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kappari
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    • firstdirect.co.uk / Bank / 205 Readings / 192 Ratings
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      14.06.2009 08:44
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      The bank for me!

      I know that I have written a few reviews recently about First Direct (a division of HSBC Bank plc) and their products and facilities and 'no', I do not work for them and am not on any commission! However, I would be delighted to work for them as I think they are absolutely first class.....

      After 30 years of banking with the Halifax I moved to First Direct for my banking. The reason I moved was because I took out a mortgage with First Direct and one of the conditions for getting a mortgage was that I had to open a bank account with them.

      I can quite honestly say that First Direct are like a breath of 'fresh air' in the world of banking. This is one of the best moves I have ever made and I am delighted with the outstanding customer service and the excellent products that First Direct offer.

      One of the most pleasing things about First Direct is the superb level of customer service. Whenever I ring customer service I speak to a real friendly person in the UK! The call is usually answered very promptly ie within 3-4 rings. There are no frustrating automated telephone messages etc - it's telephone heaven!

      Calls are answered in the UK, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It does not surprise me, therefore, that in 2008 First Direct won the "Best Call Centre in the UK" award . This was not just for being the best banking call centre mind but the best call centre across all industries.

      The operators are always, very pleasant, courteous and extremely efficient. You are treated as an individual. Every telephone conversation is recorded and noted. I recently contacted them to ask if I could change the day my mortgage was paid. They said that they would get back to me as soon as possible with the answer to my request. Sure enough they rang back to say that was fine...They even rang my workplace because they could not get me at home....


      **Features of Banking with First Direct**

      **Incentive**

      First Direct offer a financial incentive to first time customers. At the moment, if you switch your bank account to them, they will give you £100. You will need to credit your account with £1500 per month within the first three months to get the incentive.

      So confident are First Direct that you will be absolutley delighted with their services and products that they also offer a further £100 by way of a 'Satisfaction Guarantee'! If, within 12 months you are not happy with First Direct and you have paid in at least £1,500 a month for six months they will give you a further £100 for the inconvenience of having switched your account and help you to move your account. You will have had to have used their Easyswitch service when you transferred your accounts.

      **Easyswitch**

      With Easyswitch First Direct take care of your transfer. They will obtain details of your Standing Orders and Direct Debits from your previous bankers and arrange to transfer them for you. If there is a failure in the switching process First Direct will refund any charges or interest you paid to them and if you are a Northern Ireland customer your old bank will refund any charges or interest you paid to them.


      **Interest Free Overdraft**

      You will get an automatic £500 formal overdraft at account opening. The first £250 of your overdraft is interest free. An arrangement fee may apply if you request an overdraft more than once every 6 months. Overdrafts above £250 will be charged at 15.9% EAR variable.

      **Charges**

      Banking with first direct usually costs £10 a month, but it is free when you pay in at least £1,500 to your 1st Account each month, maintain an average monthly 1st Account balance of £1,500 or hold a first direct mortgage.

      **Sweep Facility**

      The 'sweep facility' means that once a month, on whichever date you prefer , you can automatically sweep up any money you have not spent into a savings account.


      **Operating Your Account**

      . You can operate your account in a number of ways.

      - Through internet banking.
      - Through telephone banking
      - Mobile banking

      **Internet Banking**

      The internet banking site is easy to navigate and use. You can view balances and receive statements online, monitor transactions , set up payment details, pay bills, move money between accounts, set up and manage text message banking, request PINs, replacement cards and paying in books, view, set up, cancel and amend standing orders and direct debits, access rates and charges, order travel money online, apply for a personal loan, apply for a first direct credit card, get an Agreement in Principle for an offset Mortgage, check credit card balances, check offset Mortgage balances and repayments, apply for a savings account, check savings account balances, view and print up to 27 months' transactions (up to a maximum of 200), access ISA balances and transfer funds into your account.

      **Telephone Banking**

      To operate your account by telephone you just need to call 08456100100. You will be asked some security questions that include your post code, some memorable data and 2 or 3 characters of your telephone password. You will then be able to complete any transactions with the help of a customer service agent.

      **Mobile Banking**

      You can operate your account by mobile. You can use the website to set up and recieve text alerts to make it easier for you to manage your money. You can arrange for mini statements to be sent to your mobile. In this way you can keep a check on transactions from anywhere in the world. You can receive a text alert if your balance falls below a certain figure etc...

      **ATM Transactions**

      You can use your first direct debit card to withdraw up to £500 a day free of ATM charges from HSBC/LINK cash machines in the UK. This is a great withdrawal rate and is much higher than most other banks.

      **Paying In**

      You can either pay in cheques by post using the freepost envelopes that are sent with the welcome pack or you can pay in at any of the HSBC Bank branches. Freepost enevelopes can be ordered from the First direct website.

      **Opening an Account **

      You can open an account either through the First Direct website or by completing an application form. You will then receive a welcome pack. The pack contains transfer salary forms and a form to move direct debits and standing orders to your First Direct account. You also have a form to send to your old bank if you wish to close your old bank account. You will be asked to choose a date from which you want the payments to be made from your First Direct account to start.

      It is important that you allow First Direct at least 20 working days to complete the transfers. Before this date direct debits and standing orders due will be taken from your old bank account so do ensure there are sufficient funds in your old bank account to enable these transactions to be made.

      You will be issued with a debit card, cheque book and paying book. These will arrive within a couple of weeks of the opening of the account. Statements are issued monthly but you can choose to opt for paperless statements online.

      The only downside to First Direct is that they do not pay any interest on their current account. However, I believe that current accounts are not savings accounts and it is possible using the sweep facility to divert any spare cash at the end of the month into a savings account with a higher rate of interest.

      Overall I would thoroughly recommend First Direct to anyone....

      This review may also be found on other review sites under the name of 'Krazikas'.

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      • More +
        31.05.2009 08:29
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        A great free service

        Internet Banking Plus, courtesy of First Direct, is a great facility. This fantastic free service allows you to consolidate, view and manage all your various online accounts in one place. You will be able to add most of the major banks and credit and store cards as well as utilities, email accounts and bonus programmes. See below for a list of all the organisations that can be accessed.

        With just one username and password, the service 'tracks' information from other accounts into the balance screen You are able to see exactly how much money you have got (or haven't got!) in 'real time'. To be honest I have been using this service for some time now and I would be really 'lost' without it!!

        **Benefits**

        *Internet Banking Plus is a great way to make managing all your available online accounts a lot easier.

        *In order to access all your accounts you do not have lots of passwords to remember.

        *If you want to see other accounts you just click on them.

        *You do not need to be a first direct customer to register for the service.


        **Disadvantages **

        If you want to use Internet Banking Plus' on more than one PC. You will need to download the passwords of every account to each PC you will use to access your other bank accounts.


        Registration is simple. However, selecting the banks and the accounts you want does take a little time as you have to enter the security details for each account. In my opinion, however, it is well worth it. Once set up the site is easy to navigate and use... and you can make payments quickly and easily etc from one account to another. To register visit internetbankingplus2.firstdirect.com

        I will now give you a little more detail about how this service works.

        **How does it work?**

        When you register you are provided with a 'digital safe' that will remember all your organisations' security details. Your IDs and passwords are private to you. Your details are encrypted and securely stored in the digital safe, which is created personally for you and stored on your PC.

        The on-line account information is updated using the security details you provide for each account. Your security details go directly from your PC to the organisation's site in the same way they would if you logged on directly yourself. Internet banking plus just makes it simpler by automating the process for you. Your account updates are initiated and controlled by you.

        *How do I set up an account?**

        You register for the service from the First Direct website. You will be required to set up some security questions and answers. Then you will be directed to download a referred to as a "digital safe" onto PC. When you log into the system you will be asked which organisations you want to include. For each account, you will be required to input your personal security information for each organisation. Once set up you will only need to remember your Internet Banking Plus security questions. By logging on, you are shown a list of your accounts, together with their balances. By clicking on the "update" button, the system will log into each of your accounts and get the balance updated. To complete transactions online you just click the relevant account and a new window opens with the bank's website running. You can then perform any transactions that you need to carry out in the usual way.

