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jopassmore

jopassmore
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Member since: 18.08.2001

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      22.07.2002 04:37
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      I try to avoid buying brand named products as much as possible. I don't generally believe that the more you pay the better the product, as I think often you pay a premium for the name and not for the product itself. So when I do my weekly shopping, I tend to put mostly shop's own products (Tesco in my case) into the trolley. There is one real exception to this - Heinz Tomato Ketchup. I am ashamed to admit that I am a bit of a ketchup addict and it has to be Heinz as no other ketchup quite lives up to it! One week, when I was doing my weekly shop and as usual trying to spend as little as possible on as much food as possible, I reached the washing up liquid isle. I was just about to put a bottle of my usual Fairy Liquid into the trolley, when the Tesco Ultra Washing Up Liquid bottle caught my eye. At 20p a bottle cheaper than the Fairy version, I took a second look. The bottle stated "cleans as well as the leading brand". Great, I thought, another leading brand to cross off my shopping list and another winner for Tesco, so I popped a bottle in my trolley. I have been using this washing up liquid for a few weeks now and although it does the job, I am not as pleased with it as I would have hoped. Firstly, it may clean well, but you need a fair amount of it in the washing up bowl to do the trick. With Fairy liquid, you only need to put a couple of drops into a bowl and run hot water over it to create a lather of bubbles. You need a fair old squirt of this to create the same amount of lather. Consequently, it does not last anywhere near as long as Fairy Liquid. On many occasions I have bought a new bottle of Fairy because I am down to my last few drops of the stuff, only to find that these few drops go on and on and on. Secondly, I keep picking up the bottle and aiming it into the bowl only to find that the nozzle is blocked up. The liquid left in the nozzle seems to solidify, bunging it up so that no liquid will come out of
      the bottle. It isn't hard to clear it out with a sharp knife or some other such kitchen utensil, but it is a bit annoying when you are trying to do a quick bit of washing up before dashing out of the house. On the plus side, the smell of this washing up liquid is lovely. I have the 'spring' version and it really does remind you of the smell of freshly cut grass and daffodils (well, it does me anyway!). It also comes in 'citrus' but I can't comment on the smell of this one as I have not tried it. My hands are not complaining either, so Fairy obviously doesn't have the monopoly on the soft hands claim. My 2 year old wants you to know that it makes for great bubble blowing liquid as well. I think it is safe to say that I will be going back to Fairy Liquid on my next shopping trip. Tesco Ultra Washing Up Liquid does what it says on the bottle but on this occasion I would have to agree that "you do get what you pay for".

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        15.07.2002 05:19
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        We were staying with my parents in Berkshire recently. We had been on holiday all week and my husband had the 'going out for the day' bug. I had the 'we have spent far too much money already this week' bug but you can guess who won! My step-mother suggested that Beale Park was a place she thought my 2 year old daughter would enjoy visiting, so that is where we decided to go. Beale park is a 300 acre wildlife park about a mile from the village of Pangbourne in Berkshire. It has beautiful grounds that can be explored, many different types of animals and birds to see on your way round and plenty of activities for children of all ages. There are a number of rare breeds of birds to see, as well as some more usual animals, such as goats, sheep, cows and pigs. There is a pets corner where children can learn all about and touch rabbits, guinea pigs, chipmunks, mice, squirrels and lambs. There is a deer park at the end of the grounds where you can see, close up, different species of deer. Some of the more fun things to do include a ride on the steam train, a trip down the river Thames, a dip in one of the three paddling pools, climbing on the adventure playground (mainly for older children although our toddler felt the need to have a go), fairground rides for small children, a couple of sandpits and crazy golf. Or, if you are out for a relaxing day (as I was, but failed to achieve!) you can just stroll around the grounds or sit in one of the beautiful gardens and let the world pass you by. The park is easy to get to, being situated not far from the M4 motorway and parking is free. Or you could take a train to Pangbourne and walk up the river Thames to the park. One word of warning though. Take plenty of cash with you. We were shocked to discover that they did not accept plastic of any kind at the entrance. I found this a bit strange, particularly as the entrance fee was not an insignificant o
        ne (£4.80 per adult, £3.40 per child, or £12 for a family ticket). Also, almost everything you want to do (or more specifically, your children will want to do) inside the park costs extra. The river trip is fairly expensive, as is a ride on the train. We had to bribe our daughter out of the paddling pool by promising her a go on the roundabout, only to discover that it was 70p a turn. Because we had used all but £1 of our cash getting in, we were not able to do much else once inside the park, so we had an angry toddler on our hands for the rest of the afternoon! This did annoy me a bit, as I would rather pay a larger entrance fee, knowing that my children (or child in our case) can enjoy the things they see inside without the constraints of money. In spite of this, we enjoyed our afternoon at Beale Park. It was extremely hot and busy, as one would expect in the summer. It would certainly be worth another visit out of season, when I believe the entrance fee is also a little more reasonable.

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        • emysteryshopper.com / Internet Site / 2 Readings / 31 Ratings
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          29.04.2002 16:17
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          For the last year I have been searching for ways of making money on the internet. Most of my attempts to "become rich quick" have been dismal failures. I can?t begin to count the number of "very promising" money making schemes I have joined, only to find out that the site concerned has disappeared, stopped paying international members or simply turned out to be a con. There have been a few sites which have proved successful, where earning a few extra pennies is concerned (this site included), but the earning potential is so slow that, if you are saving for that latest digital camera or in my case, a CD rewriter, you could be waiting a very long time. Then, just before Christmas last year, I discovered the EMysteryShopper site. I can?t quite remember how I found it, but needless to say, I probably read an opinion written by an existing EMysteryshopper. *Who are EMysteryshopper?* Emysteryshopper is a well established internet company who employ ordinary people, like you or me, to provide feedback on other well known eCommerce websites. Companies use EmysteryShopper for different reasons. Sometimes the company wants to find out what real shoppers think of their site or a larger web site, which promotes other sites, might want to make sure that these promoted sites meet a certain standard. The kind of things they are looking to find out are: - is it of a high standard - does the site live up to expectations of the shopper - does it compare well to the web sites of their competitors - does their customer service team respond quickly and helpfully. Whatever the feedback required, what better way to get find out what people think about your site than to ask the people who use it the most. Emysteryshopper acts as a co-ordinator for this feedback, allocating assignments to appropriate shoppers and then transforming the resulting feedback into an appropriate format fo
          r the company's purposes. *What are the assignments like?* The assignments you carry out as an EMysteryshopper all follow much the same format. You are sent an online survey to complete during, or after, your visit to the survey site. This survey generally consists of the following sections: first impressions, registration and logging in, search facility, shopping basket, customer service contact, purchase and refund final impression Each section of the survey consists of multi choice option boxes, with larger comments boxes for some questions which require more detailed responses. Not all sections are required to be completed for all surveys. For example, you are only occasionally required to make a purchase or request a refund, so these sections are often greyed out. Also, if you have visited a site before (sometimes you are asked to survey a site more than once), you would not be expected to register the second time round. The contact sections involve emailing the customer service department and often also making a telephone enquiry. Consequently, whilst looking around the site, you need to think of a question to ask customer service. This can sometimes be quite difficult, particularly if the site is very comprehensive and has a good help facility. If a question is not easily forthcoming, I often resort to pretending to be an ignorant shopper and ask something obvious! After all, they must have to deal with this kind of shopper regularly, so it is good to check how they respond to the "less informed" shopper. Although a lot of the survey questions can be answered by checking a box, in order to have your survey accepted, you are required to provide a number of high quality, well considered comments in certain places. The company is, after all, paying you for your opinion, not just for ticks in boxes. Because of this, you cannot complete a survey h
          alf-heartedly, whilst doing something else - you really do have to give it your all. *How long does an assignment take?* Depending on what is required of you, an assignment can take anything from 20 mins to an hour to complete. I find that I generally have to visit a site more than once to complete a survey, for example, the first time I visit the site, I will have a good look around and add things to my shopping basket. I will then return later on to check if items stay in the shopping basket. You do also have to wait for the companies to respond to your emails, so although you might complete most of a survey in 20 mins, you might have to wait a further two days to finish it off. Likewise, if a purchase is required and even more so, a refund, it can be a good few weeks before you are able to add your final comments and "commit" the survey. *How much do you get paid?* The payment for a basic assignment is between £2.50 and £3.50. This includes 50p to cover expenses such as telephone calls and postage stamps. If you are asked to make a purchase, you will receive a £5 purchase allowance. Unless you have to request a refund, you are able to keep whatever you purchase, so that is an added bonus. If you are asked to arrange a refund, you receive a further £5 refund allowance to cover the expense of returning the item. The purchase and refund surveys can turn out to be quite lucrative, but they do require the most effort. An example of a recent survey payment illustrates this: Survey payment £3.00 Expenses £0.50 Purchase allowance £5.00 Refund allowance £5.00 Total payment £13.50 My expenses Item purchased £2.50 P&P £2.50 Return P&P £0.00 Refund £2.50 Total expense £2.50 Balance £11.00 for me The only drawback
          with this kind of assignment is that you do have to pay for a purchase out of your own pocket and then have to wait a period of time for your refund and payment for the assignment. Therefore, you do need to have a small amount of spare cash, in a bank account somewhere, for this purpose. *How do you get paid?* EMysteryshopper pay by cheque, every month, following a submission of an online invoice on your part. You can send invoices to them as often as you like, or you can wait until they owe you a certain amount, as I do, and then invoice them. I am reliably informed that payment by BACS will also be available in the near future. When you become an EMysteryshopper you are given your own secure area on their server, where you can keep track of your payments as well as current and past assignments. This area also has a facility for communicating with EMysteryshopper support staff and a "notices" section where information that may be of interest to you (reminders of deadlines, previews of future surveys etc) is displayed. One important thing to note is that it is your responsibility to take care of tax and NI contributions on your earnings. *How regular is the work?* I have been an Emysteryshopper since the beginning of December last year - that is around five months - and so far I have completed 50 assignments. Quite a few of these were around Christmas time but none-the-less surveys do tend to become available very regularly. Assignments usually come up in batches and the deadline for completing them can be anything between a couple of weeks to a couple of months. From time to time, surveys which need to be completed quickly come up for grabs on a 'first come, first served' basis. This is because Emysteryshopper have targets to meet which have not yet been met. You have to be quick to accept them before somebody else does though as I generally find out to my detriment! W
          hen assignments are available, you receive an email informing you and giving basic details of what is involved and the payment. If you are interested in carrying out the assignment, you have to reply to the email. You will then receive a reply informing you that the assignments are available in your personal area. *What kind of sites do you survey?* I was planning to tell you specific sites that I have been involved in surveying, but then I thought better of it. It would probably contravene the agreement that I have signed with Emysteryshopper to remain a 'mystery shopper' and therefore, I should not go public with this information. Suffice to say that the sites I have been asked to survey thus far are mainstream sites, some of which were already favourites of mine and others which I now use regularly. *How do you apply?* Anybody can become an Emysteryshopper. You do not need any special skills or experience to do it. Obviously, you do need to have access to the internet and a bank account, or credit card to make the purchases, but other than that there are no restrictions on who can carry out the work. In order to become an Emysteryshopper, you firstly need to complete an application form online. Part of this form has to be printed off, signed and sent to the company by snail mail. A few weeks later, you will receive an email asking you to complete an assessment survey. This is a survey based on a site of your choice. You do not get paid for this survey, but if it is up to the standard required by the company, you will receive an email shortly afterwards confirming your position as an EmysteryShopper. And finally?.. My experience of EmysteryShopper has been an extremely positive one. I am enjoying the work and the money it provides is very welcome. Don't be under any illusions though, this is real work and not money for nothing. You do need to be committed to
          the task in hand and cannot earn an easy buck or two in this way. But if you are prepared to put in the work, your effort is rewarded and not just in monetary terms either. I have become a much more confident shopper as a result of my Mysteryshopping experience. I now know what to expect from a good web site or good customer service and I am far less content to accept poor service. So, if you like what you hear, pop along to http://www.emysteryshopper.com, fill in the form and wait for the assignments and money to come rolling in!

