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I have a problem sleeping - it's my husband. Whilst I am incredibly fond of him in every other way, most nights I feel in almost overwhelming temptation to bludgeon him to death with anything that comes to hand. He snores. No, that's not right. He doesn't just snore - he SNORES. Last week, after a very busy day, we went to the local music society's performance of Handel's Messiah. I went to sleep three times. In a draughty building and on an uncomfortable seat, I went to sleep and was only roused by particularly loud bursts of choral music. But I can't sleep in a lovely comfortable bed with my husband. It's not just his snoring, its the fact that I lie there waiting for him to start snoring. Even his breathing keeps me awake! Over the past few months, we have tried a whole range of methods to stop him snoring. We had frozen through winter nights with the windows open at the advice of my grandmother who believes that its the warm air that makes my husband snore. Didn't work. We have tried a range of antihistamines from herbal ones bought in a health food shop to really strong ones on prescription from the doctor. These prescription antihistamines actually made the situation worse as he still snored just as badly as before but now I couldn't wake him up. We bought a special pillow that was guaranteed to stop snoring. It didn't so it went back to the supplier. We bought some exorbitantly expensive drops to put on the pillow to promote clear nasal passages but my husband's nasal passages remained stubbornly blocked. We paid £250 for private allergy testing to see if it was a food allergy that was causing the problems but, other than discovering that he has a mild allergy to broccoli (which he detests and has never eaten since I have known him) we were none the wiser. Finally, someone recommended Snoreeze. This is a little bottle of herbal liquid tha
t you spray into the back of the throat just before going to sleep. It is important that you don't eat or drink anything after taking the spray because it coating that forms on the back of the throat would be weakened. Only three squirts of the spray are necessary and you then have to wait 20 seconds before swallowing (its quite funny watching my husband standing with his mouth wide open and his head tilted back for 20 seconds but then I'm easily amused!) The spray smells, and apparently tastes, minty and is made with all herbal ingredients so I would presume that it can't actually do any harm. The ultimate question - does it work? The first night was blissful. I can honestly say that there wasn't a single sound out of him. We both had a really peaceful nights sleep. A happy ending? Unfortunately not. The first bottle of Snoreeze lasted about a month and we did have a generally peaceful snoring-free time. Certainly, the result was good enough to encourage to buy a second bottle when the first was finished. However, despite buying exactly the same product, we had noticeably less success with this second bottle. In fact, the snoring seemed to get progressively worse every night until now it is not worth bothering with and the bottle is gathering dust on the bedroom shelf. I don't know if this is because the body becomes used to products (a bit like antibiotics) so it gradually becomes less effective or maybe we got a rogue batch the second time but it is certainly not working any more and my husband's snoring is back to its previous volume. All is not lost because Snoreeze do guarantee a full refund if the product is not satisfactory so we could get our money back. This is fortunate really as it is not cheap - £14 for a bottle that lasts a month. Mind you, if it worked, I would not have any qualms about paying this on an ongoing basis - its a small price to pay for a peaceful nig
ht of sleep. At the moment, we're not trying to get our money back. This is partly because we can't find the receipt and partly because we want to see if it becomes more effective after a couple of weeks without taking it. If there are any developments, I'll update my opinion accordingly. In summary, this herbal spray may provide at least temporary respite from snoring. Even if it doesn't work, there is a full money back guarantee. So its certainly well worth a try. As for us, we've just started to use some little strips that get stuck across the nose to keep the airways open. I can't remember that they're called and, anyway, that's a whole different opinion waiting to be written.
As part of my dedicated quest to find the ultimate shampoo and conditioner, I recently spotted the Te Tao range for the first time. Tempted into a purchase by the 'two for the price of one' offer, I bought the 'air' variety for coloured hair. The idea is that each of the five varities is based upon one of the elements - air, water, fire, earth and ... something else! (sorry, I can remember that the bottle said five but I can only think of four elements). In addition to having the herbs appropriate to the element, the shampoo also contains chinese tea which is apparantly wonderful for cleansing and conditioning the hair - in fact, the product first attracted my attention by claiming to be 'tea for the hair'. The shampoo that I used was a lovely shade of green and comes in a pretty bottle - it looks good on the bathroom shelf (that might seem trivial but its all part of the quest for me). It does have a lovely herbal fragance but its quite a delicate one - not the overpowering chemical sort of smell that some shampoos have. It made a lovely lather in my hair and smelt incredibly refreshing whilst I was putting it on - in fact, the whole bathroom smelt beautiful for hours afterwards. My hair smelt wonderful all day too and was wonderfully light and fluffy. I have very fine hair so that greasy shampoos tend to weigh my hair down and leave it looking in need of another wash by lunchtime but Te Tao kept my hair feeling light and clean all day. All in all, a wonderful shampoo. There has to be a down side to this and this comes when considering the conditioner. It smelt just as good as the shampoo and was a sort of light pastel green colour (again attractive to look at) but it failed miserably in terms of performance. It was incredibly thin conditioner and not in the least creamy. My hair didn't feel softer and was really quite tangled. I'm sure it adds to the lovely smell of the shampoo which
I wouldn't particularly want to mix with a different conditioner but, for all the good it was as a conditioner, I just as soon not have used any at all. This is a shame because the shampoo is so great that it will become a regular purchase but I would certainly never waste money on the conditioner again.