        Here is a list of some of the accounts you can include on Internet Banking Plus. It is not exhaustive! The full list can be found on the web site.

        **Financial services**

        All the main bank and credit card companies.

        **Investments**

        There are many including, Fidelity Investments, first direct sharedealing,
        Friends Provident, FT MarketWatch, FT Portfolio

        **Bonus programmes**

        Including AirMiles, BAA WorldPoints, Hilton HHonors, Nectar and many more.

        **Telecoms**

        Including BT, Carphone Warehouse, O2, One.Tel
        **Utilities**

        These include British Gas, E.ON, Scottish Power

        Want to know more? Then take a look at it - there is an excellent 'demo' on the site.at http://www.firstdirect.com/ourservices/internet-banking-plus.shtml

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        • First Direct / Mortgage / 219 Readings / 210 Ratings
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          28.05.2009 20:32
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          Highly recommended

          The first thing that attracted me to a First Direct (a division of HSBC Bank plc) offset lifetime tracker mortgage was that it was listed at the top of the 'best buy' tables on moneysupermarket.com. A quick search revealed that it had also been voted the best lender for customer service in the Which? Money survey on mortgages 2008. This was the second year running that First Direct had come out on top. With a score of 90% first direct was 11% ahead of its nearest rival in the survey of 18 lenders. First Directs mortgages have won numerous awards over the years, the most recent being What Mortgage Magazine's winner of Best Direct Lender over 5 Years (February 2007).

          In January 2009 their offset mortgage was one of the lowest rates on the market. Although I was not actually looking to remortgage at this stage because I still had nine months to run with my old mortgage the very attractive rate encouraged me to take a closer look at the product. I was at that time with the Alliance and Leicester and had two mortgage products with them due to releasing equity in the last couple of years to purchase an overseas property.

          I was not particularly happy with the Alliance and Leicester. Despite the many falls in the Bank of England Base Rate the Alliance and Leicester mortgage products I held the interest rate remained very high at over 5% - they did not pass on the cuts to customers! Due to the fact that house prices were fast falling, I felt that maybe it would be advantageous to look around now for a new mortgage. If I waited till September (when my redemption penalty would end) I feared that I would not be eligible for a decent rate mortgage. To redeem my current mortgage was going to have a hefty £3000 penalty plus administration charge of £300.

          If I was to stump up the early repayment penalty fees I needed to find a product that was going to make the switch 'worthwhile'.

          The First Direct offset Mortgage seemed to fit the bill. The offset base rate tracker 2.89% mortgage (1.89% above the base rate - 80%LTV) being offered by First Direct at that time seemed very attractive to me, despite the £799 product fee. Since then, due to cut in the Bank of England base rate, it was been reduced to just 2.39% making the interest repayments just under £400!

          I did my calculations and worked out that if I switched to the first direct lifetime tracker offset mortgage my mortgage repayments (interest only) would be reduced to £400 less than half of my current repayments which were a massive £900. With the difference- £500 - I could make overpayments and bring it down to what it would have been in September had I stayed with the Alliance and Leicester. From October onwards I would be on a competitive rate with no penalty fees and the ability to make overpayments.

          I decided to apply. I filled in the application form online and within minutes I was contacted by an agent from First Direct. He went through the form and the application process with me in some detail. I was very impressed with how he handled the process and he was very courteous and not at all a pushy type... I guess it took around 45 minutes to do but it was well worthwhile. Initially I was told that my and my husband's earnings were not quite sufficient enough to cover the cost of the mortgage required. However, I was quickly reassured and told that it was not necessarily a problem. The person I was talking too said he needed to consult with his manager. They did a very quick credit check on me and within minutes said because of the 'good ' check they would be prepared to advance the amount we required.

          It was really good to speak to a real human being and to be treated as an 'individual' and not just another number. In fact, every time I contacted First Direct I get though straightaway - no long convoluted telephone options before you get through to a real person.

          The next step was to have a valuation on the house. For the estimated value of my property the fee was £200. First Direct quickly arranged for the valuer to come and do a valuation.

          The only disadvantage about the mortgage process was that there was some delay in the proceedings. This was because I live on an estate where there are communal areas that require upkeep. I am required to pay an annual maintenance fee to a Landscape Management Company. Before the monies could be released, First Direct had to receive a letter from the company. Unfortunately, the company took a long time to respond. Although First Direct kept contacting them by letter I personally felt that the whole process could have been speeded up by a direct telephone call to them. In this area they did not keep up to their slogan of 'Let's Keep It Moving'!

          Despite starting the application process in January the mortgage only began in mid May. My plan to pay off the amount added to the mortgage due to penalty charges will now take until December to clear as opposed to the end of September. However, I am very happy to have made the change as this product is no longer available at such rates. They will now only advance 75% of the LTV and the interest rate is now 2.89% (the Bank of England Base Rate plus 2.39% for the life of the loan). Also if my husband or myself should lose our job we would still be able to afford the repayments. This provides great peace of mind.

          I will try to explain in more detail the special features of first direct's 'offset' mortgage.

          **Offset Mortgages**

          The offset Base Rate tracker mortgage is a simple, straightforward offset Mortgage which must be repaid over a pre-agreed term and which tracks the Bank of England Base Rate for the duration of the loan. So if interest rates fall, so do repayments. Similarly, should they rise repayments would increase. Payments are not fixed as they are linked to the Bank of England Base Rate.

          An administration closure fee of £149 is payable on redemption of the mortgage. However, this fee is waived if you are transferring to another first direct mortgage product. With an offset Mortgage at First Direct you have to have or open a First Account with First Direct. You can link the mortgage to your current account and Savings Accounts. You then only pay interest on the difference. For example, if your outstanding mortgage value was £100,000 and you linked a savings account to this, which had a balance of £10,000, you would only pay interest on £90,000 of your mortgage.

          In effect this means that because the accounts are linked you are using your 1st Account and savings account balances to reduce the amount you owe on your mortgage. You do not earn credit interest on these accounts.

          **Features of the Mortgage**

          - Another feature of this offset mortgage is that you can withdraw capital at any time, up to your agreed limit, which can be up to 75 - 80% of the value of your property.

          - The daily interest on the mortgage is added up at the end of each month, and you are advised how much you owe at least 14 days before it is due.

          - If you choose to make capital overpayments on your mortgage, you can take a break from them at any time and borrow back the capital you have previously paid (up to 80% of LTV). Say for example you wanted to carry out some home improvements you would not have to remortgage and have all the hassle and costs associated with that. The downside is that it is also way too 'easy' to get at that cash and you will have to be disciplined!

          -If you move house, then the mortgage rate you have with your first direct mortgage will also move with you - with no mortgage transfer fee to pay.

          - With the First Direct mortgages, you are free to choose a monthly repayment date to suit your needs. If you move the monthly dates of your standing orders and direct debits that are debited from a linked 1st Account, to leave the money in your account as long as possible, you have a greater balance to offset against your mortgage. This helps to reduce the amount you owe, so you pay less interest.

          **Eligibility**

          To be eligible you need to:

          * agree a mortgage of at least £30,000
          * be aged 18 or over
          * open a first direct 1st Account if you do not already have one
          * use the mortgage for house purchase in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland for your own use, remortgage or for raising capital by releasing equity. First Direct do not lend for business purposes or buy to let.

          The offset Mortgage must, in all cases, be in the same name(s) as the property ownership with a maximum of two people. Property ownership in three or more names do not qualify for an offset Mortgage.


          **Lending Criteria**

          How much will First Direct lend? Currently, they will consider loans up to 75% of the value of the property depending on the amount borrowed and your personal circumstances. If your property is valued between £1 million and £1.5 million, they will lend a maximum of 65% of the value of your property. If your property is valued between £1.5 million and £2 million, they will advance a maximum of 60% of the value of your property. If your property is valued above £2 million, they will lend a maximum of 50% of the value of your property.

