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jo1l
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Member since: 03.08.2000

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    • SATs / Parenting Issue / 68 Readings / 72 Ratings
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      21.05.2008 13:49
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      Another waste of tax payers money!

      "I know I can read, you know I can read, Miss knows I can read so why does someone I've never met have to decide I can read?" -Niamh age 10 after sitting a 2000 word hour long SATS reading paper.

      Every May children aged 6/7(Key stage 1 - Infants), 10/11(Key stage 2 - juniors) and 13/14 (Key stage 3 - High school) sit SATS ( Standard Attainment Tests) in between these officially published tests children sit optional tests. Children in England can expect in their educational career to sit over 70 tests making them one of the highest tested school children in the world. But does it work? Does testing our children at various points in their educational career actually mean education is improving? Recent government figures show that some 20% of children leave Primary school unable to functionally read and write - but hey the SATS results are going up so surely the schools most be doing something right? Unfortunately it's been proved on numerous occasions that schools teach to the test, the recent Parliamentary Select Committee in their deliberations said as much. The all important place in the league table appears to be all that matters for some schools. When a 10 year old believes that her whole future educational achievement is based on a series of 45 minute papers then surely something is wrong? When Year 6 is spent doing "Literacy, numeracy, literacy, numeracy oh and we did PE as well Mum" then surely this is about test results and not about education? I was mortified to find Niamh's history book contained one subject up until Easter; my love of history came from studying the Victorians at primary school. But never mind she also learnt exam taking skills - apparently if you go and answer all the 1 point questions first you've got enough to scrape a level 4. Seeing as they don't do multiple choice papers for Key Stage 2 SATS I didn't add my handy tip of if you don't know the answer just make a pretty pattern - it worked for me when taking O level Chemistry.


      I'm not against the Government testing children and spending over £156 million to have the papers marked what I'm against is the fact that SATS results are the be all and end all to some schools. That league tables matter more than producing children who want to learn, enjoy learning and believe that they can achieve something. Not ever child will walk out of High School with the government target of 5 GCSE's which include Maths and English.I walked out of high School with 8 O levels one of which was not Maths -luckly we didn't have league tables back then as I'd have pretty much buggered up the scores! Surely it's time to look at targets and perhaps set more realistic goals. Lets remember that not all children are academic geniuses but nurtured in the right way they can achieve - it's time schools catered for the pupils and not their position in the league tables. I personally wouldn't allow the publication of results into league tables maybe then some head teachers would actually remember why they came into the job to teach children and produce well rounded individuals who believed in themselves. Nor have pushy middle class parents fighting to get their children into certain schools just because the league table show that school is apparently better than the one in their catchment area. One of my LEA's highest achieving High Schools has one of the highest dentition levels in the area, non high flyers are automatically put into the lower GCSE band with no hopes of getting out of those sets, a distinct lack of achievement in non academic areas e.g. sports and after schools activities that lead a lot to be desired. Another school that the league table shows is average in GCSE attainment has a great sporting record, a wide range of after school clubs to the point a parent actually thought the children must finish at 4.30pm as her child never got home till about 4.45pm due to joining a club every night plus going to two lunch time clubs.Which school is the better school? If you believe the league tables the first one obviously! Education to me isn't about children walking out of High School with a clutch of certificates it should also be a time to learn other skills needed in life, to be able to learn in a safe secure environment where every pupil is valued and not just those that will secure the schools place in the League table.

      During Niamh's time in year 6 I didn't pay much attention to SATS - it wasn't going to be something that was going to stress up this household thanks very much. Niamh's teacher at a parents evening said she'd have no problem getting a level 4 in literacy and if she had a good day she might get a level 5 I bit my tongue and didn't retort "and if she has a bad day she'll get a level 3?" As the recent Panorama programme stated SATS results are a snap shot of a child on a particular day working under stress. I have to agree and would prefer that SATS results included an element of continual assessment. Niamh might well have rambled her way throw a biography on a Victorian Funfair Ride inventor as part of her written exam but no one will know that when she gets time to actually write about things that matter to her, when a clock isn't ticking she can produce far greater pieces of work. I found some of the poems she wrote at home and school and was amazed by them.Yes I'm her Mother and of course I'm going to be biased but I know it would be doubtful that at 10 she'd be able to reproduce work of that level with a clock ticking. To me an element of class work should be sent for assessment. Instead of a 10 year old being made to sit two 45 minute science papers, two 45 minute maths papers and a mental maths paper plus an hour long reading paper, long and short writing papers plus spellings over a week in May. Is it no wonder children get stressed up about it? Had Niamh shown any signs of it all being too much for her then I wouldn't have hesitated on taking her out of school for the rest of the week the High School Niamh is going to in September doesn't set children on the basis of their Keystage 2 results so whether she took them or not would not have made any difference to her sets in High School. Thankfully Niamh walked out of the Science tests announcing they were pips, enjoyed the literacy writing paper, probably managed to get a few of the spellings right -so much for her level 5 literacy boaster class where she did nothing but spellings! Thought the reading test was a waste of her time. And did ok on the first maths paper but thought the second paper was pips!

      As for the results of Niamh's SATS, the new marking body is having a few problems and rumour has it they might not be able to deliver all the results before the end of the summer term. I told Niamh on the morning of her first paper what ever results she got I was very proud of her and all she had to do was her best for herself and no one else. And if someone who's never met her decides on the basis of her answers to a 2000 word hour long reading exam on the weather that she can indeed read to a standard higher than is expected of her I'd like to point out that this was something we all knew ages ago!

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      • Egg Money / Bank / 87 Readings / 84 Ratings
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        27.03.2008 14:18
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        A credit card that pays cash back plus interest on positive balances.

        Egg.com is owned by the US based Citibank group and to use the first of probably many egg based puns they certainly got egg on their face the day they decided to withdraw credit from roughly 160,000 of their custumers - Citi bank claimed that credit was being with drawn from users with a risky credit profile. Unfortunately this turned into an eggceptionaly bad bit of publicity for Egg.com when it transpired that a lot of these so called bad credit risks were people like myself who used the card regularly and paid it off in full each month.


        Now I like my Egg Money card as it pays cash back - 1% on all spending up to a maximum of £200 a year and nooooooooo I've yet to get the full cash back pay out! Now if only I could pay my mortgage, gas, electric council tax etc etc on it. I like a card that will give me something for nothing. Prior to my sandwiching my Egg Money card between my cash card and my Tesco's Clubcard I was an avid collector of Nectar points via the Sainsburys Bank Credit Card. Unfortunately due to them becoming rather stingy on how many Nectar points it paid out plus the situation that saw my Nectar card going into a negative balance - Yes I have a debit on a Nectar card! I gave up collecting Nectar points and went on the hunt to find an alternative and the card that eggactly fitted my needs was the Egg Money card.


        Egg.com is solely an online financial institution, you will not receive a paper statement from them most communication can be done via their secure messaging system I have always found questions answered very promptly. Should you need to you can call their call centre which I have done on a couple of occasions you'll find that you are not on hold for hours and 99% of the time the Call centre staff can sort out your query there and then. The CCA that dealt with me when it transpired I'd some how managed to set up two accounts and get two cards in the same post was extremely helpful.


        You could be forgive in thinking that the Egg Money card is a credit card it's actually both a credit card, a debit card and a rather poorly paid savings account all rolled into one - current interest rate on a positive balance is a paltry 4% gross. Now you might be wondering how it can be all 3 of these things plus pay out cash back Egg Money is a card that could be run similar to your bank account i.e. money is paid in, you spend it either by visiting the cash point to withdraw money or presenting it as a method of payment any place that accepts a Mastercard. Personally I couldn't be arsed to load the money I normally spend on my Egg Money card each month and it's much easier for me to sweep it into a linked savings account and transfer it back to my current account once the direct debit is due! Egg Money isn't well know for it's great credit limits this actually suits me down to the ground as it's used for every day purchases and paid off in full I have no need for a large credit limit on it unfortunately if you had been tempted to use it to transfer an existing credit card balance due to it's typical APR of 7.99% well under half the APR of some credit cards you could be disappointed by your paltry credit balance.


        When I signed up for my Egg Money card it was a fairly painless process of filling out the online credit application, setting up a direct debit and hitting send to be told I'd been accepted in the next screen page. I was also told how much my credit limit was going to be. Once I received my card(s) and sorted out the minor problem of having two egg accounts I activated the card not online as is the norm with Egg but via the CCA who I'd rang to find out why I'd been given two cards! Once activated I found out my pin number via my online account being the kind of person that if I think about pin numbers I totally blank what the number might be I rather like the fact I can log into my account and once I've given additional security information I can find out my pin. Yes this might be questionable from a security point of view but in my mind so is waiting for that little paper envelope that everyone knows contains a pin number!


        Spending on your Egg Money card is easy - you can either as I've said before load it via your direct debit or online banking with your own cash and treat it like a debit card or use it as a credit card either way it is a question of presenting the card when you make a purchase and remembering that darn pin number! I would never recommend anyone making cash withdrawals on a credit card but should the need a rise then cash withdrawals made via a cash machine attract the same debit interest rate of 7.99 (typical rate) unlike other credit cards which will hype up cash withdrawals to an often obscene level of interest. However it is worth noting that cash withdrawals attract interest as soon as you have made them i.e. you will not get an interest free period unlike transactions for goods and services.


        Every month if you have an outstanding balance Egg will email you once your statement has been made up and it is a question of then logging into the site which unfortunately at times can be painfully slow to view your statement as I've said previously Egg will not send you a paper statement but you will find once you have successfully logged in you can view previous statements should you wish. All payments are collected via Direct Debit you have the option to pay in full each month, pay the minimum amount or make a set payment each month. You can also make additional payments via online banking but you can't send them a cheque! Direct Debits can also be changed to a different account very easily online.


        Cash back is earnt at the rate of 1% and is applied to your account each month and paid out annually in March each year. To get your grubby mitts on the cash back you must earn at least £10 the maximum you can earn is £200 a year. Egg also have instant cash back with a number of suppliers I was under the impression to gain this instant cash back you would need to go via the links on the Egg site but I managed to earn instant cash back by just using my card on one of the sites. Instant cash back rates vary from supplier to supplier and can be as much as 15%. Obviously collecting cash back only works if you're not paying interest every month as even at 7.99% the interest will soon eat into any cash back you are getting! As I have said previously my card is paid off in full each month.


        Apart from a few minor teething problems I would highly recommend the Egg Money card as it is relatively hassle free. Egg answers and deal with any problems very quickly, it has a very competitive APR and it gives me something for nothing, I'll keep on using it whilst they pay out cash back.

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        • Debt Help in General / Discussion / 61 Readings / 56 Ratings
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          22.03.2008 15:01
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          Hopefully it might help someone!

