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Christmas Time in Sutton Coldfield

December already, and another merry Christmas is ringing in. Have you started (or finished!) your Christmas shopping. Are you planning a special night out? Or perhaps you are planning a less commercial, more meaningful celebration? Here’s a taster of what Sutton Coldfield has to offer this Christmas.

Christmas gift ideas

The Gracechurch Centre, Sutton Coldfield, under new ownership, will have the usual seasonal cheers with bright lights, late nights and lots of little extras to put pleasure into your gift hunting. It’s open every day and right up to the wire on Christmas Eve – apparently the traditional time for men to start their shopping!

Or for something completely different, start early, on 1st December, at the Sutton Vintage and Arts Fair in the Town Hall.  Find unique and quirky Christmas gifts, vintage and handmade clothes and enjoy some festive fun.

Christmas concerts and events

Sutton Coldfield Town Hall plays host to some musical extravaganzas in December including Musical Memories, Past and Present on Friday 6th December, The City of Birmingham Brass Band in concert the following day and two Family Christmas Concerts at 4.15pm and 7.30pm on Sunday 15th December, which promise to be uplifting and heart-warming in equal measure.

Of course, Christmas is not Christmas without panto, but this year the pantomimes are not exactly at Christmas! Snow White runs at the Sutton Arts Theatre until 15th December and Aladdin plays at the Town Hall from 14th January to 19th January 2014.

 

London comes to Sutton Coldfield

Fancy something a little more highbrow? A quiet revolution has been happening in cinemas across the country, where “as live” screenings of National Theatre and Royal Opera House shows are beating blockbuster films at the box office. The obvious hit for Christmas is the ROH production of Nutcracker on 12th December at 7.15pm, showing at the Empire and a number of other cinemas near Sutton Coldfield. Last year’s Nutcracker beat Skyfall in cinema box office takings!

 

Whatever your plans, enjoy a happy Christmas in Sutton Coldfield, and here’s hoping that 2014 is your best year ever

This article appears in Sutton Coldfield Recommeded, a local magazine delivered to 40,000 homes and businesses in Sutton Coldfield and surrounding area’s.


IT and Media – Hack Attacks

For the past couple of weeks the media has been dominated by stories about the hacking scandal. Of course, this story is all about the illegal hacking of voicemail on mobile phones rather than computers or websites, but that isn’t to say that hacking websites isn’t a major issue at the moment. In fact, as part of the phone hacking scandal, the Sun’s website was hacked and a false story about Rupert Murdoch being found dead was planted on the site.

Of far more significance is the hacking of the Sony PlayStation site a few months ago in which the account details of over 100 million users were taken. More alarmingly, thousands of credit card details were also allegedly stolen. At the same time, one of the CIA websites was hacked as was that of SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The question is should Sutton Coldfield residents  be worried?

On the face of it, there are serious grounds for concern. Millions of us use internet banking and, with the unstoppable growth of online shopping, there are countless online credit and debit card transactions every day. Surely, if it is so simple to hack into commercial websites, we are at constant risk of having our money stolen. In reality there is no reason to panic. The first thing to consider is the motivation of the people doing the hacking. Most of the large scale attacks reported in the news recently have been performed by a group called Anonymous, a loose alliance of hackers located all over the globe. In the past couple of years a faction of Anonymous called LulzSec has emerged; LulzSec claimed responsibility for the Sony attack, hacking the Sun website and several others besides. The hackers’ aims are political rather than criminal; invariably they are targeting the organisation that owns the website rather than its customers.

The next issue is the level of security on the websites that are targeted. Sony was hacked by means of an SQL attack, a fairly unsophisticated technique that has been around for years. To have credit card details stored on a site with such a low level of security is not going to inspire a lot of confidence but Sony argue that the primary purpose of the PlayStation site is to enable users to play games against each other, not to conduct ecommerce. Internet banking has an extremely high level of security. As well as username and password protection there is usually a one time code security device and, in addition, most banks also provide free anti fraud software to stop the baddies getting their hands on your hard earned loot. Ecommerce sites are similarly secure. As long as there is a padlock sign to the right of the URL bar you can be confident that the site is pretty much un-hackable. Once again, most banks and credit card companies offer additional security software; Capital One, the credit card provider, is currently working on security software that will be future proof for the next twenty years.

Of course, if someone can steal your card details without your knowledge, from the Sony PlayStation website for instance, they could potentially use your card to buy goods and services online. First they would have to get through the anti fraud security and, even then, the liability for any losses would lie with your bank or card provider. The greatest danger still lies in fisching, sending fraudulent emails to get Sutton Coldfield residents to provide their account details. Remember, no bank or card provider will ever send an email asking for your logon details. The only people who are really at risk from the hackers are the owners of the websites who may well not want their dirty laundry aired in public as Wikileaks is prone to do. It is little surprise that Anonymous and Wikileaks are closely aligned.
Graham
IT Consultant


Property – How to buy your dream home affordably

If you think about it, buying your dream home is about more than just finding the right house; it must also be in the right location, on the right plot and at a price you can afford. A common solution has been to buy a plot of land in the right location and then build a house on it that ticks all the boxes. However, suitable sized plots don’t come on the market very often in Sutton Coldfield and, when they do, they can be very expensive.