Having read a selection of the opinions written here regarding compensation claims, I sense that an opinion defending the role of solicitors in the compensation culture that currently prevails may not be well received. However, I feel that something needs to be said to clarify the position of lawyers involved in personal injury claims. I shall declare my interest at the outset - I am a lawyer (not personal injury though) so please feel free to direct any anti-lawyer jokes my way but no personal abuse (cos I'm a lovely person really!) Anyway, to get to the main thrust of my opinion, there is a great deal of criticism about the contribution made my bloodsucking lawyers to the increasingly tendency to litigate over the slightest incident. Firstly, I would like to say that I agree that the current situation is way over the top. There has been a great deal of publicity over some excessively trivial claims which are encouraging others to jump on the bandwagon and try for some 'free' money from an insurance company. The introduction of the 'no win, no fee' system whereby people get legal representation for free on the agreement that they will pay a percentage of their compensation award to the solicitor if they are successful in many ways encourages such people to 'have a go' as they have nothing to loose. The other side of the coin is that this system enables people with deserving claims but with insufficient funds to pursue a claim to have access to good legal advice. The income threshold for Legal Aid seems to get lower every year so many many people find themselves in the position of knowing that they have a good case but having no money to pursue this in court. The 'no win, no fee' system ensures that these people have access to the courts. However, the approach of some law firms to personal injury claims is truly deplorable. I was waiting for a friend in a casulty department not long ago and they
had a television playing advertisements for different law firms who would help you sue over your accident. That truly is ambulance chasing! Nevertheless, again trying to present both sides of the argument, this could be exactly the stage at which people need to be reminded of the availability of free legal advice so that they remember to keep a record of events and witnesses which may prove to be valuable if their case does reach court. I do appreciate that these advertisements and other like them do attract undeserving claims. This has led to some absurd rules in all aspects of life as individuals and organisations seek to protect themselves from the possibility of being sued. The well-known and extreme examples are the ones given here on dooyoo - the doctor who refused to help a person suffering a heart attack and the banning of conkers in some schools. There are other, even more trivial examples, that I have encountered recently. My hairdresser refused to colour my hair unless I had a skin test to ensure I was not allergic to the hair dye. She says that if they were to go ahead and dye my hair without a test, I could sue them if anything went wrong. Now I have to admit that I have had hair cuts in the past that have been so bad that they have caused me serious psychological damage, but I have never actually had an allergic reaction to hair dye, so why do I have to have this test everty time I want my hair done? It only takes a couple of minutes to do but it does mean I have make a special trip to the hairdressers that was not previously necessary. Equally, my husband was refused a plaster from the university first aider as she could not be sure that he was not allergic to plasters. Now I have a little bracelet that says that I am allergic to penicillin but who is going to wear one that announces to the world that you are allergic to plasters. Moreover, will be now need a bracelet that says that we are not allergic to plasters if we want to be
giving one following a minor scrape? This is the situation that this compensation culture is creating. Whilst I accept that some lawyers are disreputable ambulance chasers with an eye on their bank balance who will take any case that has a chance of success, whoever trivial, I also believe that there is a genuine need for personal injury specialists to deal with genuine claims. If a person is involved in a serious accident, they do deserve compensation to ensure that their lifestyle is maintained to the pre-accident standard, in so far as this is possible. Insurance companies have a three stage system of settling claims which involves a relatively low initial offer, an increased offer if you start court action and an 'at the courtroom door' offer which is usually made within minutes of the case being called into court. This is designed to take advantage of a complainant who is feeling nervous and uncertain about the whole legal process. The offer is usually made in a way that emphasises the uncertainty of the outcome of legal proceedings and the possibility that the claimant will come away with nothing. Most people would be vulnerable at this stage of the proceedings and be pressured into accepting less money than they deserve just in case things go wrong for them in court. A good personal injury solicitor will have explained the process to the client so that they are not as nervous, he or she will be there with the client to reassure them and, most importantly, they will be able to explain the methods that the courts use to calculate the quantum of compensation so that the client has an idea of what it is reasonable to expect. Some people do deserve large sums of compensation as a result of an accident and these people need proper representation to ensure that they achieve a just settlement in court. Equally, they may need to take advantage of the 'no win, no fee' situation to ensure that they actually make it to court.
In such situations, a lawyer is an absoluate necessity.