          I'm not going to pass comment on how people get into debt, I'm not going to suggest that people who are in debt live in grand houses with 42" LCD TV's in each room as that is simply not the case for everyone. Yes there are people who find themselves sitting on a great pile of debt due to a liking for big TV's, fast cars ,designer clothes and fancy holidays equally there are people sitting on a great big pile of debt due to the need to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads.


          A part from a mortgage I don't have any form of debt, if you'd have asked me 3 years ago the answer would have been some what different. I was lucky my debt was small, it was manageable and it was the desire to go on a "swanky" holiday that made me actually sit down and look at how I could pay off what I owed and still go on holiday without incurring any further debt. Thanks to one web site www.moneysavingexpert.com I manage to clear the debt and actually go on two holidays without resorting to putting it on the credit card and working out how to pay it off later.


          The first thing you should do on the road to being debt free is acknowledge you've got a problem be it an overdraft of a few hundred pounds or more serious debts. Then gather all the paper work and work out an action plan. Firstly you need to know how much you have coming in each month and how much is going out. Online banking is a plus if you've got it, as most of the information you will need is at your finger tips. I'm a great fan of online banking - when I first signed up for it I joked and said it was much nicer to view my overdraft with a glass of wine in hand then to see it at the cash point! Look at every thing you have going out each month Mortgage/Rent , Life/Car/Home Insurance , Council Tax, Water rates , Gas/Electric, Landline, Mobile, Gym/DVD memberships etc Add on all minimum amounts you need to pay for your debts Once you've worked out your monthly out goings via standing orders, direct debits and debt repayment then you need to think of all the quarterly/annual bills you have e.g. TV licence, Car tax/Mot etc basically every thing you spend should be broken down into a monthly budget. Look at budgeting for Xmas to avoid the January credit card meltdown. I was one of those people who paid the Car tax when it came normally and ouched as I did it now it's budgeted for each month. As for Xmas lets just say I avoided looking at my credit card statements in January until at least a half bottle of wine had been quaffed! Once you have a list of your entire out goings you need to factor in the expenditure that isn't paid for by direct debit e.g. food/petrol/going out/take aways/clothes/cosmetics etc i.e. everything you spend. With this you might have to do a spending diary for a couple of months to actually work out where you are spending your money - mine was an eye opener to say the least - Lush featured heavily! What's left over -and hopefully you should have a surplus can be used to pay off debts.


          Once you've worked out how much you have coming in and how much you have to pay out each month you need to look at how you can find more money to clear your debts or just balance the books look at things like gym membership - do you actually use it? Hands up all of you actually have gym membership and actually go to the gym? I'm yet to find a gym member who can hand on heart say yes I do use it - ok so I hang around with a lot of wanna be fit people who sign up for a gym and never go! If you don't use something and can cancel it then do just that! Once you've cancelled the unused memberships look at other items on your out goings list - do you really need SKY TV? Do you seriously watch all the channels again if it's not used why pay for it? If you can down grade to the smallest package or buy a Freeview box. Once you've rid yourself of life's "luxuries" then look at the other direct debits you pay out each month. Is your landline/broadband /mobile the cheapest? If you are out of the initial 12 month subscription period that most of these suppliers impose then do a bit of homework and find out if you can get them cheaper. Yes it's a hassle but a quick Google of the relevant item can reap dividends. I used to pay Virgin media over £60 a month for a landline/broadband and analogue TV I Googled these items worked out I could get them cheaper and then gave Virgin Media a call I now pay them £30 a month for a landline with 24/7 free calls to UK landlines/Broadband/and the XL digital TV package - all it took was a phone call informing them I was going to take my business else where. Go throw your list of direct debits can you get your home/life/car insurance/mobile/broadband/gas &electric cheaper? Comparison sites can give you the information you need very quickly and I've added a few that I've used in the past at the end. If so switch preferably using a Cashback site to earn a bit extra for switching. Yes it's tedious, yes it's boring and yes it can be obsessive but I now refuse to line the pockets of shareholders by paying over the odds for something that can so easily be switched to and is cheaper. Companies profit on the fact people can't be arsed to switch. To help with budgeting - yes you're going to have to budget now ( a word that used to scare the pants off of me) see if you can pay bills such as your Council Tax over 12 months as apposed to the 10 months that is the norm.


          Now that you've cut back the direct debits part of your monthly spend to a hopefully more reasonable level you need to look at what you spend on a week to week basis - can you cut back? Do you really need to spend the amount you do in the Supermarket? I'm not suggesting you starve nor forgo all those nice things you buy but Supermarket shopping was one area I did manage to cut back on and no my cupboards aren't bare - I now shop using a list and only buy from that list before I was one of those people who'd go to Tesco and fill the trolley up and wonder what we'd have for tea! Are you one of those people who buy lunch at work? Taking a pack lunch can save you money - having never been a fan of hospital food I've always taken a pack lunch. Do you really need that bi weekly take away? Can you live without spending £50 in town on a Saturday afternoon? Do you really need 4 glossy magazines a month? Do you smoke? Can you get to work cheaper? As I've said before it's not a question of living like a miser dressed in rags never going out, just looking at what you spend money on and using it to make the most of it! It's your money,you've worked hard for it so why not use it to the best you can?


          Having done the financial spring clean it's time to look at paying off the money you owe. Priority debts are keeping a roof over your head, paying the Council tax, Gas and Electric bills. You can not be jailed for missing a credit card payment but should you be unable to pay your Council Tax then yes you could be jailed. Hopefully by doing the financial spring clean you have enough to at least pay your priority debt plus the minimum payments on all your loans/overdraft/credit card Should you find yourself in a situation where you can not meet these then you should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, Nationaldebtline, Payplan or the CCCS to talk over your various options -all of these organisations will give you free and impartial advice! DO NOT talk to any company that boasts it will reduce your debts by 70% as they will charge you for the privilege and some people who have entered Debt Management Plans with these companies have ended up owing more and paying the company for the privilege of being further debt!


          Should you be in a more healthy financial state and have a surplus after your spring clean it's time to get paying the debt. To some people the obvious answer is to get a bank loan and have one debt payment a month - this does work if you actually look at why you go into debt in the first place - it's no good just getting a loan and then wracking up the debt again. And yes I have been guilty of that in the past. The less interest you pay means the quicker you can pay off your debt. If you can then try and get a 0% interest credit card - if you do that cut the card up do not spend on it not only because your trying to avoid further debt but due to the fact, that your spending might well not be at 0% and the way credit card providers apply payments means the part of your balance accruing interest is paid last. If you have managed to transfer one cards balance in full to another card then ring up and cancel that card Should you be unable to gain further credit then look at the interest rates on all your cards, can you transfer some or all of a balance from a higher rate card? If you can then do the credit card shuffle - get as much off a high rate card onto a lower rate card. Do be aware that most credit card providers now charge a balance transfer fee the typical fee being 3% of the amount transferred. A phone call to your credit card provider can lead to them lowering the interest rates and especially if you want to close the account - I was offered a further 0% deal when I rang to close one card. Given the financial squeeze at the moment I can't say this will be the case with you but it doesn't hurt to give them a call and find out.


          When it comes to actually paying off what you owe it definitely pays to look at the interest rates. Let's say you have £200 a month to pay off your debts and four credit cards some people might divide it up into 4 equal payments of £50. A much better way would be to make minimum payments on the 3 cards with the lowest rates and hit the card with the highest APR till that is paid off then tackle the next highest APR till all cards are paid off. There is a website that will explain this much better than I can plus it will give you an idea of how long it will before you have paid off the outstanding debt - www.whatsthecost.com/snowball.aspx. They do not ask for any information that would identify who you are or who you owe money to in order to do the calculations you will need to input how much you can afford to pay each month, the outstanding balance plus APR of all your debts and it will come up with results in seconds.


          To those of you reading this and wondering if it's time to face up to the pile of bills all I can say is do it and do it soon. Should you need support then go check out the debt free wanna be forum on moneysaving expert.com as the help, support and morale boast you'll get will make sure you're not alone on your journey towards being debt free.


          Websites that can help:

          www.moneysavingexpert.com
          www.whatsthecost.com/snowball.aspx.

          Debt Charities

          www.payplan.com
          www.cccs.co.uk
          www.nationaldebtline.co.uk

          Comparison sites

          www.confused.com
          www.moneysupermarket.com
          www.energyhelpline.com
          www.uswitch.com


          Cashback sites

          www.quidco.com
          www.greasypalm.com

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          • Normandie Salt Scrub / Bath & Shower / 78 Readings / 75 Ratings
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            14.01.2008 19:37
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            A salt scrub that works

            When my favourite salt scrub was discontinued I was mortified, when my stock pile of it dwindled to just a few grains in the bottom of the tub I panicked! Having tried numerous body scrubs over the years I really didn't want to have to go back to the second rate scrubs I'd tried in the past! For me a body scrub should do just that scrub, not tickle the skin, I like to know that I've exfoliated and not just cleaned my skin! Boots was my first port of call but none of the scrubs on offer looked as if they'd actually scrub! Tubes and pots of body wash with a few grains in the liquid was all that was offered! I did wonder if I could fed my scrubbing habit on Ebay but alas no! I was resigned to some substandard body scrub and during my weekly shop I pursed the scrubs on offer in Tesco. One very large plain kilner tub caught my eye - the price tag also caused a sharp intake of breath but needs must. And it was thrown into my trolley with the hopes that at twice the price of my now defunct salt scrub it would actually work. Cold comfort was given by the fact at least the tub held 50% more than my normal scrub, so I'd have loads of it if it was as useless as some scrubs I'd tried.


            Normandie Keith -an American beauty columnist markets her range of body products as affordable pampering luxuries. All products she produces can be found in Tesco, I believe that her products are exclusive to Tesco here in the UK as I've yet to see them else where. The Salt scrub is part of the Recapture range in this range there are 5 other products - another scrub, body lotion, bubble bath and a hand lotion - all are in the £5-£10 range.


            Having paid out £7.97 for a 650g kilner tub of the Salt scrub I was really hoping this would work and not be wanting in the scrubbing department! The plain glass jar is chunky and very heavy, definitely not one to drop on your toes! The labelling is simplistic in keeping with the design of the jar. With it's kilner lid you do have to fiddle a little bit to open the jar what then greets you is an over whelming smell of lemon sherbet plus the fact it's jam packed with salt grains that are not swimming in an oily film! The scrub it's self contains salt ( naturally!) lemon, dandelion, almond and evening primrose oils these promise to detox and protect your skin according to the Normandie web site.


            After fiddling with the metal clip on the lid with wet hands the first time I would recommend that you dry your hands prior to opening the tub! One good thing about the design of the jar is the fact the neck of the jar is wide enough for you to get your hand inside with ease -great for scooping out those last few grains in the bottom of it! As with any body scrub I would recommend you used it on damp skin not dripping wet skin, I've found if my skin is too wet it just all slips away into the bath water!


