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Macdonald Hatherley Manor, Gloucester 06/08/2010

Nice Stay at Hatherley Manor

Macdonald Hatherley Manor, Gloucester Lovely Man and I decided to get away for a long weekend not so long ago, and with our trusty travel offers book we decided to head for Gloucestershire and visit the Cotswold Show. The nearest place to stay was the Hatherley Manor Hotel. Set in its own grounds, the Hatherley Manor is quite an impressive building. It was formally (as you would expect) the local manor house and has been converted and extended to form the hotel. Something that we noticed straight away was the emphasis on conference and wedding provision - while we were there they held two weddings, on the same night, in the rooms below! But even though they went on quite late we were not disturbed at all - good soundproofing or just a lucky room? :) So, from the beginning... we rolled up early evening and checked in with the friendly staff on the front desk. We were directed to our room which was mid-size and comfy with the usual bits and pieces - telly, trouser press, hairdryer etc. The best bit though... the bathroom! it was standard size, but we weren't expecting the shower to be so good! Proper power shower and a very enjoyable cleaning experience. Only downside was the plastic shower curtain, but I'm not a fan of those anyway. The deal we had allowed us to have half board so we were able to sample the breakfast and the evening meal twice. Breakfast was the standard continental fare but you were able to tailor-make your cooked brekky which we took full advantage of. The only drawback was that breakfast ...

Apple iPhone 3G 16GB 16/05/2010

The mobile phone has evolved - meet the iphone!

Apple iPhone 3G 16GB It's that time of year again - upgrade time! My previous contract expires in June, but the kind boffins at Vodafone have decided we can upgrade 70 days early. Very generous! I managed to get to a shop on my birthday so I could properly grill the team there about which smart phone to get - not being particularly techy I needed some help on the features front. My choices were limited (following a certain amount of internet research) to either the iphone 3G or the HTC legend. My kind techy bloke at the vodafone shop brought them out for me to look at. So the comparisons commenced! I had originally been drawn to the HTC because (shallow as I am) I love silver mobile phones. And the HTC is very sleek, being made out of one sheet of metal and almost forged. However, the HTC looks better on TV then is does in person, and I found myself being drawn to the iphone. The screen is slightly larger, the unit seems to be designed slightly better than the HTC and from what everyone, including the sales people have been telling me, the apps are better developed for the iphone. Of course you also get a huge range of products available through itunes, but more of that later. So I took the plunge (something I seem to be doing a lot lately!) and went for the iphone. I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions I have ever made! I can't keep my hands off it and I'm still being amazed at the huge number of things I can do with it. The iphone comes with 16 app icons as standard, including ...

Hyundai i20 1.2 31/01/2010

Hyundai i20 -

Hyundai i20 1.2 Lovely Man and I have taken the plunge and finally said goodbye to our trusty fiesta. I shouldn't get emotional about a mobile lump of metal and plastic, but that car never let us down and despite all the MOT-fail things that were wrong with it at the end, I was still sad to say farewell. I tried very hard not to think about the scrapyard it was heading for. The fiesta was sacrificed through the scrappage scheme so that I could buy a Hyundai i20. I spent lots of time researching all the equivalent cars such as the corsa, a fiat panda and of course the new fiesta. However, none of them looked as good on paper with regards to costs vs benefits, added extras, emissions, styling and the support of the dealership and warranties. In practical terms, I test-drove a VW polo, a Fiat Panda and both the Hyundai i10 and the i20. The polo was nice to drive, but Lovely Man is a lot taller than me and found that he was a bit boxed in. I'm rather short, and I couldn't really see out properly. The Panda was the best purchase price of the lot, but the interior was very plasticy and felt cheap. When we tested the i10 (the i20's baby brother) we did it with 4 fully grown adults inside and we all approved of the space available, front and back, and the number of gadgets and gizmos that even the basic version comes with as standard. I could even see out over the steering wheel! I wandered back a few days later and took out the i20 on my own, which I felt was better for me in terms of size. ...

Sheekeys, London 13/10/2009

It started with a fish! J. Sheekey's Restaurant, London

Sheekeys, London Lovely Man and I met over a salmon. I ordered it, he cooked it, I ate it and asked to meet the chef. We were then set up on blind date two months later. Three years on (three years tomorrow, in fact) and we are married and looking forward to a fantastic future together. Slushy stuff aside, what we have mostly in common is food. He is a fantastic chef and I am a very accomplished eater. We both absolutely love fish and seafood and since we met, Lovely Man has been telling me about this restaurant in London. He went there with some fellow Cheffy friends a few years ago and couldn't wait to share the experience with me. And what an experience! J. Sheekey's is set just metres away from the Leicester Square tube station and the hustle and bustle of central London. I am a hick from the sticks and was worried that I would be out of place in such an up-market restaurant, but I really didn't need to! We were greeted and seated for a short while in the Oyster Bar, where any drink we could have asked for was available. The walls in the Oyster Bar and the restaurant are adorned with photographs of stars of stage and screen. Those that are still living are housed in the Oyster Bar; those that have passed on are moved to the J. Sheekey restaurant. I've been reliably informed that to become a fuly qualified member of the waiting staff, you have to know the names of every single star on the wall. This gives some indication of the quality of the people that work there - there are a ...

