofing stops them rattling, makes them run smoothly and there is NO HINT OF A DRAUGHT! I keep having to turn the heating down because the house is so much warmer. The windows look fabulous and all the work is guaranteed. And by the way, no, in answer to one of the comments on this review, I've never reviewed this company before!
Isn't it amazing how an hour or so of gentle pruning and general tidying-up in the garden can produce a gigantic heap of solid stuff? Stuff you can't cram into the composter. Stuff that has to be wrestled into bin-bags. Stuff that rips the bin bags and sticks out of the top, screaming "I am illegal green waste! Don't take me!" at the dustmen. I got very fed up with all this and went and consulted the Daily Telegraph website where they do reviews of garden machinery. They had just given the Atco Quiet Shredder 2000 the big five-star top rating so I went out and bought one for £319.00 in July 2001. It's the only gadget I've ever owned that was BETTER than I thought it would be. Blimey, can it pack the waste away. Mine came ready assembled, the chap in the shop just lifted it into the boot for me (it fits in the back of a small hatchback very comfortably) so all I did was stand it up in the garden, plug it in and press the green button. It chugs remarkably quietly as you feed all those twigs and branches and rose cuttings in at the top. Out into a bag at the bottom tumbles a fairly chunky (think wood chip mulch) but incredibly compact stream of compost-ready shredded greeny-browny stuff. Huge, huge piles of prunings were reduced to neat, easily carried bagloads. It's very safe, I think it would be impossible to get your hand caught in it and nothing flies in your face and eyes, it all goes down the chute in a well-mannered way. Best of all, men find it irrisistible. They sidle up to watch you using it and ask if they can have a go. They see a better way of loading it. Before you know it, they are doing all the shredding for you. Fantastic.
Fancy design very hard to read - Advantages: Cleaner, more logical layout., Fewer exclamation marks and gush. - Disadvantages: Pale pink text on green background is almost impossible to read. It does not encourage a browser to have a proper look.
This is a beautiful little phone, light, robust, stylish and guaranteed to make people go "Oooh! Isn't it cute!" But, but, but after having one for three months I've got to say that more attention has gone into making it pretty than making it efficient. It has an infuriatingly complicated system for sending and receiving text messages and calling up phonebook details - nothing that can't be learned but very clunky after my previous phone which was an Ericson and much simpler to operate. The flip lid looks great but means you cannot see who is calling. If you open it to find out you have already answered, so it's too late! The thing that really infuriates me though is that it has no alarm. I've always used my mobile as an alarm clock for the last five years and it never occurred to me that it wouldn't have one. It has a fiendishly complicated "datebook schedule" wich gives you a tiny little "cheep cheep" signal if you can figure it out and that's it. Grr!
Pat Barker won the Booker Prize for The The Ghost Road, the last novel in the Regeneration trilogy, but don't let that put you off. These three books - the first two are Regeneration and The Eye In The Door - are probably the best thing you'll ever read about war and the human condition. The writing is controlled and spare. No verbal fireworks here, just beautifuly observed and paced stories of all manner of people caught up in the horror of World War One. History brushes up against the fiction, real people stalk in and out of the pages; real events are the backdrop for the characters who find themselves in a world where all the goalposts are being moved. The old order, where everybody knew their place, is gone. Lives and minds are being torn apart, and these books examine unflinchingly the mess that such trauma causes. Sometimes funny, often horrifying, astonishingly sexy in places and never, never boring. This is intelligent, enlightening writing at its very best.
Natural beauty products. Here's a wonderful meaningless phrase. I see the competition is actually called Organic Beauty, but the link takes you to Natural Beauty...because it is all such sloppy description that it doesn't really matter. We know what we think natural and organic means though, don't we? Something pure and lovely and utterly untouched by nasty scientists in white coats. Er, no, sorry. A product is something cooked up by someone in order to sell it at a profit. Natural? Every cream and potion on the market is manufactured - they all have to be made by people - and tested and packaged and marketed. Organic? There might be a sliver of cucumber-grown-without-pesticides in the brew but there could be all sorts of other things too. Vitamins for example. Most are made in laboratories. Emulsifiers. Fats.... The fact is that some beauty brands boast about all the hi-tech lab work that went into their little tubes and jars and some imply that the stuff is just basically crushed fruit and veg with a touch of seaweed and no nasty artificial chemicals; the truth for both is somewhere in between. Everyone in the cosmetic business is using very much the same sort of basic materials and the biggest difference between one cream or lip balm or eyeliner and the next is the packaging - and the price. By all means choose stuff that isn't tested on animals (that doesn't make it natural or organic) but don't pay extra for a tube of gunk because it claims to be "natural." Sniff it to see if you like the smell. Ask yourself what you want it to do. Will it really do it better than the basic tried and tested brands? Is it really worth paying all that much extra for? All women splash out on daft beauty products sometimes. It cheers us up, it's fun. Just don't fall into the trap of actually believing it's somehow virtuous as well as long as the label says "organic" or "natural" It isn't.