            The first time I used it I grabbed a big handful of it and proceeded to scrub my damp legs, I found it really stuck to my skin and didn't slide down them unlike some scrubs I've used in the past, nor did it melt way when a few drops of water touched it! Over time I've learnt that less is needed to get a good result. I find that the Scrub does what it supposed to do - SCRUB not tickle your skin! After using the scrub I really do feel as if my skin has been not only cleaned but exfoliated. My skin glows after a good scrubbing session and fells soft to touch. The amount of oils in the scrub also mean in the summer I don't have to blather my skin in body lotion when I get out of the bath which with other scrubs I have to do. As with all salt based scrubs this stings if it gets into broken skin so I wouldn't recommend it if you've got chapped or cuts on your skin! Throw a painful mistake I would also recommend that you scrub and then shave your legs and not the other way round!


            At £7.97 this is expensive in my mind but worth it, especially if you can get it on one of the numerous special offers that Tesco run. I have been using it for just over a year and only paid full price for the first jar I bought. The last lot I bought was on a buy one get one free offer. A tub of the scrub lasts me on average 6 weeks and that's with 3 or 4 scrubbing sessions a week A weekly scrubber might find they only need to replenish their stocks on a 6 monthly basis!

            Well recommended.

            Website: www.normandie.uk.com

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            • Valued Opinions / Internet Site / 84 Readings / 77 Ratings
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              04.01.2008 11:53
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              A very rewarding survey site

              Over the years I've had various relationships with survey sites, some have been brief bitter sweet flirtations, and others have been most rewarding. Valuedopinions.co.uk (VOP) at first fell into the former camp - one survey and then I was cast off and neglected, for well over a year. I wasn't too sure if I wanted to continue this relationship but I was lured back into the fold with a £2 survey earlier last year. Like some love sick beau VOP continued to woo me on a near weekly basis with offers of £1, £2.50 and finally the grand £5 survey. Yes I was ensnared back into the fold and the rest you could say is Amazon Vouchers, oops history.

              Valued Opinions is a most generous suitor when it comes to wanting to know what you really are thinking not just in terms of monetary reward but in numbers of surveys it appears in recent months to be sending out to its members.

              As with any would be suitor VOP makes it incredibly easy to become involved, the initial account opening will take you two minutes tops, once you've given your basic details of name, address, email address and date of birth it's just a question of waiting for the confirmation email. Thankfully VOP is incredibly quick in sending the confirmation email; yes there are times when 2 minutes is more than enough. Once you've clicked on the link to activate your account it's time to divulge all to your would be suitor. By filling in all the profiles VOP promises you'll get more surveys. VOP delves into all areas of your lifestyle with five different profiles to be filled out. At one point the cheeky devil even asks for your mobile number on the premise you'll get offered surveys by texts. I declined this offer as I've more than enough text buddies thank you very much so I can't tell you whether or not VOP is texting you 24/7 to ask your opinion on stuff.

              Once you've bared all to VOP it's a question of waiting for the surveys to pour in as I said previously I waited and I waited, then one survey arrived, not to be followed up for nearly a year! I'd forgotten VOP even existed at this stage such was the slight I felt. VOP will inform you in the email the reward you'll get for whispering or should that be typing sweet nothings for them. I've found VOP surveys to be extremely rewarding in recent months and on average most surveys offer at least a £1 inducement to share all. One click of the link contained within your email and you'll be taken straight to the survey. Unlike certain other surveys one good thing about VOP is your not led up the garden path , no way will you get to 30% of the survey filled then be told You don't meet the survey requirements. Normally if VOP isn't interested you'll be told by the 3rd page of the survey. Should you not be part of the target audience VOP then normally gives you a chance to gain entries to their quarterly prize draw. The prize draws are for £250.

              VOP is also very generous in sending out products to be tested in the past year I've tested shampoo, conditioner and enough laundry liquid to ensure I had clean clothes for months! Again the product testing surveys done on completion where very rewarding - I gained £10 in total for my thoughts on a shampoo!

              As with any good survey site crunch time comes when you ask them to cough the dosh. I've never had any problems with redeeming my money with VOP unlike other sites I've been involved with. You can easily find out if you're eligible for a voucher by logging into the site then going to the MY VOP area. When I first joined you could redeem at £5 this has since been raised to £10. But given the number of surveys and monetary value for each of them it's still pretty easy to gain £10 in a month or so! At present VOP offers the following vouchers - Amazon - an E voucher, Tesco, Boots, Arcadia group, HMV, John Lewis M&S and Argos Having only claimed Amazon vouchers in the past I can not tell how long you will have to wait to receive the paper vouchers for the other companies . You can also give charitable donations to WWF, World Vision, The British Red Cross and Amnesty International. Redeeming your earnings is just a case of clicking on which voucher you want, then checking your details are correct and waiting for the voucher to turn up. With the Amazon voucher this appears instantly in your VOP area with the voucher code plus you also get an email.

              Having had a very rewarding relationship with VOP in 2007 I'm hoping it won't wane in 2008 and I'd definitely recommend others getting involved with VOP

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              • Quidco.co.uk / Internet Site / 70 Readings / 63 Ratings
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                31.12.2007 11:41
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                A cash back site thats pays it's members 100% of what is recieved.

                Nothing in life is free the old saying goes, and this can be applied to Quidco - it's not totally free but if your looking for a cash back site that pays and pays a lot more than it's rivals you can't go far wrong. Over my 2 year use of the site I've managed to "earn" £500, by buying things I'd normally buy via the Quidco website plus working out what offers would also net me the cash with minimal outlay. If your looking for free clicks to rake in the cash quickly then Quidco isn't for you -there are a few daily clicks which can net you a few pence but to be honest I found this a lot of effort for little reward. What I did find with a little bit of effort on my part there was "free money" to be had - a savings account with £1 deposited in it netted me £25, I took to gambling - a deposit of £10 - wagered on Italy winning the World Cup netted me my money back plus my winning from the gambling site and a Quidco bonus of £20. The best had to be the DVD rental trial were in effect I was paid to watch a DVD - the free trail was cancelled as soon as I'd watched the DVD and returned it. Normal spending on such things as household and car insurance has been very rewarding I got my contents insurance practically free this year using Quidco.


                Quidco isn't entirely free, every year they charge you a £5 admin fee, this admin fee is taken out of any earning you make - i.e. you don't actually have to give Quidco any money up front to be able to use the site. Nor if you didn't use the site for a year or so would you find backdated admin fees. Given that the cash back levels are 100% of what Quidco receives from the Merchants featured then I think this is a small price to pay.


                On first glance the Quidco website appear to be very well organised and unlike other cash back sites it looks professional. Joining Quidco is an easy just think up a username add a password and your email address and your now a member. Quidco has an anti Spam policy so you will not be inundated with emails from them. Unfortunately unlike other sites of a similar nature you won't get emails telling you about the latest offerings which I personally wouldn't mind receiving from them. Once logged in after account verification you'll notice at the top of the screen your account settings - earnings, tickets and favourites - here you'll be able to see how much you've earnt see the outcomes to any missing earnings reports and view your favourite sites. The main homepage has all merchants featured on the site - some 1512 at the time of writing. Savvy tips which tells you of the latest offerings plus who's put up their cash back rates. Thankfully Quidco have added sub categories such as finance, entertainment and shopping plus a search box so you don't have to trawl throw all 1512 merchants they feature to find the one you want.


                Once you decided on what you want to look at it's just a question of clicking on the merchants link -this then gives you a brief resume of the site, how good they are at tracking, how quickly they cough the dosh up plus an idea of how many none tracking problems have been resolved positively. You'll also find brief details of what you need to do to get the cash back e.g. . Don't close the account down for x amount of time etc. You then click again where another window opens and you basically purchase what ever you were after. This should then track and show up in your earnings section at some point as being tracked- some sites are extremely slow but I've found normally most things track within a week. To ensure things track you obviously need to have cookies enable plus if it's a site you use regularly then it might be a good idea to remove the cookies that will be there from previous visits. Once something has tracked it's a question of waiting and sometimes waiting very patiently for the money to be posted in your earnings section as received. Unlike other sites Quidco doesn't have a minimum pay out level so in theory you could ask them to send you £1 should you want to. You are allowed to set your own minimum payout level. Quidco will send you the money via Paypal if it's below £50 your asking for or for a 20p fee they'll uses BACS so it's straight into your bank account. If you have a Paypal account that means you pay to receive money then the 20p BACS fee might be a more cost effective way to get your money paid out. For security reason I use an old savings account which accepts BACS. Payments are scheduled on a monthly basis so unfortunately if you've just missed a payment day you'll have to till next month. I have had no problems receiving payments from Quidco using both Paypal and the BACS method.


                Quidco are pretty good at dealing with tracking queries, I have only ever had one item not track -this was travel insurance which I'd bought via Quidco the year before. It took a while for it to be resolved and to be honest I wasn't too bothered about it as it was less then £2. To make a tracking enquiry you need to do this within 6 weeks of it not showing up in your earnings and it's simply a case of clicking on the enquires icon in your earning section then filling out the relevant details. An enquiry and what stage it is at can be then views in your tickets section. Obviously for something to track you need to be logged in to Quidco one good feature if you're not logged in and click on a Merchant Quidco flashes up the fact you will be viewing the Merchants site without being able to earn cash back.


                Would I recommend Quidco? Emphatically yes, it's simple to use, has a great number of sites you've heard of participating, it pays out more than other cash back sites for the merchants featured and you can get your hands on your dosh with relative ease!

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                • More +
                  27.04.2007 11:26
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                  A great park for all ages.

                  Orlando has much to offer the theme park/attraction visitor at one end you have Disney and it's parks, at the other end, at the top of International Drive you have The Universal Studios Resort with Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and linking them both City Walk. The Universal Studios Resort may be the poor relation when it comes to attraction visitors but having spent two days at Island of Adventure I can definitely recommend you spend a day there be you a thrill seeker, a scared parent, a tweenie or a tiny tot it has something to offer everyone. With it's compact nature it is also extremely easy to do in a day and queues allowing get on every ride you want to go on.


                  Location:

                  Islands of Adventure is located at the northern end of International Drive, once you've either parked up, jumped out of your taxi or hopped off one of the frequent Lynx buses that goes there it is only a short stroll via the City walk area which links both Islands of adventure and Universal Studios. This to me was a plus point having spent a week "doing" Disney where it meant queuing for buses, jumping on monorails or taking a boat to the various parks. When I arrive some place I want to just be able to walk into the place not join a queue to actually join another queue at the front gate of the park.


                  Prices:

                  One thing Universal do is periodically have special offers on their web site I paid $104.95 for an adult ticket which at the time was the price for a two day ticket. The offer I got included an extra 3 days admission to both parks plus a free child's ticket. So it is worth checking out their web site on a regular basis. My tickets were actually mailed to me but they do also do a pick up on arrival scheme. My one gripe about Universal would be the fact you have to pay for their Express ticket, this allows you one express admission per attraction that is listed as an Express attraction. In June 2006 when I visited this was $18 per person. Universal have now changed the prices and depending on the date of your visit you could pay from $15 to $40 per person for an express ticket Disney allow everyone to get a Fast pass for free ok you might not be allowed to hold more than one fast pass at a time but you can if you work it properly get passes for all the rides you need during a vist. Given that I was unsure if the thrill seeker in my party would actually be tall enough for some of the rides listed as Express Pass rides I gave it a miss . When I was there in early June the longest we queued was 40 minutes, some of the bigger faster rides we unfortunately where able to go on, off and on again with in minutes!