          In making a decision on how much you can borrow the following criteria is used. For a single application it is 3.5 times the gross annual salary. For a joint application the formula is 3.5 times the higher gross annual salary plus 1.5 times the lower gross annual salary or 2.75 times the combined gross annual salaries. However, as in my case, First Direct do sometimes operate flexibility in this area. The offset Base Rate tracker Mortgage is not available to customers remortgaging from an existing first direct mortgage.

          If you are looking to take out a mortgage or remortgage I would highly recommend that you take a look at First Direct's products. I really like the flexibility and the portability that First Direct offer with their offset mortgage and, most importantly, there are no blessed hefty redemption penalties with the offset mortgage!!

          This review may be on Ciao under the name of Krazikas.

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          • Matalan / Highstreet Shopping / 196 Readings / 191 Ratings
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            28.05.2009 08:19
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            A good place to shop

            From suits to saucepans, from jackets to jugs, from cardigans to cups you can find it in Matalan.

            Matalan is a department store selling a range of affordable clothing and houshold items .The majority of Matalan stores are based in out of town locations. John Hargreaves who founded Matalan based it on a model that was successful in America. He launched the first Matalan store in Preston in 1985. Since then hundreds of stores have been opened in the UK. Most Matalan stores are large and spacious with good sized car parks. More recently Matalan has opened stores on the high street. High Street stores can be found in Derry and Glasgow

            Personally I have found Matalan to be a great place to shop for clothes and homeware and would be 'lost' without it. Matalan offers an extensive range of very good value and competitively priced products. Quality wise you do have to be a little 'discerning' as it does vary...particularly in the case of clothing. However, the homeware section always seems very good quality and is excellent value for money.

            Each store is typically divided into four departments, Women's, Men's, Children's and Homeware.

            **Women's Wear**

            Whatever your age you can find something to wear at Matalan - from the trendy fashions for teenagers to the more classic type clothing for the more mature woman. They stock lingerie, nightwear, suits, jackets, knitwear, shoes, jeans etc. They have a range of sizes from petite to extra, extra large. They also have a range of accessories including fashion jewellery.

            **Men's Wear**

            The Menswear section has a good range of clothing at affordable prices (though not as extensive as the ladies section!). I buy my sons' school shirts and trousers from there. One of my son' who is now 15 has been wearing mens trousers since the age of 13. He is a prop forward in rugby and is known affectionately by many as 'Tank'! I have always had difficulty finding him school trousers. I was very impressed, therefore, when I discovered that Matalan did a range of smart trousers with discrete elasticated waistbands. I can get a pair of these trousers for about £10 and two shirts for £8. A bargain..

            I have washed the clothing time and time again and it always comes up as good as new. We have been to a few weddings over the last few years and I have had to kit out my sons with suits, ties and shirts. For £50 each I was able to do this and they did look smart! As they are still growing I did not want to pay a fortune for the suits which they will only wear once or twice!

            They also sell reasonably priced tracksuits and sportswear - many brand name items - and a range of casual trousers, shorts T shirts ideal for holidays. Matalan is one of the few places I can get decent underwear and socks. Nevertheless, their 'Jeff Banks' undies are still a bit pricey...Why is it that young males have to wear their undies showing above their jeans? Branded undies of course!

            **Children's Wear**

            Since the demise of shops such as Adam's and Woolworth's Matalan is one of the few places that you can buy decent quality children's clothes with out them costing an arm and a leg.

            **Homeware**

            Matalan stocks a wide range of homeware including bedding, pillows, cutlery, crockery, mirrors, storage systems, pans, sheets, pictures, candles, bathroom items etc.. Among my many purchases from the homeware section I have had some great quality towels, sheets and cushions from there.

            In addition to clothing and homeware they also do perfumes and aftershave at discount prices, dvds, suitcases, sunglassess, a small range of children's toys and many other novelty type items..

            **Returns Policy**

            Matalan have a 28 days with receipt, credit note without returns policy and I have never experienced any trouble returning clothes.

            **Customer Service**

            Customer service is good. The staff are polite and helful. There are good sized changing rooms. The only downside is that queues are often long at the tills at busy times.

            **Sales**

            The sales in Matalan are excellent. They usually have reductions of 50% to 75%. Often towards the end of a sale they practically 'give away' items. I did buy a lovely ladies blouse from there for just 50p. Every time I wear it people comment how lovely it looks!

            **The 'Matalan Card'**

            Until recently customers had to pay £1 in order to have a Matalan card which you had to get if you wished to shop at Matalan. However, this is no longer the case and the card is free. However, I do believe that the card and its necessity is a contentious issue with customers ( including my husband). When they are asked for the card at the till and they don't have one I have seen many an irate customer's stress levels going through the roof! Many people do not see the point in having a card as it does not have any obvious benefit such as a loyalty or points scheme....it is viewed by many with suspicion!

            Overall, I think that Matalan is an excellent store and I can usually find anything I need there. Another great benefit is that they have pretty long opening hours and are a boon when you need something at short notice or in an emergency!

            Also on Ciao under the name of Krazikas

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              17.05.2009 10:48
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              Well worth a visit to appreciate its grandeur

              Take a look at the picture above of Wentworth Woodhouse. Go on - click on it. I lived there! But more about that later....... First of all I will share a little information about this fabulous building.

              Wentworth Woodhouse is one of Britain's biggest stately homes covering 2.5 acres in the village of Wentworth near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England. It is just 6 miles north of Sheffield. It is set in an impressive 150 acre estate.

              Now for some amazing statistics! The building itself contains over 365 rooms - one for every day of the year! It also has 1000 windows! It is so big that it is alleged that guests were once given confetti of different colours to strew so they could find their way back to their rooms!

              Wentworth Woodhouse was built around 1725- 1735 and incorporates parts of an earlier 17th century manor house. It is basically two houses joined back to back. There is the East Front to it which we see in the picture and a West Front. The Western house is the older of the two. It is less formal than the East Front and is constructed of brick with baroque stone facings.

              Thomas Watson-Wentworth, who later became the Earl of Malton and Marquis of Rockingham, built most of the house. He commissioned Henry Flitcroft to start work on the East Front around 1734 before the West Front was finished. The Paladian east front was designed by Ralph Tunnicliffe and Henry Flitcroft and completed around 1750.

              It is thought that the decision to build the much larger East Front was due to a family feud between the Wentworth and the Stainborough sides of the Wentworth family. The Stainboroughs were at that time extending Wentworth Castle and the Wentworth branch of the family wanted to 'live up' to the Stainboroughs!

              The East Front of Wentworth Woodhouse is visible to the public from the right of way through Wentworth Park. It is an absolutely stunning structure around 606 feet in length and has the longest frontage of any country house in Europe. Just to give you some idea of its length - it's twice as wide as Buckingham Palace.

              The 2nd Marquis of Rockingham from 1750-82 completed and furnished the
              interior of the house. He was also responsible for the construction of the stables for the horses. But these stables were not just ordinary stables. They were designed by Carr on a grand scale to match the house and were named 'Stable Block. The block can easily be viewed from the public path through the park. The stables were comprised of 15 bays with room enough for 100 horses. It is an impressive structure with Tuscan columns, pediment and cupola. There is a large fountain in the centre of the courtyard although, sadly, this is no longer operational.

              The only major change to the exterior of the house since it was originally erected was made by the Fitzwilliam family. They constructed an extra storey to each of the wings of the East Front around 1782.

              The main entrance to the house is via the Pillared Hall which is accessed from the East Front. Leading from the Pillared Hall is a grand staircase to the Marble Saloon. This is a 60 foot square room. It is 40 feet high and is the main reception room in the house. It is said that in 1912 the ballerina Anna Pavlova danced for the King

              Adjacent to Marble Saloon are two grand rooms named after the paintings that once decorated them. The 'Van Dyke' room and the 'Whistlejacket' room. Whistlejacket was the 2nd Marquis's favourite racehorse and George Stubbs was commissioned to paint a huge portrait of the horse in 1759. It now resides in the National Gallery in London. Incidentally, Whistlejacket's grave is just off the path past the house near Stable Block.

