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since 30/09/2003


Princess 15/04/2009

a South American Star

Princess The idea of cruising had always appealed to me. Well, to be honest, the idea of unlimited free food and a chance to see a quick snap shot of a foreign place probably appealed more than the idea of formal wear and games of “shuffle board”. I had sent for a few cruise brochures from all the major lines and quickly whittled them down to a short list of 3: P&O, Royal Caribbean and Princess. In fact P&O were pretty much off the list as soon as I read a review about the formal evenings – I believe the line that stuck in my head was something like “formal wear wasn’t just limited to the restaurants, so if we fancied sticking around after dinner we were going to have to sit there trussed up like guests at wedding just to get a Gin and Tonic”. So that was them straight off the lists. I don’t like being told what to wear and from the day I left school no-one has ever tried, so it sure wasn’t going to start while I was to be holiday. Royal Caribbean seemed good. The brochures spoke of these massive ships with everything you could imagine. It sounded great. But the prices simply weren’t very keen and the itineraries, although nice, were a tad predictable. Also I couldn’t shake the feeling that their ships were perhaps a bit too showy and well, a bit brash. And probably would attract the kind of people that are equally so. Therefore Princess seemed to be in the running. I liked the large ship designs and the South America cruises sounded great. I’d always wanted to see Rio, Buena ...

Apple iPhone 3G 16GB 14/08/2008

i : PhoneBot

Apple iPhone 3G 16GB There's a particular episode of the Simpsons I like very much, it's where Homer [a safety officer in a nuclear power plant] gets head-hunted by another company. Everything seems great, great job, great pay, great benefits and a cuddly "call me Dave" kind of boss. Except lurking below this wonderful corporate culture, the boss is secretly planning to take over the world, James Bond style. In the back of my mind I've always thought of Apple in this way. They just seem too nicey - nicey, a bit soft and smiley for my liking and I've always had this uneasy feeling that, just like in the Simpsons, they are hatching their evil plans of world domination. I'd just like to clarify for Apple's lawyers that I'm not suggesting they are busy building secret nuclear weapons, but instead bolstering their dominant position in the world of portable gadgetry, through their infamous iPod brand and now, the iPhone. Now I have never owned a single Apple product in my life, so I'm not quite sure while I needed to purchase the latest must-have product; the Apple iPhone 3G. THE BACKGROUND --------------- ------------- This is Apple's second attempt at a mobile phone, with the original iPhone being an almost instant success when it was launched a little while back. This latest version is an update on what went before, with new software and the addition of 3G internet and GPS. For the second phone Apple stuck with its network 'partner' O2 so if you want an iPhone you have the choice ...

Alfa Romeo 156 2.0 Twin Spark 18/04/2008

Geared Up for Trouble

Alfa Romeo 156 2.0 Twin Spark Every now and then someone dares to "think outside the box". Someone dares to come up with something that will be immeasurably better than what went before, by simply combining 2 seemingly incompatible technologies. We see it all the time; who would have thought a mobile phone and a camera would go together? Not me, I thought it was just a silly fad that would never catch on. Shows what I know? But then there are some almightily cock ups. Imagine the excitement in the early 90's when someone said "wouldn't it be handy if you could take your home phone with you so you can call your boss from a Little Chef at the side of the A1"? That's how Rabbit Telecom was born. By combining a cordless telephone handset from your home with a degree of mobility, you could simply keep the phone with so you could make a call wherever you saw the "Rabbit" sign. Only it did have some downsides. Firstly you couldn't receive incoming calls away from home and the number of places you could actually make an outgoing call was, at best, limited. Oh and it was also quite pricey and only marginally cheaper than a mobile phone (which at the time were just starting to be within the financial reach of companies). So rather than being a marvellous idea, Rabbit Telecom proved to be little better than a normal payphone and was practically obsolete by the time it hit the market in 1992. They ceased operation a year later. But what on earth has a lesson in 1990's telephony got to do with an ...

Home-Tek HT824 Steam MOP 17/02/2008

We Are Steamin'

Home-Tek HT824 Steam MOP Shopping Channels. Don't you just love them? There's something strangely addictive about watching presenters who were obviously chosen for the size of their, erm…smile, rather than their product knowledge as they over-enthuse about something which is clearly crap. I'm not quite so found of the live studio based shows of QVCs or the never ending tat peddled by Price Drop, instead preferring the American pre-recorded shows, for sheer entertainment value. These invariably involve an 'expert presenter' demonstrating the product in question as some glamed-up drippy sidekick "wow's" and "amazes" herself to a state of near-indecency. I love the in-your-face American style of 'Chef Tony' showing us the best new ways to cook "frozen scrambled eggs" and "chilli dogs" in an appliance that looks like the bastard love child of a toaster, microwave and R2-D2. Or the never ending commercials for a new diet or exercise regime that makes people with the waist size of Newport Pagnell look like Elle McPherson in just 3 and ½ minutes per day. But these American shows have now spawned a new genre of made for the UK infomercials. They are basically the same as the American ones - solving problems which you never knew you had - but in a more 'toned down' manner. One of these that particularly caught my eye was half hour programme demonstrating the new miracle steam mop which cleans ceramic and laminate floors without mess or marks. For the first time, I had to admit I wanted one. ...

