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Strange title I know but don’t worry, the reason will become apparent as you read through the review. The 7650, is it a phone or is it a camera ? Well obviously the answer to that is it is first and foremost a phone and yes, it performs all the necessary functions very adequately. I could bore you with the technical specs and the key presses needed to do this or that but I think the majority of people are now fully conversant in the standard use of mobile phone functionality, i.e, making a call, texting, storing numbers etc and would be bored stiff so what I will do is concentrate more on the feel of the phone and the additional functions it gives, in main – a camera !!! OK, first of all I don’t actually own one of these but the project team I work in at Orange do have access to them and I have used one to test out a few future services, therefore I feel well qualified enough to give my own opinion on it. However, in saying that there were some functions I didn’t use to any great degree, phone book, text-messaging etc. As already mentioned these are pretty much standard anyway so can be taken as read that they perform the same. I will however at this point mention the fact that as the keyboard slides out below the bulky body I did find it difficult to type in messages as the weight of the main body made it feel top heavy. It does though have a slight advantage over most other handsets with text messaging in as much that it has what is known as concatenated messaging. This simply allows you to enter more than the standard 160 characters that most phones allow. What it does is let you enter up to 480 characters before running out of space, it then breaks these down into blocks of 160, this “1” message is then sent. The recipient however actually receives 3 separate ones, one after the other. Be warned, the sender also gets charged for 3 separate ones too !!! Another little niggly aspec t to the design is the SIM holder, this is situated at the top of the phone and is accessed by sliding off the top, the SIM then simply slips into the designated slot – easy. Unfortunately getting it out isnt and requires a fine grip with the nails !! A small point seeing how in theory you would very rarely remove the SIM I know but if you do a lot of SIM swapping it would get a bit annoying. It also has a slightly different way of navigating through the menus which could be a bit frustrating for those who prefer the more conventional way of key presses, the 7650 however utilises a small joystick situated in the middle of the phone. I found that after a bit of use it became second nature, however some people may not have the same opinion. Anyway, back to its main selling point, the camera. This is nicely built into the handset with the lens itself being on the flat side (the back in effect) of the handset, this allows you to use the front screen as a viewfinder and the joystick pressed to take the photo. All in all it is a very classy looking bit of equipment and I, like I suspect the majority of people the minute they get hold of one, had a good play round with it and took photos of all and sundry around me ! Although it did at first feel very awkward to handle due to its size I was amazed at its ease of use. I actually managed to take photos without ever once consulting the manual. Again I think most people are proficient enough to find their way round a phones menu (especially Nokias which is renowned for its simplicity) so I wont waste time giving exact key presses. Suffice to say follow the menu driven instructions and you too will be snapping away to your hearts content. Snapping incidentally is an appropriate word because you can set the handset to make a very “camera like” click, I found this a bit too gimmicky though so set this to silent. OK, you’ve taken a photo, now what? Well, there’ s a multitude of things you can do. First and foremost you can send the photo to another mobile user. Now at this point I must confess my ignorance and admit I don’t know how far advanced the other networks are as far as photo messaging is concerned but I know Orange can send a photo to anyone, irrespective of network or the type of handset. The network part of that statement needs no explaining but perhaps I should mention at this point that the photo will only actually appear on another handset if it is technically advanced enough to display it, at present Orange have 2 such handset, the 7650 and an Ericcson… yyyuuuuukkkk ! If you don’t have a compatible handset you will just receive a text message with an internet address and a password, to see the photo you must then go on-line to the given url and enter the password when prompted, hey presto, the photo appears !! Aaaahhh now, sending a picture real time ! This is where I got the title from, for those of you who haven’t already twigged why I suggest not getting one if your having an affair let me give you a scenario. A husband is how shall we put it, playing away, and has told his wife that he is working late at the office. He then goes off on a secret rendezvous with his other woman. Now unfortunately for this chap his wife has an inkling something’s not quite right and rings him. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t cause him a problem, he’d simply say “yes pet, still at the office”. Now though his wife can ask him to prove it by taking a photo of said office ….. uuuuuummmmmmm, get out of that one when your stuck miles away in a country pub or in another woman’s bedroom !!! Anyway, now I’ve warned off potential philanderers to the dangers lets get back to the serious stuff, what else can you do with the photos because believe me at something like 30p – 40p per message you will soon run up a pretty prohibitive bi ll. Well for starters you could always upload them to a laptop or PC, it’s a very straightforward process using the infra-red function. Another use for them is to store a person’s picture against their entry in the phone book, this will then show when they call you. Thinking about it this has another quite useful use too. Just imagine, you can now see a picture of that lass/lad you chatted up last night and see if they’re worth ringing or was it just the beer goggles that forced you to promise to call? The memory of the phone is dynamic, which simply means the more entries you have in say your phone book the less pictures you can store in the memory, this works the other way as well of course so make sure you clear out unwanted pictures at regular intervals. The very impressive 4mb memory will hold on average between the 50 and 70 high-resolution (640 x 480) pictures depending on the use of the other functions. OK, now for the boring techy type bits; First of all its 114mm x 56mm x 26mm and weighs in at 154g, not massive by any stretch of the imagination but noticeably bigger than the majority of current handsets. The “quoted” talk time is 4hrs with 144hrs standby which if true is not too bad, I cant substantiate those figures though because I never really used it long enough to get a feel for its true battery capabilities. I must admit to being a bit doubtful as the battery itself is the same as that in the 8210, a much smaller and less functional handset whose quoted battery usage is considerably less. Some of the other more note worthy functions it has include; Bluetooth. Worthy of an opinion in itself but unfortunately I haven’t got either the expertise or experience of using it to do it justice so I’ll have to make do with saying that Bluetooth simply allows you to communicate remotely using the handset, PC, laptops etc via way of a headset. Not a very e nlightening explanation I know but this is a little used piece of equipment/software at the moment and is nowhere near being used extensively by the majority of mobile users. WAP. I have never been a big fan of this but at least the 7650 lets you see colour pictures on what are to all intents and purposes very limited small internet sites. GPRS. Basically a slightly faster way of gaining access to the internet when connected up to a laptop or PC, this also allows faster viewing of WAP pages. High Speed Date. An even faster way of accessing the internet, with this you can get up to speeds of 28.8kb, very much dependent on network capability though as well as subscribing to higher cost tariffs. E-mail. Send and receive e-mails on your phone, the phone will also play any sound clips you receive with your e-mails. Loudspeaker. This allows you to set the phone up so that you can talk into it while its on your desk top and hear incoming calls hands free. Dual Band. What phone isn’t nowadays? Use it abroad just about anywhere. Java. Allows you to download java applications onto your phone, this could be stuff like spreadsheets or word processing programs, basically allowing you to set up your handset as a very basic PDA. There are also numerous java enabled games available if you are that way inclined. Games. Yep, its got a couple, the standard “Snake”, looks good in colour, and MixPics, a jigsaw type game. Voice dialling. Record a name against one of your contacts and dial it automatically via voice command. InfraRed. To connect to laptops, PC’s, PDA’s etc. Downloadable/recordable ringtones. This one can be a lot of fun, most phones now can download or receive ringtones, problem is of course they cost you and are in some instances crap ! This handset though can utilise its voice recorder to make its own via say a favourite CD, a favourite qu ote off a cartoon character on the TV, your own voice etc and then save it as your ringtone. Daft really but a lot of fun if you use your imagination !! Polyphonic ringtones. This gives you a lot better tune than the standard and does allow you to play samples off a CD and actually recognise them! It has all the usual other stuff as well, predictive text, phonebook, to do lists, calendars, clocks, profiles etc etc but there cant be many people about who don’t know about them. If you don’t and you really want to know just have a read through some of my other handset reviews where most of them are covered off in detail as and when they were introduced. So in summary does the camera make the 7650 a worthwhile investment? It is after all coming in at around £199 - £299 depending on what contract you go onto. Well I’m afraid to say in my opinion that’s a no. The camera is a nice gimmick and it does provide opportunity for a bit of fun, this though loses its novelty value after a while and you begin to find the extra bulk of the phone and awkwardness in use (i.e texting) a bit of a bind. After a couple of nights out with it and a few days in the office I found myself reaching for my trusty old 8210. The quality of the pictures are pretty basic as well, and that’s at the highest setting of 640 x 480 resolution (there’s 2 others, medium and low which are basically a waste of time), please don’t ask me to explain about resolutions and stuff because I haven’t a clue, however I do know that they are nowhere near as clear or well defined as my very basic digital camera …. then again though I think that guy having an affair would particularly want them to be clear would he !!!!!. Oh by the way, as an added reason not to buy it just yet there’s another Nokia out shortly which actually records and plays back video recordings ….. now that now does give opportunity for some fun !!!! .
Me and the lads try to get away with just our children at least a couple of times a year and have had some really cracking holidays, none more so than the two occasions we have travelled up to Haggerston Castle near Berwick on the Scottish borders. This place has proved ideal for the sort of holiday we want on these occasions. We want to be able to just sit and relax and have a few beers and a bit of crack without having to worry about what the kids are up to. Obviously to achieve this certain criteria have to be met, first and foremost it has to be safe for the children who range from 8 – 14. Secondly, there has to be something to keep them occupied and thirdly, there has to be something to keep us adults happy apart from beer !! Well, Haggerston Castle certainly meets these points on every score … and then some. The way I’ll demonstrate this is by taking you through what has turned into a typical weekend for us over the last two years and what will hopefully continue for the next few till the kids are too old to want to go away with their dads !! We travelled up on the Friday morning arriving in Haggerston early afternoon, the place itself is very easy to find with the distinctive tower (hence the name) being visible from miles around and the turning itself being well sign-posted on the main road. So anyway, once inside we went and waited in the bar area … surprise surprise until it was time to be allocated our caravan for the weekend. The process for this is very efficient with the various standard of caravans being allocated a certain booking in time. When your allotted time is up you go into the check in area and tell them your name and they in return give you a pack containing details of where you are, maps, passes etc. Once you’ve got this info it’s off to the car to find your home for the weekend, this is always a little bit exciting for the kids but nerve racking for us. Will it be big enough, will it be in a good location, is it miles away from the pub? You know, all the important things !! To help you in this quest they do supply you with a very detailed map with your own caravan, and route, highlighted and it is usually pretty easy to find your way as the various areas are well sign-posted and the caravans clearly marked. You also get given a very clear map of the site on which your caravan is highlighted to make it even easier for you. So there we are, we find our caravan and go through the usual ritual of arguing over whose getting what room and forcing the kids to unpack the cars we simply let them loose and off they go. This is usually the last we see of them till they either get hungry or run out of money which unfortunately as far as money goes is not too long in this place, but more on that later. After enjoying this little bit of peace and quiet we will walk up to the central area where most of the action happens and have a look about ourselves. Luckily on our two visits we have always been within a few minutes walk of the main area which is handy for just popping back and forth. A word of warning at this point, some places on the park do have a considerable longer walk which I don’t think I’d find quite as good. So if you have any elderly or not so mobile people in your party it may be worth bearing this in mind when you book, I’m sure they would be willing to try and place you in a convenient area if you asked them. Anyway, to get into the main amusement area where the majority of the entertainment is found you will need a pass, these cost around about a fiver per person and come in your welcome pack. In theory you have to have these every time you go in here but we have found that the security guards do show a little bit of common sense if you have forgotten your pass and let you in anyway. Obviously they do ask that you bring the pass next time and it is b est to try to as it may be a new guard who doesn’t recognise you. The first thing that hits you when you enter this area is the noise, there are dozens of machines in here ranging from fruit machines to arcade games. These make enough noise in themselves but when you add loads of screaming kids (and attendant screaming adults) it is a bit hard on the eardrums. So anyway, these machines might give you a bit of a clue as to one of the many black holes the money drains into. On our first visit we made the mistake of giving the kids their whole allowance for the weekend on the first day … big mistake as it was gone in the first hour and the reason was now plain to see !! This year we simply allocated them half a day’s money at a time which seemed to work a bit better as they didn’t think they had as much to waste in the machines and hence stayed off them a bit more. Didn’t stop me using them though but that’s a different matter !!! Within this same area is a shop selling all sorts of toys and other bits and pieces, mainly souvenirs. I cant say I was too impressed with the quality of stuff in here but the kids were so another black hole was identified. Not only were your eardrums attacked in this area but also your nostrils were tempted to part with some more money by the BurgerKing outlet conveniently placed right next to the walkway. If you managed to get past here you were confronted by a bank of those machines where you feed in a 20p coin and manipulate the grabber to try and pick up a cuddly toy. What is it with these machines that make you pour in pound after pound in a futile attempt to pick up a toy that you could probably but for half the price in the shop ? So by now you might be getting an idea of where the money goes so I would strongly suggest to you that if you do let your kids loose in here you make sure they are disciplined enough to resist the temptatio ns …. yeah right, like there is such a thing as a disciplined kid !! Once you get round the corner however a more adult orientated money waster is confronted … a bookmakers !! Unfortunately my mates are similar to me in this respect and can not resist a bet now and again so now it was our turn to test our resolve, we managed on this particular occasion I’m pleased to say. I have got to admit though it is a very handy service to have on the site. We found this out the next day when we watched the football on the big screen in one of the bars and decided we fancied putting on a few bets on to make the afternoon more interesting. At this point in the building you have a few choices as to which way you go so rather than try to give you a guided tour I’ll simply list the various areas and facilities and give you an overview of what they were like. The bar. This is the only area that is restricted to adults only and as a result seems to be very quiet and in truth, a bit boring. This might just be because we never went there late on preferring the main cabaret hall or it could be because it is boring, who knows? What I would say though that if you just want a quiet drink this is probably your best bet. We weren’t just after a quiet drink though so we gave it a miss. The sports bar This was more our style and was our home for most of Saturday afternoon when the football was shown live on the big screen, the fact that it was a live match obviously brought in a lot of people. These were mainly blokes of course and there was plenty of good-natured banter as the various tops portrayed their owner’s allegiance. Also in the bar was a full size snooker table and two pool tables which all in all meant that a fair few people visit this place and it has a really good atmosphere. Cabaret 1 This is as far as the adults are concerned the epicentre of the com plex, at least on an evening when the entertainment is usually pretty good, the hall is split into three levels which seems to help the atmosphere somehow. The focal point of the room is obviously the stage, which is unusually positioned, in the far corner. This however doesn’t affect the view and in fact I actually believe it helps it. The main reason I can see why it is positioned in this way is to make way for the really important area …. the bar, this is massive which is just as well I suppose taking into account the size of the hall and the amount of people it holds which I would imagine is in the region of 500 –1000. They do operate a fairly strange queuing system at the bar however which I haven’t come across before in a pub setting. The best way I could describe this is the way the likes of Argos operate, you decide what you want and queue for an assistant, you then tell this assistant what you want and pay your money. She then gives you a ticket and you go to the appropriate point at the bar where the person behind the bar shouts out your details and serves you the drinks. It does seem to work pretty well although I do have a few slight criticisms, firstly there are about 4 tills which is fine, the problem is people are allowed to queue either side of this and the assistant will swap from side to side serving one from each queue. This obviously gives the ignorant queue hoppers the chance to swap sides as the situation suits. There’s nothing more frustrating than to be queuing patiently on your side with maybe 3 or 4 in front of you and have someone nip in the other side and hence get served before you. If everybody were made to queue the same side it would stop this. It’s a little point but it would stop a little bit of frustration and everyone would get served in the same amount of time. The second slightly annoying thing about this system is that once you’ve ordered and went to the bar that’s it, there’s no going back and asking for something else without joining the queue again. So if you’ve forgotten to get your partners bag of nuts or whatever its tough, the person behind the bar cant serve anything other than what’s on the ticket. Apart from the above niggles though the system is very efficient and a welcome change from the normal mad scrambles you get in places like this. What about the entertainment ? Well, they don’t seem to have any big names or high class acts but they do get the balance right. By that I mean you have to take into account children are allowed in this area so they have to be entertained as well as the adults, this they do achieve with just about enough variety to keep everyone happy. On the times we have been in there we have seen acts such as solo singers, tribute groups, magician show and a “scary” horror show. There is also the compere who pulls it all together and again, he manages to strike the right balance between the kids and adults. All in all, you can guarantee that you will have a good night in here. It is actually one of the main bits we look forward to because once we’ve settled into our seats the kids can just come and go as they please between here and the amusements and we know they’re OK and we can relax and enjoy the night. Oh yes, one last thing. It is a good idea to get in here before about 9 o’clock as it tends to fill up round about this time when people move up from the smaller hall. Cabaret 2 This is Bradley Bears lair, whose Bradley Bear I hear you ask. Well, he’s Haggerstons kids favourite, he is a guy dressed in a big bear suit that wanders around the site during the day playing with the kids. On the night he has his own little show in the smaller of the two cabaret halls. This is really targeted though at the younger kids, we have watched bits and pieces of the show and it is quite entertaining …. not entertaining enough to drag us away from the main hall mind but I can see why the kids enjoy it so much. After Bradleys finished his spot on here they also have kids discos, games and the like. This place does tend to be fuller early on though with the majority of the people moving up to the big hall later on. Café There are actually two cafes on the site, with the first in the main building probably being the busiest. This is not because it is any better but because the majority of people spend time in that area rather than walk up to the other one which is situated about 5 – 10 minutes walk away. The food and refreshments in both is pretty average and is the type of fayre you would normally expect. If I were to have one complaint about either of them it would be the speed of service in the quieter one. On the three occasions we have been in there we have noticed the service is very slow compared to the main one, I suppose though if your willing to walk up there your not really in a rush so that doesn’t matter. Golf course. There is a golf course on the site as well, which we have visited twice. The course itself is not the most challenging in the world but it is of a good standard and well marked out and maintained. We have though found that it is a little compact with a lot of the fairways running parallel with each other, this does make it a little bit risky when there’s other golfers on there and we have had one or two near misses. I would also imagine that the caravans near it have had a fair bit of damage to them from stray balls as some of them are well within reach of a poorly hit shot but I suppose that’s a risk worth taking to offer another excellent facility. The course itself is open to anybody and the prices are very reasonable, we only paid £4 for a round with the hire of clubs only being another couple of quid. The standard of the equipment is quite high as well and if you hunt through the hire sets on offer there is really good quality makes available. In summary, an excellent facility that is well worth visiting on a nice sunny afternoon. Boating lake For those of you who would prefer something a little more sedate there is the opportunity to hire pedal boats to cruise around the very scenic main lake. This is probably the nicest setting on the whole site with some of the caravans around the lake occupying really nice positions with lovely views across the lake. To take advantage of this you can hire a boat and spend an hour or so just drifting around, not our idea of fun but there are plenty of people who do enjoy this so another useful little attraction. I would say that I would like to see them allow fishing on here, which they don’t. In actual fact don’t think it is deep enough to hold any decent sized fish anyway. This I suppose is probably wise as there is obviously a lot of kid’s play around these areas and the deeper the water obviously the more dangerous for them. Setting this safety angle (pardon the pun) aside though fishing is a popular pastime and I’m sure a lot of people would like to see these lakes stocked and fished. From my own personal point of view it would certainly give me another reason for staying more often. Tennis courts There is a couple of tennis courts situated near the main area and equipment can be hired on site, as with most places though this facility seems to be quite busy and the courts always appeared to be fully occupied ….. not that we were after anything so energetic !! Bowling green A less energetic “sport” if ever there was one. Again though we didn’t really have much interest in participating in this although it was quite busy. It does appear to be in excellent condition although I mus t confess to not really having a clue as to how good it actually is because I have never played the game and wouldn’t really know a goo bowling green if it came up and bit me !! Football pitch. This is more my area of expertise and we did break away from our relaxation to have a quick game. It isn’t a full size pitch and is just yards away from the café buildings which makes it a bit frustrating because you cant really start smacking the ball around like you would on a proper pitch but it did serve its purpose. On that particular day we soon ended up having around about 20 people joining in, a fair few of who were Scottish, naturally enough I suppose as we were near enough in Scotland ! Anyway, nationalistic pride soon took over and we ended up taking sides and ending up in a full blooded England v Scotland game, England won of course !!! Bike Hire/Kart Hire. For those of you who are still energetic there is the option to hire a bike or a 4 seater kart on-site. The problem is though there isn’t really anywhere to go other than round and round the site so it’s a bit pointless. Of course you could always hire them for a few hours and bike off site somewhere, the thing is though the cost would be a bit off putting. I seem to remember it worked out at over a tenner an hour, expensive exercise !! Swimming Pool. There is 2 pools on the site, an indoor and an outdoor. Unfortunately the outside pool has always been closed when we are there but it is a fairly large sized affair with plenty of seating areas around it to just sit and chill out. The indoor is a different matter, it has always been absolutely packed out so we have never bothered going in, the kids have though and they loved it. So there we are, practically a full tour of the site. There are of course the other normal things you would expect on a site of this size, a couple of takeaways, a newspaper/gift shop, a supermar ket etc etc. Incidentally a word of advice, if you do intend to cook for yourself and plan to get in groceries I would suggest you either bring your own or pop up to Berwick to a local supermarket as the on-site shops prices are pretty high in comparison. I suppose its to be expected in a way as to all intents and purpose they do have a captive market, we though just jumped in the car to stock up on the essentials …. bacon, eggs, bread, beer etc !! To summarise then I would say that this place is absolutely spot on for a nice well balanced family holiday, its neither too loud nor too quiet and there is plenty to do during the day and the night to keep both kids and adults happy. Unfortunately I do not have a price guide to offer you as our visits have been courtesy of the Sun’s £9.50 holiday offers. However, I have noticed one or two brochures around the place where the going rate seems quite reasonable. The prices of course are dependent on season but if I remember rightly they seemed to be around about the £100 - £200 mark per caravan for a long weekend which is excellent value. You could of course always ring them on 01289 381333 for more details. Put it this way, if we can’t get another deal off the Sun we won’t mind paying that sort of money, it is worth it. We will be going again.