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            05.04.2002 04:46
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            I imagine that at least a few of you reading this will have been on the wrong side of a traffic warden at some stage or other. You will be familiar with that sinking feeling as you return to your car and spot the foreign object attached to your windscreen. In most cases there will be a valid reason for the ticket - you have parked on yellow lines or over stayed your ticket time in the car park, so you reluctantly complete the payment slip and write out a cheque for the fine. But have you ever felt hard done by when issued with a ticket? Maybe your ticket had dropped off the windscreen or you had genuine emergency and had to leave the car for longer than intended. In these situations, writing out a cheque for a large fine is not quite so easy to swallow. So why not appeal, I did....... .... My husband and I had both taken the week off work with the intention of spending some time together as a family. We did not have any money put by for days out but we decided to do a few things that we would not normally get to do together during the week. One such activity that we do all enjoy is swimming. We had been to the local swimming pool on a few occasions, so we thought it would be nice to visit a different swimming pool for a change. So, on the day in question, we loaded a very excited two year old, along with numerous inflatable objects, into the car and headed off to the Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth. Half an hour later we found ourselves in a ?pay and display? car park on Southsea sea front. I must admit to having been a bit put out at the idea of paying for parking when I knew it was going to cost us over £10 for our swim (and that is with a child under two who is free). My husband got out of the car and went to buy the parking ticket. He returned a couple of minutes later clutching a ticket with a bemused look on his face. The parking charges were £1 an hour and realising that we would need about two hours for our swim, my husba
            nd had put £2 into the machine. The machine had then issued him with a ticket for one hour and returned his second pound coin. So, what did we do now? One hour would not be enough. If we put another pound coin in the machine we would get a second ticket for the same hour. And we did not have another pound coin with which to purchase a two hour ticket. And even if we did have, how would we know that the machine would not do the same thing again, leaving us another pound short. We hung around in the car park for some time, asking other car drivers (or rather parkers) if they wanted an hour ticket in return for a pound coin, so we could try and obtain an appropriate ticket. Nobody was able to help us. The only other legitimate option was for us to go swimming and then for one of to return an hour later to renew the ticket. This wasn?t a practical solution as by the time we had got changed and into the pool, it would nearly be time for one of us to get out of the pool. Having paid so much to get in, we wanted to at least spend a reasonable amount of time in the pool. So reluctantly we decided to stick the ticket in the windscreen and go swimming anyway. We did cut our swim short and after just over an hour, we left the pool to get changed, dragging a screaming two year old with us! My husband got dressed quickly so that he could return to the car (a ploy on his part to escape the tantrumming toddler!). I followed a short while later carrying a bedraggled child with me, after the usual diplomacy and bribery had failed to entice her out of the leisure centre. When I reached the car it was to find a fuming husband and the dreaded orange envelope. We couldn?t believe it - how typical for this to happen when we had tried so hard to avoid it. The fine was £60 reducing to £30 if we paid within 14 days. That made for an extremely expensive swim. We could have all had a day out at a theme park for that price! My husband was
            all for just writing out a cheque and sending it off as soon as possible to avoid paying the full fine. But having discovered the effectiveness of complaint letters recently (I must be careful or I will get a name for myself!) I was not content to just roll over and pay my hard earned (and non existent!) spare cash to the local council. So, as soon as we got home, I set about writing a letter of appeal. I outlined the circumstances described above and suggested that I felt that we should not be expected to pay the fine. I did enclose a cheque for £30 because, as I explained in the letter, if our appeal failed, I could not afford to be faced with a £60 fine. My cynical husband was convinced that we would not hear back from them and that the money would be taken from the bank. But, to his disbelief and my pleasure, a letter arrived a few days later to inform us that our appeal had been successful. Attached to the letter was my cheque for £30. I imagine that many appeals get turned down and that we were very fortunate to be let off. But even if we had lost the appeal, it cost me next to nothing to write the letter so I had nothing to loose in doing so. My advice to you, if faced with a similar situation (not just a parking fine) is to do the same. If you are up to writing opinions on this site, you are capable of standing up for your rights on paper. I have written letters such as this on numerous occasions over the past year and, and so far, each one has had a positive result. At the very least, writing a letter will help you get it out of your system and you never know, you too could be in for a nice surprise.

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            • Tesco Personal Finance / Home Insurance / 0 Readings / 24 Ratings
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              21.03.2002 12:50
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              My first port of call as always, was the Internet. I did a google search for life insurance and followed a few links, getting quotes from a few different companies. I added to this the trusty, but very slow, directline.co.uk. I say trusty as, until now, I have always found them to be the cheapest insurance company for my circumstances and have a number of policies with them already. The last site I visited was the Tesco Finance site. I am already comfortable with the idea of using my local supermarket for financial products as well as my bread and milk. I have a credit card with them, which has proved a good choice in spite of a few teething troubles. The Tesco site allows you to get a quote online, after putting in a few simple personal details, such as date of birth, whether you smoke or not and how much alcohol you drink. After typing in your cover amount and required term, the premium is calculated. As this site is fairly quick and easy to use, you can try out a few different cover amounts and terms to see what difference it would make to your premium. My premium for £100,000 worth of cover for 20 years came out at £11.40. This cover is not provided by Tesco themselves but by Norwich Union Insurance. This premium is guaranteed to stay the same for the next 20 years and will pay out this amount if one of us were to die tomorrow or in 19 years time. It will also pay out if either of us are diagnosed with a terminal illness within this time period. This gives us the added security of knowing that we would be able to make ends meet under these circumstances. I found the Tesco premium to be cheaper than any other quote I received, including, surprisingly, a quote from Norwich Union themselves. It appears that you get a 16% discount for arranging your insurance through Tesco rather than going to Norwich Union directly, which is a little odd, but hey, who?s complaining! The other quotes I received, based on exactly the same criteria are sh
              own below: Norwich Union £12.51 (includes 10% discount for buying online) Legal and General £13.59 Direct Line £11.57 Granted, the Direct Line policy is only 17p a month more expensive than the Tesco premium - but 17p a month over 20 years adds up to £40.80 - enough for 13 and a half Big Brunches at my local Tesco cafe! Also, I was further persuaded by the offer of £15 worth of clubcard points after 3 months of premiums. The application process was straightforward. I completed the forms online, providing details of any health problems and giving our GP?s name and address. I am not aware that they approached our GP, but I suppose they may do this in some circumstances. Part of the completed form had to be printed out, signed and sent to Tesco Personal Finance. A short while later I received a letter from Norwich Union stating that our application was being processed. In the meantime, they put in place some temporary cover in the event of accidental death. It wasn?t long before we received the policy document and the process was complete. Just a couple of further things to note; I was interested to find out how much the premium would be if we were both smokers. The premium more than doubled to £25.29. So, if you smoke it would be a good incentive to give up if you want life insurance! Also, the Direct Line website asks you whether or not your parents are still alive and if not what their cause of death was. I completed two quick quotes, one stating that both of my parents were alive and well and the other stating, truthfully, that my mother died at 40 of heart disease. The premiums came out the same, which surprised me. Finally, one tip, courtesy of my financial advisor (ifa-online.net). If you already have mortgage life insurance and are thinking of taking out separate term assurance, it is worth combining the two. Your one policy premium will be cheaper than two single policies. Also, mortgage cover decreas
              es as the term of your mortgage decreases. So if you were to die towards the end of your mortgage, your partner would not get much money from the policy, in fact they would receive enough to pay off the remaining mortgage balance. However, term assurance provides a constant sum of money whenever you die, so even if you were to die during the last month of your mortgage, your partner would receive an amount equivalent to the original value of your mortgage. Consequently, I have cancelled my Direct Line Mortgage cover and extended my Tesco policy to cover the mortgage also. In conclusion, I was very impressed with Tesco Personal Finance throughout this experience. I telephoned their helpline on a couple of occasions to clarify a number of points and they were extremely helpful. I just hope we will never need to find out how quickly they settle a claim!

