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Technological progess scares me sometimes. I remember getting my first iPod 8 years ago and marvelling at this small device - the first iPod to have a colour screen no less - and thinking it would look stunning for years to come. Fast forward a few years and the iPod Classic is no more, having been usurped by the iPod Touch in terms of design and usability. I recently decided to upgrade my iPod Touch - not because I hated my 3rd generation iTouch but because I was seduced by the larger screen and the fact it had one thing my old iTouch lacked - a camera. ~~General Information~~ The 5th generation iPod Touch comes with three sizes of hard drive - 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. I have a huge music library and enjoy having movies stored to watch on the go, so there was never any doubt I'd be getting the 64GB version. This costs £329 at the Apple Store - but can sometimes be picked up for a little less online. The 5th generation iPod Touch comes in a range of colours - you can choose from white with a silver back (which is what I chose), black, pink, green, blue and red. The dimensions have changed a little - certainly I immediately noticed how much thinner the 5th generation iPod Touch is in comparison to my old 3rd generation one - and even my daughter's 4th generation iTouch. The device measures just 12.3 cm in height, 5.8 cm wide and a pretty miniscule 0.6 cm in depth. It's incredibly lightweight too, weighing just 88 grams. The screen is noticeably larger at 4 inches (10.16 cm) and comes with the wonderful retina display - something that blew me away when I upgraded to the iPad 4 - giving a pixel resolution of 1136x640 - 326 pixels per inch. It operates on the latest iOS 6 operating system - I did have to update to iOS 6.1.3 out of the box however. Like previous iPod Touches, the 5th generation allows for wifi internet browsing, but the camera is an improvement on older versions. It is a 5 megapixel camera and comes with a flash, a new addition to the iPod Touch range. The camera is also capable of capturing HD video. In the box you get your iPod, a wriststrap, new new lightening USB charging cable and the new style Apple EarBuds. ~~My Thoughts~~ The 5th generation iPod Touch is a definite improvement on the 3rd and 4th generation versions I have used but Apple have maintained a gentle step upwards so as not to baffle those who perhaps struggle to get to grips with new gadgets. Setting up my iPod Touch was a piece of cake. I must admit I spent some time reorganising my iTunes before I actually added any media to it - spending the first few weeks of ownership using it to surf the web and take photos. When I connected the iPod to my computer using the new so-called "lightening" USB lead I have to say I didn't feel it connected any quicker than the old style Apple USB lead. I feel the same about this lead on the iPad 4 and do have to question why Apple changed this - with the cynic in me reaching the conclusion that being able to charge consumers £25 for an adaptor to enable them to use the new iPod Touch on existing speaker docks is perhaps their strongest motive. Unlike the iPad you can charge your iPod via this lead when it's connected to your computer. As I had a lot of media to add it did take a while - probably about 90 minutes to transfer over all 5000+ songs and 28 video clips and films. I love David Hasselhoff as much as the next person but have to admit his charms as a singer eluded me so he's nowhere to be found in amongst those songs however there's plenty more cheese to choose from instead. The sound quality on the new iPod Touch isn't markedly different from my old one. The new EarBuds are, however, a marked improvement on Apple's old style headphones. They both look better and sit more comfortably in the ear and the occasional tinny tones you got from the old headphones are a thing of the past with the EarBuds. It goes without saying however that the speaker doesn't add much to any aural pleasure you may derive from your iPod Touch. The retina display on the screen definitely enhances viewing quality when watching video content on the new iPod Touch. Much of the movie content I have bought of late is high definition and I really notice a marked difference in picture quality on my new iPod when watching HD video over my old iPod Touch, with sharper images on the display. This difference is noticeable even when just scrolling through apps on the iPod Touch or browsing the web with lettering on websites looking particularly sharp. This is particularly useful if using the Kindle app to read books. The camera on the iPod Touch isn't up to David Bailey's standards but for me it's perfect. I like to take pictures to share on social media and the camera is perfect for this, enabling you to share it directly via apps for Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or iMessenger. The flash with the camera doesn't limit you to daylight shots but I must admit it can make some images appear a little washed out. The camera is two way facing so you can take pictures of yourself (if that's your thing) but the best addition (in my opinion anyway) is the ability to take panoramic pictures. This is quite easy to do and enables you to get a wide snapshot in a way not previously possible on such a small device. You do have to take your time as you capture your panorama (the camera will warn you to slow down if you go too fast!) but it's a nice addition to the camera and especially good to capture location shots. The iPod comes with a wrist strap, named by Apple as an iPod Touch Loop but I have to say this sort of accessory doesn't appeal to me at all so I haven't used it. Whenever I buy an iPod the first accessories I get are a screen protector and a hard protective case and I'd prefer Apple to include at least one of these as opposed to a wrist strap to be honest. ~~Conclusion~~ Having tried other brands of MP3 players I have to admit I always return to Apple's machines because I like how iTunes works (if not the iTunes Store) but I have to add that the iPod Touch 5 wins out over rivals due to the quality of the screen display, the versatility of the functions available and the fact it quite simply looks great. The fact Apple invest so much time and money in design shows on the iPod Touch 5 but don't think it's a victory of style over substance as it is both functional and reliable. I have tried to find some disadvantage in this new iPod and cannot find one major one - my only issue is probably the new lightening USB lead meaning the purchase of adaptors to enable users to continue using existing docking stations for their gadgets, and the fact that certainly in terms of style the iPod Touch has definitely lost some of its lustre in comparison to the iPad - but these are minor quibbles and as a result I can only conclude by saying the iPod Touch 5 isn't just 5th generation - it's a five star product.
A few months ago Billy Paul turned up on an episode of "Top of the Pops" which was part of BBC4's repeat run of the show. It turns out it's the only surviving performance of Paul from the TOTP archive and he was singing "Let Em In", his cover version of the Wings hit. It was a memorable performance, showing off the jazz influence in Paul's voice never mind the fact he had turned a pop song into something of a message song. Soul music in the 70s didn't have protest songs - it had message songs, and Paul performed on one of the most famous, "Let's Clean Up the Ghetto". His involvement in this song which was released under the banner of the Philadelphia All Stars was down to the fact he was not only Philly born and bred but he was also signed to the Philadelphia International record label, which was the brainchild of songwriting and production partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Billy Paul isn't famous amongst mainstream audiences for message songs however - his biggest hit is the classic make out song "Me and Mrs Jones", which was a massive hit for Paul, hitting the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1972. The song is still well known 40 years on but the title of this documentary comes from his follow up single, the much less heard "Am I Black Enough For You". ~~The Film~~ "Am I Black Enough For You" was released in 2010 and filmed by Swedish director Goran Olsson. The film features some indepth interviews not only with Paul and his wife Blanche but also with Kenny Gamble , Questlove and Schoolly D. The film follows Paul as he performs in both the US and France, and features live performances of him performing some of his best remembered songs. ~~Opinion~~ This is a decent music documentary but perhaps it's biggest flaw is it does try to be a little too clever by half, which means you might miss some of the points Olsson is trying to get across. At the start of the film Paul and his wife Blanche are interviewed in a car with the lighting used to such an effect it looks almost like a Matisse painting. Blanche reveals that when they first met, Paul felt she was trying too hard to look white. She recalls how obnoxious she found him on this first meeting, saying how much she liked the blonde hair she had at the time. Paul stays silent throughout this tale, almost as if he has heard it a million times before - which is possible given they have been together since 1965. Later on when Paul and Blanche are asked about their thoughts on "Am I Black Enough For You" being released as the follow up to "Me and Mrs Jones" the responses from Billy and Blanche are interesting. Paul thinks it was a mistake but seems rather sangfroid about things. Blanche on the other hand is far more vocal about how the song was wrong for her husband and projected the wrong image for him, thus stalling his career. This leaves the viewer wondering - does Paul still think his wife is too white? The film doesn't go into depth on Paul's early life, merely mentioning in passing Paul served in the military for a couple of years in the late 1950s. He spent some time in Germany and recalls his desire to visit Vienna to learn more about Mozart because at the time he was into classical music. Paul first love musically was jazz and if "Me and Mrs Jones" is the only song of his you have ever heard this will not surprise you. He has the smoothness of delivery that jazz singers are renowned for, and other songs his ability to improvise is evident too. Live performances punctuate the film but I must admit I had mixed feelings about these because Olsson has dubbed the original recorded version over footage he has shot of Paul performing live. This makes sense in some performances but not necessarily in others and it would have been nice to hear how he sounds today a little more often. The answer is not bad at all - and he was 74 when most of this film was shot in 2009. Paul comes across as a well mannered, happy person and it's only through interviews with more contemporary artists and his lawyer that the viewer learns how much he was ripped off by Philadelphia International records in the 1970s. This leads us neatly to the interviews with Kenny Gamble, and you can tell there's an element of tension between the two men which exists today, mixed with mutual respect. Kenny Gamble was the man who chose "Am I Black Enough For You" as the follow up to Paul's biggest hit. It's hard to imagine in 2012 why a song with this title wouldn't be a hit due to the huge popularity of RnB music but the problem was a mixture of timing and racism. Gamble comes across as a bit of an idealist, sprinkled too with a touch of black power politics and he seems unapologetic for choosing a song which portrayed Paul as something of a radical as opposed to the smooth voiced crooner who crossed over with "Me and Mrs Jones". The mainstream radio stations who had lapped that song up baulked at what they perceived to be a black power anthem - as did the white couples who had smooched along to "Mrs Jones" - and as a result it wasn't a hit. Fast forward almost 40 years and the interviews with Schoolly D, who reworked the song into a rap version and Questlove suggest the song was simply years ahead of its time - and certainly viewed today it's a song which gives Paul more credibility - certainly far more than the UK follow up single "Let's Make a Baby". Questlove is a particularly good interviewee - he's articulate and knowledgeable and quite clearly a fan of Billy Paul. His thoughts are interspersed with an interview where Paul tells the story of his grandmother who had to leave Georgia when her husband was lynched and there's a suggestion by Olsson that this was a trigger for Paul becoming politically charged musically but what I was left with was a sense of sadness in Paul that people could be racist as opposed to a sense of anger. The only time he showed any trace of anger in the film was recalling a racist Philadelphia police officer whose name is bleeped out. His anger over the way this officer treated Billie Holiday is evident but you are left wondering what angered him the most - the racism or the unfair arrest of his favourite singer who he openly admits he hero worshipped? Questlove does pick up on songs such as "I'm Just a Prisoner", with Olsson using archive footage from the period of young black men being booked in at police stations (invariably by white officers). His memories on how his family used the song as a warning to him to work in school and stay off the streets are chilling but the archive footage seems a little cliched. In complete contrast to this is a short and pointless interview with Clive Davis (I sometimes think he'd talk to anyone such is his love of his own voice) which seems to have taken place in some vast catacomb so echoey is his voice. The impression I got from this film is that Billy Paul wasn't much of a black protest singer when he joined Philadelphia International -instead he was a professional singer who did as he was told. Kenny Gamble on the other hand was far more politicised and it just so happened he was the person writing the songs for Paul and some of those politics rubbed off on Paul after a while. The end result is a little unsatisfying. The relationship between Billy and Blanche is wonderful to watch but questions remain about his relationship with Kenny Gamble and Olsson doesn't convince that certainly for some of the time in the 1970s Paul merely did as Gamble said. There's a beautiful scene where Billy and Blanche are showing Olsson old photographs and stop at one where both are painfully thin. Blanche mentions addictions which have been overcome but that's as far as Olsson gets in letting us know about them. Similarly there is a powerful sequence where you see Paul praying before going onstage but his faith is barely mentioned. For a man whose vocal roots are so lacking in gospel I'd have liked to have known more about his beliefs and if they influenced him at all. The best thing about the film is Paul himself - he's charismatic, charming and has a voice which is worth repeated listening. I just wish Olsson had done a documentary which didn't use race so much as an issue - that would have worked far better on a documentary on Kenny Gamble himself. I picked this up on DVD in HMV for just £3. There's no extras on the DVD apart from the trailer but there is a booklet which includes an indepth interview with Billy Paul which is worth a read.