Depending on your experiences of Butlins the above comment could be construed as either being positive or negative. It’s not really meant to be either, its just that walking around the Bahia Principe complex the manner of the set up reminded me of an up market version of this popular English holiday camp. This was mainly based on the way the apartments were set out and the way the “entertainment” and main areas were all in a central location. However, I will explain more similarities as I go through the review. So, where am I talking about ? Well, its an all inclusive complex called the Bhia Principe in Rio San Juan on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, for those of you familar with this island or just simply looking it up on a map its just up the road from Sosua, supposedly one of the bigger "towns" in the Dominican and Playa Dorado which is a huge man made resort made up simply of lots of all inclusive complexs. So anyway, thats the geography out of the way, back to the opinion. First of all I want to take you back to the airport and the transfer where there is some information which you will find useful if you visit this place yourself. When you actually arrive in the Dominican you have to pay an immigration tax, this has to be paid before you go through passport control. Believe me when I say you would be well advised to rush to the counter where you pay for your form, it’s on the left as you go in and the queues are horrendous. This can be paid in sterling, US dollars or Dominican pesos. It costs either £9, $10 or 200 pesos per person. As you can see from these prices it is marginally cheaper to pay in dollars. Once you have your form it is then a bit of a pain to fill in with quite a bit of info needed. There are only a couple of tables provided for this (but no pens) so like I said above try and get in the queue first otherwise you end up sitting on the floor doing it. You then go through customs in the normal way showing your passport and this form, they then stamp it and give you a section back … DO NOT LOSE THIS !! You need it to get back out of the country (which incidentally costs you the same again) As with most foreign airports there are numerous porters around willing to carry your bags. Usually you can just tip these what you want but in the Dominican they are expected to be paid a set price which is £1 per item, they are not as pushy as most places and a polite no will ensure they don’t hassle you too much. Once on the bus a rep from the Bahia Principe resort will place a plastic band on your arm, this denotes your level of all inclusive (there are 2 – more about that later) They will also at this point actually allocate you a room number which I found quite unusual. I thought perhaps this was to speed the booking in process up but it isn’t. Basically what it is for is for you to put the room number tag on your cases as soon as you leave the bus, these are then left where they are, porters then load them onto little buses which deliver them to your room. The actual booking in process is much the same as you experience in normal resorts and didn’t really cause us any problems, they were pretty helpful and seemed to have a good understanding of English. They also supplied a very detailed map which showed exactly where our apartment was, finding it was therefore not the nightmare you sometimes experience. When we got to our apartment our luggage hadn’t been delivered and although in theory this service is quite a good idea it was a bit frustrating as we had to wait nearly 45 minutes before they got round to us. This meant that we had to sit around in our travelling gear when we would rather have been out in shorts exploring the complex. So take another tip and put some light clothes in your hand luggage in case this happens to you. Again, when these porters arrived they expect to be tipped a £1 a bag and they were actually quite rudely miffed when I only gave them £1 because that was all I had. OK, what’s the apartments like? They are very spacious with only minimal furniture, this includes the bed/s, 2 bedside cabinets, a chest of drawers with 4 drawers, a fridge and a couple of comfortable chairs. As well as this there was a large in built wardrobe with more shelf space and hanging rails. There was then a separate bathroom which again contained only the necessary, toilet, sink, bath and shower. Every room has its own balcony with 2 plastic chairs and a table. Although the views from most of them were only overlooking the backs of other apartments, this though isn’t as bad as it sound’s as there was gap of about 30 – 40 yards and nicely spaced between immaculately kept gardens and pathways. Some of the optional stuff you can have in your room is a safety deposit box which costs 30 pesos (about £1.30) a day, the keys for this have to be got from reception so it might be an idea to get them when you book in. I would certainly recommend using this box as I was not very impressed with the security of the patio doors. The locking mechanisms weren’t very secure at all, in fact ours was easily opened by simply pushing the door back and forth ! Also, the maids seemed to leave the balcony doors unlocked every day as well for some reason. I’m not suggesting that the place is a burglars paradise, in fact far from it as there were always loads of staff wandering around who would more than likely have spotted someone climbing onto balconies, however, it does give you that extra piece of mind because you never know. You can also purchase the use of a mini-bar as well, a fact which I found strange as it is an all-inclusive resort and I would have thought if they had this option it should have been free. Alas though it wasn’t so I didn& #8217;t bother with it and just brought drinks from the bar back to the room if I wanted one. Another strange quirk was the fact that there was no remote control for the TV, believe it or not if you wanted one you had to hire it. These were found at the same place as you hired umbrellas and towels. Again strangely you couldn’t just hire one or the other you had to get all three items or none at all. So anyway, in summary the rooms were functional and all you would really expect, they were not the best in the world but they were comfortable and they had very efficient air conditioning units which turned out to be a godsend. One last thing about the apartments, the maids had a habit of placing numerous little flowers around the room and in the bathroom every time they cleaned. Although this was quite a novelty and romantic the first couple of times it did become a bit of a drag every time and these ended up getting thrown in the bin on a regular basis which spoilt the initial effect somehow. Well, that’s the apartments sorted, now what about the setting. This is where I got the first of the Butlins comparisons. Basically the apartments are set out in 5 straight lines radiating from both sides of the reception area, there is a line of 3 storey at the back, then 4 lines of 2 storey blocks. As I mentioned earlier the view from the majority of them was the back of the next line. The above wasn’t as bad as it sounds because they were separated by beautifully kept gardens full of tropical plants and palms which on a night came alive with crickets and other such creatures that come together to make that distinctive “foreign” night time sound. As an added bonus these gardens were also home to a lot of humming birds and it was amazing to see them in action whizzing between and hovering in amongst the bushes ….. I guess that’s something Butlins doesn’t have !! Anyway, I& #8217;m digressing …. running centrally down these lines of apartments and through the gardens are “mini-roads”. These were just about big enough for the small staff vans and trailers to drive up and down. Branching off these were smaller paths which went between the blocks and joined the whole pathway network up. Once you got used to these they were very easy to navigate as the blocks are very clearly sign-posted and although it does look, and feel, like a bit of a maze at first you very quickly become used to it and end up finding the quickest way around. An interesting aspect of these paths was the fact that they were home to hundreds of little lizards. These fellows were only on average about 3 inches long and had a habit of standing that still you didn’t see them till the last minute when they would scoot away in front of you. This didn’t bother me but I saw my girlfriend and numerous other people jump back startled a number of times. If you didn’t fancy walking around either because of the lizards or simply because you couldn’t be bothered there was several “buses” that went back and forth around the complex. These were simply little vans with trailers on the back, if you wanted to hop on one all you had to do was flag the driver down and tell him where you wanted to go. Incidentally for those of you who may request, or want, a sea view there are the only a few which actually overlook the sea. As I said earlier the rooms are allocated on the bus so make sure you say you have booked a sea view. I don’t know whether it will help at all but I do know that a couple of parties tried to change their rooms at reception and they were having none of it. As far as they were concerned the rooms allocated on the bus were the ones you were having. Right, back to the tour, I’ve explained the basic layout of the apartment blocks and although it is not all as strictly regimen ted as it sounds it is in the main the way it is laid out. What I’ll do now is take you on a walk around the complex highlighting the different areas and telling you a little about them as we go. Incidentally one thing I did notice was the easy accessibility of everywhere for disabled people with numerous ramps strategically placed around the complex for those in wheelchairs. The only places that couldn’t be accessed were upstairs apartments which could only be reached via the stairways. The beach is within easy walking distance of every apartment, we were in the last but one row away from it and still only had a 2 minute walk before we hit the sand. The beach itself was a little bit of a disappointment in as much that it wasn’t the white sand, clear blue sea image you usually associate with the Caribbean. It was very sandy though (just not white !) but it wasn’t very wide, in the main there was only space for maybe a couple of rows of sun-beds between the gardens and the ocean. This meant that it did tend to feel like a bit of a busy street with people walking back and forth among you while you were sunbathing. The layout of the sunbathing areas was (apart from the width aspect) excellent with plenty of palm trees and permanent umbrellas for shade if you wanted it. There was also more than enough for the amount of people there, apparently the complex was about 3/4 full but there was always loads of spare beds. The ocean itself was a bit of a disappointment (I sound a right misery guts here don’t I ?) as it was a bit rough. This wasn’t to do with the weather but more down to the fact that we were on the Northern side of the island which faced the Atlantic which is a fairly rough ocean. This means that the sand gets stirred up close in-shore and gives the water a very murky appearance. It was though in fairness beautiful and warm and was almost like swimming in a warm bath, just no good for sn orkelling !! So, where did you get refreshments to go with your sunbathing and swimming? Well, there were three bars spread out along the beachfront, however, the central one was the only place you could get food. The range was pretty basic, hot dogs, burgers, chicken, pizza and chips being the only choices. The standard was average, we soon found that if you actually wanted something hot you had to keep an eye on the chef to see what he was preparing as the food was simply placed on display and left to stand until people asked for it. Hence if you didn’t time your approach right you ended up with cold food !! The range of drinks available were as you would expect …. lots of rum (white and brown) and a pretty standard mix of spirits. There was also in each bar a self-serve soft drinks dispenser and a lager pump. These were pretty disappointing with numerous instances of them either not working, being empty or dispensing warm drinks. On several occasions I found myself having to walk another few hundred yards to get drinks which is not really what you expect at a 4 star all inclusive resort !! Another let down on the drinks front was the fact that the “slush puppy” machines did not work properly and instead of getting a nice cold thick mix you got a warm mush. Now this might sound like a pretty petty thing to pick up on but my girlfriends favourite drink on last years Jamaican holiday (see my other review) was Strawberry slush puppy and rum and the fact that she couldn’t a decent one here meant I got the blame somehow !! An interesting point about the rum is the fact that I heard before I went that it was watered down by the staff, at first I didn’t believe this but I noticed the staff bringing the bottles out of storage one morning and putting them behind the bar. Now although I didn’t actually see them watering it down I was curious to note that all of the seals were broken. T his was despite there being something like a dozen full bottles of the same drink, obviously this is no sure fire indicator of anything sinister but I cant understand why they would need to open the bottles before they even get round to emptying the one in use ? Moving on from the bars I’ll now tell you about the restaurants of which there were three, four if you include the upgraded area which I’ll mention later. I wont bother reviewing each of them separately as they were all much the same. Firstly there is the Italian, which on an evening you can only use if you’ve booked at least a day in advance (and your only allowed to do this once a week) but during the day doubled up as a breakfast area. The other “themed” restaurant is the Mexican, this applies the same booking rules as the Italian. The third, and main restaurant, is situated in the centre of the complex and is open morning till night. Unfortunately the standard of the food in here did leave something to be desired. This wasn’t because it was not cooked well, far from it as the standard was quite high. It was simply down to the fact that the way it was displayed and set out meant that if you didn’t get it as it was put out you ended up with cold food. The range was adequate with a few different dishes being available each night for a bit of variety, however, these were mainly meat based so if you don’t like meat (my girlfriend being a prime example) the choice was a bit limited. The themed restaurants had a slightly different feel to them as they had waiter service. However, the fact that you had to pick your dish when you booked the day before left you feeling as if you were in some sort of fast food set up, at least it was hot though. I won’t waste too much time reviewing the food and service as it was pretty average. It might though give you an idea as to the size of the helpings when I tell you we walked out when we were finished (on both nights) and headed straight for the main restaurant because we were both still hungry. The main restaurant incidentally is where another of the Butlins comparisons manifests itself as the general layout and hustle and bustle of the place reminded me of the restaurant at Skegness Butlins. Oh yeah, and the coke in the drinks machine in the main restaurant NEVER worked the whole week !! The breakfasts portrayed much the same story of good choice but usually cold, it was in the main continental type of breakfast food with very little chance of a good old English fry up. There was though two days where they had traditional Cumberland sausages …. I ate enough that morning to keep me going all week ! Again though the soft drink dispensers left a lot to be desired. On a morning you got extra choice of milk, orange, grapefruit, pineapple etc but again the machines were usually either empty or warm. One final point on the subject of restaurants, I mentioned earlier that there are two levels of “all inclusive”. If you chose to go for the upgraded version you got another restaurant included in the package which was restricted to upgrades only, these were identified by a blue arm band instead of the standard green. However from what we could see this restaurant looked to be a very similar set up to the others. This impression seemed to be backed up by the fact that there were always a lot of blue armbands in the other restaurants so theirs couldn’t have been that much better. Right, enough whinging about food. Lets continue on our walk around, incidentally the reason I couldn’t give a more detailed description of the above restaurant is because on this walk round if you had a green band you weren’t allowed near the upgraded area by the security guards !!. Right, let’s carry on, what about swimming ? Well, for those of you who don’t like swimming in the sea there were 2 swimming pools on the complex, with another one being built. The main one was located in the centre of the complex adjoining the main building, it was a very unusual shape and quite large although it didn’t actually have a “deep end” as such. This I suppose is sensible in this type of complex where there is a lot of children. I was quite surprised at the cleanliness of the pool though because despite the fact that there was someone cleaning up every day it did seem to be a bit dirty with a lot of very unsightly stains and floating debris. It did have a swim up bar which is a nice feature, however, for some reason not a lot of people seemed to take advantage of this which was unusual, perhaps they were as impressed as I was with the state of the pool. The second pool was a lot smaller and a more traditional square shape. It was set well off from the main area and surrounded by thick hedges, this made it quite private and a lot more peaceful than the main pool area and was ideal if you just wanted some peace and quiet. It wasn’t always quiet though as it was occasionally used for the free scuba diving lessons which you were allowed one of a week, this was a very popular offer and a lot of people would descend on the pool at these times. However, I didn’t take advantage of this so I’m afraid I can’t comment as to how good the lessons actually were. Next to the second swimming pool there was also a “games” kiosk, in here you could hire various bits of sports equipment, table tennis bats, tennis rackets, footballs etc. They also catered for the less strenuous activities with several board games being available …… this included Connect 4 which was that popular you could never get it !!! (Not of course that I was sad enough to want to play it on holiday in the first place) If you fancied something a little bit more energetic than board games you were also catered for with several options. Firstly there was a table tennis table on the beach next to the main pool, alongside this was a volleyball court (one of 3 on the complex) on the beach itself. If football is more your thing there was also next to the main pool a beach football pitch, the goals of which also doubled up as water polo nets for the pool. This was by no means the end of the sports facilities available, if you wandered around to the far end of the complex you came across a full size football pitch and a couple of basketball courts. Also in this area was about half a dozen tennis courts which seemed to be in continual use !! Tennis for me however is just a little bit too much in the blazing sunshine so I settled for a game of “Crazy golf”. Unfortunately though the course itself was pretty disappointing with next to no obstacles, debris all over the place and ripped felt on what was supposed to be the “fairways”. We didn’t bother playing again. You could, if you so wished, also hire a bicycle from the hut next to this crazy golf area. However, as there wasn’t really anywhere to go other than around the complex we couldn’t really see the point. I think a lot of people agreed with this as we saw very few people actually riding bikes all week, most just used their own legs or jumped on the very regular trailer services. Despite my earlier comment about tennis being a bit much in the sun I did partake in a little bit of exercise while I was there and that was in the on-site gym. This in itself was fairly basic with only 4 exercise bikes, 1 multi-gym and a couple of standard weight benches to use with the weights. It also had the 2 or 3 obligatory posers who hogged the weight benches. These guys seemed to be either residents or staff and had the run of the gym including the choice of music which was usually some sort of heav y funk sound. Unfortunately the culmination of these factors didn’t really make it a place you wanted to spend a lot of time in so I only had 2 or 3 short workouts all week. The amount of other people using it (one or two at most on each visit) seemed to reflect my own impression of the place. So, that about wraps up the daytime out and about around the complex, what about the night ? Now I realise that some of the comments above might sound a bit negative, however, the entertainment at this place was absolutely pathetic. It consisted of the staff performing the same old routines every night, and unfortunately despite their obvious enthusiasm the standard was pretty dire. It became a bit of a standing joke between me and my girlfriend that if we walked past the main pavilion at various times of the evening we would without doubt hear one of three songs and see the same people on stage doing the same dances. If I told you that these songs/dances were “maccarena”, whigfileds “saturday night” and the “birdie song” (YES, the birdie song) you will begin to understand why I wasn’t too impressed. So what else was there to do on an evening? Unfortunately the short answer to this was not a lot, there was a night-club and a casino. These opened after 11pm when the complex’s “entertainment” finished. However, we never actually made it to either as we were usually that bored we had long since departed back to the apartment ! I did speak to a couple who went to the night-club and they confirmed we had made the right decision. Apparently the price of drinks (not included in all-inclusive) were extortionate, he mentioned £4 a pint with the quality of the music being along the lines of the aforementioned 3 songs !! I didn’t manage to find anybody who had visited the casino so unfortunately I can’t really comment on that, I did though have a look through the w indows during the day and it looked pretty basic so again I don’t think I missed much. The night-club and casino incidentally are actually just outside the main complex on a “road” leading into it. This road though is still part of the whole complex with gates at either end to stop any non-residents getting in. This road is lined on either side with purpose built shops in an array of bright colours, it does look very impressive at first glance but as with the complex as a whole it fails to deliver. We had numerous walks down this road on an evening and found very little to occupy us. There was a multitude of shops