More and more people are buying an existing property that is in the right location and on a suitable plot and then dramatically remodelling it. An example I found in Surrey was a four bedroom house with an attractive façade that was extended to become a very desirable eight bedroom home. The combined cost of the purchase and building work came in at £1.3 million and the owner now has the house of his dreams with a market value of £1.6 million. A more modest example in Nottinghamshire saw an unappealing 1970’s four bedroom detached home converted into a very striking, architect designed house. The design makes far more effective use of the internal space. The original house cost £260,000, the building work came in at £100,000 and the finished item is worth £420,000.

There are a few things to beware of. It is crucial to have an excellent design – pick your architect carefully! Nor can you cut corners on the building work or the standard of finish and, of course, these things cost money. If the property is located in a conservation area, getting planning permission can be an issue.   Finally, you need to remember that VAT will be payable on any building work you undertake whereas you don’t pay VAT when buying a house. But, if none of these things presents a problem, this is an excellent way to acquire the house of your dreams, not to mention making a profit in the process.

Craig Brown
Estate Agent


Road Test – Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD 4×4

Jeeps have always been the American equivalent of the Land Rover, iconic vehicles with a reputation for toughness, off road ability and practicality. The Wrangler rivals the no frills workhorse Land Rover Defender while the Grand Cherokee offers a kind of cut price alternative to a Range Rover though without the build quality, luxury or prestige. The Grand Cherokee in particular has been a steady, if unspectacular, seller over here but has always seemed more at home in its American heartland.

Somewhat belatedly Jeep has seen the  writing on the wall for big SUVs and is pushing its Compass crossover heavily at the moment. The Compass has actually been around since 2007 and the original version was notable for its switchable four wheel drive system and one of the ugliest noses ever to be slapped on a car. This new version features heavily revised styling, new engines and a choice of either permanent four wheel drive or front wheel drive. Of course, the whole point of a crossover is that it combines the street presence and elevated driving position of an SUV with the practicality, low running costs and road manners of a family hatch. Will Jeep be able to pull off this trick with the same panache of the Nissan Qashqai and impress motorists in Sutton Coldfield?

Straightaway, I have to say that the styling is a huge improvement on what went before. The chunky grill and headlights blend nicely with the squared off flared wheel arches and the sharp lines of the bodywork to deliver a pleasing combination of chunky offroader and crisp contemporary styling. Step inside and there is plenty of room for five adults on comfortable (leather in the case of my test car) seats. Put the back seats down and you get a load area the size of a small van. There’s plenty of kit as standard too but the fit and finish of the interior feels fragile, the plastics are hard and shiny and I didn’t feel any confidence that the switchgear would still be working properly in a couple of year’s time. All pretty much what you would expect from Jeep then!

Jeep offer a pair of petrol engines with the Compass or a 2.2 litre diesel sourced from Mercedes. The two wheel drive version kicks out 134bhp but the 4×4 has 161bhp as standard. The engine is nicely refined and gives you all the grunt you need with a respectable 125mph top whack and a sub 10 second 0-62 time. I managed 42mpg as well, not bad for a car like this. Although I didn’t take it off road I’ve no reason to doubt that it would acquit itself well in the mucky stuff.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare so well on the tarmac; the ride is bouncy on any kind of rough road surface and there is way too much roll through the corners. I thought the whole point of a crossover was meant to be that it drives like a hatchback.

All in all the Compass is not a bad effort; it’s certainly an improvement on the previous model. I really don’t think that it is quite good enough though; it doesn’t have the drivability of the Nissan Qashqai and it lacks the prestige of the two wheel drive Land Rover Freelander. Chrysler, Jeep’s parent company, has now merged with Fiat and the Compass will be replaced next year by an all new Fiat based model. My concern is that the Compass is serving to downgrade the Jeep name, a global brand that has been over sixty years in the making. General motors made a similar mistake when they handed the blue collar icon of the Chevrolet brand to some sad little cars from Korea – remember Daewoo? Rather than using the Jeep brand to add kudos to a Fiat, perhaps Chrysler should concentrate on producing a car good enough to add kudos to the Jeep brand.
Kit Johnson

Car tested Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD 4×4 £23,595 OTR


Fuerte-not so ace-Ventura?

Corralejo, in the north of the island, has a main strip not unlike Blackpool that comes complete with a veritable extravaganza of Chinese, Indian and Italian restaurants; you would have to walk at least fifteen minutes to find paella. When you do finally reach the end of the glittering runway, you are rewarded with views over the marina which melt the trip down the promenade into a distant memory. Go to the top end of the town with its white stone buildings, small tapas bars and yachts at every turn and you realise that this is where the brochure pictures were taken.

