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since 11/09/2002


SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 8 GB 17/08/2012

Big bangs for few bucks

SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 8 GB I love sandisk products. When I was looking for something to replace my aging 2Gig Sansa clip, I briefly thought of other brands - until I saw the 8Gb clip. Having had the 8Gb clip for a good while now, I can safely say I have never regretted the purchase. Sound quality is still as good as ever (although the maximum volume doesn't seem as high as in previous models - so probably not such a good product for noisy rail journeys and ryanair flights, don't know why but they seem to be louder than most other airlines). Bass is still pretty decent. Even better, if you take advantage of the fact that the product is capable of playing a variety of file formats including FLAC (fully lossless audio compression for those not familiar with the term - big filesize but very good audio) Battery life is good - a full charge can last 12 hours or more in constant use and is recharged using the miniUSB supplied. Although it is pretty good, it is not as good as the previous model, although I suspect this is probably a result of being able to access files from both the internal memory and an external microSD card. Ease of use? OK, so the menu system is somewhat rudimentary and not exactly sophisticated, but quite frankly who cares? It does the job. Downside? The usual crappy headphones. Seriously - I've never bought a personal stereo device with even half-decent cans, quite apart from the simple fact that a small but sizeable proportion of the population are not physically able to use ...

Belsfield Hotel Regal Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere 04/02/2009

Three stars with pretensions

Belsfield Hotel Regal Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere The Belsfield is a bit of a curiosity: I'm not entirely sure whether I enjoyed my stay there or not. First off: it is set in quite substantial grounds, so it has a reasonable amount of parking space for a hotel this close to the centre of the village, which is most definitely a plus at any time, never mind at the height of the tourist season. I stayed here at the end of November last year - well out of season. Another plus, if you aren't into lake swimming, it has it's own swimming pool. It also has a sauna, but that is somewhat lukewarm and could do with some renovation, if only to replace the scorched wood! Access to the swimming pool is down a fairly steep flight of stairs and there is no lift access. The hotel was once a mansion, which explains its somewhat labyrinthine layout. There is a small lift, but because of the hotel's layout, it only provides a somewhat limited access to the rooms. From reviews elsewhere, the rooms themselves are somewhat variable, some of them have been renovated recently: ours was definitely not one of those. Our room was quite small and fairly basic - as was the bed (not good if your other half is 6 foot 3). The bathroom was reasonable, although the bath was a little small. For a premium of about 70 quid (somewhat obscene in my opinion, especially out of season), you can have a lake view, although I'm not sure if they would refund it if the view was obscured by fog all day! I can't comment on the food, as we didn't eat there, but ...

Porto Santa Maria Hotel, Funchal 04/02/2009

Well-earned stars

Porto Santa Maria Hotel, Funchal I stayed here when it opened, so it was very quiet. If it gets included in the holiday brochures, I can't imagine it being too quiet for too often. Most tourist hotels are built near the Lido complex at the North side of Funchal. The Porto Santa Maria is at the opposite end of town, right at the border between the 'old' town and the rest of Funchal. It's only a short walk from the hotel to the cable car and the town centre shops (although this is over cobbles, so beware if you need a wheelchair or if you have difficulty walking), and there are plenty of restaurants around. The hotel itself is spotless, the rooms are well air-conditioned, with access to balconies or terraces - everything you would expect from a four-star hotel on this island. There are two swimming pools: the small-ish outside pool is not heated, although during the summer it is like swimming in a warm bath! The inside pool is much larger and is accessible both via a steep set of steps near the outside pool (although these can be very slippery when wet) and a lift from the hotel foyer. Next to the swimming pool is a jacuzzi and a small gym and there's also a sauna next to the changing rooms if it isn't hot enough for you outside. The restaurant is OK for a hotel of this standard, although if you are staying here on holiday, I'd suggest checking out the local restaurants as well during your stay, if only to try the island speciality of scabbard fish with banana (seriously! - but try it). So ...