but they were quite basic and once visited there was nothing to draw you back. The “gift” shops were the usual mixture of tat and over priced souvenirs with very little choice, in fact there was that little available I ended up having to buy bottles of rum as presents …… not very imaginative but better received than some of the other options would have been. There was several other general shops on the road and a couple of café bars, curiously enough not all of these seemed to be open at the same time, nor did they seem to have any set opening hours. The spread of shops included a hairdressers, an internet café (never saw it open), a camera shop, clothes shop, ice cream parlour, medical centre, pool hall, sports bar etc etc. Oh yeah, a word of warning about this sports bar to the football fans amongst you, this bar advertises the fact that it screens all the big game action live. However, I happened to be there on FA Cup Final day and was distraught to find that they couldn’t actually pick it up because they didn’t have Sky Sports !! Now only you die hard footy fans will know how frustrating this is so bear it in mind when you book your holiday dates !! OK, back to the serious stuff …. one place that was open most of the time was the “ reps” office, this was where ALL of the various tour operators reps were based, it was at times a bit manic with about a dozen different reps holding court and a multitude of languages being spoke. I must admit though it was quite handy as you could always find a rep in here ….. it might not have actually been yours but they were all still willing to help which was good. Another place that was always open was the reception area, this seemed to be a constant hive of activity whatever time of day or night you went through it. It was a big open plan area full of massive palms and tropical plants with lovely big comfy chairs spread amongst them where you could just lounge around and watch the world go by. Reception did offer all of your usual services, one of which included money exchanging facilities. A word of warning … DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MONEY HERE !! The exchange rate is scandalous compared to the bank which is also situated in the reception area. I changed £50 at reception on the first day only to discover that if I had walked less than 20 yards to the bank counter I would have got almost £10’s worth extra of pesos (their currency), suffice to say I went to the bank every time after that. Another thing you should be aware of as far as “getting ripped off” is concerned is the situation with telephone charges, the basic call charges are bad enough costing in the region of £2.50 - £3 per minute for calls to the UK. These rates can be brought down a little by buying a phone card from the rep, which we did. However if you use this card from your room the hotel will still charge you a connection fee of nearly £1.30 a go. We weren’t warned about this charge (contrary to what the rep said when we complained) and ended up with £15 of unexpected charges on our account when we booked out, not a lot I know but annoying all the same !! So, be warned, if you buy a phone card, use the kiosks dotted aro und the complex and save yourself this connection charge. So, that’s about it. All in all I would have to say the Bhia Principe was a little disappointing and in hindsight we could have picked better. Yes, perhaps it is a bit unfair to compare it with Butlins but after my experience in Jamaica the year before (did I mention I’ve done a review on that?) it was certainly not what I expected and I couldn’t help feeling let down. Still, it hasn’t put me off the Dominican but if I return it certainly wont be to this particular complex, in fact it will not even be to the northern side of the island. If I ever go again I’ll make sure it’s the southern side so I can find that tropical paradise advertised on the bounty advert (the one with the gorgeous woman in the bikini) and get away from the images of Butlins that kept popping into my head !! Oh yeah, one final thing, they do have their own web site for those of you interested, its at www.bahia-principe.com/sanjuan_ing/sanjuan.htm
….. and if you don’t believe me count them yourself. But anyway, putting that little bit of trivia aside who is the real hero of this programme? Some say it’s Bart himself, others swear its Homer while there’s a hard core of Marge’s fans, there’s even a few who idolise little Lisa. Personally I don’t think it’s any of them … I think it’s the whole family unit and the interaction between them all that contributes hugely towards this being one of the best loved animated series ever. The family itself is largely named after the creator’s own family. Matt Groening is that man, his father was far removed from the Homer we know and love now, the only similarity being the name. The real Homer was a 2nd World War pilot who flew 35 missions over Europe including the D-Day invasion. In fact he won a Distinguished Flying Cross for his endeavours. Groening’s mother was actually called Margaret, artistic licence shortened this to Marge. He also had 2 sisters Lisa and Maggie who subsequently lent their names to the respective characters. The only difference from the real life Groening family (apart from the surname obviously) was Matt’s himself. It seems that he didn’t find that an appropriate name for the type of character he wished to create and instead used an anagram of brat to create …. BART !! He did however give Bart the same hairstyle that Matt himself had as a child. The above family, supposedly created in 15 minutes while he sat outside the off ice of a producer for the Tracy Ullman show was to become the bedrock for what was to become one of the most, if not THE most successful animated series ever. In fact the show became such a success that in January 2000 the Simpsons family were actually given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s hard to believe that there are so many well-balanced adults who are still enthr alled when that catchy theme tune comes on and you see the opening scenes. Come on, you know the one ….Homer rushing home from the nuclear plant with a radioactive nugget in his hood and Bart causing mayhem on his skateboard while Marge is in the supermarket scanning out baby Maggie. What exactly is it about that opening sequence that glues us to the screen ….. for me it’s the curiosity factor of wondering what the final scene with the settee is going to be. For those of you who have not seen this bit its where the whole family end up in the living room after the opening sequence (which is by and large the same every episode) and all congregate on the settee, nothing special about that you might say. Well, there is because every single episode has a different “settee scene”, this bit has actually grown into a show within a show along with a couple of other examples that I'll go into later in the review. Who would have thought when Matt Groening introduced us to this dysfunctional family way back in 1987 we would still be watching them so intently now? This introduction incidentally was via the Tracey Ullman show whose editors wanted an animated time filler between sets, they were originally shown as 30 second time fillers, however, they proved so popular that Fox decided to give them their own show. This was first aired on December 17th 1989. Not only are these shows still watched by millions there is also a massive business built up around the series with merchandising rights worth millions. For example the early issues of the spin off comic is such a collector’s item that it is changing hands for hundreds of pounds. And even more incredibly who would have thought you would end up with perfectly sensible, fully grown adults walking around going “doh” and slapping their heads whenever they said something stupid. For those that don’t know that is one of H omers catch phrases. Anyway, enough waffling, I think you get the idea that I’m a big Simpsons fan by now don’t you? So exactly how do I review such a mammoth phenomena? I thought long and hard about the best way to do this and the simple answer is I can’t , I could possibly have just listed the episodes and what they were about but without a bit of background knowledge that way wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who didn’t know who the Simpson’s were in the first place. I could even have done an in depth character analysis of just the main characters, again though without background information and an idea of who the other characters are this would have been pointless. I suppose I could have psycho analysed the family as a whole and come to the conclusion that they are indeed dysfunctional – whatever that means. Somehow though I don’t think that would have been too much fun to read. Then again I could maybe have put all the above together, that though would have taken me for ever and would have been more worthy of a book than a review. Besides as it stands at the moment it’s going to be another long one, that wont come as a surprise though to anyone who has read any of my other work! So how am I going to do it? Basically I am going to briefly introduce you to the main characters and a few of the lesser known ones. I’ll then also take you on a whirlwind tour around the town of Springfield where the story is based. Along the way I’ll throw in a few facts about the show you might not be aware of and attempt to give you an insight into the type of story lines and humour that this show has thrived on for so long. So, onto the characters, I could spend ages describing each and every one of these as each has their own endearing qualities (or not so endearing) and as such is a lot more worthy of a couple of lines. Ho wever, space and peoples boredom threshold prevents anything else so here goes. HOMER A 36 year old rumoured to weigh in the region of 17 stone, his favourite pastime is sitting on his settee drinking Duff beer watching TV, he works at the Springfield nuclear plant. In fact he holds the plant record for the most years worked at an entry-level position. As an example of how much of a no hoper he is at his high school reunion he won several trophies - most weight gained, most hair lost, most improved odour and person who has travelled least. His catchphrases are “doh” when he is upset and “mmmm” when he is tempted by something nice, usually food. MARGE Homers wife of 11 years. 34 year old with blue hair that’s almost the height of her body. Commonly recognised as the sensible one of the family although she has been known to get several hair brained (pardon the pun) ideas. Has held several unusual jobs in Springfield, most notably a brief period as a police officer, although usually level headed (again pardon the pun) she has been known to veer off the straight and narrow occasionally. These transgressions include shoplifting, gambling and almost having an illicit affair with the local bowling instructor. Not to be outdone in the catch-phrase stakes she has her own, this is an irritated sigh that she uses constantly when one of her brood has done something wrong. BART A 10 year old who hates school and is forever getting into trouble there. Hence the lines every episode. In fact he gets into that much trouble that the school actually has a by law written into its rules that states “no teacher will be held liable if Bart is killed while in school”. As you would imagine Bart has regular run ins with the Principal of the school - Seymour Skinner. He idolises Krusty the Clown, this perhaps explains his cruel sense of humour and the cruel practical jokes he plays on people. However he is usually caught out by his sister; LISA Lisa is 8 going on 28, definitely the goody two shoes of the family. Lisa loves playing the saxophone and is seen doing a solo in the opening sequence. She is definitely the brainy one of the family who almost always gets straight A’s at school. As is the case though with girls her age she continually has crushes on older men, and they’re usually British !! MAGGIE. The baby of the family, doesn’t really do a lot apart from suck on her dummy although she has had some major parts to play in some episodes. Including one episode where she led a riot at her local nursery school, she even managed to shoot Mr Burns by accident in a parody of the “Who Shot JR” episode. Although only one year old she has gained an enemy in Springfield, this is the one eyed baby who lives across the road. SANTAS LITTLE HELPER The Simpson family dog, was adopted by Homer and Bart after Homer lost his last $13 at Xmas after betting on him in a greyhound race which he finished last in. The above are the mainstays of the show although there are loads more, most of these only have rare appearances so I wont bother with these, however, there are some who appear regularly, these include; GRANDPA (Abraham) SIMPSON Homers father, he spends most of his time in the Springfield retirement home because despite loving his family he hates spending time with them, the feeling is mutual. Incidentally Marge doesn’t have a father in the series as he died in a roller-coaster accident. SELMA AND PATTY Marge’s sisters, these two twins hate Homer with a passion as they don’t think he is good enough for their sister. Will take every opportunity to prove this point. MR BURNS (Charles Montgomerry) <br> The eccentric owner of Springfield nuc lear plant, this provides employment for most of the men in the town. This makes him the most powerful man in Springfield. However he is physically weaker than a baby and seems to be wasting away. He makes up for this by picking on his workers and trying to make as much money out of them as he can, notoriously tight fisted. SMITHERS (Waylon) Mr Burns dogsbody who is willing to do anything for his master, there are murmurings of homosexuality in his feelings for Mr Burns. In fact he has a screen saver of a naked Mr Burns on his home PC. Incidentally this says “Smithers, you’re quite good at turning me on” and there has been several episodes which have hinted at there being more than a worker/employer relationship between the two. SEYMOUR SKINNER Better known as Principal Skinner, very much your stereotyped headmaster, everything has got to be perfect and he has no time for slackers and no-hopers. Of course this brings him into direct confrontation with Bart and it sometimes seems that Skinners sole purpose in life is to get Bart expelled. NED FLANDERS Homers long suffering neighbour, however as he is very religious he is always willing to forgive Homer his wrongdoings, Homer takes great pleasure in abusing this. Married to Maude who is the perfect partner for him. They also have children called Rod and Todd who follow in the family footsteps. MOE SZYSLAK Owner of Moe’s Tavern where Homer regularly partakes in his favourite beer. Moe is often the brunt of Barts practical jokes and falls for them every time. APU NAHASAPEEMAPETILON Owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, this is where Homer stocks up on his favourite food, donuts. BARNEY The town drunk. A harmless character who is always in Moe’s Tavern, surprise surprise. Is renowned for his belching. OTTO The cool but dozy school bus driver, boasts of having had numerous crashes but not one fatality. Friend to all the kids. MILHOUSE VAN HOUTEN Barts “best friend”, although being this close to Bart often means he is the butt of his jokes and pranks. CHIEF WIGGUM The towns Police Chief, very rarely does any police work but always investigates calls involving the donut shop, ice cream parlours and the food processor plant. KRUSTY THE CLOWN His real name is Herschel Krustovsky. Krusty is the towns celebrity, he runs a children’s show which Bart and Lisa never miss, he is however when not on TV a very cynical and money grabbing person. Bart loves him though and won’t hear a bad word against him. SIDE-SHOW BOB He used to be Krustys assistant and once tried to frame his boss for murder, Bart however saved Krusty and Side-show Bob went to jail. Since getting out his mission is to exact revenge on Bart. In fact he has a tattoo emblazoned on his chest saying “Die Bart Die”. The voices for all of the above are performed by a variety of different actors, however, there are several who do a lot of the characters, for example Dan Castellaneta does several regular characters including Homer, Grandpa Simpson, Lisa, Krusty etc, not to mention numerous one offs. Funnily enough the voice of Bart is actually done by a female, Nancy Cartwright. She has actually wrote a book of her experiences titled “My life as a 10 year old boy”. In addition to the fictional characters voices there are often celebrities who do voice overs, some of these play themselves, albeit in cartoon form !! The way they have worked these in is by writing stories into episodes that has allowed these celebrities to be part of the story. For example Mulder and Scully of X Files fame appeared in an episode where Homer had reportedly seen an alien. Mulder and Scully turned up to investigate as their own characters but realising Homer wasn ’t a creditable witness they soon leave. Other notable celebrities that have made such appearances are; Jerry Springer who played host to Homer and Marge when they were contesting a paternity case with an alien ….. a bit more believable than some stories on that show !! Tom Jones, the legendary singer was hired by Mr Burns for a private concert when he was trying to seduce Marge ….. didn’t work, in fact Homer ended up coming to the show as well. Ex President George Bush, he had the misfortune of being Homers neighbour and a whole episode was dedicated to their feud. While we are talking about this presidential link there was also political overtones to a recent blackboard gag of Barts during the Al Gore – Bush race. The lines Bart was shown writing were “I will not plant subliminal messaGOREs”. Individuals aren’t the only ones to appear on the show, in fact some major bands have also made appearances, the likes of U2 and The Who are included in the list. Paul and Linda McCartney also agreed to portray themselves. The latter however insisted that Lisa would remain a vegetarian throughout the shows run. So as you can see this show attracts the stars, in fact they often actually approach the producers themselves and ask to be included, there is loads that have appeared so far so I wont list them all but I have shown a few of the more notable ones below; Adam West (The original Batman) Bob Hope Buzz Aldrin (walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong) Leonard Nimoy (Spock) Jason Preistley Michael Jackson Mickey Rooney I mentioned earlier that the settee scene is almost a show within a show, well, this is only one such example. Other similar examples include “The Itchy and Scratchy” show which is basically a take off of Tom and Jerry, except in this version the cat always ends up getting killed in a very gory way. This is Bart and Lisa’s favourite programme and is guaranteed to keep them quiet. Another regular feature of the show (and one of my favourites) is the scene where Bart will ring Moes tavern and ask for someone by name, problem is this name is double edged and when shouted out can be misconstrued hence causing Moe great embarrassment. Some classic examples of this include; Al Kaholic Oliver Clothesoff I P Freely Homer Sexual Mike Rotch Amanda Hugginkiss They might not look much written down but try saying them out loud …… Bart also appears in another ongoing saga, this is in the opening sequences and is similar to the settee gags, this though is not always as noticeable as the settee as the props never change. What does change every week is the lines that Bart is seen writing on the blackboard as punishment for whatever he’s got caught doing. These are sometimes quite funny and are well worth watching out for, for the unobservant amongst you I’ve picked out a few of the funnier ones below ….. well, I think they’re funny anyway ! I will not drive the principal’s car I will not encourage others to fly I will not xerox my butt I will not sell school property I will not trade pants with others I will not grease the monkey bars I will not make flatulent noises in class I will not belch the National Anthem I will not conduct my own fire drills I will not hide behind the 5th amendment The truth is not out there (An ironic one at the start of the X-Files episode) As you can see from above you sometimes have to be quick to catch some of the humour, Groening plays on this quite a bit with a lot of “secret gags” thrown in throughout every episode. This is in a similar fashion to the “Airplane” type movies where you sometimes only catch a gag the second or third time you watch the scene . Watch carefully next time and you’ll see what I mean. So where does this all take place? Well, the town itself is called Springfield, it isn’t actually based on a real town although Springfield is apparently one of the most popular place names in the US. The town itself is dominated by the Nuclear plant on the outskirts of the town. There are numerous other locations in the town which feature in the show but I’ll only list some of the more popular ones below; The Burns Estate. This is without doubt the grandest house in Springfield owned by none other than Mr Burns. He is very safety conscious and has loads of dogs patrolling the grounds, not to mention a robotic security guard. Moes Tavern. The local drinking hole, it seems the only drink served here is Duff beer. It’s usually the same old regulars who appear in here, Homer, along with his mates from the nuclear plant Lenny and Karl, as well as Barney of course. Barneys Bowl-1-rama Another of Homers favourite locations, he is captain of his own bowls team and has spent many a happy night in here. However, it was once the scene of Marge’s flirtation with the local bowling instructor which very nearly turned into a full blown affair. Kwik-e-Mart Apu’s shop, in here he will sell just about anything he can make money on, even out of date food, which is invariably bought by Homer. In fact Apu is so commercially driven that he has even installed his own shrine in the shop so he doesn’t have to leave to worship (he’s a Hindu and very religious) and can stay open 24 hours. Noiseland Arcade. This is where the kids of Springfiled hang out and spend all their hard earned pocket money on video games. Springfield Elementary The school which Principal Skinner try’s to rule with a rod of iron. Last but certainly not least ……. 742 Evergreen Terrace. This is the home of The Simpson’s. In the past they have lived at different numbers but the writers have now consistently used 742 for the last couple of years. The street itself is named after the street Matt Groening lived in as a child. So there we are, if you didn’t know anything about The Simpson’s prior to this hopefully I’ve given you an insight into what this series is all about and the sort of humour it appeals to. With a bit of luck I might even have whetted your appetite to catch a few of them. Of course if you are one of the millions who know and love them already a lot of the above will be common knowledge, hopefully though a few pieces along the way will have been new to you and made it worth your while reading. So as Bart would say ….. “later dudes”.