If you are looking for lush, extravagant evenings in  traditional restaurants, then you are in the wrong place. Thinking we’d made a terrible mistake, we wet-suited up and flippered our way down to the beach where my whole attitude changed. Within minutes of starting our snorkel we   spotted Parrot Fish, white and Zebra Sea Bream, Sargo and a Culebre (an eel that looks just like a sea snake!) Fuerteventura, literally meaning strong wind, is  perfect for wind surfing, kite surfing and sailing. Once you have hurdled the porpoise-like, russet coloured bodies on the beach, the coastline is a cocktail of vessels, sails and boards with which you can harness the area’s best asset.

After a few days of water sports our legs were aching. We had tried to get onto a coach trip to Jandia on the south of the island, but   unfortunately this was too complex an arrangement for the hotel staff. Luckily the car rental people were much more agreeable and we were behind the wheel of a Nissan Micra before you could say ‘shoddySpanishholiday’. As chief map reader, I decided to shun the main roads in favour of the scenic route. Driving on the island is very much like an extremely  limited safari, goats everywhere and a few   camels tied together by the side of the road with the occasional chipmunk squashed in the middle. Our progress was broken only by my partner’s occasional whimpering as we climbed rapidly and realised that we really should have hired a 4×4. Quashing this thoroughly non-British attitude we continued, at times in fear of our lives, onwards and upwards. The reward was impressive; a vast, empty national park complete with bronze statues of Ayos and Guize and views over the sea to the land masses beyond.

Reaching Moro Jable, and contemplating events over a beautifully grilled bream at Leo’s fish bar, I felt somewhat cheated that its Palm Beach presentation was not mirrored up North. I am very open-minded; I had looked for canaries with my camera, eaten goat (fatty lamb), tried the local speciality (unbelievably salty baked potatoes) and yet I still couldn’t figure out why Fuerteventura is a year in, year out favourite destination for Sutton Coldfield residents.

It’s fair to say that the North has three attractions; the Sirena beach bar for its  seafood and sumptuous  Moroccan décor, the water sports and the unconscious sense of the comic. Only in the North would you be  introduced to a man who dubs himself a wine connoisseur, after describing his tipple as “er, red.” They are comfortingly generous with spirits measures though, especially in el Blanco café – supplier of the strongest Mojitos known to man. Maybe this is         deliberate as everything did seem a little easier on the eye as we walked back. The West African heat is obviously addictive for  travellers who return year after year but surely that isn’t enough to be losing your head over? My advice is to enjoy the water sports and the sun but take the rest with a good pinch of Canarian salted potato.
Carrie Cartwright-Owen


Coq au Vin Recipe

Some say that the French style of food is a little dated and does not belong in today’s culinary catalogue; however, there is no denying the great taste and combinations you find in many French dishes. Here is a classic peasant dish, particularly  popular with the workers on the vineyards of France, also popular witth residents of Sutton Coldfield. Remember the golden rule for cooking with wine: If you would not drink it, do not cook with it.
 
Serves 4
Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
 
Ingredients
25g/ 1oz butter
160g/ 6oz shallots, halved
160g/ 6oz streaky bacon, cut into strips
4 garlic cloves, crushed
300g/ 10oz button mushrooms
Sprig of thyme
500ml/ 16fl oz red wine (Burgundy or Shiraz)
500ml/16fl oz chicken stock
1 Chicken cut into 8 pieces
Salt and black pepper
 
Method
1. Heat a thick bottomed pan, add the butter and fry the   shallots until browned, then add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the mushrooms and   bacon, brown slightly and then pour in the wine and stock. Put in the chicken pieces and thyme, then bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
3. Remove the chicken and   reduce the liquid by a quarter, put the chicken back into the sauce, season and serve with sauté potatoes or crusty bread. 

Roy Wood – Restauranteur


Ant Problems in Sutton Coldfield?

No doubt many Sutton Coldfield residents are by now starting to see ants around the home. The ants you see above ground represent only about 3% of a colony so by far the best way to get rid of them is to find the nest. Spend a little time identifying where the ant trails are and place some ant bait as near as possible to them. I find the gel type poison baits work best, although other methods such as powders or sprays can sometimes work too. Once the ants have found the bait they will take the bait back to the nest and the whole colony will then feed on it.  When deciding where to place the bait be mindful of the risks to children and pets so ensure that you read the precautions label first. 

Ants are often difficult to control, and complete eradication is hard to achieve so if you wish to have a go yourself you just have to keep plugging away and try to eliminate or cut down the infestation as best you can. Pest control companies are able to use a wider range of baits and insecticides, and of course their expertise too, and this should be an option to consider particularly if you are having difficulty controlling an infestation.