              To the north of the Marble Saloon is another huge room called the Long Gallery. This is about 130 feet long and once contained a huge collection of paintings and other works of art.

              Humphrey Repton was employed in 1790 to remodel the park. The park has several follies, including Hoober Stand, Kepple' s Column and the Mausoleum.

              Hoober Stand was designed by Henry Flitcroft in the shape of a tapering pyramid with a hexagonal lantern. It is 30m high and was built in 1747 to commemorate the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion.

              Keppel's Column is a 115ft tower designed by John Carr. It was erected in the late 18th century to commemorate the acquittal of the court-martialled Admiral Keppel.

              The Rockingham Mausoleum is a 90ft high, three storey building situated in woodland. Only the top level is visible over the treetops. It was commissioned in 1783 as a memorial to Charles Wentworth and was also designed by John Carr. The ground floor is an enclosed hall containing statues and busts of his eight closest friends. The first floor is an open colonnade with Corinthian columns surrounding the empty sarcophagus. The top storey is a Roman-style cupola.

              The Needle's Eye is a 45ft high sandstone block pyramid with an ornamental urn on the top. It has a tall Gothic arch through the middle which straddles a disused roadway. It was built in the mid 18th century, allegedly to win a bet after Charles Wentworth claimed he could drive a coach and horses through the eye of a needle.

              There is some secrecy and mystery surrounding the house. The Fitzwilliams had archived letters and papers since medieval times. In 1972 the 10th and last Earl, TomFitzwilliam, ordered his employees to destroy most of Wentworth's records. They were taken by tractor to a bonfire that blazed for three weeks. The fire destroyed the private papers of the 7th, 8th and 9th earls who lived at Wentworth in the first half of the 20th century. It is suggested that the secrets are to do with descent. Who was the real heir to Wentworth?

              The last earl at Wentworth, then, was Tom Fitzwilliam who lived there until 1979. However, after the Second World War he leased parts of the building and parkland to the Local Education Authority for use as a teacher training college. The Earl kept a suite of 40 rooms, but chose to live elsewhere.

              From 1949 to 1974 the house became known as the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education (named after the sister of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam) which trained female PE teachers. It later merged with Sheffield City Polytechnic At that time the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate retained the western sections of the house as a private residence. The college constructed a number of buildings including an extension in the kitchen courtyard of the main house, extensions to the stables, and accommodation blocks in the car park.

              In 1986 the college closed when the Local Education Authority surrendered its lease to the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate. The house has since passed through the hands of a number of private owners. In 1989 the house, stables and gardens were purchased by a business man - Wensley Haydon-Baillie for use as private residence. However, in 1998 Wensley admitted to debts of £13m and Wentworth Woodhouse was repossessed. The Julius Baer Bank took possession in 1998.

              In 1988 Tom's daughter put the house and 30 acres up for sale. After standing empty for a year, the lawns somewhat neglected and the roof at risk of collapse, it was bought by an anonymous bidder for the knockdown price of £1.5m. This works out at just £7 per square foot - cheaper than a council house in Rotherham. The new owner is Clifford Newbold, 80, an architect from Highgate, North London. It is said by locals that Clifford is a recluse and occupies just 5 rooms of this huge mansion. Nobody in the village of Wentworth knows what he looks like. He does not employ locals as he is afraid of gossip and he does not answer letters.

              Nevertheless, the grounds of Wentworth Woodhoues are still open to the public. They cover over 150 acres and are known as Wentworth Park. The park itself is a great visitor and tourist attraction. It covers a huge area of grassland and woodland with several lakes and deer still roam through the park. It is possible to view the house and other features from close quarters. Some of the follies, too, are open to the public. Entry to the park is free and it is open at all times. Parking is possible just outside the main entrance and parking is also free.

              There is also a garden centre. The garden centre is situated in sixteen acres of walled and landscaped gardens and includes a Japanese Garden and a Maze. Wentworth Garden Centre is set in the former Kitchen, Italian and Japanese gardens of Wentworth Woodhouse. There is also a cafe, a playground for children, food and craft shops and a children's farm.

              Now I will tell you about the time that I lived in Wentworth Woodhouse! I lived there from September 1975 until July 1976. I went to train as a Physical Education teacher when it was the former Lady Mabel College. Although there was a new building in the grounds for student accommodation I was lucky enough to have my room inside the house itself!

              Can you imagine what it was like for me? I was a 19 year old girl who lived in a council house on a council estate and here I was living in this superb building. When I first saw Wentworth Woodhouse I was 'awe struck' - it was breath taking.

              The entrance to the house is known as Pillared Hall. As the name suggest it was full of magnificent pillars and columns. To the left and the right were huge fireplaces. There were lots of statues in there.

              Leading out of the Pillared Hall was a magnificent stair case. At the top of the staircase to the left was the famous Marble Saloon. This was full of marble from top to bottom. When I was there Marble Saloon was used for lots of purposes. We had lectures in there, had dance lectures in there, I sat my teacher examinations in there, we had grand 'balls' in there. It was said to be haunted by 'Lady Mabel' and one night myself and some student friends decided we would 'camp out' in there to try to see Lady Mabel. We took along our sleeping bags and pillows. However, after a couple of hours we saw nothing, became a little bored and went to bed.

              There was also the room Whistlejacket with lots of paintings in there. Once again we used this room for lectures.

              I recall that Wentworth Woodhousehad a chapel. As a Catholic I used to go along to services in there.

              Around the whole of the building were pictures, works of art, Rockingham Pottery and other artefacts on display. (Students could be trusted in those days!)

              We had a huge refrectory were real 'home made ' types of meal were devoured by the hungry Physical Education students. I have to admit putting on a stone in weight during my first year at college. But maybe this also had something to do with the pies and peas they served in the college bar by Ernie and Betty.

              There was a big laundry and drying room. Underneath the house were huge cellars - it was there that my trunk was put when I arrived at the college and it was there that it stayed! Inside that trunk were several pairs of pink - yes, pink - platform shoes. However, by the time I had finished my course, platform shoes were 'out'. I never bothered to take my trunk or platform shoes home.... I wonder if they are still there today? They would be antiques themselves by now!"

              My room was in a part of the house known affectionately as 'nest'. The rooms comprising nest were part of the former servants quarters. Nest was a series of rooms with doors leading from one to the next. I think there were 5 or 6 rooms. Unfortunately mine was the first room and everyone in the other rooms had to walk thorugh mine to get to theirs!

              I have to admit that I did have a strange experience in that room. It was that hot summer of '76. All the grass at Wentworth turned yellow. It was baking hot and absolutely stifling. I opened the window in my room. They were great big sash windows. My room looked out onto a sort of green courtyard area. During the night I was 'awakened' by a terrific noise. I could hear people shouting and jeering. I went to the window and down in the courtyard I saw a very strange sight. There were lots of people that seemed to be dressed in medieval costume. In the centre of the 'green' a cock fight was taking place. There were two huge white cocks fighting away! I will never forget that. Could it have been that sometime in the past a cock fight had taken place there?

              I did have another strange experience in my room at the college. Once again I was awoken in the middle of the night. It was as if a weight was bearing down on me and I could not move.....

              The grounds were fantastic. Deer roamed in the park. In the summer we used to play and watch cricket on the front lawns. We also had a swimming pool, two lots of tennis courts, squash courts and a couple of sports halls in the Stable Block area. It was idyllic.....

              I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to reside in this beautiful house. It is something that I shall never forget!

              My son is going to Sheffield in September to do a degree. I can't wait. I shall pop over to Wentworth Woodhouse to reminise. It's just such a pity that I will not be able to go inside once again.... I hate to think what state of repair the mansion is in inside.... Let's just hope and pray that this magnificent architectural masterpiece will be restored one day to its former glory making it once again a stately home. And, maybe, one day access will be given to the general public.

              It is impossible with words or with the picture above to appreciate this breath taking magnificent mansion. I would suggest that if you have not visited before then do so. It provides a great free day out for all the family.