Strange title I know but if you do manage to get to the end of this one (yep, it’s another mammoth review) you will understand the relevance. So, hands up those that have never heard of Ikea, not many I guess. I would imagine that there are not many people who haven’t seen the series of adverts that have been aired over the last couple of years. I could probably write a review on these alone as some of them are quite entertaining in their own right, however, at the end of the day they are simply a way of actually getting you to the shop itself so that’s what I’m going to concentrate on. First of all a bit of basic background information, Ikea is a Swedish company synonymous with good quality (usually cheap) functional furniture, however, its not just a furniture shop. In fact it’s more of a lifestyle as you’ll see as we go through the review. Despite it’s popularity (or maybe its one of the reasons?) there are only 10 branches in the UK, locations lucky enough to have these are; Birmingham (Tel 0121 5265232) Bristol (Tel 0117 9276001) Edinburgh (Tel 0131 4480500) Gateshead (Tel 0191 4610202) Leeds (Tel 01924 423296) Nottingham (Tel 0115 9386888) Warrington (Tel 01925 655889) London has 3 branches at; Brent Park (Tel 0208 2085600) Croydon (Tel 0208 2085601) Thurrock (Tel 01708 860868) These showrooms are usually open 7 days a week with very accessible opening hours, usually being from 10am on a weekday through to 10pm, with slightly reduced hours on a weekend – closing 7pm Saturdays and 5pm Sundays. (Check locally though because they do vary) My local Ikea is the Gateshead branch and I am “lucky” enough for it to be within pretty easy driving distance of where I live. Well actually if truth be known it’s 30 odd miles away but I would probably drive a bit further than that to get to it if I had to because I absolutely love the place. The fact that it is also right next door to one of the largest shopping centres in the UK also adds to its appeal. This isn’t because I’m an avid shopper, far from it. No its because I can use this as an excuse for visiting Ikea by offering to take my girlfriend shopping (can any woman resist that offer) and then dropping her off at the Metro entrance while I go for a wander around Ikea. By the way when I say a wander believe me I wander, I have been known to spend hours in there !! So what is it that makes me, and a helluva lot of other people find this place such a Mecca? Well I could say it’s the value for money or the wide range of home related furniture, then again I could say it’s the original stuff in there that can really make an impression in your house. It could be the inspiration you get from the room displays, maybe it’s the original TV adverts. It could even be the beautiful hot dogs they sell in the café at the exit but to just pinpoint one particular reason is impossible so I’ll try and cover as many of the reasons off as possible in a “walk through” the store style way. Now before I start this let me first say I have only ever visited the Gateshead branch so if the layout is not quite the same in your local branch please accept my apologies. However, the impression I get is that this company is very corporate orientated and as such will more than likely stick to the same tried and proven layouts in each of its branches. CAR PARKING OK, first off, you’ve managed to negotiate the car park. This in itself is sometimes a nightmare, especially if it’s a weekend or a bank holiday. In fact I try to stay away from Ikea at these times as they seem to be a magnet to thousands on these days and it spoils the experience (HELP, I cant believe I’m talking about a shopping trip as an experience ! !) But anyway, let’s ignore the car parking issue and carry on. The first decision you have to make is whether you take a trolley around or one of those silly yellow bags. I say silly because they are a very strange size which is neither nowt nor summat (ooops, bit Northern dialect creeping in there) and always, in my case at least, end up getting discarded half way around and swapped for a trolley. So, first hint, take a trolley to begin with, it will save you walking back for one later. KIDS SERVICES Next to the entrance is a small cinema that they very thoughtfully provide for the kids, this I think is a brilliant service for those that don’t want the little ones getting under their feet. Mine though wont have any of it as they love this place too and I haven’t a hope of getting them to stop in a cinema watching cartoons. There’s also little chance of them using the play area full of plastic balls either !! Again though, a thoughtful and possibly useful service for some people. Incidentally, before I go any further I wont bore you with a list style approach to all of the products available, that’s really a bit pointless and neither time, space or inclination is available for that here. So what I’ll do instead is simply take you for a walk around the store pointing out which section we are in as we go. I’ll then simply point out bits and pieces that are in each of these areas and try and give you good examples of the value for money (or otherwise) of the stuff available. I’ll also throw in a few examples of purchases I’ve made there in the past. I should also mention before I start that you will in most instances have to make a note of anything that takes your fancy as most of the displays are exactly that and you are not allowed to take anything away from them. To cater for this everything on the display (if it is sold in-store) will have a tag attached. These tags will give you all the information you need, this will include price, product name and where to find them. This is important information as you need to collect your choices from the self-serve warehouse at the end. Don’t worry though about taking a pen and paper with you as there are numerous dispensers dotted around the store where you can pick these up. There also plenty of staff around who can be approached (they never approach you which is nice) and who will usually be able to help you,. If they cant help you straight away there are numerous information points where the staff can check on the computer for whatever info you are after. Don’t worry about missing anything either as the layout of the showrooms are in such a way that you follow a logical path through the shop. This though can be short-cutted (if you know where your going) by going through any of the doors which join some of the areas together. Oh yeah, if you don’t fancy walking around the store blind as it were there is a couple of ways to avoid this. CATALOGUE Firstly, they do have an excellent catalogue, this can be picked up at the store or by ringing your local branch. Of course if you do see something in there you like and it means driving a long way make sure you ring up first to make sure they have stock. They can usually give you quite up to date stock information which could save you a wasted journey, however if they do have stock they wont put it to one side for you, it really is a case of first come first served. HOME INTERIOR PLANNING SERVICE Secondly, they offer a Home Interior planning service where you can get a “Home Furnishing Advisor” to help you plan your room, this apparently consists of a free 2 hour appointment and a guided walk round the shop picking out your co-ordinated choices. I’ve never used this service though so how effective it is I don’t know. Anyway, back to the walk through. Your now in the main entrance to the showrooms and ready for the off, the first section your going to come to is the; LIVING ROOMS As you would expect this has numerous displays of living rooms, not only are there several of these there are also lots of sofas and chairs laid out in a non display set up, i.e, they’re just lined up alongside each other in the middle of the floor. The displays though are what really catch your eye as they are set up so realistically that you almost feel as if you could sit down in them and spend a few hours watching the TV ! Items on display here include such things as coffee tables, foot stools, cabinets, wall units, CD/video storage, window furnishing, TV stands etc etc. It was on a walk through this section that I got inspiration for my own living room. I saw a Chinese Futon and as I had always been interested in the Oriental way of life since a visit to Hong Kong I decided that it would be pretty trendy to have my room redecorated in a Chinese theme with this futon the central point. I bought it there and then. It was a very reasonable £169 which included the mattress so I was well chuffed when you consider the prices of normal settees ….. of course the redecorating of my room into a suitable theme cost me a bit more than that but what the hell, they say a change is as good as a rest don’t they? DINING ROOMS It won’t take too much imagination to figure out what you are going to see in here, there are numerous displays depicting dining room scenes with large tables, small tables, chairs and the like. Again these are set in a life like situation and are very convincing. KITCHENS Again, an obvious array of displays. The difference though between this and other kitchen showrooms is the fact that these don’t just consist of the bare cupboards and cabinets. No, these are set up in such a way with all the accessories and stuff that you almost feel as if you could step in and start preparing the dinner there and then. I must admit to not being a very domesticated type of person as far as food and kitchens go and I have never really had any sort of inspiration walking through here. The women though seem to love this place for some reason and there is always loads hanging around oooohing and aahhing, ooops, that sounds a bit sexist doesn’t it? Oh well, on we go to the next section which is my favourite; BEDROOMS Now this is more my sort of area, I mentioned earlier how the displays can sometimes inspire you and give you ideas for your own house, this has never been better demonstrated for me than with a display made up of a double bed on stilts. As soon as I saw it I envisaged it in my bedroom, the price was a very reasonable £239 which in comparison to normal beds was a snip. It is basically a large bunk bed with no bunk on the bottom, instead of this second bed the display had a set of drawers and a computer desk. This of course was not mandatory but was simply a suggestion as to how you could utilise this extra space as you slept in the clouds !! I immediately fell in love with the idea of having to climb up to my bed, I suppose if this was analysed by a psychiatrist would probably say it was some sort of complex deep seated physiological problems, me I think its because I simply like to be different! So I measured up and went home on a mission to see if it would fit (I’m not that foolish to not check first) which it did, albeit it with some major alterations to my bedroom. I then jumped back in the car and went and bought it. This was probably a bit impulsive in hindsight as it took me another month to gut my existing bedroom and redecorate ready for my new bed. Finally the time came to unpack it and I was confronted with a load of pieces of woods and hundreds of nut s and bolts. Although it looked daunting I kept rigidly to the instructions and after a couple of hours found myself the proud owner of a bed which all my mates are jealous of …. sad I know but that’s the type of guys we are. Anyway, I’m digressing, I’ll get on with the walk around. Also in this area is a massive selection of other beds as well as associated furnishing, chests of drawers, cabinets, sliding wardrobes etc etc. HALLS & MIRRORS No hall (or bedroom for that matter) is complete without a mirror. In this section you will find all sorts of sizes and shapes of mirrors. There are also plenty of other bits and pieces that you might expect in this area of the house, shoe cabinets, hat-stands and the like. BUSINESS Whether you are planning to set up an office in your house or are just looking for somewhere to site your home PC you will find everything you need in here, this ranges from storage cabinets, and swivel seats to PC workstations. For anyone planning on setting up a more professional layout, perhaps a small business, you will also find a separate catalogue for this area which has a massive range of furniture and equipment. RESTAURANT I have only ventured in here the once so I’m probably not the best qualified to give a review on the overall quality, however, on my visit I had the Swedish “speciality” Meatballs. I must admit it wasn’t anything special although it was quite good quality. The meals in here range from about £2.75 to £3.95. There are kids meals available from a pretty reasonable 95p. CHILDREN’S IKEA Talking of kids the next section after the Restaurant is made up of an area set aside for the little ones in your life, items in here range from toys and accessories to full bedroom set ups. They also do a dinky range in small furniture so that the little ones can feel as grown up as you. Once you’ve gone through here you now come to a large section collectively known as the Marketplace. This is basically a number of smaller sections where the yellow bags really start to get hammered, this is where you realise you would have been better off getting a trolley as this area is packed with loads of useful stuff for all areas of the house. In here the sections are named; PICTURES/FRAMES This area contains just about any size or type of frame your heart desires, there is also a massive selection of prints of all sizes, colours and designs. TABLEWARE Crockery, cutlery etc etc COOKWARE Pots and pans, cooking utensils and accessories. As you can see from my short descriptions of the above two sections it is further evidence of my lack of domesticity ! HOME ORGANISATION Boxes, boxes, boxes and more boxes … I’ve got rows of these boxes on one of the walls in my living room and I never struggle for storage space for those little bits and pieces. They are also ideal sizes for CD’s and videos, these start at £6 for a 6 drawer CD size unit up to £12 for a 3-drawer unit big enough to hold magazines. Shelves, again, my living room is the main recipient of these with a 7 shelf combination set holding all my hi–fi separates and TV/Video. I’ve also furnished out almost every window in the house with the range of blinds available in here. These range from 6’ aluminium variety at £29.99 to a 2’ wooden blind at only £15. LIGHTING If you are after a desk light or a full room lighting system I can guarantee that you will more than likely find what you are looking for in here, there are rows and rows of various lights on stands and hanging from the walls and ceilings. TEXTILES Lots and lots of different materials for the seamstresses amongst you as well as lots and lots of re ady made bits and pieces such as cushions, sheets, cloths etc for the not so gifted of us who have to buy stuff like this ready made. POTS/PLANTS Plants. I’ve actually bought a lot of stuff in here plants wise although most of them end up dying (I’m a bit forgetful with the watering) although the mini cactus they sell do seem to flourish in my house, that though is probably down to luck than good management. The prices in here do seem to bear comparison with other DIY stores as far as plants go although how they compare with real nurseries I don’t know because its very rare I frequent such places. BATHSHOP All your bathroom accessories can be found here including cabinets, bath towels, bath mats and general bathroom accessories.. RUGS/FLOORING This is one area where the prices are not very good compared to other places. I have noticed the laminate flooring in here seems to be a bit higher than places like B&Q, on the plus side though the range of rugs is pretty extensive and very good value. I bought a 5’ x 3’ Wilton rug for only £12 while an almost identical version was on sale at Homebase for £39.99. So that’s the Market Place covered off and although the descriptions above might not be very detailed I think the very names of the sections give the contents away and I defy anyone to walk through here without at least picking a few bits and pieces up. There really is that many little bits and pieces within these sections that to give anything other than a brief description would take forever. Anyway, the path suddenly ends and your confronted with the entrance to the tills and the self serve warehouse. Now if you have somehow got this far without needing a trolley you might as well carry on to the checkout with your yellow bag, that is of course unless your going to pick something up from the self serve warehouse. If that is the case you get a chance here to collect a trolley before you enter the warehouse. SELF SERVE WAREHOUSE The self serve warehouse is exactly that, it’s a warehouse made up of numbered aisles, these aisles are split into locations, i.e, each shelf section has its own letter. If the location you are looking for is say 22 C you simply go to aisle 22 and walk along till you see shelf C. As mentioned earlier these locations are given on the products tag. On another point it is very rare that you get there and find they are out of stock as most of the tags will say if there is no stock left. Obviously this can not be 100% up to date as it could be that somebody has just beat you to the last one. However, this has only ever happened to me once. If you are unlucky in this respect you can always ask a member of staff to double check you are looking in the right location. They will be more than happy to do this and will also tell you if any of the out of stock items are on order along with expected delivery dates. BARGAIN CORNER There is an area where they sell off any damaged/discontinued goods at reduced prices. However, I have never actually seen anything in here worth buying. In fact it is usually pretty sparse so I sometimes don’t even bother visiting this area. CHECK OUTS Phheeewww, that’s it, I’m at the end and all I’ve got to do now is get through the check out, like the car park this can sometimes be a nightmare as the queues are sometimes horrendous, another reason for not going on a weekend/bank holiday. This though isn’t really a criticism as there is not a lot more Ikea can do to ease this, they have about 25 – 30 tills in operation and I have never seen one closed during a busy period. Other than actually extending the till area (which is already massive) and eating into the space available for displays this appears to be a cross we will have to bear. I n order to try and speed things up a little bit the tills are split into two types, if you only have a yellow bag you can use any of the tills, including about half a dozen tills reserved especially for yellow bags. Anything other than a yellow bag though and you can only use the remainder. Despite the occasional delays the service at the tills is usually excellent with most items being scanned through with no problems. I do feel a bit sorry for the guys on here as they seem to be constantly on the go popping in and out of their little areas to scan the bigger items through. Despite this though it’s very rare you encounter any sullen looks or bad attitude, this in itself is a great credit to Ikea as a whole. The only real problem I have here is the cost, this is not because the prices are high it’s simply because I invariably end up spending a lot more than I first planned. This of course isn’t Ikea’s fault but my own for being so weak willed !! Right, I’m through the tills and on my way to the exit. Your now left with only 2 more areas you might want to visit; SWEDEN SHOP For those of you in the know you will have realised that this is where the title of the review came from. I can never resist going in here and buying myself a bottle of the Herrings and Onions, they are only 85p and have got to be the most beautiful pieces of fish I have ever tasted. The only problem is of course they stink and you end up with sticky fingers as you try to eat them in the car on the way home !! There is also a selection in here of other Swedish food, I must admit though I haven’t really tried anything other than the Herrings so I’m afraid I cant offer you too much information on what else is there. It does appear to consist of mainly delicacies such as meatballs, biscuits and sweets along with numerous versions of aforementioned herrings. BISTRO Irrespective of whethe r I’ve got my Herrings it’s very rare I can get past this bit, although to call it a bistro is probably pushing it a bit as it is basically just a café with a few seats. However, the hot dogs in here are only 50p a go and are probably the best you’ll ever taste for the price. None of your cheap 8 sausages to a 25p can standard here I can tell you. OK, I’m suitably nourished and ready to get my load into the car. There is only last thing I always notice before I leave though and that is the tool bench with it’s tools attached. I can only assume this is for those of us who aren’t patient enough to wait till we get home before we start putting stuff together, then again I’ve never actually seen anyone using it so who knows? Nice touch though. LOADING AREA Now if I have one grouch against Ikea it’s the next bit. As you can gather I am sometimes loaded with big pieces of furniture and/or my trolleys loaded with all sorts. At the exit however you have to leave your trolley because they have restraints to stop you taking it off the loading area. The problem with this of course is if you are by yourself it means you have to leave your trolley unattended, not the wisest move in this day and age. As always though there is two sides to the argument and I can see the logic behind this stance as they don’t want loads of trolleys being pushed around or dumped around a busy car park. I suppose all in all it’s a small issue as most people are there with some one else so it doesn’t really represent a problem. There’s also the option of grabbing a member of staff to either watch your trolley or get the small gate unlocked so that you can take it into the car park. HOME DELIVERY For those of you who do not have a car or for items that are too big you can always get them delivered, this is organised by going into the “Home Delivery” exi t, the charges for this start at £15. Again however I have never had to use this service as I am lucky enough to have access to a large estate car. However, people I know who have used it say it is quite an efficient service, if not a bit expensive. PUTTING IT TOGETHER Right, you’ve somehow got these flat packed pieces home, how easy are they to put together? Well in my experience they are relatively easy. When I say relatively it all depends on what you have bought. If you have bought some big complex structure (my bed on stilts springs to mind) it is quite a big job. Then again if you are only putting together a smallish item (my shoe cabinet) it’s very straightforward. The instructions are usually very straightforward and should be followed to the letter. There has been occasions where I’ve tried to be clever and raced ahead only to find that I missed a bit or I put a bit of wood on the wrong way round so I’ve had to start again. If however I’d followed the instructions I would have been OK. So all in all they seem to be as good as most instructions you find in these sort of offerings. The one difference I have found (which caused me some concern the first couple of times it happened) is the fact that I usually have a few nuts, screws or bolts left over. I don’t think this is because I’ve missed putting them in but is simply a few extras dropped in to make sure you have enough …. well, my bed hasn’t fallen over yet so I am assuming that’s the case !! RETURNS On the odd occasion you find you don’t want to keep your purchase for whatever reason there isn’t a problem with returning it for a refund, unless you’ve made a long trip obviously. They have a specific area outside of the main shop where you can return these items so you don’t have to mess about going into the store itself if you don’t w ant to. The staff in here are very helpful and unlike certain other companies they don’t make you feel in the least guilty about the fact you have returned something. They will of course ask you why you are returning it but this is more for their own information than looking for a way to refuse to let you bring it back. So if you just don’t like it you don’t have to lie, just say so. They do ask that you have the original receipt and that the product is in its original packaging which is fair enough. Even on this point though they don’t seem to be too strict, I have once or twice took stuff back without a receipt or in ripped boxes and they’ve still refunded me. Of course I’ve then gone straight back into the store and spent it again !!