I have heard from many sources that it is not a good idea to keep on using the same shampoo because it builds up a residue on your hair and become less effective at getting your hair clean. Becuase of this, I make sure that I buy a range of different shampoo and swap between brands regularly. I have two or three 'tried and trusted' shampoos that I use regularly but am always on the look out for new products to try. Not only does this mean that I change my shampoo regularly but that I can take advantage of the 'buy one get one free' offers in the supermarket - a real benefit of having no brand loyalty. This was how I came to try the Neutrogena Clean shampoo and conditioner. It was new, it was a well known brand and, best of all, it was two for the price of one. My husband used the shampoo before I did and didn't tell me that he had borrowed it. I was slightly puzzled by how strange he smelt so had a sniff of his hair and it was unbelievably unpleasant. I asked him what on earth he had put on his hair and was really surprised to find that it was my new shampoo that was making such a pong. It was a very strong chemical smell that actually reminded me of the medicated shampoo that you use on horses if they get a skin infection. At the time, my husband was wearing Cool Water aftershave which has quite a distinctive (but lovely) smell so I thought that perhaps that it was just that the two smells didn't combine together well. So I took the risk and used the Neutrogena shampoo the next day. It didn't smell too bad going on and it made a pretty good lather and seemed to wash my hair thorougly. How thorougly only became apparent after my hari was dry. It was like straw - there was no moisture left in my hair at all. It wasn't just clean - it was stripped of all its natural oils to become this strange sticking out hay on top of my head. And, yes, it smelt disgusting. I don't know why all
the shampoos that I use that have really lovely smells fade within the hour but this insult to the nostrils stayed with me all day. I had to put my hair up so that it wasn't hanging round my face in an effort to escape the smell. Needless to say, the bottle is now gathering dust on the bathroom shelf. The strange this is that the conditioner is lovely. Matching shampoo and conditioner usually smell the same but these couldn't be more different. The conditioner has a light, slightly spicy smell which isn't at all unpleasant. More than that, the conditioner is really thick and moisturising (I suppose it would have to be if you used it after that hair stripper that they call shampoo). In terms of how soft and tangle-free my hair is, this conditioner beats all but one of the conditioners that I use regularly. In summary, the shampoo is to be avoided at all costs. It left my hair dried out and smelling disgusting. The conditioner, however, is well worth a try. Not a bad smell and it makes my hair really soft and manageable. Perhaps if I used the two together, the benefits of the conditioner would make up for the disadvantages of the shampoo. But the shampoo was so bad that I'm not prepared to risk it.
Recently, I was asked to give a conference paper in Sydney. Not having been to Australia for many years, I jumped at the chance, especially as it was paid for my the conference organisers. My husband had never been to Australia so we decided that he would come with me and see some of the sights of Sydney whilst I was at my conference and we would then take an extra week or so as a holiday. The difficulties arose when it came to applying for a visa. The Australian Embassy website is pretty user-friendly and I had no difficulty in locating the relevant information. The difficulty arose in trying to work out which visa to apply for. The choice was immense. It was straightforward for my husband. He was a visitor. I printed out the appropriate form straight from the website, he filled it in and made out a cheque for £35 and that was that. Working out which visa I had to apply for was not as simple. Was I visiting lecturer? No, because I was not getting paid. Was I part of a reciprocal academic arrangement? No, because nobody Australian wanted to, um, reciprocate (!) with me. I certainly wasn't a visitor because I was going to do some work - a whole hour of it! Totally defeated, I telephoned the helpline. This was totally recorded information - plenty of options, buttons to press and recorded music but no facility to actually speak to anybody. I resorted to email and received a prompt reply telling me that I needed temporary academic residence. The email even attached a copy of the relevant form. Prompt, polite, helpful advice but totally inaccurate. My visa application was refused because I had applied for the wrong category of visa. This led to the ridiculous situation whereby I was booked to give a conference paper but couldn't get a visa but my husband who was only coming along for the ride, so to speak, had a visa to go without me. It was at this stage that I started to wish that I had just kept q
uiet about the conference and gone on a visitor's visa - they would never have known. To add insult to injury, the Australian Embassy refused to return my application fee as there are no refunds for rejected applications. This was infuriating as not only did I not get my visa, I was out of pocket and branded as a person who had been denied entry. I made several written complaint and enclosed with these a copy of the email I had sent requesting information and the email that I had received in reply with the erroneous information. I received absolutely no response. I was forced to cancel my flight, return the funding cheque I had received to cover my expenses and re-organise my teaching that I had originally moved because I thought I was going to be away. Then I contacted the conference organisers to tel them that I was not going to be able to attend. Within 24 hours, I had an email from the Immigration Office in Australia, apologising for the inconvenience and providing me the the correct information for me to get a visa. More than that, the visa that I did need was free, could be issued immediately if I went to London in person and included my husband (also free). Ostensibly this was brilliant news, but I had cancelled my flight and returned my funding, and finding a flight to Australia with less than a week to go does not give a great deal of change from £2,000 (as opposed to the £800 that my original flight would have been). Equally, I would have had to moved my teaching again which would have been extremely aggravating for my colleagues who were covering for me. So despite this last minute intervention, I was not able to go to the conference. And I have still not had my application fee for the first visa returned. I appreciate that if you are a straightforward visitor to Australia, the procedure is simple. But once you travel for any other purpose, the choice of visa is immense. It is so unclear tha
t even the Embassy staff didn't know which visa I should apply for. If there is any confusion, it is impossible to speak to anybody on the telephone and the only response to email that I had was the first one which provided the wrong information. They refused to admit that it was there mistake and wouldn't refund my application fee. I think there is something particularly ironic about the fact that I was not able to get any sort of response from this end but the conference organisers in Australia got results their end within a day. The ultimate insult is that I still count as a person who was refused entry and I have to state that on any future visa application I make! Maybe it will be easier to go somewhere else instead.
