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Christmas and New Year is the time for giving – but what are the tax implications?

As this is the ‘Season of Goodwill’ in this month’s tax tips we are focusing on the tax implications of Giving.

Charity Donations

Firstly let’s consider the donations you make to Charities. Many people are aware that if you make a donation to a charity via the gift aid scheme, then the charity will receive an additional payment of basic rate tax from HMRC. But what many people paying higher rates of tax may not realise is that they can also benefit from tax relief on donations.  By declaring their charitable Gift Aid donations, they can claim relief equal to the difference between the higher rate of tax and the basic rate of tax at 20% on the total value of the donation.  So if you donate £100 to a charity, and you are currently paying tax at 40% you can claim additional tax relief which saves £24 tax!

‘Small’ gifts

What about the gifts to family and friends? Well you can make small gifts up to the value of £250 to as many individuals as you like in any one tax year and they will all be exempt from Inheritance Tax when you die.

Annual exemption

You can give away additional gifts worth up to £3,000 in total in each tax year and these gifts will also be exempt from IHT. There is also provision to carry forward the unused part of the £3,000 exemption from last tax year.

Wedding gifts/civil partnership ceremony gifts

If you give cash or gifts or because of a Wedding or civil partnership, then this will be exempt from IHT if it is below the following limits:

Parents –  each up to £5,000

grandparents and great grandparents – each up to £2,500

anyone else – up to £1,000

Regular gifts or payments that are part of your normal expenditure

If you make regular gifts out of your after-tax income, these can also be exempt from Inheritance Tax. These gifts will only qualify if you have enough income left over to maintain your normal lifestyle.

Any other gifts

Gifts in excess of the above exemptions, but which were made more than seven years before the donor dies are free of IHT. However, if you reserve any benefit from a gift – such as continuing to live in a house you have given away- “gift with reservation” rules may apply tax as though your gift had never happened…

 We offer a free 30 minute consultation, so if you would like any additional information regarding the above or any other tax issues concerning you, then please contact us or visit us in our offices in Walmley Village, Sutton Coldfield.

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, a local magazine delivered to homes and businesses in Sutton Coldfield, Walmley, Minworth and surrounding area’s.


Child Benefit – will you be liable for extra tax?

Welcome to the Hill Lillis & Company Monthly Tax Tips.

You may not be totally aware of a tax change which comes into force from January 2013. The new rules, which are expected to affect approximately 1.2 million families, will apply to those in receipt of child benefit where the income of one or both partners exceeds £50,000 per annum.  In these circumstances, the partner with the highest income will be liable for ‘The Higher Income Child Benefit Charge’.  This is a tax charge which is computed on a gradual scale, whereby when the higher-paid partner’s income is above £60,000 the child benefit received by the family will be fully re-charged.

We foresee that difficulties are going to arise when there are changes in the family circumstances during a tax year (e.g. separation or divorce) or where there is uncertainty over who is the highest earner (perhaps because one partner receives occasional bonuses). It is worth stressing that the person who is expected to pay the charge is not necessarily the same person who receives the child benefit.

HM Revenue & Customs are investing a great deal of money and staff resources in pursuing this new ‘Tax’ and families could be liable to penalties and surcharges if they do not take the appropriate action to ensure their circumstances are notified when applicable.  This does mean having to register for Self-Assessment and file annual Tax Returns.

If your income is very close to the thresholds, you may wish to consider how you can reduce it for these purposes, perhaps by making additional pension contributions or Gift Aid donations.

Alternatively you may decide it is simpler to elect not to receive child benefit; however if one partner is a non-working carer, what will be the impact on their National Insurance record for future state benefits?

We offer a free 30 minute consultation, so if you would like any additional information regarding the above or any other tax issues concerning you, then please contact us 0121 351 6777 or visit us in our offices in Walmley Village, Walmley, Sutton Coldfield.

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, delivered to over 8,000 homes and businesses, in Walmley and surrounding areas of Sutton Coldfield


PAYE Code numbers and PAYE Reconciliations – Tax Tips

Welcome to the Hill Lillis & Company Tax Tips.

Tax and National Insurance deductions are made at source from most taxpayers in the UK through the PAYE scheme.  Each employee (or pensioner) is allocated a tax code which the employer uses to calculate the deductions to be made. If your affairs are straight forward then your code is likely to be 810L which indicates you are entitled to the basic personal allowances of £ 8,105.