              (This review may also be found on other review sites under the name of Krazikas.)

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                16.05.2009 08:07
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                A durable and substantial non stick stir fry pan

                I have recently purchased a Tefal non stick 28cm stir fry pan. I had one of these for over 10 years. Unfortunately, I did overheat the pan which caused some damage. I bought several other stir fry pans / woks in the £3 price range but sadly they did not last two minutes - you do get what you pay for!. I decided it was time to invest in another quality stir fry pan and hence my second purchase of a Tefal product at a price of £25.

                Tefal owes its origins to a Frenchman, Marc Grégoire and his wife, Colette. Marc was a fisherman. He wanted to make his rod reel in more smoothly. In the 1950's he experimented to see if a non stick coating might be the answer. He did find a coating that worked. His wife suggested that coating the cooking pans, too, would be worthwhile by making them easier to cook with and simpler to clean. This lead to the creation of Tefal's non-stick frying pans and non-stick cookware. Tefal is now the leading manufacturer of non-stick products and small appliances, operating in over 120 countries. Tefal was chosen as the name for the brand as it was a combination of the two words 'teflon' and aluminium'.

                The Tefal 28" stir fry pan is a very solid and substantial pan. It is an impressive looking black in colour and is made of aluminium. This non stick pan is dishwasher safe. It is 28cms in diameter. The base is 18cms in diameter and has a depth of 8 cms. It has a capacity to cook up to 4 litres. It is safe to use with all heat sources except induction. (Gas / Solid Electric / Ceramic ). It can be heated at high temperatures on a hob. It is oven safe up to 180 degrees. When placed in the oven the oven heat should be at a maximum of 180 degrees C° as the bakelite handles that cannot withstand higher temperatures.

                **Features**

                *Non stick coating*

                The pan has a strong five layer non stick coating which makes it highly resistant to scratches and abrasions. TEFAL guarantees that the non-stick coating complies with regulations covering materials in contact with food. It is safe with the use of metal utensils except knives and whisks. Slight abrasions or surface marks are normal and will not effecrt the performance of the non stick coating.Advanced metal spatula safe non-stick for extra heavy-duty use. The exterior is durable and stain resistant enamel Exterior - the pan has an enamel black exterior which is very durable and stain resistant for easy cleaning.

                *Base*

                It has a thermo conductive base and copper speccles that ensure even heat distrubution.

                *Handle*

                The pan has a 'stay cool' bakelite handle. It is contoured, very sturdy and provides a good comfortable grip. There is a hole in the handle which allowes the pan to be hung if desired.

                *Thermospot*

                Tefal's unique 'thermospot' is a unique indicator that lets you know when your pan is preheated to the correct temperature. The red spot turns solid red when the pan is perfectly preheated and ready to cook. When the spot turns red the temperature should be reduced to prevent overheating the pan. This is a useful feature as preheating pans is the secret to sealing in the flavours of food .

                **Warnings**

                Tefal pans should never be used in a microwave or convection oven

                **Care**

                Tefal recommend 'seasoning' the pan ie coating it with a little oil before first use. To do this just wash the pan thoroughly and dry. Heat the pan on low for 30 seconds, remove from heat and put one tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan. Rrub the oil over the entire surface with a paper towel.

                The pan is easy to clean and care for. Just cleaning with hot soapy water. and a sponge or cloth. The pan must not be cleaned with scouring powders or scouring pads. A nylon sponge is ideal for both the interior and exterior of the pan. The pan must be cleaned each time it is used to remove the film of grease that can stay on the surface. If a dishwaher is used to clean the pan it may become discoloured or dulled due to the action of certain detergents. (The guarantee does not cover this type of wear).

                **Lifetime guarantee**

                The handles, body, knobs, lids and fixings of this cookware product are guaranteed from the date of purchase for a period of 12 months against any manufacturing defects. Perhaps the most important thing about the pan, though, is that it has a lifetime guarantee on the non-stick coating. The non-stick coating is guaranteed for the life of the pan against blistering or peeling. This guarantee, however, does not cover damage caused by incorrect use such as overheating, professional use or if the product is knocked or dropped. It does not cover stains, discolouration or scratches on the inside or outside of the product due to normal wear and tear. During the guarantee period Tefal will try to resolve problems and offer advice but if the product is deemed to be faulty they will either replace the pan (subject to inspection) or you may be redirected back to your point of purchase as your Contract of Sale is always with the retailer. Proof of purchase will be required. Tefal guarantees that the non stick coating complies with regulations covering materials in contact with food.

                **After Sales care**

                Tefal offer an after care service and provide help and advice including services ssuch as replacement handles. Just call 0845 602 1454 or visit www.tefal.co.uk

                **Verdict**

                The 8cm deep and 28cm diameter pan allows me to easily cook large family meals in the one pan. It is of professional quality and perfect for making stir-fry dishes and , very importantly is non stick and very easy to clean. I use mine for all my frying. In my opinion the Tefal Specifics stir fry pan is solid, durable and a high quality stir-fry that will, no doubt, last for many years to come and is an essential part of my kitchen.

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                  10.05.2009 08:41
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                  Teaching is a great job

                  Where do you work? - I work in a special school for children aged 11-18. I work mainly with the pupils in the Sixth Form but also teach PE throughout the school.

                  What is your job title? - Teacher

                  What is your job description? - I have a sixth form tutor group and teach them English, PE, Careers and Drama. I am also the PE co-ordinator.

                  How long have you been in your current job? - 12 years, although I began on supply, then temporary contract part time, then permanent contract, part time, thern permanent contract full time, then part time (four days) and I will be returning full time in September.

                  Are you happy at work? - Yes it's very rewarding. I love working with the children and I have great, supportive colleagues. The only thing that gets me down is the amount of paperwork and the fact that I have to do an awful lot of work at home.

                  Is it the job for you? -
                  Yes, I always wanted to be a teacher right from being 5 years old. I used to be a PE teacher in mainstream schools. However, I did not find that as rewarding as my current job. In my current role I have more of an impact on the children's progress. Instead of having 6 x 30+ classes a day, I have a tutor group of just 10 pupils. There are times when I wonder what it would be like in another job - the idea of police work, army, physio did cross my mind at times. I did go straight to university from school and then back into school. I probably would have done a bit of travelling inbetween if I were able to go back in time but I would still want to teach!

                  Who do you get on best with at your work? - The kids!

                  Anyone you don't get on with? - Obviously you do meet people who are difficult to work with. I find it hard sometimes to work with those who do not have the children's best interests in their mind as they go about their jobs...

                  Do you like your boss? - Yes I like my boss...

                  How many days of your holidays have you used? - My holidays are given in that I have to take school holidays. Of course it's great having so many holidays...however, there are times when it would be great to just be able to take a day off at any time for special occasions etc.

                  How many sick days? - just 2 days... a virus

                  Genuine or faked? - Genuine

                  Do you get a yearly pay rise? - Yes. Generally a cost of living rise - about 2% over the last couple of years.

                  Do you socialise with your colleagues? - Occasionally at the end of terms and people's do's.

                  Are you qualified for your job? - Yes, I did a teacher training course and trained as a PE teacher many years ago. Then a B.Ed Honours then a Masters Degree. I have also underatken lots of in service training.

                  What age were you when you left school? - I left school at the age of 18.

                  Did you always want to do what your doing now? - I have always been in teaching. My first job was in my home town for just one term when someone was on maternity leave. Then I went to a comprehensive school in Crewe for two years as a PE teacher, then a comprehensive school in Runcorn for 10 years - I was a Head of Year there . I then had my four children and took 10 years out. I returned to work on a supply basis at the school I am currently teaching at. Prior to starting teaching I used to work part time in a fruit and veg shop, I have worked washing up in a restaurant and wine bar in Sheffield, I have done potato picking for a bit of money and I have worked in an off license!.

                  Are you the main earner in your household? - No, my husband is curently the chief income earner but I will be overtaking him soon due to returning to work full time and a pending promotion in September.