First off, me being a macho type of guy I would like to make it clear I have never found George Clooney in the least bit attractive, BUT, watching him growl and snarl his way through this film I can understand why a lot of women do! Phhhewww anyway, that’s my homophobic side catered for now I can get on with telling you about this film which is without doubt one of my favouritest (is that a word) ever, I first watched this when a mate of mine brought a pirate copy round he had blagged off a dodgy local video dealer and we sat and watched it three times through, the first time I sat in disbelief as the story unfolded and the second and third time it just got better and better, even though I knew what was going to happen. Secondly, this is going to be a long one because that is all this film deserves, I’ve read all the opinions on here and some say it’s a terrible film and others say its brilliant, none though go into detail as to why its either one way or the other. I will though because I have watched it god knows how many times since and I could probably recite you the script word for word if I had to but instead of doing that I will talk you through the film and just drop a few quotes in here and there. Thirdly, I would point out that it is a review of the WHOLE film and as such gives away the plot, if you dont want this dont read the last few paragraphs after they turn up at the Titty Twister. As a final note to the Dooyoo police and those of a sensitive nature, some of these quotes do have swear words in them … don’t worry I’ll asterix them out though but you have to bear in mind that the whole theme running though the film is one of violence and gore so to leave this sort of quote out would take away from the atmosphere. Right, enough waffle, the film starts off slowly enough (for the first 5 minutes) as we are taken to a deserted liquor store (Bennys World of Liquor)in Texas situated 345 miles from the Mexican border where a Texas Ranger gets out of his car and enters the store. Little does he know that inside the store masquerading as customers are the Gecko Brothers Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino). At this point we don’t know who these characters are though it is obvious by the look of them that they are trouble, Seth has an evil looking tribal tattoo practically covering his neck and Richard looks like he has a serious attitude over something. After a bit of chit chat between the Texas Ranger and the store owner we find out that there has been a bank robbery in Abilene where some Texas Rangers and cops were killed and you realise that the two guys in the store are the perpetrators of that crime. Anyway, the scene progresses and Richard who is the unstable homicidal maniac of the brothers ends up shooting the Texas Ranger, a bloody gun fight then proceeds with the store owner who ends up covered in flames and getting gunned down by the two brothers. And so the theme and mood of the film is set, or so we think !! Next we are introduced to the Fuller family, Jacob (Harvey Keitel), the father is a 44 year old ex preacher who is father to very sexy Kate 19 (Juliette Lewis) and Scott, 16 (Ernest Liu). As we meet them they are arguing about whether they are going to stop in a motel that night or in their new Winnebago motor home. Apparently Jacob has only recently lost his faith after his wife was killed in a motor accident, however, at this point you aren’t quite sure where they are headed, or why. The scene then cuts back to a seedy motel where the Gecko brothers are unloading a tied up woman hostage from the boot of their car, apparently she was the bank teller in the recent bank robbery. Unfortunately for her she ends up being left with Richard (the physco) while Seth goes off to arrange a rendezvous with Carlos, the local heavy who is going to give them safe sanctuary into Mexico. On Seth’s return we are treated to a bit of a weird scene where you catch bloodstained glimpses of the bank tellers fate, suffice to say Seth isn’t happy with his physco brother. Then again of course he doesn’t exactly hand him into the police because of this, instead he simply gives him the equivalent of a slap on the hand. So what happens next, well, the Fuller family just happen to have stopped at the same motel and as they are manoeuvring around the car park Seth appears in front of them, Jacob slams the brakes on. This is the end of that scene as Seth lets them pass, however, the next scene sees Seth talking his way into the Fuller motel room as a nice guy. Now once he got in the apartment he became the bad guy again and after a lot of macho arguments from Jacob which are swiftly overcome by Seths blunt “do as your told or I’ll execute you” type replies it becomes apparent that Jacobs Winnebago motor home is going to be the Gecko brothers new escape route over the Mexican border. On this journey there is a bit of a “getting to know you” scene between Seth and Jacob which to me includes one of the scenes which highlights the whole theme of the movie and the “couldn’t give a shit” attitude shown by Seth throughout. Rather than try and explain this, which I couldn’t because I haven’t got a degree in physchology I will simply quote word for word the script; The scene - Seth is asking Jacob where his wife is; SETH Where is the little lady? JACOB In heaven. SETH She's dead? JACOB Yes, she is. SETH How'd she die? JACOB Auto wreck. SETH Come on, gimme some more details. How'd it happen? Some f*****g drunk kill her? JACOB No. It was a rainy night, the brakes on the car weren't great. She had to stop suddenly. She slidon the road, she crashed, she died. SETH Died instantly? JACOB Not quite. She was trapped in the wreck for about six hours before she passed on. SETH Phheeeww! Those acts of God really stick it in and break it off, don't they? So anyway, after a little bit more “male bonding” they eventually agree to “trust” each other, Seth swears he will let Jacob and his family get away unharmed if he helps him over the border and Jacob promises he will do what he can. The next scene is when the motor home come up against a border patrol who are obviously looking for Seth and Richard, on seeing this Seth takes Kate out of sight and warns Jacob that if he gives them away he will kill her. A very tense situation develops where Richard and Seth end up arguing about Richards sanity and nearly end up giving the game away, however Seth puts an end to this by knocking Richard out. The border guard, alerted by this noise, then comes on board to investigate and in a very tense and strangely perverse scene finds Kate sat on the toilet, after finding her like this the actual script goes; KATE Do you mind? Shut the f*****g door. BORDERGUARD Excuse me. So the border guard is fooled into thinking that she’s the only one in there and leaves and you now think that they have the last barrier between the and their freedom, the Grecko brothers from the law and the Fuller family from the Gecko’s. NO WAY The real story starts now, and anybody who doesn’t know what is coming (like I was) will be sat there open mouthed for the next 30 – 60 minutes thinking “what the hell is going on ??” Let me recap the scene for those of you skim reading, they’ve got over the border, Seth is supposedly going to let the Fuller family go, however, one last thing remains and that is the meeting between the Geckos and Carlos. This is set up for the next morning at a place called the Titty Twister So here we are, the place is this out of the way drinking establishment The Titty Twister which is open ….. wait for it …… FROM DUSK TILL DAWN !!!! It is around about this point that the film stops being your standard “Bonnie and Clyde” road movie and moves into the “Twighlight Zone”. In fact as some reviewers have said this could quite easily have been where a different director took over. Its not, its simply a brilliantly crafted change in direction within a film by Tarrintino, and in answer to the critics who negatively question this diversification ….. where exactly is the rule that states the direction of the first bit of a story must be continued in the second ??? OOOpps, sorry, that’s me diversifying !! All joking aside, the film from here does take a slightly “unbelievable” twist, what do I mean by that exactly ? Well, up until this point the scenarios enacted could/have/will happen, however, the events from this point on will “probably” not. The scene, Seth (by now the prominent character) and his entourage drive up to the “Titty Twister, at this point all we know is this place is a bit of a dodgy place to drink with a less than reputable clientele, mostly made up of Hells Angels and truckers. This is never better demonstrated than in the opening scenes of this part of the film where a greasy looking guy called Chet Pussy is trying to “tempt” people in by advertising the various types of women available inside, the actual script reads; "Pussy pussy pussy ! All pussy must go. At the Titty Twister we’re slashing pussy in half! This is a pussy blow out! Make us an offer on our vast selection of pussy! We got white pussy, black pussy, Spanish pussy, yellow pussy, hot pussy, cold pussy, wet pussy, tight pussy, bigpussy, bloody pussy, fat pussy , hairy pussy, smelly pussy, velvet pussy, silk pussy, snapping pussy, horse pussy, dog pussy, mule pussy, fake pussy! If we don’t have it you don’t want it." Get the picture ??? Seth now insists that everyone goes in despite protests from Jacob, on the way in however Chet try’s to stop them, Seth violently gets round this by snapping his finger in two and beating him senseless and left lying in a heap. After a bit more hassle getting served the party sit down to start drinking with Seth egging them all on, especially the two young ones. This scene is quickly followed by a raunchy scene which never fails to shut up any blokes watching the film. I have seen some of my mates absolutely awe struck by the next five minutes, these same lads who were only minutes ago laughing and joking suddenly just shut up and stare at the screen. In fact I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to rewind this particular bit of the film !! If I tried to describe it fully here I couldn’t do it justice so all I’ll do is quote you the opening introduction and tell you that if you watch this film this particular bit will stick in your memory the longest. “And now for your viewing pleasure, The Mistress of the Macabre. The Epitome of Evil. The most sinister woman to dance on the face of the earth. Lowly dogs, get on your knees, bow your heads and worship at the feet of SANTANICO PANDEMONIUM!” The part of Santanico incidentally is played by Selma Hayek who up until this film I had never heard of, if you haven’t yet seen her your eyes are in for a treat !! But anyway, back to the film, right on cue as Santanicos dance finishes Chet Pussy drags himself in and explains to a heavy what Seth did to him at the door, there then follows a brief stand off between the heavies and Seth and Richard, this soon explodes into action andthe heavies end up getting blown awa y. The camera then focuses on Santanico again as the smell of all the blood starts to affect her, her face starts contorting into the shape of a vampire and its at this point that you suddenly realise that the film is about to take a very unexpected turn. She then throws herself onto Richard biting him and killing him, Seth shoots her and then the “dead” men suddenly spring back into life, yep, they are vampires too. There then follows a very bloodthirsty scene reminiscent of a wild west bar room brawl, the only difference being that in this brawl its vampires (the whores and waitresses) against humans (the Hells Angels and truckers). During this fight Seth has been unlucky enough to have had Santanico focus her attentions on him and she ends up standing on top of him and as she is just about to bite Seth she menacingly utters the words; “I’m not going to drain you completely. Your gonna turn for me, you’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Because I don’t think your worthy of human blood you’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool. And at my command you’ll lick the dog s**t from my boot heel, since you’ll be my dog your new name will be Spot. Welcome to slavery !! However, just as she’s about to tuck into Seths neck Jacob saves him by knocking her off with a whiskey bottle, Seth takes the chance to shoot her and she falls off him and her robes catch fire and she dies in the flames. A few more fights follow before there is a lull as it seems all the vampires have been killed. Seth then goes over to his dead brothers body and starts to apologise to him for not being able to save him, Richard though suddenly comes back to life as a vampire and there then begins another stand off between the surviving truckers, who want to kill Richard, and Seth, who obviously still loveshis brother even though he is now a vampire. Eventually though Seth sees sense and dramatically kills Richard with a stake through the heart. Is this the end of their troubles you think? Nope, there is by now thousands of bats outside trying to get in and exact revenge. I’m not quite sure where these bats are supposed to have come from but there you go, they are there and you know the film still has some way to go. As the survivors are coming to terms with what has just happens Seth sums it all up very succinctly in what is one of my favourite quotes of the film; “Yeah, I know whets going on. We got a bunch of f*****g vampires outside trying to get inside and suck our f*****g blood! That’s it, plain and simple. And I don’t want to hear any bullshit about “I don’t believe in vampires” because I don’t f*****g believe in vampires either. But I do believe in my own two f*****g eyes, and with my two eyes I saw f*****g vampires! Now, does everybody agree we’re dealing with vampires?” The survivors now start to put together some sort of plan, the main part of which involves Jacob rediscovering his faith, this now means that he can bless the tap water and turn it into Holy water which guess what …. can kill vampires. There then follows a couple of fights as one by one the survivors (the truckers) turn into vampires because of bites they received earlier, the last fight ends with one of them getting hurled through a window which lets in the bats from outside, the remainder of the party now run down a corridor to escape and end up barricading themselves into a store room. Unfortunately during this Jacob gets bit which in effect seals his fate, however, he helps the group prepare while he can, these preparations include searching through the contents of the store room and utilising what they find to make weapons. At this point it gets even more far fetched (as if it isn’t already) as they put together a collection of vampire killing weapons, these include water pistols (filled with holy water), balloons (again filled with Holy water) and stakes whipped onto automatic saws to make a type of pump action stake gun to ram into the vampires chests. During these scenes Jacob emotionally pleads with his children to promise that they will kill him when he finally turns, this they eventually agree to and the four of them (Seth, Jacob, Scott and Kate) get ready to burst out of the room and make a bid for freedom, Seth again comes out with a marvellous quote at this point; “OK, vampire killers, lets kill some f*****g vampires” So off they go, during the ensuing fight Jacob does turn into a vampire and bites his own son Scott before Scott ultimately kills him. Scott though is then overrun by vampires and ends up being killed by his own sister to stop him suffering anymore. This only leaves Kate and Seth standing and so far unbitten, however, they only have a couple of bullets left when a miracle happens ….. sunlight starts streaking through the bullet holes and smashed windows !! Now we all know what happens when vampires get caught in the sun don’t we and sure enough they all start exploding, this allows Seth and Kate to escape outside where they bump into Carlos who has turned up for his money. The final scene is a little bit of a disappointment because although you know its finished you are still expecting something more to happen, it doesn’t. It ends with Kate and Seth both going their separate ways after Seth has given her a stack of cash, I suppose this left the story open for a sequel of which there were actually two, neither though were anywhere near as good as the first. The final scenes show an arial view of the back of the Titty Twister which we now discover is actually some sort of ancient temple, there is also a massive pit behind it which is full of dumped trucks and bikes, a legacy of the previous visitors to the place. So in summary I absolutely love this film and find the characters amazing, the one-liners and quotes brilliant and the overall feel of the film spellbinding. In fact I still watch it regularly even now and I’ve had the video nearly five years. However, if you’ve read through this review you have got an idea of what its about and it might not have the same impact as it did me when I watched it the first time. This is I believe one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. Then again though I could hardly do a review without telling you what it was about could I ???