However if your tax affairs are more complex, you code may be very different as HMRC seek to collect the tax due on sources of untaxed income or make other adjustments. Some of the most common adjustments are for the benefits you receive from your employment (such as a company car or private medical insurance), whereas pensioners may see a restriction in respect of the State Retirement pension they receive which is never taxed at source.

Often these adjustments are estimated, based on information supplied in previous tax years, and problems can arise where someone has multiple employments or pensions, so it is understandable that on occasions the tax collected is not always correct. Therefore after each tax year HMRC issue many PAYE reconciliations (on form P800) showing how they have computed the under or over deduction of tax.

Our experience shows that there has been a great deal of distress caused by HMRC unexpectedly issuing  PAYE reconciliations covering  several years’  tax arrears, and we note that often there are errors on these calculations. We recommend you check them carefully, and seek advice if you think there is a problem.

We offer a free 30 minute consultation, so if you would like any additional information regarding the above or any other tax issues concerning you, then please contact us 0121 351 6777 or visit us in our offices in Walmley Village, Sutton Coldfield.

This article features in Walmley Pages Magazine, delivered to residents in

Walmey and surrounding areas of Sutton Coldfield.


Boggy Brightness and Boots On

I thought that we would not notice the transition from summer to autumn this year . It has been so wet and dark that we can see and feel no real difference except that it is a little chillier . However, the prevailing damp has allowed that British green of our countryside to maintain its brightness. Never have our open spaces been so waterlogged and lush as they have been this year. The scorched browns of high summer have only been spied over the water in hotter climes than ours. The colours of autumn are yet to start showing but I suspect that by the end of the month we shall see some. Unless the rain stops falling there will only be sodden heaps of fallen foliage to wade through rather than the usual kicking of crisp golden and red leaves. ( yes, we all do it no matter what age we   pretend to be !)

Take advantage of any opportunity to get out and enjoy the local green patches whenever the sun shines, it could be a long winter and soon the clocks change and we are into darker nights and shorter days. No matter your reasons for walking, be it for health or exercising the dog, for nature or for scenery, just a short stroll or jog will stop that seasonal melancholy getting a grip and anyway outdoor exercise means that when you get in you can have that chocolate or cake as your righteous reward.

New Hall Water mill has closed for the 2012 season with the last open day in September but rest assured that our maintenance work will continue throughout the winter months to ensure that we open again for the 2013 summer months. If you did not visit this year , we look forward to welcoming next time. Please note that if you come on your bicycle you can only come through the small side gate, NOT the main gate, as this is only for real V.I.P`s.

Article supplies by Jeff Gilbert of Jeff’s Useful Shop, Walmley Road, Walmley, Sutton Coldfied B76

This article appears in the October edition of Walmley Pages Magazine, delivered to 4000 homes in Walmley and Sutton Coldfield every month


Personal Allowances – Tax Tips for Sutton Coldfield Residents

Welcome to the Hill Lillis & Company Tax Tips. As a local accountancy and tax practice we will be providing a short, monthly article outlining tax problem areas and our suggestions on what you can do to resolve the issues.

Everyone with income below £100,000 is entitled to a full personal income tax allowance of £8,105 for the current tax year. However if you are over the age of 65 and your income from all sources is less than £25,400  you can claim an increased allowance of £10,500, and if you are over 75 years old the allowance is increased to £10,660. Any income above these levels is taxable, and at present the tax rates are 20% up to £34,370; 40% up to £150,000 and 50% above that level.

Each person within a family is individually entitled to personal allowances, so it is worthwhile regularly reviewing your situation, so that you  make best use of everyone’s allowances.

If family assets are owned jointly, then the default position is that the income should be declared by the owners equally. However in some circumstances you can make an election to confirm that both the underlying capital and income is shared in different proportions.

So, where there is an inequality between the level of income and tax rates being paid by spouses, you may wish to consider how you allocate assets, perhaps by transferring the assets generating the highest levels of income to the partner who pays the lowest levels of tax.

We offer a free 30 minute consultation, so if you would like any additional information regarding the above or any other tax issues concerning you, then please contact us 0121 351 6777 or visit us in our offices in Walmley Village, Sutton Coldfield.

This article appeared in Walmley Pages Magazine, delivered each month to over 4000 homes in

Walmley and surrounding areas of Sutton Coldfield.