When I was due an upgrade on my phone contract a couple of months ago there was no doubt in my mind what phone I was going to get. I had been using the Samsung Galaxy S for the past 2 years and loved it. Despite owning an Apple iPod Touch and an iPad, the iPhone doesn't particularly interest me - I far prefer the Android operating system for Smart Phones. Add in my love of Samsung phones and it won't surprise that I was only ever going to get a Samsung Galaxy S3. The S3 is, like its two predecessors, a smartphone which means you can use it to surf the internet, take pictures and shoot video, listen to music, watch videos, play games and even make phone calls and send text messages. Where the S3 differs most obviously however is in size. This is a much bigger phone in terms of length and has a screen which is a massive 4.8 inches while being less than a centimetre thick. The phone also has a quad core 1.4 Ghz processor and runs on the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android. Other basic information you need to know if considering this phone is it weighs just 133g, measures 70.6 x 136.6 x 8.6mm and has an 8MP camera capable of recording full HD (1080p) footage. It is wifi enabled and Bluetooth ready and also has GPS installed. ~~In the Box~~ The box for the S3 is small but perfectly formed - you get your phone, a charger, USB lead and headphones. You can get the S3 in either white or pebble blue, which is a shiny metallic blue with a hint of silver. I opted for pebble blue when I got the phone. The charger plug uses the USB lead which I have mixed feelings about because I like to keep the USB lead beside my computer and it's not something I generally associate with charging. It seems Samsung have taken a leaf out of Apple's book with this set up (hopefully Apple won't sue!). The headphones are white and I must admit I don't like them. They are of the in-ear variety with soft cups to protect your ears and have a volume control button attached which can also be used to pause and restart songs. The sound quality is a bit tinny and you really need to push the control buttons on them firmly to get any response. When I got my upgrade from Vodafone they threw in a phone charger and a phone case (complete with screen protector) free of charge. ~~Making Calls/Texting~~ Although this is a smartphone the main function is to make and take calls or send text messages. Like my Galaxy S, the S3 uses a swipe action across the screen to unlock the screen and to answer a call. When the phone rings there is a green button on the left and you swipe this to answer. If you want to reject the call then swipe the red button on the right. If you want to make a call the "Phone" button is located on the bottom left of the homescreen , beside the contact list and Messaging function. You can either use the keypad to dial a number r pick one from the Logs, Favourites or Contact buttons on the top of the screen. I really like how easy it is to use this phone to call and sound clarity is generally good although that is something that is always going to be dependent upon how good a signal you have on your phone. When the signal is bad I do sometimes get echo on the line (when I can hear what I have just said echoing back to me) or dropped calls but by and large sound quality is good. To end a call you simply press the red button on the screen. Texting is equally easy and like the Galaxy S uses the conversational style of linking texts which I really like. This means texts you send and receive from one person are viewable on one page and makes it easy to view conversations you have with different people. The screen uses a qwerty keyboard for texting and has auto correct as well as predictive text. By and large I do like both systems but it's always worth checking exactly what comes up on your screen as auto correct has proven to be an auto error machine on occasion for me. The screen is very responsive too. You can choose from a wide range of ringtones for your phone. I always use mp3 music clips as my tones and these are easy enough to add to your phone and set up as tones. My only very minor gripe about the pre-installed ringtones is the fact the S3 doesn't have the Fairy Dust tone I used for texts on my old Galaxy S, opting for some altogether more obtrusive tones instead. I got around this by using an mp3 tone instead. ~~Smartphone~~ One of the things I didn't like about my Galaxy S phone was how tricky it could be to switch the 3G internet on and off, meaning I resorted to downloading an app to make this easier. Samsung seem to have taken this on board and instead of having to download an external app or dig around the Settings on the phone you can now access the internet by tapping at the top of the home screen which will give you the option to either connect to the web via wifi or mobile internet with one touch. Switching it off is equally easy. You can also use your phone as a wifi hotspot using the tethering function. This is useful if you want to use your mobile internet on a tablet or laptop and is easy to do by downloading an external app such as FoxFi. The quad core processor on the S3 makes everything so much quicker, meaning restarting your phone is quick and painless. Similarly browsing the web is a quick process and because the screen is so large on this phone it's almost like having a mini tablet for surfing. I do find it easier to access several sites using apps than going in on the regular internet page and using either Google or the bookmarks to find a page. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook work much better through their respective Android apps. Downloading apps on this device is easy although I would advise you use a wifi connection when downloading so as to not eat into any data allowances you have on your mobile web. Apps are available from the Google Play store (formerly known as the Android Marketplace) and to download them you need a Google account to access content. Most of the apps you will need for popular sites are free although there are others available to buy. ~~Camera~~ I've been impressed with the camera on the phone. It's actually got better spec in some regards than my regular camera (which is admittedly quite old now) and it's incredibly easy to use. There is an app which you touch to take you to the camera and from then on it's almost self explanatory how to get a picture taken. You can switch to video by touching the camera button at the top right of the screen. Similarly if you want to take a self-portrait the camera can be "turned" using the button on the top left of the screen. You can easily turn the flash on and off and select the shooting mode from a selection of choices along with effects such as sepia, negative and black and white on the camera screen. There is a zoom function which utilises the volume control buttons on the side of the phone. To take a picture you simply press the large button with a picture of a camera and your picture is available to view almost immediately via a small preview on the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Similarly to shoot video the large button shows a red dot which you press to stop and start filming. Picture quality is very good - although the zoom function does tend to knock focus out a little. HD video is staggeringly good too - with razor sharp images and a microphone which is capable of picking up lots of detail in the sound. ~~Music and Video Player~~ When I reviewed the Galaxy S phone I mentioned how awful the Samsung Kies software is which you use to upload music or video files to your phone. You can also use Kies to back up contact lists, photos and anything else you may have saved to your phone. Kies has improved over time thankfully but you can bypass it altogether using the S3 if you like by just connecting your phone to the internet and then selecting your phone as an external hard drive. Once you have done this you can add media content without having to open Kies and do one of their regular software upgrades. The music player is easy to access via an app and easy to use - you can scroll through songs easily and skip or fast forward them quickly too. My only real gripe with the music player is when I transferred the music that was on my old Galaxy S to the S3 the artwork didn't transfer over too, but that's pretty minor. Watching video content is equally easy and because the screen size is so big this is a great device for watching films on when travelling. Pictures are sharp and clear on the screen and sound quality is just as good as on the music player. ~~Overall~~ I loved my Samsung Galaxy S but I have been even more impressed with what Samsung have come up with in the intervening two years. The S3 looks amazing and while I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the size of it at first I couldn't imagine using a phone with a smaller screen now. When I compare my phone to my iPod Touch the screen on the latter looks tiny. The internal memory on my phone is 16GB but you can buy the S3 with 32GB or 64GB hard drives. It's worth considering that the phone is capable of handling a 64GB external micro SD card in addition to the internal memory so you can expand your memory in a way that isn't possible with the iPhone. Sound quality is excellent, touch response is fantastic and the Super AMOLED HD screen is quite simply the best screen I have seen on any phone. Battery life on the phone is good too - because it's so easy to switch 3G or wifi on and off you can preserve battery life to such an extent than a full charge will last a good 4 days before you need to charge again if using purely for phoning and texting. There's no denying 3G does drain the battery quicker than any other function however and if you use this regularly then you will need to charge the battery every day. Obviously the S3 isn't going to be for everyone - if you just want a phone to text and make calls then this isn't going to be for you. The phone costs £425 to buy and you need to be using other functions on it to make it worth the money. The price tag is high but this phone is worth it - there isn't a single function it offers which is bad with Samsung quite literally having perfected every smart aspect of it, without forgetting to make it a functional phone at the same time. This is easily the best phone I have ever owned - and unsurprisingly it's the best smartphone on the market right now - despite what Apple fans will try to tell you.