Later in the year, the queen produces winged ants (commonly known as flying ants). Both male and females are created by the queen specifically for mating purposes. When the conditions are just right, usually on various days from mid July until the end of August and on humid or thundery afternoons when the air thermals are conducive to good flying, they leave the nest and take flight, mating on the wing (this can even happen occasionally at other times of the year inside a well heated home).  When this happens, Sutton Coldfield residents are advised to open your windows to let some of them fly away, and treat the rest of them with a flying insect aerosol spray. Once mated all of the males die as do many of the females too, but some of the mated females (next year’s queens) survive and seek out places to hibernate in readiness for making a new nest the following year when the cycle begins once again.

If you need any free advice regarding ants or any other pest species please give click here.
Neil Barnett
Complete Pest Management, Sutton Coldfield.


Golf coaching at the Belfry

 

Golf coaching at the Belfry – Recommended Magazine  Sutton Coldfield review

 As a beginner to golf I took the opportunity to have a 60 minute hi tec computer quintec video lesson at thePGAAcademyat The Belfry.

The lesson was with Derek Simpson who has been the senior teaching professional at The Belfry for the past 17 years and so I knew I was in good hands. We started the session with Derek asking me some questions about my past golfing experience and other sports I had played, he also enquired what goals I had in golf and if I would be able to practice and play as this is a huge factor in the development of my golf  swing. I warmed up then hit some golf balls with my pitching wedge followed by my 7iron which were recorded on the quintec computer video analysis machine. The cameras recorded my swing from 4 different angles, Derek and I then sat down to discuss the improvements to be made. We could quickly identify that my posture was poor and I was standing too close to the ball, I was shown some TOUR PROFESSIONALS on the monitor and could immediately see the areas to work on .Derek explained that if I improved my posture and got my distance better from the ball then my swing would have more chance of working in a natural way for me, otherwise I would find it very difficult to get any consistency. I was then given a routine to get my posture correct and to judge the distance I should be from the ball and continued to hit some shots with the video camera recording my swings. My new posture was compared to my old posture and I was amazed at the difference this made to my swing and the contact the club made on the ball. Whilst hitting shots under the guidance of Derek I was made to feel at ease with encouragement throughout the entire session .Derek wrote down some practice drills and points for me to work on with advice on how and when to practice .I really enjoyed the session and can understand why so many golfers use the quintec video analysis for golf lessons as you can compare positions with 50 tour professionals and see the improvements. If you are new to the game of an experienced golfer looking to improve I recommend having some coaching sessions with Derek on this machine because it was a fabulous experience.  

Feel free to email info@recommendedmagazine.co.uk for more details

Recommended magazine (Sutton Coldfield) review of The Belfry Golf Coaching

Richard Barnes editor


Designing and wording your Sutton Coldfield magazine advertisements

Designing and wording your Sutton Coldfield magazine advertisements

Magazine adverts can produce fantastic results especially in nice areas such asSutton Coldfield

But beware magazine advertisement can be difficult to get right

•           Your magazine advertisement has to generate a desire to act quickly / immediately!

•           Headlines must be creative and pack a punch.

•           Your sales message and the product which you are offering has to be clear & concise

•           Your advertisement must create a strong desire for the user to call you rather than your competitors

•           Create the impression that you are easy to contact, and a nice person to deal with

Richard Barnes director of Think Big Publishing Ltd , publisher of Sutton Coldfield magazines Walmley Pages and Recommended magazine


 

Does your advert pass the Think Big test?

If you are looking to advertise your business inSutton Coldfieldthere are a few rules that you really should follow, over the coming months Think Big Publishing will be providing tips on how to advertise your business and grab the attention of theSutton Coldfieldpublic.

What do you think the most important part of your advertisement is?  Your telephone number?  Your address?

 What stands out in your advertisements ?  If it’s your company name or logo ?

The most important thing is THE HEADLINE!!

Without an attention grabbing headline it won’t matter much how great your business or latest offer is as few will ever read it.

Think Big Tip :The main objective of a headline is to get the reader to read the first paragraph of your Sutton Coldfield advertisement. Your headline should be big, bold, and easy to read.  But more importantly, it must entice the reader to read on.

“HEADLINE TEST”

How do you know you have a powerful headline to attract the Sutton Coldfileld public?

Would people be impressed if they saw your headline in isolation? i.e

“Ace cleaning, great service and hard working  For details,
call 0121 354-0000.

This is pretty uninspiring

How about

“6 Things You Must Know Before employing a cleaner”

 Free Report or advice call  0121 354-0000″.
This works as people are likely to call this number before calling a competitors, they need to know these 6 things before they appoint anyone!

Another advertising tip is to arouse curiosity. 

I.e “What Your financial advisor Doesn’t Want You To Know”

 Use powerful attention-grabbing words.

ie Guaranteed, New, Now, Warning

Example:   “WARNING: Credit Card Users ARE Paying To Much”

Richard Barnes director of Think Big Publishing Ltd , publisher of Sutton Coldfield magazines Walmley Pages and Recommended magazine.


