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This hotel is more commonly known as the Ramada Jarvis Ealing.
Historically, when attending meetings in London, I have always tried to avoid staying, but over the last year this has become increasingly difficult to avoid thanks to early starts and several day visits.
I am not a big fan of the train, thanks to an accident on a platform in my late teens, and therefore, where possible, prefer to travel by car or plane. Living to the west of London, when taking the car, essential criteria have to be reasonable rates, on-site parking, easy access to central London and the M4, the Ramada Jarvis Ealing fits the bill on all these fronts, and has become a firm favourite, having stayed there numerous times between November 05 and June 06.
Easily accessible from the M4 & M1 motorways & the North Circular, the Ramada Jarvis Ealing is on the edge of Ealing Common, about 2 minutes walk from Ealing Common Tube station, offering frequent services to central London on the District and Piccadilly lines.
The hotel has ample on-site free parking with a rear entrance to the hotel reception, saves you traipsing around the street with your luggage.
You would be forgiven if your first assumption of this hotel is that it is more reminiscent of an age old block of flats common in most city centres. Its façade, hammered by years of traffic passing by on the main road a few yards away mean the seventies style building is grimy on the outside.
On our first arrival there we encountered a mass evacuation through a false fire alarm, followed by discovering the hotel had no record of our booking on what was the busiest night in London (Chelsea playing Liverpool in the European Cup). Having browsed over 350 outlets, we were a little stunned to discover that this place actually had rooms available. Luckily, my colleague had printed the booking confirmation, and rooms were "found" for us, despite them being fully booked.
The first time we stayed problematic because of the booking error, on subsequent visits everything went smoothly, completion of the registration document with name, home address and car registration, a quick swipe of the credit card and you are despatched with your room key (or should I say card?). The whole process rarely took longer than 5/10 minutes, and unusually for many hotels, there always seem to be plenty of staff around in case it gets busy.
The inside of this hotel eliminates initial impressions from its exterior. The rooms are reasonably spacious offering floors with a pleasant combination of black & white tiles and carpet, an open cupboard area with trouser press; a double bed, colour TV, desk area with chair, and the usual assortment of teas/coffees with kettle & cups.
All rooms also offer the little seen, but marvellously effective "Quadriga" system providing movies and music on demand through your TV, and a High speed wired connection for your laptop. In addition, there is also BT Open Zone (Wireless internet) throughout the hotel.
The bathrooms are small but functional providing bath/shower and towels big enough to go almost twice around my ample frame.
The lighting in the room is superb, offering a range of independently operated soft lamps and bright spotlights.
The hotel also has a number of 'executive suites' which have more space, larger beds, but only have a shower unit in the bathroom, whereas I much prefer a bath. As a fairly regular customer, I have received complimentary upgrades, but have actually requested to downgrade to secure the bath facility, and the basic rooms are more than adequate.
One thing worth noting, this hotel does provide fans but does not have air conditioning in its rooms. I had the misfortine of choosing to stay here during the very 'unbritish' heat wave in early summer, and I can honestly say it was unbearable, despite leaving the fan on me all night. I also found much of the food at breakfast time quite unpalatable on this occasion.
Breakfast is the usual buffet affair, although I must confess after several years of staying regularly in hotels these days I tend to prefer the "cook to order" offering; but with 189 rooms, and guests at the budget "lodge" next door able to use the restaurant. cooking to order for over 300 people could be somewhat problematic.
Food on offer includes a wide range of cold meats and cheeses, juices, fresh fruit, cereals, fresh pastries and yogurts, plus the usual cooked selection of bacon, sausage, scrambled & fried eggs, beans, mushrooms and hash browns.
On a large number of our stay here, when travelling with colleagues, the evening meal has been taken at the nearby Harvester, If you are not a fan of steaks, there are several other eateries within easy walking distance of the hotel.
On my second visit here, I was taken ill, and therefore opted for room service (prices ranging from around £6 for sandwich style meals up to £18 for sirloin steak). I chose Chicken Cabonara with bacon and cheese sauce and a large slice of Ciabatta garlic bread. Arriving hot within about 20 minutes of ordering, it was very tasty and the plate was efficiently collected from outside my door within half hour of leaving it.
The meal cost £12.50 with a drink, and there is no additional loading for using room service.
Customers can also take advantage of the room service menu in the bar, offering a range of food from sandwiches to steak, with curry, chilli and burgers in between, or they can use the restaurant where an additional (and somewhat pricier) menu is on offer.
In common with most hotels there is a bar on site, and drinks, although slightly higher in cost compared to what I would pay at home, are considerably cheaper than hotels in central London. I paid £3.25 for a Courvoisier Brandy, compared to a price tag of £7.50 in the Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth we stayed in the night before. A half pint of Orange juice cost £1.25.
There aren't at this particular outlet, but that said, with only about a 30 minute tube run into central London, you can be forgiven, if travelling for pleasure, if you have other things on your mind.
Rack rates start from £145, although we have paid anything from £65 to £87 for bed and breakfast, dependent on the day and time of year
We generally booked with an agent or directly with the hotel, but sites such as www.laterooms.com and www.activehotels.com should have affordable offers with discounts off the displayed rack rates.
And for breathtakingly priced weekend breaks, you could do much worse than visit Ramada Jarvis's own website, www.ramada.co.uk, I have had some ridiculously cheap deals at some of their outlets across the UK.
There is also a lodge alongside the hotel offering budget accommodation, we spoke to three people sharing a room, and it was costing them £22 a night; guests can take advantage of the hotels eating facilities.
The hotel offers 9 conference rooms with modern connectivity, the largest room holding up to 200 people.
Our first visit here left a bitter taste in our mouths because of the booking mix-up; nevertheless they did come up trumps for us, and their rooms are clean and functional with good entertainment facilities.
Personally, their on-site parking coupled with their proximity to the motorway network and the London tube system (c30 mins into central London) makes them an ideal choice for business & Leisure travellers wishing to control costs, yet still requiring decent home comforts and good food.
My advice: if you want to stay here, BOOK EARLY; on both our visits, the hotel has been near enough filled to capacity.
Telephone 0208 896 8400
Fax: 0208 992 7082
As someone who has recently been doing a fair bit of work related travel, I became something of a regular visit to 'laterooms.com'. However, a large proportion of my travel has either been booked on my behalf, or located in central Manchester, from my experience the home of cheap and plentiful accommodation (except when Man U are playing at Old Trafford) I had major difficulties finding anything that beat the rates offered by the Britannia and Premier Lodge chains. However, an overnight trip to Blackburn in the middle of a cold January changed all that. I needed two rooms for one night at an affordable price to ensure I kept my budget down. I didn't know anyone in the area to recommend, and the booklet I had requested arrived on my desk two days after I got back, so where to from here? 'laterooms.com' of course. THE SITE The first thing you see when you visit the site is a welcome in 5 languages; * English * French * Spanish * Italian * German You can search for accommodation in 100 countries; this includes each of the British Isles constituents as an individual country, still nevertheless very comprehensive. Once you have selected your country choice, you simply press Go (or of course aller, ir, vai or start if it takes your fancy), but of course you could be presented with something you don't understand. Once you have decided on the country location of your choice, you will then be directed to a menu where you will be requested to input more specific information, including: * Town or region * Arrival date (this can be any time in the next 3 weeks) * No of nights you are staying * No of people the room is required for. Herein arose my first problem, I wanted two rooms to sleep one person for a single night, I don?t think my travelling companion?s fiancé would have been too pleased about us sharing. Once you press the search button, you w
ill be p resented with a range of outlets and the price per night, laterooms special rates are identified in orange. At the end of each row there is a 'details' link - this presents you with more information on what the rate covers and also shows you with the rack rate for the room - it is useful to bear in mind at this point, that primarily it is only the top of the range and very busy hotels who actually charge the rack rate, particularly at weekends when many hotels have lots of special offers, particularly out of high season, i.e. Jan - March and November and pre-Christmas December and if staying more than one night. Information on the actual hotel is very sketchy, ranging from listing strong points through to a couple of photos and a general description of the accommodation. TO BOOK From my search of Blackburn, I identified a 4* outlet where they were offering a room for £40 for the night. This seemed extraordinarily cheap, so following a visit to the company's website which established that the same room booked with them would cost me some £95 room only (ouch) sadly out of my subsistence rate, so it was back to laterooms.com to ensure that the room was still available (I say room because at that stage I could not confirm they actually had two rooms available). The actual booking will depend on the accommodation and can vary between: * Contacting laterooms.com on the telephone - 0161 831 3800 - you will be expected to quote an accommodation specific reference number * On-line * By e-mail, you submit the e-mail on the dedicated form and rumour has it the hotel will contact you to discuss your requirements. Being in work and very busy, the latter was my preferred option and then I just sat back and waited for the hotel to ring me, and I waited, and waited and carried on waiting. Two days passed still with no phone-call, it was time for action, so I reverted to more tra
ditio nal methods and contacted laterooms.com on the phone, who confirmed they had received my booking request and that it had been passed to the relevant outlet, they promised they would chase it up for me and someone would call. I furnished them with all the relevant telephone numbers and waited, and continued to wait, still no word. By this time I started to panic and really took the bull by the horns so to speak, and with less than a day to go rang the hotel directly, surprise, surprise, this was turning into something of a disaster with the prospect of sharing a car with my friend in the frozen north becoming a distinct possibility. However, true to her word the young lady did call me back and confirmed that they had my booking, they also apparently had my credit card details as confirmation (which is a little worrying as I can't recall supplying them at any stage - see what happens when senility sets in?) and had I have not chased up the reservation and booked elsewhere then I could have ended up getting walloped with charges for no-show?. Alternatively, had I arrived with no confirmation we could have ended up sleeping in the car, not a prospect I relished with an important meeting the next day. I was also assured by the receptionist that the rate included breakfast, this was getting better by the minute, as this was not stated on the laterooms.com website. It is worth noting also that laterooms.com have a disclaimer on their site: * The hotel has entered the rate displayed on the LateRooms system. If they fail to offer the rate, please take this up with the hotel directly?. So evidently they are like a central portal for hotels to advertise on. THE OUTCOME Well, I have to say that despite the hassle with confirming the booking, laterooms.com certainly came up trumps for us this time around; we arrived at this stunning hotel to be advised that our accommodation was being upgraded
to a suit e free of charge. The hotel had a full complement of leisure facilities that sadly, this time, I didn?t get to try out, a very nice and popular restaurant, which sadly wasn't a la carte and would have cost me my whole days subsistence allowance, though they did reluctantly admit to having a bar menu which served superb and really good value for money food, (we felt like the poor relations) and upon arrival we discovered that brekkie wasn't included, but as it was the hotels mistake, they included it for free anyway. The hotel was full the night we stayed, not sure if everyone booked through laterooms.com but I must admit I was just more than a little bit surprised that they needed to advertise through the site in the first place. WOULD I USE THE SITE AGAIN? As I have historically, I will continue to check their site and if they offered something that looked too good to be true, then I would certainly give the site a second chance, although I would ensure next time that the entire process would be completed the same day. WOULD I RECOMMEND THEM? I would certainly say pay them a visit, but if you are on a budget, don't take what they say as absolute gospel, check all your options first, from other websites, to the hotel websites, to the hotel itself. Then after all that 'laterooms.com's' rate looks too good to be true and they can accommodate you then it probably isn't TGTBT - so book it, we certainly came up trumps. Sue
You may well ask why I am writing about a hotel only 50 miles down the road from my house - well the alternative was to drive to Cardiff for a meeting on Monday lunchime then do the return jouney home in the rush hour and then return, again in the rush-hour by 8.45am the following day for another meeting, or stay over at someone else's expense - what would you have done? I opted to stay, and thats why you are getting this review. The Copthorne chain are owned by Millenium hotels, and not a brand I am particularly familiar with; I did stay in the Copthorne, Aberdeen for a number of weeks and it was good, but that was 15 years ago and time changes everything as I know to my cost. CHECK-IN I arrived at the hotel at exactly 12 Noon and standard check-in time being 2pm, I was given the opportunity to do so there and then, provided I took a smoking room, which suited me fine. The process was relatively quick and painless, and although someone else was picking up the tab, they took a swipe of my credit card to cover any added extras such as a glass of Coke from the bar :), a quick call to pick up my e-mails, or those lovely erotic movies on the TV (NOT). Reception is a rather grand affair with lots of high ceilings and chandeliers, despite the hotel being fairly modern. CHARGES Most will undoubtedly require a second mortgage if paying full rack-rates here; rates start at £175 per night for a standard room rising to £250 a night for a suite - very pricey, although no-one should be willing, or have to, pay full price for any hotel in this day and age with all the offer sites around. As we were attending in a large group I think we were charged an all inclusive rate for the room, conference and 4 meals of £85 per person, so as you can see there are offers to be had. LOCATION Superbly convenient, the hotel is situated probably around 8 miles from Cardiff International Airport and roughly the same distance from the city cen