I was recently due a routine eye test. I usually choose an optician for this purely on the basis of what frames they have on offer. This time round however I struggled to find any optician with anything I liked so I opted for Specsavers purely because they were the least worst option. My prescription had a slight change so I bought a cheapish pair of rimless glasses but when they arrived although I liked them they weren't as nice as my old glasses or as lightweight because they weren't made of titanium. Having lost a pair of these glasses not long after getting them and having to pay a lot of money for a replacement pair I had considered buying a second pair of glasses in Specsavers utilising their buy one get one free offer but eventually I ruled that out because I didn't like the glasses enough. Instead I decided to look online to see if there may be a cheaper option available. A Google search revealed a site called www.glassesframesandlenses.com which just so happened to be selling the very frames I had just reluctantly given up. These were very competitively priced and upon exploring the site more I decided I would purchase my second pair of glasses there. ~~The Site & Ordering~~ The homepage contains a lot of information regarding what the company offer and how to use the site to buy glasses. The first thing I did was e-mail them for a copy of their guide to pitfalls in purchasing online and how to avoid them. I would advise anyone considering using the site to purchase glasses to download this because if you make a mistake inputting your prescription you will be liable for additional charges. Having read the guide I decided to check if on the off chance there were frames I preferred to my Stepper rimless ones. There is a huge selection of frames and you can try them on virtually by uploading a picture of yourself and then use the site to place the frames on your face. I tried this with some frames I liked the look of and found it helpful enough to let me rule them out. It's easy to find glasses on the site thanks to a search tool which enables you to limit your search by frame style, brand, price, gender and colour. An advanced search function enables you to search using your prescription to find frames that can accommodate your lenses. Once you click on the frames you are interested in the site gives you the dimensions which I find a useful touch. The price structure is fairly straightforward. The cost of your frames includes the cost of single vision lenses. If these are all you need the only additional cost you need to consider is tinting or Transition lenses and their highest level of anti scratch coating. Bear in mind the basic lenses do already come with an anti-scratch coating however. If you require bifocal lenses the cost is an additional £50. There are two kinds of varifocal lenses available with their premium range costing £89 and their bespoke lenses coming in at £119. In addition to this selection you can also buy branded lenses with the site offering lenses by Zeiss, Hoya, Rodenstock, Nikon Presio and Essilor Varilux. Postage is free but it's worth noting that this doesn't include any insurance. As Royal Mail will only cover the loss of items worth £46 via regular mail it's worth paying £7 for Special Delivery which will fully insure your glasses in the event of the package being lost or damaged. ~~My Experience~~ I have to say I have been very impressed with this website although that's not to say there aren't a few minor niggles either. Choosing glasses is, I think, easy thanks to the exhaustive search engine. The frames I wanted were easy to find and to buy you select the frames first which then takes you on to the next stage of ordering, which is lenses. As I only needed single vision lenses I clicked on the option for them. The default lenses which are free of charge are thin 1.59 index polycarbonate with anti-scratch, anti-reflective & UV400 protection coatings included in the cost. There are lots of additional options included here at extra cost including super thin 1.67 index plastic for £60 and super flat freeform double aspheric 1.74 index plastic for £199. I opted for the default lenses. The next option is for anti-reflective lens coating which is included in the price. You can pay £10 more for super hydrophobic coatings. If you want tinted lenses you select them here too with coloured lenses costing an additional £10 or Transition lenses available for £50. Having selected Transition lenses I then moved on to the prescription page. I must admit I found this a little confusing at first and did consider e-mailing a scan of my prescription to the company. I decided to play safe by popping in to Specsavers and asking them to help me through the information I had to input and it's to their credit they did this without charge or quibble. Once I had a better understanding of my prescription I found entering the details straightforward but if you have any doubts I would recommend you e-mail the prescription instead. You can pay by debit card, credit card or Paypal. Delivery is added on the final page before payment with several options available but once again I would stress you choose Special Delivery. I had found a code offering 10% off which more than covered the cost of Special Delivery so my advice would be to search online for a code before placing your order. Once my order was placed I received an e-mail from the company which clearly showed what I had ordered, including my prescription. My estimated delivery date was 3 weeks from the date of order with the caveat they could arrive sooner, although I have to say this was longer than I had understood to be the case when I originally browsed the site. I was kept updated by e-mail regarding the status of my order throughout the process and received a message 9 days after ordering to let me know they had been despatched. Because I had used the Special Delivery service this meant I knew to expect them the following day and sure enough that's when they arrived. The glasses were packed in a small bubble wrap envelope and inside the case they were wrapped again in a soft cloth case. They also came with a small microfibre cleaning cloth and spare nose pads. I received a compliment slip which was hand written thanking me for my purchase in addition to a more formal order slip from the company. I thought this was great and I really liked the personal touch this gave to my order. The glasses themselves are great and exactly what I ordered. They fitted perfectly which I have to say had worried me slightly but it's worth bearing in mind any high street optician will help you if glasses need tightening and while some charge a fee for this, many do not. Overall I think this site is very good - especially if you know exactly what you want style wise. The only real quibble I have is they do not accept NHS vouchers for glasses and nor do they offer children's frames. This is a real shame although it does have to be said you can buy a pair of single vision frames with lenses from here for £15 which will hardly break the bank. There is also a distinct lack of designer frames and while I don't choose frames on the basis who designed them if you do then you may struggle to find something on the site. The service I received was excellent and if I ever lose a pair of glasses again I will have no hesitation in using this site for a replacement pair at a fraction of the cost charged on the high street. I eventually paid £159 including delivery for my glasses with Transition lenses - when I had bought the same frames with the same lenses from Boots Opticians back in 2010 they had set me back £285 - I think that price differential speaks for itself.
I have been using a Neutrogena moisturiser for the past couple of years now - it's a favourite beauty product of mine as it keeps my dry skin at bay and also contains SPF to help protect it from the elements. Earlier this year however my head was turned in Superdrug by their Optimum Super Antioxidant Grape range. It was on offer at half price so rather than paying £12.99 for a 50ml bottle of day cream, I picked it up for the far more reasonable price of £7. The range also includes a night cream which I also bought at the time. ~~The Cream~~ The cream is actually more of a runny liquid. It comes in a glass bottle with a pump mechanism. It has a clear plastic lid. The bottle is packaged inside a cardboard wrapper which is recyclable. Superdrug claim this cream also helps firm the skin and lessen the appearance of wrinkles and help reduce the effects of ageing. The active ingredients are PhytoCellTecTM "Solar Vitis" Grape Extract which is a powerful antioxidant and Collaxyl®, a unique hexapeptide. It also contains shea butter, vitamin E and pr-vitamin B5. The cream is paraben free and dermatologically tested. As a day cream this is a UV defending product which has SPF 15. It is suitable for use by vegetarians and vegas and is BUAV approved. It has a shelf life of 12 months once opened. I found a 50ml pump lasted 3 months with daily liberal applications. ~~My Thoughts~~ As a moisturiser I have been rather impressed with this product. As an anti-ageing cream I have been less impressed however. The cream is easy to apply. I usually press the pump twice and find that produces enough cream to cover my face and neck. The cream itself is quite runny for a product sold as a cream and I find it takes a few minutes to fully absorb into the skin. I've been wearing this moisturiser for much of the summer and have been impressed at how well it has protected my face and neck from the sun. The Scottish summer has been rubbish this year but I am mindful of the fact you can still get burnt on overcast days and having ended up with burnt shoulders on one such day I can confirm the areas covered with this cream were thankfully unaffected. As an anti-ageing product I have to say I haven't really noticed much of a difference at all. Superdrug claim you should be able to see a visible difference after 4 weeks use but I can safely say I didn't notice any difference at all. I do wonder if these claims you can notice a visible difference after 4 weeks apply to people who haven't been using any anti-ageing products as opposed to people like myself who have switched from another product. Of course another reason could be I am getting to the stage where those lines are getting deeper and past the point of help from just a cream. I have to say I am disappointed with the lack of any visible difference to my skin. The Super Antioxidant Grape range has been heralded in the press as a bit of a miracle product and I can only conclude that's down to marketing on Superdrug's part as opposed to careful use and research by beauty editors. I must be honest and say it was the Antioxidant aspect of the cream that sucked me into buying it so I feel rather let down. My other gripe with the cream is the packaging. The pump is easily removed by just unscrewing from the top of the bottle. This is good for getting the dregs out of it once the pump stops picking the cream up but the design is such that the plastic cap has a habit of working this pump loose which in my case led to a bit of a spillage when I went to lift the cap off and the whole pump came away with it. The plastic cap has a habit of getting rather messy too - it catches on the pump which no matter how well I wipe all cream away from it when applying the cream seems to collect whatever is left when you replace it. I actually got to the stage where I discarded the cap after a while because it was more trouble than it was worth. I have used this in conjunction with the matching Night Cream and have to say I have been underwhelmed by both products. I suppose if I hadn't used them my skin would perhaps look a little worse but there are cheaper moisturisers available with SPF 15 and more effective anti-ageing serums on the market so I won't be buying this again.