The Internet – coming soon to a TV screen near you

The Internet – coming soon to a TV screen near you

For a long time it has been possible to connect your computer to your TV using a variety of cables or, more commonly these days, via some kind of wireless connector. This is great, you can watch films you’ve downloaded off the internet without the hassle of burning them to a DVD or you can, of course, play your favourite computer games on a glorious 42 inch high definition screen – you can even play them in 3D. What you haven’t been able to do is watch one of your favourite websites, for instance YouTube, on your TV.

The advantages of being able to view the web on your TV are considerable. For starters, forget Freeview with its measly 50 channels, there are around 2400 free internet TV channels available, though admittedly many of them are foreign language or of limited appeal. If you want some higher quality TV output, you have all the more popular recent TV programs available through the likes of iPlayer, Four OD and ITV player. This frees you from the shackles of TV schedules and allows you to watch whatever you want at a time that suits you – the latest edition of Top Gear at four in the morning? Not a problem! You don’t even have to remember to set your recorder.

Then there’s the ubiquitous YouTube. Even if you subscribe to the appropriate Sky TV package and have 7 or 8 music channels available, you still have to watch whatever videos or interviews Sky are choosing to broadcast at the time. There is now a Sky channel available that allows you to choose from several thousand music videos and stream whatever you want to watch but it costs £4.99 per month. Compare this to YouTube where you can watch virtually any music video ever made, people filming themselves doing ludicrous things and much more besides completely free. All the online movie rental outfits such as Love Film now offer video streaming services so you can watch whatever film you choose without having to wait for the DVD to turn up in the post.

The big TV manufacturers are now offering internet ready models and these are starting to pick up a fair chunk of market share. However, the path they have gone down is to set up partnerships with the giant websites rather than simply make the whole of the internet available through your TV. Hence, a Sony Bravia IRTV will provide access to iPlayer, YouTube, Love Film and Sony’s in-house video channel. If you haven’t got an IRTV, you can achieve the same result using a PS3.

But what if you just want to view whatever is on your computer on your TV screen? The best device I have found is a Veebeam which retails for £99. This connects your PC or laptop wirelessly with the TV and operates in two modes. In desktop mode you just see whatever is on your computer screen. As well as all the advantages I’ve described above, this is also very handy for giving presentations at a venue where the only facility available is a television set. In play-to mode you can play a downloaded film from your computer in HD quality while still continuing to work on the laptop at the same time – handy when working from home and trying to keep the kids entertained.

There is an increasing concern about the convergence of TV sets and the internet. The main worry is children being exposed to adult material while just watching TV in the living room. The government is trying to introduce legislation where you have to actively opt in to view adult content rather than using parental controls to screen it out. I think this makes a lot of sense but, in the meantime, with a Veebeam the parental controls you’ve set up on your laptop also apply to your TV.

Computer advice atricle provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

We’ve all done it – popped along to the local garden centre for a packet of sunflower seeds and come out with enough new plants to re-stock a small country estate. It is also virtually impossible to leave without a trailer full of compost, a nice new shiny stainless steel thingamibob for weeding the borders or maybe a Lady Spade! Which is all very well until you get to the family Mondeo and wonder how you are going to fit it all in.

The bottom line is that most cars and I include Chelsea Tractors and pick ups in this sweeping statement, were not designed for the garden centre run. The loading procedure for your average shopping trip inevitably takes the form of a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ with Stuart Hall providing a hilarious commentary as the boot, back seat, foot wells and glove box are engulfed in horticultural stuff.

Yes, of course you can cheat and take advantage of the free home delivery, but not everyone can wait to get their new plants and ‘sundries’ home; besides, what if you live outside the delivery area? A few years ago I remember travelling throughBirminghamin my gleaming company car when I spotted a garden centre with a sign proclaiming ‘SALE– EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!’ This always has that red rag/ bull effect on yours truly so business meetings were cancelled as I went hunting for a bargain. Unfortunately, my bargain(s) turned out to be a pair of spiral topiary specimen trees which were approximately 6 feet tall and planted in substantial pots of very heavy compost. Stuart Hall would have had a field day; my suit, the previously immaculate car and my self-esteem were in tatters as I managed to cajole these monsters through the boot, across the back seat and onto the dashboard. Thankfully the trees survived unscathed and are still resplendent in the front garden of my old house – however, every time I pass by I get flashbacks of the journey from hell and the hefty cleaning bill!