Thomas Cook Airlines (powered by Condor) 10/10/2009

We Flew to Corfu with Thomas Cook

Thomas Cook Airlines (powered by Condor) Lovely Man and I got married! We had a fantastic day (well weekend, actually) but after all that excitement we were both rather keen to get away to our honeymoon destination of Corfu. The actual holiday we took was with another company and will be the subject of a review soon, but we flew out on a charter flight with Thomas Cook and as this was a new experience for me, I wanted to review it and compare it with the other flights I have taken over the years. Our flight out from London Gatwick was an early one at 6.20am, with a 2 hour check-in. This meant leaving our nice comfortable hotel at 3am. Yuck! Arriving at the South Terminal, we soon located the Thomas Cook check-in desk and even though check-in wasn't supposed to be open yet, we were allowed to hand our hold luggage over and make our way through security. When the flight was called (via the big departures board) we joined the herd of people heading for our gate and were politely asked to get on board, with passengers being requested by seat numbers, happily avoiding the free-seating scrum you get with other airlines. I had heard horrible things about the seat pitch on Thomas Cook flights, but I had plenty of room (not difficult, being 5 foot nothing!) but Lovely Man was also just about ok, and he's 6 foot 2 inches. (For the uninitiated, the seat pitch is the distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you, indicating the amount of leg room available. Good seat pitch is about 30 ...

Plusnet 05/09/2009

Plusnet Broadband - ticks nearly all the boxes

Plusnet Since moving in with Lovely Man just over two years ago, our internet usage has sky-rocketed. Wedding planning, internet banking, emails to my mum assuring her that living with Lovely Man is turning out ok - you get the idea. Prior to installing me, Lovely Man was content with his BT dial-up connection on the chunky PC he kept on the bookcase. He never had time to use it during the day when connection would have been slow, and found that it worked perfectly well for him when he wanted it. (In the middle of the night.) I, however, am a little more demanding from my computer and my internet connection and gradually introduced Lovely Man to the convenience of connecting when you like, where you like and for as long as you like. Something we hadn't considered before was cost, so I was soon trawling the sites (via dial-up) for the best broadband deal. Of all the sraches I did, Plusnet appeared in the top three every time for value and customer service, and seeing as I'm demanding but not technically minded, opted for the service that would also provide someone on the end of the phone seemed like a good idea! Having disposed of the PC on the bookcase and obtained a wireless-enabled laptop, we soon took delivery of our wireless router, a D-Link. This was easy to install and we were soon up and running and surfing like mad. This unfortunately only lasted a few weeks before the router died on us, but Plusnet were very quick to identify the problem and ship out another ...

The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory 02/08/2009

Queen vs Queen - and those caught in the middle

The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory As you may have guessed from some of my more recent reviews, I have been in Waterstones with some gift vouchers. This novel from Philippa Gregory was the last one that caught my eye and was an unusual departure for me, as I usually prefer murder and mayhem in my novels. Anyway.... This book is based on the historical records of the movements of Mary, Queen of Scots during the years 1568 to 1572. As well as where she was living, the novel also explores the plots and scandals that were generated to try and re-instate her on the Scotish throne. This, however, is anything but a parody of the history books we were tormented with at GCSE. This novel is written from the viewpoint of three people; Queen Mary, George, Earl of Shrewsbury, and Bess of Hardwick - George's wife and the countess. Queen Elizabeth and her advisor, William Cecil, advise the Earl that he will be providing hispitality for Quen Mary and her retinue until arrangements can be made for her safe passage back to Scotland and her throne. The Earl is one of the Talbot family and as such is bound by a deep honour and loyalty to the crown, but almost from the beginning he finds himself caught between the wills of the monarch he serves and the monarch he pays host to. Bess, his wife, was not born to wealth and status but made her way in the world by marrying men of means, and learning from them about business and land-management. She is portrayed here as a woman of skills and means, although she scrubs up poorly ...

Vodafone 527 01/08/2009

Keeping in touch the colourful way! Vodafone's new phone....