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                25.02.2002 03:13
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                A mortgage is an essential part of life for most of us, unless of course you are lucky enough to be rolling in money. When you take out a mortgage it is likely to be a long term commitment. Consequently the relationship you have with your mortgage lender will be long term too and could last as long as 25 years. You would not enter into a 25 year relationship with a friend or commit to a 25 year marriage without first knowing the person inside out. You would find out as much as you could about them and as your relationship developed, you would come to trust them. So it should be with your mortgage lender. The face of many mortgage lenders is their customer service team. They may have a fabulous looking website or nicely decorated offices, or more importantly, offer great products but if their customer service is not up to scratch this all pails into insignificance. If you have read any of my other mortgage ops, you will know that I have been hunting around for a new mortgage. Having found myself stuck in a high interest fixed rate mortgage, I had decided to buy myself out and get a better deal. After months of hunting around, I eventually came full circle and have ended up with a new mortgage with my existing lender, Nationwide. I have had accounts with Nationwide for a number of years and up until now, have dealt with my local branch. I have always been pleased with the service provided, that was until I decided to take advantage of their internet/telephone service, Nationwide Direct. Below is part of a letter of complaint that I recently sent to the Nationwide Direct Customer Service Manager, expressing my discontent with the service I received (I apologise for the length - please feel free to leave now if you are already bored!): Dear Sir or Madam I am writing to express my disappointment at my recent dealings with the Nationwide Building Society and in particular Nationwide Direct.
                Having decided to redeem my existing fixed rate mortgage in favour of a base rate tracker and pay a hefty redemption penalty, I contacted Nationwide by telephone to make the appropriate arrangements. I choose to arrange this by telephone, rather than in the branch due to the fact that I have a small daughter and find it difficult to attend appointments. The first gentleman I spoke to on 19th January was extremely helpful, giving me quotes for both the new mortgage (a base rate tracker for 2 years with a 6.49% cap) and the flexible advance I would need to arrange to pay the penalty. As it was a Saturday, he informed me that he had completed a 'conversion template' and that somebody would be in touch with me on Monday 21st to finalize the process. As I was due to be at work that morning, we arranged that somebody would ring me in the afternoon. The afternoon came and went and nobody called, so in the early evening, I called the Nationwide Direct Sales line again. I was told that all advisors were extremely busy and somebody would ring me back the following day. Somebody did indeed ring me at work the following day. The lady in question was not at all helpful and in fact gave me some extremely misleading information. She informed me that the cap was 5.99% and not 6.49% as I had been led to believe by the previous gentleman and the Nationwide website. I questioned this on a couple of occasions during the telephone conversation, but she was adamant that this was the case. She also informed me that the minimum amount I could borrow on a flexible advance was £3000 and not the £2100 I required. When I asked her how I could go about paying back the extra £900 I did not require she suggested I contact customer service as 'payments were not her area'. She asked me for all the same information that I had already given to the first advisor I had spoken to, which I felt was unnecessary as the information should have been already o
                n your computer system. We left it that somebody would contact me about the flexible advance and somebody else about the tracker mortgage. Having been thoroughly confused by the whole process and slightly concerned that things were not in order, I decided to ring back to speak to another advisor to clarify things. This time, there were no advisors available to speak to, so I waited until later that evening and rang again. I spoke to another advisor who agreed apologetically that the capped rate was indeed 6.49% and not 5.99%. He checked the details on screen and confirmed that everything was in order. During the following two weeks I received a few phone calls and two sets of documentation concerning the flexible advance but nothing about the tracker mortgage. I just assumed that the tracker mortgage was being processed and I would soon hear about it. Having also been told that this interest rate would be backdated to the day I made my first request, I was not unduly concerned about this process taking some time. Having not heard anything still about the tracker mortgage after 14 days, I decided to ring again. The lady I spoke to this time was helpful and said that there was nothing on record to say that a declaration form had been sent out but I should leave it with her and she would arrange for one to be sent out. She said that the rate would be backdated to 1st February (it was by now 31st January) and although this was not exactly what I had been originally told (thinking it was being backdated to 19th January), I did not see the point in quibbling over a few days. She said she would arrange a call back the following day to confirm that things were finally in order. The following day I heard nothing, so on Saturday (now 2nd Feb) I rang the helpline again. The lady I spoke to this time said that there was nothing on screen to say that a declaration had been sent out and that if it had, it would take 7 days to reach
                me. I asked about the interest rate being backdated to the day I made the initial request and she told me (again something different) that the rate would apply from the day they received my signed declaration form. She recommended that I went to the branch to sign this form and said that I should have been recommended this course of action in the first place. She said I ought to do this as quickly as possible because this rate could be withdrawn at any time and Nationwide would be under no obligation to honour the agreement I had made with them over the phone. Again this was contrary to what I had been led to believe before, having previously been told that the rate had been reserved for me. In spite of the inconvenience, I decided to arrange to have my daughter looked after by a friend so that I could indeed go to the branch and sign the form. By now, I was well and truly fed up and just wanted the process to be completed. I rang the branch just to check that this was possible. After speaking to the mortgage advisor, the lady on reception rang me back to tell me that if I wanted to sign the form in the branch, I would have to start the whole process again. In order to do this, I would need an appointment with a mortgage advisor which could not be arranged until the following week as they were very busy. This really was the final straw. As I work the first part of the week, it would be another 5 days minimum before I could make these arrangements. In spite of this, I made an appointment for Monday (today - 4th Feb) and rearranged my work commitments to attend. My husband also arranged some time off to accompany me. So, today I went into my local Nationwide Branch (Bognor Regis) and had an appointment with the branch manager. She went through different products available to us and said that a switch would be straightforward. I then pointed out the fact that there were redemption penalties to pay and that we were in the process of arra
                nging a flexible advance to cover these penalties. She told us that the normal process was to add the redemption penalty to the outstanding mortgage balance and then switch to a new product. This came as a major shock to me, as this is what I had wanted to do in the first place and had been told on numerous occasions that this was not possible. So, why did I have to go through the whole process of arranging a flexible advance, waiting in for phone calls that never materialised, chasing mortgage advisors, giving comprehensive personal details to two different advisors on two occasions, when I did not even need a flexible advance?! And to make matters worse. On the top of the declaration form, the branch manager wrote that the new mortgage would take affect from 1st March. I questioned this and informed her that I had been attempting to get the mortgage switched over since 19th January, but she just repeated "sorry, there is nothing I can do about it". So, as well as having to go through all of the unnecessary flexible advance process, I now find that I have lost out on 6 weeks at the lower interest rate. This 6 weeks could be very costly for me, as having to pay £2100 to redeem my existing mortgage (which I am not at all happy about but feel it is the best way forward), every day at the lower rate will be a step forward in recouping this loss. I have previously had occasion to write and complain about your service. When I applied for my mortgage in June 2000, I specifically stated that I required a mortgage with daily interest calculations and I was told by two different people at the branch that your interest was calculated in this way. A year later I received a letter stating that the society would now be calculating their interest daily. Had I been aware of this at the time, I would not have arranged a mortgage with Nationwide, but would have chosen a society that calculated interest daily at that time, not a year later. Th
                e reply I received from yourselves did not apologise for misinforming me, but instead stated that I should have checked the small print of my mortgage offer. Having checked the small print, I cannot find anywhere where it states how the interest is calculated (perhaps you could tell me where I could find this information). I decided to let this one go at the time, but this latest experience has only fuelled my discontent with the society. I trust that somebody will take the time to investigate my complaint and that action will be taken to improve the level of customer service on your sales telephone line. In particular, I feel staff should know the products and their associated terms and conditions inside out. It should not be up to the customer to have to clarify the terms and conditions of a mortgage and your customers should certainly be given consistent advice from different telephone and branch mortgage advisors. I now have to wait a month for my new my new mortgage product to take affect. In the meantime, I will be looking around for a better deal with other mortgage lenders and may well decide, after this experience, to move my mortgage elsewhere. If I do decide to keep my mortgage with the Nationwide Building Society, I would ask that the tracker interest rate is indeed backdated to the date of my first request. I think this is only fair as it has been your error which has prolonged this process, not mine. Yours sincerely Ruth Passmore To be fair to them, I did receive a letter of apology, stating that the service I had received was "unacceptable". They have agreed to backdate the new interest rate to 1st February. So, I have decided to stay with them for the time being. Having said that I have since had a letter stating that my mortgage will be capped at 0.29% - if only! The moral of the story is this: When taking out a mortgage, or entering into any kind of fin
                ancial agreement, - make sure you are certain of the facts - read the small print carefully. - never rely on the word of one member of staff - if in doubt ask to speak to a manager - ask the name of the person you are speaking to (useful if you complain) - if at all possible, make your arrangements face to face rather than on the phone - write to complain if you are not happy Hopefully Nationwide Direct customer service will improve. In the meantime, I will be taking my own advice. Last mortgage op (for now anyway) I promise!