I must admit I am not generally a fan of celebrity perfumes. My daughter however loves them and owns almost the full complement of Britney Spears' fragrances along with a stash from stars such as Beyonce, Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry. The fragrance she has been most keen on getting her hands on of late is Lady Gaga's offering, "Fame". She is a huge Gaga fan but the bottom line is if she doesn't like a fragrance she doesn't buy it, which is why even although she loves Madonna she didn't buy her perfume. Fortunately she loved "Fame" from the get go and as a result I bought her a 50ml bottle of eau de parfum in Superdrug for £29.99. ~~The Bottle~~ "Fame" comes packaged in a black and gold box and the bottle itself is oval and has a gold coloured plastic lid which has stars with long talons gripping the side of the bottle. Personally I think the bottle, which Lady Gaga herself is said to have designed, is a bit tacky looking but my teenage daughter loves it. Once you open the lid you can see lettering with the name of the perfume and Gaga's name in black (natch), but that's the only identification to be seen on the bottle. One thing you notice immediately when you take the bottle from the box is the colour of the contents - the liquid inside is jet black. Don't be put off by this as the technology used by Coty in developing "Fame" means it turns clear when it's airborne. ~~The Fragrance~~ There's been a bit of a stir over "Fame" and initial reports claimed Lady Gaga wanted to create a fragrance inspired by the smells of blood and semen. In typical Gaga fashion this isn't as revolting as it originally sounds - her inspiration came from the assumption that if she could capture something of her own body in the fragrance it would mean she could share it with her fans. I can, however, categorically confirm there's nothing even remotely resembling the smell of bodily fluids in "Fame". Coty claims the perfume is constructed using a so-called "push pull" technology which eschews the "top, middle and base" notes you get in most perfumes. Again I'd take this with a small pinch of salt - supposedly the notes don't take any precedence in the scent but that's not been my experience. The notes are based on dark, sensual and light aromas, with Belladonna representing dark - along with the black liquid in the bottle of course. The Belladonna isn't a fragrance I am particularly au fait with, having been told many years ago in childhood to avoid the deadly nightshade at all times. Gaga of course makes her Belladonna seem far more dramatic as a "dark" note by calling it "tears of Belladonna" but it's the sensual heart that is the more dominant fragrance with the sweet notes from Tiger Orchid, Honey and Apricot Nectar hitting you almost immediately. As soon as this sweetness hits the nose it lingers too, making me wonder why there's any suggestion of dark notes beyond the colour of the perfume. The "light" in "Fame" isn't anything like as dominant as the sweetness of the fragrance. The notes used are Tiger Orchid and Jasmine but this floral layer only really acts to slightly alleviate the almost sickly sweet heart in the sensual layer. I personally am not going to complain about this as I really don't like overly sweet perfumes but it does call into question the suggestion this fragrance doesn't have top, middle and base notes because the floral notes do not come through until you've been wearing "Fame" for about 20 minutes. I do like the black liquid however - it's a novel touch and it's left my daughter hoping and praying Nicki Minaj's forthcoming fragrance is going to be pink. Be warned however if you spray the perfume really close to your skin the liquid most definitely isn't clear - instead it takes on a grey tinge but it fades to clear quickly and doesn't stain your skin or any fabric for that matter. Longevity wise this is pretty good - it lingers for about 4 to 5 hours before gently fading away. Even although this is an eau de parfum it's not a particularly expensive EDP so this doesn't particularly surprise or disappoint me. "Fame" is definitely aimed at the younger age group and I would imagine that by the time you hit 25 you will start to find the overtly sweet "sensual" heart a little cloying, but to be fair I am pushing 50 and rather like it once it's settled down on my skin a little bit. I would say this is a fragrance best suited to a night out rather than day wear however - it's certainly captured Lady Gaga's love of the dramatic and it strikes me as just a little too strong for wearing in the office. Given the sensuality Gaga shows in her videos and performances I suppose it figures that the "sensual" part should be the most dominant but for me anyway I just wish it wasn't quite so sweet. So if you can see past the extremely sweet middle of "Fame" then I think it's a good perfume, only really let down by a bottle which sadly I think looks cheap and a bit naff. "Fame" is also available in 30ml and 100ml bottles of eau de parfum.
I flew with United Airlines transatlantic with my husband over 10 years ago. The experience was so bad we made a concerted effort to avoid flying with them again. I particularly remember surly and downright rude cabin crew, a battle to ensure at least one of us could be seated with our autistic daughter on all flights and a complete lack of concern from the cabin crew when my daughter woke up with a night terror on an overnight flight back to the UK. I generally fly British Airways these days but for flights to New York the easiest way for me to go has been from Glasgow to Newark on Continental Airlines. In March this year however Continental merged with United. The airline became known as United, with planes bearing a livery almost identical to the old Continental one. I booked a flight to New York for May 2012 six months before the merger occurred and I must admit I was worried about how it would work out, especially in light of reviews on the Skytrax website which were overwhelmingly negative after the merger happened. It became apparent early on that there were some major teething troubles with the merger which led to cancelled flights, lost bookings and the familiar complaint of unconcerned staff rang out loud and clear. ~~Booking~~ I booked my flight as a package with a hotel on the Expedia website. You can of course book via United's website and you can also check your booking and check-in online via the United website. Much of the confusion at merger time was due to the fact United changed their online reservation system and website to the system Continental had been using, leaving a large number of United staff in need of extensive retraining in reservations and countless United frequent flyers having to get used to a completely new web interface for the airline. As I have booked and paid directly for prior flights using the Continental website, the new site wasn't an issue for me. Just after the merger in March I got an e-mail from United informing me my booking reference had changed but apart from that everything else remained the same. At the start of 2012 Continental planes were given an "Economy Plus" cabin to bring them in line with United planes. I decided to use the Continental site to upgrade the seats just before the merger took place. You do have to pay extra for these seats which give you an extra 5" of legroom but not much else. Prices do vary depending on what seats you select but I paid $99 per person per leg for them on the website but you can't actually book direct into the Economy Plus cabin the way you can if you want to book Premium Economy on the likes of British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. A few days before I was due to leave I received an e-mail from United effectively cancelling my return flight and leaving me incredibly confused. This was due to the fact when I booked my flight with Expedia, the flights were codeshares with BMI. As BMI left Star Alliance on 1st June 2012 which was a couple of days after my departure date, this left me in limbo. It took the best part of a day for me to get this sorted out as BMI didn't want to help me and United claimed it was a travel agent issue. To Expedia's credit they got it resolved to my satisfaction right down to ensuring I kept the seats I had bought and paid extra for in Economy Plus. ~~The Experience~~ You can check in online for your flights with United, which is a step up from when the airline was still Continental. Back then you could only check in at the airport if you were going on an international flight. The website does ask for advance passenger information including each passenger's name, date of birth and passport number, along with an address for where you are staying on your first night in the US. The bag drop process is fairly straightforward assuming you had completed the advance passenger information and that you have a valid ESTA. You are asked some security questions before dropping off your bags and getting your boarding passes. I was relieved to see that the seats I had reserved were honoured on both flights. You are allowed one bag to check in free so long as it doesn't weigh more than 23 kilos, and you can bring one cabin sized piece of luggage on board with you. These limits increase if you fly in the Business First cabin. The planes themselves are still Boeing 757-200s and the interior is almost identical to the Continental version. The only change I noticed was in the Economy Plus cabin which takes up the first 8 rows of the economy section in the plane. These seats have a much better seat pitch but in every other way are the same as economy seats with no additional recline. It's also worth noting if you are considering booking this cabin that there is one row which doesn't recline at all - it goes without saying that's the cheapest row to purchase but to be fair to United the website does clearly state which seats don't recline at all when you are looking to choose a seat in Economy Plus. Service was friendly in the Continental manner I have experienced on this flight in the past. I have to say I was most relieved about this as I can still remember a United stewardess talking to my late husband as if he were a five year old over where to stow a bag on a crowded plane. We were served a lunch about an hour into the flight which was decent enough. You can order special meals but my daughter, who has a pathological aversion to airline food told me not to bother ordering a child meal for her and instead took a Meal Deal from Boots onboard with her. I had beef (from the usual economy choice of "chicken or beef") and it was pleasant enough, if a little overcooked. It wasn't a patch on the food I've got in Premium Economy on BA, but then again they let you have food from Club World in their Premium Economy cabin. On the return flight I had a pasta dish and my daughter had this too (in the absence of Boots' Meal Deals at Newark Airport) and she surprised herself by enjoying it. You get a snack before landing on both flights - the hot chicken sandwich you get prior to landing in New York is lovely but the "breakfast" you get on return is less inspiring. You have to pay for alcoholic drinks onboard and just like Continental, the new United only accept credit cards for payment. I only ever drink soft drinks when I fly as I hate to get dehydrated on board but a couple more runs down the aisle with some water would have been nice. It's got to the stage now that no matter where I am flying I make sure I have a large bottle of mineral water when I board to keep me hydrated throughout. The planes had a good AVOD entertainment system with seat back screens. The system included several recent films along with several classic movies, TV shows such as "Family Guy" and music offerings. I had a book with me and just read but my daughter enjoyed watching "The Muppets" movie for the umpteenth time and her beloved "Family Guy". The system also included a moving map, which I must admit I always switch on when I fly. It's not the best moving map I have ever seen (that award goes to the 3D one British Airways have on some planes) but it's good for letting you know where you are flying over. On the return flight we were given pillows and blankets but you don't get an amenity kit so if you need an eye mask or earplugs, pack your own. The best thing about our flights was Economy Plus. The extra leg room made the seats more comfortable and it was really nice not to have the person sitting in front of me reclining their seat into my stomach as is the norm in the Economy cabin. Five inches doesn't sound like a lot of space but it really does add to your comfort levels when flying and removes the "do I recline or not" dilemma from travellers. We were also seated close to the door which meant we got off the plane pretty quickly. This was particularly good arriving at Newark as it meant we got to the front of the queue for immigration really quickly. Of course this review is only based on international legs and American carriers change dramatically when you switch to a domestic flight. It's worth bearing in mind that the flight from Glasgow to Newark takes around 8 hours in which time you do get fed and watered by the airline. If you wish to take the United flight from Newark to Honolulu which is a domestic flight it lasts 14 hours and you have to pay for everything except a soft drink and it's worth bearing in mind that these flights regularly run out of food to buy too. The new United is also gaining something of a bad reputation for cancelling half empty domestic flights and merging them with later ones which probably does make good business sense but isn't so good for a traveller with a connection to make. On the subject of connections although Newark is a United hub they do seem to have cut back on flights from the airport. I've used the Newark route to connect for Las Vegas while it was still being operated by Continental but it's not worth my while now it's run by United as the layover time at Newark has gone up from 3 hours to 8 hours. I had no problems with delays or cancellations on this trip however and everything went smoothly including the boarding process which was done in blocks which were identified by a number on your boarding pass. It is worth noting that United have phased out pre-boards for families with children which I think is probably a bad move on their part and just adds to the stress families have when flying. You only get a pre-board if you have status either with United or Star Alliance. You can join the United Mileage Plus frequent flyer program - I have done but to be honest unless you use United very regularly the miles don't really amount to much. The awards are also very US centric so I may be able to get a cheap room in a US hotel with an affiliated chain but that will probably be about it. If you use the airline regularly it's a no brainer to join - especially if you are flying business class - but for the leisure traveller I have derived no benefits whatsoever. Overall I think I would probably only use United again if I was wanting a direct flight to New York or if I was travelling to a destination served solely by them. I paid £670 each return for our tickets by the time the additional charge for the Economy Plus is added on, which I didn't think was too bad when you factor in the extra comfort and the convenience of flying direct from Glasgow. The Economy Plus isn't a patch on British Airways' product however so don't be expecting leg rests or foot rests or a wider seat. It's also worth mentioning that since the merger the fares seem to have increased quite a bit on this route so shop around. I do think the thing that lets United down the most is the thing that generally lets down most US carriers and that is their domestic product which can be akin to Ryanair on some carriers so my advice would be if you plan on using United try to get a direct international flight to your destination - or as near to your destination as possible.