Anybody who has been lucky enough to go to Jamaica will be familiar with this saying, it seems to be the Jamaicans national catch phrase, and you know what? It’s usually true, nothing was too much trouble for the majority of Jamaicans we met when we stayed at the Sunset Beach Resort in Montego Bay. I say the majority because there was one or two incidents that went against this which I will tell you about later on in the review. But anyway, lets take a step back, my girlfriend and I had just had a lucky break money wise and were looking to treat ourselves to somewhere exotic and it came down to a toss up between Jamaica and The Dominican. Now I am naturally tight and despite for once not having to worry too much about the cost I was still looking for a bargain, the holiday in Jamaica was a couple of hundred pound cheaper so it won the day. So the weeks flew by with me driving everyone nuts at work humming Montego Bay, after what seemed an age we were on the plane and a 10 hour flight followed, as we started to approach the airport we could actually see our hotel out on a point and it looked absolutely breathtaking. Getting off the plane was an experience in itself as well as we were suddenly confronted by the friendliest set of people I have yet to meet, a dozen women in traditional outfits lined the corridors and the passport area singing reggae songs … amazing ! Checkout was very quick and then we ran into the next Jamaican “custom”, drugs, we got accosted twice before we had even boarded the transfer bus, once by the guy who carried our cases and the second by a guy hanging around the bus area. After the pleasantness of the arrival area this came as a bit of a nasty turnaround and I began to have my doubts about our choice of destination, I can usually handle your usual type of touts in resorts but when its drugs I start to get a bit nervous. We then drove through areas of the worst squalor I have ever seen (and I’ve been in the slum areas of Hong Kong !) and I admit to having serious reservations about the holiday, we then came to our hotel and these doubts were accentuated when we were greeted by a large fence and security guards. Just inside these gates there were dozens of armed police wandering around and I was all for turning back. Once inside the hotel though these doubts instantly disappeared as it became obvious that the reason for this security was not only the luxury within the complex but also the fact that the President of Jamaica was visiting for the day hence the heightened security. We did actually see him in the foyer as we were going in but to be perfectly honest I would not have known him from Adam anyway, in fact I still couldn’t even tell you his name. So feeling a bit more comfortable with the goings on I went to check in, despite the fact that there was about 60 odd people doing the same thing the service was very very quick and efficient, in fact as I mentioned earlier nothing was too much trouble. An example of this was the fact that when I asked the girl if it was possible for a sea view she changed my already allocated room for another one with the view I wanted, this wasn’t even done grudgingly, she was practically apologetic for not having put me in one without me asking. When we got to our room we could not have been happier, it was everything the brochure had said it would be. Better was to follow as we opened the doors onto the balcony, we were on the 6th floor and we had the most amazing view out over the Caribbean. Things got even better after that as we walked around the complex, I’ll go into a bit more detail later in the review about the various parts of it but from a general point of view you could not have wished for anything better. The sea was literally about 10 yards from the hotel and the beach was a real golden yellow colour, just as it looks in the brochures. An interesting point about the beach was the fact that although it went all around the complex (about 500 – 600 yards) it wasn’t actually very wide, at most I would say it was 10 – 15 feet. This meant that there wasn’t many sun beds to be had which I thought might have been a problem, as it happens it wasn’t and this was down to the fact that most people seemed to prefer being around the pools for some reason. I don’t want to generalise about why the above might have been the case but it did appear that the majority of people around the pools were Americans (and there were loads of them) but the people on the beach were mostly British, why this was I haven’t a clue. Suffice to say we always got the sun beds we wanted so I don’t care what the reason was !! I should probably mention here that the complex is secured at all of its perimeters by high fences, although this level of security could be explained by the fact that the resort is fully inclusive I did have the feeling that the main reason was a little more sinister. A few people asked this question at the welcome meeting and my suspicions were confirmed, the rep told us that there was a very high level of crime in the area and “rich” tourists were obviously targets. I suppose most resorts (foreign and British) have this sort of problem, however, in Jamaica it did appear to be slightly worse. This was brought home to us even more as the rep went on to give us very strict instructions about what we should/shouldn’t do if we decided to leave the complex. Although she didn’t go as far as saying don’t go out by yourself she did stress that it was recommended to take an official taxi who would take us where ever we wanted to go and more importantly, would wait for us as well. I thought this was perhaps a way of pushing the hotels preferred taxi firms but it turned out they were cheaper (and safer) than getting a one outside the complex. She then went on to tell us about the organised trips available (don’t they all) and we decided to book some, we plumped for a raft trip down a river, a visit to a “fluorescent” lake and a snorkelling cruise. I could probably spend another 3 or 4 hours writing about these trips themselves but as this review is already turning into a bit of a marathon I’ll resist the temptation and just give you a taster. I would definitely recommend each and every one we went on, the raft trip is a slow meandering trip down a river with your own 2 seater raft and personal rafter, this was topped off at the end by a demonstration on rum making along with numerous free samples ….. lovely !!!. The fluorescent lake is a night time trip over a lake inhabited by a fluorescent organism that when disturbed by movement glows brightly, if you swim through it as a few of did you come out of the water glowing yourself, truly amazing. Finally the snorkel trip was on a boat crewed by the most energetic Jamaicans I met, they danced from the first minute through to the very end, and they made sure you did too by plying you with rum !! The snorkelling wasn’t bad either. I’ll just quickly talk about the town itself (Montego Bay) and then go on to the complex which is I suppose what the review is about, however, I think it is important that people have an idea of what is in the vicinity as not everybody wants to stop in one place for the whole holiday. As it turned out we only went into the town on the one day and I was not impressed, the taxi driver took us to the “busy” bit where all the tourists go (we were advised not to go elsewhere) and I have never ever been pestered so much. You could not walk 10 foot without someone asking you for money, trying to sell you drugs, trying to sell you fruit, sweets, vegetables, sunglas ses etc, trying to drag you into their shop and basically hassling you all the time. I was “lucky” in as much that a local shop keeper offered to walk me round the various shops, I say lucky because although I realised he would expect me to go into his shop afterwards at least we had a bit of protection from some pretty dubious characters. This did prove very useful as a couple of times we were approached by quite nasty looking beggars who turned nasty when we didn’t give them anything, they were speaking Jamaican but it was obvious they were threatening us, luckily our “guide” warned them off and they left. Talking to him afterwards he told us that a lot of the beggars were high on drugs and could easily turn violent. I do seriously think we would have been in a bit of trouble if we had been by ourselves. Anyway, sure enough he did guide us into a shop at the end of our walk but it turned out it wasn’t his after all, he just worked as an unofficial tout for the shop. As I didn’t want anything in there anyway I just slipped him a couple of notes and left and we hurried back to our taxi. The above was the only real disappointment of the holiday as I usually enjoy getting out and about in whatever resort I’m in and getting a taste of the local way of life, however, having had a small taste of this way of life I had no intention of going back for more !! So the complex itself, if I tell you this was the first time I have ever thought a brochure undersold a resort you might get an idea of how good it is. Everything the brochure said it was it was – AND MORE. As I said earlier I could write for hours about practically every aspect of this holiday so I’m going to have to make a big effort to only touch on each area and hope you get the picture, if I do seem to gloss over anything please say so in the comments section and I promise I’ll update it accor dingly. So here we go; Swimming pools. There are 3 pools on the complex, 2 are joined together by a “swim-up” bar, we did try this a couple of times and it was good fun being able to sit in the pool drinking at the bar, however, while we were there a party of rather large and VERY loud American women seemed to think that the seats at this bar were there’s for the duration so opportunities to use it were limited. They would sit at this bar from about 10 in the morning till 6 – 7 o’clock at night, only leaving it for dinner !! As I said earlier though the beach was more than adequate for me so I didn’t really care, I did though think it was a bit inconsiderate of them to hog these seats from the other people around the pool but there you go. The pools themselves were very clean (a guy was out every morning cleaning it) and quite well sized, they were definitely big enough for anybody who likes a good swim or for just generally messing around in. Jacuzzi. There was a small Jacuzzi next to one of the main pools, these though don’t particularly do anything for me so we didn’t bother trying it, it was a good size though with I would say space for 15 or so people and after all a Jacuzzi is a Jacuzzi no matter what part of the world your in isn’t it?. Sauna. Yeah, there was a sauna. We didn’t use it, we were in the Caribbean, who needs a sauna in the Caribbean!!! Bars. There were 5 bars dotted around the complex which were very well stocked with just about any drink you could want, there was also speciality cocktails which the staff took great pride in mixing for you. I must admit on the first couple of days I pigged out on these cocktails because they were beautiful !! In addition to the above there are numerous soft drinks dispenser machines dotted around the complex which are self-service, these were alwa ys full and more importantly … cold !! The bars themselves were not (with the exception of one) bars as we Brits know them, i.e, inside a pub. They were simply long bars either in a large lounge area or on the beachfront. The one exception to this was where most of the Brits congregated on the night, this was probably because it was more of a traditional bar with a pool table and TV in it. The atmosphere though was nothing like what you would expect in a holiday resort though, it was very quiet and relaxed. This was not, I would suggest, a place for a lads only (or lasses) all action boozy holiday. Food. There is a marvellous choice of food, the main area was a self service restaurant where you could eat at set times - breakfast, dinner and evening meal. However, there is a beach bar which seemed to be open at all hours. The food here was limited to fried stuff such as chicken, beef-burgers, hot-dogs and the like. They also have a BIG barbeque on the beach a couple of times a week, these have to be experienced to be believed as hundreds of people turn up for them. A nice touch about the above is the fact that the owner of the complex wanders around introducing himself to guests. This is not done in any sort of pompous way, he really did enjoy meeting everybody and you would often see him spend 15 – 20 minutes with one couple chatting about just about anything. He spent 10 minutes with us and was more than willing to answer questions about his complex that he must have heard a hundred times before. Oops, I’ve digressed again, back to the food. There are 2 other restaurants on the complex, an Italian and a Chinese. Unfortunately though you are only supposed to use these once a week so that every one can have an opportunity. They don’t keep a list of who has or hasn’t used it though so it was possible to con them by saying you hadn’t already been. We actually had to wait ages to get our booking because of the fact that it was so popular and there were so many people in the complex so I only went once because I think its only fair other people get the chance. As for the standard the Italian food was only average although the service was spot on (as it was in the whole complex) The Chinese food though was excellent and I must admit to being tempted to blag my way in again, my principles stood firm though. Childcare Although we didnt have children with us there was a lot of families in the complex, obviously I dont know how good the child care facilities were as I had no need to use them I did notice that they had a "childrens village" which offered supervised childrens activities so I would assume there would be opportunities to get rid of the little uns for a while so that parents could have a bit of time to themselves. Space. Space might sound like a strange thing to talk about but I think it’s important when you’re away to feel as if you’ve got your own “space” if you want it. This complex had nearly 1200 people in it while we were there which sounds a lot, however, it actually felt quite empty which is a testament to the size and layout of the place as a whole. We very rarely felt crowded and when we did it was easy enough to wander off to a quieter area if we wanted. Recreation. Sitting around on a beach under a blazing Caribbean sun can, believe it or not, get a bit boring after a while so you need something to do. The complex caters for this with a number of sports facilities. There is for the more athletic people a fully fitted gym which I didn’t personally use, I had a good look round it though and it was quite up to date with everything you could need for a serious work out. There were 2 table tennis tables which we used a lot with 4 full size tennis courts nearby, these though did appear to be fully booked pretty early in the day and always seemed to be in use. Along with these there was a basketball court (bear in mind a lot of Americans go here) and a small crazy golf course. This though was nothing special with no real obstacles as such so didn’t really appeal and once you had used it once you wouldn’t want to go round it again. The equipment for these things was a little bit shoddy which considering the quality of the complex was a bit surprising but then again you aren’t really there for the sport are you, as a distraction it was adequate. Oh yes, one last thing, there was a couple of volleyball courts set up on parts of the beach, I never saw anyone playing on them but they were there none the less. Water sports. No banana boats here I’m afraid, this is probably because everywhere you go there’s coral reefs, it didn’t matter how far out you went (it wasn’t deep) you could guarantee there would be patches just under the surface. I would hate to think I fell off a banana boat or such onto one of these because they are VERY sharp. The most “exciting” thrill you can get therefore is windsurfers which you are only allowed to use in a cordoned off area of the beach and the canoes, which again although not restricted were very dodgy because you had to be on your guard all the time for the reefs. What was brilliant was the snorkelling, I have always enjoyed doing this but my girlfriend could never be tempted, however, with the clear blue water and colourful coral I was finally able to coax her into the water and from then on couldn’t get her out. The quantity and quality of the fish life has to be seen to be believed and we both ended up with seriously suntanned backs because of the amount of time we spent in the water just floating around awestruck. If you bear in mind we were only in most cases a few yards off the beach you can understand how good the snorkelling trip I mentioned earlier on turned out to be as they took us a long way off shore and we really saw the coral reefs at their best. Beaches. I’ve mentioned the beach earlier on but there was one part I didn’t (my girlfriend wouldn’t let me) check out and that was the nudist area, this was at the far end of the complex and appeared to be quite deserted. Anyway, despite countless attempts to get her to go this bit was out of bounds so sorry, I cant tell you much about what was up there so you will just have to use your imagination. Weddings First off, we didn’t get married and didn’t even see one but we did visit the area where they took part, this was in a lovely gardened area of the complex right next to the beach where a bandstand type pedestal had been built. It was a very idyllic setting and I can see what the attraction is for this type of ceremony. Entertainment. As most of the guests are “stuck” in the complex each night there is always something going on entertainment wise, the main attraction was always on a big stage set up on the beach and reggae bands (naturally enough in Jamaica) were usually the highlight. There was however one night an Elvis impersonator who went down well with the Americans, I must admit I have seen better though but he was OK none the less. In addition to the main “attraction” there was a street band in another area of the complex who played requests from the audience, if you fancied something a bit quieter there was in the early part of the evening a piano player in the large lounge area who again would play requests if asked. There is a disco on the complex which we did not visit, the people we talked to though said we weren’t missing much as it was pretty quiet and not exactly an all action nightclub …. I reiterate my point about lads only/lasses only holiday. Shops. For those who do not want to venture out of the complex there are several small shops on the complex selling various bits and pieces that you would usually find in resort shops, swimming gear, sun tan lotion, souvenirs, books etc. There was also an arrangement with the local traders who set up a craft market twice a week on the complex, this gave people the opportunity to buy a lot of quality home made ornaments and the like. As part of the arrangement the traders weren’t allowed to harass people as they did in the town but simply had to wait until you asked before they could give you the spiel. This meant you felt really at ease as you browsed rather than on your guard when you were out and about. This liberty though didn’t extend to the prices as you still had to haggle vigorously to get the prices down. Cleanliness The general cleanliness of the complex could not be faulted with the rooms being cleaned every day, this wasn’t just the case with the rooms as every area seemed to be mopped or polished on a regular basis. The lifts for example appeared to permanently have cleaning staff in them whenever you went in them. This even extended to the beach which was cleaned and combed every morning, I am not exaggerating when I say combed, this guy used to spend ages going round picking up bits of drift wood and raking the seaweed into neat piles before carting them off to the waste disposal area. He took great pride in then brushing the sand flat, I actually felt quite guilty walking on it afterwards. Phhheeeew, I think I’ve finished. I’m sorry this has turned into such a long review but I really could have easily doubled or even trebled this as there is so much to tell you about this excellent resort and its friendly people, suffice to say I would strongly recommend Sunset Beach to anybody who hasn’t been to J amaica before. I wouldn’t though recommend this particular resort to anybody looking for an action packed holiday, Ibiza it certainly isn’t !! If though you are wanting a holiday where you can simply laze about and do stuff at your own pace in idyllic surroundings I would suggest putting Sunset Beach high on your list. Incidentally, as far as price goes we paid £750 each for a week, this might at first glance seem a lot, however it was fully inclusive and when you consider how much you would spend on food and drink on a normal holiday it puts it into perspective and you realise its not that bad at all.
Why do publishers persist in sticking pictures of semi nude women on the front of Internet magazines ? Silly question really I suppose because if we are honest (blokes that is) it does attract us to the mag, if only just to pick it up under the pretence of flicking through it whilst ogling the front page ! Then again though how many people are actually influenced to buy it because of that? I would hope that people aren’t so shallow as to be so easily influenced but you never know. Anyway, what am I going on about ? Well, sometimes you come across a magazine that doesn’t try and sell itself by any other means than how useful it actually is, this is exactly what Computer Active does. There is no scantily clad model on the cover just a pretty basic front with details of what’s inside. For example on the issue I’m reading at the moment the main picture depicts a monk meditating with a laptop and the headline “At peace with your PC – How to take the stress out of technology”. Alongside this is a brief rundown of some of the other highlights and contents. This list includes a very useful section called “Workshops” which I’ll talk more about later. So all in all its probably not the first magazine your eyes will be drawn to on the rack, however, once you actually look at the actual contents of the relative magazines you will see that Computer Active is without doubt very good value for money. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s the best but it certainly ranks up there and for £1.20 it certainly doesn’t hurt your pocket as much as some of the others. The actual content obviously change every month but there is always a similar type of structure to the magazine so what I’ll do is go through this one particular issue and explain the type of subjects covered. I wont put it in a list type format because I find those a bit boring and much p refer to set out reviews like this in a story book fashion, to do this I have simply highlighted what the title of that particular page is when I talk about it. First of all there is a News section, this as the title suggests is a couple of pages of short news flash style articles about current issues. For example in this issue there’s stories about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers act which gives employers the right to read employee mails, a story about a web site under investigation by the police for specialising in selling stolen goods, a new version of cyber pet whose green eyes light up if you tickle it, a new PC from Time etc etc. As you can see the array is quite wide ranging, however, none of the articles are very long so it only really gives you a taster. It then has a couple of pages on Your Consumer Rights which again as you would expect covers off stories relating to your eeeerrrrrrmmmm, consumer rights. These include such things as a story about Freeserves capacity problems (quite apt really considering my recent review on BT/Freeserves little trick) and a guy who has been ripped off on an auction site. The next main story is all about Computer Fairs and how to go about using them, this story gives you some very useful tips on what to look out for and how to go about getting the best bargain at these events. This is then followed by the “cover story” Find your Zen which is basically an article on how you can find yourself stressed out by modern technology and the best ways to go about countering this, its not quite a serious article but it does offer one or two sound pieces of advice. There then follows a slightly larger section where there are reviews on several Hot new products, again I don’t think the content of this section needs any further introduction does it? The actual reviews are surprisingly thorough and give you a very balanced view about what is good, and ba d, about the reviewed product. To give you an idea of the type of product covered this issue included: Time Entertainment Power Plus (Home PC) Ms Sidewinder Game Voice (Gaming device) McAfee Quick clean (Utility) Toshiba PDR M60 (Digital camera) JVC GR-DVX10 (Mini DV Camcorder) Mesh Matrix (Home PC) LaCle Electron22blue 111 (Flat screen monitor) Umax Actionbook 350T (Budget notebook) Norton System works 2001 (Utility suite) As you can see the range of product types is also quite varied. In addition to this there is also usually a section highlighting one particular type of product and reviewing some of the available models. For example this issue included two such articles. The first titled Pack of cards looked at the various notebook PC expansion cards available and compared their relative good and bad points. The second article examined the various CD recorders available in a similar manner. Next in line was a look at the various pieces of software available for people to indulge in a bit of Movie Magic, this highlighted several different techniques and associated software for video editing, again, like the rest of the magazine it doesn’t go too deep into technicalities and keeps it simple. In fact it’s an interesting enough read even if your not really planning to use the knowledge you pick up from it. There is then a section which I have found invaluable in the past, its simply called Workshops and is a very helpful step by step guide to common (and not so common) programmes or processes you can perform with your computer. As I said earlier I have found this a brilliant feature in the past as it clearly shows the steps you have to follow to achieve whatever you are trying to do. The actual structure of each “workshop” is very straightforward and although it is not covered in too much detail it does give you, accompanied by screenshots, enough detail to get you started …. and finished. The subjects covered do vary in the extreme but they are mostly the sort of thing you would look at and think, “oh, I’ve no need for that”. I can guarantee however that in a couple of month’s time you will be digging out your back issues to find that particular issue. For example the subjects covered in this issue are; Make your own business cards Download and use Openexpert Set up a home network (part 2) Custom fonts in Excell Analyse your finances with Quicken Enhance your images Get on-line Hints and Tips Along with these workshops there is also a number of pull out Hints and Tips cards, I don’t personally find these very useful as the info contained on them is quite basic, however, for a beginner they would probably come in very handy. After this we have two sections where the latest CD-ROM’s and Games are reviewed, these perhaps aren’t as extensive as some other magazines but I think if you were really interested in this sort of area you would be buying a more specialised magazine. There is then the seemingly obligatory Net Chart that most magazines seem to feature, this is basically a listing of sites to visit, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this section and personally I can usually make up my own mind about where I want to go so I usually just give this a cursory once over as I do the next bit which is Computers for Kids. This is just a couple of pages of site reviews and CD ROM software designed for … yep, children. There are then three regular articles from the following “celebrities”; The Debbie Barham column The Uri Geller column The Michael Hewitt column Some times these are OK and some times they are C**P, especially Uri Gellers. No disrespect but I sometimes wonder what planet this guy is on !! A much more useful feature is next in line and that is the Question and Answers section called No Problem, yes, your getting the hang of this now aren’t you? This page is dedicated to answering users problems. In much the same vein but more of a soapbox than a Q&A page is the Letters page, this is usually quite enjoyable with a lot of input from readers Finally we reach the last article in this issue which shows us a few Gadgets, being a bit of a gadget freak this is one of my favourite bits, the offerings this time include a wind up torch, an MP3 player necklace, a digital Dictaphone and a mini spy cam. There then comes a plug for the next issue which is imaginatively named Next issue !! As you can see the descriptions are pretty straightforward, I think that’s probably one of the reasons behind why the magazine won a “Plain English” award, there’s no sensationalist or misleading titles here, just straightforward descriptive headings and equally descriptive articles. To accompany these articles a glossary box appears on most pages to help uninformed readers understand some of the terminology contained within the articles. So taking all the above into account I think this is a very helpful magazine. In fact all in all I believe this is one of the best value “Internet/computer” magazines about and I never miss a copy. However, like everything it is not perfect and I would probably say it tries to cover off a bit of everything computer related and perhaps is aimed at people with a broader interest in computers as a whole and not just a particular niche target audience. Then again I personally feel it’s got the level about right but others may not agree for the reason pointed out above. Although the above opinion will be based on each readers own preferences a more universal negative aspect to the magazine as a whole would be the amount of adverts in it, although it’s almost 120 pages thick there were nearly 40 pages of adverts included in it. This though is commonplace nowadays in magazines and it is something that I think most people are used to. The amount, and quality of adverts however in Computer Active certainly don’t affect your enjoyment of the magazine anyway so I can forgive them this. Incidentally to expand a bit on the “quality” of adverts comment. What I mean by that is the fact that a lot of the adverts are actually quite useful as they do show a lot of new products and are in some cases almost reviews in themselves, albeit only including the positive aspects of the product concerned. Again from a personal angle I also think there’s some sections that I’m not that bothered about but these aren’t too long to not bother reading. Besides, even if I don’t read them they are short enough for me not to think I’ve wasted my money by not reading everything in the magazine, if that make sense ? Anyway, to sum up, give it a try sometime (its out fortnightly) and see what you think. After all it’s only £1.20 and if you don’t enjoy it you could always make that back by writing a review on here telling us why.