tre, in an area known as Culverhouse Cross; if you are a big shopper, and fan of M&S you will be in Seventh Heaven, as CC has what I understand is one of their biggest stores and is in the process of being expanded. M&S is open daily until 10pm, except Sundays. There is also a local PC Store, PC World, Furniture Stores, Tesco, Mothercare, Comet and a Daewoo showroom within easy walking distance of the hotel. The site is about 5 miles from the M4, Junction 33 and 3 miles from Cardiff Bay. THE ROOM All decked out in a dark, oak like wood, it was bigger than your average room, with double bed, desk area, colour TV, trouser press, wardrobes, tea and coffee making facilities, some very large throne like chairs and a lit up vanity area and small stool with hairdryer and additional plug for a curling tongs etc. What there wasn't anywhere in the room was a normal chair, where on earth am I supposed to sit and watch the TV? Not that I did too much of that. The TV offered all the normal channels, plus local and national radio, Sky Sports 1,2 and 3, Sky News and Bloomberg and some other little known Digital channels. There were also the standard pay per view movie channels -£7.99 for 24 hours. The en-suite was fairly standard, with sink area, toilet, bath and shower with thermostatically controlled taps. The shower was appalling, fixed high on the wall, and with a jet-stream that resembled something more of a dripping tap than a power shower. Additional extras were kept to a minimum, with one small bottle of bubble bath and one of a combined shampoo/conditioner. Towels were provided and the bath one was more than sufficient to cover my ample frame with plenty left over. An iron and ironing board were provided and required a PhD in Engineering to figure it out, the legs were broken, nearly resulting in me decapitating my fingers and you actually plugged the board in rather than the iron, with the iron running off a timer attached to the iron
ing b oard - not a very pleasant experience. TELEPHONE CHARGES I mention these separately as they were appalling, during weekdays including evenings you pay £3 for a 5 minute local call, and £6 for a national one - I think the charge for calling a mobile was around £15 for 5 minutes - how on earth can they get away with this? The only plus side, if it could be called that, is you had a roaming freephone internet connection number, then you were only subjected to a £1 connection charge. I recently stayed in a 4 star hotel in Amsterdam and the cost for a 15 minute international call was a mere 3 Euros (around £2) - I think our hotels would do well to take a few tips from our European neighbours. The telephone rates in the Copthorne do drop to a somewhat more respectable £1.20 for a 5 minute local call and £2.40 for a national call from 6pm on Fridays and all weekend, but still a total rip-off though. Normally I wouldn't even consider checking the phone rates, but on this occasion I was waiting for a few e-mails and as I didn't have my super-duper kit for connecting to the internet, I had no option but to use the hotels telephone, in addition to the appalling costs, I had forgotten how ridiculously slow narrow-band connections are. THE FOOD I have seen so many hotel rooms over the last couple of years that I tend to measure the facilities on things other than the room, such as leisure facilities which I often don't get time to use, and food. The meals in this instance was a buffet lunch, which would have been very nice had I have liked the options chose, and the evening meal was a hot serve yourself buffet meal which consisted of: Starters * Salad * Coronation rice * Potato Salad * Cold Mushrooms * Soup * Juices * Bread Rolls And I have to say was extremely tasty and filling MAIN COURSE * Spicy Chicken (very with red chillies on top) <
br>* Salmo n * Veggie Pasta * A range of vegetables * Boiled Rice * New potatoes DESSERT I didn't venture into this but apparently the choice was a lemon pie or cheesecake - all washed down by a very pleasant tasting cup of black coffee. DRINKS Aaaggggh - definitely not cheap - a hotel for corporate business expenses methinks - £3 for a pint or bottle of lager and around £4 for a G&T, and their management should take a few lessons on how to look after lager properly, it was tasteless, seemed watered down and flat - even the barman commented that he wouldn't pay the prices, as the hotel is not really near the centre of Wales's capital city, I can only assume that they rely on business customers on expenses and their close proximity to the airport. BREAKFAST Of course this comes the morning after the night before, and what a night. Breakfast consisted of the usual range of cereals, fruit juice, bread rolls and croissants followed by the full English choice of: * Bacon * Mushrooms * Sausages * Fried, Scrambled, Poached and Boiled eggs * Baked beans * Hash browns * Fried bread All washed down by coffee and tea or toast. I was not offered a choice of brown or white toast. Some of my colleagues thought the breakfast was very tasty, personally although the bacon was evidently high quality cut, but undercooked and cold, and the hash-browns were indescribably appalling, LEISURE FACILITIES Unfortunately, the intensity of the two day visit did not really allow for a visit to the hotels extensive leisure facilities unless you wanted it at 6am, but I understand in line with company policy, the leisure suite,which was situated on the ground floor, consisted of: (from a website) * Sauna * Steam room * Snooker room * Swimming pool * Fully equipped gym * Spa bath and aerobics studio The hotel is apparently air-
conditioned, al though I didn't see any evidence of it during my stay and found it interminably warm, although I do remember two cases of customers contracting legionnaires disease there a good few years ago. I don't know if the manager was secretly anti-smoking, because despite having limited 'no-smoking' areas, including the restaurant, finding an ash-tray outside normal bar hours was impossible. WOULD I RECOMMEND IT? It is very difficult when you live so close to a city to know whether there is better to be had for lower prices, as normally I could not justify an overnight stay in a Cardiff hotel, but from my travel experiences to date, I would positively guarantee there is better around, although maybe without the leisure facilities I didn't use. It is unlikely that I shall be staying there again, as I don't have any romantic weekends in Cardiff on my agenda in the foreseeable future, but if I win the lottery, who knows? I have said I recommend it, but I would say that unless you can get a very good rate, this applies only to those with unlimited expense accounts. COPTHORNE HOTEL CARDIFF Copthorne Way, Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff CF5 6DH, Wales. Telephone: 02920 599100 Web: http://www.millenniumhotels.com/mc/hotel_description.jsp?hotelId=48
Not many 12-year-old kids would tell their parents that in the middle of a crowded restaurant - well I did, or at least something similar - can't remember my exact words. I have always been competitive - my early days in school before I discovered boys I always wanted to be top of the class, when I played cricket (yes cricket) I always wanted to win, when I discovered boys I was gutted if they wanted someone else even if I didn't fancy them - but before boys I discovered Scrabble. My sister, 6 years older, found herself a wonderful, intellectually superior boyfriend who spent a considerable amount of time in the bosom of our family and together we liked to do family things - this was how our family love of Scrabble started. At first, as there were 5 of us I used to pair up with my Dad, but then as I started to realise how crap he was, I started teaming up with my sister and/or her boyfriend. Then big sis left home but our love of a family game of scrabble continued so much so that we owned the original, travel, pocket and deluxe versions. THE HISTORY (courtesy of the official Scrabble website) Scrabble apparently started its life in 1931 as Lexicon, originated by Alfred Mosher Butts but the US government refused to give him a patent on the game. He made several amendments to both the format and the name but was met with the same solid refusal to patent; then came the war and any inspiration to continue with the development met an abrupt end until 1948 when James Brunot, owner of the first Criss-Crossword games decided that the product should be marketed and on 16th December 1948, the game of Scrabble as we now know it was born. However early sales and profits were poor and the product was nearly abandoned until discovered by Jack Strauss, owner of Macys, the biggest department store in the world who enjoyed playing it so much he demanded to know why it wasn?t stocked in his games department and their support of t
he p roduct saw sales rocket to such a level that supplies had to be rationed for the next 3 years. In 1994, the rights to produce the game were acquired by J W Spears and Son and they still produce the game today. SO WHAT IS IT? For those who don't know - Scrabble is the worlds biggest selling board game, with over 100 million sales in 29 languages and 121 different counties - so if you enjoy a game then it looks like you are in good company. The game, whichever model bought, contains a board with 15 columns and 15 rows & 100 letters with the aim being to form words on the board that score the highest number of points. It can be played by between 2 and 4 players, with the minimum recommended age being 10 ? for the youngsters amongst you there is Junior Scrabble. TO START Each player should select a letter to determine the order of play - the one who selects the lowest letter of the alphabet starts the game and play should be in a clockwise direction. Once this has been established, each player should take 7 letter squares in the order of play - tile racks are supplied to help you keep track of your letters and more importantly, HIDE them from your opponents. The person starting the game is expected to make a word of 2 or more letters that run either vertically or horizontally through the centre square and will receive a double word score for their troubles. The number of letter squares should be returned to 7 once each player has finished their go. Subsequent players are then expected to make words, again of 2 or more letters tagged onto an existing word on the board, letters can only be placed in one direction in any one go, i.e. across or down. Plurals are allowed but names, place names and abbreviations are not. Some people have mixed views on allowing a dictionary to be used during play, we do not allow one to be used before the player has made their move, but always keep one handy
to ensure authenticity of 'dodgy' words - this not only helps to make the game more interesting but can also double up in assisting the expansion of people's vocabulary and understanding ? particularly useful if children are playing. The 100 letters consist of 42 vowels, 56 consonants and 2 blanks. Each letter tile has been allocated a score and it is the total of these scores that are allocated to the player who has made the word - they will get · 1 point for each vowel used, · 1 point for letters such as L, N, R, S & T · 2 points for the letters D and G · 3 points for B, C, M & P · 4 points for F, H, V, W & Y · 5 points for K · 8 points for J & X · 10 points for Q & Z and as you would probably expect, the less common the letter in general use the higher the score. In addition to the letter scores, players can pick up extra points dependant on if they lay a tile on one of the 'special' squares that allow points to be obtained. · For a light blue square you get a double letter score · For a dark blue square you get a triple letter score · For a pink square you get a double word score and · Last but most certainly not least - for a red square you a triple word score I am a mercenary old soul and always aim for the last two unless I know I can strategically place a high scoring tile on a double or triple letter score. If a player cannot make a word when it is their go, then they are entitled to change all their letters, but obviously miss their turn for that round. If a player legally uses all 7 letters to make a word, they acquire 50 points in addition to their score. At the end of the game, this is when a player has finished all their letters, and the remainder of players have had their last go, i.e the person who started last - the value of any letter tiles left should be removed from each players score and added t
o the score of the person who used all their letters first. THE STRATEGY OF THE GAME The aim is, in very simplistic terms, is to score more points than your opponents. My ultimate aim is never to be beaten and in this ilk I had a very good teacher, an A ?Level English student on his way to University to study the same, and MY MOTHER. My mother left school at 15 with no qualifications, working in a shop for a number of years until she went away to study for a nursing career, to which she climbed very near to the top of her profession before sadly Sarcoidosis and severe arthritis forced her into early retirement, but boy, she is unstoppable, in quizzes, trivial pursuit and most importantly (to me anyway) Scrabble. It took me nearly 13 years of intermittent playing to finally beat her but when I did I finally knew I had cracked it. I will not if I can help it, allow myself to set anyone up for a triple word score - they are mine, unfortunately my daughter hasn't quite mastered the knack of recognising that whilst half the strategy is making yourself as many points as possible, the other half is about trying to ensure that the person whose turn it is after yours can?t make lots of points and trouble is, because of the way we sit, Martin always seems to be in between us, although he has only beat me once so far. THE SCRABBLE CLUB When I returned home after splitting up with my daughters father, I was in the predicament that most of my old friends had moved away - so here I was working in an office where nearly everyone was over the age of 50, and most looked down their nose at me because I was a single mum of a 6 week old baby and also working, and built in and extremely willing night-time babysitters, but no money (most of it went on childcare), no friends and nowhere to go, so we started playing Scrabble again which is when I finally beat my mum, it was at this point that she suggested I sign up for the local Scrabble club ? I wa