Generally when I buy suitcases, I buy Samsonite suitcases. The brand has never let me down, but there is no denying their products can be expensive. I've been fortunate to pick some pieces up whilst on holiday in the US at far more competitive prices than in the UK but sometimes it can be hard to justify paying the RRP. Last year I found myself in need of a small cabin size case. I decided not to get Samsonite on this occasion as this was a bag which wasn't going to be checked in at the airport often and as a result didn't have to endure the rigours that involves. I went to my local Watt Brothers Store in search of a case. Watt Brothers is a Scottish department store and they usually have a decent selection of competitively priced luggage in stock. I was drawn towards the Aerolite 19.5" cabin trolley case by the price tag of just £35 and the fact the case is expandable. ~~The Look~~ The case is black and made from what Aerolite describe as "pebble suede" material which is soft and durable. The case has four wheels on the bottom and a telescopic handle for pulling the trolley at the top. There is also a traditional case handle at the top of the case in conjunction with another handle on the side of the case. On the opposite side of the case are four feet to protect the case if you place it on the ground. The dimensions of the case are 49.5 x 21 x 34.5cm which is within the accepted dimensions for cabin baggage with airlines and has a capacity of 35 litres. It weighs 3.9kg when empty. The case comes with a padlock and has two external pockets on the front of the case - one is very small but the larger one can accommodate a book or magazine. There's also one pocket on the back of the case and this also houses a name and address tag. Inside there's a small mesh zip fastening pocket and two open elasticated top pockets. There are fasteners inside the case to keep your luggage in place too. ~~My Thoughts~~ In the 18 months or so I have owned this case I have been very pleased with it and while I would stop short of describing it as the ultimate cabin bag it's certainly been a good buy for me. The case has travelled with me on most of my trips away in that time and it's been perfect for short weekend trips on the plane or by train as it can carry enough clothes for a 4 day break and the attendant toiletries I always pack with ease. I always use the external pockets to pack small toiletry items and the large pocket is useful for books - although I use it for all liquid toiletries if I am flying and not checking my Aerolite case in as it's ideal for quickly getting the Ziploc bag which you have to carry them in out of for going through Security at the airport. The internal elasticated pockets are good - I tend to use them for hairbrushes and for larger bottles of toiletries if I am checking the bag in or travelling by train. As I've recently discovered some hotels can be stingy with plug points I also carry a small 3 plug adaptor with me when I travel within the UK now and the zip mesh pocket is perfect for this and they can also hold a pair of shoes. The case comes with a 3 dial combination lock which I must admit I have never used. I travel to the US a couple of times a year and you aren't allowed to lock your case when you travel there so it's not a habit I've ever got into. It's a nice touch however if security is an issue for you when you travel. I really like how the case can be expanded, and have used this function a couple of times when I've been down in London and hit the shops. The case only expands by 7 cm but the extra space around almost the entire width of the case is really useful. It's very easy to expand the case - there's a zip located under the fastening zip which you just unfasten to increase the capacity of your case. To return the case to the standard size you just pull the zip back round again. Even expanded the case still fits within the cabin luggage size rules. Because the case has internal fasteners there's no real excuse for the contents of your case going flying although I must admit they are quite fiddly, comprising of two separate fasteners on each side which can be extended as required and fasten via plastic slots similar to those you find on baby strollers. They can be rather temperamental when it comes to adjusting and I must admit I do prefer elasticated crossover style fasteners in a suitcase. The wheels on this case are sturdy and because there are four of them and because of the way they are positioned you can pull the case as well as push it when using it in trolley mode. The case has made many journeys now and been pulled over many streets and around many airports and railway stations without suffering any ill effects. I must admit I was worried about the wheels on this case as in my experience they are usually the first thing to go on cheaper luggage so I am delighted to have been proved wrong. The handle is very easy to operate - you just push the button on the top and pull the handle out. It's silver stainless steel and telescopic, stretching to a maximum height of 50 cm. It's just as easy to replace - once again push the button at the top of the handle and it will slip back into place. My only real complaint with this case is with the external pocket on the rear of the case. All the zips on my case have been robust and functional but for some reason the pullers on the zip around this pocket have both fallen off, rendering the pocket redundant. It's a real shame because I really cannot fault the design of the case and the pocket is home to the name and address tag, which sits in the middle of it. The tag is concealed and pulls out of a slot on the pocket. None of the other zips on the case - which I have to stress are used far more often than the zip on the rear pocket - have been affected this way so I can only conclude there's a design flaw with the zip pullers on this pocket. That's a small gripe however. For £35 I think this case has been a bargain and it's served me very well on short trips and longer breaks alike. It's sturdy and durable and I have had no problems stowing it in overhead lockers on flights or on luggage racks in trains. I particularly like how there are two handles on the case which makes it easy to lift, and of course the four wheels which make manoeuvring the case a piece of cake. It is worth noting that although the case is pretty light when empty if you fill it to capacity lifting it up to place in an overhead locker could be tricky. I only wish I had been able to get the case in a colour other than black because so many people have cases which are similar and it means I have to regularly place brightly coloured tags on my case to ensure someone doesn't take it off the baggage carousel in error. Having seen someone make off with my case at Ibiza Airport in the past and having to run after him to get it, there's a lot to be said for easily identifiable luggage. There's also a lot to be said for travellers checking the tag on their bag with their luggage receipt or for their name but that's another story. If you need a small case for weekend breaks however this is a great buy and I highly recommend it.
When we holiday in the US my daughter loves to visit drugstores and beauty counters in department stores in search of cosmetics which are invariably cheaper there than here. She is a huge fan of Benefit and Urban Decay products but she checks out the cheaper brands too and as someone who feels naked without polish on her nails loves to check out the nail polish on offer too. When we were in New York City last year we were browsing the huge branch of Walgreens in Times Square and my daughter came across a brand of nail polish that was new to her - Essie. To be honest it was new to me too, despite the signs on the display stating Essie has been in business since 1981. She saw a pink polish she really liked and cost $9.99 plus tax, so I bought it for her. When we got back she started to wear the polish regularly and became a bit of a fan. Since then we have been back to the US a couple of times and she's bought several Essie products including a base coat. About six months ago she was delighted to see the nail polish was being sold in Boots, so she has steadily been adding to her Essie collection since then. I don't wear nail polish anything like as much as my daughter and when I do I am stuck in my ways and like to wear French Pink. I had been buying Aldi's version but they seem to have discontinued it so a couple of months ago I decided to buy Essie's version of this colour, which is called Mademoiselle. Like all Essie nail polishes in Boots, this retails at £7.99. ~~The Brand~~ Essie was founded by Essie Weingarten in Las Vegas in 1981. Originally sold as a salon only brand the polish has been available internationally for many years but didn't become a mainstream brand until L'Oreal bought it in 2010. The range comprises around 200 shades with seasonal additions. For example during the Olympics there was a great range of metallic shades, including gold, silver and bronze. These seasonal shades tend not to hang around too long and it's worth buying them when you see them. There's also a range of base coats, top coats and other nail treatments available at the Essie stand. ~~The Polish~~ Essie nail polishes come in thick glass bottles with the brand name embossed on either side of the bottle, which contains 13.5 ml of product. There is a small "e" embossed on the top of the bottle cap. ~~My Thoughts~~ I am very fussy when it comes to nail polish...I am not exaggerating when I say I have tried almost every brand available in stores such as Boots and Superdrug, along with premium brands such as Chanel trying to find the perfect French Pink. Having found my favourite in Aldi, and then having it discontinued, I was rather annoyed at having to start the search again. Because my daughter has been so happy with her Essie polishes - so much so she has eschewed the huge Miss Sporty collection she built up over the years in favour of what she views as a superior product - I decided to head to the Essie stand first in search of a replacement. Essie polishes don't always have particularly obvious shade names - with "Baby's Breath" and "Penny Talk" not being as obvious to identify unseen as "Blue Rhapsody" or "Raspberry". It was fairly easy to spot their French Pink on the stand in Boots however and the name "Mademoiselle" also helped me identify it as something decidedly Gallic. The first thing you notice when you open a bottle of Essie polish is the smell - it's got a very pungent chemical smell and I generally can tell when my daughter is using it before I see her and my Mademoiselle is no different. On the upside, the aroma is only really obvious when the polish is wet so don't fret about the smell lingering on your nails for a while. The brush is very good, but you do have to wipe the excess at the side of the bottle before applying otherwise you will have far too much polish on your nails. I find I don't really have to apply a lot of polish - in fact I find I can get two or three nails done fully before I need to put the brush back inside the bottle for more. Furthermore the brush applies the polish smoothly and doesn't leave any of the dreaded brush strokes I have encountered with other brands. One thing which has really surprised me with this brand is how quick it dries. It's not advertised as a quick dry product but I find the polish is dry within a maximum of three minutes, which helps cut down the tedium factor when painting nails. You do need to apply a second coat of polish I find and this dries just as quickly as the first one. Results when my nails are done are good - the polish has a nicely delicate shade of pink which doesn't look fake but gives my nails a healthy shine. Because it's so easy to apply I never have a problem with polish bleeding onto the skin around my nails either. As for longevity I have been very impressed with this polish. It lasts a good four to five days despite the rigours of daily housework and also adds some strength to my nails which have a habit of breaking off when I am doing chores such as changing bed sheets or using the vacuum cleaner. To be able to wear a nail polish which can withstand all that and not chip for four days is wonderful for me. My daughter is also hugely impressed at it's lasting power. The polish is also fairly easy to remove. My Mademoiselle comes off without any problem using my Quickies Nail Polish Remover pads, with no residue left behind. Although the price tag is high in comparison to my old Aldi product and other brands such as Barry M, I think it's worth paying because of the ease of application and the longevity of the product. The fact there's such a huge range of colours available isn't something I consider to be essential but if you like to chop and change colours like my daughter does, it's certainly an advantage. The only real criticism I can make of this product is the smell which really does hit you when you open the bottle. That's minor however - and not something that's exclusive to Essie polishes either. I think for £7.99 this is a great buy and if you are on the look-out for a new nail polish then I can highly recommend Essie.