Premier Travel Inn, Salford 14/09/2008

Quayside nights

Premier Travel Inn, Salford I've stayed here a few times with my other half when we've been to comedy gigs at the Lowry. Location-wise, it's on a par with the Holiday Inn Express (on the opposite side of the Waterfront Quay), a few minutes walk from the Lowry, the IWM North and the Lowry outlet mall in one direction, the cluster of chain restaurants (Chiquito, Franie & Benny's, Exchange, Fatty Arbuckles) in the opposite direction, next to the Beefeater pub and a short walk from the local tram stop (the return fare into Manchester City Centre is only a few quid and the trams run until around midnight) Facility-wise, as an ex-Travel Inn (the Premier Inn chain was a takeover of Premier Lodge by Travel Inn), the rooms are smaller than their ex-Premier Inn counterparts, but they still have the same 7-feet wide beds (useful if you or your partner is tall) and the *bath*room still has a bath in it so you can have the choice of a bath or shower rather than having the choice imposed on you (take note Holiday Inn Express!) - anyone who still thinks that showers use less water than baths obviously hasn't used the same bath water as their partner (if the cleanest one goes in first, the potential for wingeing is much reduced)! Furniture-wise, there are the usual hanging rail, drawers, bedside cabinets and desk that you'd expect in this kind of chain, as well as an easy chair and coffee table in front of the window and spare pillows on top of the haning rail unit. If you've asked for a family room, you ...

Nintendo Wii Component Video Cable 14/09/2008

Take it to the limit

Nintendo Wii Component Video Cable Takes the Wii to the limit of its visual capacity. OK, so the Wii doesn't have the *really* hi-def visuals you would get from a PS3 or X-Box 360, but be honest here, does anyone buy a Wii for the visual experience? Admit it, the Wii is so popular because the motion sensitive control set was not only a great way of targetting non-gamers but also a genuinely innovative attitude from Nintendo, which other manufacturers are finally learning: visuals are pretty, but gameplay is FAR more important [/rant off] The composite cable will upgrade the visual experience of using the Wii - but only to 480p, so it won't stretch the capabilities of HD-capable TVs too far. If you have a large-ish TV (32") it will enhance the picture (and yes, it is worth doing if you can benefit from it, if your TV is smaller then you probably won't get to see much of a benefit from this product. ...

Higher Nature Higher Nature Mexican Wild Yam 13/09/2008

PMS Killer

Higher Nature Higher Nature Mexican Wild Yam Higher Nature do two Mexican Yam products: the capsules and the cream. Believe it or not, the cream is generally considered the better product for most people to use. I'm not exactly fond of the term 'bioavailability', but in a comparison between capsules and cream for this particular product, It's one I have to use, as the diosgenins from the yam are absorbed better via the skin than via the digestive system. From my own experience, I'd say the cream is the best PMS killer I've ever known - and as I'm in my late 30s, you can guess I've tried more than a few in my time. The effects are almost immediate (believe me, it calms me down within minutes - even before the smell of the cream has dissipated!) and last for hours. As for the practical bits, it comes in a practical pump pack to dispense a fairly accurate dose each time (although it's not translucent, so you have to go by weight to judge how full the pack still is). Depending on how often you use it (it can be a good idea to start with a little halfway through your cycle, moving up to 2 pumps twice a day in the week before your period), it can last between 2 and 3 months. The downside? Well, it is a bit niffy (although the smell dissipates after a while). ...

Wii Fit (Wii) 13/09/2008

The hens teeth it is worth searching for

Wii Fit (Wii) When my WiiFit arrived, my boyfriend thought I was a genius. He'd been looking for one for ages (didn't take the opportunity to get one when they first came out - before he bought the Wii - then regretted it once we discovered the joy of messing about with Wii games that get sneakily get you exercising without you noticing!) Anyway, back to the 'game' that actually tells you to exercise! Wii Fit offers a range of exercises, from Yoga to well-crafted muscle-training and aerobics. The range is somewhat small at first, but more exercises (and advanced options for available exercises) are unlocked as you spend more time on it. As well as this, Wii Fit also offers a 'Body Test' - assessing not only your weight, but also your balance and agility - which can help you keep track of your progress. As for the down side, well, the instructions can get annoying after a while and it's impossible to go through exercises or poses without sitting through the 'tips' and 'comments' which can get annoying, especially once you get to understand what you are doing. My comments to the software developers would be to let users cut out the waffle if they want to and sell some add-ons (additional exercises or different disciplines like Tai Chi or Pilates), either as add on programs or via the Shopping Channels. Sort this out and it will get 5 stars! ...

Stoves 600CTH 28/04/2008

Style over substance

Stoves 600CTH 400 quid for a hob! Yes, but a very nice looking hob. And, for a while, it was a very nice performing hob too. Easy to use (although the controls are a bit too touch-sensitive, you have to be very light when touching the controls or they don't respond at all) and extraordinarily easy to keep clean because there are no knobs to get covered in the usual spills and other messes that tend to build up in even the best-kept kitchen. Sadly though, it's just not up to the job it is supposed to do. Like the other reviewer, this hob started beeping and showing an incomprehensible error message. Incomprehensible because the manual is incomplete (although according to a stoves employee on the '56' error is caused by an inadequate capacitor used on the PCB board). The fact that this is shown on an external website indicates to me that this is not an isolated incident and is perhaps an indication of corners being cut to meet a sales price point. The customer service line is an 0871 number (which is annoying for anyone who has a land line, let alone anyone who relies on a mobile phone, where you are charged astronomical amounts to use these non-geographical numbers and mobile operators don't include them in calls packages) and the website is not particularly helpful (you can't download product manuals and there is no real way of contacting their aftersales people apart from using the 0871 telephone number) Because we had some good use out of it, I'd like to give ...