First Plus 20/01/2008

Carol's Gonna Get You

First Plus Any who watch channel 'five' or any of the satellite channels, will know there's a massive number of companies who want to sell you some finance. Whether it be "nice people like Kimberly" [Norton finance] or "Where's ma scooo-ta" [Picture] they're all trying to flog you the same thing - a loan. We're not just talking a little loan to buy a car, or spruce up your garden - they mean a "secured loan", or to remove the marketing-speak; a second mortgage. Basically if you default on this debt they're going to come round and sell you property and place your wife and children in work-house. While I always thought of these loans were for the sort of people that didn't understand one end of a credit agreement from another, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling in the back of my mind we owed more money than we dared think about. I'd often thought we weren't getting the most out of the monthly pay packets - between the 2 of us we were clearing more money than we ever had before, but we always ended up running into the overdraft - and some months the current accounts never once looked in the black. So it was at this point I made a rough calculation of the totals of all the credit cards we had between us - and came up with around £20 grand. Ok, it's a lot; but manageable. Then I asked about our other loans which, staggeringly, totalled roughly £45k. That means we owe SIXTY FIVE thousand pounds between us? How the hell did we get here? We'd made a few bum car choice in the ...

Citroen C1 18/01/2008

Life's Too Short

Citroen C1 There are something's in life which I have never been able to fathom; I mean on a really fundamental level, I just cannot begin to comprehend them. Take the humble outside toilet, for example. I know back in the olde worlde days things were very different, but just how on earth did anyone ever think building the toilet at the far end of the garden was a good thing? We're all human and we all need to "do our business" several times a day - so who was the person that decided the best place for the privy would be the wrong side of a walk in the rain? Puzzled by this, I asked my granny for enlightenment; with the response being "well, that's just how things were", followed by comical tales of frost bite and jolly chats with her neighbour over the bog wall. And this isn't something that's a particularly a long way back in our history. My grandparent's was built in the 1950 and has 2 toilets; one upstairs and the other that's only accessible from the garden. And the best part about it -they still use both to this day. But what on earth has any of this got to do with a baby Citroen you ask? Well within a few miles of my first ever drive in our little courtesy car I couldn't help wondering why on earth people buy something that feels like it dropped out of the last century? Why, when there's all these other things you could spend your money on would you want to invest in something that has all creature-comforts of a wheelbarrow? And it's this exploration of the ...

P & O 21/12/2007

Not So Grim in the North

P & O Triangle. What a stupid concept for a TV series. I can't possibly imagine what the BBC thinking back in the early 80's; "I know, let's set a soap opera aboard a North Sea ferry…"? Ok I see a couple of problems with this; firstly it's never going to be an English 'Love Boat'. No matter how many times Kate O'Mara titivates the audience with her face-down topless sun bathing; the whole thing is still going to end up about as glamorous as the Dagenham branch of 'Ritzy'. Secondly the North Sea isn't particularly well known for its calm tropical waters and bright sunshine. So regardless of how you dress it up, it's destined to be nothing more than mediocre. But then fast forward 20 years and it seems that P&O might have managed what the BBC never could; the North Sea has become civilised, thanks to a pair of the world's biggest car ferries. MINI CRUISE This is all started because we were looking for a short break somewhere that wasn't going to break the bank, but was a touch different. As if ordered up by the god of email, right on cue, an email arrives from P&O ferries promoting their overnight mini cruises to the continent. The offer was 2 people for the price of 1, including a car, to either Rotterdam or Zeebrugge. The advertised price of £60 for 2 people was impossible to find on the website and it was quoting prices of about £200 for the journey with no signs of the discounted dated on sale. But a quick conversation with their call centre revealed the ...

Subaru Legacy Sports Tourer 3.0 05/11/2007

All The Small Things...

Subaru Legacy Sports Tourer 3.0 Anyone who has read any of my past reviews will think I'm difficult to please. But that's not quite true. I'm just don't like being disappointed. I don't like it when a potentially great product is let down by the details. If you go to local chippy, you could forgive the dated décor and the ugly fat-bird from behind the counter, who only communicates in grunts, if the food is good and well priced. But if you go to a really expensive restaurant, with really high hopes and they serve your chicken on the raw side of pink; you have the right to be disappointed. It's the same with cars. I bought my new Subaru Legacy not only because I needed a decent car, but because I thought it would be a really good one. And it is. But I'm just not sure whether it's good enough. GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL After looking around on the Internet for some inspiration, I became taken with Subaru Legacys. The idea of having a large, fast, Japanese car filled by with joy after the past year's love / hate relationship with my current Peugeot 406 Coupe. While I loved the car, it just became wearing when the car seemed to delight in finding new and ever more expensive ways of going wrong, almost continuously. Prior to the temperamental pug, I ran a V8 Jaguar XJ8 for 3 happy years, so the idea of getting back into a premium car with a decent sized engine really appealed. So is the Legacy premium car? Yes, I'd say so. If you look at the Legacy's main rivals you are drawn to the conclusion ...