                  Marvel Superhero Island

                  Should you start your tour of the park in a clockwise fashion then this is the first island you will come to. It's hard to miss with the gigantic green loops of the Hulk Roller coaster and the looming tower of Dr Doom's Fearfall. With it's comic book themeing in places it does transport you back to the 50's look you get while reading old Marvel comic books as you walk further into the area. You'll find a plentiful supply of kiosks and shops within the Superhero Island.

                  Hulk, with it's bright green paint work, this gigantic roller coaster dominates the entrance to Superhero island. With a height of 110 feet, drops of 105 feet, loops that will inflict a fear of terror in you just by looking at them and speeds of up to 67 mph this is one ride that confirmed roller coaster junkies will be sprinting to get to on admission to the park. Hulk has a height restriction of 54" or the magical 1.4m. Unfortunately the thrill seeker Niamh was less then a fingers width under the height restriction in her sandals which meant we were unable to ride Hulk. This led to a few tears on our first day - as I realised finally the man up stairs did exist and Niamh had to stand and watch others ride. A former friend on being told the news did offer to Fed Ex Next Day delivery a pair of platform soled shoes. This former friend has been erased from Christmas/birthday lists. In order to appease the now fed up Niamh who wanted to ride Hulk we made our way to the an updated tea cup ride, with a space themed twist, given it's situation in the shadows of Hulk then I doubt this ride has much in the way of queue at any time. On our second visit Niamh decided that her Mum might be a bit too scared to ride Hulk, so thankfully I can't tell you what it's like to be tossed around on the giant green loops whilst praying you'll see the ground again with your feet firmly on it.

                  Niamh took one look at Dr Doom's Fearfall and announced We didn't have to go on this evil looking ride that hurled you 150 feet in the air then ever so casually dropped you down again, then hurled you three quarters of the way back up, dropped you down again, you've got the picture I'm sure -a vomiting inducing ride just to look from the ground.

                  One of the popular rides in this Island has to be the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, expect to queue for this ride at any time of the year. But one thing Universal do well is themeing the waiting areas and Spiderman is pretty good when it comes to a good themed waiting area, taking you back to the 50's. The ride it's self is brilliant and well worth the wait. Clamped firmly into your car, wearing your 3D glasses you're taking on a tour of the dimly lit city, swinging as Spiderman does from building to building and expect a few surprises with your 3D glasses. Even on our 3rd go we still jumped at some of the objects flying towards us! Height restriction for this ride is 40"


                  Toon Lagoon

                  Home to the parks water rides, one thing about Islands of Adventure is you do get wet on their water rides, not just wet but soaking wet, but remember you'll soon get dry due to the heat. Popeye's Blige Rat Barge is perhaps one of the best water raft rides I've ever been on, we came off soaking wet, giggling and ran round to queue up again. It's not a slow slope around the course in one of these rafts but neither would a smaller child feel unsafe. One word of advice if you should ever go on this ride, you'll see a place in the middle to put your bag in do put it in unless you want a very wet bag!

                  Dudley Do_Rights Ripshaw falls is your typical water chute ride with a Canadian theme to it. I'll admit this ride looked run down in places. As with most water chute rides it takes you slowly around the course, in places it'll surprise you with a mini dip to go down but then suddenly you're waiting to be cranked up the top. The wait is nail biting if like me you hate rides that just chuck you down a steep slope into water, especially when your child is sat in front screeching with excitement and you're wondering if the force of the fall downwards is going to tip the little treasure out…..But I was brave and didn't join the woman in the car in front who got out just before we were cranked up to the top. It might have only been a second before we hit the water at the bottom of the chute but it was a life time for me. I'd add I was brave 4 times! Height restriction for this ride is 44"


                  Jurassic Park

                  Home to all things dinosaurs here you'll find the sedate Pteranodon Flyers which takes you on the equivalent of a ski life chair around the park not one for the thrill seekers but a welcome break if your nerves have been jangled a bit by the other rides. Camp Jurassic -a children's playground. The Jurassic Park Discovery centre with it's hands on exhibitions was interesting but the thrill seeker needed her fix so we didn't stay too long there! The Jurassic Park River Adventure ride is another of those wonderful rides that cranks you round a themed course then drops you down a 85 feet drop into complete darkness. The themeing before the drop is actually very good and does make you jump in places.


                  The Lost Continent

                  It was here in The Lost Continent that Niamh finally got to ride "a fast ride" kitted out with her trainers she made the magical 1.4m or 54" in order to ride Duelling Dragons. One thing I will say is every time Niamh went to get on Duelling Dragons she was measured some might find this a bind but to me it reassured me that they took basic safety seriously. Apparently this ride is the world only inverted duelling roller coaster, basically this means there are two rides Fire and Ice and at three point in the rides there are "near miss moments" where both rides come within a foot of each other. The queue for Ice was by far the shorter mainly due to the fact Ice is supposedly the less never jangling of the two rides. We chose Ice for the 5 times we rode it. Ice has a top speed of 55mph compared with Fires 60mph, the initial drop was only 95 feet whereby Fire drops you some 115 feet. If you compare the different types of loops and inversions then they are two totally different rides so the harden thrill seeker is going to want to queue up at least twice to ride the different rides. I'll admit after the second go I rather liked this ride, by the 5th ride I was even considering risking it on Hulk, thankfully the queues for Hulk were long when we went back to ride it! Duelling Dragons if your nerves can take it is one of those must ride it rides. In places you'll be screaming in terror others you'll just scream because everyone else is. Honestly it's fun and you should try it!

                  Duelling Dragons may well dominate The Lost Continent, but you will find rides and attractions for all ages here. We happily spent an hour cooling down by The Mystic Fountain a very naughty talking fountain which happily squirts cheeky children with a grand finale where by it drenches them! Niamh and the dozen or so other children who were playing there had a ball! You'll also find the rather rickety Flying unicorns roller coaster for little tots, Sinbad's stunt show which unfortunately we missed plus Poseidon's Fury. Poseidon's fury is one of those walk around rides/show where you are taken from area to area. Should you have a child who's scared off the dark or loud bangs and voices then it is best to avoid!


                  Seuss Landings

                  This is the final Island you'll come to should you start your tour from the main entrance in a clock wise fashion. Should you have small tots then I'd suggest you went here first as it is aimed for tots. As the name suggests this Island is all about the Cat in the Hat and other Seuss characters, if you time it right you'll even be able to meet the Cat in the Hat. With a variety of merry-go-round type rides younger children will love this Island. Hardened thrill seekers and older children will want to get out of this twee place as soon as possible.


                  Food and Drink:

                  This is in plentiful supply from kiosks selling ice creams, soda, giant pretzels and pop corn to fast food type outlets and proper sit down restaurants. Comparing prices I would say it was marginally cheaper then the Mouse Trap down the road. Universal currently do a meal deal where by you can get meals at certain outlets, if I was not a veggie I would have probably paid the $18 for an adult and $9 for a child as it works out at excellent value. This year you'll find you'll pay $24.99 per adult and $12.99 per child. Where Islands of Adventure gets the thumbs up from me food wise is the fact as a veggie after studying a couple of menus I found that both Niamh and I wouldn't have to have yet another round of cheese pizza and fries from the self service cafes. Even Niamh after nearly 10 days of Pizza wanted something different and my body was screaming out for something that was slightly more nutritionally healthy then yet more fries! My huge Greek salad that would have feed a family of 4 very happily was greeted ecstatically by me. Now before you think that you'll not get a big Mac type burger and an extra large fries to go you will. Should you find the need for a stiff drink after some of the more nerve jangling rides you will find that alcohol is sold in some of the restaurants and no I didn't run screaming to the bar after my 2nd go on Duelling Dragons but it was rather comforting to know I could have! Throw out the Park you'll find numerous sit down restaurants and kiosks, you'll not go hungry or thirsty here! Restrooms were in plentiful supply and on the whole very clean.


                  Islands of Adventures might well have to compete with all that Disney can offer down the road but it does a pretty good job. It's not aiming to ape the parks down the road Universal has stamped it's name firmly on the park and come up with it's own park and not a second class Disney. On any future visits to Florida if I was ever in the situation where we could only visit the one park then I'd go to Island of Adventures again without hesitation.

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                  • More +
                    03.04.2007 14:41
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                    Reasonably priced hotel with standards you'd expect from Holiday Inn

                    When my darling brother informed me he was flying to the States for 3 months on the very day I was due in London, I was in a bit quandary as to where on earth I’d stay for the night, a bench on the Embankment appeared to be beckoning when I started to look at the prices of hotels in Central London. Thankfully the handy special offers email I get as a Priority Club Member of the Holiday Inn group showed up in the nick of time.

                    Holiday Inn Express (HIE) is a great mid range hotel group, all the hotels offer practically the same facilities and you know what your getting for your money, a decent hotel with basic facilities and a “free” continental breakfast being the order of the day. Having stayed in several up and down the country I’m reassured by the fact they don’t tend to differ much in design, facilities and price. It’s nice to know you’ll be checking in somewhere that isn’t a flea pit. Size of rooms does vary from hotel to hotel I’ve found and the HIE Southwark had perhaps one of the smallest bedrooms I’d stayed in, but this didn’t mean it was a pokey or cramped room.

                    One thing I have found when booking HIE in this country is the cheapest place to book them is the web site, which is extremely easy to use. After searching for a hotel in London I came across the cheapest option for my dates and that was the HIE Southwark. After looking on the handy map the site had along with other details of the hotel it didn’t appear to be too far out of central London nor did it look to be a complete nightmare to find! In fact it looked perhaps a little too easy to find! With the link from my special offers email I booked the hotel for £59 for the night, this did mean I had to pay up front and if anything had stopped me from going then I’d not have been able to get a refund. Other non restrictive tariffs were in the £79 a night range. On check in I did notice that the turn up at the desk rate was £180 - I’m not too sure how many people really would pay that rate unless they were really desperate! Once my booking was confirmed, I printed out the email they sent for reference just in case anything went wrong when I attempted to check in!

                    The hotel is about 10 minutes walk from Blackfriars tube and it is also close to Southwark tube on the Jubilee line plus Waterloo. But to be honest any of the tubes on the Embankment could be used as we found it only took about 25 minutes to walk from Charing Cross to the hotel and this was a leisurely stroll taking in all the sights the South bank of the River had to offer. Once you have found Blackfriars Bridge, the hotel is a gentle 5 minute stroll and seen as soon as you turn into Southwark St from Blackfriars Road. The hotel does have limited parking facilities advertised on a first come first served basis at £12 per 24 hours. Nearby attractions include the Tate Modern, the London Eye and it is not that far to walk into the west end of London from the hotel.