Coming from a catering family I've always had Henry hoovers (yes, they are really called Numatic but everyone calls them Henry.) Hotels use them, restaurants, discos, builders, office cleaners, theatre staff and pubs use them. If you fly into the UK at an unearthly hour you can tell you're home because you'll see a sleepy cleaner trudging the vast acres of Terminal Four, followed by a cheerful little round vaccuum cleaner with a grin on its face. No other country does this! And why do the professionals go for the Henry? He works brilliantly (sucks hard) he is dead simple (one switch. on or off. how often do you need different suction speeds for heavens' sake?) there are no gadgets (you wind the magnificently long electric flex back into his hat with a - gasp - handle) and he lasts for ever. My next door neighbour had a Dyson. Endless fiddling about. All style and not enough action. Now she borrows my Henry all the time.
Years ago a gadget-mad friend of mine arrived on my doorstep bearing his latest toy - a telephone in a suitcase. It weighed a ton, cost a fortune, had a battery life of about 15 minutes and only worked on the top of hills. I was smitten at first sight. A lightbulb lit up in my head. I realised that this strange contraption was going to change the way we all used phones; utterly, totally and forever. That was the first mobile phone in Brighton and baby, look at them now! Since that solitary flash of insight, my inner lightbulb remained firmly switched off until August last year when a man arrived on my doorstep with big yellow egg on wheels. “This,” he said, “is your robot lawnmower.” He spent 40 minutes crawling round the lawn,laying a green plastic wire round the edge, then he shoved the egg onto the grass and pushed a button on its middle marked Go. The egg bleeped a couple of times, whirred into life and rumbled off. When it got to the wire it did a slow and thoughtful sort of five-point turn and set off on a parallel path till it got to the wire on the other side of the lawn where it turned round....... It left a neat strip of mown grass, with the cuttings chopped into a fine, invisible mulch. My lightbulb flashed on. This was the future. “Hey,” said an admiring neighbour, “Where did you get Marvin the Mower? The Star Wars set?” Marvin and I have been together ever since. The very memory of spending an hour or more a week marching up and down behind a noisy, smelly machine with a heavy grass-box that needs regular emptying seems, well, historic. He is quiet, reliable, efficient, endearingly simple (only three controls: Stop, Go and Cut Neatly All The Way Round The Edge). His bumper sensors ensure he will not run over shrubs,children or the cat. The invisible wire ensures he only cuts inside the area it encloses. Marvin isn’t perfect. He needs 12 hours to fully rec
harge his batteries, and he’s slow, rumbling methodically along at about a mile an hour so he takes a couple of hours to purr round my large lawn. He also costs around £499, which may sound on the steep side for a mower. But my lawn has never been in better shape since I started turfing Marvin out a couple of times a week and forgetting about him while he did his thing and he is a handsome beast - he comes in red, blue and lilac as well as yellow. Trust that lightbulb. In a few years we’ll all be wondering how on earth we ever managed without an egg-shaped electronic slave to cut the grass for us.
I was interested to hear high praise for the Telegraph the other day from a young Ukranian guy working behind the bar in a London pub. He explained earnestly that he wanted to improve his English so he read a paper every day and he wasn't good enough to read the Sun yet. He found the easiest paper the Telegraph, because it was written in "clear words" that he could look up if he was baffled. All the slang and the in-jokes and general tabloidese of the little papers "looked like a different language sometimes." The Telegraph is an excellent paper which really does care about the words it uses, which is why I read it (and I like the crossword...). Nice to see that it is appreciated.