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                • More +
                  29.01.2002 03:21
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                  If you have ever bought a house and tried to wade through what the mortgage market has to offer, you will know how daunting it can be. There are so many different types of mortgage and special deals on offer that you can get bogged down within a few minutes of searching for the right mortgage for you. I have recently become obsessed with finding a new mortgage for myself after finding myself stuck in a high interest fixed rate mortgage. It wasn't until my sister-in-law came round for some mortgage advice last night that I realised quite how much I had learnt about this financial minefield. She wanted me to write it all down for her and having done this, I decided that other people may benefit from my hours of trawling the internet. So here it is. I am by no means a mortgage expert, but if you are just beginning a mortgage hunt, you may find some of the information below useful. I have arranged it in sections according the to type of mortgage. After a brief description of the mortgage type, I discuss the pluses and minuses of each type of mortgage: %Standard Variable Rate% The Standard Variable Rate of a bank or building society is the normal or standard (as the name implies) interest rate that the lender charges. This is what you will pay if you are not benefiting from any discounts or special deals (see below). Lenders Standard Variable Rate (or SVR for short) vary but they tend to be no higher than 2% above the Bank of England base rate, with some lenders as low as 1% above. %Fixed rate% A fixed rate mortgage, as the name implies, offers you a fixed rate of interest for a certain period of time. Generally this is a period of 1, 2, 3 or 5 years. During this period of time your monthly payments remain the same, so you can easily budget, knowing that your payments will not increase. The longer the fixed term, the higher the interest rate is likely to be. For example, if you went for a 2 year fixed ra
                  te at the moment, you might find a rate as low as 4.8%, however for a 5 year fixed rate you are more likely looking at around 5.5%. Also, the higher the deposit you are putting down (or the equity in your house if you are re-mortgaging) the lower the rate is likely to be. The rate also depends on what the lenders believe interest rates are going to do within the time period. For example, if rate rises were expected within the next couple of years, the lenders would increase their fixed rates to guarantee that they will not loose out, or vice versa if the rates looked like they might decrease. +++Plus+++ **Budget** This kind of mortgage is very useful if you are on a tight budget and want to be sure that you can afford the repayments. Depending on the fixed term you choose, the interest rate is usually slightly below the SVR of your chosen lender. ---Minus--- **Tie in** A fixed rate mortgage is likely to have a tie in, at least for the period of the fixed rate. This means that if you choose to redeem your mortgage or pay off a lump sum (although this is now possible with some lenders without penalty) you will have to pay penalty for doing so. This is particularly annoying, as I have recently discovered, if interest rates decrease and you are left paying a fixed rate, which is significantly higher than the SVR of the lender. Having said that, you could find that rates go up and you are paying significantly less than you would otherwise have done - it is a gamble you have to weigh up when choosing a fixed rate. Check the redemption penalty before you sign up for a fixed rate mortgage. The longer the fixed term, the higher the penalty, at least at the beginning. You tend to find that the penalty decreases the longer you have had the mortgage. For example, you may have to pay 6 months interest in the first year of a five year fixed rate mortgage but only 2 months interest in the last year. BEWARE OF
                  EXTENDED TIE-INS. Some lenders appear to be offering extremely good fixed rates but when you read the small print, you discover that you would be tied in to this mortgage at the lenders SVR for a number of years after the fixed rate period has ended. You may not mind this, but for somebody like myself, who likes to be able to shop around for a better deal, I would find it very uncomfortable being stuck in a mortgage with a particular lender at their SVR. If you do go for a fixed rate with an extended tie-in, make sure the lender has a competitive SVR. **Arrangement fee** Fixed rate mortgages generally have an arrangement fee, or reservation fee. This is a cost you have to pay up front to 'reserve' a mortgage at the fixed rate. I would imagine this is to cover the lenders costs should you find a better deal whilst the mortgage application is in progress. These costs are not normally substantial, ranging from nothing in some cases to around £500 in others. %Capped rate% Unlike the fixed rate mortgage, a mortgage with a capped rate will rise and fall with interest rates. The benefit of a capped rate is that your rate will not rise above the 'cap'. For example, if your mortgage is capped at 6%, you may start off paying the lenders SVR of 5.5% but if interest rates go up beyond 6% your mortgage will stay at 6%. Equally, if the rates go down, your interest rate will follow suit. Capped rates are generally set slightly higher than fixed rates. The capped rate is only offered for a certain period of time, ranging from 1 year to the whole term of the mortgage. The longer the time period of the cap, the higher the interest cap will be. +++Plus+++ **Budget** This type of mortgage does help you to budget because you know that your payments will not go above a certain amount during the capped rate period. Also, if the interest rates go down, you will not find yourself stuck in a mortgage with an
                  excessively high interest rate. ---Minus--- **Tie in** Like fixed rate mortgages, a capped rate mortgage comes with a tie in which will almost certainly stop you redeeming your mortgage during the capped period, but may also stop you making lump sum payments or paying extra each month without penalty. **Arrangement fee** There is often an arrangement fee with a capped rate mortgage. **Un-competitive SVR** All the seemingly attractive capped rates I have found during my mortgage search turn out to be less attractive because the relevant lender has an un-competitive SVR. For example, if you found a capped rate for 5.79% for 3 years, you might find the lender's SVR was 5.95%. Another lender on the other hand may have a SVR of just 5%. So, although your mortgage is capped at 5.79%, you may actually be paying more than if you had opted for a SVR mortgage with this other lender. Having said that, if you prefer the security of knowing your mortgage payments won't go up, maybe the 0.79% is worth paying for peace of mind. Judge for yourself. %Discounted rate% A discounted mortgage offers you a reduction on the SVR of a lender for a certain period of time. This means that during this time period, you will pay less interest. As with fixed rates, the discount period will vary and you are more likely to get a higher discount for the shortest amount of time. For example, you may get a 2% discount for 1 year but only a 0.5% discount for 3 years. +++Plus+++ **Low interest** The obvious plus of this type of mortgage is that you will pay less interest during the discounted rate when compared to a SVR or fixed rate mortgage. This is particularly useful if interest rates are likely to go down and not up. ---Minus--- **Tie ins** As with fixed rates, you are often tied in to the mortgage for the period of the discount. You can find some deals around today that do not t
                  ie you in, but their discounts are likely to be less competitive than deals with tie ins. You may also find that you cannot pay lump sums off your mortgage or even pay slightly more than you have to, to decrease the term of your mortgage, without incurring a penalty. If this kind of flexibility is important to you, make sure you check out the small print for any such restrictions. **Arrangement fees** You often have to pay an arrangement fee for a discounted mortgage. **Hard to budget** With this type of mortgage, if the lender puts their interest rates up, your payments will also increase. Obviously this can work both ways in that if the rates go down so do your payments. This makes it harder to plan your finances accurately. %Tracker% As stated before, most lenders guarantee to offer a SVR of no more than 2% above the Bank of England Base Rate (or BOE-BR to save my fingers). It is not however compulsory for them to put their rates up or down if the BOE-BR changes their rates. You will find lenders are quick to react if the BOE put their rates up, but they are much slower to reduce their rates if the BOE decrease theirs! I wonder why! A tracker mortgage is guaranteed to rise and fall with the BOE-BR. It is set a certain percentage above (or below in some cases) the BOE-BR and if this rate changes, then so does the tracker rate. For example, the BOE-BR is 4% at the moment. You might get a tracker mortgage which is 0.5% above the BOE-BR for two years, giving you an initial interest rate of 4.5%. If the BOE-BR were to go down to 3.75% you would pay 4.25% +++Plus+++ **Low interest** A tracker mortgage is almost certain to have an interest rate lower than the SVR of the lender and in some cases will match or beat discounted rates. **No arrangement fee** There are quite a few tracker mortgages around with no arrangement fee involved, although some do carry this type of charge. <br>**No tie in** As above, there are some tracker mortgages which do not have a redemption tie in. This means that you are free to leave the mortgage and get a better deal at any time. This is quite attractive as if rates were to start going up you could switch to a fixed rate mortgage for security without loosing out. ---Minus--- **Hard to budget** You can't really budget accurately on a tracker mortgage because any rate rises will be passed on to you. However, with the option of leaving at no cost, you could find yourself a better deal if things got tough. Having said that, if rates started to go up, you would find fixed rates had also gone up, so if payment security is crucial for you, a fixed or capped rate would be better. %Cashback% Some lenders offer special cashback deals which give you 'cash back' once your mortgage application is complete. This can be from a few hundred pounds to help with your legal costs to around 4% of your mortgage amount. This can seem like quite an attractive offer particularly if you are borrowing a large amount. Afterall, 4% of £100,000 is £4,000. +++Plus+++ **££££££** Obviously the money is a plus point, particularly if you are moving house. An extra £4000 would come in really handy for removal costs, solicitor fees or decorating your new house. ---Minus--- **Tie in** Mortgages which offer large amounts of cashback almost certainly have long tie ins. A mortgage deal I found recently was offering 4% cashback with no obvious tie in until you looked at the small print. You had to stay with the lender on their SVR (which was not competitive) for 6 years. If you left them, or even re-mortgaged with them during this time period, you had to pay back the full amount of cash back. If a mortgage is offering a small amount of cash back (a few hundred pounds for example) this is likely to be just a goodwill gesture but STEER CLEAR
                  of the mortgages with high cashback, unless you are sure of the consequences. Finally, just a few other things to be aware of when choosing a mortgage: Does the mortgage benefit from daily interest calculations? This type of interest calculation can save you a lot of money over the term of a mortgage particularly if you are able to pay a small amount extra each month. (For more details see my op on remortgaging) Does the lender pay legal fees and valuation fees? Some lenders have their own teams of solicitors to take care of legal fees free of charge. This can save you around £300-£400 so it is worth finding out. Also, some lenders charge you a fee to value your property whereas some do not. This again would set you back a few hundred pounds otherwise. So, which mortgage did I choose, I hear you asking. In the end (after starting one other mortgage application - sorry Halifax) I went for a Tracker mortgage. It is with the Nationwide Building Society (my current lender). It is 0.29% above the BOE-BR, but what I like about it is that it is also capped. The cap, although quite high at 6.49% gives me the security of knowing my payments won't go sky high in the next two years. This was particularly important to me as I am having to pay over £2000 to redeem my existing fixed rate mortgage and do not want to find myself out of pocket. Hopefully I have made the right decision. As with all financial things, it is a gamble - if we knew what was going to happen in the future, we would be rich enough not to need a mortgage! Happy mortgage hunting.

