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Guerledan Lake - Brittany.
Or Lac de Gueledan (Same place but in French)
That French sure is tricky.
We just returned from France after a not-so-gruelling two week stint in the heart of Brittany. Many things were done and many things seen but one of the best was this large man-made lake - the biggest, allegedly, in Europe.
Humorously, it's owned by EDF, the electricity supplier. They also supply my electricity, so this computer is being powered partly by the lake I am writing about. Perhaps 'humorously' was either wishful thinking or exaggeration. Or just a lie.
The lake is a big long affair and has the look of a a drowned valley, which it is. You always get suspicious when you see leafless trees sticking out of the lake about 20 yards from the edge of it that were once happy little trees until someone decided to drown the buggers. It always looks a bit eerie but there aren't a lot of them.
The lake stretches from Mur-de-Bretagne in the East to Bon Repos in the West, about 10Km altogether.
In the middle is a 'resort' named Beau-Rivage. This sports a 'beach' (man-made) which is small but well contained and clean. There is sand for bucket-fun but don't dig too deep as you hit the underlying clay quite quickly. The lake makes for good swimming. It's shallow near the edges thus minimising the risk of child-death but gets deep enough for a bit of thrashing around. The swimming area is marked of with buoys and it is a good idea to pay close attention if you wish to avoid being the next Kirsty McColl. There are a lot of water-skiers and jet-skiers around which make good viewing but the noise is annoying after a while. The area is fantastic for water-sports but personally I'm not into that kinky stuff. Kayaks and canoes are available for a very reasonable fee - about 7 Euros an hour and you can get three in a kayak. Be warned - the French call canoes kayaks and vice-versa. The fools. You can board one of the lake pleasure cruisers here as well. The beach area is surrounded by pine forest and craggy cliffs making the area just....well......pleasant.
There is plenty of places around for food just off the beach. The little kiosk by the campsite is especially cheap for crepes and frites. At the end of the beach is a posher restaurant-cum-bar which has an excellent view out over the lake with decking that extends into the water a tad. Parking is ample but the French do like to come here during their holidays so be careful if the sun is out, I could imagine it getting quite packed.
Mur-de-Bretagne is the largest town on the lake. I'd like to tell you a bit about the town itself but as I never went into it I can't. There you go. Relieved? Details can be found www.tourisme.fr/tourist-office/mur-de-bretagne which is the tourist office. I suspect they have actually been. However, we have been to the lake beach here and very pleasant it is too. The swimming is good and the beach, which again is very tiny, is backed by well maintained grassy parkland with a small climbing frame for the kids. Again, there are canoes for hire from a small shack of a caravan run (on our visits) by 2 small French boys, about 14 years old. They will try their best to help you and laugh at your pathetic French. Do watch out for the wasps. They hate the British and still have a grudge about the Napoleonic wars. I was stung twice in half-an-hour.
To be honest I haven't been to any other parts of the actual lake. These two locations took up about 4 days of our holiday and really entertained the kids. They were well catered for. We did visit Bon Repos on the river that exits the lake in the West which has a medieval abbey and a rather nice market. It has a old French feel and is worth a visit too. The people in this area were very pleasant and accommodating. They are used to a multinational tourism and know the ropes.
If you're in the area, this will certainly be one of the places you visit and with kids it's a godsend - there are only so many markets they can tolerate.
Pleurisy now diminishing, what say I launch into a 5-year progress report on our much respected, if not exactly loved Zafira. According to Wiki, the Zafira was named after a Hungarian porn actress called Zafira. She recently underwent breast enlargement because one breast was larger than the other. Hey - same's true of my hands. We should meet.
Here's an early disclaimer:
I know bugger all about cars. I let mankind down. I am as worthless as a worm.
I can drive.
I know where the petrol goes.
So, purpose of disclaimer is to get people who watch Top Gear off my back from the off. There will be no talk of bhp, torque or carburettors. Hey -I spelt it right. No red line. Cool. This will be a simple explanation of experience/costs/likes and dislikes and practical stuff like wot I do know about. All technical stuff will be dispelled in the first section.
What the f**K does that mean?
That done, down to the nitty-gritty (which is apparently a very racist term, related to the slave trade but I can't remember from whence it came).
The Zafira was pretty much based on the old Astra with a slightly extended chassis. The Astra was not especially good-looking and hey - guess what? My wife dislikes it's looks totally. She likes minxy in a car and this ain't it. It isn't ugly - just bleugh. Very non-descript. The stubby bonnet sweeps up to a large windscreen and on to the long, essentially rectangular body. Very little in the way of curves here. The rear drops precipitously to the tail. Ours is silver. So it is also shiny.
Inside, the layout is much like the Astra. The dash (and I did have an Astra by the way, once, in a former marriage) is a large chunk of black plastic with black control knobs. The usual stuff is there - and that's it. No bells and whistles in our rather basic model. The car came with a CD player. So what I hear you say? Well bugger off, I'm struggling to impress here. The glove compartment is roomy enough for the first aid kit (we don't even remember is there) and snotty tissues that get thrown in from time to time. The electric window control sits on the door arm rest.
In the back, there is little to talk about other than the drink holders and side pockets.
All-in-all pretty unimpressive stuff. Nothing to make anyone whoop in delight. So then - the beauty of the car must lie elsewhere. And it does.
Which, for once, is good.
The car is a seven-seater MPV. Now this isn't something unique - just something I think the car does very, very well.
My sister has a Galaxy. Also a seven seater. Now, if on one very boring Sunday afternoon I were to challenge to an inter-family 'Who can convert their 5-seater to a 7-seater and then back again' race I would seriously whoop her ass. I have a competitive streak, OK?
As she was struggling to get her seats from where-ever she last buried them, clip them in, and then unclip them I would have finished, flown to Milan for a cappicino, and then got home. With a tan.
On the Zafira, everything sort of slides out of the way and/or into position. The rear seats are stored under the middle seats when they are not up. You just move the middle seats forward, Slide up the rear seats to a vertical position and er.... That's it.
I have heard a few people complain that the rear seats are not that comfortable but we just shove the kids on them and if they complain I ignore them. They never have anyway. The kids have ample leg room back there, leaving the kids in the middle with plenty to spare as well. I admit, adults might get a bit squished in the very back after a long journey but I doubt it would be any more than you would get in the back of a hatchback.
Off course, when the seats aren't up there is a huge storage space in the back - easily challenging an estate car. If you want, you can have just one rear seat up and leave the equivalent to a 'boot' next to it.
If you have anything long to get in, all the rear and middle seats will collapse to near flat. We've had doors in there, a wardrobe - all sorts and still shut the boot. To cut funeral costs, you can put a coffin in it.
Cost a lot?
The care has, in 5 years (60,000 miles) been through 2 and half sets of tyres and 2 sets of brake pads and the end/middle exhaust section. The servicing has been done on time, so far for about £150 a pop. It's had, I think 4. All done at Vauxhall apart from the last one, where we went to the independent garage round the corner. Nothing major needs doing. Yet.
However - twice now, the engine warning light has popped up with the useful manual telling us to take it to a Vauxhall garage to attach to the computers. Both times the warning was an error. Both times it cost £50 to attach it to the computer to tell us it was an error. In a way, it is a testament to modern computer technology that everything works so well that the computers get bored and 'pretend' there is something wrong 'for a laugh'.
Fuel economy is diminishing rapidly with age. Where once it probably clawed 35mpg, 25mpg is now a more realistic proposal. Put it this way, every school holidays I go to Check Point Charlie in Newbury to pick up my 2 kids from the ex. Actually it's Sutton Scotney services but there is no adventure in the admission. This is a 430 mile round trip which costs £85 in the Zafira not including the M6 toll road (traditionally, you paid to use a toll road to avoid bandits, nowadays you use it to subject yourself to daylight robbery). It costs £40 in the 206 deisel. No contest.