                    Check in is from 2pm, when we arrived at 10pm the desk was manned by two very friendly members of staff who had us checked in in minutes given that the booking was done throw the Priority Club, I was not asked to fill in the customary card with home address details nor was my credit card swiped. I was given a key card and the receptionist informed me that breakfast was served between 7.30am and 11am and that check out was at 11am.

                    The ground floor of the hotel is open planned, with the reception desk being situated by the bar which opened till 2am, having prevailed myself of enough alcohol during the day I wasn’t enticed to sample any more so can not comment on the prices. Soft drinks were available 24/7 from the fridge near the reception desk a can of diet coke being £1. The sitting area for the bar was small and to be honest if more than 8 people were sat down on the rather comfy looking sofas it would have appeared cramped. This area was a smoking area but smoking is banned during breakfast serving times. The dinning area again was small but nicely furnished, I did wonder if all the occupants of the hotels 88 rooms came for breakfast at the same time how they’d cope! The public facilities were of the usual standard you’d expect at a HIE, nothing special but definitely not dated or tatty. Within this area were several computers which HIE class as their business suite, having no need to access the net I couldn’t say

                    Having located the room, I encountered the first problem for some reason the key card wouldn’t work after several frustrating swipes it did eventually work. By the door is the key pad which you need to put your card in. This activated the lights plus the TV came on with the standard personalised welcome. The TV had the usual terrestrial channels a limited range of satellite channels plus several pay to view chanels.The room was small but not to the point where you had to squeeze passed things in order to move around it. The furnishings were your standard hotel fare, nothing great but definitely not dated or tatty. One thing that was missing and would have been nice if you were staying a few nights was a chest of drawers. But for a one night stay the hanging rail with plenty of hangers was adequate to hang jackets on the other items I’d bought with me remained in my bag. Most hotels have a desk in the rooms due to the size of the room this was just a working shelf which could probably have just about taken a lap top . The room also had a working hairdryer plus tea and coffee making facilities. Unfortunately the management seem to think you only need one drink per person as the milk cartons were rationed to two!

                    With any hotel room what can make or break a stay is the bed, no one wants a poor nights sleep due to a lumpy mattress, thankfully the bed was more than comfy. Plus additional pillows were available in the room in a storage bag. The bed linen was clean and no evidence of it not being fresh was gratefully found! Having once spent the night in a hotel where the linen appeared not been changed this is one of my pet hates! I like nice crisp linen minus stains or other peoples hair!

                    Bathrooms in hotels can be a bit hit and miss, the room had an adequate bathroom with a power shower and toilet, all were in good working order. Around the wash basin they had 3 mirrors - just what you want when you stumble into the bathroom first thing in the morning half a sleep - a little mirror and subdued lighting would have done me! If your after a bunch of freebies to take home then the HIE isn’t the place to go. I had hoped there would be a sample bottle of shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom as in my bid to travel light I’d only bought the bare essentials for morning ablutions. There was a body wash dispenser in the shower plus a hand/face wash dispenser. The bathroom also had an adequate supply of towels, the larger ones were definitely of bath sheet size so were easily wrapped around you after a shower! Another of my pet hates is hotels supplying a hand towel the size of a tea towel and a bath towel the size of a hand towel - I like to be able to wrap the towel around me once I’ve come out of the shower. I love showers but always end up either scalded or frozen due to the temperature dials. The shower didn’t have markings on the temperature dial but within a minute the acquired temperature was found and unlike some so called hotel power showers this shower definitely blasted out the water!

                    Overall I would say the room facilities were good if you were staying for one or two nights, any longer and due to lack of storage you would probably end up with crumbled clothes!

                    Having previously stayed at several different HIE’s I’m used to the usual contential breakfast fare they provide. This was served in the dinning area on the ground floor from 7.30am - 11am during our stay. Stumbling down to breakfast at just after 10am we made our way to the dinning area, having located a table that still had the previous persons used breakfast crockery on the table we then ventured to the breakfast bar which had a choice of 4 cereals, fresh fruit juice, but where was the Grapefruit juice that I always assumed was standard HIE fare! There were a selection of rolls, bread for toasting and croissants plus a limited selection of jams/marmalade and butter packs. In other HIE’s the fruit bowel normally contained a range of fresh fruit such as apples, oranges and Banana’s - all that was available was here were some rather sad looking oranges. Thankfully the coffee machine was working so I could top up my caffeine levels. The machine did a range of coffees plus hot chocolate for the tea drinkers there was a selection of teas. One thing that would have been nice would have been a supply of cutlery, this was only put out when tables were reset so did mean we had to wait a few minutes for spoons to eat our cereal with. Knives for the rolls were pinched from another table. Overall the breakfast was good, nothing special but a bargain as it is included in the room price.

                    Having a room that looked out onto the back of the hotel did mean that any noise from traffic etc was kept to a minimum I would suspect that you might suffer from some early morning traffic noise if you had a room that over looked the main road the hotel is on. Noise from other residents was also minimal. Infact the only person probably waking anyone up was me when at 2am I decided to get a can of coke from reception and then attempted to get back into my room to find out it wasn’t actually my room but the one next door, thankfully the nice Irish man that came to the door wasn’t looking for a fight and laughed and my now rather red face!

                    Should you want a reasonably priced fairly central hotel then I would recommend the HIE Southwark to you.

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                      29.12.2006 16:15
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                      Another great Lush product

                      Him@hishouse is one of those men that doesn't mind actually going into a Lush shop and making a purchase, in fact a quick investigation - ok nose around his bathroom found several Lush products - no darling H@HH isn't a secret Angels On Bare Skin user and he appears to be a Celestial virgin as well. What my investigations found were two bubble bar slices - my favourite Blue Skies and Fluffy White Skies being one of them and the other an orange swirled slice that H@HH informed me was the best ever bubble bar slice called Karma. On first sniffing Karma I found it to be one of those unisex smelling products not overly feminine/masculine but definitely not an aroma, which would get a man funny looks down the pub!


                      Many of you will have sampled the odd Lush Bath Ballistic or six but a slightly cheaper way to feel totally pampered and de-stressed in the bath is to try the Bubble Bar Slices. Basically it's a block of heaven that you crumble into your bath and get a zillion or so wonderfully scented bubbles. Karma with it's muted orange swirls comes in misshapen circles - all due to the fact they are made by hand just like the majority of Lush products. Lush with it's environmentally friendly policy keep packaging down to a minimum with a clear cellophane wrapper being added at the till. If it's fancy packaging you want then perhaps the Lush experience isn't for you as the fanciest thing you'll find packaging wise in Lush is the re enforced bags - and given that most of us tend to buy more than one item - ok read 10 or more for me these are a must.


                      Lush market Karma as a relaxing, contemplative bathing experience. Aimed to de-stress you as, you contemplate your place in this universe with the aid of a zillion fluffy bubbles and liberal quantities of essential oils to sooth your weary body. Each bar contains Patchouli oil, Orange oil, Pine Oil and Lavender oil - this combination aims to soothe, relax, clear your head as well as stimulate the mind and body. Add in sodium bicarbonate, which will help soften the skin and you might just have a sure fire winner in the bathing stakes.


                      Karma passed the all important sniff test for me, with it's slightly mystical aroma that hinted of patchouli and without having read the ingredient list I'd have swore a dash of ginger had been added. It wasn't long before H@HH's supply of Karma was being crumbled under the hot tap so I could saviour the delights of a Lush bath. With all bath bar slices you do not need to use all of it at once - given that Karma is one of the big boys when it comes to Lush's bath bar slices then it really would be advisable to not throw a whole one in the bath - I can imagine the bubbles attempting an escape bid if you did.


                      What I noticed first of all was the delightful aroma that crept from the bathroom to fill the whole house, you really could smell the orange aroma which in the unused state seemed to be hidden by the patchouli oil. I only used a small pieced of the bar but was greeted by a mass of fluffy bubbles and bath water that was ever so slightly yellow in colour. This was a bit of a let down as I was hoping for the same effect that Blue Skies and Fluffy White Clouds has on your bath - this turns the water blue and I had hoped my bath water might have changed colour more dramatically then it did I wanted an orange bath with a mass of fluffy bubbles not a hint of muted yellow. On average a Karma Bubble Bar tends to last about 6 baths each giving a generous amount of bubbles each time.


                      With any Lush bath product , you are practically guaranteed a bathing experience with a difference. Unlike mass produced bubble baths loaded with chemicals who's bubbles disappear at the mere whisper of the word soap and dry your skin Lush have managed to produce Bubble Bars that have staying power and leave the skin feeling clean, soft and moisturised by the ample use of essential oils. Karma is no different in this and I did notice after I'd spent the best part of an hour luxuriating in the bath that my skin felt wonderful but lacked the slight oily moisturising film you get when you use the Blue Skies bar. My skin had a slight aroma that reminded me of Lush's Each Peach massage bar. Would I recommend this? In a word yes, for me it will never replace Blue Skies but it is a top class Bubble Bar which has bubbles that last, a delightful aroma and doesn't dry your skin out like other bath products can!


                      Available from all Lush shops or online at www.lush.co.uk Price£2.10 per 100g

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                        23.10.2006 17:31
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                        Another great Lush Bubble Bar Slice

                        Why Lush chose to call their latest Bubble Bar Slice “The Comforter” when it is reminiscent of a large vibrant slice of Swiss roll is beyond me - I‘d have gone for some Swiss pun or perhaps Blackberry ripple. With it’s vibrant deep pink and white swirls you can’t help but take a second look at it, one sniff later and it was gleefully added to my already heaving basket on a recent forage in my local Lush store. I’ve always been a big fan of their other Bubble Bar Slice - Blue Skies and Fluffy White clouds and was hoping that this would be just as good!


                        Lush’s Bubble Bar slices are excellent value, if you compare them to the Bath Ballistics which only give you one bath or two if you manage to split one in half, which is no mean feat I can tell you! With the Bubble Bath Slices you can on average get at least 6 wonderfully smelling baths with the added bonus of lashings of bubbles that don’t dry out your skin. Yes you have to forgo the Alka Seltzer moment you get when you drop a Bath Ballistic into the bath but I save those for special baths, where I indulge in a bottle of Fizz, lighted candles and a glossy magazine!


                        The Comforter is a large 200g slice, in appearance it’s the raspberry pink version of Blue Skies and Fluffy White Clouds and Karma Bubble Bath Slices. On smelling it you get this over whelming scent of luscious berries with a sweet hint of candy floss. Lush market it as “ Wraps you in a fluffy pink blanket of blackberry bubbles” I was kind of hoping the bubbles would be pink but was impressed at how pink the water under the fluffy white bubbles had gone! Each slice is packed with essential oils and softening agents. Most are naturally found, none are tested on animals and unlike mass produced bubble baths your not bathing in one long range of chemicals.