s good and she thought it would help me make friends. So I did and for a small fee I could play Scrabble and drink coffee. I did enjoy it but I finally realised that without a lot of practice there was NO WAY I was going to be able to compete in this arena. My normal scores can range from anywhere between 200 - 400 depending on the number of players and the lie of the board; these guys NEVER seemed to score less than 500, often elevating their scores to well over 800, the usual overall total for a family of 4 playing, well I stuck this for about 9 months, until I felt really able to start circulating again, had lost some weight and made some friends then Scrabble was laid to rest until Tasha again resurrected it a couple of weeks ago, we had been struggling on with the minute travel scrabble which has magnetic letters and magnetic holders - then Martin was sent out to buy a new board yesterday but came home without it (how complicated can men get?) Thankfully I am the proud owner of a new Scrabble original; gone are the old fashioned cardboard board, replaced by a board with a plastic top cover that as slightly indented edges around each square to try and keep the letters in place - £14.99 from WH Smiths, although this is one game that can be bought from any good toy seller, including Argos and Woolworths. If you really feel like splashing out, you can obtain the Deluxe version from Argos for the reduced price of £24.99 (usual price £29.99) - this game supplies a scoring rack and pegs for each member to keep a track of their own score (which is why I avoided buying it at this time). Having said this, the board has gone by the wayside a little since I accidentally discovered an on-line scrabble site - www.isc.ro - where you can play in English, American English, Romanian and French - it is brilliant for improving your skills and vocabulary. MY VERDICT This is game I can play regularly and never get fed up with it - it bring
s the family together whilst expanding the kids? vocabulary at the same time, AND I DO NOT LIKE BEING BEATEN ? NOW THERES A CHALLENGE. If you want to find out more - hop along to your local retailer - or check out the official site at: http://www.mattelscrabble.com/en/adults/index.html and it very kindly gives you a list of 120 both well and lesser know 2 letter words that could come in very handy if you are as mercenary as me :)
MBNA was the first credit card I held, and has remained steadfastly tucked in my wallet ever since. On their main silver accounts they had poor interest rates (around 17.9%APR) and no loyalty packages, but did offer interim incentive periods at very low interest rates for balance transfers. I was going to close both my accounts with them, when RBS refused me a special rate on a balance transfer, so I elected to contact MBNA who offered me 1.9% fixed on balance transfers and cash advances for 6 months and 14.9% thereafter. I discussed with them the possibility of upgrading to a Platinum card as I fulfilled the criteria, yet they said no. I challenged this decision, and within two weeks, received my new card, cheque book and pin number, together with an increased credit limit, a special rate of 1.9% on cash advances and balance transfers, with 14.9% thereafter. As I have pointed out MBNA offer existing customers balance transfers at extremely preferential rates - however be careful - I took advantage of an excellent rate of 4.9%APR to transfer a balance of £700 from an existing card - I did however already have a balance on the card. I had a sizeable chunk of money courtesy of the taxman and decided to reduce the MBNA balance - only to discover that those balances carrying the lowest interest rate are actually cleared first - i.e. the amount I repaid was higher than the £700 and therefore any benefit to me was lost and I am still paying interest on the remaining balance at 14.9%APR - I therefore suggest if taking advantage of a preferential rate with MBNA Platinum that you clear any other balances first or you will get stung. The card itself is standard fayre, offered in both Visa and Mastercard, and not exactly dynamic looking; MBNA have recently been undertaking mass advertising on TV of their Platinum card - not really specifying the criteria - hoping I would imagine that customers will apply in the hope of getting one and alternativel
y be offered their Silver Card at an annual APR of some 3% higher. The platinum card can be applied for on-line, although applicants will not receive an instant response, and will have to wait around 7-10 days to know if their application has been successful. This is because they carefully assess a whole list of areas rather than relying on a computerised credit scoring system, which means you are actually dealing with a human being, so I guess if you have recently moved house or changed jobs this can work in your favour. WHAT DOES IT COST? There is no annual fee, and you can have up to three additional card holders on your account at no extra cost, risky I guess if the kids are at Uni. Current interest rate for new applicants is 0% - Fixed for 6 months for cash advances and balance transfers (+ a 1.5% commission charge for using a credit card cheque - they used to be one of the few that didn't charge, but I guess financial climates dictate) and 15.9% Variable thereafter. I don't know yet whether they will continue offer preferential rates and payment holidays to existing customers, but judging by their previous service, I guess they probably will, although beware of taking advantage of such rates if you already have a balance on the account. Interest Free period is 59 days if you pay the balance off in full by the given date on the statement. If you check around this is actually considerably more than the likes of Egg (45 days) and Marbles (c 51 days). Minimum payment is 2.25% (Yes, strange isn't it?) of the oustanding balance or £5, whichever is the greater. INCENTIVES & LOYALTY REWARDS Well there aren't any, but they do claim to offer special rates on: * Flower deliveries * Chocolate purchases * Holidays * RAC Membership * Home insurance If you book through the numbers provided on the literature - I must confess I have never tried to find out. Th
ey do however, seem to look after, and try to retain their customer base, exercising a relationship marketing strategy aimed at keeping them rather than just getting them, and then leaving them go once the the honeymoon period is over. CHARGES They will charge £18 if your payment is: a) More than one day late b) Any time a payment you make to the account bounces c) Every time you exceed your credit limit BE WARNED: If you are changing from a Silver to a Platinum account, all the indications are that you will be able to miss a payment because of the transfer, this is not the case. You should make the payment as normal to your old card account - I got caught out here, and my payment was late, to be fair, their customer service advisor agreed to waive the late payment charge and it was recredited immediately to my account. CUSTOMER SERVICE I cannot say enough for this company - they are one of the few Credit Card Companies still offering freephone calls. The service provides automated balances, and will always advise you, if waiting to speak to a representative, when queuing time is likely to be more than around 5 minutes. They do not however, unlike the competition, accept Switch/Delta payments over the telephone, and are a little slow at crediting Home/Mobile banking payments to your account, so make sure you leave a little time in making payments to ensure clearance and avoid penalties. I have been with them since they hit the UK market, purely because their advertising arrived in front of me at that moment when I was considering a credit card, and their interest rates have dropped considerably in light of the new UK competition. I have heard a lot of people complaining they get bombarded with literature about the company, I must confess I have not found this to be the case whatsoever, with literature being confined to inclusion inside the monthly postal statement. INTER
NET ACCESS They do now offer internet access on their accounts, you can set it up yourself with a few essential security details, the site is fully secure, but does seem to fall over quite easily. Online you can see your last 6 months statements, your current balance and transactions, and transfer balances on-line. You can also amend personal details, considerably easier than telephoning, they even accepted mine on-line without my postcode - YES, A RESULT. You do get free purchase protection on most items costing between £50 and £1,000, providing you pay for them in full on the card. PAYMENT PROTECTION costs 68p per £100 of outstanding balance. HOW CAN YOU GET ONE? Answer one of the many adverts you see in magazines and papers, or apply on-line at www.mbna.co.uk. I believe you need to be over 21, and have a minimum salary of around £25K, although I can't actually find this stipulated on their web-site. SUMMARY Personally, I have been with them for 4 years and think it is now getting towards the time when we may well part company - if you take advantage of preferential rates from higher cards - in the long run you could unwittingly end up paying more than you were in the first place. The jury is still out - but I am still annoyed with MBNA at the moment over the misunderstanding of the balance transfer situation - that will teach me to read the small print. Sue
I can definitely say one thing, those of you living in London and the Home Counties don't realise just how lucky you are - you can nip across to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton and hop on planes to almost anywhere in the world, including shock horror, a variety of locations in the UK. If you live in South Wales then this is not a simple (or cheap process), although the pending introduction of BMIBaby to Cardiff Airport promises to change all that, however from what I have seen of their flight-timings so far for my chosen destinations, cheap they might be, sensible times they are not. My boss and I had a forthcoming business trip to Belfast and to get there needed a flight, the alternative was to drive to Liverpool and get the ferry (500 mile round trip - plus the crossing; I think not - not really cost effective in either time or money). Our only other feasible means of transportation on a somewhat limited budget had to be flights; so where else to look than our 'local' airport, Cardiff International, apparently advertising itself as the gateway to Europe and the rest of the world, but not it seems the British Isles. The cheapest return flight we could get was in the region of £400 each with British Airways - it would have been easier to swim at those prices. I then proceeded to check BA out of Birmingham - £78 - what a difference, BMIbaby from East Midlands - £60 and £45 with EasyJet from Luton. From this little bit of research it seems that the further away from your final destination you get the cheaper the flight becomes - then I saw an advertisement in the Sunday paper for FlyBE a.k.a British European (they are now firmly branded as flybe following a name change in July 2001) A bit of browsing on their website and playing around with flight times, eventually found us a return journey that suited us from Bristol airport at a price we were more than happy with - £127 economy class return including
taxes. (This was far more favourable than the parking charges at Bristol Airport which came in at a casual £12/day - which if my memory serves me correctly is more expensive than both Gatwick and Heathrow - and for anyone who doesn't know Bristol is the only remaining UK airport where you still cannot pre-book car parking - at those prices I wonder why?). In addition, the quality of the car park is pretty dire as is the rather uninspiring airport, but I guess that will keep for another day. Shuttle buses run to the main terminal roughly ever 10 minutes throughout the day. Flybe also operate Business Class return services, although on planes seating less than 100 people and flights lasting less than an hour I don't know what advantages you would get for the extra pennies. The flight took us into Belfast City as opposed to the International Airport; the former as it's name might suggest is only about 5 miles from the City, whereas the International Airport is some 20 miles away so saved a fair bit on taxi fares as well. I am reliably informed that if you are staying in one of the major hotel chains in the City, you can take advantage of the Shuttle Buses for a small fee from both airports (around £5 return from City I believe). Our Taxi to the Hotel Europa cost us the grand total of £8 between three of us. WHO ARE FLYBE? They actually started out as Jersey European in 1979 having gone through a range of changes since then to the current period, acquiring their first London base in 1991 and their first franchises with Air France in 1996, they won best Regional Airline in 1993 and 1994 and became FlyBe in July of 2002, so they are a relatively new player in the cheaper airline market, what they do have is smaller planes, slightly higher yet still affordable prices, allocated seats and it appears nice planes, loads of legroom, reliability and they FLY FROM REGIONAL AIRPORTS - are you listening EasyJet and British Airways? <
br> < br> WHERE DO THEY FLY? It seems looking at the routes on their website, They fly from every major airport on the UK mainland with the exception of Cardiff (that figures) and Aberdeen. They also have links to Amsterdam, Brussels and numerous destinations in France, Jersey, Guernsey, Dublin and Shannon. From Bristol at the moment you can only fly to Belfast, Isle of Man and Jersey, although hopefully the not too distant future will see greater expansion on these destinations. I have been asked to provide more information on routes; usually happy to oblige, on this occasion, this would be something of a mammoth task as destinations from each of the 15 mainland, Eire and NI varies, safe to say they operate on a fairly large scale in these countries and France and I suspect they will continue to grow in Northern Europe for the foreseeable future, check out their website for more details on destinations - www.flybe.com. THE BOOKING PROCESS Preferred option, as with most of these cheaper carriers is on-line and you will make savings of up to £10 each way by doing so. The home page takes you directly into the booking system, much easier to find than BA's - and you simply select your departure and destination airports, the dates you want to travel and the number actually travelling as in adults, children and infants - press the submit button and you will be presented with a selection of both outbound and return flights (subject to availability) that will probably range considerably in price. I tried them from Birmingham for a forthcoming trip to Glasgow and the cheapest flight had I have left first thing in the morning was £14 outbound, the flight I actually wanted was £14, hence I am now flying with GO, who although have a similar pricing structure do put a ceiling on their flights and now seat allocations! Once you have decided which flights are right for you, press submit and you are away. Although I did most of the se
arching, my boss actually made the flight booking was at that point an unknown territory for expenses claims at work; but I understand it was a fairly simplistic process requiring both our names, postal address and credit card detail. The system issued a confirmation numberand our tickets were received in the post within about two weeks. Unusually, ticket and passenger details were changeable for a fee of around £25. CHECKING IN & LUGGAGE RETRIEVAL Fast, efficient, friendly. I was permitted to take my 6.1kg bag with me as hand luggage - what a relief - it meant I wouldn't have to wait for my luggage to be offloaded the other side, although my joy was short-lived as another passenger who was travelling to the same conference as we were was on our flight and her luggage transpired to be in the hold. To be fair the wait at Belfast City was MINIMAL - I didn't even get chance to have a sneaky ciggie away from my boss before seeking a taxi. What I most certainly did like best about the whole process, is that unlike EasyJet I knew where I was going to be sitting from the moment of check-in. It may sound silly but after the free for all of EasyJet, having my seat allocated was music to my ears, lookout for my forthcoming trip on GO then! :) THE PLANES Flying is something I do often but hate with a vengeance and my primary rating of any airline has to be the fact that it got me back on the ground still in one piece. I have heard a few horror stories of small planes on short distances from regional airports and thus was awaiting this trip with a mixture of excited trepidation and anticipation. Thankfully the plane had engines rather than propellers - it was a Canadair Regional Jet - and seated 49 people including air stewards, although I understand that much of Flybe's fleet are smaller than this and many of their planes still sport propellors over engines. Bearing in mind that I am only 5ft 1-1/2?, I co