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                  • ifa-online.net / Internet Site / 3 Readings / 23 Ratings
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                    10.01.2002 20:54
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                    Have you ever thought that you might benefit from speaking to a Financial Advisor but imagined it would be too expensive or take up too much of your time. Or perhaps you thought that a Financial Advisor would speak a different language to you and you would not understand a word they were saying. This is what I thought until I discovered IFA-Online. I had decided, in spite of a huge penalty, to investigate moving my mortgage from my existing lender (Nationwide) to another lender. We had taken out a fixed rate mortgage, which at the time seemed like a great idea. The trouble was, instead of interest rates going up as expected, they started to come down and we were soon left paying way over the odds for our mortgage. After negotiations with Nationwide, it became clear that they would not reduce the penalty if we stayed with them, so the search was on for a new mortgage elsewhere. I spent a good few hours on the internet and walking around the town looking at the different mortgages available. Every time I thought I had found a good deal there was always a catch; steep penalties, annual interest, high arrangement fees etc. Then a search engine came up with IFA-Online. **What is IFA-Online** IFA-Online is a company which offers independent financial advice on a range of products via the internet. They are not tied to any specific lender and have access to hundreds of different deals with many different financial organisations. As well as mortgages, they offer advice on pensions, life insurance and investments. The company was established in 1997 and was the first to offer independent financial advice online. It is registered with Financial Services Authority and is a member of The Burns-Anderson Independent Network PLC. **What can IFA-Online do for you** If you are after independent advice about a certain financial product, like a mortgage in my case, you simply complete one of their online forms with details of
                    what you are after and submit it. A short while later you can expect to receive a reply from a member of their staff with some suggested products, which match your requirements. **How does IFA-Online work** IFA-Online has a number of distinct websites dedicated to different financial products. If you visit their main page (www.ifa-online.net), you can choose from one of four websites based on the advice you require. They are all fundamentally different in their design but each page is well designed and suited to its purpose. As I only have experience of their mortgage page currently, I will base my opinion on this aspect of their service. The mortgage website is further categorised into three sections: first time buyer, home mover and remortgage. Once you have selected the section appropriate to you, all the details on the following pages are then relevant to your circumstances. The page is easy to navigate with an index frame on the left and the content on the right. There are a number of sections explaining what IFA-Online can do for you and what you should look for in a mortgage and mortgage lender. There are a couple of calculators to help you work out how much you can borrow and how much it will cost you. There is a 'small print' section entitled 'Mortgage Guide' which details the ins and outs of mortgages. The 'best buy' section shows basic details of a few of the mortgage deals on offer at the current time. The heart of the website is the online enquiry form, which you can complete and submit. Finally, there is a 'contact us' section which provides both telephone and email contact details for the company. Once you have completed the enquiry form, you will receive an email from IFA-online with details of products that might suit you. As well as being independent, this advice is also FREE. So how do they get paid, I hear you ask? Well, if you decided to let them arrange your mort
                    gage, the mortgage lender will pay them a fee for this service. Therefore, there is nothing for you to pay them and nothing stopping them from finding you the best mortgage on the market, suited to your needs. One important thing to note is that once they have offered you advice you are under no obligation to let them arrange your mortgage for you. When they suggest a product to you, they will not necessarily give you the name of the financial organisation providing it to begin with. However, they will tell you who it is with if you are interested and will certainly let you know who is providing your mortgage if you get the point of applying for a mortgage through them. They are very up front about the fact that you can go directly to the lender if you prefer. Obviously this would mean that they loose their commission fee and also means a lot more work for you, which you could otherwise let them do. If you do decide to let them arrange your mortgage (or any other financial product), they will email (or send) you the application form which you return to them. From then on, they will do all the donkey-work for you, from checking that you have completed the application form correctly to contacting the lender weekly for a progress report and reporting back to you. **So, how did it work for me** In my case, I chose the mortgage section of their website and then the remortgage section of the resulting page. This ensured that the online form I was completing was relevant to my individual circumstances. The form itself was simple to complete and there was a section at the bottom for extra notes. Within this section I detailed the position I was in and explained the features that were important to me in a mortgage. A few working hours later (I completed the form late in the evening) I received a reply from one of the Directors of the company. I won?t go into detail about the content of his advice. What I will say though is th
                    at from the start I found the advice I was given to be comprehensive and very well thought out. It was written in a personal and friendly manner whilst at the same time remaining professional. We corresponded via email on a number of occasions in the early days and each time the reply demonstrated that he had carefully considered my circumstances, what was important to me and recommended products appropriately. And on all occasions, these suggestions were backed up by in depth calculated examples so that I could see for myself what the savings were. On a couple of occasions, he made suggestions that I would not even have considered and in actual fact, I have ended up with a completely different mortgage from the one I originally intended to get. This might sound a bit dubious, but the resulting mortgage suits us far better than the one we would have ended up with otherwise. I just needed a bit of direction from somebody with experience in this field, to help me deviate from my own 'not quite fully formulated' ideas. **After 'sales' service** So, we had chosen our mortgage and the application process was underway. I then received a further email from the Financial Advisor stating that as part of their regulations he was required to check other financial matters that might have a bearing on our mortgage. This meant providing him with basic details of our pensions, life insurance etc. As a result of this, he has suggested a number of other financial products that will save us a lot of money in the long run. Again, we have been under no obligation to accept his advice but as it all made sense we have since taken further action on a number of other financial matters. **In conclusion** I am extremely pleased to have discovered IFA-Online. Throughout my dealings with them I have been very impressed with the way they treat the client and the thoroughness of their service. As a result of the advice I have rece
                    ived we are in a much better financial situation than we were before. Not only has this advice saved me money immediately, but it has guaranteed a more stable and hopefully prosperous future for myself and my family. I will certainly be using this service again in the future as my situation changes and would recommend them wholeheartedly to anybody else who would benefit from some sound financial advice. Well done IFA-Online - keep up the good work. *************************************************** Editors notes: Please note that this site is not the same as ifa-online.co.uk, which is a site for Independant Financial Advisors themselves. It is also worth noting that you can contact this company by telephone and they are more than happy to discuss financial products with you in this way also (mortgage hotline 08700 121 400).

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                    • More +
                      02.01.2002 21:48
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                      You are not allowed to be ill when you have a small child. They don't understand that mummy doesn't feel so good today. They still expect the normal activities to continue such as charging around the garden, rescuing them from the top of the climbing frame, along with a constant supply of energy and enthusiasm. On occasions when I have got up on a work morning feeling a bit rough my husband has suggested that I stay at home instead of going to work. "You must be joking" is always my response. If I stay at home then so does my toddler. At least at work I can have a bad day without too many people noticing. I can also skulk off for the occasional tea and chocolate fix, which doesn't have to be shared and then followed by a mad dash round the lounge to catch that sticky fingered toddler. But this morning when I woke up feeling rough, it wasn't a work day. I had no choice but to be at home with my little one. I had woken up with those dreaded flu like symptoms - a nasty sore throat, stiff neck and temperature. I felt extremely weak and feeble and even walking up the stairs left me breathless and sweaty. I made it through the first part of the day; the dressing, feeding, delivering daddy to work and clearing up. For once I had given in to my daughter's pleas to watch the Tweenies without feeling guilty. I was sat by her side watching an episode that I had seen over and over again and trying to gather up the energy I would need as soon as the video finished. The video finished and I still felt no motivation at all, so I reluctantly put another one on and went in search of something to perk me up. I fumbled through my medicine cabinet for something appropriate. Well, I say medicine cabinet, it is more a drawer full of odds and ends, which has a few medicinal items scattered amongst it. After some searching I came across some Tesco Flu Strength Hot Powders. I read the label which said &q
                      uot;effective relief from the symptoms of colds and Flu" and thought that sounded like just what I needed. I boiled the kettle, emptied the sachet into the cup, filled it up with boiling water and then settled back into my sofa to watch yet another Tweenies episode. I began to feel better almost immediately. By the time I had finished the drink my throat was much less sore and within about half an hour, I had stopped aching. I could almost say that I was nearly back to normal. This improvement lasted for a good few hours after which time I had another powder. In total, I had three hot lemon powders, the last of which was just before I went to bed, ensuring a much more restful night's sleep than I had had the previous night. Was it the paracetamol in the powder that made me feel better, the hot lemon drink itself or a combination of the two? I remember as a young child being primed with hot lemon and honey by my grandmother whenever I had a cold. I can't imagine she put paracetemol in the drink as she was a great believer in natural remedies. I believe that no real research has been carried out into the claims that hot lemon is good for relieving cold symptoms. It is thought that the Vitamin C in lemon could be a contributory factor, or the fact that lemon stimulates the saliva glands lubricating your previously dry throat. Or could it be just the fact that you are having a hot drink. Tesco do a blackcurrent flavour of this powder, which seems equally as effective. Would taking 2 paracetamol with a glass of water have the same effect? Maybe, but I am sure the physiological effect of sitting down with a steaming hot drink when you are feeling under the weather also has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, this remedy certainly works for me. I was able to continue with my day without the struggle I was expecting. A packet of 10 Tesco Flu Strength Hot Lemon Powders will set you back a mere £1.69. Compare
                      this to a similar product from Lemsip (Lemsip Max Strength) this is a saving of £2.20 (they cost £3.89 per pack of 10). Admittedly I do also buy Lemsips occasionaly as their powders also contain decongestant. When I have a really heavy cold decongestant is a must. However, for the everyday flu type symptoms, the Tesco powders are just the job. So, why pay more.