Member Advice on Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) 11/09/2004

Pass the rat poison

Member Advice on Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) I'd been on the pill for six years when I had my DVT. Frankly I don't recommend the experience. Easter weekend 1994 - I started with pain in my left leg on Saturday. By Monday, the pain was so bad that I couldn't even put any weight on it. In the bath, I saw my left leg was colder, fatter and blue-r than my right leg, so I called my GP to take a look the following morning. Wasn't exactly impressed with the locum, who prescribed a cream to rub in (considering by this time I could barely touch it) - but at least had the sense to take it seriously enough to demand I go back to the surgery if it was no better within 48 hours. Always a clue there is something seriously wrong if a doctor talks in hours rather than days. Fortunately, I already had an appointment booked for the end of that week - and my boyfriend was happy to take me down there. My GP's reaction when he saw me was first to ask if I needed help to walk down the corridor - and once he'd examined me, he asked if my boyfriend could take me to hospital or if I wanted an ambulance. Imagining the look on my boyfriend's face, I declined the offer (gave me the chance to send him home for the usual stuff to take to hospital). After being seen by countless doctors that day (my GP's initial diagnosis was that he thought I had a pelvic abscess), one of the general surgeons thought he'd found a lump, so arranged an exploratory op for later that evening (remember, this was Friday night!). Next morning, my surgeon told ... 18/06/2003

In a jam, yet another silly name from (one presumes) marketing consultants who believe consumers won't touch anything online unless it has a silly name, is a joint venture between Direct Line insurers (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group) and Dixon cars, one of the UK's biggest car dealerships. After several years of being a company car driver, my partner moved to a company where cars are not supplied as part of the contract of employment. Deciding to buy a new car, jamjar was one of his first points of call after dealership websites. Prices are a little cheaper than the prices given by manufacturers, even after allowing for special offers (e.g. cashback offers). It's possible to view plenty of combinations of car, colour, trim, engine etc., but jamjar only allows you to save details of three cars in an online 'glovebox' for later viewing, but does not allow you to change or delete those details once saved. It's pretty straightforward to buy your new car (place the order, choose your delivery option, then sit back and wait for them to confirm it, contact the manufacturer and tell you when it will be delivered). However, finance is a little less than straightforward. The online application procedure for car finance is somewhat less than helpful to ex-company car drivers, as the website assumes you have been working for your current employer for more than 1 year and seems to automatically refuse credit to those starting a new role. After the initial refusal, I ...

The Body Shop Ice Blue Shampoo 04/06/2003

Go for the cold burn

The Body Shop Ice Blue Shampoo After some years, I was overjoyed when I recently revisited a Body Shop store and found they had started stocking this product (and the companion conditioner) again. The person who decided to re-introduce it is, in my opinion, a blessed genius. Ice Blue is one of those products which is quite simply a classic. A distinctive deep blue colour (the conditioner is a cloudy, much paler blue), marks this product out from any others on the shop shelf. The label proclaims 'for oily hair' and in the past has been recommended for those with fine hair too. However, I honestly believe that absolutely anyone will benefit from using Ice Blue, at least occasionally. You have oily hair? The mint will help to counteract oil production. Fine hair or going bald? Menthol helps to stimulate the hair follicles in the scalp. You don't have either of these 'problems' but you feel a bit sleepy first thing in the morning? Have a sniff, if the mint/menthol smell doesn't wake you up, the cold sensation on your head when you rinse it off will! I defy anyone who uses this to fall asleep directly afterwords. This stuff is so stimulating, it simply isn't possible - shall we just say it is not something to use just before you go to bed if you want a good night's sleep. If you feel exhausted after a serious gym workout, try the shampoo and feel instantly revived. Even if you don't have any of these problems (and who doesn't need a rude 'wake-up' call now and again?), I'd recommend trying this ...