Nokia E65 03/07/2007

Small, Sleek & Flawed

Nokia E65 I’m not really a mobile phone snob – as long as I can make and receive calls and send the odd text message I’m ok. Having said that the stand-by time on my 2 year old Nokia was becoming a joke. So, rather than buy a new battery – I contacted O2 business for an upgrade handset. After a quick look on the website the Nokia E65 caught my eye – it seemed to have many features and, as this is mainly a business phone, some really useful stuff on board. The price was reasonable (well, free in exchange for another 12 month contract!) and it was duly delivered a few days later. WHAT’S IN THE BOX? There’s a couple of different versions of the package kicking around, which are either the full retail box or an upgrade version. Both are pretty much the same, apart from the upgrade version doesn’t come with a charger. You get the phone, battery, a little case / pouch thing, USB cable, 3 different manuals, some Nokia software, headset and a charger adaptor. This phone takes the very small charging pin, so it needs an adaptor (included in the package) to work with older generation Nokia chargers. As it happens, O2 sent me a proper charger in a separate package– so the enclosed bumpf about “not supplying a charger to reduce our environmental impact” – resulted in two different packages being sent through the post – with roughly twice the packaging….. Turning it On It was fairly easy to assemble it for the first time – the instruction booklets were done anyway with and the ...

Potters International Hotel 30/10/2006

Welcome to the Hotel Aldershot

Potters International Hotel Ok; I'm hopeless at making firm arrangements. I was due at a leaving do for a colleague in London this last week; but had been uming and ahring whether or not I had the time to go. What really swung it for me was another 2 former colleagues who I haven't seen for years also decided they were going at the last minute. I offered to do the driving (seeing as I'm a non-drinker) and swing by Aldershot on the way past, pick them up and then drive onto South London. So in need of a hotel room (which, by this time, was tomorrow night) I was frantically searching the t'internet for a room for the night. There's a Premier Travel Inn in Aldershot, but on the numerous occasions I needed a room, they'd always been full (and was so in this case). I'd managed to track down a room at a Travelodge, but by the time I came to confirm the details - it had already gone too. Getting desperate now I opened multi-map and asked it for all the hotels in the area. After a bit of googling I tracked down the website of the Potters International Hotel. It looked quite modern and was pretty close to where I need to be; so I gave them a call. There isn't a booking facility on the site and after a short time on hold I was offered a room at £99 including breakfast. It was a bit more than I wanted to pay - I could have stayed in London for less; but to be honest I couldn't be arsed looking any further so booked it over the telephone. ARRIVAL I always get lost in Aldershot. Don't know what ...

George Wimpey Homes 26/06/2006

You, Me & George

George Wimpey Homes The concept of reviewing things is a sound one, tell people your thoughts (good or bad) about products or services you use or buy - anything from a tea bag to a hotel room. Well, this time I'm returning to Ciao to write a review of our most expensive ever purchase. I'm talking brick and motor. I'm talking a quarter of a million pound's worth of brand-spanking-new George Wimpy real-estate. Be warned, there's so much to tell you this is a really long review - but there's a gold star in it for anyone who makes it to the end! WHERE IT ALL STARTED The post Christmas blues seemed to appear this year about the 1st December (26 days earlier than normal!) and I just wasn't happy. I needed something new to focus on, my feet were getting itchy and the guttering needed replacing. So the logical thing to do is move house! To be honest it wasn't as simple as that. We went for am aimless drive just after Boxing Day, looking around the vast amount of building that was going on in our South Derbyshire local area. We happened just to pop into a few showhomes just to see what was on offer, with no real intention of buying or budget in mind. We had a vague idea that we had about £40,000 of equity in our current house, but everything seem very out of reach. There were some nice houses on offer, but all seemed unobtainable. A few days later I was doing a quick bit of mental addition in the shower [as you do]. I worked out that we were currently spending just over a £1,000 a ...