uld actually see insid e the overhead lockers - these planes are small: normally even when standing on a seat I struggle to check whether I have left anything behind, which can be a real pain when I am travelling without my somewhat taller other half. THE LEGROOM Wow - a plane this small with leg-room - what can I say? There was at least double the amount offered by the likes of Britannia and JMC - I must say I was impressed - although if you are over 4ft 8", then I wouldn't recommend standing up suddenly planes or you could end up with a very sore head the next day. THE SERVICE The captain announced that we would be offered a selection of complementary refreshments including tea, coffee, water or fruit juice accompanied by a mini packet of shortbread of savoury snacks; in addition, they were supposed to offer a range of drinks from the bar but we didn't actually see any of these (I don't fly well sober) but as I guess the flight last only around 45 minutes (it was actually scheduled to last 1 hour 15 mins) then I shouldn't really complain. RELIABILITY & PUNCTUALITY On the outward journey we departed on time and arrived half hour early, on the return journey we actually departed about 20 minutes late, and both the announcers at Belfast, the staff, noticeboards and captain kept apologising profusely, quite impressive and we still managed to arrive back on the mainland ahead of schedule. In fact there was GO flight due to leave 15 minutes before us to the same destination, but it actually arrived some 45 minutes behind us. OVERALL IMPRESSION An excellent service at an affordable price, but remember the planes are small, which means that they feel every jolt, bump, wheels going up and down, engines pulling back - if you are a nervous flyer, try where possible to get a flight on a nice clear day, going out was clear as crystal returning home was a nightmare, cloudy as hell, and I could not
believe that a plane this small could fly safely and comfortably at 30,000 feet and 500 miles an hour - my boss (being something of a daredevil and a glider enthusiast wasted no opportunity in recognising that he had finally discovered my key weakness (he was quite nice about my fear of dentists) and took the mickey out of me mercilessly. Having said all that about London and the Home Counties, I am reliably informed that if you want to get to Belfast, then Scotland is the place to be, as our Co-ordinator actually managed to get a flight with EasyJet for the grand sum of £27.10 return, including taxes, I couldn't get a train fare to London for that price. Want to find out more? Visit www.flybe.com
I searched for the V66e - but Dooyoo didn't want to oblige! - what's the difference between phone with the 'e' suffix and one without? Nothing with the phone itself, its just that as I discovered, phones with an 'e' suffix are solely for use on the Orange Network. The time had arrived change my phone AND network. Having suffered with BT Cellnet for around 11½ months (subsequently O2) I hated them - signals in the depths of mid-Wales were something the police did in the middle of the road whilst directing traffic and I used to open my bills with all the confidence of someone expecting the bailiffs as they were horrendous - the costs of running a phone on a similar contract to Orange had doubled . I had been conned at the outset by not realising that calls to other networks were not included in my free minutes - so I was spending my money calling my daughter, dad and beloved whilst losing my free minutes every month, as they are not rolled over with O2 as they are with Orange. I fell out with Orange but now it was time to go back, but what were my choices? Pay as You Go, Some form of Orange pay up front for line rental and just pay for calls or a good old-fashioned 'where have you lived for the last 10 years?' contract. After a lengthy conversation with my friend Stephen at the Carphone Warehouse I opted for a Talk 200 contract - now, which phone? A quick glance through their myriad of selections on the wall saw my eyes fall upon the Motorola V66e, a very sexy dinky little silver number with a small black covering on the front, carrying the large 'M' significant of the Motorola Brand - well they are a good company aren't they? How could things go wrong? The small black covering is easily removed and hides the SIM card; other colours and patterns for this covering are available from all good telephone stockists - but I do like Black, it gives it a rather sexy and business
like feel. The phone also has a rather sizeable and static aerial. Everyone who sees this phone wants a closer look; it oozes finesse and sexiness as far as it is possible for a phone to do so, it has a flip-over lid with the buttons and the mouth-piece on the bottom part and a surprisingly large display and the ear-piece on the top half. It is very comfortable to use and conversations are usually very clear providing geographic reception is OK. THE COST? Well I am sure this varies between shops, but in the Carphone Warehouse in early June 2002: · Pay as You Go - £199 · Orange No Line rental - £149 · Contract - £30 Although the Carphone Warehouse had an offer on during the Jubilee weekend of providing it free, so it didn't cost me a dime; incidentally if you buy through the Orange website at the moment you will get this phone free and £149.99 for the Pay as you Go version. USAGE This phone is a tri-band, which I understand means you can literally use it anywhere (subject to your contract arrangements and network availability) including the US. WAP ENABLED You can 'surf the web' using the phone, loosely interpreted from my limited experience with it, that you can obtain a dearth of information on latest news stories, share prices and hot gossip on your favourite football teams and stars, although with the wide use of the internet I don't really see that much benefit from this function at a cost of 5p per minute, but hang on - this phone also has another feature which I was really excited about, but haven't actually had reason to try out yet, it doubles up as a modem and the relevant cables and discs were supplied to allow you to use your laptop to surf the internet whilst travelling in cars and trains (make sure you are not driving at the same time with the former). VITAL STATISTICS o Length 84mm o Width 44mm o Depth 21mm o Weight 73g As you can see it really is small and lightweight, so small in fact that when it gets into the depths of my handbag I can never find the damn thing even when it is ringing. RING TONES All boring stuff I'm afraid, no Jingle Bells and Robbie Williams received tones here - it is all classical, although it does vibrate in 5 ways, great for those guys and gals who keep their mobile in their trouser pocket and enjoy a cheap thrill. Unlike Nokia, it doesn?t vibrate and ring at the same time, it either simply vibrates, or vibrates 5 or 6 times and then rings and yes it is a very noticeable vibrate that has seen my bag shaking and me desperately looking for it. There is also a little light at the top which flashes red intermittently when the phone is active. MESSAGE TEXTING Yes, why shock horror you can send text messages from this phone. The reason I mentioned it separately is because whereas with the Nokias and other phones I have used you can just press the appropriate button until you get to the required number of letter; with this phone you have to use the backward and forward arrow keys to select your character - gone are my discrete days of quickly wapping out a text message to my nearest and dearest whilst travelling. In addition the buttons are very small and trust me you need very nimble fingers to use it. My other half gave it back to me in disgust the first time I asked him to make a call on it. The Message centre on the phone has boxes for Voicemails, Text Messages, Quick notes, Outbox and saving Draft Messages (if your sending a long message this could some in very handy - I have found that if you accidentally press the wrong button whilst texting you will lose the whole thing and have to start from scratch. Using this phone for texting has become akin to the same chore that my thesis is going to be in the coming months, hence I am sending far less text messages ; result, increased phone bills. TALK-TIME AND LONGEVITY Yes I am a woman, but I do not spend hours on my mobile, using it just for work and family related quick calls - so can't tell you whether it lives up to its claim of 2.5hours, but I do use it regularly and seldom charge it. Standby is stated as 4.5 days, although I haven't run the battery down at all yet as I need to keep the thing charged sufficiently for when I am out and about travelling. I purchased an in-car charger at the same time as the phone which set me back £14.99 less 10% discount for buying it in the Carphone warehouse at the same time. It has different connections from the Nokia range and therefore I needed to literally start from scratch. OTHER FEATURES Calculator - numbers as expected are used off the keypad, actions such as multiply and divide are selected from a row of pictures using the navigation buttons. GAMES BlackJack - which is exactly what its name suggests - not mind blowingly exciting and the bloody thing nearly always beats me. MindBlaster - Haven't quite worked this out. Paddleball - Like computerised tennis from basic computers many years ago, you try to keep a bouncing ball on the screen and the game is over once you fail. The keys are so small, I find it quite difficult to move the cursors fast enough, plus again it is not exactly what I would call exciting, not like Pairs and Snake on the Nokia range which are slightly more stimulating. TELEPHONE BOOK This is a particularly pleasing feature of phone and I believe it can store up to 590 numbers, 90 on the phone itself and 500 on the SIM. When inputting numbers you are provided with a range of options to select whether it is home, work, mobile, fax or pager and you can store all five numbers under the one name, making them easily identifiable when browsing the phonebook. The keys are so small however that transferring all my numbers took a ges. In addition
, a speed-dial number is automatically allocated to every phone book entry and there is also a facility to use Voice Activated dialling. BEWARE Some of the V66e mobiles have a fault; I have had mobiles for nearly 7 years and have never come across it before. I tend to store ALL useful contact numbers on my phone, save me digging through diaries or scrappy bits of paper. I turned my phone on Friday to get a number I didn't ring regularly only to find the phonebook empty. After a couple of minutes hyperventilating, I controlled myself sufficiently to contact Orange, only to discover that there is a recognised fault which is being investigated and it does not affect all the handsets, therefore they didn't think it necessary to notify customers - aaaaaggggh. However, I was advised to remove the SIM, put the phone on, turn it back off and put the SIM back in and they would return - true to her word this worked, but I really could have done without the hassle and the panic. I have since been advised that Orange are not offering replacement handsets or refunds to those customers affected. This has already happened to me twice and it is quite nerve-wrecking. I have recently discovered however, that by using the data cables, the information contained on the SIM card can be transferred to your computer for safe keeping - this also apparently applies to downloading ring tones from the web although unclear as to how it works. STORED NUMBERS Your last 10 received and dialled calls will be recorded. DISPLAY The display light background can be changed to green, red or orange and can be set not to come on at all, or at 5-second intervals whilst in use lasting up to 20 seconds. For those with sight problems you can set the screen to zoom in or out, making it much larger and scrolling can be on a continuous wrap around or top-bottom. VOICE NOTES You can record and write in short notes when out and about on y
our travels and set yourself diarised reminders - although it doesn't work like a typical alarm clock like the Nokia range do (oh how I miss it) PERSONALISATION Is there such a word? The lack of ability to receive personalised ring tones, coupled with the inability to change the welcome greeting really frustrated me, funny how we get hooked to the silly things in life. You can also set the phone up for headset and in-car hands free use with the right equipment. PROS o It is very very sexy and petite and everyone will want to look at it (or maybe that's just in Wales as we have a fascination with small things and most locals still have the old fashioned great hulking Nokia and Bosch phones) o You don't need to buy a case as the phone is folded and therefore cannot accidentally be switched on/off or dial you local police station (which I did a number of times on my Nokia phone which for obvious reasons allows 999 and 112 calls whether the keypad is locked or not. o Nice large visual display o Can be used as a modem for the laptop in times of emergency CONS o The keypad is TOO small o Can't personalise it as much as I would like o No proper alarm clock o The fault with the phone book o Its accessories are not interchangeable with our other phones and are not cheap - hands free kits and in car chargers are around £15, the USB connection if you don't receive one with the phone are around £37, cases £10 and replacement batteries £45. o Very difficult to send text messages on SUMMARY I have had this phone for around 3 months now but don't think I have got the best use out it. Not a bad little phone, but think I will definitely be going back to Nokia when I can change for free/low charge with Orange.
Without question, I am the UK's No 1 Nescafe Gold Blend Fan. I started drinking Coffee when I was around 12, after discovering that black and sugarless it had no calories, needless to say, my tender taste-buds couldn't quite handle the experience and I used to pump it full of sugar and milk, then as I grew upwards and outwards, sweeteners. I religiously used to boil milk every evening, spoon in the coffee and away I went. During my teens I managed to lose around half my body weight, with coffee being my crutch as I downed cup after cup of strong Nescafe original with skimmed milk and sweeteners, until the day I travelled to Germany and my mum stopped me taking the sweeteners in case the Customs Officers thought they were drugs and had me arrested, thus started the experience of drinking it with no sugar. Of course, it was still Nescafe Original in those days, and then a friend introduced me to Gold Blend as he refused to drink anything else. A few occasional experiences with what was then, a highly premium priced coffee (this is a product whose price has fallen considerably over the years) left me wanting more, but then as an impoverished student nurse, unable to afford it. As I continued to mature and my tastes became more sophisticated, I discovered that regular intake of dairy produce (including milk) aggravated my eczema, hence I came to drinking my coffee strong, black and sugarless (like my men - well we all have to have a dream) and the love affair with Gold Blend began and has remained ever since. I don't know if anyone has heard the advert on local-radio where a lady is offered a cup of coffee during a variety of meetings, she quotes "I would love a Gold Blend" and when her host confesses he doesn't have any and offers her an alternative, she declines and trys to make her apologies, threatening to sue the company for breach of contract in the process.