In the past year I have flown BA on several flights - three times across the Atlantic along with several domestic flights on the airline. It wasn't always thus - for many years British Airways were too expensive for transatlantic flights - although my very first flight to the US was on BA I didn't actually get round to flying them there again until 12 years later. Similarly the regular BA flights I used to take from London to Brussels when my husband worked there in the late 90s ended up giving way to cheaper alternatives courtesy of Eurostar and the now defunct Virgin Express airline. Moving back to Scotland is the main reason I find myself flying them again. There are only a couple of airlines which fly direct to the US from Scotland and they charge a lot of money for the privilege. It used to be I turned my nose up at connecting elsewhere for a flight but with the advent of Terminal 5 at Heathrow I have changed my mind and have flown enough sectors on BA over the course of the past year that I now have enough status to make them more attractive than the opposition. ~~The Airline~~ British Airways is the UK's national flag carrier but as regional departures have shrunk over the years they are sometimes described as "London Airways" in light of the fact all their long haul flights depart from either Heathrow or Gatwick. The airline has domestic connections within the UK to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Jersey. The airline has been in existence in its present form since 1974 and is one of the few airlines in the world which fly to all six inhabited continents. The fleet is served predominantly by Boeing aircraft such as the 747 and 777 on long haul routes with Airbus being more predominant on short haul routes. British Airways is a member of the One World Alliance which means many of their flights codeshare with operators such as Qantas, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Most long haul routes operate into and out of London Heathrow but there are exceptions with destinations served at Gatwick. These seem to be more leisure oriented routes - such as Male and Orlando - and there are also domestic and short haul routes serving the airport's North terminal. Domestic flights operate using a single class cabin, whereas short haul flights have Club Europe seats at the front for business travellers and Euro Traveller for the economy section. The one exception to the domestic one class rule is the London Gatwick to Jersey route, which includes a Club Europe cabin. Flying long haul aircraft will either have a four class formation comprising of First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller (Economy) or a three class formation which omits First. The aircraft has a four star rating from Skytrax which is pretty good for a European carrier although I have to say I think this is perhaps a little on the generous side. As a full service airline what you pay when you buy a ticket covers almost everything, included checked baggage, airport check-in and drinks on board. All domestic flights that depart before around 9.00 am offer a cooked breakfast to all passengers and you do get fed if you fly Club Europe. The only thing BA charge extra for is the option to choose where you sit before online check-in opens, and this can be irritatingly expensive - £30 per person per sector adds up quickly for instance. The only way to avoid these charges is to have status with the airline. Check in can be done online and there are several ways to get a boarding pass - you can print one at home, print one at the airport or save one to your phone. Baggage allowances are generous - even in economy you are allowed one cabin sized bag and a smaller bag along with one checked bag. Both the cabin bag and the checked bag can weigh up to 23 kilos but be warned - you have to be able to put your cabin bag in an overhead locker yourself - if you can't a member of cabin crew won't help you and it will have to be checked in. Baggage allowances are more generous in premium cabins and if you have Silver or Gold status with the airline. ~~Flying Experience~~ Over the past year I have flown British Airways on 18 different flights and in several different cabins. The airline has fairly regular sales and you can pick up bargains if you are aware of these sales. I took a 3 night break to Boston for instance which cost just £450 including 3 nights at a Sheraton hotel in the city. The flight we took was in World Traveller connecting at Heathrow Terminal 5 and I was fairly impressed with the World Traveller cabin although I must be honest and say the seat pitch on offer of 31 inches is a bit on the tight side. The seats however are fairly comfortable and the headrest enables you to position yourself reasonably comfortably. World Traveller also has personal seat back TVs and on this route we did have AVOD entertainment which meant we could watch films at our leisure. Be warned however not all aircraft have the AVOD system meaning video is shown on a loop and if you miss the start well you'd better hope you've got time to watch it all second time around. Service on BA is brisk and efficient but not particularly warm. It's certainly far more polite than anything you get on a US carrier (with the exception of Southwest Airlines who are so laid back they are horizontal) but isn't a patch on what you can expect on airlines such as Qatar or Etihad. Food in World Traveller is generally adequate but nothing special, with the usual choice of chicken or beef available. Drinks are free but the airline is pretty stingy with the drinks trolley. I don't drink alcohol when I fly but even getting a soft drink during quiet periods can be a bit of a challenge. I get round this by always taking a bottle of water on board with me which I don't mind when departing from the UK but paying almost $5 for a bottle of filtered water in the US is annoying but sadly a necessary evil I find. My daughter and I flew a couple of times in World Traveller Plus and I must admit this is a much nicer cabin. You get much more legroom with a seat pitch of 38 inches, a slightly wider seat and a smaller cabin with dedicated cabin crew. A fairly recent addition to World Traveller Plus is meals from the Club World cabin, served on china plates with metal cutlery - a vast improvement on the plastic and cardboard offering you get in World Traveller. The seats have a leg rest and a foot rest so it is easier to get comfortable in this cabin. The only downside about these seats is the head rest - it can't be adjusted sideways and as a result isn't a patch on the head rest in the seats at the back of the plane. The downside about the BA cabins are they are starting to show their age and on one flight in particular the seats were very shabby and I struggled to get my leg rest to operate without the intervention of a member of the cabin crew. The airline is refitting many of their long haul aircraft but it's a slow process and certainly in comparison to airlines such as Lufthansa or Emirates, BA's fleet is old. On short haul the cabin neglect is more evident. I flew in and out of Heathrow several times and the planes were by and large passable but the fleet used to fly in and out of Gatwick is, frankly, a disgrace. The leather seats are well past their sell by date - although in light of the service I experienced using Gatwick I would suggest it's the entire short haul fleet that's past it's sell by date. The short haul flights I took in and out of Heathrow were, with one exception, on time. I can forgive the one delay we experienced because snow was involved. Flying into and out of Gatwick was a different kettle of fish with six out of six sectors flown all delayed. This is, I think, unacceptable and it's something BA need to address before I would seriously consider flying long haul via Gatwick with the airline. ~~Frequent Flyer~~ British Airways' frequent flyer scheme is called Executive Club and I joined when I knew I was flying to Boston. What I didn't realise when I joined was my daughter could have an account too - so I set this up a month later. You start on the Blue level and work your way up collecting tier points on each flight through Bronze, Silver and Gold. I was amazed how quickly we reached Bronze, which enabled us to use Club Europe check-in desks and also to book seats free of charge 7 days before departure as opposed to 24 hours before departure as a blue member or non-member. Once you reach Silver the benefits are greater, with free seat selection from booking and even better access to BA lounges - and partner airline lounges around the world. The lounges vary depending on where you are - at provincial airports they offer comfortable seating and free wifi but a very limited selection of food. Go to Gatwick and there's a much better array of food and showers you can use if you have a long layover between flights. You also earn Avios points with BA flights through the Executive Club and these can be redeemed against flights or against upgrades on paid for flights. You get a 25% bonus on Avios points when you are Bronze, and this rises to a whopping 100% bonus once you hit Silver and Gold. As a result you can quickly amass a fairly decent pile of points to put towards reward flights. The only problem is availability can be difficult to find on long haul flights but I've used them on domestic flights without any problems finding seats for 9,000 Avios and £27 each. Avios points can also be earned if you buy duty free onboard or via the BA eStore, which is worth using if you shop online regularly. ~~Finally~~ BA has become my first choice of airline these days due to the competitiveness of fares from Scotland across the Atlantic and the fact it's been fairly easy for me to get status with the airline, which makes the experience more pleasant due to perks such as Fast Track through security, and being able to use business class check in which helps alleviate the queues you find yourself standing in when travelling. Connecting at London is generally a breeze - although it has to be said it's much nicer at Terminal 5 at Heathrow than at the North Terminal at Gatwick in my opinion. I remember when Terminal 5 opened there were some very serious teething troubles but they are a thing of the past and the only other airport I like to transit through as much is Newark New York due to ease of use and choice of eateries and shops. When things go wrong BA generally will help you out although customer service staff at Terminal 5 can be a little abrupt. The only real issue I've had was a bag which had been checked in not arriving until 24 hours after we did. Fortunately I am the sort of traveller who always ensures there's clothing for both myself and my daughter in each suitcase so the inconvenience factor wasn't too bad. The cabin crew are, for the most part, helpful and professional. The professional part is what I like best about BA trained crew as when I fly want to be in the hands of experienced staff who take their job seriously and I also like how there is a good mixture of both male and female crew of varying ages which is in stark contrast to when I flew Virgin Atlantic with a cabin crew which consisted almost entirely of very young, giggly girls. Long haul economy seating isn't brilliant but it's bearable and beats any charter airline I've ever flown for legroom. If you can get a decent fare for Premium Economy in the sale it's worth it I think - but remember that's something that comes down to personal priorities and if you'd rather spend the cash when you get there. The little touches you used to get such as amenity kits in economy are long gone (you do get them in Premium Economy) but you always will get a pillow and blanket for overnight flights and you won't get charged to use a headset either. Overall I like them and so long as the fares remain as competitive as they have been in comparison to United Airlines' flights to the US I will continue to use them regularly.