This is the first book that I have read by Minette Walters and it has made me want to read everything she has every written. In fact, I'm just about to search out her other books on amazon so that I have a supply ready as soon as I finish reading The Scold's Bridle. This is basically a who-dunnit - an elderly rich lady is found dead in her bath with her wrists cut and her blood full of sleeping pills. Suicide? Unlikely as she was wearing an ancient contraption known as a scold's bridle, historically used to silent nagging and unpleasant woman, on her head. The search for the killer begins. The story is somewhat complicated by the fact that the woman's daughter and grand daughter are somewhat miffed to find out that the woman has inexplicably left all her money to the local doctor. The main strength of this book, other than the intriguing storyline, is the compelling and realistic characterisation. But the characters, of course, are not what they seem. I thought I had it sort out right from the beginning. It was easy - the doctor was a genuine woman who was distressed to be in the centre of a family feud, her husband was an unfaithful and worthless freeloader and she would be well shot of him. The old woman who was killed, well, if anyone deserved to be slaughtered in their bath it was her - and her relatives were just about as unpleasant as people would possibly be. But half way through the book, I am having to reconsider my initial evaluations. Is the doctor as honest and straightforward as she seems? Her husband is either a saint in disguise or a homicidal maniac. The old woman described herself as "more sinned against than sinning" and I'm beginning to think she might have a point (even though there is a suggestion that she either murdered or blackmailed everyone who ever disagreed with her). The introduction of new characters once a story is well-established is often a fatal mi
stake but here they add an extra twisty dimension to an already tortuous storyline. What is the role of the grand-daughters thoroughly nasty "boyfriend" and why did the old woman's husband return from Hong Kong? I have no idea but I can't wait to find out. I can honestly say that I am three quarters of the way through this book and have no idea how it is going to turn out. I have believed that every single character in the book is guilty of the murder at one stage or another and I still wouldn't be surprised to find out that the ultimate twist is that it was suicide after all. There are some clever references to some Shakespear plays - King Lear, Othello and Hamlet - but the references are so well-explained that the reader would not necessarily have to be familiar with Shakespear to understand the relevance of the references. The key puzzle here is that you try to work out which of the Shakespearean characters the murdered woman was identifying with - King Lear (sent mad by his horrible family), Othello (driven to murder by jealousy) or Ophelia (mad and suicidal). I have a horrible feeling that it will be some other character (Hamlet himself?) and that I have missed clue that would make the answer really obvious My main worry in continuing to read this book is that the end will be disappointing. The plot and the characters have been superb so far and have really involved me in the book - I care what happens and I can't wait to find out what really happened and who really are the genuine characters. The answers will probably be revealed when the old woman's missing diarys are found (bit of a trite device but it might work) and I can't wait. This is a relatively easy book to follow. Yes the plot does twist and turn but the narrative is straightforward and the references are well-explained. The characters are pretty realistic and there are numerous clues and red herrings to puzzle
over. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good crime mystery story or who likes books where the answer is inextricably bound up with the personalities of the main characters. Its great - I can't wait to find out what happens.
I shall start, in my own inimicable fashion, with an anecdote which has a laugh at, you've guessed it, me! I was at a rather tedious research colloquim in the summer and had sat through a day an a half of boring "group hug" sharing of research strengths, weaknesses, strategies etc. You know, the sort of thing where you are invited to share your greatest personal weaknesses with a room full of strangers and, even worse, a selection of your colleagues. So I had confided how I fiddle with my pen or my hair when I'm nervous and how I get so het-up before giving a conference paper that I usually throw up in the Ladies and we were now moving on to the serious business of what we thought our strengths were. We were having a rather "fun" ice-breaker about our most amusing conference moment which, to be honest, was no fun so I stopped listening and started sketching the man sitting opposite me on my note pad (I mean I sketched him on my note pad, of course, not that he was sitting on it). Anyway, to get to the heart of my anecdote, it was soon my turn to speak but I had totally forgotten what we were talking about. A friendly colleague sitting next to me whispered that we were supposed to be confessing what item had had the most significant impact on our lives so I said truimphantly "The Gossard Ultrabra" There was a stunned silence and the colloquim facilitator pointed out gently that he had meant the most significant impact on our working lives!!! Nevertheless, I still stick to my point that it is the Ultrabra. My Ultrabra gets men to mend photocopiers for me and agree to trade seminars with me if I need to take the day off. I am, in reality, a embryonic feminist who believes that I should be treated equally for my academic ability but who is enough of a realist to appreciate that my colleagues do favours for me becuase I have stunning boobs!! The disadvantage of making this comment was that the predominantly male
population of the colloquim spent the remainder of the week staring surreptitiously at my boobs but I did get bought ever such a lot of drinks in the evening. Anyway, back to the plot - the Ultrabra - what can I say? More comfortable than its near neighbour, the Wonderbra, probably due to the thicker but oh so lacy straps, this marvellous piece of innovation guarantees a cleavage to die to that looks equally impressive under a tee-shirt or adding a feminine touch to a conventional business suit. There is a reasonable variety of styles and colours available although the size range is rather limited - I suppose the rationale being that once you get to a certain size, cleavage enhancement is not particularly necessary (can't say I agree but you can see the logic). I particularly like the lacy ones but these tend to show through too much under tight tops but there is a seamfree range which deals nicely with this problem. The main problem is finding a shop that stocks the full range of styles but this can be circumvented by checking out the website where the full range is available at shop prices (sometimes with extra discount) and free delivery. To sum this up - plift and comfort - what more could a girl want (OK - boobs that look like that with no bra on!!!)