Health – Sleep

The average adult in Sutton Coldfield now sleeps for less than 7 hours per night, but most of us need 8 hours. Even a minimal reduction in sleep affects your mood, efficiency and energy levels. Sleep is made up of stages and cycles which restore and refresh the mind and so, to stay healthy and perform optimally, getting 8 hours sleep is a necessity rather than a luxury! (more…)


Property – Is spring in the air for property market?

The news in the property market makes pretty grim reading. Average prices have fallen slightly over the last year and are predicted to stay flat in 2012; mortgage lending is still subdued while minimum deposits remain high and sales volumes are close to an all time low. The strange thing is it really doesn’t feel like that to me; it feels like spring is in the air. (more…)


Recipe – Curry Roast Scallops

Unusual recipe for readers of Recommended Sutton Coldfield and Walmley Pages

Serves 4

Ingredients

16 scallops

1 tsp salt

2 tsp mild curry powder

50g butter

1 lemon

100g peeled & chopped parsnips

1 tsp cumin seed

1 tsp coriander seed

1 tsp fenugreek seed

100ml cream

100ml milk

2 granny smith apples

 

Method Start by making the parsnip puree; toast the cumin, fenugreek and coriander seeds in a pan, then add the chopped parsnip, milk & cream. Cook this mix until tender, then puree in a food processor until it is smooth and lump free. For the apple salad, just grate the apple on the coarse part of a grater, or cut into match stick sized strips.

Now for the scallops; mix the curry powder with the salt and season the scallops well, heat a pan until very hot, then add a little olive oil and allow this to come up to temperature. Add the scallops and cook for just one minute each side, then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little – 2 minutes should be long enough. Add the butter and lemon juice; shake the pan to emulsify the butter with the lemon juice. Serve with a little of the pan sauce and fresh coriander sprouts.

Daniel Jimminson Restaurateur

Recipe featured in Walmley Pages Magazine,

delivered to 8000 home in Sutton Coldfield


Motoring – Convertibles You Can Use Everyday

The appeal of a convertible is plain to see – good looks, especially with the top down, and the joys of wind in your hair motoring. Most of us need to use our cars all the time, though, and need practicality too – space for four passengers and their luggage, good build quality and reliability and, most importantly in this day and age, low running costs. Here are four ways to have your cake and eat it.

 

Volvo C70 (2006 to present) Based on the S40, the C70 is undoubtedly the best looking Volvo you can buy. It has an all singing, all dancing folding metal roof, all the safety features you could wish for and the ride, handling and refinement of a luxury  saloon. There are some hugely powerful   Turbos in the engine line up but I’d go for Volvo’s excellent 2.4 litre D5 diesel; it delivers all the performance you could wish for but still manages 40mpg around town. Better still, there’s plenty of room for 4 adults and a  commodious boot. A 2007 model with 75k on the clock can be yours for a very reasonable £8,500. For: Looks, quality, refinement, performance Against: Antique dealer connotations

 

BMW 320d Convertible (2000 to 2005) I still maintain that the last generation 3 series was the best that BMW has ever made and the convertible version totally proves my point. It is a stunning looker, particularly with the top down, and still sets the benchmark today as an all-round dynamic package. The silky smooth 3.0 litre straight six is hard to resist but I’ve gone for the most excellent 2.0 litre diesel which will punt you up to 62mph in 9.7 seconds but still give better than 50 mpg on a run. They are surprisingly expensive; £8000 puts you in a 05 plate with a hefty 85,000 miles under its belt. For: Lovely looks, great to drive, very economical Against: Last year’s model

Audi A4 Cabriolet (2000 to 2005) Ever since Princess Di bought one, the A4 Cabriolet has been an Audi icon. Underneath the celebrity glamour it is actually a very good car. It combines timelessly elegant looks with peerless build quality and precise handling. Audi makes the best diesel engines in the business and the 2.5 V6 is one of their finest. This is a car that will hit 140 yet still average 39mpg in mixed motoring. The Diana effect is still noticeable in the prices; you will need to stump up £8k for a 2004 version that has covered 60,000 miles. For: Style, build quality, performance. Against: Pricey, overly firm ride

Saab 9-3 Convertible  (2003 to present) Saab has had its ups and downs over recent years but the 9-3 soft top has been a consistent success story. The styling is still crisp 8 years down the line and it retains   several of the quirky features that Saab  loyalists cherish so dearly. Mechanically it has been left behind though; the 150bhp 1.9 diesel takes a painful 11.2 seconds to drag it up to 62 and the scuttle shake and under steer are relics of yesteryear. On the plus side, it is a reasonably well built old bruiser and there is plenty of room in the cabin. It’s relatively cheap too, a four year old with a mere 45,000 miles on it will cost you £7,500.