I think it's safe to say most people know that smoking is bad for your health. It's also bad for your skin, something I can see too painfully in comparison to my twin sister who has never smoked. I have deeper and more pronounced wrinkles than her with the worst affected areas being around my eyes and around my lips. There are plenty of anti ageing products for the eye area but finding a product which will target the lips is trickier. After much hunting I was delighted to discover Elemis produce a product which is designed for the areas I felt needed special treatment. I was less delighted upon learning the price - a whopping £58 for a 15ml tube. Several months ago however I was browsing the British Airways e-Shop and noticed the store www.timetospa.co.uk had the Elemis Pro Intense Eye and Lip Contour Cream on sale for a very limited period. Even better there was an additional 20% off code I could use which meant I was able to purchase the cream for a far more reasonable but still expensive £21.76. ~~The Product~~ The cream comes packaged in a bronze coloured box which contains the 15ml pump and an instruction leaflet which contains instructions in several different languages. The cream itself is packaged in a pump which has a metal dispensing mechanism and clear plastic lid. There's a transparent area in the main body of the bottle, which is made of bronze coloured plastic which lets you see how much of the product is left. The cream itself is white and quite rich. It has a delicate floral aroma. You don't have to apply a huge amount either - one press of the pump dispenses enough cream to apply around the lips and both eyes in my experience. Elemis suggest you use the cream, which contains active plant stem cells from edelweiss, combined with what they claim is the "skin supporting" mafane flower, fucose and wheat amino acids, twice a day. Once opened the product should be used within 6 months. ~~My Thoughts~~ The Elemis Pro Contour Eye and Lip Contour Cream has, sadly, been a disappointment for me. I've been using it twice daily now for two months, applying it in conjunction with my anti-ageing serum and daily SPF15 moisturiser. The cream itself is very nice - it smells lovely and has a rich texture which glides onto the skin easily and absorbs surprisingly quickly. You do have to be careful when applying it - ensuring no product gets into the eyes, or onto the lips either. I am long enough in the tooth to know that anti-ageing products need time to work so I wasn't particularly concerned when after a few days I noticed no real difference in the wrinkles around my eyes and lips. I was, however, a little peeved when 4 weeks had passed with no difference whatsoever. By the time 2 months had passed with no difference I realised the Elemis cream isn't going to help in minimising the appearance of lines around my lips. Despite my own personal disappointment in the product I am loathe to write this off completely. I suspect that had I started using this in my 30s as opposed to my late 40s I probably wouldn't have such pronounced lines as I have now. Elemis suggest this product is suitable for "all" skin types but I suspect this is a product which would be best used by someone younger - perhaps someone in their 30s just beginning an anti-ageing regime as opposed to someone with more mature skin like myself. If, however, you are older and already have fairly pronounced lines around the lips and eyes then I can't really recommend Elemis Pro Intense Eye and Lip Contour Cream based on my own experience and the fact it is, undoubtedly, a very expensive product. I was extremely fortunate to be able to purchase it at such a large discount but sales on Elemis products on the timetospa website are few and far between in my experience. I would never in a million years spend almost £60 on a beauty cream and must admit I'm glad I didn't because if I'd paid full price for this I would have been extremely upset. The one area where I have been impressed with the product is how long it has lasted. Having used it twice daily for two months there's still about a third of the product left in the bottle so I can safely say one pump should last for 3 months. As it is however I am disappointed with the product. I'll finish the cream off but won't be rebuying it and have come to accept that I'll just have to accept the wrinkles around my lips are here to stay.
As I age I become more reliant on a serum to if not halt then at least slow down the advance of wrinkles on my face. I've found both Aldi and Marks & Spencer have produced good products but sadly my Marks & Spencer serum was discontinued a few months ago, leading me to search for an alternative. I found my solution in Superdrug, who were selling Olay Firm & Lift Day Cream & Serum for £5.99 which is half the RRP. I've since seen it on offer fairly regularly in other outlets so it's definitely worth shopping about for it. ~~The Product~~ The product comes packaged in a tall purple box and the bottle itself is also purple and dispenses the serum via a pump. You get 50ml of product in each pump. It's worth noting that this product is designed specifically for women aged over 40 so if you are lucky enough to still be a spring chicken I would advise you look for a more appropriate anti-wrinkle product as this one isn't for you. ~~My Experience~~ I've been using this serum now for 2 months and have to say I have been very impressed with it overall. The serum is easy to dispense via the pump and it absorbs quickly into my skin which I have to say I like as so many serums can take a while to fully settle into my skin. Furthermore the product isn't sticky, an issue I have experienced with other serums. The consistency of the serum is fairly thin but feels smooth when applied to the face. The serum has a delicate fragrance which has hints of floral and fruit tones and isn't overwhelming in the least. I apply the serum immediately after cleansing my face and the only real issue I have is the fact that although the Olay product is supposed to give you all day moisture as well as targeting lines and wrinkles it's not perfect due to the fact it doesn't contain any SPF. This is fine on days when I know I am not going out or if it's a particularly overcast winter's day but having taken the words of Baz Luhrmann's "Everbody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)" to heart many years ago now, I do prefer to slap some form of sun protection on my face every day. This means I don't always benefit from the fact the serum also contains moisturiser as I find myself slapping on a moisturiser in addition to the 2in1 product to help keep the single biggest cause of wrinkles (sun rays) at bay. Over the course of 2 months I have definitely noticed a difference in how pronounced the lines on my face are. I have said this before and will say it again - I am too long in the tooth for any anti-wrinkle cream to actually remove the lines that are already there but a good product definitely does lessen the appearance of them. I am happy to say that the Olay 2in1 Firm & Lift product does minimise the appearance of my deep lines and wrinkles well - I certainly noticed a difference after a couple of weeks had passed. ~~Finally~~ I think for the price this is an excellent product but it's not quite perfect. Had Olay added some SPF to this it would be the perfect skincare product for me as it would cut out the need to slap another layer of moisturiser on on top. It's unfortunate because of all the serums I have used this is probably the one that smells the best, absorbs the quickest and generally just feels nice, avoiding the tacky and sticky texture of other brands I have bought. Adding the moisturiser to the serum is an inspired move on Olay's part and it's just unfortunate they missed out one vital ingredient. I can only surmise that cost was a factor in them missing out SPF which is a great shame. Had they added it and priced the product at £15 I would be happily buying this forever more at full price but for now - due to the fact I still need to buy that moisturiser with SPF then this is going to have to remain a half price offer purchase only.
Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer who has a mentally disabled son called Zach who is now in his late 20s. Zach is the younger of Bissinger's twin sons who were born 13 weeks early. Zach was born a mere 3 minutes after his brother Gerry but the difference between them in adulthood is stark. Gerry is a student at Penn University and plans on becoming a teacher. Zach has spent his childhood attending special schools and retains a childlike innocence well into adulthood and has an IQ of 50. This is painful for his father to deal with - he's a high achieving, intellectual titan who is faced with a son who speaks as if punctuation doesn't exist. Zachary has one incredible gift however - he is fascinated by maps and has an acute sense of direction, along with a memory as reliable as a good quality computer hard drive. His navigational skills are so good that his father suggests a road trip from Zach's home city of Philadelphia to Los Angeles, taking in places that have meaning for both father and son along the way. Zach is initially reluctant as he would prefer to fly but Buzz gets his own way, planning a trip that takes in places that both men have visited in the past. Buzz Bissinger is an incredibly gifted writer, and this memoir is both searingly honest and captivating. What struck me most about the book is the almost reversal in roles between Buzz and Zach. As the parent of an autistic child I had expected "Father's Day" to feature meltdowns from Zach and Buzz describing coping strategies for dealing with them. The meltdowns however do not come from Zach but from Buzz himself whether it be over getting lost in Chicago or leaving a camera bag containing irreplaceable content outside a hotel in St Louis. It's hard for a parent to admit to their shortcomings but Buzz does this throughout the book - with admissions of failure on his part throughout. Perhaps his biggest shortcoming is immediately blaming Zach when something goes wrong as opposed to immediately accepting responsibility himself. Zach is an uncomplicated man who doesn't deal with emotions when he speaks. Although he shows some traits of an autistic person his genuine interest in people seems to have precluded that diagnosis. Buzz also admits to how difficult being father to such a low achieving child was for him and how he eventually passed most of the responsibility on to Zach's mother. The conversations which Buzz has with Zach are written verbatim and work far better for it, giving the reader a genuine insight into Zach's nature. Buzz has several deep conversations with his son about things such as his divorce from Zach's mother and the fact Zach nearly died at birth. Zach's answers tend to be very short and truncated and lacking in much in the way of emotional understanding but there are times when his understanding of his situation is staggeringly clear. When his father asks him in conversation if he knows that his brain is "not a little right", Zach answers that yes he knows and that it makes him a little sad. The simplicity of Zach's responses initially hide that sadness but when his father perseveres he admits that he feels that sadness most over not being able to go to school like his brother did, revealing a level of understanding his father hadn't previously noticed. What his father and the reader cannot fail to spot is a complete lack of any self-pity on his son's part however. It's all too easy to be inspired by people who have challenges put in front of them which they overcome but what I find inspirational about Zach is how he uses his gifts of navigation and recall to teach his father that you can be successful without winning a Pulitzer Prize or getting top grades in education. He also somehow prises out of his father admissions of his own failure - including a particularly ill-fated spell in Hollywood as a TV writer - which come across as both painful yet therapeutic for Buzz. Zach doesn't have deep and meaningful conversations with his father which bring out these revelations however - it is his manner and his limitations which are the catalysts for them. For all the road trip aspect of the book this isn't really a travelogue - it's more a book about coming to terms with having a child who can reach their full potential as an adult even if the potential isn't what you would have hoped for. I really enjoyed it but as I came to the end I realised it was because Zach is, quite simply, a magnificent person. Buzz's realisation of this is a revelation too. It's not that he doesn't love his son as it's evident throughout the book that he does, it's just that it takes a while for him to realise that his son doesn't have to be top of his year in grad school to be magnificent. It is painful in places to read - especially when Buzz is in the middle of one of his frequent meltdowns or is in danger of succumbing to self-pity himself. However his self-awareness is to be commended along with his refusal to sugar coat his feelings about parenting a child who will, in his own words, never drive a car or kiss a girl. What Bissinger leaves the reader with is a sense that none of those things matter along with a realisation of a far better understanding between father and son - with father being the one who learned the most.