You would not think you were in a seven-seater that's for sure, The elevated driving position is actually quite cool and makes you feel big and safe. The car handles like a car. Like an Astra to be precise. It is perhaps a little bit skittish under acceleration in terms of steering but it does accelerate pretty well for a heavy tank of a car. Around town, it's nippy, which it really shouldn't be. On the motorway, 5th gear still has heavy revs I find which I don't like. It's quite noisy and feels like it must be drinking the fuel with a straw.
Having said that, we have done some pretty large runs in it (Scotlad) with everyone fairly comfortable - including the driver (me - hi!).
Do things fall off it?
No but a few things have gone kaka on it but not the cars fault.Firstly, there is a detachable rear shelf/boot cover. This clips into a couple of holes on either side of the rear passenger compartment. These are the exact size of Oidz - you know - those magnetic anusol suppository shaped things for kids. When an 11 year sticks an Oidz in one hole and the 3 year-old copies and shoves one in the other hole you can no longer attach your rear shelf. Vauxhall obviously didn't do their research, or failed to take into account that children are sort of retarded.
As further proof, when a short 11 year-old opens the boot to get football boots out and then tries to shut the boot - he can't reach. Obviously the eleven-year old will jump up to grab the boot lip, allowing his weight to pull it down. If he grabs the middle.
If he jumps to grab the right edge instead, his weight will only be enough to bend the hydraulic door-arm, rendering it useless and spraying hydraulic fluid all over himself. From this point on, the one remaining hydraulic arm will be insufficient to hold the boot up by itself, requiring you to balance the boot on your head.
Now, I'm a tolerant man.....................
Other than the involvement of children, the build quality has been pretty good and nothing else has broken.
Well, that's exhausted my scope of car interests. Let's face it - cars are pretty complicated and exhaustive things and I could go on forever - but there is only so much strength I can muster and soon I will begin to delve into things of which I know nothing.
In summary - it isn't pretty. It isn't all that economical to run, though servicing so far hasn't been very painful.
It is hugely practical. We genuinely need 7 seats on a regular basis and having the Zafira means not having to use 2 cars to go everywhere, which does balance the fuel consumption somewhat. It has been very reliable and little has gone wrong we could blame the manufacture for.
The £10,000 we paid 5 years ago with 3000 miles on the clock has been money well spent.
Actually - one thing I just remembered - all those moving parts and collapsing seats make it a bugger to clean - the bits of cake, finger and crisp packet manage to get into every nook and cranny - places most vacuums live in claustrophobic fear off.
Thanks for reading.
May also be found on other review sites where this review, due to the fact that there will have been dozens similar, will pay about half-a-penny per read. If I'm lucky!
Well I know that from time to time we do actually act on the reviews we read and here is a bit more further proof. I tried CD-Repair after reading mummy to Harry's review here. Ok scenario bit now.
There are a lot of kids in our house. Reminiscent of those mice on Bagpuss, scurrying around being noisy. Now these are clever mice who know how to operate cd-players, playstations, computers and xbox's. All at the same time apparently, without even having to be near them. Always on and always being used. In different rooms. Some might say this is the spoilt generation and they'd be right. Some might say they are little gets and they'd be right also.
Into all these machines go CD's and DVD's. And then come out. And go onto the floor. Sometimes they are thrown. Sometimes they are used as drinks mats. Sometimes they are used as weapons. Sometimes as plates for sausage rolls. What they never do is to venture into the special little protective box they heralded from.
As a result, many of these discs soon look like an ice-rink after an octopus ice-skating competition. And then the whining starts. Oh God I can hear it now. 'My game won't work'. I will type up a standard reply along the lines of 'That is because you are a spoilt little oik ' and just hold it up. I don't see why I should waste my breath. And then perhaps go on about DNA tests and Jeremy Kyle.
Anyway, the eldest has had his Call of Duty 4 destroyed. He loved that game and would sing it to sleep every night. Sometimes we wondered if they were lovers. Or at least you would when you heard the rage that emitted from him on the day it didn't work. It genuinely wasn't his fault as he wasn't here. It was one of the shorter kids who did it. It has a huge scratch across it and was kaput.
Anyway, hero to the rescue. I remembered the review of mummy2harry, looked it up again to check the address and was pretty impressed that a £40 xbox game might be fixed for £2.99 including postage. That price is for 1-10 discs. It's £2.49 per disc for 11-50 discs and only £1.99 for more than 50. Now I doubt many people have that many discs they care about but you never know.
What I really liked about these guys was that you could pay by paypal, which is nice and painless for me or if you'd rather, you can use debit card, credit card or naked virgins.
Clicking through all this was a doddle on the very simple website, which was basically just a front page, with contact numbers if you're stuck and a few disclaimers about 'unfixability'. Generously, they claim to refund you if the disc turns out to be unrepairable. There is a link to an info page about repairing discs yourself, which was genuinely informative but will surely make them redundant?
You are given the choice of posting your disc yourself or they will send you a little cardboard pocket in and stamped envelope to send it off to them in. Really free postage. Being a tight-arse, I opted for that.
Soon after, I got an email confirming all had gone through well. A few days later the envelope arrived. In went the disc.
Well, 5 days later the disc returned, still in it's little box with a little explanatory note explaining that it couldn't be tested due to copyright reasons (??) but that it looked fine visually and to get back to them if it didn't work.
And it looked gorgeous.
Beyond that, there is little to say. I thought the service was spot-on. The communications were great. They did what they said they would do. It is rare that you risk something online, that seems good value and that delivers. Seriously, if you've got any treasured discs that kids have touched with bare hands, give them a go. They were great.
May also be seen on other review sites where the category exists.
Thanks for reading.
Here's dedication - I have pleurisy at the moment - not nice. And yet still I write a review. I will get my reward in heaven. That Islamic heaven seems a good deal with all them virgins and what-not but I'll take any heaven if the truth be known.
We have a 16-year old with a chocolate fetish. Annoyingly he isn't fat but his day will come. As such, for his birthday, we decided to get a chocolate fountain for the family birthday tea. Knowing this to be essentially a waste of money from the off we looked for cheap and noticed that good old Argos had one of their Cookworks efforts for £12.99 which screamed Billy Bargain. One reservation and a trip to town later and we had it.
Out of the box
The sturdy box revealed a small plastic puzzle wrapped around a solid metal base. The wife wanted to read the instructions but I stepped in with cool logic and a realisation that they only fitted together in one possible and within 2 minutes the central screw, pipe and 'tiers' were sitting nicely together. Dead easy.
The chocolatey bit.
Cheap fountain was now offset by expensive chocolate. You need a lot. Initially, we thought we would just use all the chocolate that the kids hadn't eaten for Easter as they are all spoilt brats who get more than they need. Not enough. We ended up spending £10 on big bars of Cadburys. To get it going, you need to melt this with a bit of oil in the microwave. You could heat it in the base, which has its own heating element but the instructions implied that this could take a long time. Once melted it was chucked in the curved bowl at the base of the spiral and turned on.
Use and operation.
There are 2 settings on the base and an indicator light. The first notch just keeps the chocolate hot and molten, the second turns the screw and draws the chocolate up to the top. From here it cascades down over the 3 'tiers' which increase in diameter until it drips back into the awaiting bowl.
Suffice to say, it works. The chocolate, mostly due to the oil, flows smoothly - you can't taste the oil by the way- and cascaded really well. Impressive results. All manner of titbits were tested in the chocolate -strawberries, biscuits, marshmallows and of course broccoli. All tasted of err...chocolate.
Don't try to stick you head in it like Dawn French did. It's too small and you'll smash your teeth.
Forget it. Nightmare. For a start - don't let it go cold before you clean it. The central screw just locks solid. The chocolate is, of course, stuck to everything. Once you allow it to heat up, it's still a nightmare but at least you seem to get somewhere. The fattiness just clings. You need a LOT of hot water and detergent.
