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Breadmaker – ten year test

What service would you expect from a bottom of the range product, for example, a breadmaker?

We bought our unbranded breadmaker from Argos on 12 July 2011, almost ten years ago. A few days ago, on 27 November 2020 the motor still turned, but the “paddle” which mixed and kneaded the dough stayed still.

It cost £37-89. It made small loaves very successfully. Results varied with the mixes we put in. 100% wholemeal produced a dense loaf. Adding white flour to the wholemeal produced a bigger, lighter textured loaf.
Since the beginning of the first lockdown in March Julie has made a loaf nearly every day. Before that there were times when we used it a great deal, and other times occasionally when we bought bakers’ bread. Julie estimates that on average she must have made at least a couple of loaves with the machine each week.
Yes, we think this machine has done very well. Its limitations were that it could not produce really big loaves, and had only 12 programs. The maximum loaf size was quoted as 0.68 kilogrammes and produced loaves that were often too big for just the two of us. And in practice we probably used only one program more than 99% of the time.
We count ourselves very satisfied customers and will buy a similar machine again when they are back in stock.

Today, Argos are selling a breadmaker which looks identical under the brand name of Cookworks and the price has risen to £44-99.

What are the alternatives? You can pay up to £150 for a breadmaking machine. More expensive machines make bigger loaves and some have more programs.

David Roberts

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Keeping gutters clear – my experience

When I lived in an old cottage it was a very simple matter to clear the gutters because they were less than eight feet off the ground. All I needed was a short step ladder and I could reach in and use a trowel to dig out any debris.

Since I moved into a normal two-storey house the high gutters are more of a challenge. I don’t feel very secure going up so high. Since moving to this house I have only twice gone up a ladder to deal with a gutter. Once to clear a stretch, and once to install a “hedgehog”.

Gutter hedgehogs. Do they work?

I bought several metres of these bristly brushes, which fit snugly in the gutter, from Coopers of Bishop’s Stortford. The idea is that leaves and moss, rather than filling up the gutter, will settle on the bristles and be blown off by the wind.
A few days ago I asked a gutter cleaning operative to remove the small stretch of hedgehog that I had installed two or three years ago. You can see from my photograph that it is clogged up with moss, leaves, and other debris. Some leaves must have blown away, but others got stuck in the bristles. I think this has helped to block the gutters! So my conclusion is that “hedgehogs” are not the perfect solution to keeping gutter water flowing as I had hoped they would be.

Gutter hedgehog blocked with leaves and moss

Other methods of clearing gutters

It has been obvious to me for more than a year that my gutters really were in urgent need of clearing out. When we have torrential rain there have been three places where water has overflowed the gutters and poured down the walls, something which is very bad for the fabric of the house and likely to lead to the ingress of water into the building structure.

My gutter cleaning problem is probably worse than that of most people because there are oak trees quite close to the house and from October to December leaves descend on the house and choke the gutters. The east side of the house is shaded by the oak trees and this seems to encourage the growth of moss on the roof tiles. After some time, birds get to work on the moss and scratch it down into the gutters.

Although workmen are insured to work at the top of ladders I haven’t felt happy about sending men up these precarious pieces of equipment. A solution I tried a few days ago was to employ a firm which cleared gutters up to three storeys high using a vacuum system, working with lightweight but long-reach tubes attached to a powerful vacuum cleaner that can suck out dry and wet debris.


Suction gutter cleaning

A leaflet came through my door from a firm called GutterPro and I decided to try them. I think there are other firms around that use the same system. I tried to book an appointment online. The website was good for getting a quote but when I tried to make a booking the website rejected my application three times so I decided to book by phone. That was quick and simple and a few days after my call the operative arrived at the appointed time.

The work begins by attaching a video camera to the end of a long to explore and reveal the contents of the gutters and to see if, if in fact, they need cleaning at all. It’s their company policy to show customers the state of the gutters before and after work has taken place to clear them.

After a bit less than two hours work the job was done. The gutters were clear. I asked about whether downpipes had been cleared and was told that clearing could only go as far as the first bend which of course is not very far.

We have had some very heavy downpours since the gutters were cleaned and the water has flowed much more quickly into my water butts and has stopped overflowing the gutters where there used to be problems.

GutterPro seems an effective and efficient and courteous firm and I will certainly use them again when problems show themselves with my gutters.
Prices seem to range from about £80 for a small house to £110 for a five bedroom house with a conservatory to clear gutters. There is a similar price for cleaning the outside of gutters. There are special prices if you have both jobs done at the same time. I had only the clearing done. All the details can be found online. By the way, this is an unsolicited and unrewarded recommendation. I’m sure they don’t need my support. They have a huge positive response from their customers.

Have a look at the hedgehog pictures. My photograph of the GutterPro flyer has a phone number which probably doesn’t cover the whole country. If you are interested here is a link to their website. GutterPro link.

David Roberts

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Caravan covers – Are they worth the investment? – My exceptional extended test

Your caravan may be in pristine good looks in October, but leave it to the elements over winter and by spring it can look grubby and neglected. Rain, dew, blowing dust and wet leaves, bird mess, tree sap are the start, but then the damp surfaces allow green algae and sometimes a black stain to develop.

By March you are faced with a tedious and time-consuming, cleaning job, with the roof being the most troublesome part to deal with.

The answer is a caravan cover, but how effective are they and how easy to put on and remove?

I gave our caravan cover an extended test, more than most people would ever do. 

We had used it over winter 2017/2018 and then in November 2018, with the help of my wife, we put it on again. See Putting the over on, below.

We didn’t take the cover off in 2019 because I had a health problem and we couldn’t go caravanning, so the cover stayed on the caravan for the whole of 2019.

The year 2020, as we all know too well began with the covid-19 so caravanning stopped until into the summer and we didn’t take the cover off until August. The cover was therefore on in all weathers, including an exceptional number of high winds, high temperatures and prolonged wet spells. The breathable fabric clearly did its job of allowing moisture to escape. In all the cover was on continuously for 20 months.


The brand of our caravan cover was Kampa and the material was a three ply breathable material, soft on the inside. It cost a little over £100.

Caravan covers – Are they worth the investment? – Our conclusion

Our conclusion is that the cover was a very sound investment. It really protected the surfaces of the caravan keeping them clean. The caravan remained dry inside. The sun was not able to fade the curtains and cushions any more! It has protected the caravan and saved hours of work.

The pictures show

The pictures show how clean the caravan looked when the cover was removed and the green algae on the tow bar which was not covered. The one problem that developed was that the constant movement of the fabric in the winds caused the vent from the heater to break its way through the fabric. I guess this could have been avoided if we had tied something like some old towels over the vent to cushion it. One picture shows the size of the filled stuff bag which you need to store during the summer. Click a picture to see enlargement.

Putting the cover on

Maybe one person could manage to put the cover on but really it is a two person activity. There are four long zips at the corners which we used but next time we think it may be easier to leave the cover zipped up. We used a step ladder to lift the cover over the roof and also a couple of brooms.

The straps which tie under the caravan are very effective but it took us a little while to work out how they should be threaded through the buckles. You may be able to see the threading route in the photograph. The strap on the right is the loose end.

Click the Amazon link to see a whole range of covers and sizes.