Vodafone 527 I was getting a bit fed up with my old phone. When it was time to upgrade last year I wanted something a bit different and decided to go for a slide-phone from samsung. Maybe I'm just a victim of trotter-fingers but I kept getting my pinkys caught in it and it was quite a painful experience, so I felt the urge to go back to a nice, basic bar phone that would cause rather less damage. This phone is small and light, and comes in a variety of interesting colours. I am a vodafone girl, so it was easy enough to swap the SIM from my contract phone into this, which you have to buy as a pay as you go model. In the vodafone shop it was £30 + £10 top-up, which I didn't need but may come in handy if I decide to keep the other phone in the car for emergencies. The screen is relatively small compared to other makes, and the picture quality isn't fantastic, but when all you want is to text and call people this isn't the biggest problem in the world. Unlike lots of of people, I just want a phone to be a phone (with calculator and alarm clock options) so in this respect it suits me fine. I like the fact that vodafone have started their own range; they are fairly basic phones but seem to have been well-thought out. I find mobile phones to be very personal objects. In use mine daily and being quite tactile, I have to like the look and feel of things I use regularly. The back of this phone has a tactile, indented texture (like a golf ball, but less deep...) and there is a smooth silver ...

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Or the Murder at Road Hill House - Kate Summerscale 26/07/2009

A Real Crime, A True Story, A Great Read

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Or the Murder at Road Hill House - Kate Summerscale This is a very unusual book - I picked it up in the 2 for 1 sale at WH Smith thinking it was a nice-old fashioned murder mystery. It is, in fact, exactly that. The difference is that this murder actually happened and held the whole country in it's grip for many months as the investigation went on. Our setting is Road Hill House, in the village of Road in Wiltshire, close to the Somerset border. The house is occupied by the Kent family and their staff and the date is June 1860. The book starts by describing what people did and when things happened in the run-up to the murder. All the facts in the book originate from careful research and documents from the time of the crime. Essentially, the house is locked up for the night with all the family and staff inside, and during the night a young boy is brutally murdered. But is this is not a gothic horror, or a novel, so the descriptions of the corpse are in Victorian prose, which is wonderfully flowery and detached. In fact the early parts of the book are peppered with the Victorian language which lights up the imagination - this is in a time when the ideas of detection and forensics were only just beginning to form and so the methods used by the local police and the Mr Whicher of the title are scrutinised in great detail. Mr Whicher was a real-life character and we are treated to a mini-biography of him as the book progresses. We also meet his friend and coleague, Mr Williamson, and the family history of the Kent family is ...

Swinton Insurance Services 21/07/2009

Swinton Car Insurance

Swinton Insurance Services It's that time of year again - just after Christmas co-incides with when I bought my car (off my mum!) last year having just passed my driving test. Bit embarrassing leaving it so long, but money was tight and the busses were good to and from work ..... Anyway, went through to find a suitable insurer for my 2nd year on the road and came across Swinton. They were not the cheapest on the list for my circumstances, but they did offer everything I needed (plus legal cover as an option) and £50 cash-back after the policy has been in place for 90 days which made it cheaper than the other options anyway. Their website was easy to navigate and make the appropriate payment and the confirmation page came up with useful details like the address and telephone number of the nearest Swinton office. The only thing that surprised me was a higher excess amount to that I had specified, but this wasn't enough to put me off and I was advised before entering the card details, so I had the option to change my mind if I wanted to. A short while after the transaction had been completed I received a courtesy call from my local Swinton office advising me to contact them with any difficulties and thanking me for my custom. In addition to paying for the insurance online I had to send off one document confirming my eligibility for a no-claim bonus and a form to request the £50 cash back in 90 days' time. Not complicated at all. One working day later I received all my ...

The Lost Book of Salem - Katherine Howe 19/07/2009

I Found this Lost Book - and it's a Gem!

The Lost Book of Salem - Katherine Howe The Lost Book of Salem is a modern novel, set in Massachusetts in 1991, that solves a riddle which has it's origins in events that took place three centuries before. Our heroine is Connie Goodwin, a career academic studying colonial history and her ambition is to become a professor in her field. To reach this goal she has to find an original historical source on which she can base her qualifying piece of research. Her world is serene and ordered, as she spends much of her time studying, but this is disrupted when she gets a call from her more whimsical mother Grace, who asks her to go and sort out the family home in Marblehead which has lain undisturbed for many years. Luckily this is only half an hour's drive from where Connie works and studies, so she reluctantly agrees. The house was Connie's grandmother's and Connie comes across strange plants in the garden and odd objects in the house, which isn't wired for electricity and doesn't have a phone. While beginning her big house clear-out Connie discovers a tiny piece of parchment with a name written on it, which initiates her hunt for the person behind the name, which then leads to the original source that she needs for her research. She is not the only person that needs to find the book though, and what should have been a personal and historical journey becomes dangerous and frightening for Connie and people close to her. This is a really well constructed and well written book that begins in the world we all ...