Well it worked well for £12.99 so no complaints there. Cleaning was a nightmare. I suspect that it will now sit unloved for a year under the sink but will again be used one day.
Sorry for the brevity, the fever is starting to return. Stupid illness.
Thanks for reading.
May also be on other review sites.
Frankie and Bennies
F&B's is the well known American-Italian 'restaurant'/diner. There'll be one near you somewhere. They have the usual Italian restaurant chain story. Papa Luigi arriving in the states with just 20 Lira and a goat. Had to cook the goat with a pinch of dried Italian seasoning to feed knife-toting steel workers and on that a reputation was built. Well, not quite, the real story is on the same lines but the steel workers didn't have knives. And it wasn't a goat. It was a squirrel.
From humble beginnings they have expanded to one of the largest chains in the UK and I'd love to tell you how many outlets they had but the website won't tell me. Instead, I shall guess er....163. Accuracy isn't my strong point.
We went today for a joint stepson and real daughter birthday lunch. We have 5 children between us and my sister brought 3 more. The cow. Anyway, I would find it hard to find any positives in anything from the ensuing chaos that only a 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14 and 16 year-old can bring. Oh, and my mother came so I can tackle the restaurant through the eyes of an OAP amoeba.
The branch was the Cheshire Oaks branch in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire or maybe it's Merseyside.
I rang today at 10 O'clock for 1:30 lunch. No problem at all. When we arrived, we were glad we booked because it was VERY busy. The restaurant is right next to a cinema, a cunning business strategy methinks and it was full of kids. It was like a soft play area without any soft things. Or tunnels. No problem as the kids crawled through the tables for 2 hours like feral animals anyway. The stuff of nightmares.
We plumped for the lunchtime menu due to the lunchtime-like time of arrival and the rather good deal they seemed to have. For adults, this was £4.95 for a main, £6.45 for 2 courses and £7.95 for 3. Given a starter by itself from the main menu was around £4, this seemed a good buy! The kids had a choice of 2 menus at £3.95 for kids and £6.25 for Juniors. If my prices are out then it is due to memory of goldfish syndrome but they are good to around 20p. The kids get a main, drink and pudding for that price and from both menus, the soft drinks get unlimited refills which I think is the sign of generosity, even if they do make a massive mark-up on them anyway.
The adult lunch menu has a choice of about 6 starters, 15 main courses and 3 puddings. It caters for a wide range of tastes - pasta, pizza, burger, salad for herbivores etc etc. The puddings were limited but no-one wanted one anyway.
Every Frankie and Bennys looks the same. Pretend Italian from a catalogue. Not unattractive, just well cheesy. Toilet wallpaper made of newspaper clippings from New York newspapers and 1950's music in the background. Diner style furnishings.
Arrived hot and was tasty and the portions were very generous. We all struggled to finish, apart from me who ate everyone else's left-overs until I felt sick. My wifes bowl of Pasta could have fed Rome and she was a bit disappointed because she felt she was wasting it and starts sobbing about the starving of the world etc etc.
I had Calamari, which was good if not obviously frozen in a former life. Former as in 10 minutes previous. My cheese burger had lots of trimmings and the chips were crisp and tasty. They too were obviously sitting next to the squid not long before.
Fellow diners also commented on everything being A-OK. The amoeba enjoyed her beer-battered cod thank God. There would have been trouble.
Really - no complaints about the food, the coke kept coming , value for money was a dead cert.
Hmmmmmm. They weren't chirpy Italians. They looked like they were locked in a room with 50 demanding children and their distraught parents. They were busy but to be fair, as attentive as you could probably expect. We hadn't planned on the Ritz. They kept checking if we wanted drinks and didn't forget about us when we were ready to order so I can't moan.
However - somebody explain this.
There were 4 adults and 8 children in our party. Who do you feed first? Yes, the kids. Until they are fed they are bored. When they are bored they get on my proverbial tits. Instead, they bring the adults there starters so the kids can watch us eat. Only we can't eat because we are too busy sorting out the fights and dragging them from under tables and sorting out the 'who gets the red balloon' war.
And then they leave us for 25 minutes until the mains arrive with the kids. As such, I spent a lot of time outside with them all so they could run around without annoying everyone else. That's not fun.
You feed them at the same time as everyone else and you keep the food coming with no gaps - they must know this. The Italians love children. I have seen Dolmio adverts.
The above is a big let down. I know it's my job to control my own children but I can't. A class of 25 - no problem. Just 2 of my own turn me into Victor Meldew or whatever his name is.
So, good marks for the food and portion size but nil point in having half a brain in how to cater for masses of kids.
All, and good info can be found at http://www.frankieandbennys.com/ including downloadable menus which were good for sorting the kids out beforehand.
Thanks for reading. May also be found on other review sites such as what Frankie might say to Benny when they say goodbye to each other in informal Italian.
Briwax original wax.
About 6 years ago we bought a pine dining table. God were posh. We liked pine at the time, I was told. Now we like leather and dark woods I'm told. But then we liked pine. The kitchen, rather than be given the much needed gutting, was instead embellished. By pine.
For a couple of years the table was cherished with cloths and table protectors but eventually we apparently got bored of that and now it is exposed once more in all its glory. The trouble, as predicted, is that eventually the sunlight and the children get to it. It's started to look worse for wear and 'Antique' before its time.
So we started rubbing things on it. I found this thrilling but it only made it worse. The first, and indeed only, restorative treatment we have used on it has been this Briwax Original Wax and despite having some interesting qualities, it has failed to restore the furniture to it former 'glory'.
The stuff comes in a nice round tin containing 400gms of the stuff. It has a nice oldy-worldy look about it - the sort of thing that you'd find in your grandfathers shed when he dies, hardly used and a bit rusty. I know the feeling. In 30 years the tin would be sold to a collector for £3.20. That sort of thing.
Scrawled on the tin are the directions for use - nice and simple and bloody great warning symbols telling you not to eat it no matter how hungry you are. Even unborn babies are not safe. Oh and if you do eat it - don't vomit. Have you ever tried NOT vomiting when you need to? And if you do vomit, do you then have to eat your own sick? We should be told.
So when you do eventually open it you realise the need for the warning. There is the heady scent of marker pens. Really heady. It fills the room at takes you off to a land of flowers and music and naked ladies. This is the toluene that it contains. That's one of the 'T's in TNT. Obviously, smelling solvents is very dangerous and not to be recommended but there is something very alluring about the aroma. The wax is dark brown, like melted chocolate with a lovely soft consistency.
Overall, Briwax have created something that looks like chocolate and smells heavenly and then tell you you can't eat it.
They do make a toluene-free version if you are sensitive to volatiles and have no call to make home-made explosives.
Scoop it up with a soft cloth and rub, rub, rub. It's not hard work and it soaks in well. Think Karate Kid. They suggest you use 00 gauge wire wool but I ain't got any.
Does it work?
Well, the tin says it cleans, stains and polishes. It does 2 out of 3 well.
Rubbing a table with a cloth, by its very nature, will clean. That's what rubbing does. There is an unsuitable gag there which I'm resisting. The table, afterwards looks polished. Again, rubbing will do that. And err.... polishing. What we needed was some really good staining. Patches of the table have faded over time and we wanted to get a uniform colour. Well, even though the lighter patches do slightly darken with the wax, it is a miniscule effect. We have put layer upon layer of the stuff on the table and we are nowhere near uniformity. There just isn't enough oomph in the stain for what we wanted.
Perhaps we expected too much. I feel I'm being a bit harsh and really, this is a product you need to use from day one to make sure your tables original colour and shine is maintained. Perhaps that pesky horse has bolted.
I still feel, even though we are not restoring the table, we are doing a good job at maintaining and preserving it from further wear so, I'll give it a 6 out of 10.
More details can be found here: http://www.briwax.co.uk/products/briwax.html
Thanks for reading. May also be posted on other sites.