Personal disasters for me don't come much worse than a broken down washing machine. I know that sounds incredibly sad but I do at least one load of laundry a day and as a creature of habit I get antsy if my routine is broken. A few months ago the old Hoover washing machine at my rental home broke down mid cycle, leaving me with a pile of soggy washing I had to take to my sister's house just to be spun and hung up to dry. My landlords were very understanding and rather than inflict a possibly temporary repair on me they decided to buy me a new washing machine. I did have to wait 4 days for the machine to arrive but in light of how quickly they dealt with things it would be churlish to have a problem with the wait. So it came to pass that a Beko WMB61431W was delivered to my home and I have been using it ever since. ~~The Machine~~ This is a cheap and cheerful washing machine. It is available in white, black and silver - I have the white version. The machine has one main knob on front for selecting programs and has a digital display which tells you how long a program will last and also can be used to select other options such as pre wash, spin length and water temperature. The machine has a 6kg maximum load and has an A+ energy rating. The maximum spin it performs is 1400 rpm. ~~My Thoughts~~ I'm not sure I would have chosen this machine had I been buying a washing machine myself but I have to hand it to Beko - this is an efficient and effective washing machine which is also incredibly simple to use. Installation does require a little careful thought however. My landlord's father installed the machine for me but he failed to check the machine was flush on the floor using a spirit level which meant that within the space of a couple of days it was working its way across my kitchen floor. He returned and fitted it properly this time and I am happy to say the machine has stayed put ever since. What I like about this machine is the flexibility I have when choosing a program. The selections available are as follows and are easy to choose by using the main dial at the front of the machine:- Cottons Cottons Eco Time Saver Dark Care Mixed Fabrics Hand Wash Woollens Baby & Toddler Clothing Synthetics In addition there is also an option for an additional Spin and Drain along with the power on and off function. The detergent drawer is located on the left hand side of the machine and pulls out easily. There are three compartments - with compartment I positioned on the right hand side. This is for any pre wash you may do. The compartment on the left is marked II and this is where you put your detergent for the wash cycle in a program. In the middle is the softener compartment which has a blue plastic marker to let you know the absolute maximum dose you can add. Underneath the digital display is a series of buttons to push, five of which are rectangular, with a round button the far right hand side. You can use these rectangular controls to change the default features of a program, enabling you to increase or decrease the type of spin, the water temperature, add a prewash, decrease cycle time using Time Save or add an additional rinse. The round button the far right is the start/pause button. I generally use the Time Saver function for most of my laundry due to the fact most of my clothes are only lightly soiled. On my previous Hoover machine there was a time saver program but it was rather limited due to the fact you could only wash a maximum of 2 kilos of laundry and cut back considerably on the amount of detergent you could use. You also couldn't use fabric softener at all. On the Beko this is a thing of the past. Even using the shortest program, which lasts 28 minutes and washes at 30 degrees with an 800 rpm spin, you can wash 6 kilos of laundry and much to my surprise the machine washes incredibly effectively too. My daughter is a bit of a stain magnet and while I do my level best to treat stains before I put them in the machine occasionally some of them slip through the net and I have been delighted at how well the Beko, in conjunction with my Surf liquid, sees off stains. I do generally add an additional rinse to this program but that only adds another 4 minutes to the cycle. There are some programs which do limit the weight of laundry so it's advisable to check the manual before you stuff 6 kilos of laundry in the hand wash program and wonder why it's still full of soap at the end of the cycle. I have used the hand wash cycle several times, preferring it to the wool wash for the likes of cashmere clothing as it uses slightly less water and defaults to 30 degrees over the wool wash default of 40 degrees. You can only wash 1 kilo loads on this program but once again I have been impressed although I must admit I was a little nervous entrusting my cashmere to a new machine the first time I used the cycle. There was nothing to worry about however and the 600 rpm spin did no damage to my delicates either. The only other program I use regularly is the Cottons cycle. I prefer this over the Cottons Eco program because it actually completes the cycle quicker than the Cottons Eco program and also enables a full 6 kilo load to be washed over just 3 kilos with Cottons Eco. I use this for all towels and bedding as I can wash up to 90 degrees if required (I generally am happy to stick to 60 however) and the program includes a prewash which enables me to add in wash stain removal powder as required. The only thing I find "eco" about the Cottons Eco program is the fact it uses considerably less water than the main Cottons cycle which may be an issue if you are on a water meter. The machine is incredibly easy to maintain. Because I live in a soft water area I don't have to concern myself with limescale but I do clean my machine every month putting bleach in the detergent drawer and running a Time Saver cycle at 90 degrees. The detergent drawer is incredibly easy to clean - to remove you just press a blue dotted area on the siphon in the softener compartment and then pull the drawer out. I clean under a hot tap with a stiff brush, and it slots back in with barely any effort at all. In comparison to my old Hoover machine the Beko seems to be far more effective at delivering detergent and fabric softeners to the laundry in the drum with barely any residue left underneath the drawer when it's removed. The only issue I have had with the machine in the 3 months I have had it is occasionally the spin doesn't work. This has only happened twice and I can only surmise the computer chip misses a beat occasionally, meaning I have to wait another 12 minutes while the machine does a separate spin and drain. ~~Conclusion~~ This is a great machine which is both affordable and effective. I've yet to be let down by it when it comes to cleaning or rinsing and it only took a matter of minutes to work out how to operate it, which is something I appreciate as I get older and technical items start to challenge me a little more. The knob you use to choose a program is easy to read and a real breath of fresh air following the poor design of the knob on my old Hoover machine. The machine is also fairly quiet although like almost all washing machines you cannot get away from the noise of a full spin in full spin so to speak. I certainly find it quieter than my old Hoover machine during the washing and rinsing cycles however. What I like best about it is the flexibility it offers me when choosing a laundry program, allowing me to change default settings such as water temperature and spin length. The Time Saver function is also particularly welcome and I love how I can even do a load at 90 degrees on this program, and add an extra rinse at my convenience. For the money I think this is an excellent machine which if it weren't for the occasional glitch with the spin cycle would get a resounding five stars from me, but even with that is a machine I can recommend. My landlords purchased the machine from the website www.appliancesonline.co.uk for £217 with delivery charge on top.
I recently spent a long weekend in St Helier, and having absolutely no prior knowledge of the Channel Islands at all had no idea where to stay. I had booked my trip with British Airways and upon checking the hotels they offered I decided to book the Hampshire based on both price and location. ~~Location~~ The Hampshire Hotel is located on Val Plaisant, which is about a ten minute walk from the centre of St Helier. There is a small Co-Op Locale store next door to the hotel and a couple of restaurants nearby but the area is generally residential and quiet so if you want to be in heat of the action, the Hampshire isn't going to be for you. The hotel is about a 25 minute taxi ride from Jersey Airport, which cost us just shy of £15. ~~First Impressions~~ The hotel is a period property which has a modern extension but the façade is, I suspect, Edwardian or Victorian and has stucco features. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, tired after a delayed flight and also without my daughter's case, which BA had mislaid. We were met by a bright and airy lobby which although not particularly large had a small seating area with tables. The receptionist was very friendly and helpful but I was only given one key card and never asked if I wanted another one or not. As it happened I didn't need another one but it would have been nice to be asked. We were told we were in room 2, which was located directly across from the reception desk on the ground floor. ~~The Room~~ I had decided to pay a small supplement for a premier room at the Hampshire. I have to say I was rather underwhelmed at the "premier" aspect when we got into our room. We had no view at all - except for what seemed to be the basement and service areas at the back of the hotel. The room wasn't particularly large either - there was a double bed, two bedside tables, a chest of drawers, desk and wardrobe. The bottom drawer on the chest of drawers was used to store tea and coffee making facilities and a small hairdryer. On the top of the chest of drawers was a small flat screen TV. Fortunately the bed was much better. We had a kingsize bed which I was sharing with my daughter and we both agreed the bed was very comfortable. The bed had 4 pillows and a couple of cushions and neither of us felt we needed to ask for extra pillows at any point. The bathroom was a long and narrow with a door which had to be fully closed as if you left it even slightly ajar it would slowly, and rather noisily, open. At one end of the bathroom was a shower cubicle, with the toilet at the other. In the middle was the wash hand basin which had a decent storage area above it and a good sized mirror. Toiletries were supplied but only a combined shampoo and conditioner, a shower gel and some hand soap. ~~My Thoughts~~ There's nothing much wrong with the Hampshire Hotel but nor is there much which is really impressive. Perhaps I should have asked for a room with a view on arrival, but I was so tired I decided to stay put even though it stuck in my craw that the view was awful, and I felt as if I was in a basement due to the surrounding buildings. We were staying on a bed and breakfast basis and during our three night stay we had breakfast twice. Once again the experience was uninspiring with a small buffet set up in the hotel restaurant. The bacon was generally undercooked which my daughter was particularly irked at such is her love of crispy bacon. She was also unimpressed with the sausages although I found them better than the bacon. I don't really understand why they couldn't have offered some crispy bacon on the buffet - they were able to offer a choice of fried eggs with soft or hard yolks after all. Scrambled eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans were also available along with fruit and cereals. To be fair the hotel did offer proper fresh orange juice and the toaster did actually toast both sides of bread at the first attempt but the best thing about breakfast was the attentive service we got from the restaurant staff. On our first night we also had dinner at the hotel restaurant. There were only a handful of other diners and the menu was pretty limited. We decided to opt for steak which was cooked nicely to order but nothing special. The service we got was once again better than the food. I paid £40 for two steak dinners with no starter or dessert and one soft drink each so it wasn't exactly cheap. There is a Portuguese restaurant a short walk from the hotel which we visited on our second night which was far superior to the hotel restaurant and offered better value for money in my opinion. The hotel also has a bar which overlooks the heated outdoor pool. We didn't visit either so I can't really comment on them - although had the weather been better we would have used the pool. The TV in our room was pretty poor. I don't go on holiday to watch TV but it would have been nice to have a decent picture and a better selection of channels. What we got was BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5, CBeebies and a channel explaining the joys of Sky TV which was a bit galling in light of the fact as viewers we weren't getting any of the perceived benefits of Sky. The wifi in our room wasn't brilliant either - it dropped periodically and was slow too. Wifi is available in public areas of the hotel too but we didn't try this as I draw the line at letting my daughter check her phone for tweets whilst we are eating. Maid service was swift and efficient. On our first day we went for breakfast and returned to a room which had been made up, which was pretty impressive. Unfortunately this efficiency extended to the maid knocking on my door twice on our last morning despite the fact I had the "do not disturb" sign on the door, which I have to say was annoying. ~~Conclusion~~ The Hampshire Hotel is a three star hotel and this seems fair to me. The hotel is clean and comfortable but doesn't offer guests anything particularly impressive with the possible exception of the staff on reception and in the restaurant. My daughter's bag arrived 24 hours after us and this was delivered to our room (not that it had far to travel from reception to our room) and we always got a welcome whenever we came back from forays outside the hotel. As for cost, the rack rate for a premier room in high season is £109 per night including breakfast. I ended up paying a little more than this as I made the foolish presumption that British Airways were offering me a good price on the hotel when they actually charged more than the rate on the Hampshire Hotel's website. That'll teach me not to check I guess but I would urge people considering this hotel in conjunction with a BA flight to check the rate against the hotel's rate as you may well be better booking the hotel separately. The location is quiet, the service is good but everything else seems just average. Perhaps if I had got a room with a better view I may have felt more positive about the experience but I honestly find Premier Inns offer rooms which are better overall. It's just a shame I suppose there isn't a Premier Inn in Jersey!