Angels And Demons (DVD) 30/05/2009

Angels and Demons

Angels And Demons (DVD) The film Angels and Demons is the adaptation of the book by Dan Brown, who shot to fame following the release of The Da Vinci Code. The fella and I went to the cinema last night for the first time in ages, and as we've both read the book we both wanted to see this! Consequently, this is a film only review. It has to be, the DVD isn't out yet. Anyway... I was watching this film from two persepctives. Firstly I wanted to enjoy it for what it was, seeing as I haven't seen to a cinema for so long, but secondly I was comparing it to the book to see how it measured up. Tom Hanks plays the lead as Professor Robert Langdon, who is an expert in the study of symbols and signs, both religious and otherwise. Naturally he has to know a lot of history to be able to apply his knowledge and it is this expertise that is called upon when a scientist is found dead. A strange symbol is found with the body, which leads Langdon to believe that a historic (and believed extinct) scientific group called the Illuminati is behind the murder. The murder co-incides with the theft of a scientific object that can cause mass destruction, as well as the election of a new pope, and the race is on to save Vatican City, everyone in it and the entire Roman Catholic Church. Exciting stuff which makes two hours fly by. Angles and Demons reminded me of The Da Vinci Code in the way that it was filmed and the way that the action scenes follow each other so rapidly. The film is very like the book in that ...

The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton - Catherine Alliott 26/05/2009

Secrets, Lies and Pony Club

The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton - Catherine Alliott My mum and I share a love of books and at birthdays and Christmas we always present each other with armloads of titles collected over the course of the year, thinking; "Mum/Vix will love that!" My birthday this year was no exception and mum kindly gave me this one by Catherine Alliott. The book itself is a lovely chunky volume - I have the hardback and under the dust jacket the book is a dark blue. The jacket is a cream colour and as well as the title and the name of the author has a whimsical picture of a lady resting a foot on what seems to be big pink bow. The whole story is told in the first person, from Evie's point of view. Our heroine is Evie Hamilton, married to Ant and with one daughter Anna. They live in a house in Oxford where Ant is a don at the university. He's written a book that not only interested the great minds in the colleges but also the world at large, and the book became a best seller. With the proceeds the family live comfortably, which means Evie doesn't have to work, so her time is spent ferrying Anna around and keeping tabs on her family. Evie was orginally a farmer's daughter and her brother still lives on and works the farm where they grew up. The comfortable family life is altered from an unexpected direction - the academic and reserved Ant receives some news that threatens to blow Evie's idyll apart. From that point on the plot becomes tangled and dramatic and we are given flash backs to illustrate Evie's past and how this has ...

Books for Children 25/05/2009

Books for Children

Books for Children I wanted to revisit this review as I wrote it when I ws a new ciao-er and didn't realise how much detail should have been included. My orignal text is as follows.... "I'm not impressed with this company - I joined about a year ago to get books for my friends children. Unfortunately I am quite busy and not particularly organised and every so often I forget to cancel the monthly Editor's Choice. This then gets sent out to my home address (which I'm never at due to working full time) where there is nowhere to leave a parcel. I then get charged for a product that I have no way of receiving! Also beware of returns - they cost £3 a time for each box you send back. I have had to formally request that they stop calling me to sell 'special offers' (while I'm at work) as it seems that all the agents I spoke to previously (eight or nine at least) didn't pass that message on. Overall I'm not very impressed - too much emphasis on heavy selling but good value if you have time to review your account regularly." And there you have it - except there is a bit more you need to know about how they work. Every month they send out your account statement with the new catalogue of bargains and offers. This is quite organised of them and in the pack they do inlcude the opportunity to not receive the Editor's Choice that I was whinging about before. You can also reject this online using your log-in details, as well as place orders, print return labels and review the latest special ...

Everything that starts with K ... 24/05/2009

A Brilliant Website!

Everything that starts with K ... I wanted to write a review about this website, but it's not listed on Ciao so thought I would file one under K until it is. is a lovely website that is backed up by great products and superb customer service. The site is geared towards mums and dads and their young children. The front page is very user-friendly with a purple header and a picture frame that changes to show different products that can be bought through the site. A bit lower down you have links so that you can be taken straight to products geared towards either boys or girls, or you can use the links down the left hand side to take you to the product you're looking for. Also on the home page you are told the shipping costs - free P&P on all orders over £15 and only £1.95 on orders under £15. Personally I think this is a bargain - I've been charged much more for postage in the past and I think it's a great touch having that information on the first page you see. There is also a search function if you can't find something through the links. The website was set up by a wife and husband team who went through a period of having to buy lots of presents for children and could never find anything suitable, so set up the site to help other people out of the same predicament. And they've done it really well! There's lots of things for kids and a few things for parents too - they also have the best selction of Croc footwear and clothing outside of the Croc websites and my experience is that they ...
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