If I owned Best Western I would fill each hotel with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne memorabilia and have bellboys wearing tasselled suede jackets and receptionists with guns. The bar would be called a 'saloon' and we could all eat large cow parts for dinner. Instead Best Western is known for its rather mundane décor and 'out-of-a-catalogue' furnishings. They need my marketing expertise. It's what business men want.
The Best Western Waterloo Hotel is no exception to the Best Western norm, but non the worse given our purposes for them, which is largely as a bolt-hole in order to experience better things. We have been here on several occasions over the last 10 years, perhapd 4 or 5 times and use it as a springboard to the sights and activities that Snowdonia has to offer. It's only a 40 minute drive from home in Mold and caters for us well.
Where is this particular one then?
The Waterloo Hotel is about 15miles from Caernarfon, 40 miles from Chester, 220 miles from London and about 8000miles from the Falkland Islands. It sits on the main A5 that drags itself up to Anglesey through the Snowdonia National Park from down South somewhere. In the old days, before the Beatles, it was the main horse and coach run to Anglesey and Ireland beyond. The sort of road you'd get held up on by bandits and mad Welsh nationalists.
It sits just, and I mean just, outside the centre of Betwys-y-Coed. For those that don't know of Betwys, it needs some further explanation. It is the first sort of town of Snowdonia. It is a beautiful little place, barely satisfying the term 'town'. A Victorian oasis, built on the back of the slate mining and wool trade. It has majestic old hotels and buildings that sit alongside a fast flowing ,mountain river with the famous Swallow Falls at the top end. A more recent block of shops and café's attract visitors from far and wide, most of whom arrive by coach and look close to death. You know the sort of thing, Darby and Joan days out. Get on the coach, sleep all the way to Wales, get out of coach, go straight into café, drink tea, dodge motorcyclists, get back onto coach, sleep all the way back to Blackburn. That is not to be scathing. They are the life-blood of the place. I am trying to conjure up an image of a place devoid of lap-dancing.
We go there for a few reasons.
1. The kids love playing in the river there - it is beautiful scenery and the kids just like water. Until bath-time anyway. WARNING. The river is very fast and children have died in it. Teenagers leap from the bridge into it because they don't think they can die. I explain to my teenagers that they can die, and indeed will if they don't pick up their bloody dishes. I am a good father.
2. Once you're in Betwys, the rest of Snowdonia is only a stones throw away. Well, if you are Geoff Capes it is anyway. There is good walking to be had from the village/town itself.
3. The shops in Betwys cater for kids and they can buy every manner of water pistol and sword set known to man. They spend hours deciding which bit of crap they can leave in the car next. Here, you can inflate China's economy single-handedly.
4. There are lots of climbing shops which I love looking around. I don't really do a lot of climbing but I do like looking as though I do. And I want a GPS thingy so I know where I am at all times. Even though I know where I am already, which is never more than 100m away from a main road.
OH MY GOD-I HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE HOTEL!
The Waterloo has been here for as long as I can remember and I used to come to Betwys with my parents as a kid 30 years ago. It's a fairly modern looking building with a bit of stone cladding on I, probably in order to get planning permission.
The main hotel has about 40 en-suite BUT I have never actually stayed in the main block. We like this hotel because it has some 'lodges' attached to them.
These lodges are directly adjacent to the hotel but you can park your car right outside them and they have a little veranda to put dirty shoes on to dry.
Look like Best Western rooms. There is the desk thing and the bed thing - in the lodges though you get the choice of two singles or a double and in the past we have had a family lodge that housed 4 of us. They will put a cot thing in as well if you want. The teenagers moan about having to have their turn in it but it's tough growing up and they just have to learn. Oh and there is an armchair thing.
The term 'thing' refers to the non-descript nature of everything. There is never anything special about them, they are just functional bits of equipment. There is also a telly, thank God and an alarm-clock and the phone to ring reception to tell them to bring more armchairs.
The bathroom is usually Ok and everything works but you wouldn't feel inclined to comment beyond that.
Like most Best Westerns I have been in, the rooms look tired and faded - heading towards need of refurbishment but never quite getting there because they are diligent about patching things up.
This hotel has a pool!!!! With a little sauna thing and a gym! This is one of the reasons we go there. The weather in Snowdonia is pants most of the time. It's what makes it so green and fertile and well......Welsh. The only animals that like it there are small-brained sheep, who think it's really nice all the time. If all else fails, we can go in the pool and escape the rain. The cost of the facilities is included in the room price so there's no extra expense.
We have only ever had breakfast there because we always have the little killjoys with us and refuse to pay for nice food because they only get energy from it and annoy us even more. The breakfasts though are fine. It's the usual cooked 'Welsh' breakfast thing which is the same as an English breakfast but with a Welsh sausage. Which is the same as an English sausage but made from a welsh pig. Which is the same as an English pig but lives in Wales. If an English pig lived in Wales, the other pigs would burn its sty down, so you know it's got to be a genuine Welsh pig. There are also kippers on the menu. See the above diatribe, replacing the word 'pig' for 'kipper'.
For dinners, we go into Betwys to eat - there is the chippy and café's and this and that. For tackling the munchies, there is a shell garage 50m away which sells chocolate until late.
I have decided that all hotels make up the prices as they go along. Seriously, in the past we have booked 4 of us in for the night for £60. At other times we have phones up and they want £120. It's different every time. As such, whatever I quote will be a lie so I won't bother. But, as hotels go, it's fairly decent. Children under 16 have always gone for free as well and I think that is the main reason we plump for it. However, they don't get the breakfast for free and that adds another £6 or so per child to the price. Or - starve them. Just let them watch through the window.
We have been many times so it must be OK. It is 'convenient'. I wouldn't want to stay there for more than 2 or 3 nights though. Not because it's bad - just dull. If I was 83 and wanted one last excursion to the mountains before I met my maker I would choose one of the posher Victorian Hotels that proliferate in Betwys. However, for a family wanting to play in the hills for cheap then it is probably a better option than a B&B.
More info and unreliable prices can be found here:
Split due to '80 character' rule.
Thanks for reading.
May also be on other review sites and newspaper pull-out sections.
This was a definite 'how far can we go on a budget at Easter where it might be warm?' affair. Thank God for budget airlines. Me, the wife and the nipper/satan spawn off to Pisa on Ryanair from Liverpool for about £140 should do it.
But where to stay? I was all for sleeping on a beach but Italy in April wouldn't stop hypothermia I was told. So it was time to scour the internet for somewhere with 5 days availability, vaguely out of season and cheap. We had about £400 to play with. Not too bad. The wonders of the modern family meant that some of our kids were spending time with their real parents so we were down from 5 to 1. It wasn't my idea to conceive a child between us that we couldn't ship out. Damn female hormones. Rather than spend our time mourning, we thought it best to bugger off of on holiday without them to ease the pain.
I digress. After much uncertainty we decided on a rather pleasant looking hotel, vaguely posh, close to the airport and near a beach with its own pool in case of climate emergencies. It was a blind act but that only added to the excitement.
I don't care if Ryanair are tacky and a bit cramped and dirty. And smell. Or crash on landing. They get you there for buttons. Pisa Airport was OK. Small but with the bits you need - loos, shops, pizza etc etc. We arrived at night and Easter is apparently a big deal for the Italians. Something about God and guilt. However, the taxis were plentiful and zipped us off to the nearby coastal resort of Tirrenia for about 25Euros for a 20km journey (memory may be fading). We kept going past Tirrenia for about 5km to the hotel. It was dark. I had absolutely no idea where I was.
We were greeted in a pleasant foyer by a pleasant man. Signed the paperwork and were 'carted' on a pleasant golf buggy by a different pleasant man to our 'block' and room. Still dark. Still clueless as to where I was, but it looked green and leafy in the moonlight. In the light of a solar path light I saw a slightly deformed looking lemon on a bush. I just thought I'd throw that in for 'atmosphere'.