Luckily I have never been one of those people who feel a need to drive around in a spotless car and, having now acquired 3 children and assorted dogs, that isn’t an option anyway. Yes I’ve done the flash motor bit but my latest jalopy, an old Volvo estate, is proving to be as close to perfection as I can get for garden centre forays. Firstly, it has got a massive boot with a low sill; with the back seats down you could even get a garden bench in there! Secondly it already has a background aroma of ‘Eau de Wild Bunch’ so a stray bit of manure won’t make any difference. Most importantly, I have a good feel for exactly how much I can load in before either the suspension gives up the ghost or the boys in blue read me my rights. If I had one complaint it would be the lack of headroom for tall plants (sod the passengers!) but perhaps I could get someone to fit one of those concertina roofs like you see on Camper Vans.

The big problem with garden centre purchases is the ‘randomness’ of it all. Normally your groceries will fit neatly into plastic bags. Not so your garden supplies where you have to try and keep your plants from toppling over and prevent muddy water from dripping on your velour upholstery. I would love to see the Top Gear team have a go at ‘pimping’ your average car into the ideal wheels for garden centre devotees – Jeremy Clarkson take note!

Maybe ‘garden centre user friendliness’ would not be top of your average road tester’s priorities when putting the latest Porsche through it’s paces – but I would be willing to bet that at some stage in its life it’s going to have some inappropriate plant life on the passenger seat following a trip to the garden centre!

 Garden article provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


Road test Volvo S60 D5

Volvo S60 D5

Volvo has long been viewed as sitting in the second tier of prestige car manufacturers, a club that includes Saab and Alfa Romeo. The reasons for this are simple, dynamically and stylistically any recent model Volvo has produced has

not been the match of its rivals from Audi, Mercedes and BMW. With the new S60, Volvo has set out to remedy this, or at least that’s what the launch advertising campaign would have us believe.

The S60 is aimed squarely at the “compact, prestige, sporting saloon” segment of the market, in other words it is up against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. What is it doing differently that will enable Volvo to take the fight to these titans of the prestige car industry? Well, if we start with the styling I have to say it looks the part. From the side profile it has the curves that, these days, are associated with a four door coupé and from the rear everything is taut and tidy. Unfortunately, until Volvo decides to completely abandon its boxy heritage, the front end is always going to be a problem. Even with the trendy LED running lights, the headlights are bulbous and awkward looking. To my eye the car looks slightly too high sided and stubby as well.

Climb inside and everything is as it should be in an executive saloon. The fit and finish, quality of plastics and all-round ergonomics are nearly up there with the Audi and ahead of anything BMW or Mercedes have to offer. I’m not wild about the slab-like centre console but it is a Volvo after all. The front seats are supremely comfortable but if you get in the back you will find that the price of those coupé-like looks is limited leg room, a centre seat that is strictly for kids and a slightly claustrophobic feel. There are also some funky things on the options list, how about a collision avoidance system that detects pedestrians walking out in front of you and applies the brakes before you run them over?   

Volvo’s tried and tested 2.4 litre 5 cylinder diesel produces 204bhp in this guise, enough for a 7.4 second 0-62 time and a top end of 146mph. I like the hefty shove in the back it gives when it hits the power band and that distinctive 5 cylinder warble makes it one of the few diesels that I actually enjoy the sound of. The economy figures don’t quite keep up with the likes of BMW, expect around 50mpg in mixed motoring, but are perfectly respectable. I drove the six speed manual which is fine, but I hear that the automatic is to be avoided.

What about the handling though? After all, Volvo has made a huge song and dance about what a sporty drive this car is. I can report that this is without doubt the best handling Volvo I have ever driven and I would go further, it is considerably better than the class leading Ford Mondeo whose platform it shares. Even so, it doesn’t exactly make your heart sing and urge you to push it into every corner as hard as you can. The steering is decidedly lifeless too. By way of contrast the ride is excellent, soaking up the bumps like a bigger car but without any wallowing or excessive roll. The way I see it is that it will be a rare occasion indeed when you explore the limits of the handling envelope of your sporty saloon, but a supple ride is something you will appreciate every time you drive it.

The S60 is a solid all rounder and represents good value for money. Somehow though, I don’t think that it will have the German aristocracy quaking in their boots. Even so, if you are bored with your A4 or 3 Series, it is worthy of serious consideration. And if you are quite happy to drive a second tier, prestige sporty saloon, this is definitely the one to go for.

Kit Johnson

Car tested Volvo S60 D5               £26,745 RRP   

Car review provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public


Lions and Rhinos and Chimps, oh my!

 

Lions and Rhinos and Chimps, oh my!

Arriving in Kenya, I passed a shop called “Guns and Cameras- for all your shooting needs” and thought about how tourism inAfrica has changed. The game I’m used to is more pheasant than big five, so I was eager to see some seriously exotic specimens. I prefer to be an individual traveller and would hate to have every second of my adventure planned out for me. However,Kenya is vast and with so much to see I decided that a tour operator was definitely the way to maximise my chances of success on my hunt for big game; albeit shooting with an SLR rather than an elephant gun!