The Body Shop White Musk 29/05/2003

Faux musk, false hope

The Body Shop White Musk I have to say at the start that I have used this product only because it was a gift. As many people may already know, the Body Shop's musk product is called 'White' Musk, because it is not real musk. Real musk is derived from (I think) the adrenal glands of reindeer, so for obvious reasons, would be an unacceptable ingredient for the Body Shop or its customers. Although it is laudable not to use real musk, unlike a number of 'brand name' fragrances, I have to say that the Body Shop's attempt to create a synthetic, musk-like fragrance, has been somewhat unsuccessful. Although reasonably pleasant in itself (but not my particular taste, I was overjoyed when the family who normally gives me White Musk gave me Hemp last Christmas!), the fragrance is sufficiently distinct from that of real musk to be easily recognised as simply not the real thing. For this reason, I really have to wonder why it is marketed as musk, white or otherwise. Sadly, for a company that believes in using natural ingredients where possible, white musk fails to score: natural musk is an animal product, to pretend otherwise just misleads customers. ...

The Body Shop Cocoa Butter Body Lotion 29/05/2003

Go go coco

The Body Shop Cocoa Butter Body Lotion Cocoa butter is a well-known base to many moisturisers, particularly those made and sold by companies who do not test their products on animals other than the ones they are intended for (yes, good old homo sapiens). The reason for this is very simple: the melting point of cocoa butter is just slightly lower than normal skin temperature and the skin absorbs the oil very well. As part of the 'Africa' range of products, the cocoa butter used in the Cocoa Butter body lotion is fairly traded (in other words, farmers growing cocoa beans are paid a reasonable living wage for their produce) That's the technical & ideological bits dealt with. As far as the product itself is concerned, like many Body Shop products, it is available in different packages, from the 30ml bottle (ideal for holidays, a gym kit or as a tester) for about a couple of quid, up to larger 250ml bottles. As with most products, larger bottles can be more economical, but if you are anything like me, you'll probably waste the extra value by using more of the product than you need to. As expected, I found the cocoa butter very moisturising and soothing on my skin, which is dry with patches of eczema and psoraisis and was not sticky like some body lotions designed for dry skin and so-called 'problem' conditions. What let this down, for me, was the smell. Although quite pleasant, I found the smell quite overpowering - it had all the subtlety of the average sledgehammer. For this reason, I'd be unlikely to use it ...

Boots Barefoot Doctor 25/04/2003

Going Barefoot

Boots Barefoot Doctor I was introduced to the Barefoot Doctor range via the miniatures counter at Boots in Meadowhall and the 3 for 2 offers at (they've recently changed the site name, it used to be - someone has finally seen sense!) At £1 to £2 a pop for mini bottles (taking into account offers like 3 for 2 etc), the miniatures counter is a great way of trying out new products as well as an opportunity to stock up the wash bag for the gym or going on holiday. I have to say that I am a natural sceptic, and rarely take any claims on packaging or advertising at face value, so my decision to buy was not made on the frankly fairly silly marketing hype printed on the label, but on the simple whim of deciding to buy something different than my usual purchases from the Botanics range. At first glance, the packaging is fairly minimalist, colour coded for the range (blues and greens for the 'relaxing' range, reds and purples for the 'damn sexy' range and yellows, oranges and greens for the 'energising' range). If you ignore the fairly cheesy sentiments/disclaimers/claims/mantras on the packaging (one example: 'makes you feel damn sexy' - get real!) and examine the products themselves, they are subtly scented, not too girlie and actually quite pleasant to use. The philosophy described on the packaging appears to be very loosely based on the versions of Taoism appropriated for western tastes, but it's still good for a laugh - I personally would be seriously worried about ...

Cafedirect Organic Machu Picchu 18/04/2003

Excellent coffee from genuine fair trade pioneers

Cafedirect Organic Machu Picchu Once upon a time I used to think terms like 'organic' and 'free trade' were gimmicks to draw in ex-hippies and others who like to knit their own yoghurt. After seeing the numbers of such products growing over the past few years, I can now understand why. We will never be like the Italians, who view food as an event rather than simply fuel for the body, but more and more consumers want to know what goes into the foods they consume and are voting with their wallets. For what should be obvious reasons, however, consumers should be reasonably sceptical about the use of the words 'organic' and 'free trade'. I do not suggest these phrases are used illegally by any traders, however, I'm sure many people know the extent to which meaning can be distorted before it becomes untrue. A recent Radio 4 article presented many of the arguments, with the assistance of representatives of the Co-Op and Green & Blacks, among others. Well, that's my opinion on the phrases used, now for the product itself. Well, Cafedirect is a brand I have become used to over the years, so I know their ground coffee blends are of high quality and make a superb drink. However, it's worth pointing out there is an interesting parallel between coffee and whisky. Blended drinks contain a variety of different whiskies, produced in a variety of areas, so the flavour of the individual whiskies depends largely on where they are produced. It's also true for coffee: the arabica strain is grown all over the world and ...
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