For: A handsome old brute, Saab individuality, value for money Against: Poor performance and economy, handling

 

Have you been persuaded?  Perhaps we will be seeing more convertibles in Sutton Coldfield soon.

 

This motoring feature appeared in Walmley Pages Magazine,

delivered to 8000 home in Sutton Coldfield


Walmley Pages – IT and Media – Is the internet losing its sting?

 

The latest internet scam to affect Sutton Coldfield residents comes in the form of Android apps that contain illegal malware. What happens is this; you download a popular App such as Angry Birds from Android Market, which is Google’s version of Apple’s App Store. The download  appears to fail but that’s okay as you haven’t been charged for it. What has actually happened is that you have just given your phone “permission” to send a text message that will add £3 to your phone bill. This is a fairly widespread problem; a  security consultancy identified 27 apps on  Android Market that contained this malware, its name is RuFraud, and estimated that they had been downloaded some 140,000 times. Google has now removed all the infected apps.

It was glaringly obvious that this problem was going to occur. Google has never  vetted any of the apps that are listed on Android Market and even made a big deal of it, claiming they wanted to create an “open” marketplace. They may now have to rethink this strategy, particularly when you consider that Amazon has put its financial weight behind its own app market where every app is vetted before it can be listed.

Let’s put this latest scam in perspective though; admittedly, 140,000 people have each lost £3 and that is annoying, particularly for Google, but it is hardly the end of the world. Compare that to some of the other plagues that have stalked the internet over the years and it pales into insignificance. The most prolific internet scam that has generated the greatest losses has to be phishing which has been around for an         astonishing 15 years. This is where you receive an email purporting to be from your bank or credit card company asking you to enter your account details, user id and password. These details are then used to transfer money out of your account or buy things on your credit card. Countless people have lost thousands of pounds through phishing scams; globally losses are  estimated in the billions of dollars.

Then there are computer viruses, normally  transmitted by email, that do anything from slowing down your operating system to wiping your entire hard disk, many of which seem to have been created simply for the malicious  pleasure of causing the maximum amount of inconvenience to as many people as possible. Or what about malware – spybots, worms and   Trojans that can hijack your computer and use it to send spam emails, or record your keystrokes, or enable someone to spy on every email you send or website you visit.

The thing is, all of these threats are receding and I put this down to three developments. The first is the creation of anti-spam software that is  selective, effective and inexpensive. Computer viruses and phishing scams operate via email so anti-spam software greatly  reduces the threat from them. Secondly, anti-virus software is now highly developed and free versions are available online, from AVG for instance. This means that even if a virus should evade your anti-spam software or arrive on a memory stick, it will be detected and quarantined before it can do any damage. Finally, anti-malware software is now  extremely sophisticated and is usually incorporated in anti-virus software; Windows 7 and the latest version of Internet Explorer also have malware protection built in. Malware is not transmitted via email but rather via the internet – you can pick up a Trojan Horse simply by going on the wrong website – so this is a  major development.

I admit that there are issues around social media these days but these are more to do with privacy than internet security. There’s a simple solution, don’t post information online that you wouldn’t be happy for anyone to see.

The Wild West was eventually tamed. It is my firm belief that one day the internet will be to.

Graham Iek – IT Consultant

Article featured in Walmley Pages Magazine, Sutton Coldfield

 

 

 


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

 


Style Envy in Sutton Coldfield

 

There are few of us who don’t look forward to having our hair cut and styled, a perfect manicure or a spray tan. A little pampering makes everyone feel wonderful and is worth its weight in gold.

However, people lead such busy lives it is not always possible to visit a salon when you work until late or have small children. There are also many people with limited personal mobility or without transport.

After four years working as a hair stylist in a salon and spa, Siân Bridges of Sutton Coldfield, decided that everyone deserves an ‘elite’ experience.