The journey to Masai Mara, in westernKenya, is certainly more pothole than road; you can opt for a hot air balloon tour of the national park but I definitely wanted the real experience. It wasn’t the migration season so there would be no thunderous herds of buffalo, the original fast food. It was actually just before the rains started, so water was short and the animals would hopefully be localised around permanent watering holes and rivers.

Our lion sighting could have been better, just a lazy old boy sunbathing on a rock; not the stealthy lioness I was hoping for! We were told elephants were nearby because of the trampled grass but I was more concerned about the rhinos; apparently they can run at 35mph and, because of their poor eyesight, they sometimes charge for no reason! Luckily, our rhino seemed quite content eating and posing while we snapped away.

Meeting the local Masai people is an incredible experience. You are welcomed with a performance of traditional dance, giraffes mingled in the background, and each member of the small community comes over to say hello.  I must admit I was quite embarrassed by the whole affair; American tourists ‘ohmygaad’ at every Kenyan they meet and you also get the distinct impression that, however enthusiastic and talented, the villagers are very good at the whole ‘we’ve never seen a white man before’ routine. In fact, they put us to shame somewhat; not only do they speak an enchanting African language called Maa, they are also pretty good at Swahili and English too. I just hope they get paid well for humouring us all.

Your trip will usually be split across the parks in order to maximise chances of seeing everything on offer. We had a specific afternoon dedicated to watering holes where we saw a herd of zebra drinking in the late afternoon and just caught a distant glimpse of buffalo. Our guide pointed out a leopard in a tree to the other side of our jeep, apparently not hungry enough to hunt the stripy sitting ducks. At Lake Nakuru we exchanged our four wheels for a boat and for the next hour all I saw were pink flamingos sleeping all along the banks. Our boat put-putted along between enormous hippos that groaned at us for disturbing their rest.

My last stop was the Mombassa Jungle where I hoped to meet a real life King Kong! On the way there we had to make an unexpected stop to check on another jeep that had driven off the ‘road’ quite a way; they had pulled in to look at a whole family of elephants! Unfortunately, we didn’t see any gorillas; apparently they are very shy indeed. We did meet lots of orphaned chimpanzees, being looked after by older members of the group.

Kenyaoverwhelmed me with its hospitality and beautiful wildlife. I leave it with a full memory card. Hopefully this will not be the last time I watch the African sun go down.

Carrie Cartwright-Owen

 

Travel article was provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield commnity magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


Wifi, Wifi… it’s everywhere

Wifi, Wifi… it’s everywhere

It used to be the case that as long as you had Wifi at home and in the office, that was adequate for most people’s needs. Only really dedicated business types expected to be able to work whenever they sat in one place for longer than a few minutes. Very few people took the trouble to cart around a laptop everywhere they went. This has all changed, now so many of us have an extremely compact computer tucked in our pocket in the form of a Smartphone. Increasingly, many have a tablet computer such as an iPad somewhere around their person and the whole point about such devices is that, if they’re not connected to the internet, they’re not much use.

Of course, Smartphones can access the internet via the 3G network but this is decidedly slow; only the other week I was trying to cheat at the pub quiz and I had to hand the answer sheet in before I’d even managed to Google the first question. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of a proliferating network of Wifi hotspots. But how do they work and how can you make use of them?

 

A Wifi hotspot is anywhere that’s in range of a wireless router, normally about 90 meters if you are outdoors. If you’ve seen the recent BT adverts you’ll know that BT Openzone customers can enjoy access to over 2 million wireless hotspots around theUK. Given that BT only has a network of 4000 wireless transmitters, mainly located in city centres, this seems like a tall order, but it is genuinely the case.

This is how it works. Millions of people have BT wireless routers that are protected by a firewall so that only they can use them. By signing up with BT Openzone you open up access to your router to anyone within range who has also signed up with BT Openzone. Don’t worry about security, the firewall is still in place and you are not giving access to your computer to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to be within range of your router. Anyone piggybacking off your router is only using a tiny fraction of the bandwidth so you shouldn’t notice any reduction in download speed either. The payback is that if you are within range of any other BT Openzone router, all 2 million of them, you have broadband internet access.

BT has also gone into partnership with O2 and TMobile so you can use their routers too, or if you have a Smartphone using either of those networks you can get broadband access via Openzone routers. You could also consider joining Fon, an international network that links over 3 million routers across the globe. You don’t have to be a customer of any particular ISP to use the Fon network, you just attach a small gadget that costs about £40 to your router and away you go.

Wireless hotspots aren’t perfect; you really need to be stationary, so you can’t use them on a train for instance, though you can hop from hotspot to hotspot in a car. Also, some routers have a very limited range; 802.11a routers have a range of only 30 metres outdoors or 15 metres indoors. The signal can also be impeded by brick walls, microwave ovens and a host of other things. You won’t find wireless hotspots in rural areas either, although most villages have a handful of them now.