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                      • Direct Line / Car Insurance / 0 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                        17.12.2001 15:20
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                        Some of you will know already that we had a prang in our new car recently. We had only had it 3 months when my husband drove into the back of another driver at a roundabout. Easily done, I know, but we really beat ourselves up about it afterwards, thinking what we could have done to avoid it. But what is done can't be undone, so we set about sorting out the mess. Having read a few ops about our insurance company, Direct Line prior to this, I must admit, I was a little worried about dealing with them. They seemed to have a reputation for not living up to their 'easy to deal with, sorted out with no hassle' advertising claims. So, I picked up the phone with fear and trepidation expecting to be less than impressed with the response. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The gentleman on the end of the phone, in spite of sounding young enough to be my son, was very professional in his approach. True to their claims, he took all the details of the accident and the cars involved over the phone, with no need to send out a laborious claims form. With the call almost complete, he gave me contact details of the person dealing with my claim and assured me that she would be in touch shortly to arrange an inspection of my vehicle. True to his word, a couple of days later there was a message on my answer phone from the lady in question, asking me to call back to arrange an inspection. We had chosen to use our local garage for the repairs rather than having the car collected by Direct Line and taken to a garage of their choice. In the meantime, we had taken the car to the garage so that our mechanic could inspect it and give us a quote for the repairs. We were still in two minds as to whether to make a claim on our insurance. To look at, our car appeared as good as new, as did the other party's car, so you can imagine my surprise when a quote for £700 worth of bodywork popped through my letter box, for our car alone.
                        After a bit of negotiation with the garage, they agreed that if we were paying for it ourselves the cost could be considerably reduced (cheeky!) and so I rang the other party to find out the cost of their repairs. Unfortunately their car was a company car and the company concerned wanted to 'go the whole hog' with the repairs as well as charging us for a courtesy car during the repair, so we had no choice but to make a claim on our insurance. Whilst this negotiation was taking place, Direct Line put our call on hold. Once we had decided to make a claim, I rang them up to change the status of our claim and arrange an inspection after all. We arranged a convenient day for the inspection and I was told that once this was complete the garage could go ahead and repair the car. The allotted day arrived and I took my car to the garage, said my final goodbyes and climbed into my courtesy car (arranged by the garage, not Direct Line). A couple of days later the garage called to say that our car had been repaired and could be picked up. Having expected the whole process to take at least a week, I happily drove to the garage to trade the Fiesta in for my very own Mondeo. I paid the garage the £150 excess (the normal excess is £100 but I chose £150 to make the policy cheaper) and was off. I would like to say that that was the end of the palaver, but unfortunately the garage hadn't repaired the car correctly and it had to go back in a few days later to be completed. This however was not the fault of Direct Line. All, in all, I have been extremely pleased with the service provided by Direct Line. They dealt with our claim extremely efficiently and the whole process went smoothly from start to finish. When you have to deal with the aftermath of a car accident, the last thing you want is hassle from your insurance company. We got none of this and for the cost of the policy, I would say that Direct Line policies ar
                        e certainly value for money. The cost of my policy was around £300 for fully comprehensive, protected no claims and two drivers. A similar policy with Tesco insurance costs around £330 whereas Norwich Union quoted me £415. The protected no-claims bonus allows us to make two claims in three years, so this claim will not affect our premiums next year. One thing to note though is that they do not provide a courtesy car in the event of an accident. This did not worry me as I knew we could get a car from our garage, but this would be crucial for some people. We now have most of our insurance policies with Direct Line and to date, I haven't found an insurance company that compares either on price or service. We have made one other claim on our 'home contents' insurance and this too was very straightforward. As the claim was under £250 they did not even want to inspect the damage, simply sending us a cheque based on my word. I could ramble on about their website, which is very comprehensive but extremely slow, but I written enough already. Other than to say, if you are looking for reliable, affordable insurance, hotfoot it down to http://www.directline.com.

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                        • Autonational Rescue / Transport / 0 Readings / 27 Ratings
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                          03.12.2001 18:59
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                          For years and years I have been with the RAC for my car breakdown cover. We were paying £65+ each year just to cover us for breaking down away from home. All this cover entitled us to was for somebody to come out and attempt to fix our car by the side of the roadside. If they failed to do this, the car would be towed off to the nearest garage. There was no provision for us getting to our destination or back home again from the breakdown scene. In spite of the cost and the minimal amount of cover included, I do not have any complaints against the RAC. On the few occasions I have needed to call them out, they have arrived promptly and completed their job professionally. It was because of their track record that my husband has always been reluctant to change breakdown organisations. His motto in life generally is 'you pay for what you get'. I do agree with him to a certain extent, but I also believe that some companies create such a monopoly and get such a reputation for themselves in their own market that people stay with them and put up with high prices. I am very pleased to say that after much persuasion, by both myself and my father-in-law, my husband has relented and agreed to let me take out cover with an alternative company this year. The company concerned is Auto National. I first heard of Auto National when I received their leaflet through the door last year. They were offering quite a good deal, but I seem to remember that it was an introductory offer only and that the price I would pay the following year was not far short of the amount I was already paying to the RAC. So I dismissed it and took out cover with the RAC again. A few weeks ago, however, I received another leaflet from them. I took a more detailed look at it and it really did look good. The alternative to RAC Roadside would cost me £35 rather than the £65 I was currently paying. Added to this, if I had not called upon my current breakdown insurance
                          for the last year, I would receive a further 25% discount, bring the cost to just £26. Obviously other levels of cover are available and you can have a fully comprehensive cover for just £54 (inc 25% discount). This cover includes: - Roadside repairs or recovery of your vehicle to a garage - Recovery of up to 5 passengers to anywhere in mainland Britain - Home service in case your car breaks down at home - Emergency travel or accommodation if you are more than 25 miles from home - Caravan superservice (not relevant for me!) - Message service - they will phone your family for you Added to this, if you do not call them out within a year the 25% discount continues for the following year. In fact, having read the small print, you can call them out once within a two year period and still keep the discount. Another way of keeping your discount is if you call them out and they fail to turn up within an hour. Sounds like a speedy response to me as the RAC have always taken longer than that to reach me. My father-in-law also received this leaflet and was extremely enthusiastic about this new found service. He had rung a number of other breakdown companies to compare his RAC quote and although he had found cheaper quotes (Direct Line for one), nothing compared to the price Auto National were quoting. Unfortunately, the day before his RAC cover ran out, his car broke down (typical!) and so he has decided to stay with them for a further year. I was convinced by the leaflet and after having read a few ops on this site about Auto National (the one by Moose convinced me), I decided to ring up and arrange cover. As usual, I left it until the last minute to get my cover, but I rang up and after a very short while an assistant answered. She was very friendly and even started chatting to me about her kids when she heard my daughter crying in the background (never make a phone call like this with young
                          kids around!). She asked me a few questions about the level of cover I required and details of my vehicle. I gave her the usual name and address details and my credit card number and the deal was done. Because I had left it so late, she gave me an emergency number to ring in case we breakdown before our policy documents and cards arrive. The price was actually £57 and not £54, but still very cheap as far as I am concerned. Just to add to my elation, the assistant also offered me the choice of: - an extra 3 months cover - a £10 M&S gift voucher for the person who recommended me I was armed and ready for the second offer, as, after having read an opinion on CIAO on the same subject I had promised to use the writer as my recommender. I would like to say that I choose that option, but sadly I decided to be selfish and opt for the free cover. She says she will forgive me and would have done the same thing, so I don't feel too guilty. So 15 months comprehensive cover for just £57. A bargain if ever there was one. I suppose I cannot really judge this service though until I have actually called them out, but for now, I am satisfied with what I have seen so far. If I ever do call them out I will update this op. I must say, I am quietly confident that this service will deliver what it promises.