Similarly the women who leaves her husband to stay with a friend and then decides she wants to go back to the husband she hates rather than stay with the friend without Gold Blend - well all those ladies are me - I cannot abide any lesser coffee, although I can generously stomach some of the more up-market Nescafe products if someone were to offer, and I do enjoy strong, quality ground coffee, but in their absence, I am afraid it has to be Gold Blend. I have lost count of the amount of drinks I have left untouched in peoples' houses, and now when I travel to any hotel or country, I have a jar of this in my bag, when I had my bag stolen in Lanzarote I was more upset about the coffee than the medication I lost, well have you seen the price of it out there? It was around £2.50 for a miniature jar!!!!!! And I went through three in a week. SO WHAT CAN I SAY ABOUT IT OTHER THAN I LOVE IT? Nescafe was founded in 1938 by Nestle after an approach from the Brazilian Government to find a way that coffee could be made by simply adding water, the process took seven years of research and the product became Nescafe, a combination of Nestle (the founder) and café, where coffee is typically drunk. Today, according to the web-site, 3,000 cups of Nescafe are drunk around the world EVERY second, no mean feat, but I can well believe it. The website describes the process of delivering Gold Blend as being "Nine years developing a new system of coffee processing - a system that captures even more 'coffeeness' from the coffee beans. This secret process has been used first on our premium brand, Nescafé Gold Blend. The result is a doubling in aroma and a dramatic increase in fresh-coffee flavour" Well, Nescafe, I couldn't agree more, the taste is awesome and fit for any time of the day. As far as I am concerned you can stick your caffeine free coffee (There is a Gold Blend version, depicted by a redish ting
ed label and to be fair it doesn't taste too bad), although for me it detracts from the very purpose of drinking it in the first place, to get a lift. I cannot function in the mornings without a cup, and if for any reason I don't have at least 5/6 cups a day, I develop severe headaches and feel really washed out, although if I go over this limit, I can be prone to sleeplessness and severe palpitations and therefore have learned my limits. A cup of instant Nescafe apparently contains around 60mg of Caffeine, a can of Coke 40mg, although I guess much depends on how strong you make it. As you probably already know, Gold Blend (a freeze dried product) it is classified as Nescafe's premium brand coffee and retails in supermarkets at: * c69p for a baby-jar, ideal for sticking in the hand-bag or overnight bag for those emergencies. * £1.39 for a 50g jar * £2.14 for a 100g jar * £3.89 for a 200g jar * £4.89 for a 400g jar You can also obtain catering packs of it from most good supermarkets and wholesalers. A TIP! In my experience, if you are not going to be around much to drink this, buy a smaller container, as once open, there is no doubt it loses its aroma and taste - and if you work in an office full of people who laugh at your obsession, rest assured that by the time you get back, they will have drunk it regardless and their coffee will remain untouched. My boss was horrified a few weeks ago when I appeared for a meeting, complete with a cup containing merely a teaspoonful of Gold Blend, I don't think he could quite believe what he was seeing. THE TASTE It is indescribable, slightly bitter, rich, full flavour, fresh and as close to quality ground coffee as you will get. The smell when you first open that jar is as good as my local Kardomah any day, and because I drink it black, strong and sugarless, is absolutely gorgeous served with a fresh crea
m cake containing jam. OTHER PRODUCTS IN THE RANGE WORTH A TRY * If you are not after the strong taste, then possibly NESCAFE ORIGINAL might be for you; * BLEND 37 - I have never actually tried so can't comment, again a freeze dried product. * ALTA RICA - strong and absolutely gorgeous, although proceed with caution, can cause severe stomach griping in those not accustomed to it - more expensive than the Gold Blend, more a coffee for special occasions, small carry pot jars available for travelling or just storing in the house. DID YOU KNOW? Nescafe now have their own chain of coffee shops and dedicated Nescafe machines springing up, not only in the UK but around the world, often seen at Motorway Service Stations and Airport departure Lounges - sounds good to me. WHAT MORE CAN I SAY? FOR ME, NOTHING ELSE WILL DO. Sue
This is one company I really have a desire to shout loudly about. Over the years I've have used the independent local chains, the specialised network dealerships and the major electrical stores; it was now my chance to try out a National independent chain on what happened to be the Monday of the queens Jubilee celebrations; "On a bank holiday Monday?" Shouts my other half - of course, everyone else is having street parties or at the seaside or local show - what better day? I will admit that I have approached the Carphone Warehouse every time I have needed a new phone, and every time have come face to face with massive queues, and not being the most patient of people I can never be bothered to wait and my goodness have I paid for that impatience? I still fail to understand the British fascination with queueing. So this time there was no queue and it was their turn. THEIR NETWORKS Carphone Warehouse are probably the most indicative of a National Independent chain, they sell phones on the following networks: o Vodaphone o O2 o Fresh o T-Mobile o Orange o Virgin Mobile WHAT DO THEY SELL? Mobile phones, lots and lots of them, I really was spoilt for choice, exchangeable covers, accessories such as hands-free kits and in car-chargers, home telephones, CD's containing ring tones and PDA's. THE STORE (SWANSEA) The store is compact with the counter on one side and with a range of about 40 dummy sample phones attached to the wall on the other, listing: o The make of each phone o The applicable networks o The cost of the phone for contract, pay as you go, and Orange No Line rental. I was, on this occasion fairly clear about what I wanted. I didn't want another Nokia phone, and had to have the Orange network, but was uncertain as to whether to elect for pay-as-you-go or contract. I have had previous bad
experience with Orange customer services and was more than a little reluctant to commit myself to them for another 12 months, but being someone who uses her mobile a lot, particularly during the day, PAYG was not necessarily the best option for me, and Orange contract calls are infinitely cheaper than both O2 and Vodaphone (I have had all 3). One thing I will say about the Nokia phones was that they were by far the cheapest option for all call options and also all the accessories with the exception of the cases are interchangeable between models. However, my ear burning 3310 has put me off this range for life and if I ever receive another horrendous bill or text message from O2 then I think I will be liable to commit Hari Kari. Carphone Warehouse produce a quarterly magazine that contains details of all their products plus a whole range of other incentives such as phone exchange and cash-back incentives which, if you don't really know what you want, you can take home and read at your leisure. RETURNS The company operate a 14 day return policy and products can be returned to ANY branch of the Carphone Warehouse (terms and conditions apply - don't forget to read the small-print and keep your receipt) PAYMENT They accept most forms of payment, including: o Cash o Credit Cards, including Amex and Diners o Debit Cards - including Solo and Duet - they do not however accept Electron Cards THEIR PRICE PROMISE They claim that if you find the same product cheaper within 14 days they will refund 110% of the difference (does not apply to the sale of SIM Free handsets). THE ASSISTANT - STEPHEN My first question was could I keep my current mobile number? I had heard before that this was possible. He kindly pointed out that I could, but that my request should have been put to 02 BEFORE cancelling my contract, I advised him that I had cancelled the O2 contract three mon
ths before (this is how disillusioned I was with them) and he suggested going back and asking them if a number transfer was still possible. Apparently, the number change will take around 10 days to implement and customers will be allocated a temporary number during the interim period. After giving this some thought I decided it was now or never and guessed that 15 days was sufficient to tell everyone about the number change, so I decided to start afresh. Two weeks after signing up I received a sheet of small cards through the mail that I could distribute to advise people of my number change. Stephen kindly ran through all the charges with me for: o Pay as You Go o Pay Monthly o Orange no-line rental We did some swift calculations and decided that without a shadow of a doubt that a normal contract was still my best bet. For anyone who is not familiar with Orange No-Line Rental, you pay a one off fee for the phone and then call charges at 15p per day for the first 5 minutes and then 5p/minute thereafter, calls are billed monthly in arrears. SETTING UP THE CONTRACT You will need two forms of ID, one with your address on it, dated within the last 3 months, (or alternatively a driving licence) and a credit/debit card containing your signature. Last time I connected to Orange they required an address that I had been living at for more than 3 years, something that was quite difficult as my lifestyle over the last few years has been something akin to a gypsies, thanks to needing to move to areas that encompassed my daughters school catchment area, we even moved next door to the flipping thing, and she still scrounges a lift now and again - but that's another story. The credit check process took around 5 minutes and was all computerised, current and last address were required and I was approved, happily no problems with my new postcode this time (even more impressed). This could possibl
y be because I had previously had an unblemished account (if rather a volatile relationship) with Orange and may differ for new customers. I was issued with my mobile phone number immediately. I was offered the option to pay by Invoice or Direct Debit, however, unlike the Orange Shop I was not offered a choice of dates when the payment would be taken out of my account, shucks the way I seem to have changed jobs recently this is a relatively minor issue. MY PHONE I stumbled across the phone I wanted, the Motorola V66e, a very sexy little number that also vibrates (essential if you need to be contactable in meetings) and also, as I have discovered since bringing it home has WAP access and a USB connector allowing you to access the internet via a computer while travelling - blimey this could be a recipe for disaster. Once I was fairly certain he brought one out of the showroom and demonstrated its operation, style etc to me, although it still took me around 10 minutes to suss out the battery connector when I got home. I have since discovered that any phone containing an 'e' suffix can only operate on the Orange network - those on other networks can pick up this phone as a V66. The SIM Card was pre-inserted for me - I can still remember the days when SIM cards were the size of credit cards and had a rather embarrassing experience when I bought my fathers PAYG phone for Christmas a few years ago, having taken it back to the store claiming there was no SIM card in it, so make sure you check where yours is before leaving the store. THE COST Connection to any of the Orange monthly contracts with this phone should have been around £30; however Carphone Warehouse were running a Jubilee offer that weekend whereby connection to all Orange Networks are free, can't fault it. I opted to purchase, what is for me, an absolute essential an in car charger kit, for those worrying times when I found myself driving lo
ng distances alone and with a flat battery, and as I was making the purchase at the same time as taking out the contract I received a 10% discount. My daughter then decided she wanted a new casing for her 3310, and managed to pick the most expensive (if very attractive Tigger case). Stephen removed her current casing which we had encountered problems with, and had become totally irremovable since she managed to drop it on my very hard tiled hall floor - luckily for her the tiles remained intact; we got 10% discount on that as well. Nearly 1 hour later we left the Car-Phone warehouse proudly clutching our new purchases, all my documentation safely placed in a wallet labelled "Welcome to the Carphone Warehouse". MY VERDICT I am a stickler for good customer service and seldom seem to get it, I am highly critical of both service assistants in shops and telephone operators on phones so much so that I planning to study it for my Doctorate, but on this occasion I have nothing but praise for the young man who served me; he was polite, helpful, patient and very tolerant, this man deserves a Gold Star. Would I visit there again? Most certainly if he was serving me. Even better I got a very sexy free phone and discount on my associated purchases, what more could a girl want on a windy warm bank holiday in a seaside town? AFTERWARDS Within two weeks of obtaining the phone, I received another welcome pack from the Carphone warehouse, together with a sheet of distributable cards advising of my number change, and a questionnaire asking me what I thought of the service in-store, something I will most definitely be returning. I have heard people saying that they have had a hard sell with insurance in the carphone warehouse, I encountered nothing of the sort, although I believe that Orange phones are automatically covered for the first year through Orange themselves. TO FIND OUT MORE: You can vi
sit their website www.carphonewarehouse.com to establish where your local store is, or you can order on-line whereby you are guaranteed a next working day delivery Free of Charge. The company have won a variety of customer service awards and on my experience today I really am not surprised. The store I visited was in Union Street, Swansea. Sue
I very much have a love-hate relationship with call-centres - sadly most of the time, the hate outweighs the love by a rather large ratio of around 100:1 but can fluctuate either way from time to time, but as with anything in life, there is usually an exception to the rule, and that exception in my professional (!) opinion is Welsh Water, more often known in Wales as Dwr Cymru. This is a company that without a shadow of a doubt has not been without its criticisers and bad press, dogged by financial troubles, highest bills in the UK despite the heaviest rainfall (go on admit it - how many of you have ever driven over the Severn Bridge and not found it raining?), more changes of ownership than ITV Digital and Swansea City Football Club, and most importantly, poor infrastructure which apparently results in them losing more water than the North & South Poles together from Global warming. Up until now, like many domestic customers, I have paid for water over a 10 month period, April to January, at a pre-set amount. At my last house, this was around £350/year, irrespective of the amount of water used - a high cost for something which is most definitely NOT a luxury, but one of the most basic commodities required by man (not to mention all the pets and goldfish) in order to survive. Face it, without clean water you would become pretty ill rather quickly, we only have to look at the jabs required to travel to some 3rd World countries with poor sanitation to confirm that, without any water, you will undoubtedly die quickly and not very pleasantly. ABOUT THE COMPANY Dwr Cymru supplies water to all of Wales and a good few areas of England - I was a bit miffed once to discover that people in some areas of the Midlands actually enjoy a cheaper supply than us for their water, despite the fact that it is being transported from Wales, although not necessarily by Dwr Cymru. The company has 1.2 million household customers and s