                        With any Bubble Bath Slice all you need to do is break a piece off and then crumble it into the bath as it’s running. Having once had bubbles attempting to escape when using another Bubble Bath slice I now know that only a small amount is needed, I find that breaking the bar in half then breaking a smaller piece off is ample and means I can normally get 6 baths out of one slice. Once you’ve crumbled a piece in you’ll notice in seconds the bath water changing to a vibrant pink colour, a swirl of the water means you’ll be greeted with a mass of fluffy bubbles. The smell you get is of a sweet bubblegum like nature with just a hint of berries, it’s not overwhelming and unlike other Lush Bath products I’ve tried it doesn’t fill the whole house nor does it linger for a while after which is a shame really.


                        As with any bath product the proof of how good it is definitely in the testing, having armed myself with every thing I needed I jumped into the bath to be covered in lots of bubbles, the pink water appeared to have the usual oils that you find in Lush Bath products so I was hoping it wouldn’t dry my skin out too much. After using soap, shampoo and conditioner I did find that the bubbles had disappeared but the moment wasn’t spoilt as the now pink bubble less water reminded me of using a Bath Ballistic as it gave of a slight hint of bubblegum and the usual slight oily film covered my skin. After an hour of luxuriating in the bath it was time to get out. The real test of how good a bath product is for me is whether or not it has a drying effect on my skin. Lush bath products as a whole tend to leave my skin feeling clean, soft and moisturized and The Comforter was no exception.


                        At £3.29 a slice, The Comforter is excellent value for money especially when a small amount goes a long way - I’m one of those people who loves loads of bubbles in the bath so probably use more then most people would do but I can still get 6 wonderfully smelling baths out of one slice without being stingy with the bubbles!

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                          29.09.2006 20:35
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                          Another great skin care product from Elizabeth Arden

                          Years ago I lived in red lippy, so vain I’d not open the door without swiping some lippy over my lips. One Christmas I was given the ultimate in red lipstick a wonderful red that shouted class -well it would have if not teamed up pale foundation black eye liner and back combed hair but that’s another story. The manufactor of this lippy was Elizabeth Arden. When it ran out I braved the Elizabeth Arden counter complete with orange faced assistant who was probably equally as charitable about my appearance as I was her’s. Unfortunately they’d stopped making it. Many years later I decided that just perhaps mother nature needed a bit of a helping hand regards skin care and not a casual "slap on a bit of moisturiser because my face was sore" approach I’d had up until then. Bearing in mind I’d always thought of Elizabeth Arden as being a classy outfit and having a fist full of Boots vouchers I presented myself at the Lizzie Arden counter ready to spend, spend, spend. The tangoed one on the counter suggested numerous goodies to rejuvenate my face. Off I went armed with a small bag and a credit card slip that showed I’d spent the vouchers and more. With this began my love affair of Elizabeth Arden lotions and potions, no more cheap stuff for me I’ll have you know! I soon discovered in order to keep up with my addiction I needed to find a cheaper pusher oops supplier it. Elizabeth Arden can actually be picked up very cheaply online I was to find especially on Ebay.


                          When Elizabeth Arden launched Ceramide Plump Perfect Moisturiser at the back end of 2003, the addict in me trawled Ebay and a variety of Cosmetics Sites in the hopes of not having to pay £42 for a jar of face cream! Unfortunately my search at that time was fruitless so after much deliberation and thoughts of selling a kidney I decided that I needed it, badly and devised a way of taking the sting out of buying it -I’d open a Debenhams card and get 10% off - this approach only works if you pay the card off in full and don’t get knobbled for interest! Armed with a jar of face cream that only (sic) cost me £37.80 I was in heaven!


                          So what do you get for you money you are all probably wondering at this point apart from the lose of a kidney or not being able to eat for a week?

                          Well you get one rather classy looking moisturiser. On opening the gold box you’ll find a rather posh trade market Arden Ceramide container, with a gold lid and white bottom! It looks huge but clever packaging which is the cosmetic industries norm soon become apparent as on opening you realises the contents are in a small area then you’d think! But you still get 50mls of this dream cream! The moisturiser it’s self is a soft peachy colour and thankfully doesn’t smell as it looks. It’s got a very slight clean fragrance to it which to be honest you have to actually stick your nose close to the jar to smell it.


                          Ok so it looks pretty and it’s expensive what’s it going to do for me apart from guilt trip me?

                          Once you’ve gotton over the trauma of purchasing and lying to your significant other about the cost you should find you have one very good moisturiser. Elizabeth Arden state that Ceramide Plump Perfect“defines and improves skin appearance almost immediately. Witness skin plumping benefits plus moisture boosting hydration. This product contains a potent formula proven to plump the skin and reduce fine lines, signs of ageing, stress and tension from your skin. The triple complex reinforces the skins own natural protective barrier with an SPF 15 factor it stops the effects of sun and wind damage in their tracks.”


                          Ok so they would say all of that wouldn’t they?

                          I may well be an Arden junkie, but I’ll have to say this stuff does live up to expectations, especially during the winter months when my skin does get very dry and sore. With daily use of Plump Perfect I’ve found that my skin remains soft and not dry. As for plumping up those fine lines I’d love to say they’ve all gone, but unfortunately I think only a session of Botox or a surgeons knife is going to get rid of them! My skin on the whole does feel softer and looks in better condition. Given that it does have a SPF 15 in it also means you have some protection from the sun during the summer months, which if you like me an burn at the first sun ray of summer is an added bonus.


                          Ok so you’ve sold me but how long is it going to last?

                          I use Plump Perfect daily first thing in the morning. A little goes along way with this product. All you really need is the tip of your finger covered with it to give a nice even spread of moisturiser. Elizabeth Arden suggests that you massage it in in a upwards circular motion. I would suggest that you avoid the eye area whilst doing this only because I managed to get an eye full of it and it stung like hell! With daily use I find that a jar lasts me about 6 months.

                          Am I likely to end up with a sticky face?

                          Plump Perfect absorbs very easily on my skin unlike some other well known moisturisers which have left me feeling very sticky in the past.


                          It sounds perfect but I suffer from sensitive skin!

                          Plump perfect as with all Elizabeth Arden skincare is dermologically tested. Obviously this doesn’t help if your one of those people that suffers with very sensitive skin. Unfortunately I can’t really say if you are likely to react to this as I’m lucky in that way. What I would suggest if you fancy giving it a try is to go talk to those nice tangoed women on your local Elizabeth Arden counter and I bet you’ll come away with a sample or two to try before you buy the full sized product!


                          I’m not prepared to sell a kidney/starve myself and the kids but I want to try it!

                          As I said previously Elizabeth Arden products can be picked up very cheaply online, currently you can find the full sized 50ml jar on www.makup.com for £18.99 plus postage definitely a saving if you compare it to the high street price. Ebay is also a great place to look as I bought several from the States last summer for a fraction of the UK High Street price.


                          Plump Perfect is expensive even at the so called bargain basement prices you can find it online there is no doubt that it’s expensive but having tested several other cheaper moisturisers in between jars of plump Perfect I find the results from Plump Perfect to be far more superior and if you go on how long it lasts then it’s only marginally more expensive then other mid range moisturisers. G’wan you know you wanna try it and who needs a second kidney??

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                          • dial-a-flight.com / Internet Site / 40 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                            24.09.2006 17:59
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                            use this site ater you've done your home work to ensure your bargain is a bargain!

                            When it comes to booking a flight I tend to be one of those people who’ll hunt for days or even weeks till I finally prove to myself I’m not going to get it any cheaper. I’ll go through site after site inputting all the boring information, changing the days if I can be flexible and then finally booking a ticket. Last October on a whim I decided to make a certain person aged then eight dreams come true and take her to Florida. A shoe string budget was set, after searching sites like Expedia, Opodo, Lastminute.com, Ebookers and probably a hundred or so more I stumbled across Dial A Flight.


                            Dial A Flights web site is basic to say the least, but then again if it comes up with the goods does it matter? It’s easy to navigate around the site finding the information you want and their all important telephone number is literally on every page as well as the ABTA symbol. The phone lines are open from 8am -11pm and answered quickly! Dial A Flight do not just sell flights, they also sell packaged holidays plus accommodation. In order to book you do need to give them a call.


                            After inputting my desired flight dates it came up with a flight that was £30 cheaper then I’d seen it on other sites. One thing I did find off putting with Dial A Flight was the fact it only showed me the best fare available, sometimes the cheapest option is not the best when it comes to say having to change planes several times therefore I like to see a list of my options, also it’s handy to be able to search by a particular airline etc - all of this you can not do online with Dial A Flight. With some doubts I rang them. The phone was answered extremely quickly, the operator took all my details and came back with the reply the flight I wanted had sold out. I must admit then I felt just perhaps the “Best Fare” was a cherry to entice you to ring. The operator did ask if I’d be willing to fly into Stanford airport on a charter flight but given the fact I’d decided not to hire a car this was not an option due to the distance. Just as I was about to terminate the call feeling slightly deflated the operator did say it’s a shame you couldn’t flight out the next day, at this point my hopes of a cheap flight were risen again and he gave me the details. 10 minutes later -after a computer glitch on their part my tickets to Orlando were booked. Dial A Flight do like most travel agents charge you a 2% surcharge for using a credit card as a method of payment. The operator gave me his direct number and I was dancing around the room as we were finally going to go to Florida!


                            Following my booking of the tickets, I received an email detailing my iternary and an invoice. My actual plane tickets arrived 4 days later, even though I was not flying out for another seven months. Having once booked a flight throw Opodo where major changes to my travel were made and I only found out due to my travelling companion, who had booked separately being told about the changes I felt reassured when Dial a Flight not only emailed me but wrote to me to inform me of changes on two occasions - my arrival time in Orlando and departure from Orlando times were changed by about an hour. My holiday proceeded without a hic up and I went on to recommend that friends and work colleagues booked with Dial A flight.


                            At the beginning of this month, I had this great urge to go back to Florida, after spending several evenings researching flights I decided it was time to give Dial A Flight another call. This time around I really wanted to flight direct to Orlando and not via another airport. I was however willing to go on a BA flight from Manchester -Gatwick - Orlando, if the price was right. I rang Dial A Flight giving dates at the weekend asking for either BA or Virgin. After a disappointing call - I’d have paid for one ticket what I’d paid the year before for both of us to go I went back on a hunt for that cheap ticket. I thought I’d found it using a site I’d not heard of before but it was coming up with a Virgin flight from Manchester flying mid week at £767 for one adult and one child. Given that I’d never heard of this site I was slightly reluctant to part company with that amount of money - I didn’t want to turn up at the airport with an excited 9 year old and be told you don’t have a booking with us. I decided to give Dial A Flight a ring to see if they could match the price or give it me a bit cheaper. After giving my dates I asked the operator to search only for Virgin flights I also mentioned I’d found the flights on another site and could they beat the price. After 5 minutes or so the operator came back and told me that the return date was unavailable and no seats were left, I pointed out I was about to book that flight with another company, to which I was informed you will not get that day as there are no flights available. I was then offered flights at £850 for different days - these were mid week days. I declined. 24 hours later I booked the exact same flights, I’d wanted to book with Dial A Flight on Ebookers for £741. So much for there being no seats left.


