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Property Has the nation rekindled its love affair with property?

After a five year drought, the television schedules are awash with property programmes once again. Grand Designs is enjoying its annual run of programmes, but these are all brand new projects rather than updates on programmes that were first run a few years ago. Kevin McCloud can also be seen in Man Made Home, a quirky series about building a beach hut from recycled materials. Sarah Beeny, who made her name showing amateurs how to make money out of property development, is now telling them how to achieve their dream house for half the cost of upsizing.

Caroline Quentin has recently finished her latest series of Restoration Home, a programme about people who spend hundreds of thousands of pounds restoring historic properties that should probably have been left to crumble to dust. Meanwhile, a brace of architects are showing self builders how to create a perfect home for a pittance in The House that £100k Built. Recently, I saw the first episode of Location, Location, Location, that wasn’t a rerun from six years ago, in a long time. In case you’ve forgotten the concept, this is a house hunting show fronted by Kirsty Allsopp and Phil Spencer. All this and I haven’t even started on the numerous property shows that litter the daytime television listings.

Sutton Coldfield hasn’t returned to the days of 2006 when this kind of programme was at its height. The money no object, fortunes to be made exuberance of the mid noughties is long gone and may never return. Instead, the focus is more on getting the absolute maximum of bangs for your buck. For instance, the concept of Sarah Beeny’s show is that people who have run out of space can extend and renovate their current property for half the cost of selling up and buying a bigger house. But we can still take heart from this; people are passionate about property again and that can only be good news for the housing market.

Craig Brown

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, a local magazine delivered free to homes in Walmey, Minworth and Sutton Coldield


Sutton’s Kidz UK Sponsored Skydive

A number of willing volunteers will be jumping out of an aeroplane at 10,000 feet and freefalling for 5000 feet before floating back to earth on a tandem skydive.  They are doing this to help raise the funds to enable Andi Markham and the Sutton Coldfield based KidsUK team to continue to share the great message in the unique, fun and unforgettable way they do with thousands of children in our local schools.  Many children in Sutton Coldfield will recognise Andi and of course his friends Jack and Grandad. They’re hoping to raise £2000 by doing this.

Can you help?  You can donate online by visiting www.KidsUK.org

Can You help by becoming a KidsUK SkyDiver Yourself?  (There are still a couple of SkyDiver places left. For information please email Andi on info@KidsUK.org)

Kidz UK appreciate any support you are able to offer

 


Mice Advice

Pest control advice for Sutton Coldfield residents.

Now that we’re well and truly into winter the insects have by and large died off or hibernated, and the mice and rats have begun to seek warmth and shelter, and your house could well be a target.

Try to spare a few minutes for a quick look around the outside of your house and garage. Any gap that you can put a pen through is large enough for a mouse to get in and should be filled in with filler or cement.

Pay particular attention the rendering around pipes or cables, under door-steps, around drains, door frames, under doors, inside meter cupboards. Don’t just look at ground level either, because mice are very agile and excellent climbers.

Garages are a common place for mice infestations as they are easily accessible and provide warmth and shelter. Garage doors invariably have a gap underneath, and the fitting of brush or rubber type strip along the base is usually enough to keep them out. If the garage is attached to the house don’t forget to check the dividing wall for holes, cables and pipes too.

Mice can also enter your house from an adjoining property, usually under the floor or into the loft, into the wall cavity and then into your house. It would be virtually impossible to find every hole or gap between the properties, so it is advisable to give your home a thorough internal check too. Sutton Coldfield householders are also advised to check pipes and cables, boilers, airing cupboards, under the bath, toilets, and the base of walls particularly under kitchen cupboards, in fact any small hole you find should be plugged.

Prevention is the best form of pest control of course but if you already have an infestation the mice should be dealt with before the proofing of any holes is carried out. This is because having established your home as their home too, they will go to extraordinary lengths to get back in and they will either breach where you have filled or will find another way in. 

Treating it yourself can sometimes be straightforward and baits that you can buy sometimes work, but mice can be very fickle, and a professional will not only have extensive knowledge of their feeding and behaviour patterns and the best places to bait, but also a winder range of more attractive and more palatable baits. Trapping usually has only limited success, as it is very random and may not eradicate the whole colony, and soon the infestation increases again. Many people think they just have a mouse but this is extremely rare as mice are very gregarious.
Mice infestations vary considerably. They can occur in the cleanest of Sutton Coldfield households, and less hygienic ones can get away with it. I’ve come across many with mice, who have lived in a house for years without any previous problems so please don’t think it could never happen to you. By taking these few simple steps you will considerably reduce the chances of suffering an infestation.

If you wish for any free advice about mice or any other pest matters feel free to give me a call (07984 88 88 87 or 0121 313 3305)

Neil Barnett
Complete Pest Management
Sutton Coldfield
www.completepestmanagement.co.uk


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


Travel – Tequila, Tradition and Tentacle Tacos

Mexico is a collision of different civilisations and their traditions. From the Aztec Mayan Ruins and Colonial towns to Spanish oriented music and dance, you will definitely get value for money when it comes to Mexican culture. Cancún has transformed over the years from a small fishing town to Mexico’s most renowned visitor destination since Acapulco. It boasts searing sunshine, white beaches, Margaritas, Tequila and Pina Coladas! Although it is a sunbather’s paradise, I was venturing to a part of Mexico that promised to have retained its authentic feel whilst still attracting the tourists from around the world, including Sutton Coldfield.

Playa del Carmen has kept its buildings almost all ‘low rise’, retaining the local town feel. Amongst the global brands are boutique hotels like Luna Blue, La Tortuga and Fusion that are well worth a cocktail visit, even if you are staying elsewhere. Despite the resort catering for huge numbers every season, Cancún’s fishing village heritage is still evident and is mirrored heavily in the work produced by a number of artists exhibiting there.
The south of Cancún is much more cosmopolitan, so you really have a style to suit all; however, neither extremity beats the history and architecture of colonial Valladolid. You can even choose from salt and fresh water snorkelling lagoons at Xcaret and Xel Ha, such is the variety on offer. Tempting as it may be to lie on the white beach and roast, I cannot advocate travelling around and exploring enough; within an hour you could be in a fishing village or a cocktail bar and, from there, visit colonial churches and even ancient Aztec ruins.

‘Playa’, as the locals call it, is the perfect place to kick back and relax with a Tequila ‘boom-boom’ (a shot containing Tequila, Grenadine and Lemonade slammed down in front of you) followed by a Pina Colada. The food is abundant and wonderful; hotels usually provide a 24 hour food and drink service but if you are feeling adventurous there is plenty to choose from: La Cueva del Chango has a fabulous outdoor jungle setting for the restaurant and Playa Maya serves up a tantalising Octopus Taco!

Aside from the historical exploration, there is an ample selection of organised day trips on offer. We chose one based at a theme park, organised by Xplor, which boasted 2 miles of zip wiring, driving a 4×4 through the jungle and cave rafting. Health and safety is really kept to a minimum so you can get on and have some fun but, just for the record, hitting two trees and a couple of rocks is pushing it when defending your driving ability.

Leaving Mexico, and dreading the eight hour long flight home to Sutton Coldfield, I wondered whether I had forgotten something. The region has variety in a way I have never found in just one country before and its past is so well preserved that you can plainly see each stage of its development. I kept going through in my head the details of each and every temple, town, village, lagoon and beach I had visited but, somehow, it always feels like Mexico has a little bit more tucked away, ready and waiting for your next visit.

Carrie Cartwright-Owen


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