I was well impressed by the room. Dominated by a huge bed, the room was spacious and very chic. Suede headboards and furnishings with a huge sofa. The bathroom was a sparkly marble affair with a wall-sized mirror. It was one of the best looking rooms I've bee in. To one side was a patio door that opened out to a balcony which was bizarre, as we were on the ground floor. It was equipped with a table and chairs and turned out to be a good place to smoke fags and drink coffee. Still no idea where I was though.
On waking, I finally got some idea of where I was. The hotel comprises of about 4 modern, low-rise blocks. The word 'block' here is not to confused with the use of the word in 'H-block' or indeed 'Prisoner of Cell Block H'. These were nice blocks - modern but in 'sympathy'. With something. Most were residential, one housing a rather posh, expensive restaurant that no-one ever seemed to use. Another housed the gym and swimming pool which I'll mention later. Another, the main restaurant - the place you go for breakfast or a drink. These were all loosely arranged around a central 'park' for want of a better word. A very pleasant area, filled with pine trees and paths as well as more local 'exotic' plants. The area of Tirrenia is a national park for pine woodland and the hotel, it turned out, had been built within it, nestling its many buildings within the existing wood. Very nicely done!
Near the main entrance was a barbecue area next to an outdoor swimming pool. Both these were closed due to being out of season which I knew before hand. Some of the leaflets around reception showed pictures in the height of summer and they cater for the bathers with freshly cooked barbecue stuff which looked all rather splendid. Shame it was shut. I fancied some meat around the pool.
The large bar and restaurant was again well appointed and smart looking. The bar prices were reasonable - about 2 Euros for a bottle of Peroni.
Breakfast was a HUGE affair. A massive selection of continental goodies which never stopped coming. I love the breakfasts on the continent. UK breakfasts are very restricted in variety but here they just threw everything you could think off at you. Brill. Endless coffee and brioches, toast, meats, cheese, yoghurt stuff for stick insects. Everything.
We had dinner there one night which was a rushed affair as we had a 3 year old Jac (not a typo - Welsh spelling) and he was being a pain in the bum. I think it was fine but had no idea what it was I had.
One thing I didn't realise was that the use of the pool was not free, even to residents unless you pay more up front. It was quite pricey as well with a days pass for the three of us to use the facilities being about 40 euros. On a slightly cloudy day we went for it and to be honest it was quite good value for money. The pool was very luxurious and obviously aimed at wealthy gym users. All manner of bubbly bits squirted my nether-regions until I felt value-for-money had been achieved. We spent a bit of time in the sauna. Jac passed out in there quite quickly so we got a bit of peace and quiet. There were also a lot of other treatments on offer within the price including use of the gm but I was on holiday so sod that. Upstairs has a bar and 'café' for light lunches and the like. All I all - not bad but not the sort of thing you'd want to spend money on every day.
This is where we get to the catch. The local area isn't quite 'finished' yet. I don't mean that in the never finished 'costa' sort of way. No huge cranes everywhere or anything like that. I got the impression that when the area was flattened by the allied invasion in 1943 they started rebuilding. And they still are. Very slowly. There are some plush developments going up along the main coastal road the hotel sits on. In between these it is rather barren. Not nasty, just unused. The resort of Tirrenia 5 km away looks a bit unloved.
Just outside the hotel, over the main road is a beach. It looks like it is used by the locals - it's never going to be covered with Germans (not since 1943 anyway) but in April it looked like it was just getting ready for the holiday season. The beach bars were touching up their paintwork and the bulldozers were out sprucing and raking the sand. A month later it would have been pleasant but it wasn't just yet. The Med sparkled like it always does and the sun shone but the scene is slightly ruined by the port of Livorno, 5 miles south and you can see the huge tankers steaming into harbour and the massive dockside cranes dominated the distant skyline. I wasn't bad at all - just didn't fulfil my images of Club Tropicana.
We caught the bus to Pisa one day, which was an enjoyable exploration and went to Livorno as well, which wasn't unpleasant. Other that that we were happy kicking round the hotel and beach. Jac loved it.
Well I had a really good time. I like these shoestring, where-can-we-go-for-the-money expeditions we go on. I always set out to enjoy my plan-less adventure. This was a good hotel with good service, rooms and food. It was inI a bit of a funny place and in hindsight I wish I had hired a car to go exploring a bit more. I wouldn't go there for a family holiday - the beach and surroundings aren't up to it but if you want to go somewhere on-the-hop for a bit of a break you won't go far wrong. For 3 return flights and the hotel for 4 nights we paid around £550 which I think was Billy Bargain.
Thanks for reading.
PS - the 'n' key on my keyboard is being crap. Please igore ay typos.
May also be on other review sites. Here is an anagram of one such site. icoa.
This is a review of Aldis Almat '2 in 1' washing tablets.
Almat are Aldi's 'own brand' detergent stuff. A quick bit of research with thefreedictionary.com will tell you that Almat stands for 'Aviation Logistics Management Advisory Team'. A quite remarkable feat that the same team that advises the management on how to move things around within the aviation industry has time to provide cheap detergents to German supermarket chains. Alternatively, they could be a flying club based in Coventry but obviously it would be ridiculous to suggest trainee pilots have time or the expertise for such a venture.
As we (she, with me to push the trolley), get a lot of basics from Aldi, it is a familiar brand name in the cupboard under the sink. We should not be snobbish here. We put great store on our washing and expect results. We have our pride. However, results are all important and this doesn't fair to badly. I appreciate that I have never actually looked at the washing after it comes out of the machine and merely assume its clean but I think I would notice if it was dirtier. I'm not one of those weirdo housewives who hold white things to the light to check for microscopic specs. I'm a man, testicles and all, and proud of it. Though not ashamed to say I don't mind doing a few chores here and there and so feel qualified to comment on washing powder. Am I getting defensive?
All washing powder packaging is naff so Almat isn't going to stand out. The '2 in 1' tablets I'm reviewing do not look especially cheap to be frank. There is the usual 'colgate twinkle of cleanliness' surrounding the name 'Almat' and the ubiquitous clean boy playing outside, doing something that will inevitably lead to dirtiness but as of yet, he still sparkles. There is useful advice about dosage and hard water. The science comes in informing us that there is 'oxi power active stain remover' and 'aloe vera freshness'. We don't care, let alone believe you. In fact we don't even care enough to think about whether we believe you. The box is emblazoned with hints and directions, like anyone gives a toss - shove 'em in, turn it on baby.
The box itself, for the 48 tablet version, is squat and sturdy and won't deteriorate when wetted a tad. It opens easily using the 'rip-cord' tear off strip and closes to keep things dry.
The tablets come in packs of 2 with each pair in it's own cellophane packet. This is to trick you into thinking you always need to put 2 in the machine. I never do because I'm a tight-arse who took great glee in being told by a washing machine repair man that one was enough and they are all trying to con us into thinking we need more. I have no idea if that was true but I wanted to hear ergo it's true.
Each tablet is about 3.5cm across and is white with tiny blue flecks. I assume the blue to be conditioner bits. I will come to the conditioner bit later but you'd expect the conditioner to smell like a meadow or some exotic flower but the over-riding scent is of the launderette in a campsite. Not especially putrid but, well, nothing really.
I really wouldn't insult anyone's intelligence in telling them how to do their washing. Well, I would actually if it made me laugh but my reason for mentioning is that there is no little net bag her like you get with other brands for their tablets. You just chuck them in the drum. With the clothes. Don't forget the clothes. And turn it on.
Clean - yes. Smelling of a tarts handbag - no.
They certainly clean as well as any other washing tablets. They dissolve easily -I've used some which don't and leave white stains on everything that are hard to explain to the wife -and the dirt is certainly shifted. It's not going to do wonders on oil, blood, tomato ketchup and all the other stuff that happens to you in TV advert land but it won't do any worse than anything else.