                            Last year if anyone had asked me to recommend a cheap, reliable site then I’d not have hesitated in saying give Dial A Flight a call. But after this last time I’d be reluctant to do so. Their available accommodation is hardly a bargain either the hotel I have booked for £383 for 13 nights is marked up at £537 What I would say to anyone wanting to book cheap flights is do your homework know roughly what flights are going for and then give Dial A Flight a call at least then you’ll know your “bargain” flight really is a bargain!

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                              17.06.2006 13:32
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                              Wonderful park

                              There are plus points about having your birthday in the middle of the summer holidays - you'll never ever have to spend it at school being one of the main ones. But should you be a coaster junkie in the making it does rule out spending your birthday at one of the big parks scaring your Mum half to death. Niamh wanted to go to a theme park for her birthday she rattled off a list Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington being the main contenders. When it was pointed out that she'd be lucky to go on say 8 rides in a whole day she wasn't too frilled by the thought of spending her birthday in a queue. Niamh doesn't do queue Niamh's idea of a fun day is jumping off one ride and straight back onto another one. She's a firm believer in Fast Track Tickets as long as she's got a fistful of them.


                              With her heart set on going to a theme park but one minus queues if possible I decided on Flamingo Land, it was cheapish, nearish and I couldn't see people driving from all over the country to spend the day in North Yorkshire. Flamingo Land was first set up in 1979. I recall people from school, spending two weeks in a caravan there and having a great time or so they said. Caravan Parks always remind me of Mablethorpe and my Nan's caravan as a kid - I had no great desire to relive a caravan holiday thanks very much! But on deleving around Flamingo Lands web site I did notice that the caravan park bit of the operation has definitely gone up market, since the 70's and my numerous stays in caravans. The accommodation offered by Flamingo Land in their adjacent Caravan Park is of a very high standard, with plush fittings. Apparently it's not the vogue to have calor gas lighting like my Nan had way back in the 70's. These caravans even came furnished with DVD players and microwaves -I'd have sold my soul for a TV and not have had to listen to Radio 2 every evening with my Grand dad smoking his pipe and humming along to some great classic from the 40's or so it seemed! Customers that stay in either one of the plush caravan's or swanky log cabins gain admission to the theme park every day of their stay as well as evening entertainment, an on site pool and other leisure facilities - it doesn't come cheap in August expect to pay £800 for a week. Should you have your own touring caravan or tent you can pitch up on site pricing depends on the size of your party expect to pay £188 a week plus should you want to enter the theme park you have to pay the standard admission charges thankfully only the once for unlimited use during your stay. Private lets are also available on the site as well. Most people come to Flamingo Land not to stay for weeks on end but for the theme park.


                              I've never heard of it?

                              Most people probably haven't, it might well be a theme park attached to a caravan park but it's definitely not in the same league as the big boys. But before you scratch it off your to do list it does have something for everyone there. It's a park where you could take your toddlers, your tweenies, teens, thrill seekers and scared parents. It might not be wall to wall white knuckle rides but it's got a few. It's also got rides for toddlers, tweenies and scared parents plus a zoo.


                              Where is it then?

                              Flamingo Land is situated in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire within easy reach of Scarborough, Bridlington and Filey should you be on a seaside holiday. It's also 30 miles from York so could easily be added to a York weekend should you fancy seeing all that York has to offer then have fun at a theme park.


                              Getting there:

                              I travelled by car exiting the A1 for the A64 York road and the followed sign posts to Malton/Scarborough till finally picking up the sign posts a little way out of Malton for Flamingo Land. It's practically a straight run from the A1.


                              Public Transport:

                              Train: The local train station is in Malton.
                              Bus: From York you should pick up the Yorkshire Coaster

                              Opening times:

                              March - October
                              The park opens at 10am and closes at 6pm during summer months. The closing times do alter during the year taking into account lack of day light etc. Personally roaming around the park in October wouldn't appeal due to how cold the area gets!

                              Cost:

                              Adults/over 4's: £19
                              Under 3's -free
                              Seniors - £9.50
                              Wheelchair users and carers - £9.50 (each)
                              Family (4) - £70

                              First impressions:

                              After nearly missing the entrance and screeching to a holt just outside it I was rather pleased to find the car park half empty and the fact that I wasn't going to have to pay for the privilege of parking my car. At 10.20am the queues to get in the park were minimal and to buy a ticket non existence. The thing that first strikes you is how much it reminds you off the seaside as you walk in. When I say seaside I'm talking about some run down resort struggling to get by with the advent of the package holiday and the crap British weather. To say I wasn't impressed was an understatement. My first look around revealed a tacky looking gift shop, a fast food outlet and a merry go round that looked like it had seen better days. Bracing ourselves for what was in store we soon found a ride to go on a rather old fashioned bike ride. Remember how seaside resorts were backed with those bikes that two people peddled and another two could sit at the back? Well Flamingo Land has a ride where you can relive this. Unfortunately you have to be 4'6" to be able to sedately peddle a bike around much to Niamh's displeasure. The park like other theme parks is divided into different areas on the map in reality the area's seem to mingle into one. It reminds me of a fair ground with little planning and a minimal budget for landscaping and aesthetics. But then again we weren't here to wander around admiring the views we were here to ride as many rides as we possibly could! Yes it might be faded and tatty looking around the edges in places, but you know something it had atmosphere, the attendants smiled and talked to people, the toilets were in plentiful supply and the fast food outlets didn't have Mac KFC, Burger any where on them -and there were loads of them about. The prices were similar to MacDonald's on the High St as well.


                              Queues:

                              Yes it was a Saturday bang slap in the middle of the summer holidays and we queued for an average of 10 minutes per ride. Even the big rides had small queues most averaged about 30 people My only gripe would be that some rides weren't open for the full day and it meant going back to see if they were now open apparently rides like The Bullet and Magnum only have a limited operational time. Flamingo Land doesn't operate a Fast Track Ticket scheme but give the most queues are small and far between it's not something that is really needed.


                              The Plaza

                              This is the first part of the park you'll come across from the main entrance, it looks and feels like the prom of some down at heel seaside resort that is in need of a face lift. With numerous fast food outlets and gift shops it's perhaps not the advertisement for the park.

                              Wave Swinger - remember the old fashioned carousels at the back of fairgrounds? Wave swinger is bang slap in the middle of The Plaza in is one of those rides with swings hanging off metal chains. The ride itself is fun as it takes you high above the park. The only problem being it does feel some what rickety especially when the wind catch you!


                              Metropolis

                              Flamingo Lands area's do just tend to mingle into one to be honest so you'd probably not realise you'd moved into the next section which is Metropolis. Things finally look up once you see what is on offer in this section of the park.

                              Corkscrew - a traditional roller coaster, aiming to scare you to death with two loops and a speed of 40mph

                              Velocity - if the Corkscrew didn't get you join the short queue and they were short for Flamingo Land's latest attraction the recently opened Velocity. Apparently it's the very first motorbike launched ride in the UK. Given the fact it propels you around it's circuit at speeds of 87kmph, whilst changing direct several times and attempting to scare you half to death to boot it's not a mystery why some people feel the need to travel great distances to ride this - but they have you know! Thankfully the 4'6" height restriction did mean the only speed lover in our party was too small for this ride!

                              Mousetrap - remember those old fashion mini coasters that have you turning corners at the last minute, throwing you down mini drops in little cars? Well Flamingo Land has one of these and it's rather good too! Niamh and I rode it 10 times during the course of the day -the queue was about 5 minutes long each time. It was rickety in places but that just adds to the fun!

                              Revolver - this is another new ride for Flamingo Land and it shows with it's gleaming paint work. Revolver is fun, it looks scary but it's not! If you can imagine a huge arch axis similar to the axis the big boat rides make, then add a large round platform for about 30 riders to ride on all around the edge, start by allowing the platform to gently swing up and down the axis, then a bit faster, then faster still then add a spin or two of the platform and you've basically got this ride! Just one note it doesn't fly off the upper part of the axis honestly -it just feels like it's going to!

                              Other note able rides in this part of the park include The Dragon Coaster -a kiddies coaster which is very rickety in places, Niamh declared it ok but a bit babyish , The Balloon ride - I loved it Niamh used it as a look out to work out what next to torment her parents with! The Circular - a hideous looking ride that I'm sure gave you sick bags as well and some rather dilapidated Pink Elephants which Niamh declared to be uncool and refused to ride!


                              Seaside Adventure

                              This part of the park looks very run down, home to several mini rides and two bigger rides.

                              Cliff Hanger - Most theme parks have their own version of this the tower of torment might be a better name. You know the kind of ride strap in a willing idiot, drop him from a great hide then, sling him back nearly to the top of the tower and do the same again. The speed people where being thrust upwards was enough to make me pray Niamh didn't make the height restriction. Thankfully Niamh's aversion to queuing kicked in and we hurriedly walked over to another torture ride!

                              Tidal Wave - now Niamh loved Thorpe Parks Tidal Wave a massive great water chute that throws you over the edge at zillions of miles an hour into a huge pool of water. Flamingo Lands Tidal Wave is a bit like Alton Towers Ripsaw, you get strapped in, why are rides with shoulder straps always worrying??? The platform then rotates in a variety of positions backwards forwards, up on a 90degree axis side ways and all number of combinations thankfully unlike Ripsaw it doesn't turn you upside down and squirt you with water!


                              Carnival Fair

                              Remember when the fair used to come to town and plonk itself in the middle of any kind of wasteland? Well Flamingo Land appear to have re-enacted this by plonking dodgems, waltzers and an old switch back ride in the middle of no where! You'll also find the junior driving school -which unfortunately only had two cars working so meant a 20 minute wait before Niamh could show us her driving skills -lets just say I doubt she'll pass her test first time! Across the rail tracks -Flamingo Land has it's own train and cable car to take you around the park you'll find one scary looking roller coaster by the name of Bullet and like it's neighbour Magnum it has limited opening hours. Both these coaster feature heavily in coaster junkie web sites. It's rumoured that Magnum will be sold some time this year to pay for further expansion. All I can say having see these rides I'm eternally grateful that Niamh is still under 4'6".


                              Lost Kingdom.