All in all though, the revolution in wireless router sharing can only be a good thing and moves us one step closer to a world where broadband is available to everyone pretty much everywhere. It also demonstrates that even giant telecom providers can co-operate in the interests of their customers.

Computer advice article was provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local usiness to the Sutton Coldfield public.


Parry Riposte!

 

Parry Riposte!

When we fancy a sporting session we usually go for a knock about on the tennis court or a kick around on the football pitch, never have I heard someone say, “Let’s have a quick bout on the strip.” Derived from both French and Italian swordsmanship, Fencing has come a long way from the life or death situation of a Duel. It is nowhere near as popular as it deserves to be, so I decided to go for a quick refresher session to find out if it is as fun as I remembered at school.

It is no wonder that you might be put off the sport by the outfits you have to wear; a bee-keeper type mask, straitjacket and either a very Clockwork Orange-esq cod-piece or plastic chest protectors! When I was suited and booted I picked up my foil, this is the lightest of weapons and is easy to move around to learn and practise the various positions, and we began to twist our wrists back and forth to piece together basic defence and attack positions. Initially, I was discouraged by the amount of French used to describe blocking positions but these can easily be transformed into numbers.

Once you have learnt a few ways to block your opponent, and remembered to riposte (attack) straight afterwards, you start getting competitive. Combat is the original form of competition and this is certainly an elegant way to entertain that primal instinct. Brute strength is not an advantage here; this is a sport for the resourceful.

Fencing teaches control, technique and sharpens your senses. Posture is imperative, as is quick footwork and short bursts of power from your legs. This type of exercise will get your heart rate up and push your muscles to the limit, as you reach for that elusive winning point. Absolutely anyone can have a go and everyone will improve their lightness of foot and probably their French too!

Carrie Cartwright-Owen

 

Fitness article provided by Walmley Pages, sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


A Golden Opportunity…Tinged with a bit of Green!

                                                

A Golden Opportunity…Tinged with a bit of Green!

Welcome one and all to my collective mourn-in!  If you were the proud owner of a beautiful Bay tree or flourishing Phormium, the chances are you are resigned to the fact that it is now as dead as the Monty Python parrot. Owners of Cordylines, Ceanothus, Abutilon and any other exotics will also be lamenting their losses but, if it’s any consolation, I was also caught with my trousers down. I am now bereft of a much admired Nerine collection and one of the finest shrubs I have ever had the pleasure to grow, Coronilla glauca.

 

The prolonged permafrost we endured during this mother of all winters killed our plants from their roots up and, bearing in mind their Mediterranean origins, it is not surprising they keeled over. Unfortunately, with the unpredictability of theUKseasons these days, there is always going to be a risk in leaving any borderline hardy plant outside through the winter. Ideally we would all have dug up our little treasures and cocooned them in a nice greenhouse for the winter, but clearly this is not feasible for most of us. I know a lot of people tried wrapping their plants in ‘fleece’ specifically made to protect plants from frost damage but all it succeeded in doing was maintaining their frozen state!

Before we all give up on our gardens altogether, let’s look at all the positives and embrace the opportunities that this horticultural death and destruction brings. Firstly, with the judicial use of a shredder you can feel quite rightly satisfied that your plants are living on, albeit in a finer and less attractive manner than before. Secondly, and arguably most importantly, it provides a fantastic opportunity to change and revitalise your garden. Opening up new spaces and vistas lends a whole new aspect to the garden and, whilst sad, the loss of a large dominating plant can be an excellent catalyst to kick-start the garden change process. Obviously you could just replace your dead parrot/ cordyline with another one, but why not look to pastures new? Maybe now is a good time to put in that pond you’ve always wanted, the vegetable and herb garden that could help cut the family grocery bills or simply more space for the kids to enjoy some fresh air?!

Whatever you decide to do, take some time and advice as to the best solution for you and your family. There is a great temptation when you have some glaring gaps in your borders, to simply do a ‘trolley dash’ round the alluring displays at the garden centre. If all you want to achieve is a window dressing of your garden then that’s fine, but if you want something more lasting that is not going to be a wasted investment then you really ought to consider having a professional  review of what can be achieved. In the same way you wouldn’t normally fit your own kitchen without some expert help, your garden will always benefit from an expert plan of action to bring out its full potential. It may not be necessary to commission a full design of your garden; simply changing planting plans and revitalising existing borders could make all the difference between a struggling display and your very own littleChelsea!

Now is the best time to take some decisive action – we are coming up to the prime planting season and if any hard landscaping needs to be carried out, then this needs to be done first. Equally any ponds or water features should be installed as soon as possible together with outdoor kitchens for those wishing to take advantage of their own home grown veg! Personally I’m looking forward to seeing my new wild flower lawn come into it’s own in the next couple of months –I decided to practice what I preach and take it as a golden opportunity for change!

Jonathan Wild

Garden Consultant and Change Specialist!

Gardening article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.