However, disappointingly, the clothes do not smell or feel much better for having conditioner in the tablets. They don't smell bad, just indifferent. Other powders certainly do better.
CHEAP. 48 tablets, which is 48 washes in my house, 24 according to the box, for less than £3 certainly knocks a few of the bigger brands well into touch (barring the never -ending promotions in Tesco) and for the price it is guaranteed value for money.
Fill a dirty, filthy, offensive casserole dish with burnt on post-Sunday lunch grime with hot water, chuck in a tablet and leave for a couple of hours - comes of dead easy. DO NOT PUT DISH IN WASHING MACHINE!
One of Aldi's may good quality, low cost products. Does the job but could smell better. Or at all.
Thanks for reading.
May also be posted on other review sites.
Roberts 9278 radio
Roberts is a huge 'little' name in radio. They are the traditionalest of the traditional. Hey I just invented the word 'traditionalest'. How cool is that!
They have been going since 1932, when radios were the size of camper vans and if you had one, there weren't any radio stations to listen to so everyone just looked at you soft.
Despite being a household name in radio, they never turned into Sony, enen though, as they are 'by appointment to the Queen', the Royal Household must listen to radio 4 on one whilst whipping the corgis.
They are very much a traditional look for a traditional product kind of company. There stuff always looks dated, even when it wasn't. Their reputation is built on brand loyalty and reliability. Reliability is the watch word here.
It is at this point that I must admit to a terrible lie. I actually own the 927 version whilst this is supposedly for the 928 model. The difference is that mine has no presets, whereas the 928 has. I feel cleansed by my confession and inspired almost to admit to my penchant for walking naked around the allotments whilst playing a bassoon.
My Roberts radio is 6 years old but looks about 56 years. It is not made of wood. But it is as if it were but replaced by plastic. The flat front hides the speaker, the sound emerging from holes in the plastic. The top slopes steeply with the old fashioned radio stations marked on 3 linear scales for FM, MW and LW. The tuning and volume knobs, along with a treble and bass control sit to either side. Perched on the horizontal top is to be found the on/off button whilst sticking from the back is a telescopic radio aerial which can move around on a little ball joint.
In a word. Basic. In 2 words. Really ugly.
The radio is supplied with a mains power cable but also takes 4 'c' batteries. The batteries will last for ages and ages and ages. I've used it camping for 2 weeks and it has easily still been playing long after my thankful return home. I think this is a product of its simplicity!
The minute you look at this thing, you do not imagine advanced electronics. You will not communicate with aliens with it. The sound is fair to middling. The treble and bass controls are fairly immaterial with this mono output. At full volume is is listenable but the rumbling of cheap components and fitting starts to come through. It ain't built for loud.
Well, this isn't build for listening quality. The reception is fair enough and the moveable, extendable aerial picks up most things with a bit of wiggling. It often needs a bit of readjusting when you think you have it.
The quality comes from the build. It has been bashed and battered, dropped, hurled in cars and rained on but turns on every time the same as it did the day it was born. Totally and utterly reliable. Nothing has snapped off or dropped off and looks as if that will remain the case for a long time to come. For this reason I love it.
It has a little handle that goes right across the top and swings down when not in use. If that ain't portability, then what is?
Strangely, when I checked the website, the details were identical to those I'd already written below.
* LW/MW/FM Wavebands
* Soft Feel' volume and tuning controls
* Angled tuning dial
* Top mounted controls for ease of use
* Separate bass and treble controls
* Headphone Socket
* Batteries 4 x LR14 ('C' size)
* Size (mm) 280(w) x 175(h) x 95(d)
* Weight 1.11kg
If you don't believe me, check http://www.robertsradio.co.uk/pages/r9927.html.
This radio cost about £35 6 years ago, which is quite a lot considering you can get a cruddy CD player with a radio for a tenner! If you want one, go to just about any independent High Street Electronics shop with an annual turnover of about t£87.
If you want a radio on which to listen to radio and that is where your ambition stops then you really couldn't do better than a Roberts radio. It has no connections at the back and can't do anything at all that makes you go WOW. It has a headphone socket. That's it. Because of this though, it has been almost indestructible.
Thanks for reading.
May also be somewhere else. Not here.
Mold............Land of beauty
Mold.............Land of mystery
Mold............Land of surprises
That's the TV commercial sorted, now I just need to think about how to make it actually true.
Let's be honest about this, we all sort of find it easy to say disparaging things about where we live. People could live in Disneyland Paris and say there was nothing to do round here. Secretly, we all sort of like it or we'd move to somewhere else we could find tedious.
I actually like living in Mold so there. OK so it has a name that sounds like fungus and no-one knows where it is but I'm a refugee here and I've been treated well by the people who I once accused, along with everyone else, of molesting sheep. In fact, the livestock in these parts seem perfectly happy.
I've lived in Mold for 6 years now, imported here by my wife after being deported by the previous one. I love it here, have always felt at home, have learned to count to 10 in Welsh and feel as if I'm nearly in the countryside compared to the former conurbation of Birkenhead.
There ain't much here and I haven't got a lot to mention but what I do shall be with genuine affection. Especially 'Naked Tuesday' where the residents parade naked around the environs.
Where is it?
Well, all around me. For you though, bung CH7 into the google maps search and you'll be pointed straight at it. It's in Wales. Just. About 7 miles in to be precise. 11 miles from Chester and 11 miles from Wrexham. 10 miles to the North lies the Dee estuary and from the hills just outside, you get spectacular views right across the Cheshire plain and to Liverpool, 20 miles away. At the mention of hills, the town is nestled in the Clwydian Mountain range - hardly Everest proportion but Moel Famau, the largest mountain is about 1000+ ft. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and forestry. If you want bigger mountains, Betwys-y-Coad is about 35 miles West en route to Snowdon. Sounds nice?
Is small, about 2 miles in circumference, following a pretty circular pattern. Houses are a mix of the old (late 1800's) and the new. Mostly new - not a lot of 1930's stuff though there is a bit around. The population is fairly small, 10000-12000 at most. There are about 4 primary schools and 2 secondary schools, which seems a lot for the population but here in Wales you have to have a Welsh-speaking school as well as the English-speaking.
The town is dominated by the 13th Century church that sits at the top of the high street. Earlier evidence of population here is provided by the Mott and Bailey fort that sits, or rather sat, on the top of Bailey Hill adjacent to the church.
Mold is a lovely market town. On a Monday and Friday, livestock is still auctioned in the Market behind the shops. On Wednesday and Saturday, the High Street is closed off and a large market takes over, selling the usual market stuff with plant stall, meat, 'get you mobile phone unlocked here', 'out of date food' stalls and DIY. I love walking through looking for bargains I don't want. It's really buzzy with people and you can only walk at snails pace because of the bodies.
The High Street itself is a decreasingly healthy mix of big names and small independents. The is a Woolies, Argos, WHSmith, New Look to name a few mixed in with independent shoe shops, DIY and deli's. I mention decreasingly because, like most High Streets, the big boys are taking over and small outlets are giving way to charity shops. Shame. There are also 3 million café's - about 3 per person (my maths is crap). You won't starve.
Just away from the High Street, there is the 24-hour Tescos, Aldi, Homebase and McDonalds. All of these big names are placed 'sympathetically'. It isn't an industrial estate, they just seem to manage to nestle within the arms of a historic, old market town. It's quite clever really.
There isn't a lot of 'big named' places around here but there is generally pleasant countryside. The local beauty spot of Loggerheads, with it's woods and river is our usual hunting ground. But the surrounding countryside is generally good climbing and walking fodder. The North Wales coast, Chester and Snowdonia are all half and hour to 45 minutes away from town.
The train station is long gone, but buses are frequent and regular. For drivers, there is a good link to the M56 and M6 beyond. I drive to work in Birkenhead 25 miles away every day and it takes but 35 minutes. In the opposite direction, the North Wales coast road will quickly get you to Conway, llanddudno and Caernafon.