Nokia 6230 04/06/2004

Num Thumb

Nokia 6230 I’m never particularly bothered about mobile phones; I have one because it’s useful, but as a general rule I don’t really care all the “bells and whistles” as long as I can make the occasional call and send random texts to my friends. That said, due to the apparent demise on my old Nokia 7250 after an unfortunate encounter with a toilet, I needed to source a replacement. Having crappy insurance cover, which didn’t cover “water damage”, meant that a new phone was called for. My 7250 was just about out of contract, so I was basically free to choose a jolly nice new toy from any of the networks (I don’t bother taking my number with me). A quick squiz around revealed a smart looking bit of kit in the shape of a Nokia 6230. AVAILABILITY AND PRICES If you wanted to buy this product “Sim free” (so it works on any network for which you possessed a sim card), then it would be about £330! Moving down the ranks to network subsidised phones on pay as you go, I couldn’t find anywhere yet offering it (time of writing 2nd June 2004). Not to worry as I always have a contract phone anyway, so there’s basically the choice of the ‘big 4’. On t’internet, when I signed up, only 02 and Vodafone were offering any sort of deals (both T-mobile and orange were offering pre-orders only). In the shops they are available on all networks at varying degrees of extortionate prices, but are often out of stock (as my better half found out when trying to buy one). In the end, mine ...

Hardys and Hansons, Nottingham 01/06/2004

Cheap & Miserable

Hardys and Hansons, Nottingham You know when you find a pub or a restaurant you really enjoy eating at; do you find there’s nothing more disappointing when you find out it’s changed completely? This is what happened to us on Friday night, when we choose to dine at the “Seven Wells” pub. We had been many time previously and we’d always found the food to be excellent, with a good range of special dishes and decent amount of variety in the menu. The style of food was very much “pubby” (as you would expect from a pub), but the portions were large, and was normally served with a tasty bowl of good fresh salad and a few bread rolls to get you in the mood (whether you’d asked for them or not). For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently doing the Slimming World diet. I recalled that this particular pub had a special Slimming World menu, complete with the number of “syns” for each dish. So when it came to choosing a venue for our pre-Big Brother Friday night outing, this seemed to be the logical choice. BUILDING AND ATMOSPHERE I wish I had snapped a picture of the building on the way in, because it really is rather nice. Even though it was built only a matter of a few years ago, it looks like it had been conveniently situated next to a junction of a main road for ages. Outside, the choice of brickwork, fussy shaped building and old tiles capping a complicated roof line really did make it look like it was from the Victorian era. The only thing to really give the game away is the large flat car ...

Niagara Falls, Canada 19/05/2004

Wet, Wet, Wet

Niagara Falls, Canada It’s funny isn’t it? When it’s dark, raining, you’re in a strange place, really tired (and desperate for the toilet), you see things a completely different light. Here we were arriving at what’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful locations in the world and all I could think was “this place is a complete shit-hole”. FIRST IMPRESSIONS Perhaps I should take a step back. On a Saturday evening in early May we visited the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada (review on its way) as part of a 5 day break with my best friend, Andrew. At the tower we’d had a jolly nice relaxing dinner while gently revolving 120 stories up and were looking forward to tomorrow’s destination, Niagara Falls. Ever the organised one, I had already booked our accommodation at the “Sheraton on the Falls” and were planning on making the hour and half’s drive there immediately after dinner. Because I was sans printer when I made the booking, I’d only scribbled down a few directions on a piece of paper (well how hard could it be, find the falls, the hotel’s next to it?). At about 10:00pm we were on highway heading toward the falls area. After negotiating some nasty roadworks, we saw signs which were either “Bridge to USA” or “Tourist Area”. As we staying on the Canada side of the border we thought it was prudent to exit before we ended up in the “land of the free” (it’s a good job many Americans don’t appreciate irony). Immediately exiting, we found ourselves plunged into hell on earth. Nasty looking ...

Speed Cameras 12/05/2004

Think Differently

Speed Cameras I want you to do something for me; just while you are reading this review – I want you to try and set aside your preconceptions of the whole speed camera issue. The reason why I ask this is that many people (from reading the reviews on here) have completed entrenched views one way or the other, and comments like “all speed cameras should be banned” or “if you don’t speed, you won’t get caught” aren’t particularly constructive. What I want to do is try and look at this argument in balanced way and suggest some proposals which balance the needs of everyone. Will it make a difference? Probably not, but least I’ve said my piece. WHAT’S A SPEED CAMERA? Unless you’ve been living in a hermitically sealed bunker in the Scottish Highlands for the past 10 years, you’ll know what a speed camera is. The basic principal is that if you break the speed limit, they’ll note your number plate and you’ll get a fine (and some points) in post. Although they do pretty much the same job, they fall into 2 camps: mobile and fixed. Fixed cameras can be 3 different types, the good old Gatso, the newer Truvelo, or the ultra high tec Specs system. Gatso are the more wide spread type of camera and use a radar system; they snap a picture of your rear number plate if you go too fast, with the calibration markings on the road serving to prove the point. Truvelos catch you face on, and are tripped by sensors in the road – they take a picture of the front of your car (with an infrared flash), so ...
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