upplies over 110,000 business customers - these figures make it the 6th largest of the 23 regulated water companies in England & Wales. Some Interesting Facts (from their website) Welsh Water: · Has 84 impounding reservoirs, · Has 106 water treatment works and · Supplies an average 900 million litres of water every day through a network of 26,800km of water mains, including 620 pumping stations and 740 service reservoirs. · They also collect waste-water through a network of 17,600km of sewers, Amazing what is running around underneath your feet isn't it? MY EXPERIENCE When we bought our brand new house, we were ADAMANT that there was no way we were having a water meter, and hence our first question to the sales office was just that. We were reassured that we would not have to suffer the perils and uncertainty of having a meter, and hence duly paid our £250 deposit and settled down to select all our extras (well if can say that a bathroom suite and associated tiles is extra). 5 months later we duly moved in our beloved, and long awaited new home, and as is our duty, rang all the utility companies to advise them accordingly, at which point I was asked by the operator if I could provide them with a meter reading ME: Um, we don't have a meter HER: I'm afraid you do Madam, ALL new houses are now fitted with water meters - this is obligatory and not open to negotiation - I WAS NOT IMPRESSED. The sales people were very apologetic - but were apparently misinformed. The builders cocked things up and failed to provide a meter reading for 2 months after we moved into the property, hence we were only actually metered from October last year, and this morning we got our first bill. AAAAGGHHHH - the reason I didn't want a meter had finally appeared, and it appeared that my initial reservations about this type of payment and recording had finally been realis
ed - naturally when you first get any bill, the first thing you tend to look at is the final amount, so following a strong black coffee, I started again, and it was then I realised they had actually started billing from 0, which was incorrect. I didn't even think about whether the call centre would be open Saturdays, I just telephoned them as I dragged myself out of bed: The lady at the other end of the telephone was most helpful - she dug out the paperwork from the builders, explained there was confusion over the initial reading, told me where my meter would be, agreed to put the bill on hold, explained how to access the meter and check that it was in fact actually ours, and to ring them back on their FREEPHONE number to confirm the set-up, which would then sort out the initial reading based on the set up of the meter numbers which I duly did, and a new bill was despatched. Oh well, losing points here, the bill was wrong, they still billed me from 0 and used the final builders reading as our present one - I complained, again, they were very apologetic and sent another bill, again incorrect, and another, yikes, I was losing faith in this helpful company - it was at some point during this stage that I realised I was also in credit from my account at my old address, it took them three attempts to track down this money. However, despite all the aggro, early indications are that for last goodness knows how many years we have been paying far TOO MUCH for our water and naturally we have the scope to reduce this further. The annual charge for a 3 member household with Bath, shower and three toilets will be between £240 - £300 annually, chargeable six monthly, although accounts can be settled by direct debit or payment book, just like those on a fixed rate. I do not think this is too bad a cost considering we also run a dishwasher and washing machine and I have a bath and wash my hair at least once a day - the ot
her two prefer a daily shower. We have of course been conscious of having a meter, and hence don't use the hose pipe very often, probably about once a fortnight -but I must admit I still pleasantly surprised and very relieved. Welsh Water also regularly issue instructions on how to keep the cost of your water bill down, by restricting use of hose-pipes, taking showers instead of baths, looking for leaks from your piping systems (your side of the meter only), and the unseen cost of dripping taps - we still have one of these despite numerous requests to the builders to come and sort it out for us. Charges are actually calculated on 95% of your usage and differ between normal water and sewerage services. Did you know also that if the water on your property does not run into the public sewers, you can claim a reduction on your annual bill? this applies whether on a fixed rate or a water meter. For those properties without a water meter, they can be fitted and there is a cooling off period of about 6 months - there is a charge for installation. If you buy a new home, touch, you don't have a choice - and I know from family and friends that not everyone has as extortionate water rates as Welsh Water - so check out all your options before you change. If you have any doubts about the functionality of your water meter, you can request your supplier to come out and check it for you, but there will be a charge. ON-LINE The company has an on-line facility, where customers can · Submit general enquiries · Pay their bills (For water maters these should be paid within 14 days of the invoicing date - for books, 1st working day of the financial year or monthly 1st working day of the month - Apr - Jan or they now also offer, I believe Apr - March) · Submit an accurate meter reading (one of their representatives will read your meter a minimum of once yearly) · Ch
ange your personal details Water Bills can also be settled through GiroPay following links from the Post Office Counters website and also your local council if they subscribe to GiroPay for paying Council Tax. THEIR PRICES The bill is mighty complicated, and you will be charged for 95% of the water used according to your meter. Welsh Waters prices increased as of the 1st April, and according to Welsh Water, there will not now be a subsequent price increase until 31st March 2005, so we would expect our next bill to be a slightly higher than this one. The company has agreed to invest £1.2bn in its infrastructure during the same period (should see a price decrease then? Currently, metered users on a standard charge will pay £1.1616 per cubic meter used, but if you prove that the surface water from your properties does not drain in the public sewers (don't ask me how you do that) then you will only be charged £0.9711 per cubic meter used. My other half now seems to think it would be a good idea to examine the meter after flushing the toilet/running the dishwasher etc just to establish how much water we are actually using - although if our bills remain around this level, then I for one am not going to worry too much - we are already frugal and very conscience of the fact that we have to pay for it. If you don't settle your bill within 14 days, then Welsh Water in theory has the right to get a court order to disconnect your supply, although if you are in trouble with this, or any other water company, don't let it get to this level, it is an essential commodity for life. THEIR SERVICE PROVISION With every bill, and through other correspondence, Welsh Water distribute information leaflets that advise you of their policies, and compensation limits they will pay you, if they fail in a whole range of promises they may make: - an example is, if they interrupt your supply for more than 4
hours without providing you with at least 48 hours notice, then they will pay you £50, likewise, if they don't restore your supplies by the given time, you will again be entitled to a £50 payment, £20 if a complaint is not responded to within the pre-specified 10 days, there are a whole host of other reasons why they will pay you compensation in their booklet, although personally I would rather just have totally uninterrupted supply, coping without water, I think, is nigh on impossible. IN SUMMARY · The Bill For now I am happy, my bill appears now to be far lower than expected, and if it carries on in this vein with us being able to control our expenditure in this area, without suffering unnecessarily then I will be happy. The day started off badly, and got a lot better when my bill was reduced in half. · Their Staff And so far, without exception, their telephone staff have always been professional, courteous and helpful, even if they can't get your bills correct - they did agree to freeze the account until the matter was resolved. However, be warned, if someone is buying your house, they will close your account without getting permission from you first. And if you are buying a property with a water meter, READ the meter the day you move in and don't get the hassle I had. Want to find out more? Then visit: http://www.dwrcymru.com Sue
I am on a mission when it comes to any organisation operating via a call centre and to date have only found one that offers even remotely what I would identify as even remotely humanely, sensibly and without too many cock-ups and since I have praised them, they too have managed to get on my bad-side, hence why I am about to produce a 20,000 research report on the joys of them -but on to the subject in hand - the TV licence SO WHY DO YOU NEED ONE? Apparently, according to their web-site: "..if you use or install television equipment to receive or record programme services you are required by law to have a valid TV licence" This includes PC's with a broadcast card and videos WHAT DOES IT COST? · £112 a year for a colour licence. · £37.50 for a black and white one If you don't possess one then you can be fined up to £1,000, not to mention the shame of encountering your name in the local press - as from what I understand, in my locality, all offenders are named and shamed. Trying to by-pass the system by having one of these with a colour TV can be classed as fraud and carries even bigger fines and sentences. WHO NEEDS ONE? · The everyday man/woman on the street who has equipment capable of receiving a signal, including videos, PC?s and recordable DVD Players (lucky things) · Nearly everyone - students living away from the parental home have to pay, even if living in Halls of Residence - but they can sometimes claim a 3 month rebate valued at £28 if not living at their accommodation during the summer. · Businesses follow pretty much the same rules as people's homes · Hotels can obtain special licences providing they can prove that they don?t provide long term residential accommodation - the TV licensing web-site allows you to input the number of TV?s you possess and it will provide you with the cost - up to 15 TV's will be inc
luded in a single licence fee and thereafter the cost rises per 5 TV's. · Over 75's get their TV licensing for free - those who are registered blind will have to pay 50% of the fees (personally I think this is disgusting) · Concessionary licences are available for those in residential accommodation at a price of £5 - although they don't include communal day lounges etc. HOW DO YOU PAY? Where do I start? · Direct Debit · Goldfish Points (deductible from the final amount) · At the Post Office · On-line at their web-site · By Post · Pay-Point outlets (check for funny P symbols in yellow and purple) WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? To fund the non-commercial BBC Channels and their 1,200 staff at the Call-Centre in Bristol, which is where my fun started - why can't they just start advertising? WHEN YOU MOVE Don't forget to notify these people when you move house, failure to do this can equate to no licence. This is where my fun started - I recently moved into a brand new house, devoid of both a house number and post-code. Being the good little girl that I am, and paying my licence by Direct Debit, I duly notified the company of the change of address and explained the problem with the lack of both house number and postcode. No problem they said, just ring us again when you have all the details and we will update our records - great, sounds too easy really doesn't it? So in November when I was finally issued with all the relevant info , I again contacted, amongst other people, the TV licensing people and advised them accordingly - and a few weeks later received a letter to the plot number advising me it was a criminal offence not to possess a valid licence - I duly rang the 0870 number (national rate) provided and advised them of their mistake - I received profuse apologies and assurances that as they knew I did have a licence, t
heir records would be updated forthwith - except that around 3 weeks later I received another letter, another phone call, the same assurances - and apologies that the correspondence had probably crossed in the post - except that, as you can probably guess, it happened again, and again, and again, roughly about every 3-4 weeks since the last time, I was irate and abusive to say the least the young man did his best to calm me but I was not happy. Lo and behold a few weeks ago, again to the plot number, I received notification of prosecution for NOT HAVING A TV LICENCE - this time the conversation held nothing back - I was and still am absolutely fuming, the young lady at the other end of the phone kept telling me to stop whinging (although more politely than that) as she was trying to help me, well excuse me if both my patience and my beliefs as to the level of support provided are wearing thin, but after 9 attempts at trying to put the record straight I am one very unhappy bunny and have told them next time I will pass the file on to Watchdog who I am sure would be more than interested. I await with baited breath as to what happens next, just let them try and enter my home, which incidentally they cannot do without a warrant, in fact I am gently assured that the only people who can do this are Customs and Excise, now even my post-woman (who I have little time for anyway due to her continued inability to read house numbers with more than one digit) thinks I am a criminal, I AM NOT - I PAY MY TV LICENCE EVERY MONTH. SO HOW CAN THEY CATCH YOU? What? apart from irritating the hell out of innocent people; if my mother had been receiving correspondence like this it would worry her to death and probably have caused a second heart attack, even though she knew it had been paid. They have a database consisting of 26million UK addresses (plus at least one that doesn't actually exist) They have scanners that can pinpoint
down to the room you are using the TV in, irrespective of whether you live in a 6 bed mansion or a 10 storey block of flats - these come in van form and hand held scanners. CAN YOU AVOID IT? Nope, I guess not - if you buy a TV, either new or second hand, the dealer is legally obliged (under the the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1967) to notify the TV licensing department of the sale within 28 days. They will then check their records against the address provided, I guess you could give a false address, but then if something goes wrong you could find you guarantee invalid, not to mention the risk of prosecution. Some snippets from the web-site on excuses for not having a licence: "The woman claimed that the reason for her not having a licence was because her cat had got sick down the back of the set and blew it up" "When interviewing a woman in London, an enquiry officer asked during the conversation if she had Sky. "Yes", she replied. He proceeded to ask her what channels she watched on Sky and she answered, "I haven't got Sky". A little confused, the enquiry officer reminded her that she had just told him that she had Sky. "Yes, that's right, she's in the pram." She replied, pointing to her daughter." Judging by these and many more comments, I guess they have heard it all before - I do know someone who was prosecuted after 3 years without a licence despite receiving cable TV - a licence was purchased before the court case and the fine was considerably less than the 3 years licence would have been, although she did get her name in the local papers. NEED TO FIND OUT MORE? Visit their web-site at http://www.tv-l.co.uk/index_frameset.html - the site is produced in a wide range of languages - I guess to ensure that no-one can say they didn't know, including: · English · Welsh · Turkish · Bengali · Gujarati · Cant