Well, that's Mold in less than 900 words. Good effort me.
You can't really describe a place as a function of what it contains. Places have residual emotional vibrations that you have to feel and Mold has always felt good come rain or shine. I recommend that you sell up and move here.
Thanks for reading
May be on other review sites whose name(s) I forget.
As I have got older, my total geek nature has pushed me more and more into a bubble surrounding my desk and computer. I am slowly beginning to realise, (despite having been told over and over again), that I am addicted to this keyboard and monitor as much as I am coffee and fags. It is starting to replace reality.
And thank f**k for that. Reality sucks. If my memory serves....
Further evidence of this is provided by the fact that I actually check weather forecasts about every 20 minutes of the day. That's no exaggeration. If there is even the whiff of something interesting in the air I watch its progress with scarily obsessive determination. It's a number thing. I like to see them change. I'm the same with the football scores on a Saturday and sit endlessly hitting the refresh. Fair enough I say. I'm not at the game(s), it's the only way to find out what's going on.
Not so the weather though. It's always there in the reality outside the window. 'Just look out of the bloody window', she says. But that's not the point. I need to check predicted reality against the actual. That's the fun. See - total effin' geek. I'm lucky to have a wife. Err.....second wife. Oh oh - emerging pattern!
To be a geek, you need special geek information and Metcheck is always my first port of call for stats and statistics.
What is Metcheck?
Nerd-fodder would be the best explanation but to add a bit more detail, it is a major website that provides an up-to-date and ever changing window to the weather. Other than using a real window.
I have been using it for about 3 years and I don't think it is much older than that. It claims to provide weather forecasts for a number of major organisations such as breakdown companies etc etc. Those with a vested interest in that which Britain does so well.
For the casual user, it provides the weather in some detail - more than the BBC will give you anyway and in a fashion that is easier on the eye than the Metoffice.
To the general public, there is a comprehensive free service, but for those who take number crunching to new 'total and utter geek' levels, there is a paid service which will chuck at you nearly every weather related statistic known to man - certainly enough for you to do your own weather forecast. This is for those people whose wives have banished them to a shed where they house their own weather station on which they base their made up predictions. They are there in case they are ever called upon to predict the best time for a sea-born invasion of France and they are the only ones the government can trust. They invariably have moustaches.
To be found at www.metcheck.com, the weather is overseen by weather lovers who have a friendly, fun-loving nature. And I mean that quite genuinely - they have a laid-back studenty appeal.
The home page usually gives an easy to understand summary of the current situation and puts great store on explaining what is going on in layman's terms. No scientific waffle - just explanation, nice and easy to absorb.
At the heart of the site is a customisable homepage to the extent that it will save your location and give you your local forecast. This will present you with the next 2 days weather, split into 3 hour time windows, with the weather presented symbolically and with the usual numerical data of temperature, wind and pressure. If required you can look at a similar forecast for a total of 14 days into the future.
For the tight-arses who won't pay for an account (myself included), they still offer a plethora of data and info including the computer predictions, weather charts, risk of frost, snow, rain and gales, info on the jet stream this and that, the other, lots more stuff. I could go on but the list of about 25 different meteorological titbits would have you praying for my immediate castration.
You are given priority warning about any adverse weather conditions approaching in the form of 'weather watches' and 'weather alerts' and ultimately, 'weather warnings'. These are basically mimicking the Met Offices warnings, but you can't miss them on the site and give easy to see details of your impending weather related death.
It may well be the case that interaction between number-nerds should be discouraged but this site has been created to ensure they are contained and monitored closely, with special SWAT teams available in case one escapes. They are encouraged to post the days weather where they live in great detail, preventing them from congregating in pubs with inglenook fires, where they might plot to overthrow the allotment society.
These chaps are also entertained by being given the opportunity to send in their weather photos, predict the weather to score points if they are right, organise their email and SMS alerts etc etc. You get the picture - RUN!
Is it accurate?
Well, if you look out the window and then check the forecast on Metcheck for 'now', then they are pretty darned good. In fact, up to a day ahead they are pretty darned good. You look at the next weeks forecast at your peril as I have found to my cost. Metcheck does not claim to be accurate at this range, it just gives us what the computers are telling them when they run all their stats through their humongous nerve-centre. My wife doesn't get this. She says things like 'You said last week that it would be sunny with a light westerly wind at three o'clock when I asked you 10 days ago. It isn't and now I am very disappointed in you and you geeky weather nerd site. You have ruined my life'. It can be hard.
Well, it is so popular that occasionally their servers get a bit overloaded and they have to resort to a 'high traffic' mode which limits the data available on the homepage, but this is a minor quibble. To be honest, it's so comprehensive that it can be whatever you want it to be.
Worth a look?
Yep. Even if you are not a nerd, it still presents the fact in an easy to ingest manner that will give you a fuller picture without blowing your brain. If you like having a blown brain, then you can pay to have the same data they have - which is a lot and largely incomprehensible to us casual 'can't be arsed looking out of the window' people. Suffice to say it is sitting on my Firefox Bookmark toolbar - dead center.
Thanks for reading.
May also be on other websites that rhyme with the noise a cat makes when you stand on its tail.
I am a horrendous coffee addict. I drink upwards of 8 cups of instant every day, topped up with about 3 or 4 strong espressos. I shake constantly and find coherent sentences a struggle. I wake up, smoke and drink coffee within the space of the first 5 minutes. Every day is a caffeine induced Groundhog Day. My wife likes non of this, feeling my life might be better served if I looked at it in a drug-free state for at least short stretches, but I tried it once and wasn't impressed. She looked.....different.
As such, a coffee machine is an important part of the kitchen itinery. I'm also a tight-arsed get and won't spend money on quality, having trained myself to be impressed by the mediocre and possibly the most non-noticing person you could meet. All of which bodes well for the Russell Hobbs machine that sits on the worktop. In my view, a fine machine that feeds my addiction for a cost of only £40. Sure, it's life will be short due to overuse and poor build-quality but its life will have been a full one.
This is an espresso machine with a steamer nozzle featuring
* * 15 bar pump pressure
* * Steam nozzle
* * 1.2 litre capacity
* * Removable water tank
* * Detachable drip tray
Yes, I did nab all that off the website. If you think it's dull then you should have seen the bits I deleted.
It ain't going to win Miss Espresso Machine 2008. That's a bit unfair, it's not that bad but in an age when quality is represented by shiny chrome, this black and grey affair looks dated and dull. Well, that's Russell Hobbs for you, the people who invented beige toasters with even beiger leaf detail. The grey colour is, I think, meant to be chrome coloured. But it fails to impress. It looks grey. The design is described as compact but that too stretches the imagination just a little too far. It takes up the same footprint as a toaster and stands about 35cm tall.
How it all works
The machine has a sizeable reservoir which, when full, will serve about 20 espressos. This is filled through a weird flip contraption which sits atop the machine. You slide it sideways and a gap appears in which to pour water. It seems to be overly complicated and a simple hole would have been perfectly satisfying. Story of my life.
The holder for the coffee twists on and off with a removable insert in which to put the coffee. It then simply twists back on as tight as you can to ensure the pressure remains high.
A simple ON button gets the water heated and when ready, in less than a minute, another button forces the hot water through the coffee and into the one or two cups below through the two small nozzles.
If you like it frothy, which my wife does, the sauce, then another button heats the water for the steamer. This will take just over a minute to make sure the pressure is high enough. Twisting the large round control on the top of the machine releases the steam through the nozzle into your awaiting milk. The pressure of the steam can be adjusted by how much you turn the control but Christ knows why you wouldn't want it full blast.
Anyway - that's how it works. Christ that was boring.
Great to be honest. An awful lot of the quality for a coffee machine will be down to the coffee you use but I reckon this machine will give you as good a chance of a good cup as your going to get for the money.