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                          • BTNetChat / Communication / 0 Readings / 35 Ratings
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                            23.11.2001 15:27
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                            It's official. I am addicted to the internet. Well, to this site in particular. My friends tell me so, so it must be true. Since discovering opinion sites and other such interesting sites on the web, I seem to be spending all of my spare time on the net. I am sure lots of people reading this will be nodding their heads in agreement. I don't know what it is about sites like this, but they just seem to lure me back time and time again. I no longer have lunch breaks at work and the moment my daughter falls to sleep in the evening, I am straight on the PC. My husband has turned into an internet widower and my friends never hear from me. I am in danger of becoming completely and utterly anti-social. Exchanging my valued friends and family for some new 'pseudo' internet friends, who I know tons about but never ever meet or talk to in the flesh. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the 'friends' I am making on this and other sites on the internet but I cannot possibly expect them to replace the friends (and family) I have had for years and years and who have been with me through thick and thin. The seriousness of this issue came to a head last week when my best friend rang me at 10.30pm one night exasperated because she had been trying to contact me all evening. She only wanted to tell me that she would happily look after my daughter for me as usual the next day, but try as she did, she could not get through to me on the phone. Since then a number of other friends have made similar comments and this has led me to think carefully about the effect my new addiction is having on my social life. So, I started to search for a solution and before too long I came across BTNetChat. The answer to all my communication problems: * What is BTNetChat? BtNetChat is a service provided by BT which will let you know when somebody is phoning you, whilst you are connected to the internet. Not only does
                            it let you know somebody is calling but it allows you to actually speak to them, via your PC, whilst still surfing the net. On top of this, you are able to call other BTNetChat customers for a chat whilst surfing the net. * What equipment do I need to make BTNetChat work? If you are interested in getting this service you will need: A BT Phone line A soundcard, microphone and headphones (or a headset) Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 or Windows NT Microsoft Internet Explorer v4.01 or above 100MHz Pentium or equivalent Graphics card set to 16bit colour or better * How does it work? In order to get BTNetChat working for you, the following process needs to be followed: 1) Register for BTNetchat (www.BTNetchat.co.uk) 2) Download Microsoft Netmeeting 3) Download BTNetChat software 4) Install and configure both pieces of software 5) Wait up to 72 hours for a fully functioning service 6) Pay BT 99p a month 1) Registering for the service Registration is easy and only takes a couple of minutes. You are asked to choose a username and password, supply your BT customer number, phone no and email address. You are asked for a security word, which will be used to identify you if you forget your password. You also have to indicate whether you wish to have your information shown in the directory of BTNetchat users. There is help available for each field on the registration form by clicking the label beside each field. I had a few problems registering using Netscape but the registration worked fine in Internet Explorer so I would recommend you use this browser to register. 2) Downloading NetMeeting You need to have Microsoft NetMeeting installed on your PC for BTNetChat to work. Some people may already have this installed, but I wasn't sure I did have, so I downloaded it anyway. It is only 1.56M
                            B so it did not take long to download 3) Downloading BTNetChat software The BTNetChat software is also fairly small (2MB) and so downloading it was no problem. I saved both pieces of software on my desktop ready to install 4) Installing the software There is a comprehensive guide to installing and configuring the software on the BTNetChat website, which I of course did not follow! Consequently I had a few problems setting it up and had to call the helpline (which I found extremely helpful and professional). I have since read the instructions and had I followed them, things would have been much more straightforward. I won't go in to detail as it is all on the website, but in a nutshell: Install Netmeeting Restart PC Double click Netmeeting Follow instructions to configure Install BTNetChat * How to use BTNetChat: In order to use BTNetChat, you first need to log on to the internet. Once logged on you start up BTNetChat and log on using the name and password you supplied at registration (you can start NetChat before logging on but the Helpline staff advise against this it can cause problems with some ISPs). The software initialises and after a few seconds says "ready". You can then minimise the software and surf away. If the software detects an incoming call, the PC rings and the software pops up on the screen, flashing "incoming call". You can choose to accept the call or reject the incoming call. If you accept, you are then put through to the caller and can chat online. To make a call, you simply type the number in the box on the screen and click the green telephone symbol. I haven't actually done this yet as I do not know anybody else using this service, but I imagine you are then connected to the other user and they can choose whether to accept or decline your call. * What do I think of this service
                            Well, put simply, I think it is brilliant. It is extremely early days and I have only received a couple of calls, but it will certainly make me feel much less guilty about spending time online. There are a few things about this service that are not quite as I would have expected however. When talking to somebody using this method you do feel as if they are in Australia! There is quite a time delay between you speaking and them hearing what you are saying. I imagine you would get used to this, but it is certainly not like talking to them on the phone. I can live with this though, as I usually just find out who is calling and ring them straight back. If the software could tell you the number of the person calling this would save you even having to answer the call. I tried declining a call once and then dialled 1471 to find out who had called, but it appears that calls via BTNetChat do not actually register on your telephone. It is a little disappointing that you can only call other BTNetChat users. It would be much more useful if you were able to call anybody whilst online. Having said this, it does say on the website that this facility will eventually be available, so I cannot fault them there. The software is a little basic. I won't go into detail about the look and feel of it, because, to me, as long as it works, who cares what it looks like! It has the Tommorow's world picture of the baby swimming under water which I have always liked, so that is a bonus! One technical problem to be aware of. If you type your username and password in wrongly, the software won't tell you, it simply won't work. I was wondering why, after 72 hours, the service still wasn't working. When I rang the helpline I discovered that I had been using the wrong password all along. * Final thoughts: This is a great service which is still in it's infancy. There have been other similar piec
                            es of software which have disappeared as quickly as they have appeared (Freeserve certainly had something similar which I cannot find anymore) so I am hoping that this service is here for good. If it is, I am very excited about the possibilities this could have for communication over the net in future. Well done BT.

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                              19.11.2001 03:50
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                              Until a couple of years ago, Oil of Ulay (or Olay as it seems to be called now) was not a brand name that I would have given a second thought to. As far as I was concerned the brand was associated with the rich, famous, old and sorry mum, my mother. Oil of Olay advertising claimed that their facial creams helped 'reduce the signs of ageing'. Being a fairly young looking 31 year old, this kind of slogan did not appeal to me. I have always wanted to look older than I am not younger (although not so much now that I am racing towards middle age). If the advertising had said "makes you more attractive to men" or "increases your job prospects" then I might have been tempted! Then I fell for one of those advertising gimmicks. You know the one; post a sample of the product through the door of an unsuspecting homeowner and then reel them in. This sample was a bit different from those I was used to receiving. Not only did it contain a couple of 'very hard to open without scissors' sachets of 'Oil of Olay Moisturising Body Wash', but is also contained a Olay Puff. For anybody who doesn't know what a Puff is (no rude comments please!) it is a flannel type contraption made of a net like material scrunched up and tied in the middle. If one of these pops through your door, you can't help but notice it. Small sachets can easily be disguised amongst the piles of the junk mail and discarded without achieving their intended purpose, but not if they are packaged with a Puff! That night, I stood in the shower with my Olay Puff in one hand, the sachet and a pair of scissors in the other. The instructions on the sachet went something like this "Wet the Ulay Puff and squeeze a dab of Moisturising Body Wash onto it. Work into a rich lather all over your body, then rinse off". Not quite sure what a 'dab' actually consisted off and being the economy conscious person that I am, I cut open t
                              he sachet and squeezed the smallest amount of body wash possible out of the sachet onto the Puff, anxiously anticipating the 'rich lather' part. I must admit, I was expecting to find that this first small amount was not sufficient, but to my surprise, the instructions were right, a rich lather was what I got. I started with my legs, then my arms and body and there was still enough lather left to wash my neck and face. It rinsed off as easily as it had been applied and like the sachet promised, left my skin feeling soft and smooth. That was it, I was hooked. I decided there and then that I must buy a whole bottle of the stuff as the sachets would, at best, last me a couple of weeks. The next time I visited my local supermarket, I ventured down the beauty isle in search of 'Oil of Ulay Moisturising Body Wash'. I found it quickly - these advertisers are very clever you know - I am sure they do deals with supermarkets after sachet drops like this one, as there was a whole shelf of this body wash in a prominent position. But shock, horror, look at the price of it! Almost £5 a bottle. Far too steep for a body wash, I thought. So I went home without it and promptly put it on my Christmas list hoping that I could make the sachets last two months, not two weeks. I did receive a bottle for Christmas from my best friend. She had also received a sample of it through her door and decided that not only did she like it but that I would like it too. Coincidentally, I had had the same thought and bought her a bottle for Christmas too! The bottle stated that it contained 60+ washes. Not too bad for the price then, but I calculated that if I used it everyday, I would need to buy a bottle every other month (I always was good at maths!). Too often for birthdays and Christmases then, so maybe I should start a 'Moisturising Body Wash Budget Fund. Fortunately, the advertising on the bottle turned out to be a touch pessimistic
                              (makes a pleasant change) and my first bottle lasted well over a year. This was probably helped by the fact that after my initial elation wore off, I didn't use it every day as expected but interspersed it with a cheaper shops own version. That way, I thought, I would appreciate it more when I did use it. I am pleased to say that I still have smooth silky Olayfied skin. My job prospects haven't improved though and I don't get whistled at when I walk down the street, but hey, I still look young!

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                                06.11.2001 15:23
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                                If you are anything like me, having a dirty and untidy house really gets you down. I would even go as far as saying that I am slightly obsessed with cleanliness. I am not too bad on the days that I work, because, after all, I cannot see the dirt from there, but the moment I end my working week, out comes the hoover and dusters. If it is a sunny day, my paranoia gets even worse. There is nothing like a lovely bit of sunshine to show up the dust on your surfaces and the smears on your windows. The worst thing about it is that I absolutely hate cleaning. One of these days I am going to hire a cleaner and blow the cost. The kitchen is the place in my house that gets the messiest. When we moved house just over a year ago, I exchanged my massive 'to die for' kitchen (my friend's words not mine) for a small box type kitchen. For some reason, this new scaled down version seems to show the dirt much more than my old full-size kitchen. It might have something to do with the fact that my old kitchen had brown surfaces and greenish floor tiles, whereas this one has white surfaces and a white floor. My last kitchen was probably very dirty and unhygienic but as I couldn't see the muck I didn't worry. Whatever the reason this new kitchen always seems to look grubby. My 2-year-old daughter is not the most careful of eaters and tends to spill most of her breakfast on the floor. Add to this the constant muddy footprints that lead from the back door to the hallway and the caked-on food and tea covered surfaces - you get the idea. Some time ago, a little trial size bottle of Dettox anti-bacterial surface cleaner dropped on to my doormat. I am not normally one for buying brand named products, making do with shop's own on most occasions, but as this was free, I thought I might as well use it. The packaging said it "killed germs and viruses" and included a list of half a dozen viruses that I had never heard of. Did I have all of these vulgar s
                                ounding things in my kitchen?! Hopefully not, but if I did have, this cleaner would deal with them. This sounded good as did the fact that the cleaner could be used in a number of rooms in the house and not just in the kitchen. The bottle states that it can be used in the kitchen, bathroom and playroom. Playroom, what's that? For us that means just about everywhere in the house as I do not seem to be able to contain the toys and other children's equipment to just one room. "Non bleach, no taint, no odour" the bottle went on to say (bottles that speak - now there's a novel idea!). I liked the sound of this also as I cannot stand the smell of disinfectant and dislike cleaners that leave a sticky film in place of the dirt. I wasn't sure about the non-bleach part as I do tend to use bleach quite a lot to make sure my surfaces are spotless, even if only for a matter of minutes. With nothing to loose and armed with my tiny bottle of Dettox I set off cleaning. The bottle comes with a spay head which makes applying it to your surfaces very easy indeed. It is also extremely cost effective as you only use a small amount of the cleaner at a time. The first thing I noticed was that, in spite of the lack of bleach, my surfaces really did look clean after I had used this cleaner. I tried one surface with Dettox and another with just water and the first surface looked and felt much cleaner. It did not remove all of the tea stains from the surfaces but they are notoriously difficult to get out with any cleaner so this did not worry me. Secondly, although the bottle says "no odour" the spray does leave a "clean" smell behind. I can't quite explain what a "clean" smell is, but those of you who are used to cleaning kitchens will know what I mean. When I have cleaned a room, I like to be able to go back a little while later and know that the room is clean and that is what I got with this spray. Not only did I use it on the surfaces but I cleaned the
                                chopping boards, oven, fridge and floors and I was impressed. After my kitchen experiment, I then started using this cleaner in my bathroom. The speaking bottle says you can use it for almost anything in the bathroom, but I just used it to clean the toilet and bathroom floor. It was also great for wiping the changing mat each time I had changed my daughter's nappy. Now came my dilemma. I only had one trial size bottle of this cleaner but I needed to use it in two different locations in the house. I tried swapping it amongst the two for a while but that didn't work very well, as they are on different floors of the house and the Dettox was always where I wasn't. It looked like I was just going to have to buy a bottle of the stuff. So, on my next shopping trip, I walked straight past the Tesco's own cleaner to the Dettox section and to my delight, they were on 'buy one get one free". These two bottles of Dettox lasted me an absolute age. I have recently run out of this spray having made the last little bit stretch as long as I could. This time when I bought a new bottle they were offering 50% extra free which was an added bonus. I don?t know why they are always doing deals on this cleaner - I find that the quality of the product speaks for itself - but I'm not complaining. If you haven't tried this cleaner, give it a go. It is not all that expensive at £1.58 a bottle and it really does live up to it's claims. By the way, I have now found the solution to my 'hiring a cleaner' problem. My 2 year old daughter loves to copy me when I am cleaning, so instead of potty training, we are going to do some 'cleaning the house' training!