                  Are you a member of a union? - Yes - the NASUWT.

                  How often do you get paid? - the 15th of every month. If it falls on the Saturday or Sunday I get paid on the following Monday.

                  Are you content with your salary? - Reasonably, it is a decent enough salary now because I have been working for many years and get paid for extra responsibilities. However, a teacher's salary is not great for someone just starting out teaching. It does have a decent pension scheme though.

                  How many hours do you work per week and what shifts? - I work from 8.30 - 5.00pm most days. There are however, parents evenings, trips, visits and other school functions which involve evenings and weekends.

                  On the whole teaching is a great rewarding job and I am glad that I chose it!

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                  • British Gas / Utility Service / 135 Readings / 129 Ratings
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                    09.05.2009 19:18
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                    Inaccurate billing

                    I am not very happy with British Gas and doubt I will ever become a customer of theirs again!

                    One day the postman delivered a letter which was opened by my husband. The letter was from a debt collection agency and it was demanding a payment of £400+ pounds - or else! My husband went bonkers with me. "What bills have you not been paying" he roared....

                    I was at a loss as to what to say. being in charge of the purse strings, I have always paid my bills on time and as far as I was concerned did not owe anybody anything.

                    I rang the company that had sent me the letter. Apparently they had been sold 'the debt' by British Gas.....

                    I was gobsmacked! I had not been a customer of British Gas for about 5 years. Before i moved to my present home, I was. When I moved from my previous home I had my meters read and duly settled my outstanding bills. Indeed, I used British Gas for dual fuel when I moved to my new home...

                    What on earth was going on then? Why had I been landed with this letter from the debt collector? I contacted British Gas and asked why they had sold on the debt with my name on when I owed them nothing and had settled all my bills with them. I was told that the people who had subsequently lived in our old house had moved in, used the gas and electricity and then moved out without paying a bill! The only names they had on that particular address were mine and my husbands.

                    Eventually we did get it sorted and I didn't have to pay the bill, but I was very angry and the whole affair caused a lot of angst.

                    I am also very unhappy about the way they treated my father. My dad has always been 'loyal' to British Gas. He has always paid over and above the amount he uses into his account via the Post Office service. However, one day he recieved a demand from British Gas saying that he owed them money. Despite the fact that he had proof from the Post Office that he had paid in the money, they would not believe him, even when I showed them the receipts from the Post Office. They threatened to cut off his gas even though he is a pensioner.

                    Eventually dad paid up extra to British Gas just to keep them quiet. He lost quite a bit of money. The way they treated my dad was deplorable...

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                    • B&M Stores / Department Store / 145 Readings / 140 Ratings
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                      07.05.2009 21:20
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                      Worth a browse

                      I first began to shop in B&M homestore when another shop I used to frequent was taken over by B and M. Prior to that the nearest B and M shop was some seven miles away in a shopping centre. I avoided going in because it looked a little on the 'cheap' side to me and rather unattractive.

                      However, I have now discovered that there are lots of genuine bargains to be had there.

                      B&M was formed in 1976 and now has 117 stores mainly located in the North West.

                      B and M sell a variety of goods - including textiles, curtain poles, furniture, clothes, electrical items, children's toys, stationery, household goods such as storage boxes, gardening items, sweets, drinks, crisps, toiletries and much much more. Some of the their stuff is what I would call 'tat'. However, the discerning customer can find many bargains.

                      I regularly pop in now to buy sugar which is only 69p. In many of the supermarkets it is 90p+! I also buy Domestos bleach spray from there for just 99p. In the supermarkets it is £1.50.... I also buy face cleansing pads which are another bargain, shampoo, toothpaste, tea bags.

                      There are many branded items which you can pick up for much less than what you would pay in the supermarkets.

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                        05.05.2009 23:03
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                        A great place to stay to explore the Malvern Hills and surounds

                        I was recently invited to a wedding that took place at Dumbleton Hall Hotel which is situated on the border between Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Dumbleton Hall is just off the A6 and a mere 7 miles from Junction 9 of the M5. Dumbleton Hall is an impressive traditional 19th century Manor House.

                        To get to the Hall you drive through a lovely little village then on a little winding road. Sheep are grazing in the fields alongside and they do saunter onto the road itself. The first impression of Dumbleton Hall is that it does look a little spooky - but very impressive and I couldn't wait to get inside and explore...

                        The original Dumbleton Hall can be traced back to around 1534. It was the home of the Cocks family for over 200 years. After the death of Sir Richard Cocks (unfortunate name!) in the late 18th century, the Hall fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished. It was rebuilt in the mid 19th century using Cotswold stone. Dumbleton Hall then became the home of the Eyres family. In the 1930's, the Hall was renowned for its house parties with with guests including John Betjeman who later became Poet Laureate.

                        Dumbleton Hall is one of the 'Classic Hotels' group. The special feature of this group is that it offers the kind of comfort and service often associated with a bygone age with the added advantage of also offering modern amenities.

                        The aim of the 'Classic Hotels' group is to ensure that guests experience and enjoy the tradition of hospitality that was the distinguishing mark of all the great British country houses of the past.

                        Dumbleton Hall has a superb setting and boasts some 19 acres of private gardens and woodland. It also has a private lake. The hotel has the most breath taking and stunning views of the Malvern Hills, Bredon Hill and Broadway Tower. At the time of my visit it was covered in snow and looked absolutely fantastic especially with the 'black swans' around the frozen lake. A magical winter wonderland indeed.

                        Dumbleton Hall has 34 bedrooms - all are non-smoking. Every room has spectacular views over our beautiful gardens or the Vale of Evesham.

                        Due to the nature of the building all the rooms vary in size and are very individual. There are double, twin and family rooms. Extra beds and cots can also be provided at no additional cost. There is one room suitable for wheelchair users.

                        All rooms have en-suite facilities with bath and /or shower. Complimentary toiletries are provided. Each room has a telephone, remote control colour TV with Freeview channels and radio, hairdryer and hospitality trays which are replenished daily.

                        An unusual feature of Dumbleton Hall is that dogs are permitted, although they are not allowed in the public rooms.

                        Dumbleton Hall is an ideal venue for weddings,functions and meetings and can cater for both small and larger weddings with up to 100 guests. The grounds are large enough to hold a marquee for up to 250 guests. The hotel is licensed for Civil Marriages, Civil Partnerships and Naming Ceremonies.

                        On entering Dumbleton Hall we were greeted with a huge roaring open fire and an impressive staircase leading from the hall. The fire was very welcoming on a cold, snowy February day.

                        The price of rooms vary. The room which we booked cost £150 for a twin room and this included breakfast (this was a special rate for wedding guests). The rooms are large and spacious and furnished to a good standard ...we explored quite a few of them as many of the wedding guests were relatives and friends.

                        The beds were extremely comfortable and the rooms were warm..... perhaps a little too warm for some. The breakfast was substantial and in addition to the traditional cooked breakfast there was also continental breakfast available and a selcetion of cereals, bread, cakes fruit, yoghurt and pastries.

                        The food served at the wedding was of a very high standard and beautifully presented. At the wedding we had venison and there was plenty of it and a lovely treacle tart for the pudding.

                        Dumbleton's Cedar Restaurant offers freshly prepared food sourced from local suppliers. There is a table d'hote menu which is changed on a regular basis to reflect what is available within the seasons. The Cedar restaurant also provides a fixed price 3 course Sunday lunch which is served from 12.30 - 2pm in the Cedar Tree Restaurant. Snacks are also available 7 days a week in the Olive Lounge and Library Bar.

                        Dumbleton Hall can cater for both small and larger functions with up to 100 guests. The grounds are large enough to hold a marquee for up to 250 people. The hotel is licensed for Civil Marriages, Civil Partnerships and Naming Ceremonies.

                        The Shire Room is the smallest function room which is an ideal setting for small functions with up to 30 people. The room has French doors that open on to the gardens and in good weather guests can have pre dinner/lunch drinks in the gardens. Dumbleton Hall offers the opportunity to play Croquet on the lawn! All very elegant and civilised!