I'm generally a great fan of Lancome products. Tempted by their usually generous free gifts and samples whenever you buy a product, I have a make-up bag stuffed full of various Lancome bits and bobs. I love Tresor perfume and body lotion and used to love the Oui range of products. However, a friend bought me the Oui foaming bath lotion for Easter and it smells so bad that I can't use any Oui products any more and have just given away the best part of £80's worth of perfume and body lotion. The foaming bath lotion looks lovely. It comes in a tube which is a lovely shade of translucent pink and you can see the lotion looking reassuringly thick and moisturising inside. In the tube, it seems gorgeous - the same rather heavy and fruity smell that characterises the Oui range. I couldn't wait to use this as it looked and smelt so great. But put this in hot water and its a whole different story. How can something that smells so nice in the container smell so totally disgusting when you put in hot water? I have to admit that the cooler the water, the less disgusting the smell but that rather defeats the point of a long hot soak in a fragrant bath, doesn't it? I mean, when deciding to create a bath lotion, you'd think that Lancome had the good sense to make sure that it still smelt nice when it was doing the job it was supposed to do. The smell actually reminds my of my first date in a way because I went out with someone who appeared to have been soaking himself in Brut for days in preparation for the event. The main recollection of have of the whole evening is sitting in the cinema trying not to breathe for the whole of Beverly Hills Cop in case I was overcome by the concentrated Brut fumes. Well, bathing in Oui body lotion is a bit like that. The smell is overpowering regardless of how little lotion you put in the bath and it sort of attacks the back of the throat. The first time I use
d it, it literally took about five hours for the smell to get out of the house. And its no better on the skin either - I actually got so sick of its overpowering cloyingness that I had a shower about two hours later to try and get rid of the smell. So, in short, unless you are planning an evening in a hot cinema with someone you particularly dislike, steer well clear.
This is not going to be my usual balanced and dispassionate type opinion (ha ha!) but it is a personal view which may provide some insight into euthanasia from someone who has had to consider it as a real possibility. My mother died of Huntingdon's chorea which is a hereditary disease which is like a particularly unpleasant combination of Altzheimers and Parkinsons - basically you suffer total mental and physical degeneration. This process can be rapid (one to two years) or gradual (ten years or more). Believe me, it is harrowing in the extreme to watch someone suffering from this disease slowly go insane and lose control of all their bodily functions. The even more unpleasant aspect to this for the sufferer is that the process is gradual - in your moments of coherance you understand exactly what is happening to you. There is no cure. On top of watching my mother die from this disease as a child and witnessing the total distruction of the members of my family because of this, I have had to face the added trauma of knowing that I might develop this disease. There is a test but I don't want it. I have a fifty fifty chance of having the disease and it rarely develops before the age of thirty (I am 27). If a person makes it to forty without developing the symptoms, they are pretty much in the clear. My rationale for refusing the test is that if it is positive I am going to spend the next few years waiting for the symptoms to set in - the only possible reason to take the test is for the relief of a negative result but I just couldn't cope with knowing that I am going to die in what I consider to be the most horrendous way imaginable. So what has this to do with euthanasia? Basically, if I develop the symptoms I want to die before the tremors, the lost of control and the mental debilitation set in. I do not want to put my husband, father and friends through the agony of watching me rot away and, more selfishly, I ce
rtainly don't want to go through it. This disease is terminal and the death is slow and agonising. Why should I spend may five or ten years with no quality of life, waiting to go insane? Death will be inevitable so I would like the dignity of a peaceful death so that the people I love can remember me as I am. I cannot believe that a civilised society allows people with terminal diseases to endure slow and painful deaths rather than to make an informed decision whilst they still have the full use of their mental capabilities. Suicide is extremely prevalent in the early stages of Huntingdons and I can certainly understand why. But why should anyone have to resort to suicide alone rather than a controlled death administered by a doctor so that they can slip away peacefully surrounded by their relatives? I do appreciate that there are strong moral objections to euthanasia (one of my difficulties is that I am also a Catholic so I am very well aware of the moral dilemma) but I still feel that euthanasia is the only compassionate way to deal with people with diseases such as Huntingdons. Also, there is the issue of where you draw the line and I'm afraid that I don't know the answer to that. All I do know is that anyone who has watched a parent die as I did and how has had to face for years that they may die in the same way has certainly thought the issue through and that is why I am firmly in favour of euthanasia.