onese · Hindi · Greek · Punjabi · Arabic · Urdu · Somali Leaves little doubt really as to the message they are trying to convey. IF A REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE ORGANISATION READS THIS - I HAVE NOW AND ALWAYS HAVE HAD A TV LICENCE - I PAY THE THING EVERY MONTH WITHOUT FAIL - SO PLEASE STOP HASSLING ME. TV licensing General Enquiries ? 0870 241 6468 To e-mail them: email@example.com Mini-com contact for the deaf and hard of hearing - 08705 758 604 Sue
I always promised myself that one thing I would never buy was a laptop - having 2PC's at home and one in the office, connected by networking and e-mails, I didn't really need one did I? Or so I thought, I had been browsing the internet sites for a while, looking to see what was available, my hair standing on end at the very thought of some of the prices, a bog standard non-branded machine was going to set me back at least £800, there was really little hope. In my job, I spend quite a bit of time on the road, and an incident a few weeks ago made me realise that I was struggling, jumping from meeting to meeting, running home and back to colleagues' houses in order to print out relevant materials, I finally realised that the time had come to do something I still promised myself I would never do, buy a lap-top. The big question was, Could I really justify the expenditure? and if I am honest, the answer really was no. I wanted a CD-rewriter a large processor, and something lightweight into the bargain. Restricted by lack of time I guessed I would have to struggle on, but of course, I forgot about the pending bank holiday, which meant for me, a day off. I had intended to spend the whole day studying and working on my thesis, but the weather was so nice. I just had to get out, with the original intention being to get a Turkey for Sunday lunch as my parents were coming to dinner, but as the local roads were so quiet, I persuaded my other half that we really wanted a trip to my local new all interactive Comet Store ? bad move - last time I went there to help my father chose a new printer, I ended up buying a second computer for for my daughter, so it was only to be expected that I would end up buying something, yep, you've guessed it, a Sony Vaio PCG-FX405. After all my doubts about money and the cost of the machines, this was probably one of the most expensive machines in the store, so what swayed me
? Well firstly, the machine is being discontinued, in Comet speak this generally means discount in sizeable chunks off the ticket price (I bought both my computers in the same manner). On this occasion, 20% to be exact which on a £1,400 machine meant £280 off. My partner tried the haggling bit as we were getting the shop model, and instead (thats how good he is), I ended up purchasing an extended three year warranty for £100 less than the normal price of £360, and if I did this then the manager would thrown in a carry case, power surge 4 plug extension lead, data transfer cable and a USB Roller Mouse. I was also offered a free printer but as I already have two I decided to give this one a miss. In addition to the discount, this was one of the few machines that COMET were offering 12 months interest free credit. Translated, this meant a 10% deposit, a monthly payment of c.£30 and then the balance payable by 22nd May 2003. If for any reason you don?t pay the balance off within that time, then you will be stitched up for interest at 29.9%APR and will end up paying the product off over the next 4 years or so after the end of the interest free period, thus you could end up paying well over double the price of the initial product. SO WHAT DID I GET FOR MY MONEY? A Sony laptop with · 1 Gig AMD Athlon 4 processor, · 20Mb Hard drive (2 individual 10Mb discs) · 256 MbRAM, · A CD Re-writer combined with - · A DVD Player (this can be plugged into wide screen player just like a normal player - or even watched on the TFT screen) · Audio CD player (built in speakers) · Windows XP Home Edition · Data Transfer cables · Network point and network card · 15" inch visible TFT screen · Built in V90 modem · Telephone Port · Free AOL Trial (as if I haven?t got enough of these already) · 2 USB Ports · Parallel port for Printer/Scanner · Serial p
ort to link to an additional monitor - (although believe me with this little beauty you will not need it). · 3 year extended warranty that covers me for accidental damage (something I have never considered before ? but as this little beauty is going to be coming everywhere with me, on this occasion it seemed like a chance worth taking). · Standard battery power is 1 hour 15 minutes, not very long compared to many of the other machines on the market, but apparently the bigger the processor the more power it uses, hence the short life-time. There is, however, a slot to insert and charge a second battery pack - don't know the price of these yet) the battery can be charged whilst not in use, or whilst you are using the machine - I did a little experiment where I charged the battery up fully and then started the machine without mains connection - it used 5% of the power - but did tell me that I had nearly two hours power left ? so I guess time will tell how this develops. ·A moveable mouse pad and proper mouse buttons on the machine (there is also the facility to double click on the mouse-pad to make selections), although thankfully there is a USB port to which a mouse can be connected. SOFTWARE · Windows XP - some software discs don't seem to like this as apparently they need digital signatures, the machine has crashed on me twice, but I am getting used to this and beginning to think it is me rather than the machines, or hence just a failing with PC's · Sonic Stage Media Player · Acrobat Reader 5 (can be downloaded FOC anyway) · A load of Sony software for digital imaging, scanning etc (not really of much use to someone like me) but could certainly be useful for the industry in which I work So as you can see, not a lot with the software that wasn't included with XP (something else I said I didn't like), but I am afraid I have very quickly become a convert. SO WHAT DO I T
HINK? This little beauty could very easily end up replacing one of my desktop machines, it is sleek fast and I am totally in love - my only gripe is that the keyboard doesn?t have a proper number pad - although it does have the facility to change the main keyboard into something similar - I am still getting used to the new location of the Home/End Buttons and Page down/Up etc - a couple of times I have found myself in the wrong place in documents, but this is just familiarisation and will settle down eventually. The keyboard is surprisingly nice to type on compared to other laptops I have tried, I make use of my 'free' roller mouse, but the machine does have its own touch pad, with two buttons just like a normal mouse. It also means I can do my work wherever I fancy - which on a Sunday night is always in front of the TV - until now it has been either/or. I can't yet fully vouch for robustness and durability, but the machine seems fairly sturdy, with this only time will tell through the longevity of the machine - any bad experiences, I will update. TOTAL PURCHASE PRICE - £1,382 Sue
Well apparently so anyway, if you want to be able to get credit facilities - don't buy a new house - and now someone has won a court-case preventing electoral roles from being sold to third parties, rumour has it that if you have moved anywhere in the last 7 months, you won't be able to get credit anywhere - and will have to write to the likes of Experian and Equifax to prove your worth - well back to the issue in hand. Morgan Stanley - one of the biggest investment banks in the world - I can vividly remember their chain of advertisements when they first hit the UK market with images of people puttying walls with their old credit cards - well it looks like they have got their feet firmly under the table and are here to stay. I decided after seeing a variety of advertisements and reading material about the company, that with my introductory rate about to end it was time to move on again and MSDW Gold card fitted the bill. I trundled off to look at their web-site, where you can apply on-line, although you don't get an instant decision. I was about to apply on-line when I recognised that this wasn't a good idea as I didn't have a post-code recognisable on company's computer systems. I therefore opted for their telephone application system and was greeted with helpful, friendly operators. I explained to the customer service lady that I had recently moved to a brand new property and therefore had only just been issued with an official address and postcode, and asked if this would be a problem. She confirmed that it was highly unlikely to cause a problem and asked if I would I like her to take me through the application process - to which I confirmed yes - BAD MOVE. Upon completing the application, she advised me that my address didn't exist in the system (I'm sure I had already told her this) and that my postcode was allocated to an area of the city only accessible with a passport.
I tried telling her otherwise but she wasn't having any of it, adamant that I couldn't possible live where I told her I did. It was confirmed that the application would have to be referred to the company underwriters and that a decision should be received within a week - (don't worry I will get around to telling you about the card) - WRONG AGAIN - a week later, I received a letter to my home address telling me that it didn't exist, and that if I wanted to prove that it did, then I would have to send them gas or electric utility bills issued in the last three months showing my name and address exactly as it had appeared on the application form I had never actually seen. IMPOSSIBLE - having only been in the property around 6 months, and having had the postcode for one month - it couldn't physically be done. Another call to their call centre in Glasgow was very helpful, told the young lady what correspondence I did have, and would this be OK - apparently a well-endowed bank statement is not enough and such things can be registered under any address (so can someone tell me why we had so much hassle getting an account for my then 11 year old daughter). Well anyway, correspondence from my solicitor and a council tax bill did the trick and I was awarded my little gold monster. WHY WAS I SO PERSISTENT? Well, I didn't actually want a credit card to spend on, just to transfer the last of my balance from a more expensive card over to at 4.9% for the life of the balance - far cheaper than any loan - it makes a saving of around £20 a month on a card of 18.9% APR and a balance of just over £2K - if you follow the links off Lycos, it will calculate savings for you on a whole range of balance amounts and cards. The current offer runs until 1st April 2002 to take advantage of this, but knowing the way my luck goes, they will possibly reduce the rate further at this point, bering in mind tha
t interest rates have remained static. STANDARD Rate for the card is still quite competitive at 13.9% and 19.9% for cash advances (this includes a charge of 1.5% of the money advanced - and not a cheap way to do things unless you are an MBNA card holder who do have some superb offers on such transactions from time to time). Interest free period I believe is around 55 days, (10 more than Egg, 4 less than MBNA) - and minimum payment is 2%, £5 (whichever is the greater) or the total balance if less than £5. Like most of the competition, there is a 2.75% charge on overseas transactions, although where they actually hit with this I don't really know, as I have never encountered any charges out of the ordinary when using my card overseas - and most of the time it stills work out to be cheaper than taking cash or travellers cheques. LATE FEES are £20 for doing anything out of the ordinary like missing a payment, going over your credit limit etc. (again fairly standard fayre compared to the competition - with the exception of Liverpool Victoria so I believe who don't make any charges but there again don't give you enough to credit to actually do anything with). ADDITIONAL CARD HOLDERS Additional card holders are allowed on this account, and the feature I particularly liked is that each card has a separate account number (the main cardholder remains responsible for both accounts and the credit limit is shared) - this means that if one of you loses your card, then only that card gets stopped and thus the account is not frozen - most companies give the same number with both cards, thus if one of you loses it, the account is frozen until new cards are issued, not funny if you are a long way from home. INSURANCE Like most of the competition they offer insurance against repayment of balances to cover things such as sickness, redundancy and death (up to a maximum of £15K) at 71p per £100 of outstandi
ng balance - there are cheaper deals around on cards if not taking advantage of the balance transfer rate - but make sure you always read the small print - if you are on temporary contracts, have a pre-existing illness or are self employed, you could find yourself wasting money on something totally useless to you. ON-LINE - you can access your account on-line and can: (From the site) * View the latest transactions on your Card Account * View your current Cashback Bonus award online * View a real time summary of your Account * View your last 12 months' statements online * Sort your statements by transaction type, date and amount * Download individual monthly statements in to Microsoft Money or Quicken You can also set-up the account to notify you via e-mail when a payment has been credited to the account, and when a statement is available for viewing, much faster than 2nd class snail mail. You cannot transfer balances or make payments on-line - although they do take Switch/Delta payments over the phone via the automated telephone service, or of course you can use telephone or internet banking. Things are getting very confusing these days as each company appears to have as different rules on this - * Marbles you can pay on-line but not over the phone, * MBNA you cannot pay on-line OR over the phone, although you can use your internet/ telephone banking. ANY PERKS? With rates like this, who needs perks? The standard card offers the same rates as the Gold Card, the Platinum (usually the cheaper cards on the market) actually charges higher rates, although they apparently offer a 0.5% cash-back on all purchases up to £2,000 in a year, and 1% thereafter. - if you spent £3,500 on the card in a year, you would get back the grand total of £25 (thanks but I'll settle for lower interest rates). They have deals with Orange for extra perks when taking out