                        The Oak Room is Dumbleton Hall's biggest function room. It can hold and seat 100 guests at round tables. As the name suggests it is an oak panelled room with doors leading to the gardens and lake.

                        The Oak room has a dance floor area which is covered when not required but the carpet can be removed after meals in order for dances / discos to take place.

                        Afternoon Teas consisting of sandwiches, cakes and scones with clotted cream are also available at Dumbleton for groups but you need to telephone and book in advance for this.

                        I found Dumbleton Hall to be a very friendly and relaxing place to stay. I really enjoyed my short stay at Dumbleton Hall. The setting was awesome, the food very good, the service excellent and the staff friendly and helpful. I did experience the feeling of being taken back to bygone times - it was such an interesting and old building with lots of artefacts from those bygone times. I will definitely return and explore some of the beautiful countryside and historical areas of interest with Dumbleton as my base. I would definitely like to visit it in the summer time!

                        If you fancy treating yourself to a short break in a beautiful location, Dumbleton Hall has a number of special offers and short breaks which are based on two guests sharing a twin or double room. In April, May & June from Sunday - Thursday you can stay 3 nights for just £65.00 per person per night. This includes Dinner, Bed and Breakfast and a ticket to Batsford Arboretum - 'The Cotswolds Secret Gardens' and Falconry Centre.

                        In July and August Offers 3 nights stay is £65.00 per person per night. Once again this includes Dinner, Bed and Breakfast and a day rover ticket on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.

                        If you are feeling romantic there are 'romantic' breaks available until 31st October. The Romantic Package includes Bed and Breakfast plus Champagne and Chocolates on arrival. This costs £68 per person per night, Monday to Thursday and £78 per person per night on Friday and Saturdays.

                        If you fancy a walking break for £68 per person, per night you can get Dinner, Bed and Breakfast plus a packed lunch each day.

                        There are many attractions and places of interest nearby Dumbleton Hall. These include the Gloucestershire - Warwickshire Railway frequently referred to as the 'friendly line on the Cotswolds'. It follows a scenic 20 mile round trip between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse, including the 'Greet Tunnel' one of the longest on a preserved railway.

                        There is also Tewkesbury Abbey, a Norman Abbey, once the church of a great Benedictine Monastery. If you like castles then there are plenty to see. Sudeley Castle has beautiful gardens and hosts many exhibitions. It is set against the stunning backdrop of the Cotswold Hills. It is said to be Britain's most romantic castle with its own rRose garden. Then there is Eastnor Castle. This is a very 'fairytale' kind of castle set in the Malvern Hills. It isurrounded by a beautiful Deer Park, arboretum and lake.

                        Broadway Tower is one of England's outstanding viewpoints. It is 1024 feet (312m) above sea level and is the second highest point on the Cotswold Ridge.

                        Another historic place of interest is Pershore Abbey which dates from the 1100's and has recently been restored. At the Pershore Hertiage Centre visitors can see the old beamed colleges and enjoy a journey into the past with its many local displays and exhibits.

                        The Gloucester Docks are steeped in history,. They are the most inland port in Britain. In the Forest of Dean- Dean Heritage Centre you can discover the story of this unique landscape and its people from ancient times to the present day.

                        There is so much to see and explore in this region so go on treat yourself to a couple of nights stay at Dumbleton Hall and get exploring! For more information visit ww.dumbletonhall.co.uk

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                          04.04.2009 07:59
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                          A great value batter mix

                          After reading a review on Dooyoo about Tesco's value batter mix I thought it would be a good idea to check out the product myself. The thing that first attracted me to the product was the incredibly low price - a mere 8p for 128g of the mixture which can make 6-8 yorkshire puddings / pancakes.

                          The packet was the familiar red white and blue packaging that characterises all of Tesco's value range. The ingredients contain wheat flour, dried skimmed milk and salt. There was also a warning on the packet that it may contain nuts.

                          **Nutritional Information**

                          Per 100g

                          Energy 143kcal
                          Protein 6.4g
                          Carbohydrate 23.1g
                          sugars 2.2g
                          Fat 2.8g
                          saturates trace 0.7g
                          Fibre 4.1g
                          Sodium 0.3g


                          On reading the instructions for use all I needed to add were one egg and 250 ml of water.

                          The mixture just takes seconds to prepare. I used the mixture to make Yorkshire Puddings. I managed to make 6 decent sized ones from the mixture. I wondered how they would turn out... The proof would be in the pudding. I had no need to worry though. They were super. In fact, they turned out better than the ones I make from my own mixture.

                          The advantages of the product include the convenience of making pancakes or yorkshire puddings without having to weigh out all the ingredients and having all the associated washing up of scales etc. The mix can also be used for pancakes and toad in the hole.

                          I will definitely be purchasing and using this product again and I highly recommend that you give it a try even if you only buy it for use in emergencies.

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                          • Dyson DC19 / Vacuum Cleaner / 281 Readings / 280 Ratings
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                            14.03.2009 07:34
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                            Superb vacuum cleaner

                            I have had my Vax cleaner for about 25 years and although it still does the job and has not broken down yet it is,sadly,the worse for wear. One of the wheels has come off and the hose does not fit properly anymore so the suction is not as good as it should be. Whilst shopping in Sainsbury's I happened to see a Dyson DC 19 on sale for £130 and decided that I was in need of a new vacuum cleanert. I have heard so much about how good the Dyson is so decided to buy it.

                            On opening the box when I got home I found an operations manual, a quick start guide, guarantee information and a product registration card together with the impressive looking DC19.

                            The DC19 is a 1400 watt vacuum that gives an air wattage of 280 watts.
                            It's dimensions are 345 by 282 by 434mm (HxWxD). It weighs 8.56 kg
                            and has a bin capacity of 2 litres. It's cord length 6.5 metres and it has a maximum reach of 10 metres.

                            As it is quite light in weight at 17.75lbs (in old money!) it can easily be carried up and down stairs. It is also bagless (hooray!!) It has telescopic aluminium extension tubes and a stretch hose. There is storage on the vacuum for all the attachments which include - a hard floor tool, a crevice tool, a brush tool, a stair tool and a 'flat out' floor tool.

                            The DC19 also comes with a five year parts and labour guarantee. The vacuum is endorsed by the British Allergy Foundation. Dyson also offer an online facility where you can find solutions to any faults that you may find with the DC 19. The website can be found at http://www.dyson.co.uk/support/

                            They also have a freephone UK based Helpline that is openfrom 7.00am to 10.00pm, 7 days a week on 0800 954 0154.

                            The suction power of the DC19 is excellent. This is evidenced by the staggering amount of debris that can be viewed in the see through container. To empty the container is simple. It can also be wiped easily with a damp cloth.

                            The DC19 is easily manoeuvrable. The flat head attachment is superb at reaching under cupboards and beds. I also like the fact that it goes right up to the edge of carpets and flush against the wallls. If you accidentally suck up something you can release the suction quickly with a trigger located within the handle. Filtration is good.

                            The DC19 does not tip over when tugged sharply. The length of the of the power cord is a positive aspect of the DC19. I can easily clean all areas of the house from a single power socket. Putting away the cord is great. You just press a switch and 'hey presto' the power cord retracts into the vacuum itself. The noise levels of the cleaner are pretty good and create a lot less noise than my Vax.

                            Another advantage of the DC19 is that it has a washable filter. To remove it you just have to press the release catch on the cyclone assembly and remove the cyclone and clear bin from the machine. However, it is important to note that the 'post-motor filter' located under the clear bin should not be removed. It should last the lifetime of the machine and does not need to be washed.

                            The only downside of the DC19 is that of storage. It is recommended to store it with the hose attached in an upright position that is clipped onto the vacuum itself. This makes it a bit cumbersome to store. I personally remove the hose and the extension tube. However, the later version of the Dyson - the DC stowaway has addressed this storage problem.

                            If you want a good powerful vacuum cleaner with ease of use then I would definitely recommend the DC19. I used to find vacuuming a chore but I secretly quite enjoy it now. No more dusty bags to change, no loss of suction, no vacuum tipping over, no long cord to wind. And - you can 'see' the results of your hard work in the 'tell all' container.