I have been using First Direct for three years despite their lack of student banking facilities purely due to the outstanding level of customer support offered by the staff. I mean, is nothing too much trouble for these people. Not that I'm complaining - its just that I had rather got used to indifferent service, rude staff and inflexible bureaucracy whilst using other banks. I have to admit that I only opened a First Direct account due to the £15 offer which was running at the time as an incentive to get people to open accounts. Right from the start, I was impressed by how polite and helpful the staff seemed to be but cynical old me thought 'aha, this is all a ruse to lure me into First Direct, as soon as I am a customer you will treat me with the contempt that all banks seem to think that customers deserve'. But no, three years later and they are still friendly, efficient and helpful. Opening the account was a matter of filling out a straightforward form. This was followed by a telephone call from First Direct so that I could set up the password and make the necessary security arrangements involved with telephone banking. I do have a minor gripe at this stage - why does the memorable date have to be this century? I wanted to use a date in 1861 (a very important year for me!) but apparently it has to be this century - the problem being that I didn't have any particularly memorable date (of course, I could now use my anniversary!) hence I have to keep it written down which rather makes a nonsense of its value as security. Other than this, I have absolutely no complaints. I have had advice on a loan (easily arranged over the telephone in about ten minutes), high interest savings accounts, car and home insurance and mortgages and have always received unfailingly helpful advice from people who seem genuinely keen to be of assistance. The mortgage advisor was particularly helpful as I asked him to exp
lain it in basic terms and then again in very basic terms. He didn't seem to mind and made everything very simple and kept checking with me to make sure I understood (this was in direct contrast to the Abbey National who told me that I didn't need to understand how the mortgage worked because they would do the worrying for me - all very well and good but if I'm going to be in debt to someone for twenty odd years, I really would rather understand what was going on). I did have some qualms about telephone banking as I was worried about whether this would make dealing with any problems that arose too difficult. But firstly, there haven't been any problems, and secondly, all the staff are so helpful that I feel that any problems would soon be sorted out. There is Internet banking available with First Direct but I can't comment on it because I haven't used it yet. All in all, a great bank. All current accounts automatically have an interest free overdraft which is really helpful if, like me, you get paid every three months as money tends to be a bit tight towards the end. Equally, it only takes a telephone call to transfer some money from my savings account into my current account if the need arises. Customer service like that provided by First Direct seems, regretfully, to be almost non-existent elsewhere. In my quest for the perfect bank, I have tried Midland (as it was), Nat West and Barclays but have never received such good customer service. I do agree that anonymous telephone banking is no substitute for the old-fashioned days of banking when all the staff in the local branch knew your name and banking seemed to be tailored to each individual's needs. However, these days are long gone and I would certainly prefer a series of polite and helpful customer service people on the telephone to the offhand and sometimes blatantly rude service I have experienced in branches of some other banks.
I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear about the situation regarding Jo. As a lawyer whose second string is medical law, I am aware of many similar cases where parents have fought to compel their local health authority to provide appropriate treatment. The difficulty is that the courts have limited powers to intervene with the decision of a local health authority unless it is improperly made. This means that each local health authority has a vast amount of discretion regarding the use of their funds. You may remember the case of Jamie B, the little girl who was suffering from a rare and serious illness but her local authority (Cambridge, I think) decided that as the treatment that might save her life was very expensive and had a very low change of success, the expenditure was not justified as it did not represent prudent use of scarce public resources. This case received a great deal of media coverage and the child's father decided to waive their right of anonymity to raise public awareness of the situation. He sought a judicial review of the health authority decision on his daughter's behalf. At first he was successful as the High Court quashed the health authority's decision and ordered them to reconsider. The health authority appealed against this decision to the Court of Appeal where they were successful. The Court of Appeal expressed their regret at this decision but emphasised that the role of the court in such proceedings is limited to deciding whether the correct procedure had been followed in making the decision - the substantive merits of the decision such as the potential success of the treatment and the use of public resources were not something that they can consider. This illustrates the power that each individual health authority has to make decisions regarding patients within their region. Each HA has a different set of priorities regarding expenditure which is why you hear of situations where
by treatment which is available on the NHS is available in one region but not in another. This, I think, represents the real flaw in the system. Leaving regional health authority's to manage their own budgets and make their own expenditure decisions means disparity of treatment for patients. The allocation of resources should be uniform throughout the country to ensure that everyone has the same access to health services. Whatever your position on this, the basic fact is that there is not enough money to pay for all the treatment that is needed. Therefore, health authorities have to make hard decisions. In the case of Jo, the decision has been made that she should not receive the treatment that would improve the quality of her life as she does not have the average life expectancy. But would it really be a waste of money to improve the quality of the life that she does have? Personally, I think not but its not my decision. If Jo lived in a different region, another health authority might decide differently and that, to my mind, is part of the problem here. Equally, there is no mechanism for overseeing these decisions as the courts are limited to ensuring that the decision is procedurally correct. That puts a lot of power in the hands of each health authority to make life and death decisions. Whether the situation would be any better if the decision making process was centralised is open to debate. But it would be an improvement if there was an actual appeal procedure under which patients could challenge the actual substance of the decision not to fund their treatment rather than merely decide whether the decision was reached using the correct procedure. My final thought is merely that surely these decisions should be made on the basis of need - which patients are in greatest need of treatment to improve the quality of their life, however long or short that may be. After all, there is no policy that people ove
r the age of 75 cannot have medical treatment because they don't have long to live. Jo is just as precious to her family and friends as any able-bodied person is to their family. It seems to me to be a poor basis for an administrative decision that a body of people can condemn her life as less valuable than any other human being.