This is probably one of the better known US “opinion/review” sites but as far as I’m concerned they can stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine ….. a bit extreme I know but they have the audacity to try and stop you putting your work anywhere else and that to me is an infringement on my civil rights (rant mode over) Now I know it’s a little bit naughty to simply cut and copy some of your work from one such site to another, but if we are honest a lot of us have done it. Most sites recognise this and see it for what it is, a quest to get your work seen by a lot more people, and yes, make a bit more money as well. They therefore do not stop you from doing it. Epinions however insist that once you enter something onto their site that’s it, it can’t be used anywhere else … EVER !! There are some exclusions to this but nothing major, the big thing as far as I’m concerned is you would not be able to put it on Dooyoo. Even if you decided to delete the work off Epinions that rule still stands, you STILL couldn’t put it anywhere else ... EVER. And don’t think you can round this rule by simply entering it there last because part of the rule states that if you have had it published elsewhere in the past you must remove it from there before putting it on Epinions. Now, I don’t really know how they could enforce this rule if you really wanted to get round it because I can hardly see them trawling through all other such sites checking if the work was duplicated elsewhere. I know there are several programmes available which can do this automatically but again, I don’t think they will go this sort of trouble. So if you really wanted to I don’t suppose there’s anything stopping you. From my own personal point of view though I don’t really want to put in the amount of work you need to make sites like this work only to have them turn round and kick m e off for putting MY work anywhere else if I so choose. Anyway, the above is a bit of a shame because the site itself has got a lot going for it, not least a very professional feel to it. The front page is not too cluttered and the navigation is very straightforward with an easy to use subjects/category listing. I especially like the logo ….. yes I know that’s got nothing to do with the sites functionality but so what, I like it so I’m mentioning it !! The basic principle and workings of the site is not a lot different to Dooyoo although there are some notable exceptions in certain areas. The main one as far as most people will be concerned is in the payment system, this is structured in a three tiered way with certain categories having a different pay rate as set out below; 1 cent per read; Arts & Entertainment, Bags, Boating, Community Center, Content Partner Center, Cycling, Games, Golf Courses, Hotels & Resorts, Parks, Pets, Restaurants and Web Services. 2 cents per read; Business Services, Health & Beauty and Office Equipment. 3 cents per read; Autos & Motorsports, Computers & Internet, Education, Electronics, Enterprise, Gifts, Gourmet, Home & Garden, Internet Services, Kids & Family, Personal Finance, Services, Sports & Outdoors and Travel. (They class these earnings as Eroyalties credits) I am not sure what the ratio of reads is like, i.e, how many you are likely to get on average, as I haven’t really tried putting too much stuff on here and that which I have I certainly haven’t bothered analysing. I have however read elsewhere that it is a very highly visited site and that reads are quite easy to come by, as I said though I have no way of verifying this. They do have a front page “featured reviewer” section which I would imagine if you are lucky enough to be chosen for will guarantee you a lot of hits. How ever, I am not sure what the criteria is for achieving this honour so again I cant be much help to you on that subject. As with Dooyoo the newest opinion on the site is shown on the front page as well, again though I haven’t really monitored this to see what sort of hit ratio this gives you, the latest opinion does seem to change very rapidly though. Of course this is not a very accurate to measure the usefulness of this as it is only relative to how many people are on the front page at the time. Incidentally, like most sites a read is only payable when it is from a member. However, what is different from other sites is the fact that if that member reads your article the next month you will get another credit. I suspect that this potentially opens up the way for a certain amount of abuse from “clicking cartels”. Then again on the other side of the argument if you are updating your articles regularly it is only right that you get paid when someone reads your new version. Personally I wouldn’t like to see this on Dooyoo as I think it will just increase the overall attractiveness for churners. There is also an opportunity to earn extra for your reviews (similar to Crowns) although it does seem a bit complicated. It’s known as “Income Share”. From what I can gather this is generated from a certain percentage of Epinions income and is distributed to members whose reviews have contributed towards other users making a decision after reading the review. Like I say it does seem a bit complicated and I haven’t really bothered understanding it so I may have totally misread how it works. I can not find anywhere on the site where you receive bonuses for referring members which seems a bit strange, then again I do not intend to actively promote this site anyway so I didn’t really spend too much time looking. Now, down to the important bits as far as getting paid is concern ed. They will pay world-wide but there is a minimum account balance of $100 required before they will pay non US users, (US is only $10) this, along with the other restrictions they impose does make it a slightly less attractive proposition than Dooyoo. Then again not everybody is interested in just the money element so each to their own, personally I do like to feel that my work is appreciated, both intellectually by readers and monetary by the sites themselves. Oh yes, one more important thing as far as payment is concerned, they will not pay under 18’s so if you are under 18 don’t even bother joining yet !! The actual inputting of your work is a little bit better than Dooyoo with an automatic spell checker actually on the site so no need to do it in Word first. The checker obviously highlights any incorrect spelling, this is of course based on the American dictionary which as you are probably aware has a few differences to our own. So if you find it highlighting lots of mistakes bear that in mind !! This checker apparently incorporates a number of other checks including the number of words in the article, the minimum of which is 100. From what I can gather there is no human checks performed on these entries although there is a mechanism for reporting abuse. This though seems to be entirely reliant in the user base, I much prefer the Dooyoo way as you can be fairly confident that the obvious churners are spotted pretty quickly. A big let down for the site is the inability to request new categories or subjects, at least with Dooyoo you can do this and be pretty confident they will be added. I suppose the impact of not being able to do this depends on the extensiveness of the existing categories, however, it does seem a little short-sighted and contrary to the idea of a reviews/opinion site to not encourage users participation in suggesting subjects. A big advantage Epinions has over Dooyoo is the ability to delete your own work if you so wish. This is one function which I personally would love to have the option of doing with some of my earlier work, unfortunately however this is not available to us so on Dooyoo. This, for me, is probably one of the more important lessons Dooyoo could learn from them. Another area which Dooyoo should take note of is the “web of trust”, this as the name implies is similar to Dooyoo’s Circle. Exactly the same principles apply, what is better though is that this is user defined. For example, if you don’t want people to be able to see your “web of trust” you can change your profile accordingly. On a personal note I wouldn’t really find this useful as I use peoples circles in the decision making process to determine whether I put them in mine, I have gone into this in detail in article about how I use my circle so I wont repeat it here. However, I am aware that a lot of people would like to see this option on Dooyoo so perhaps it is something they should investigate. Another VERY useful feature of the “web of trust” is the ability to “block” certain users, this works in exactly the same way as your web of trust, the only difference though being that this list is totally invisible to anybody but you. As Epinions so eloquently put it, “this feature was designed to prevent hard feelings or retaliation when you add members to your block list” … an understatement if ever there was one !! Joking aside though if there were one thing I would like to see copied from Epinions onto Dooyoo it would be this feature. So, to summarise, despite some of my negative comments above I am quite impressed by the site as a whole although for the very reasons outlined above I wont be wasting too much time on it. This though shouldn’t stop you joining if you want to show your work off to another audience, bear in mind a couple of things though. The majority of the users do seem to be American so they do have a different way of looking at things AND more importantly, if you do flout the “thou shalt not not post elsewhere” rule you could find yourself on the wrong end of a legal action as Epinions somewhat pompously say in their terms and conditions they will “pursue infringers” …. Oh dear, sounds painful :-)
This is an American site but don't let that put you off as there is still a lot of British writers (and readers) on here so any UK specific articles will still get read, anything more wide ranging though will probably get a lot more reads so bear that in mind if you do decide to give this one a go. At first glance it is a very "busy" site but it is quite easy to navigate around and the range of subjects is quite extensive, I have found on occasions though that the site is quite slow to load and to get around. This could of course just be my PC or connection, however I have tried this out from several different PC’s and always found the same. Apart from this frustrating element the set up of the site is OK, as I said earlier there is a very good selection of subjects. Unfortunately though the sub topics aren’t as extensive as Dooyoo. For example if you want to put a review of a Nokia 8210 on Dooyoo there is a specific category for that phone, this makes it easier to both write a review and read one if your interested in that particular phone. On writtenbyme though the sub topic is simply classed as "handset" so it has every type of handset in it. I'm not sure this is such a good thing because although it makes it easier for the writer to just bang it on it does make it a little harder for the person looking for reviews on that specific handset. To counteract the above "problem" they do have a search engine where you would enter, for example Nokia 8210, which would present a list of articles where the author has entered those particular words as keywords for their article. This though does rely on the author entering the correct keywords in the first place. My experience of this search engine is not too good as I have sometimes had some weird and irrelevant results, of course this could be from people entering incorrect keywords in an attempt to get their article " found" more regularly. I'm not quite sure whether it also searches the article itself for keywords or whether in fact there is any validation of the entered keywords but if truth be known I am not that impressed by it’s usefulness. I have found a better of spotting articles I'm interested in is using the listing on the front page. This basically shows you every article that has been put on the site in the last 2 days, it is a simple process to just scroll through this list and pick out something that interests you. This list shows not only the title but the category and a brief summary and the author’s name. This I think is an excellent idea and is something I would definitely like to see on Dooyoo. Anyway, if you do find one particular author you are interested in you can “track” them. This simply means that every time they put an article on the site you will be notified next time you log on, this obviously is very similar to Dooyoo’s e-mail notification when some one in your circle has entered a new contribution. I think I would probably prefer this notification on-line the way writtenbyme do it because at least your actually at the site and it’s no hassle to go straight to this new work. The problem with getting an e-mail in the Dooyoo way means that you are not necessarily going to be going to the site for a couple of days so sometimes these mails just get lost in your in-box and you don’t actually go to the new article at all. A major difference in the tracking of authors is the fact that it is anonymous. In other words you know someone is tracking you but you haven’t a clue who. I personally feel this is not a good idea as I do like to see who is interested in my work as normally they have a similar taste in subjects, hence I’d be interested in theirs. On the other side of the argument of course at least if it’s an anonymous system you wont get people linking to you just to try and get cheap reads. Another useful element of the site is the fact that you can actually read a quick review of what an article is about before you read it, this is achieved by asking the author to summarise the contents. This means that if perhaps an unusual title has caught your eye you can have a quick look to see if the article itself is worth reading, of course this is only useful if the author has taken the time to put something relevant in here. I don’t particularly like this idea myself but each to their own. A similar way of "enticing" the reader to actually read your article is the ability to enter what they class as a "pull quote", for example this could be a sentence or a passage from your article that "pulls" the reader into reading it. Again I'm not so sure whether this is a useful tool or not, I certainly haven’t been tempted to read an article simply on the strength of it so what I do is simply copy one of the more graphical/controversial sentences from my articles into here. The ratings system isn’t quite as straightforward as Dooyoo although it is based on a similar principle. The overall ratings are as follows; · Don’t miss this · Recommended · Worth the read · OK one thumb only As the last description hints at these are shown on your ratings as thumbs up symbols, 1 obviously being the smallest up to 5 for the best. The way these marks are generated though is quite unusual and if it was used correctly it would be a very useful tool, however, I am a bit concerned that not everybody uses this correctly. This could either be down to different perceptions of how it is supposed to work or just simple laziness. I wont waste too much of your time explaining it in detail here because I'd be on for ever, however the basic way it works is this. You have your overall rating as shown above, alongside this you also have ratings on the interest level of the article; · Standing ovation · Sensational · Learnt a lot · N/A · Didn’t enjoy There is then marks on the grammar and writing; · Don’t touch it · Great style · Needs reworking · N/A · Will e-mail suggestions As I said above although this in theory should give a very comprehensive rating I don’t believe everyone uses it correctly so I tend to discount the results …. especially when they are bad :-) OK, enough of the workings of the site, how much does it actually pay ?? Well, first off, it doesn’t pay cash ..... NOT GOOD !! However you can exchange your hard earned "Deweys" (more on that later) for vouchers at several on-line retail outlets, the most notable and probably most useful being Amazon. I'll get to the ins and outs of these Deweys in a moment but the first thing you need to ask yourself is are you willing to put the work in only to be limited to buying from a limited choice of companies? Or would you rather just concentrate on putting all your efforts into cash sites. Personally I don’t mind either way because at the end of the day I do buy books/CD's/videos/DVD's anyway so Amazon vouchers are useful to me as they do have a massive selection. So how many do you get ??? This is another side to this site I am not overly impressed with, the going rate at the moment for earning Dewey's in the basic way is as follows; Submit an article 1 Dewey Each read by a member 1 Dewey There is other ways to accrue more of course, for example if you refer a friend you will get 5 Deweys once they've put on 10 articles. You could get chosen by the editor as the "Editors choice", for this you get 50 Deweys, alternatively if your article appears on the front page or on one of t he category pages you get 20 Deweys. I'm not sure what the criteria are for getting picked for this but I would imagine it is a writtenbyme moderator who makes these decisions. I suppose this is a similar type of reward to a crown on Dooyoo. Personally I think I prefer the crown system as that stays attached to your article forever whereas this particular reward is purely short term till the next articles are picked. Just as a final note to the above, it does appear to be a more highly visited site than Dooyoo which means you do seem to get a higher ratio of reads than you do here. OK, that’s how you get them but what are they worth ? Well, the going rate at the moment is 1000 Deweys for a $30 Amazon voucher, that might sound a lot but in reality it works out at 3 cents a Dewey or about 2p a Dewey for us British. Therefore, like Dooyoo if your willing to work at it and enter good quality articles this should not be too much of a problem, plus of course as I have touched on above there seems to be a larger audience to target. Oh yeah, what is a Dewey anyway ? Obviously it is primarily a point used to track your earning, however, the reason it is called a Dewey is because it is named after the guy (John Dewey) who wrote a single book that transformed the way books are stored in libraries ….. you learn something new every day don’t you ? So, in summary I would say that this is quite a good site overall although I do believe, like Dooyoo, to really make it work for you would entail spend a lot of time building up the number of people tracking you. Of course this is a fundamental requirement of all of these sites so once again it all depends on what level of commitment you are willing to give. Personally I am concentrating on Dooyoo because I believe the “atmosphere” and community feel on here is much better.
Strange title I know for the Dooyoo suggestions section but bear with me through this article and you will see where I'm coming from ... sort. Anyway, back to the question, "Is Paid For Surfing" dead ? At first glance you would have to say that yes it is, but wait .... is it really ??? Let's just look past the dying ad-bar companies and the e-mail companies who promise you 10p a mail and then don’t send you any, and look at the concept as a whole. (By the way remember the ad-bars aren’t all dead – Surfmiles is still paying 30p an hour as I’ve pointed out in another article) OK, first of all, no one can deny that there was a lot of money paid out to people just like you and me in the last year or so by the types of companies mentioned in that earlier statement. Now that sort of money hasn't just disappeared, no, it is still available to the advertising agencies because believe me, these larger companies still have an advertising budget that they are more than willing to spend to get their adverts in front of the right people .... and that's the crux of the matter .... how do they get it to the right people ? We have all heard the stories about the cheaters who made thousands from multiple ad-bar accounts and the people who just ran them to get the money without giving a stuff what the adverts were. In fact I am willing to bet the majority of us who did use them very rarely clicked on an advert because it really interested us. That was always going to happen and it was a matter of time before the companies realised they weren't getting a good return on their money and started pulling the plug and looking for more reliable/effective methods. Some ad agencies tried to address this whilst still retaining the ad-bar approach, Paysu for example tried to encompass this sort of thinking with their tiered approach to payment scales. This w as really complicated and an in depth analysis isn't really relevant to this article. In a nutshell though the more active you were on an advertisers site, i.e, how long you stayed, how many pages you visited, if you registered at the visited site, if you made a purchase etc was taken into account on the pay rate you received from Paysu. Subsequently advertising agencies have had to start getting a lot smarter and not be so liberal about who they give this money to and make sure it is an effective method of getting a genuine visitor to the advertisers site. This has manifested itself more and more clearly in the last few months with alternative schemes popping up left right and centre. For example there are now a multitude of "Paid To Click" schemes, these are in theory quite a good way to guarantee a company lots of visitors to their site ..... but how "valuable" are these visitors ? The majority are again only visiting because they’re trying to drive their stats up and make money. The ad agencies know this and have, in the majority of cases, initiated a minimum time you must stay on the site. This in itself will help a little bit but again what the advertisers will find is the majority of visitors will only stay that alloted time span and then be off to the next one. I have a similar pattern on my main site stats were although I get over 50 visitors a day (not a lot in the big picture I know) I can see by my analysis page that a large percentage of these only stay just over 30 seconds. That's because I do a lot of work on Clickthru.net to drive my stats up and the visitors coming from there are doing the same. they're not really interested in the content of my site, just the reciprocal visit they get for going there. (For those who don’t know about Clickthru.net it's a type of search engine where for every site you visit and stay 30 seconds you get a visitor back to yours) So anyway, what will happen when the companies see the results of these "Paid to Click" schemes is they will pull the plug as they did with the ad-bars, you will then see a lot of them go to the wall or reduce their rates drastically as the ad-bars did. The above might sound negative but please don’t think that ad-bars, paid e-mail, paid to click etc etc are a waste of time, sometimes they're not. There are still some companies where you can make money for this sort of activity, albeit not as much as before and certainly not for as little effort. The reason for this is simple, because there is less competition in for example the ad-bar market there is less choice for the advertisers who want to use this method so the remaining ad agencies will at least have some advertisers willing to use them. A lot of people will say "no, your wrong, the whole ad-bar business model is flawed", yes, it is to a certain extent but you have got to remember that for some companies this method will have worked in the past (despite the cheaters) and they will still be willing to continue using it. Of course they will lower the rates they are willing to pay accordingly which is why it will not be as much of a money-spinner for the likes of you and me. So what's the answer? Well, that is the thousand-dollar question. The person who comes up with the foolproof method of consistently guaranteeing a large number of genuine visitors to an advertisers site will become a rich man overnight. Unfortunately I am not clever enough by far to even theorise about how you would do that. So where do Dooyoo come into this and what's the point of the whole article ?? Well, I believe that the likes of Dooyoo have perhaps got a stronger foothold than most in their possession of valuable customers. For example, have you noticed how many reviews/opinions/reads there are in say the mobile phone categories ? A lot of these people are by definition already users of mobiles, a lot are simply looking for a new phone, some are just curious but you can be almost certain that the majority are genuinely interested/use phones so where better for the likes of say Car Phone Warehouse, Phones4u, PhonePeople etc to stick a banner. You could even add the likes of Nokia/Motorola/Sony etc to the list. In fact why not target the actual networks themselves. I know the size of the advertising budgets these companies have at their disposal and if you get one of those on board your laughing. The same applies to almost every category you can think of on the site, there will always be some company wanting to get their advert in front of people on that section because that takes away the chance element of the adverts, by that I mean the people looking at that page are interested in the product to begin with ! So that really is in Dooyoo's hands to go chasing these advertisers but can we influence it ? Well, the answer to that is yes, the better quality articles we put on here and the more constructive reviews of manufacturers products the more value these very same manufacturers will place on banners put on the site .... and the follow on from that is Dooyoo will make more money and won't go bust so will still continue to pay us - SIMPLE EH ???? I think I've rattled on enough on this already and probably gone off on so many tangents I'll have lost everyone ages ago but the point of this article is to show that this sort of site is the way forward as long as we can maintain the quality of the content so that it is attractive to advertisers. Of course you are always going to get the cheaters who are just after making a few easy quid (in fact I go into that in more detail in my "circle of trust" article ... quick plug there !!!) but that is hopefully where Dooyoo will get a bit more stricter with these people and start mon itoring their activities and if necessary kick them off. So in summary to the original question as to whether Paid For Surf is dead ....... eeerrrrmmmmmm, yes, no, I don’t know, who knows, maybe, maybe not etc etc ........ all I do know is I hope Dooyoo take this advice on board and get some of the big boys advertising with them to ensure we keep this excellent service !!