The coffee comes out at a good temperature and has a good crema with lavazza - in other words it has a creamy brown froth that floats on top.
The steamer is not the most powerful in the world. This runs at 15bar pressure which is pretty normal for a small domestic machine but you can get higher. The nozzle froths the milk well but I did once have a machine where they had put a lot of thought into the design and it was better.
From start to finish, with milk, will take you about 4 minutes, which is quite a while if your shaking is getting bad. That's why I always have instant first thing in the morning.
So pretty perfect?
Well, I wouldn't go that far. The drip tray is a bit shallow and inadequate and needs a bit of emptying. The nozzles through which the coffee escapes get a bit clogged and need cleaning out with a fork before every use - a 2 second job but a pain nonetheless. The decal on the front to show you what the buttons are rubbed off within about 2 months. Other than that though, it has been issue free.
It does look as if it will capitulate to failure eventually though - the build quality just doesn't look anything special but so far, so good.
More info can be found at: http://www.russellhobbs.co.uk/15_Bar_Pump_Espresso_qp_95.html
Thanks for reading.
May also be found on other review sites.
Just for the sake of much needed clarity, this review is specifically about the George Foreman GR20. There are as many varieties of George Foreman Grill past and present as there are victims of his right hook. We've had a few in our time, from the small to the large. They all are geared around the same principles which are to make grilling healthier, and to make him rich without having to do anything other than demonstrate how to cook a burger. The success of this grill is evidenced by the fact that he no longer has to advertise it or so it seems.
This advert will be mostly glowing, on account of the fact that he might beat the crap out of me if it isn't.
In that light, I'll start by saying Yummy. Most of the time.
The main thing going for this grill is how quick and easy it is to use. Gone are the days when the grill pan catches fire in a horrendous fat fire with smoke setting of the alarm. No more soaking of pans and scrubbing of burnt on cheese. This grill is umpteen times as clean and you get the added bonus of having a drip tray full of watery fat so you can look at what you would have eaten if you'd have fried it.
Now to the features.
The grill has a thermostat that cuts out when it reaches top temperature but no temperature control to adjust the heat setting. To be honest, this is fine - it's the sort of thing you would turn up to full power anyway - who ever cooks bacon slowly? The thermostat is important as we wanted something the teenagers could use in the morning without incinerating the house and this means it will be safely turned off when they forget to pull the plug out on the way to school.
There is a bun warmer which has been used to defrost the slightly frozen bread but it never seems to get all that warm. It's also a bit shallow so the buns have to be on the short side. Nevertheless it serves its purpose - a word of warning though - the hinge for it is fairly weak and won't take a lot of bashing around.
The sloping grill plates are the most innovative idea. They're the things that make sausages 'healthy'. They certainly get rid of the fat and the drip tray you put under the leading edge is always full of brown gunk at the end of cooking. I can't vouch for the reduction of calories but it certainly looks like you're making some effort.
Some things good - some things bad. Red meats do well with the 750 watts power, you get good sausages and tasty burgers. However - the less you put in it the better they are. The grill traps moisture so if you are using frozen burgers and you fit the maximum of 4 in, you tend to find cooking time is greatly increased and the meat seams to steam in its own water. If you throw a couple of courgettes in there as well you're in trouble!
However, if you keep the amounts down then it gets good results most of the time - vegetables are lovely.
Chicken doesn't fair so well. Because it can be in contact with the upper and lower plates the top and bottom of fillets tend to char and go very tough. This makes it hard to tell if it's cooked through so I always seem to leave it on too long and end up with an ice-hockey puck. Having said that - this is more a product of my cooking skills than of the grill.
Useful tip - if you rest the front edge on something you can make the grill level and cook a half-decent egg!!
Wash the drip tray, which is small. Wipe the grill after use with a paper towel, using a little oil to shift anything stubborn. Warning - if you don't clean it after use it will get burnt on stuff coming to haunt you. Also best to clean it when it's warm!
Quite bulky -about the same dimensions as 2 toasters side-by-side. This is really a pain when you are trying to find some cupboard space for it. It's also quite heavy so if you tuck it away in a cupboard it is likely to stay there!!! Along with the other gadgets. If you cant find the space on a worktop, it might not see the light of day much!
Well, not as resilient as the man himself, but not too bad. We've had, as I say, quite a few but I don't recall one ever actually breaking other than the bun warmer lid. They sort of just ended being 'chucked' when there useful life had expired. After a year or so, despite being pretty eay clean, they get a bit gunked and grimy and my wife does one of her random acts of house-clearing where anything that now bores her is removed and newer, more expensive replacements are sought. My days are numbered.
I like it because it's easy and clean. I still think a grill will get better results most of the time but it cooks well for the price and who can put a price on your health :-Well, Bupa do actually.
I have a deep hatred of kitchen gadgets that don't get used but this has actually stood the test of time and has a 'permanent' position of the worktop. Which is more than the juicer ever got.
Our current model cost £32 in the Argos sale, approx 12 months ago.
Thanks as always for reading.
May also be on other review sites.
Such as one that, say, rhymes with key-ow.
Following on from the review of our coffee machine, I thought it best to go into laborious detail about what we put in it. Actually, it won't be that laborious. It's coffee - what can you say. Besides, my taste buds have been annihilated by fags so I'm not even that discerning.
Lavazza Qualita Rosa is my first choice coffee. Well, Illy is actually I suppose but it costs twice as much even if it does come in a nice tin. I have been using it for over 4 years, though I occasionally use other brands just to confirm my suspicion that Lavazza is the best.
Lavazza is an Italian job and is drunk widely in the coffee shops throughout the country. It has a long history which you can see at the website (http://www.lavazza.com/). It has been available in the UK for many moons and has established itself as the No. 1 espresso coffee in the UK for those with coffee at heart. That is a made-up fact by myself and in no way reflects empirical reality.
Qualita Rosa is a mixture of African and South American beans with a medium roast. It is 'middle-range' in terms of Lavazza quality, containing a 30:70 ratio of Robusta to Arabica coffee. Sounds cool, whatever it means.
Packaging is very important to coffee as it's a bugger to carry around loose. Lavazza have put freshness at the heart of their product and it comes foil wrapped with all the air sucked out of it. When you pierce the pack it sort of pops as the vacuum inflates with air. It's kinda cool. Having said that, it's also kinda messy. There is no re-seal mechanism so you do need to transfer it to something airtight and it invariably gets spilled on the way. My wife goes mad because our worktops are covered in the fine powder which leaves brown stains the moment it contacts water. I, of course, don't notice this.
Lavazza is very finely ground - almost to the same grade as flour. It is a dark, dark, dark colour - almost black. When you put it in the machines, it holds its shape and is almost mouldable. The aroma is intense and mouth-watering with that slightly bitter scent that catches the nose with overtones of chocolate . What a poncey thing to write.
Always reliable and never disappoints. Of course, you vary the taste by strength but this never tastes weak if you put it through an espresso machine. If you use it as a filter coffee it doesn't get the same strength but is still worth it. The coffee comes out black and thick with a rich light brown crema that floats on the top. This is the froth that makes it look so inviting. The taste is smooth and luxurious. The bitterness seems to evaporate and you are left with a very pleasing and rich taste. Yummy.
There must be some drawbacks?
Well, there are more expensive coffees, Illy for one, which would be my first choice but they do not justify the price hike. Qualita Rosa seems pitched just right and I think to even notice a huge difference to the more expensive alternatives you would have to have the senses of a sniffer dog.
Lavazza makes a lot of varieties, including decaffeinated and most varieties are available as beans to grind yourself. I have not tried many of the other varieties other than than 'Gust and Crema' which I think translates as 'Strong and creamy' which I brought back from Italy en mass. This is available in the UK and is slightly better than Qualita Rosa but not much difference.
Anyway, the shaking is beginning to get stronger so I need a cup now.
Thanks for reading.
May also be available on other review sites.