Sark is one of the smaller Channel Islands at just three and a half miles long and one and a half miles wide. Accessible only by sea, this little island offers a peaceful and beautiful place to spend a holiday (actually I'd like to live there but a holiday will do for starters) So what makes Sark unique? Firstly, it has no cars - transport is by horse, bicycle, tractor or public transport (horse and carriage!). As there are no cars, there are also no roads, just a series of dirt tracks and numerous short cuts across the fields - the short cuts are regularly used because there are no fences (not even to keep cattle in) and the people are so friendly that nobody ever minds if you pop across their property. Talking of property ownership, Sark is based upon a feudal system whereby the island is leased from the Crown by the Siegneur, Michael Beaumont (the 'King' of Sark) and is divided into forty portions, one of which is the Seigneurie (King's palace). The other portions are held by the 'men of Sark' who have a duty to bear arms in defence of the island and numerous other duties. That doesn't mean that only forty household live on Sark as each portion has various houses and shops built on it which the landownder can sell or lease in the usual way. Sark's administration is headed by the Seigneur and there are two official posts - constable and assistance constable. Each man of Sark has to hold the post of constable once in his lifetime. A new holder is chosen every year and takes the post of assistance constable to see what is required for the main post. After a year, the constable steps down, the assistant becomes constable and a new assistant is appointed. There is not a great deal of work for the constable as the island is virtually free of crime (except in the tourist season). If a major crime is committed, the constable has the power to close the island to prevent anyone leaving or arriving (in
cluding tourists) until the situation is resolved. The last time this happened was in the 1980s when the jewellery shop was burgled - after a few days the jewellery was returned and the island re-opened. There is a prison which can hold two people. Those convicted of serious crimes are usually transferred to Guernsay as the facilities in Sark prison are rather basic. Sark can make and adminster its own laws to a certain degree but is largely dependent upon Guernsay. Nevertheless, it sounds a pretty good place to be in prison as you don't actually have to stay there - you can go about your normal everyday business provided you wear a shirt with "PRISONER" on the back - possibly an early version of Labour's 'naming and shaming' proposals! You do have to watch out for the laws though as you can still be hanged for stealing cattle. As there are few fences, the situation can be somewhat fraught. I remember staggering back from one of the island's four pubs muttering 'sod off - you'll get me into trouble' to an inquisitive cow who had decided to follow the strange people wandering across its field in the middle of the night. Moving to pubs, well, there aren't many but the island is pretty small and you never seem to lack a place to take a drink. They have a stange rule that you can only buy alcohol on Sunday if you have also bought a meal worth more than £1. So a couple of the hotel's specialise in £1.01 sandwiches and soups to get around this. The main selling point of Sark's pubs is how incredibly cheap the alcohol is. It was still less than £1 a pint last time I went. The same is true of cigarettes, perfume, electrical goods and jewellery. In fact, the only thing which actually was expensive was milk and other dairy products. You need to be a bit wary of the local milk as it is not routinely pasteurised and can have some very stange looking lumps in it. I refused to d
rink any the whole time I was there (three months) and once resorted to opening hundreds of little tubs of 'non milk disgusting stuff' just so I could have a bowl of cornflakes. Sark milk is supposed to taste lovely but it looked extremely off-putting. There are not many shops and the whole place has managed to remain 'little village-esque' despite the massive influx of tourists every year. One shop specialises in jewellery made from local gemstones, especially amythests which can be found on the beaches - I spent hours looking but never found any(Dixcart Bay is supposed to be the best place to look). Another essential purchase is the handmade Caragh chocolates which put Thornton's in the shade and are a fraction of the price. Places to visit include La Coupee which joins Sark to Little Sark. The 300 foot precipice overlooking Convanche Bay was built by German prisoners of war after the island was liberated by the Chelsea pensioners (who have the freedom of Sark and visit every year). Once on Little Sark, you can visit The Pot which is the remains of the copper and silver mines. Gouliet caves are also worth a visit as some of the caves are massive and extremely beautiful and several are covered the anemonies. The network of caves is massive though so don't wander off - seriously, people have disappeared in there. The horse and carriage tours of the island are a great way to see the sights and if you get one of the older drivers they will be more than pleased to recount the history of the islands and to point out the places of interest. Getting to Sark is remarkably easy. You can fly to Guernsay from Southampton for about £55 pounds (takes about half and hour) and then take the boat to Sark for about £20 return. Despite its reputation for being an expensive place to stay, this is simply not true as B&B averages at £18 per person per night. The hotels are more expensive but not excessively so espe
cially at the end of the season. I recommend the Dixcart (but I'm biased as that was where I worked) or La Sorbonnerie. I worked on Sark for three months as a vac job and loved every minute of it. The locals are extremely friendly and love to get to know new people and there is always a range of activities going on to go to - concerts, dances, quizes, local history lectures - none of it vastly exciting but you do get used to the gentle pace of life. If you need to escape to somewhere a bit more lively, Guernsay is only a half hour boat trip away and the locals will usually let you hitch a ride if they're going which is cheaper than the official boat. (don't be alarmed if someone offers to take you to 'the mainland' in an extremely small boat - they only mean Guernsay, not England) So, in summary, Sark is a great holiday destination - its a little old-fashioned community with some great beaches, cheap prices and wonderful scenary. Alternatively, its a great place to work for three months if you fancy something different with the added bonus that there is no income tax!