                            The only question that remains to be answered is - will it last as long as my faithful Vax?

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                              25.01.2009 17:17
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                              A waste of money.

                              Statistics show (from research carried out by Sanex) that 5 million people in the UK - that's a staggering 12% - do not use a deodorant and research has revealed that this is driven by a number of reasons: from those consumers who feel they just don't need to use a deodorant, to those who would rather use a product that they feel is more natural on their skin.

                              According to Dr Emma Edmonds, a Consultant Dermatologist working on behalf of the British Skin Foundation there are ways of helping to control this body odour, naturally. Dr. Emma Edmond's three top tips include:

                              -Keeping your skin clean by regularly washing to help control the bacteria and therefore odour

                              -Wearing natural fibres, like cotton, as they allow the skin to breathe and loose clothing will also help keep you cool

                              -Using a deodorant, which serves to counter the body odour that is associated with sweating and can include a perfume

                              Dr Edmond's recommends Sanex' Naturoprotect. According to Edmonds, Naturprotect is a more natural, yet highly effective deodorant that is kind to the skin. It contains alum - a natural mineral compound ­- that actively works with the skin to counteract bacteria and protect against body odours, whilst letting the skin breathe.

                              Sanex claim that Naturprotect is just as effective as regular deodorants offering highly effective and more natural protection, while keeping skin healthy. It states that it offers 24-hour protection, is alcohol-free and dermatologically tested. Sanex state that the research behind Naturprotect has been validated by the British Skin Foundation.

                              The product is available in two variants - one for normal skin and an extra gentle formulation for sensitive. The product I tested was the roll on variant for sensitive skin.

                              After reading about this 'new' deodrant I was delighted to see it on offer in the supermarket and promptly bought 4 bottles of it! This was a mistake....

                              My experience with this product leads me to believe that one might as well bother not wearing it at all!

                              I applied the roll on as directed after showering in the morning. It rolled on easily and soon dried. No problems there. However, less than three hours after applying the deodrant I raised my arm to do something at work and there was one horrible 'whiff'! A whiff I have not personally smelled on myself since my teenage years, many years ago. I did not think much of it at the time and continued to use the roll on. The same thing happened day after day. In fact a couple of times I began to doubt whether I had actually forgotten to put it on!

                              I hadn't forgotten at all. This product in my opinion is absolutely useless... I may as well have not have bothered. Needless to say I won't be buying this again and I do not recommend it to anyone.

                              By the way, does anyone want 3 bottles of it?

                              The recommended selling price for the Roll-on is £1.79 for 50ml - you can have the three for £1!

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                                24.01.2009 08:43
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                                Very distinctive and special chocolates ideal for special occasions

                                Amongst my many weaknesses is the weakness I have for chocolate and one of my personal favourites is Thornton's Continental Milk Selection which I usually get as a present at birthdays' Mothers Day and Christmas. The chocolates are deliciously wickedly decadent and do nothing for the waistline but taste gorgeous.

                                The boxes are always attractive in appearance. Many of the chocolates are inspired by continental desserts, ingredients and places. The chocolates themselves change over time. I am going to write about the latest box I received for Christmas. The box contained the following chocolates -

                                Alpini

                                This is definitely one of my favourite chocolates. The Alpini was inspired by the snow covered Alps. It contains ground together Italian hazelnuts with sugar and raosted almonds. This is a smooth praline with a nutty texture - heaven!


                                Brandy Truffle

                                The Brandy Truffle contains the distinctive taste of french cognac combined with cream and chocolate. It is avery intense flavour and is very 'moreish'.



                                Cafe Au Lait

                                This is coffee flavoured chocolate with the consistency of a mousse that is contained in a delightful 'cup' of milk chocolate. It is sprinkled with a dusting of chocolate powder. Unfortunately my children got to this one before me so i cannot comment on its taste - more's the pity!


                                Catalana

                                The Catalan contains layers of caramel mousse and truffle covered in smooth milk chocolate and is packed with crunchy honeycomb pieces.. It's inspiration comes from the Catalana desert from Southern Spain.

                                Mousse Au Chocolat

                                This is not one of my favourites. The centre of the chocolate is a very light and fluffy mousse that is decorated with dark and white chocolate. This is based on the classic French dessert.

                                Chocolat Riche

                                This is a smooth truffle consisting of rich chocolate and caramel flavours.

                                The Diplomat

                                This is another firm favourite of mine. This chocolate is one of the few that have a wrapper. It has roasted hazelnuts and almonds in its centre wrapped up in delicious milk chocolate.


                                Seville

                                Tthe Seville as the name suggests is a moist orange chocolate which also contains a crispy wafer. It is very smooth and wickedly delicious. This is covered in a rich looking orange wrapper. Another of my personal favourites.

                                Caramel Truffle

                                This is one of the chocolates I leave until last as it is not one that I enjoy. The chocolate contains a rich caramel truffle.

                                Hazelnut Slice

                                This chocolate contains chopped and roasted Turkish and Italian hazelnuts.

                                Caramel Creme

                                Another caramel based chocolate this is a very creamy truffle with a caramel flavour .

                                Paris

                                This is a round chocolate consisting of a light hazelnut mousse with a centre of smooth praline.

                                Cherry Truffle

                                The Cherry Truffle is laced with Kirsch and topped with a french cherry which sits on a bed of creamy mousse. The filling is covered with milk and dark chocolate.

                                Rum Truffle

                                The distinctive taste of dark Jamican rum pervades this delicious chocolate which also contains fresh cream and cocoa to make a smooth truffle which is coated in milk chocolate.

                                Overall, I like most of the chocolates in the Continental selection. They do taste very rich, and creamy and have a very distinctive flavour. They can be a bit sickly if eaten in large quantities too quickly! They are very expensive and are not, therefore, an every day sort of chocolate but are great to give someone for a special occasion.
                                The only thing with this paricular box of chocolates was that it did not contain the bestist chocolate in my opinuion - the Viennese Truffle!

                                NUTRITION

                                The chocolates are suitable for for vegetarians. However, they do contain a lot of nuts and are not suitable for people with nut allergies. They are also loaded with fat, sugar and calories. 100g of these chocolates contains a masive 31.6g of fat and 519 calories.


                                The Continental Collection are £11.74 (435g).

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                                  23.01.2009 20:18
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                                  Dooyoo wins for me1

                                  I can only compare Dooyoo to the Ciao site as these are the only two consumer review sites that I have experience of.

                                  I feel that Dooyoo has a lot of advantages over Ciao, particularly from the point of view of the writer. Compared with Ciao, Dooyoo is very transparent in the way that it rewards its members with 500 Dooyoo miles (equivalent to 50p) being awarded for reviews of over 150 words, 1.5p for a read or a review and an extra £1.50 for reviews that are awarded the 'coveted' crowns.

                                  The Ciao payment system still eludes me! Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to be given £11 via the premium fund for November and a further £4 in December as my contributions to Ciao are not very prolific. I had only submitted 7 reviews in November and 5 in December - so they were very well rewarded.

                                  Overall I prefer the layout and ease of use of the Dooyoo site. It is easy to recommend and suggest new products for review. However, on the Ciao site I am still trying to work out how to suggest new products. Once again it seems 'shrouded' in mystery.

                                  I find the people on Dooyoo very encouraging on the whole - but i have no 'friends' on Ciao!

                                  The biggest drawback with Dooyoo is having to reach the amount of £50 if you want to have your rewards in cash.. I would prefer it if the cashout level was reduced and payment made by BACS. In contrast Ciao has a much lower payout threshold and it is possible to request payment once £5 has been reached.

                                  The most frustrating thing about Ciao, however, is the slowness of the site. This really discourages me from reviewing and rating as waiting for the page to change is akin to watching paint dry!

                                  It's a close contest between the two sites, but my personal preference is Dooyoo - I can spend hours on the Dooyoo site! Not so with Ciao!

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