** Update at the end ** The above might sound a strange statement taking into account the fact that this package supposedly gives you “free” access for a monthly fee. So how can it be a con, you know what your getting into to when you pay your £14.99 don’t you ?? BUT DO YOU …. .if I was to tell you that you could still end up paying for your internet calls would you believe me ?? No, I didn’t think you would and neither did I when my girlfriend first told me the problems she was having, here’s the story. She originally joined BT’s Surf Together package for the same reason everyone does, to minimise her internet phone bill which was getting astronomical …sound familiar? After joining she was advised of a number to ring with regards to the ISP's that were participating with the package. She subsequently selected Freeserve and followed the instructions given by BT and Freeserve. Having downloaded Freeserve Hometime, the FREE off peak internet package she actually started to use the internet even more, safe in the knowledge that she wasn’t going to have to get a second mortgage to pay the bill. However, imagine her surprise upon receiving her January bill to see her call charges had almost tripled because the calls which were supposed to be free had all been charged. She obviously rang BT to query this and the response from the Customer “Services” Manager she spoke to was a total disgrace, he basically told her that she was computer illiterate and had obviously been connecting to the internet incorrectly and that it was not a BT issue. She escalated this to this particular persons manager and although getting an apology for the way her query had been handled she was told none-the-less that the charges would still stand as it was not BT's fault. So, believing she had somehow installed the dialler software incorrectly she did it again, this time with my help …. and yes, I admit I was sceptical. I thought she had done it wrong the first time too. We checked that the number being dialled was the correct Freephone number and sure enough it was. Problem solved thought I as I smugly hinted that she HAD done it wrong after all …. oh dear, that one came back to haunt me big style !! Her next bill arrived and she went crackers, they had only charged her for the calls again !! “Can’t be” I said, “we installed the software properly and even checked the number dialled”. Anyway, we checked it again, yes, it was dialling the correct number and it was definitely the Freephone number quoted by Freeserve, what the hell was going on ? Another protracted series of calls to BT’s Customer Services followed before we finally got to the bottom of it. Apparently, this is a known problem that BT were aware of and that Freeserve were not the only ISP that they were experiencing this problem with. When pushed for a further explanation as to why she was still having to pay call charges despite paying a supposedly “flat fee” of £14.99 it was admitted that “there were circumstances where Freeserve were diverting customers onto a chargeable number because the Freephone number was busy”. Incidentally, it’s not just Freeserve who do this, there is apparently quite a few of the others that have this little known trick up their sleeves for use when their capacity is reached. (Be aware that as more customers join this will happen more and more regularly) At first I was amazed that BT knew about this but were not advising their customers of the charges that they may indeed incur if the ISP’s capacity is reached. But then after further thought is it such a surprise ? After all, BT will be getting paid for these calls so t o stop it (or at least make customers aware of which ISP’s do it) means they lose this revenue. The ISP’s themselves no doubt will receive a small percentage of the call as well so it is obviously in their interest to say nothing so at the end of the day it is tough on the customer …. YOU and my girlfriend !!! As a matter of fact the opposite is true because we actually rang up again and pretended we were joining as a new customer. Upon asking a question along the lines of “will we ever get charged for internet calls” the answer was an unequivocal “NO, there is no question whatsoever that these calls would ever be chargeable. I think the word’s “bollocks” and “con” sprang instantly to mind After pushing and pushing this point with the poor girl who had the misfortune of taking my call she stuck rigidly to her version, “no, I can categorically state that there is never any call charges to worry about with this package”. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that either BT tell their staff to lie through their teeth, or more likely judging by the quality of Customer service received, don’t give them the full information to inform customers of the whole picture. Oh yeah, as an epilogue to this little tale, upon not getting any joy at all for the refund of these “free” calls my girlfriend said she was now considering leaving BT and going to NTL. The response from the Manager concerned was …. “OK, let me know when you plan to leave and I will personally ensure your line is disconnected” .... so much for trying to look after their customers !! So, in summary, there’s not too much you can do as it doesn’t actually show at the time that the call is being diverted, and if you do ring up and ask BT they will not admit the fact until you have pushed and pushed. However, I would strongly s uggest you keep an eye on your call charge’s just in case you are falling foul to this little naughty trick and then you’ve got the proof in front of you. ** Update ** Well, in response to the comments regarding Freeserves involvement in this I contactd Freeserve and asked for their comments. They did reply "surprisingly" although the answer was not at all surprising. Basically they said my girlfriend had followed the instructions to the letter. In fact what she was supposed to do was delete ALL other ISP dial up details so that if the Freephone was engaged it wouldnt divert to any still in her programme. This to me makes them as guilty as BT because do they really expect everyone to delete all other settings ??? I'm afraid this is just as bad a reply as BT's so as far as I'm concerned Freeserve are tarred with the same brush.
Well, that will teach me not to rely on one opinion and read all other opinions about the same company wont it !! I wrote the opinion below this afternoon because I was pleased as punch with "my" new domains, now though I'm not so sure ... and you will have to read the others yourself to understand why I say that. What I've done though is leave my original letter as it was but added this bit and the bit at the moment. Obviously as I find out more I'll update it accordingly. ********** I only found about this company after reading a review on them on Dooyoo by the "anarchistkid" so first off I'd like to say thanks to him because otherwise I would have still been left with the false impression that buying a domain name was an expensive business. This misconception was based on the only other experience I have had of buying a domain name where my home page domain cost me £99 ! So anyway, 123-reg, is as far as I can see a cheap and easy way to get yourself a domain name ........ or two or three (like I ended up doing !) I?ll go through the above one at a time. First of all the cost is quite cheap as far I?m concerned, I know there is some reviewers on here that have complained that the adverts are misleading but from what I could see it was plain enough what the costs were. Like I said earlier I havent had a lot of experience in buying domains so I cant really compare them like for like but I think £5.78 + VAT for 2 years for a .co.uk domain is excellent value. As for easy, I was gobsmacked at how simple the process actually was. Once you have joined you basically stick in the domain name your interested in and if it is available bingo, you stick it in your basket and try another one. If it isn't available it gives you other options such s .net, .com etc. Once you have got all the domains you want you simply proceed onto the next step where the total cost is shown to you, if your happy with this you simply accept the charges and your finished. Of course you have to give them your credit card details which does put a lot of people off but that's a risk you just have to take nowadays if you want to grab some bargains, this particular transaction went through OK and I soon had a confirmation invoice received into my inbox. Anyway, I dont know exactly how long it took for my domains to go live because I only got access to the internet the next night but they were there waiting for me, they were of course directed to a 123-reg advert page which I didnt really have a problem with because it was a doddle to redirect them to the site I wanted them to go to. The above was done via a control panel on the 123-reg site where you had the choice of directing your domains traffic to either a holding page or any other address you fancied, to change the set up of this took me literally seconds. Sure enough the next time I entered my new domain name it opened up on my existing sites. Incidentally they do offer a hosting service and apologies for not giving you any details on this but I did not even bother checking out as I am happy with my current service. As you can see the above is so straightforward and I can not believe there has been so many negative comments made about this company, of course I have only just got these particular domain names so perhaps I'm in for some nasty surprises later ? At the end of the day though its's only £7 we're talking about for the 2 years and as long as I dont end up getting stitched on my card details I cant really see how I can lose out. ********** So thats what I originally thought, but after reading the other reviews tonight I'm now a bit concerned so if anyone can tell me how I go about checking whether these domains are registered properly I would really appreciate it. Cheers.
There seems to be a lifecycle that a lot of Dooyoo users go through and eventually in that lifecycle comes the point where they write a "how to use Dooyoo" article, well, I think I've reached that point. However, I'm not going to do a full review on how to write stuff. That I think is down to the individual to decide, plus of course I dont think for one minute I am experienced enough to start dishing out advice to other people. Like I say that is for each person to develop their own style and preferences. I would however say that you should try to be honest, try to be comprehensive and above all give a balanced view of whatever your writing about. Oh yeah, and it helps if you actually know the subject as well. Theres nothing worse than reading a short article which has obviously been put together by someone who hasn't a clue and is just banging out one article after another to try and make a fast buck. Which brings me nicely on to the point of this particular article and that is the "circle of friends". Now if we're perfectly honest with ourselves there are 2 main drivers behind wanting to increase your circle, these are based around the fact that; i, You want to get more reads so as to earn more money. ii. You want more people in there because its an ego boost to know that people appreciate your work. Now lets look a little closer at these reasons, there is of course a common theme ... you want more reads ! This leads me nicely on to my next point. Although I am relatively new to Dooyoo I have noticed there is a tendency to put someone in your circle just because they have put you in theirs. I am the first to admit I have been guilty of this myself in the past but now I'm thinking "hang on, is this really a genuine reason and does it really benefit me?", the answers to which are no it isnt and no, it doesnt. To illustrate that let me explai n how I myself use the circle. Firstly of course I put people in there simply because I have read stuff they've wrote about subjects I'm interested in and I want to read some more. Having their name in my trusted section makes it easier to go back to their work to do this. The inclusion of them in my circle is therefore my choice. Obviously I would like it if they returned the favour, this may be likely because by definition they are writing about the same subjects as me but it's not a problem if they dont because I'm interested in what they write anyway and will read it anyway. The above comment gives you a clue as to where I'm going with this line of thought, in the past if someone puts me in their circle I've automatically returned the favour straight away and then read a couple of bits of their work. It may or may not have interested me. If it did, yes, I'd go back, if it didnt I wouldnt (and I'll come back to that bit later) Looking at this method now I can see that I was just helping the people who are just trying to make a quick buck, they might only have read one of mine and just stuck me in the circle to get these recyprical visits .. damn, it worked ! However, as I said earlier I'm now thinking "hang on, these guys are just using me and are not actually giving me anything in return" .... that might sound a bit mercenary but it's true, why should I help them earn money when they're not really interested in what I'm writing and in fact will probably never even go back to my page. Plus of course the time I'm wasting on them I could be reading genuine peoples work. The upshot of this way of thinking is this, when I get a new person adding me I'll go to their page and have a look at the type of subjects they are writing about, if theres some there that interest me all well and good I'll read them. I wont necessarily add them to my circle thoug h, that all depends on the quality of their work. I'll also take into account how many opinions they've wrote, if they've done loads it sets alarm bells going that maybe they're just banging out 70 worders to earn more money. Obviously this isn't a sure fire way of seeing if theyre genuine as I've noticed some users have hundreds of articles to their name, all of which are high quality work. These people are obviously genuine and I do not begrudge them the reads they get, in fact I will sometimes sit for 10 - 15 minutes going through loads of their opinions because I feel this sort of commitment deserves that, and of course, it's usually of a very high quality. But anyway I think you can probably see what I'm getting at, we've all seen the ones I'm trying to avoid. They'll do a few lines of text about any subject under the sun just to get a few reads. You actually feel cheated when you've read some of these because it was so obvious what they were doing. OK, you can give them a "not useful" but do you think they care, they've earned their money. Obviously in the long run this tactic wont work for them because they will ultimately get low ratings and hence less visits. Another element I take into account when I'm assessing whether a person is "genuine" is to have a look at the number of opinions they've read, I'm astounded sometimes when I see the massive quantities some people read. These as far as I am concerned are the people who deserve the rewards and as such I would be more inclined to include them in my circle and visit their pages regularly. I apply a similar principle to the above on the amount of comments made, I think a genuine person will always be more inclined to leave a comment than one simply flying around the system adding people to their circle left, right and centre. (Incidentaly this is one of the reasons why I dont t hink Dooyoo should pay a user for their own reads. This idea has apparently been put forward by some users but I think it would simply open up the floodgates for the sort of people who will just sit there all night skipping through opinions without having the slightest interest in them. But anyway, thats getting away from the point of the article) Another way I have found useful for spotting genuine users is to monitor my ratings section, this as you know shows who has read that particular item. The difference is these people have not necessarily added you to their circle which in itself is a small clue that they are genuine, I will always click on these user names and have a look at their page and then follow the same sort of principle I've outlined above. Funnily enough I think there is more chance of these being genuine users that you would welcome in your circle than if they had simply added you to their circle straight away. Of course there is also the "who else trusts such and such" page, the more respected writers have hundreds of people that trust them and as such you can usually be pretty confident that the work they do is of a high standard and worth reading. Theres also the premier opinions section, you can usually guarantee that if the user has got a crown or two against their name they can be trusted .... of course I'm only saying that because I was lucky enough to get my first last week ;-) But seriously though, the above sort of checks can usually help you determine whether a user is genuine or just after a few cheap reads, OK, it's not foolproof but it's about the only way I can think of ensuring your circle is made up of genuine users that you reallly want in there and not just those who are after something for nothing. Now you might be asking yourself why I make such an effort to keep my circles (both those that trust me and those I trust) in "good condition". Well, th ats because I've decided to make a concerted effort to go into both at least once a week and read a few pieces of each persons work. The only drawback to this of course is those that are just after cheap reads sometimes get me reading them by mistake. Still, I'm going to be going through some of the people already in there and "clearing" them out in the next week or two. Thats why I would like to see some sort of "not trusted by me" type facility on my account, obviously this would need to be invisible to anybody but yourself so as not to cause offence to others. This sort of facility though would, I believe, go a long way towards stopping people abusing this service and ensure the people who are willing to put the effort in are the ones who get the most benefit.
Lets get one thing straight here, I enjoy looking at pictures of beautiful women, in fact I dont know many men who dont. No, the problem I have with this mag (its not a problem really but you know what I mean) is not that it's full of said photos, no, far from it .... it's the embarrassment factor of buying it and having it lying around the house. Let me explain a bit more, I've found myself on a couple of occasions checking to see if it's that little 16 year old girl whose on the till and how many people are in the queue before I buy it, why? Because most issues have a nearly naked women on the front cover and I feel like a pervy old bloke slapping it down on the counter. Secondly, it's embarrassing when my kids see it lying around the house because I can just imagine them telling their mates how their dad reads dirty mags !! Anyway, onto the serious stuff, whats in the mag itself, apart from loads of women of course. Well, first of all it's full to the brim of useful lads stuff like how to pull in Tesco's, how to get a six pack girls would die for, how to make your girlfriend orgasm all night, what women look for in a man, how to spot the "up for it" girls in a night club .... can you spot the common theme running through this ?? Apart from the above words of advice (which incidentaly DONT WORK, or is that just me) it does also have some interesting articles on various subjects. For example in the issue I'm reading now one of the main articles is "How to get a tattoo", this goes into quite a lot of detail about whats involved, how to go about it, the risks involved etc etc. This is done in a funny way with plenty of anecdotes throughout the article to keep you reading irrespective of whether you actually want a tattoo or not ! This "funny" type of delivery is another common theme running through the whole mag with plenty of sarcastic and humourous captions to go with the hundreds of photos doted on its pages. They do cover off some pretty gruesome subjects as well, for example I've just read an article about an eyeball eating author who writes about his life of crime. To give you a flavour for the article one of the quotes is "I remember once we had to kneecap a blokes mother simply because we couldnt find him" ... get the idea? Oh yeah, the eyeball incident was apparently the result of a bar room brawl where he was heavily outnumbered so he had to make a quick impression, this involved poking out the saif eyeball from one of his victims and popping it in his gob and chewing, luvverly !!! It doesnt actually say whether his would be attackers carried on or not though. Theres another article in the same issue highlighting 50 common scams and cons that people play to part victims from their money, you know the type ... spot the cup with the pea under it and you win a tenner type games. The good thing about this is it tells you how they do it as well, interesting reading. As you can probably gather this sort of article is really aimed at the younger end of the market which is further endorsed by the fact that there ALWAYS seems to be an article in each issue about womens lingerie with lots and lots of pictures of models, well, modelling !! It also usually features the latest sex symbol parading herself in next to nowt and telling all about their sex lives, this particular issue features Bianca Kajilich ... never heard of her but very nice none the less. Its not all "unknown" sex symbols though, in the same issue theres a 10 page spread about Charlies Angels which as well as detailing an interview with the 3 ladies involved (yes, you know who they are) also shows them in very provocative poses with not a lot of clothes on .... again, very nice. Its not all women in various states of undress though, theres also some very usefulfashion pages detailing the latest trends and where to get them, how much they cost etc etc. If its the latest gadgets your after you wont be dissapointed either with page after page of "boys toys", the review of these though arent exactly in depth but it does serve its purpose. The first page however I turn to is the "Bar-room" jokes, this is a page full of jokes. As you would expect of course from this mag most of these are pretty "rude" and arent the sort you would repeat to your mother but hey, tell them to your mates and they'll think your brilliant, unless of course they read the mag too then they'll just think your sad ! Another excellent regular feature is the "True stories" section, as the name suggests these are supposedly true incidents where the person concerned has got themselves into a usually very embarrassing situations. Believe me some of the stories in there will have you cringing with embarrassment yourself ... and your only reading it. As you can probably gather this is quite a magazine and I can honestly say that I never get bored reading it, there is just so much in it that you could read this for an hour a day over a couple of weeks and still see stuff you missed earlier. To prove the point heres a few other bits and pieces in the one particular issue that all of the above come from; 100 sexiest websites. 37 cool watches reviewed. 21 signs your going to be dumped. A pickled boy ! The future of cars. Weird places to pull. Fireworks for drunks. 25 man maladies that you can cure yourself. Letters from lesbos. Expert dads. Winners and losers of the internet revolution. 20 places to celebrate Christmas. The list just goes on and on ... If you dont believe me just have a quick look through the mag next time your in the newsagents and I can promise you that you will be amazed at the amount of articles/stories/features etc it packs in. Its a hefty 400 and odd pages and yes, quite a few of them are adverts but ev en some of the adverts are entertaining in themselves. The price? Its only 3 quid which for what you get is an absolute bargain, in fact it almost makes the embarrassment of actually buying it worthwhile !!! Ooops, nearly forgot. Theres a website as well that seems to follow a similar pattern, I havent checked it out fully yet though so I cant really comment on it ... www.fhm.com Anyway, I'm off to Tescos .....