I've won $50, I've won $50, I've won $50 dollars!! As you can probably tell, I'm really excited. I recently bought a CD (Hello Pig by the Levellers) from cd-wow and was generally pretty impressed by the low cost of the CDs and the speed of service but not nearly as impressed as I was by the fact that I HAVE WON $50!! (Its only just happened and I really am excited!) I actually found out about cd-wow on dooyoo which proves what a wonderful resource it is (as if we needed proof) and thought that I would take a look. It was not that attractive on first visit as it has a very limited range of CDs available which appear to be mostly chart music and recent releases which don't interest me. They list the top 75 CDs although it isn't clear whether this actually corresponds to the charts or is just the most popular 75. There is an option to search for anything that isn't displayed but the range still seemed incredibly limited. There was a section announcing forthcoming releases which was quite useful. However, the greatest band of all time (The Levellers) recently released a new album so I had a look at cd-wow and there it was for £8.99 (postage and packaging is included in that price). I eagerly tapped in my credit card details and awaited my email confirmation. I was extremely disappointed to receive an email saying that my card had been declined and advising me to contact my bank. My bank, however, had no explanation for this as I am within my credit limit (miracle) and the card was valid. So I emailed cd-wow and they advised me to try again. It worked the second time and the CD was delivered four days later. All in all, pretty good service. But then it got better. I was sitting here trying to do a final hour of work on my thesis when I received a 'how was it for you' email inviting me to fill in a short questionnaire about my shopping experience. Alway keen to be distr
acted from work, I filled in the short questionnaire and was presented with an online scratchcard which offered me the opportunity to win $50. Dooyoo know, I nearly didn't bother as I always think these things are just a swizz! But I scratched away with my mouse and I HAVE WON $50 (still excited - it doesn't take much - will I even sleep tonight?!?) So, a relatively limited range of CDs at great prices, with quick and free delivery and friendly customer services. Great. Oh, and did I mention that I won $50?
This has got to be my most used internet shopping website - www.courtaulds-ebrands.com. The name gives no clues to its content (well, it didn't to me anyway!) but it is the best place to buy lingerie as it is a combined website for Berlei, Gossard and Aristoc. The combination of these three brands means that here is an immense range of lingerie available here - functional, sexy, cheap, extravagent, wedding - its all here. Just the range of tights and stockings from the Aristoc range makes this worth using especially as the prices throughout seem to be as good as, if not better, than the department stores I usually go to. I use it mainly for bras and have had excellent service. The bras are organised into categories - sport, uplift, minimiser, underwire, etc. Once you have selected the relevant category, you get some clear photographs of the bras and information about the availability of different colours and sizes. One thing that struck me immediately was the range of sizes - if you had an issue about your bra size and didn't want to go into a shop, this would be just the place. The shopping basket is easy to use and stores items between visits to the site. However, perhaps the greatest advantage of this site is not the range of products but the quality of service. Delivery is free and very fast - every order I have placed has arrived the following day. If you are not satisfied with the fit, quality or appearence of the product, there is a no-quibble guaranteed returns policy - I returned a bra just because I didn't like how it looked and they had no problem about a refund. Other than the products, there is a fair amount of information on the website - a fit guide and a lingerie guide, for example. Most importantly, there is a gift guide which provides ideal guidance for husband's desperately seeking inspiration (that is a hint, hon, if you're reading this!) For every purchase that y
ou make, you get a token towards a free gift which is a fair of stockings or tights from Aristoc at present. So, a website where you can buy an Ultrabra and an 'only the balls should bounce' sportsbra with free and fast delivery. What more could you ask for?
The 'little red card' is the People's Bank Comic Relief Visa. I got on as part of a big Comic Relief promotion a couple of months ago in which People's Bank agree to give £5 to Comic Relief for every account opened and a further 60p for every £100 spent or transferred from another credit card account. To encourage you to transfer your balance, the introductory interest rate is fixed at 7.9% for the first six months which beats the rate of my main Visa card. Other than the charitable aspect, it is a pretty standard credit card. There is no annual fee and they issue additional cards for free. I was also sent eight credit card cheques which hasn't happened with any of my other credit cards but, to be honest, I'm not really sure what to do with them! The People's Bank staff all seemed really helpful on the one two occasions that I have had to telephone them. The first time was to activate my card so there were no problems there but the second time was five days later when the card was declined in a shop. I telephoned People's Bank who could find no reason why the card had been declined but who credited my card with £5 for the inconvenience - don't you love it when banks do that! The introductory interest rate if quite tempting and its nice to know that People's Bank are so generous at compensating customers if a mistake is made. But the main advantage of the little red card is obviously the donations that are made to Comic Relief. If 10% of the people who make donations on Comic Relief day opened a little red card account and spent £150 in the first month, Comic Relief would receive an additional million pounds by the next Comic Relief day which is really great news. So I get a pretty standard credit card (in a very fetching colour) which increases the donations to Comic Relief without me actually having to donate anything. Can't be bad.