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                                • Being a Parent / Parenting Issue / 0 Readings / 29 Ratings
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                                  31.10.2001 23:56
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                                  I happened to mention to my husband a few days ago that I had booked a weeks holiday from work around the time of my daughter's 2nd birthday. "What do you mean, a WEEKs holiday" he said "you only work part-time and have the rest of the week off on holiday already!" This comment was only meant to be tongue in cheek, but deep down I think he really believes that staying at home, looking after our daughter, is the soft option compared to the stress he experiences in the work place. I think many other people have this opinion also. He does work hard, but so do I and I certainly don't consider myself to be on holiday! Take the day in question. I had the pleasure of looking after 3 small children for most of the day. My own nearly two year old and my best friend's 4 year old and nearly one year old. For the purpose of this op, I will refer to them as 'older child', 'middle child' and 'younger child'. Older child has just turned 4 and is very proud of the fact. Ask her any question, for example, how she is and she will answer "I am 4 - the Tweenies are all 4 too" - not exactly the answer you were looking for, but that's kids for you! This little girl is lovely most of the time - I have known her since she was a baby and I love her to bits. She does have a tendency, however, to bully younger children. If she is getting her own way, everything is fine, but as soon as another child has something she wants, all hell breaks loose. She snatches things and often uses brute force to barge other children out of the way. Younger child is about to have her first birthday. She is a sweetheart but is already in to everything. She has been walking for a couple of months but is not very stable and tends to throw herself across the room causing objects to go flying and often hurting herself in the process. She loves climbing stairs and has managed to make it to the top
                                  of the stairs on a couple of occasions without me noticing (don't tell her mother!). She has the tendency to do nasty things in her nappies at regular intervals and won't lie still while you change her. Anyone who is a regular reader of my ops will already know about Middle child (my own daughter). She is experiencing her terrible twos at the moment and can turn from an adorable little angel into a screaming monster within a matter of seconds, for no apparent reason. She adores older child and will copy anything and everything she does (particularly the naughty things). She finds younger child a nuisance (hopefully this will change as they both grow up a bit) and has been known to hit out at her if she gets in her way. Unfortunately, as younger child is quite fond of middle child and likes to pull her hair and poke her as a sign of friendship, this tends to lead to a few nasty incidents. The day began with my getting at 6.30am (not that early I know but if I were on holiday, I would like to lay in until at least midday!), getting myself up and then washing and dressing my daughter up as usual. Breakfast was just being consumed at 7.30am when older and younger child arrived with their mum. Middle child instantly decided that playing with her two friends was a much better option than eating breakfast and began to try and remove herself from her highchair. I attempted to spoon a few more mouthfuls of cereal into middle child's tightly shut mouth whilst listening to my friend explaining the contents of the many bags of supplies she was leaving with me for her two children. Shortly afterwards, I loaded all 3 children in to the car to take my husband to work. He normally cycles but it was pouring down with rain and I felt sorry for him. We dropped him off just after 8am and headed back home upon which point I removed 3 children from the car as quickly as possible before they all got drenched by the heavy rain. We were o
                                  nly inside for 20 mins before I had to load them all back into the car to take older child to playgroup. If you have ever tried to get 3 small children into a car at the same time you will understand the stress this can cause. Firstly you have to decide in which order you are going to put them in. I wanted to put younger child in first as this would leave my hands free to lift and strap middle child in and help older child put her seatbelt on. The only problem with this is that while you are strapping younger child in, middle child has legged it into the middle of a busy road and is about to be run over. As I was carrying younger child (who consequently weighs as much as middle child!) I did not have any hands free to put middle child in first. After a short while (well after a couple of seconds anyway, I really didn't have a lot of timet o think through the options!) I decided to open the doors on one side of the car and let older and middle child climb in. I then closed the doors, with them safely in the car and went round the other side to put younger child in. Meanwhile, middle child is climbing all over the back seat making muddy marks - a crime for which I will later be reprimanded by hubby (we have only had the car a couple of months and it is hubby's pride and joy - has to be spotless at all times!). Older child is overawed with all the different buttons etc in the front of the car and is happily sticking her fingers in the CD player, pulling out the cigarette lighter (again, don't tell her mother) and kindly adjusting the far side mirror for me. All safely in the car, we set off, only to return a couple of minutes later because older child had forgotten her lunch box. We made it to playgroup late and then my next dilemma presented itself. How to get all the children into the playgroup building and exit with the correct two children in tow. This may sound like a strange thing to worry about, but middle child does n
                                  ot understand that she is not yet old enough to go to playgroup. As soon as we enter the building her eyes light up as she sees endless playground equipment and craft activities and hears the happy cries of other only slightly older children. On the first occasion I took older child to playgroup, middle child disappeared into the hall and had to be dragged out kicking and screaming. I do have a double buggy and the ideal scenario would be to put both younger and middle child into it, only it won't fit through the playgroup gate. So I decided in the end to strap middle child into the single buggy, carry younger child and ask older child to walk beside the buggy. This worked fairly successfully and we managed the operation without major incident. My next dilemma was what to do with middle child and younger child for the next 45 mins. You see, we attend a toddler group at the church where older child goes to playgroup and there was no way I wanted to load them back into the car, take them home, unload them, only to have to get back into the car for a fourth time a few minutes later. Thankfully, the rain had stopped so I got the double buggy out of the boot (so glad we traded our Fiesta in for a Mondeo!) and tried to assemble it whilst still holding younger child. This proved impossible, so I balanced younger child precariously on the floor and hoped to goodness that she wouldn't topple over in the few seconds I needed to open the pushchair. To my relief she stayed upright, so I then strapped both children into the pushchair and put the single buggy back in the boot. I then proceeded to walk round and round the block for 45 minutes, having to explain to middle child every time we passed the church, that we were going to go to 'togglers' in a few minutes. The day continued like this with a crescendo at about 2pm. Older and younger child's mother was due to pick them up at 1.30pm. Middle child desperately needs a sleep a
                                  round 12.30pm but will not sleep with the sound of other children playing downstairs in 'her' lounge. Having held off from putting her to sleep, middle child was extremely fretful and was tantruming at every opportunity. So, I decided, enough was enough, she was going to bed. I climbed up the stairs with the struggling toddler, pulling two dining room chairs behind me in front of the stairs to deter younger child from following me and asked older child to keep an eye on younger child for me (not wise, but what else could I do). I put middle child in to bed and returned downstairs with her cries ringing in my ear. On entering the lounge, I noticed a wet patch on the floor and it didn't take me long to realise that younger child was leaking! I went to fetch the nappy changing equipment and some carpet shampoo and tried to get younger child to lie still while I changed her nappy. Meanwhile, older child had found a whistle and started to blow it very loudly. On asking her to stop because middle child was sleeping, she shouted back "no she is not asleep, I can hear her crying". Whilst arguing with older child, younger child had escaped my clutches and rolled some nasty brown substance into my carpet. And to make things just that little bit worse, there was a thud from upstairs - middle child had fallen out of bed and was extremely distraught. So, you can see why I was more than a little put out by my husband's comments later that day. Thankfully, my days are not always quite this stressful, but even with one child, it can be a struggle. Once you have a toddler, everything you used to do without thinking about it, now takes a vast amount of forward thinking, if you want to avoid getting into awkward situations. Even simple things like making sure you go into the supermarket avoiding the tweenies plane so helpfully situated by the door, or else risk a major paddy and an uncooperative child for the rest of the shopping trip.
                                  Making sure you plan the things you do with them around the times when they are likely to be in the best mood, otherwise you can end up with severely embarrassing incidents in public. Obviously, the more children you have to look after the harder this gets. I can't help but admire people who cope so well with 2 or more young children, without seeming to get the slightest bit flustered. I don?t appear to have this skill. Maybe you learn it with time, but I am certainly not in any hurry to have three children under 4 of my own! One is enough for now. And as for the holiday, well, I think I might take my husband up on this idea and disappear off to the sun for the while, leaving him to 'hold the baby'!

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