                              At the edge of the Zoo area you'll find the so called Lost Kingdom home to a variety of rides, this area does give you that manicured theme park feel to it. Here you'll find the obligatory boat ride -called Voodoo and a tame looking raft ride - think seaside peddle boats and you get the picture

                              The Lost River Ride - this had the biggest queue mainly due to the fact everyone decided to ride it last and not have to walk about for the rest of the day with damp clothing! It works on a similar principle to Thorpe Parks Tidal Wave i.e. it has only the one chute to go down. After being loaded up onto the rafts that take around twenty people at a time - aim for a middle row not the front or the back unless you want to be totally drenched. The ride ambles along past parts of the zoo if your lucky you'll even see the lions as you gradually make your way up to the top of the ride. As you reach the top you suddenly realise that it's rather along way down as you free fall or so it seems over the edge you get this great desire to scream but before you can you've reached the bottom and are drenched! If only it was just a wee bit longer then this ride might be even more fun!


                              Little Monsters Den of Mischief

                              This is perhaps one of the most run down looking areas of the park, rides could do with a good lick of paint. What you have in this area is the rides designed for the ankle biters in the party you'll find mini round about and the like as well as a rather fun "ghost train" - you'll have no problems taking a small child on this ride as it's aimed to amuse not scare! You'll also find the entrance to the reptile house here as well given my snake phobia I didn't venture in but Niamh found it rather exciting to see 10 feet pythons……..


                              The Zoo

                              In and amongst all the rides you'll find the zoo area, home to other a 1000 animals, including tigers, lions, rhinos, giraffes and monkeys.Oh and they do have some flamingo's as well! Should you be bringing smaller children then this area would be ideal to keep them amused, as they also have sea lion shows plus an under water exhibit. Unfortunately we only spent enough time to spot a couple of giraffes and rhinos before having a quick look around the under water exhibit. It's an area of the park I suspect you could spend all afternoon wondering around to see all it has to offer.


                              Flamingo Land might well be down at heel in places, but it is a park I would return to without any hesitation, for Niamh it was ideal and she can't wait to go back. It has something for every age group and should you have a family group that consists of teens, tweenies and tots then I suggest you'll not go far wrong with a day out to Flamingo Land.


                              Website:

                              www.flamingoland.co.uk

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                                06.05.2006 12:02
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                                A waste of money!

                                Having spent rather a delightful afternoon covered in mud, wrapped in tin foil and left to cook at gas mark 5 or so it seemed during my wonderful spa day at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester I decided I’d like to repeat the process at home or at least attempt to. Before you get ideas of me smearing myself in gunk and attempting to wrap myself unaided in foil I wasn’t going to go that far. I just wanted something that would help detoxify the body and maybe help firm up a few bits of the body. Look I’m vain, I’m too scared to have liposuction and I love smearing lotions and potions on myself .


                                Avon first launched the Planet Spa range back in 2003, gradually adding to the range. Having had great results with a variety of other products in the range my eyes were drawn no not to the Buy two products for £6 offer but to the blurb that told me how wonderful this product was, how it was going to deep cleanse my skin, how I would feel it tingle as it detoxified my body, nourish it, as well as firm it up with the help of lashings of dead sea minerals. Obviously I was sold buying it along with another product for the princely sum of £6 opposed to the normal retail price of £6 per 200ml tub so you could say I got my other product free - I do love a bargain!


                                With all items in the Planet Spa range packaging is kept to a minimum and is very basic, given that half the excess packaging just ends up in the bin straight away this is fine by me! Coming in a similar tub to my favourite body scrub abet with a different coloured label on the lid -it’s steely grey should you really want to know. Thankfully the lid is easy to remove with wet hands so you don’t end up spilling any of the contents as you grapple with the lid. On first opening your greeted with the standard foil lid which is a bitch to remove -should anyone know how to do it without resulting to stabbing it with any item that comes to hand please let me know. Once you have finally peeled back the foil lid you are greeted with what can only be described as odd smelling grey gunk. Don’t be put off by the smell as your hardly likely to be plastering it on with anyone around are you? And if you are well erm I don’t want to know what goes off in the privacy of your own bathroom…….


                                Me being me couldn’t wait to get to grips with this stuff! At the first opportunity I got I decided to give it a test drive. I love face masks etc and normally slap one on prior to a soak in the bath, that way if they do drip etc whilst you are waiting for them to dry they drip in the bath and not over your bed clothes, settee etc. Also your less likely to be discovered by someone else with a camera if you wear a face mask in the privacy of your locked bathroom! I had basically decided that the process with this product would be much the same wouldn’t it? Well they do sell it as a Detoxifying and Firming Body Mask. So off I headed to the bathroom for a relaxing pampering session! Or so I thought!


                                Avon market this as a weekly treat for your body and suggest you can smear it any where apart from your face. After wrestling with the foil I did start to wonder if I really wanted to smear myself in the presenting grey gunk. It smelt slightly odd - not nastily odd but salty odd -obviously all those dead sea minerals! Recalling the blurb that promised me tingly clean, nourished and firm skin I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try! In the privacy of my own bathroom I began to tentively smear the thickish grey gunk onto my legs, working my way up my body smearing all the bits I could reach from neck to toes in grey gunk.Avon suggest you use it on dry skin. Given it was the middle of winter the gunk did at first feel rather cold but I soon got use to the sensation. Thankfully the gunk is thick, as heaven help the mats in the bathroom if it had been on the runny side. After about 5 minutes I resembled an extra in some kind of mud wrestling film - least I assumed I did having never watched one……Avon suggest you wait 10 minutes for the gunk to dry out fully -perhaps this is when you get the firming part of the treatment.


                                Having applied the mud to all parts of my body, I waited for the tingle as I stood there wondering what on earth I actually did for 10 minutes or so whilst it dried. The tingle eluded me! Unfortunately it might be marketed as a body mask with a similar concept to a face mask but you can hardly jump in the bath to wait whilst it dries can you? Even if you just did say the thighs etc you’d still end up just standing there waiting for it to dry wouldn’t you? After 5 minutes of standing perfectly still, being extremely bored, not daring to touch any thing and fed up, not even the handily place glass of chilled white lifted my spirits, I decided enough was enough and I hopped into the bath. Adding insult to injury this wonderful gunk is a bitch to get off. It dribbles off in long grey lines and makes the bath water appear as if it’s second hand and not a fresh Lush scented one. It probably took longer to scrub off me and the bath then it did to apply in the first place!


                                After getting out of the bath I unfortunately didn’t notice any signs of deep cleansed skin, nor did it appear to be well nourished or any firmer then when I started. The only firm thing being was my resolve to never attempt a home mud mask again.


                                Not recommended unless you are hoping to do a home video……..

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                                • Lush Sexxx Bomb / Bath & Shower / 47 Readings / 44 Ratings
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                                  22.04.2006 11:27
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                                  A disappointment from Lush

                                  Yes I've had a Sex Bomb in the bath, before you avert your eyes or start scanning down for lurid details I'll just add the Sex Bomb in the bath with me was made by Lush and retails at £2.30. With it's vibrant pink body and muted violet top you can't help being drawn to the Sex Bomb on the Bath Ballistic display add to the fact that Lush bill this 200g beauty as the sexiest bath you'll ever have alone then you can't fail to just want to try it. Giving it a sniff and smelling a wonderful jasmine aroma I was sold and it was soon added to the numerous other Lush products I'd bought.


                                  Lush's Bath Ballistics are perhaps one of their best selling items, they come in numerous shapes, sizes, scents, with or without flowers, pieces of fruit and glitter! If you've never tried a Bath Ballistic then I really do suggest you remedy that matter soon -very soon! On average they retail at about £2 - expensive but for a special pampering occasion they really are worth it! Most look like multi coloured tennis balls, if you look carefully they'll have a join around the middle which if you hit correctly will make the Bath Ballistic split in half and so can be used for two baths. I normally bang them on the side of the bath whilst they are still in their plastic bag to split them into two.


                                  Lush suggest you add the Bath Ballistic, to a warm bath and watch it fizz away rather like a giant Alka Seltzer as it fizzes around the bath. The fizzing is due to the fact the main ingredient in all Bath Ballistics is Sodium Bicarbonate. After it's finished fizzing Lush suggest you soak yourself for at least 20 minutes and relax. With this in mind and after the weekend from hell - three under 8's charging around like there is no tomorrow doesn't make for a peaceful weekend I can tell you. My Mum on my departure waved goodbye saying she was going to have a lie down in a darkened room. I on the other hand on Niamh's departure decided to have a nice long Lush bath. Having stocked up on several Bath Ballistics and been given two Sex Bombs as a gift by the hung over cashier in Lush , making a total of three Sex Bomb's I owned I decided to throw caution into the wind and chuck a whole one into a nice deep bath.


                                  The novelty of watching a Bath Ballistic fizz around the bath has worn off for me over the years so I chucked it in the bath and went in hunt of wine and a magazine. Normally when I've gone on a forage for wine/magazines/chocolate etc I'm greeted on the stairs by a wonderful aroma. As I reached the landing I was greeted by nothing, no nice smell, no indifferent smell, no nasty smell - just no smell at all! One thing I love about a Lush Bath Ballistic is how the smell gently lingers for a few hours after a bath, giving the house a wonderful aroma. Obviously the Bath Bomb wasn't going to do that for me! Even when I went into the bathroom the smell was non descript and barely there. I wanted my jasmine, my ylang ylang and my musk oils but all I got was a faint whiff of what I thought was rose oil. Anything rose scented always reminds me of my Nan and some Avon Perfume she used to wear - there was nothing Sex Bombish about that perfume I can tell you.


                                  On inspecting the bath I giggled. The vibrant pink of the bath bomb had now turned the water a garish shade of pink that any closet Barbie fan would have loved! As I gazed at the pink depths of my bath, with the rice paper rose floating mournfully on top I did wonder if I should start again. But I was tired, I needed a bath and I knew the pink dye wouldn't tinge my skin a muted pink shade either, well I hoped not!. With this I jumped into the pink depths and wondered how on earth this "delight" could be called Sex Bomb, there was only one sex bomb in my bath that night and it wasn't bought at Lush! It was then it struck me the Pink Panther Barbie bath wasn't a best seller was it? That's why they were giving them away by the crateful in the Lush Shop I'd visited. Whilst lying back and sipping a rather nice red I thought back to the fact this Lush Bath Ballistic had been created as part of a customer competiton. Now if I was going to create a Bath Ballistic with the name sex bomb I'd load it with musk, jasmine, burnt orange and any other oriental smelling fragrances. I'd also insist it was loaded with real rose petals not some nasty rice paper one that soon got on my nerves as it floated around getting all mushed up! It wouldn't be glow in the dark pink either!


                                  One thing I do like about a Lush bath is the fact they really do leave your skin feeling moisturised. The Sex Bomb was no different in this, my skin was left with a light greasy feel to it. But unlike with other Bath Ballistics I didn't have that faint gentle whiff of fragrance when I finally left the bath and got dried. What I was left with was a bath that needed a bit of a scrub due to the remains of a rice paper rose being welded to the sides of the bath. When I'm next in need of a sex bomb in the bath it'll not be from Lush is all I'm saying!


                                  Available from Lush shops nationwide and online.

                                  Not Recommended.

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