a new monthly contract phone, although I should imagine you can probably find just as good deals browsing your local High Street. Cheap wine crates from Laithwaites - and a free bottle of champagne with your first order (don't like champagne) and you can probably get a better deal in Tescos or Sainsburys. Cheaper telephone calls with QUIP - assuming you are not taking advantage of any of BT's special offers (if you are not then you need you head tested) And their own travel service - The First Resort - http://morganstanley.thefirstresort.com/bridgepage/index.asp the site apparently offers things such as savings on long haul travel, 3 nights for the price of 2 on short breaks, and various other savings - although I would have to see how it compared with the High Street and other internet travel agents before making any decisions - there always seems to be a sting in the tail of such offers. =================== As you can probably gather I am fairly cynical of most 'deals' provided by credit card companies - so long as they get my statements right, charge me a competitive rate of interest and give me a decent and sensible but usable credit limit (the amount of times I have actually had to ask companies to reduce my limit defies belief), a freephone telephone number for customer services and are nice to me when I telephone them and don't keep me waiting too long, then I am easily pleased. On all counts so far, I am pleased, * Good service, * VERY, VERY, security conscious, * Excellent rates of interest, * A good usable credit limit, * Friendly helpful staff * A freephone telephone number and * Short waiting times on the phone. any more than that we shall have to wait and see. But if you have recently moved to a brand new property, (or in light of recent legal changes - within the last 7 months) you may just have to prove
who you are. Fancy a go: http://www.msdwcard.co.uk/uk/data/index.html or telephone: 0800 028 0838 Lines open 9 til 9 Monday to Friday and until 5.30pm on Saturdays, closed Sundays. If your application for a Gold Card is turned down, you may be offered a blue card instead. Sue
Around the time I finally succumbed and upgraded from BT NeverTime to ADSL, where you have an open ended link to the internet, I started getting twitchy and decided it was time to get myself a Firewall - they are supposed to stop hackers and troublemakers accessing the information on your computer. I realise now however, that in reality I should have had a package like this a long time ago, as what goes on, unseen to the normal human eye over the Internet is quite scary. I discovered ZoneAlarm more by accident than anything else after those helpful little bunnies at BT Openworld refused to give me any advice or assistance as to what the best package was to choose. I opted for Zonealam based on personal recommendation and after reading some rave articles about its effectiveness on the web. The basic package is free for home users and should prevent hackers getting into your PC -although I guess in a similar ilk to car-thieves and cat burglars, the determined ones will get through. You may well ask why anyone would want access to what is probably, in your opinion, an nsignificant home PC, but apparently boffins all over the world will look for unprotected home PC's from which to spread malicious damage to computer networks worldwide, they can apparently take over your computer and in effect become you. Quite a scary thought really, and to me it seemed a little far fetched, however, as someone who is becoming more reliant on her PC for a wide variety of purposes, I decided the time had come to stop taking any more chances and downloaded the package. Within no time at all, I discovered that my computer was being scanned on a variety of ports from networks all over the world, and thus after a few weeks, decided it was time to upgrade to ZoneAlarm Pro and away I went. SO WHAT IS IT? Well, as its name suggests it is a more upmarket version of the free version and COSTS - HOW MUCH? · $3
9.95 (£28.53 - GBP amount will depend on the exchange rate at the time of purchase) - you will be required to enter your personal details and credit card info via a secure server - automatic updates are supplied via the web for 1 year after purchase. Download speed for me was merely a few minutes via an ADSL connection, much slower via a 56K or less I would guess. The sway for me at the time was they were offering free a wonderful little additional package called AdSubtract CE, which as its name suggests removes the adverts from the screen - In a 90 minute session on-line recently, Absubtract removed 71 advertisements including 31 pop-ups, but that's an op for another time I guess, back to ZoneAlarm. WHAT DOES IT DO? ZoneAlarm allows you to lock your computer from Internet access should it be left idle for longer than a pre-determined time which you chose, and prevents other people gaining access to your machine and your personal details. INTERNET ZONE SECURITY & TRUSTED ZONE SECURITY These can be set to ·HIGH Your computer is totally hidden from hackers and sharing is NOT allowed ·MEDIUM Other computers can see your computer, but cannot share its resources - this does not affect computers linked on home networking in respect of the internet, but will prevent shared drives from being accessed. ·LOW Firewall is effectively off PROGRAM CONTROL Do you know how many times your computer software tries to access the Internet? Who's laughing? Don't you believe it; so far, in addition to my E-Mail and Internet Browsers I have had a total of 24 programs try to access the Internet under their own steam, scary - who said computers couldn't think? The facility offers 4 settings, I opted for medium, whereby each program trying to access the net has to request permission the first time, and your response will be remembered for future attempts - s
ome packages such as Ad Subtract and POW will require access to the net in order to perform their intended function. MAILSAFE I leave this permanently to ON; it acts as a supplement to my anti-virus software and quarantines any incoming files that it considers suspicious. COOKIE CONTROL One of the biggest hindrances of using the Firewall at Medium/High settings, it will restrict the activities you can undertake on the web, and will slow your connection down each time it visits a new site to check its suitability. It can also cause problems for activities such as making purchases, banking and using your beloved Dooyoo & Ciao (before you all sign off) there is a way around this - you can add your regularly visited web-sites to what is known as a Trusted Zone and the Firewall will automatically bypass the system - although for each of these sites, you have the facility to elect to block items such as: ·3rd party cookies ·Advertisements ·Pop-ups You can also block and expire cookies, as you desire. IS IT MONEY WELL SPENT? I should say - since install (December 2001), ZoneAlarm has successfully blocked 230 intrusions, 216 of which have been high rated alerts. If you subscribe to the Pro version, ZoneAlarm Pro will tell you where these alerts are coming from in the world - so far I can recall: ·North America ·South America ·Syria ·Libya ·England ·Holland ·France ·Somewhere in dark and deepest Africa Scary thoughts that someone out there wants to know your business - don't let them, hop along to http://www.zonealarm.com/ and pick up a free copy for yourself, letting you watch out for whose watching you. Sue
LANZAROTE, the island with 300 volcanoes and apparently designated as the area that God wanted man to see to learn about the moon - around 4 hours from the UK, and supposedly very windy. I don't think I realised before going there, that in theory this place is still an active volcano. If driving around the island you will see many black molten ash fields with sparse greenery and a lot of walls, much discussion could not ascertain what these were for, and we can only assume that they are to cash and trap some of the ash should the volcano decide to erupt again. You will also see active geezers dotted around the island, which caused much fascination to the kids. Unlike the other Canary Islands I've visited, there is something about this place, the natives (with the exception of some of the 'charming' taxi-drivers who didn't appreciate us using their seatbelts) were so friendly and welcoming, most spoke at least a smattering of English, and welcomed the kids with a fervour and joy we have not seen since Majorca. For driving the roads are better than Gran Canaria but not as upmarket as Tenerife. We were staying in a hotel in Matagorda, which is a purpose built resort that has developed at the end of Puerto del Carmen, a little further on that Playa de Los Pocillos, and a taxi ride into the centre of Puerto del Carmen cost around 500ptas (soon to change to the Euro). Main resorts on the island are: ·Puerto del Carmen - bouncing with narrow pavements, and I should imagine a nightmare in high season - difficult for those with buggies and those in wheelchairs ·Costa Teguise - had a drive around, but seems to be built up around hotels and much quieter than its near neighbour. ·Playa Blanca - quite an upmarket resort I believe, didn't actually get there. Transfer time from the airport will be short wherever you are staying, and if it is Matagorda or Playa de Los Pocillos, picture you
r hotel with a plane inthe distance, if you can't hack this, then look elsewhere. Both resorts have commercial centres offering a wide range of pubs, eateries and gift-shops. If you are using the transfer coaches, watch your luggage carefully, one of mine got stolen during a 10 minute bus ride, necessitating a lot of frustrating calls to the Thomson 24 hour help line, a visit to the police station and a 3000 charge for the interpreter, typical when I leave the Spanish speaker at home. EATING OUT Puerto del Carmen spans the seafront for a good few miles, and is awash with restaurants, bars, gift-stores, amusements arcades and supermarkets. If you enjoy Chinese or Indian cuisine you really will be spoilt for choice at affordable prices. If like me, you are travelling with two very fussy teenagers, one who like Chinese, the other Indian, then I am afraid your taste buds might not be tickled as much. A chain called LANI's take up much of this parade in Puerto del Carmen, they have a Grill, Pizzeria, Meat restaurant, in fact about 8 restaurants within a 1 mile or so stretch. The food was OK, the service appalling, and we felt like we were all being squashed in together - and to add insult to injury, they served us with what we thought were complimentary bread rolls, only to find out afterwards we were paying c.80p each for the privilege. Main meals are not served with the customary fries and salad but potatoes and vegetables - although to be fair they did agree to let the two kids share a Pizza between them - cost for 3 including desserts and drinks c.£25. The remainder of the time, we ate either in the hotel or La Brasa, a family run restaurant loning it in between the variety of LANI's outlets, food here was good, although service varied dependant on the time of day. Don't forget that menu prices do not include VAT at 5% and if you rate the service you will be expected to leave a service charge. Toma
to Ketchup and Mayonnaise is plentiful,but you might struggle to access HP Sauce. PLACES TO VISIT Aqua-Park - Situated in the resort of Costa Teguise Standard fare - 2450ptas for adults, 2150ptas for children - doesn't take credit cards - and very cold in Winter - we were actually warned off this by Thomsons who demonstrated concerns about the safety of some of the rides. FUERTEVENTURA For about £10 per foot passenger, you can catch the ferry over to Fuerteventura, although we decided to give this a miss - £40 for a car and three passengers. TIMANFAYA NATIONAL PARK & THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE Whilst I have driven abroad many times before, I was a little nervous at not having my navigator with me this time, and was worrying about how I would cope. Trust me, if you are staying in Puerto del Carmen, all roads on the island point to the capital Arrecife (6kms away), so finding your way back is easy. Back to the park, as you drive up through the mountains of Fire, you will see the camel rides, not amount of cajoling or persuading would get the two girls to take me up on the offer of paying for their rides, the whole surrounding area looks like nothing I have ever seen, alternating between huge amounts of Hardened lava and black/golden sanded mountains. Access to the park itself is controlled and charged for - 1100ptas (c£4.50 - c2.5 Euros) for adults, 550ptas for children, and trust me, you won't walk it up for the trip, you need a car or an organised tour. Once inside the park, you will be guided to a tightly controlled parking area on a very steep slope, definitely not for the fainthearted. There is a restaurant in the park, serving food cooked in natural ovens from the heat from the ground, and glass walled bar where you can just sit and watch the world go by, viewing this not beautiful, yet breathtaking island. Part of the payment into the park, provides you with an opportunity to
take a guided coach tour of 14km this area, with history narrated in Spanish, English and German. This seemed like a good idea at the time, and you get to see the mouth of the volcano and various other sights, but trust me, if you don't have a head for heights, then think carefully as the road is narrow, and seeing a bunch of tourists diving over one side of the bus to take photos is not necessarily my best idea of how to spend an afternoon. Access is forbidden by any other means, as is removal of any part of the volcanic matter. Temperatures under the ground range from 140C up to 600C, and if you stand next to the craters outside the restaurant, you will feel it, you might also being to wonder whether the heat is actually coming from the sky or underneath. SOCIALISING I must confess, with the exclusion of the hotel bar, we only visited one bar all week, the Barge Inn in Puerto del Carmen, run by English staff with a nightly fun quiz, and shot questions all night. The kids decided the DJ was worth looking at, hence we never got to go anywhere else. Still, the beer was cheap, the food good (if actually pricier than the restaurants) and sorry they don't take VISA/Master-card, although they are widely accepted elsewhere - there are also cash machines aplenty. WEATHER I say the island is supposedly very windy, as for the first 4 days, we didn't see a hint of it, but I recognised what they meant during the last three, as the wind nearly took our breath away and the sea was wild. The weather was variable to say the least, sun as sometime during every day, but lowest temperature whilst we were there was 21C, highest 31C, so we couldn't really complain. Two tips, if you are travelling to this part of the world during the winter months, take a jacket for the evenings as it can get quite nippy, and if you like swimming, book a hotel with a heated or acclimatised swimming pool. Because believe me, the water is COLD.
Car Rental was £109 for the week, including air conditioning (booked in the UK through Thomsons) , and diesel was around 25p/litre. SUMMARY Would I go back? You bet - tomorrow if I had the chance - so far we have not been overawed with the Canaries, but this place has something, and there are so many things I didn't get to see because the kids were more interested in the hotel swimming pool. The holiday was relaxing and pleasant and I am already looking for something for October half-term. I am waiting to have the hotel listed, but in the meantime, if you are looking for a short-warm break on a cheapish basis, and don't mind basic accommodation but with good facilities and a heated swimming pool, situated right on the beach, then I can recommend the Sol Lanzarote in Matagorda, available with Thomsons and JUST up to April 2002, although I believe JMC, Airtours and Direct Holidays are also there. Finally, if anyone can tell me what the small walls are for in the fields the length and breadth of the island, then you really will put us out of our misery. Sue Sol Lanzarote http://www.solmelia.com/cgi-bin/solmelia/dirdinamic/hotelhtml?13517