She explains: “Style Envy was created for busy people and those who aren’t able to travel or arrange childcare. Our client base includes executives who work long hours, older people who are unable to leave their homes, and small children whose parents work full time.

“I believe everyone deserves to be pampered and think of us as inclusive – not exclusive. We offer everything you would expect from a luxury salon in the convenience and comfort of your home.”

Although the variety of services and products is extensive, Style Envy pride itself on a full range of pamper packages for weddings, proms, and special occasions. The Sutton Coldfield team will even travel to wedding venues to ensure brides look perfect throughout the day.

Hair Style Envy Aveda-trained stylists use only Aveda hair products, which are made from plant and flower extracts and completely natural. They specialise in ‘hair up’ for special occasions and offer an impressive range of styles for all lengths of hair.

Nails Style Envy manicures include Shellac varnish, which is applied like a polish, set under a UV lamp, and lasts for up to two weeks. Most importantly, it doesn’t dull, smudge, chip or damage the nail and can be removed easily.

Body Style Envy use Sienna X, which is the leading tanning system in the UK. It contains moisturising ingredients that nourish the skin and is available in varying strengths.

To make an appointment or find out more about Style Envy packages: call 0121 308 4196 or 07712  671161 email sian@styleenvyuk.com or visit www.styleenvyuk.com

Style Envy also feature in Recommended Magazine Sutton Coldfield


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


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.


Tresco: Every Little Helps

The Isles of Scilly are theUK’sTreasure Islandparadise. Tresco is located about 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall; just drive south west until you run out of land and then find a helicopter! This may sound a bit dramatic but, trust me, the journey over the beautifully sculptured granite islands affords you the best views of the white beaches and turquoise waters that you’ll see all holiday. This death defying arrival at the Heliport in Tresco captures the care-free attitude of the island perfectly. With no cars and a minute population, all of whom work in the tourist industry; you can absolutely leave everything behind you and relax.

Airport transfers are thrown in; a tractor towing a passenger trailer arrives, in its own time, to deliver you at your chosen spot of respite for your stay. Our cottage was gloriously wonky, sparkling white and furnished to the standard of a glossy interiors magazine shoot; we were well stocked in the throws, cushions and quirky kitchen equipment departments. Even though the weather was fine we lit our wood burning stove as soon as we arrived, simply because it was there. Soon afterwards we were forced to fling open the French windows for fear of boiling alive, only to discover that we had a spectacular sea view, something I cannot recall paying any extra for. 

Tresco has an art gallery, a gift shop, a pub and a post office and… that’s it! I certainly wouldn’t recommend this holiday to frequenters of another well known ‘white isle’. Despite being extremely quiet, for better or for worse, it is easy to see how this island has had such an impact on literature, art and film. It is dramatic in its range of botanicals and there is no greater example of this than at theTrescoAbbeyGardens. The tropical plant life, June’s average of 229 hours of warm sunshine and the crashing sea make for a real desert island experience. Optimistically, I bought some seeds of the island plant varieties from the gift shop; realistically, I can’t see them growing under the grey skies of theMidlands.

The island offers little in the way of choice restaurant-wise. If you want a selection of exotic global cuisine right on your doorstep then you’d better give the Scilly Isles a miss. The few pubs and hotels it does have, however, are excellent. The New Inn, Tresco, does pub food very well indeed and is enough of a restaurant to provide a luxurious break from self-catering; especially when it is your partner’s turn to cook. I was pleasantly surprised with the service too, I expected a ‘this is the best your going to get, where else are you going to go?’ sort of attitude but instead the staff were well versed in addressing customers’ needs and provided a wealth of advice on things to do during our stay.

The island is almost too beautiful as it seems to have had a Siren effect on ships throughout history. There have been hundreds of shipwrecks on the rocks around Tresco. You can visitValhalla, a strange and melancholic gallery of the figureheads recovered from these vessels. Although visually impressive, the stories behind them are poignant. This shouldn’t put you off from exploring the stunning waters around Tresco. The sailing club has dinghies or day boats for hire for competent sailors to use. 

Tresco may be tiny but it is the little things that make a difference. Every person we met, whether resident or tourist, was having a splendid time, everything we did turned out to be far better than we’d anticipated and every time we faced a longish walk we were picked up in a golf cart and whizzed off to our destination. The island is still owned by one family – you can tell because it was like staying over at a relative’s.

Article supplied by Recommended Magazine, the Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


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.