Online reviews are a good thing… as long as you take them with a big pinch of salt.

RELAX, Duncan Bannatyne – we’re more grown-up than you give us credit for. We know that Trip Advisor is not necessarily the truth, the whole truth and anything but...

But it tells us a lot more than the guide books ever did. And in complaining about a review that compared one of his hotels to Fawlty Towers, the angry Mr Bannatyne is beginning to sound a bit too much like Basil Fawlty in full flow.

I love Trip Advisor. I love any sort of online review site and don’t buy anything before looking at what others have thought. Not even a pair of Marks & Spencer trousers.

M&S might describe a pair of trousers as “designed to skim the hips to give a flattering long-legged look.” But if size 16 London Female 45-54 says: “The waistband is unforgiving and my rear looked even bigger than normal,” then, sorry M&S, I know who I’m going to believe.

The trick, of course, is to learn to navigate all this online comment, to tip toe between the honest, the vindictive and the downright planted.

I once posted a robust review on Trip Advisor about an appalling hotel. Guess what? – the hotel which had previously had only a handful of mixed reviews, suddenly had half a dozen in a day saying how brilliant it was, how wonderful the staff and all the reviewers – who seemed, what a coincidence, all to have joined Trip Advisor on that very day – said they would “definitely” stay there again.

Well, any Trip Advisor user with half an ounce of nous is going to suss that out pretty quickly.

Amazon reviews have also become notorious for authors leaving rave reviews of their own books, or crushing criticism of their rivals. I’m always wary when a book receives a fantastic write-up before it’s even in the shops. Bit of a giveaway, wouldn’t you say? What it means is that the reviewer is either connected to the publisher. Or is the author’s mum.

There are drawbacks to this wonderful democracy. And not just the opportunity for fiddling. Sadly it’s not just intelligent, sensible people who contribute to the debate. Just like in parliamentary elections, you get the idiots on there too. Morons who relish the chance to be rude and abusive because it’s all anonymous and no one’s going to find out where they live and come round and duff them up.


But that’s the price we pay for liberty, equality and the right to find out about a good hotel or a decent pair of trousers. And we’re learning how to cope.

Once upon a time when advertising was in its infancy, people believed everything the adverts told them. That smoking was good for you, that tea would make your body active and lusty, that Fry’s cocoa was good for health and beauty, that the Pope and Bovril were infallible powers.

But we grew up, became questioning if not downright cynical. We learnt to filter out the rubbish and the lies and garner the basic information.

Which is why – despite their faults – online review sites are brilliant.


IKEA always was akin to the third circle of Hell. Once in, you can’t get out, just have to follow the yellow brick road through every department, including the cafe until you finally breathe the fresh air of freedom. Or the loading bay at least.

You go into Ikea for a cheap desk and end up two hours later tottering out with storage boxes, a rug, some cushions two dozen tea lights, a free tape measure. And maybe a kitchen or two. Oh yes, and some meatballs.

The desk is probably out of stock.

Now an academic has described Ikea’s floor plan as akin to a maze and says that once in there we are so baffled by our surroundings that the Swedish firm is supremely successful at encouraging impulse buys.

Well anyone could have told him that.

Meat ball anyone? Tea light? Tape measure?

􀁧 MEANWHILE undercover research by Which? Magazine has revealed the staggering news that staff in electrical stores are often clueless about the products they’re selling. My best experience was some years ago in a branch of Currys where I was looking at two washing machines – same brand, different models, one at £300, the other at £350.

“What’s the difference between them?” I asked the middle-aged assistant. “One costs £50 more than the other,” she said, quite seriously.

You’re right – I didn’t buy either.

Amanda’s got stamina

AMANDA Holden, 39, is expecting her second baby in March. She’s currently travelling around the country working on recordings of Britain’s Got Talent and will be doing the live shows in May.

Also in May she’ll be appearing on stage in the West End every night as Princess Fiona in Shrek.

There have been rumbles recently that women have been taking too much maternity leave. So who’s taken Amanda’s share?

Getting dangerously close to the Thought Police

SO Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray has been sacked for his unpleasant sexist comments. I should be ecstatic.

But, actually, I feel distinctly uneasy.

Gray’s comments weren’t just a one-off.

As more revelations filtered out about some of his attitudes and so-called jokes, it’s clear what a throwback he is.

He no doubt thinks of himself as one of the lads. In fact he’s a sad, pathetic old dinosaur, out of kilter with the huge majority of his viewers. Most of them – like England captain Rio Ferdinand – will judge match officials and TV presenters solely on the way they do their job.

Assistant referee Sian Massey did her job brilliantly and professionally.

Andy Gray should watch and learn.

But his comments weren’t actually made on air but as a bit of banter with his fellow presenter. Nasty, unpleasant – but pretty private until someone decided to tell the world.

In recent months there have been a number of cases of people having to resign or apologise publicly for things they’ve thought they’ve said in private – such as the former FA chairman, Lord Triesman, who was secretly recorded in a restaurant talking about bribery in the World Cup bids. Or Gordon Brown and the “bigoted” woman in Rochdale. Or Tory MP Ann Winterton, after a tasteless joke at a private dinner party. Or all the diplomatic information that poured out of Wikileaks.

When nothing is private any more, when conversations are secretly recorded, when off hand remarks are broadcast to the world, when a casual opinion is suddenly headline news, then we should all feel uneasy.

Not just about the opinions expressed, but at the glee with which they are dragged into the public domain.

We’re getting dangerously close to the Thought Police, with everyone spying on his neighbour. And that’s even more terrifying than blatant sexism.

Anyway, now we’re all going to have to be extra careful about what we say, what hope for the loose tongues of Loose Women?

Sauce for the goose...


The secret of happiness

Dear Sharon,

THE secret of being happy in your 50s is to get married young. My husband and I were married when I was 21 and he was 25. I had my children when I was 23 and 24, which meant I had plenty of energy to cope with them and to cope with a full time job once they were in school.

We didn’t start of with all mod cons the way people do now and we struggled with our mortgage. But now we are some of the “lucky” ones who have paid off our mortgage and seen our daughters through college, all by the time I was 50. Now my elder daughter has children and we have plenty of time to see them and still have the energy to enjoy them.

Many of my friends of the same age are still coping with teenage tantrums from their children. One or two even still have a child at primary school. No wonder they still have money worries and feel exhausted.

Gillian Elliott (by email)