Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Review

What a memorable year it has been!

In June communities came together to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – street parties, concerts and copious amounts of bunting swept the nation.

In August, we wowed the world with the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Our athletes shone, as did the army of volunteers who cheerfully threw themselves into the proceedings.

Then in September … Shoppers’ Joy was launched! OK, it may not have been on a par with some of the other events of the year, but it has steadily grown in readership and I simply loving writing my blog posts and website features.

I have always had an eye for a bargain, an attraction to offers and a love of shopping, often regaling my long-suffering husband with tales of what I’ve found and how much I’ve saved. It was on his suggestion that I started my blog, as one of my other great loves is writing (or maybe he just hoped that his ears would get a rest). Hubby kindly set up my blog and website (he does that kind of thing for a living) and Shoppers’ Joy was born.

Since then I have posted blogs featuring best buys, product and service reviews, recommendations of places to visit, consumer issues and some fun 'Random Thoughts'.

Some of my most popular blogs have included ‘Loyalty Cards – My Ratings’ (September), ‘Static Caravans Can Move (September), ‘How To Get The Most Out Of The NHS (October), the Winter Outings Series (November/December) and my Christmas related posts (December). I have also explored saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ as well as ‘making a complaint’ and reviewed some responses to bad service complaints that I had made.

As a sufferer of Hypermobility Syndrome, I ran an introduction to the condition on my blog, but have written an article, which you can read at

So please take the time to read some of the posts that you may have missed. You can also read my ‘Cheers and Sneers’ (updated regularly), tips and features at

There are plenty more blog posts to come in 2013 – so keep reading!

Thank you and a Happy New Year!

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Friday, 28 December 2012

December Blog Review

By the time that you read this, Christmas will be over apart from the excess turkey, coconut éclairs in the Quality Street and a mountain of wrapping paper for the recycling. I hope that you all had a great Christmas and that my series of gift guides proved useful and presents were well received.

In between my gift suggestions, I also looked at a variety of winter outings this month, reviewing attractions that stay open during this season, sometimes at special reduced rates. Wildlife Parks, many English Heritage properties, castles and museums all make great family outings at this time of year. Perhaps you’ll manage to visit a few during the holiday season.

I continued to review many food products, including new Cadbury’s Crispello (disappointing in my opinion), limited edition Marmite Gold (pretty pointless, I say) and limited edition Carling Zest with spiced orange – this got the thumbs up at least. Other favourites included Asda Chosen By You 100% Pure Pressed Juices (£1.20), Tesco Apple Crumble (frozen, £1) and Asda Extra Special Mince Pies, which have a definite kick from the added port and brandy (£2 for 6).

During December I also explored saying ‘sorry’, bemoaned the current, boring TV ads, whilst looking back at old favourites, and updated my loyalty card review, with some pleasing results.

There’s plenty more to come next month, and indeed next year, so keep reading!

On 31st December you can read my 2012 review.

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Winter Outings Part 4 – The Great Outdoors

Hopefully we’ll get some bright, if crisp, days whilst the children are on school holiday, which provide the perfect opportunity to visit one of the many country or wildlife parks that will be open. Why not give the kids the chance to burn off some energy, whilst you all enjoy the great outdoors?

What’s more many zoos and wildlife parks offer special discounted winter admission rates to make your outing even more manageable.

Banham Zoo, Norfolk, winter prices adults £12.95, children £8.95. This is a great little zoo, where we were thrilled to see some of the more elusive animals close-up. It was a treat to see the snow leopards and a cheetah at close quarters, but the animal that really fascinated us was the maned wolf, or ‘fox on stilts’ as it is aptly known. Admission includes a ride on the land train, with commentary, and there is a warm, welcoming café to retreat to, should it all get a bit chilly. I really felt the animals were very well cared for here and the place had a really nice atmosphere. We also love its sister zoo, Africa Alive, Suffolk, which offers the same winter admission prices and is equally as well maintained.

Drusillas Zoo Park, East Sussex, is a fun, smaller animal zoo with a wealth of play opportunities for the kids, and they are offering great value admission rates in January. If you visit between 27th December and 2nd January prices are: individual adults and children £16.50, family of 3 £46.50, family of 4 £62.00 and family of 5 £77.50. BUT between 3rd and 31st January prices are: individual adults and children £10.00, family of 3 £27.00, family of 4 £36.00 and family of 5 £45.00!

Colchester Zoo, Essex, an old favourite with so much to see – highlights include the underwater tunnel beneath the Sea Lions at Playa Patagonia and The Edge of Africa, where a variety of animals roam together. The zoo has plenty of indoor animal enclosures and displays, and pathways as opposed to muddy trails, making this a great all-weather zoo. Winter admission prices: adults £12.99, children £8.50.

Linton Zoo, Cambridge, although by no means large, does house some of the larger animals such as big cats and kangaroos. It has a certain old charm, and is open Saturdays and Sundays during winter, Adults £9, children £6.50.

Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, Whipsnade Zoo, Bedfordshire and Chester Zoo, Chester also all offer discounted winter season prices, see their websites for details.

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Monday, 24 December 2012

Thoughts On Christmas and Shopping

Much as I love shopping, even I don’t have to browse the shops seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Over the Christmas period I look forward to spending time with my family, catching up with friends, going for a walk (weather permitting) and generally taking time out of the general routine.

It infuriates me that shops feel the need to open bright and early Boxing Day morning, having only closed for Christmas Day itself. There are some exceptions, such as John Lewis, who understand their staff value time spent with their families. But why do most others insist on opening their doors regardless of the holiday season? Well, money, obviously, but as they say that doesn’t buy you happiness.

Years ago shops closed for a minimum of two days over the festive period and shut all Bank Holidays and Sundays too. None of us starved, had ‘withdrawal-from-shopping’ symptoms, or felt hard done by. Now with the advent of online shopping, there is even less of a reason for longer shop opening hours, although I do appreciate the extra employment created.

Sadly we have become engulfed in the 24/7 culture – hate the phrase, hate the concept. Whatever happened to ‘a time for every purpose’?

So this festive season, try to take some out from your everyday routine to stop and smell the turkey/heady aroma of chocolate/after-dinner liqueur, and relax! Enjoy the company of family and friends – or failing that explore the big outdoors (great tension reliever).

I love to shop – but I know when to stop!

Merry Christmas!

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Friday, 21 December 2012

Loyalty Cards – End Of Year Update

Back in September I gave you the lowdown on loyalty cards along with my ratings, and I am now pleased to report that some stores have upped their game slightly.

Tesco Clubcard actually came top in my original ratings and have continued to deliver a wealth of vouchers, including several for free items – shandy, tissues, chocolate cake, Quality Street and a magazine of my choice. I’ve also continued to receive vouchers giving money off products that I actually buy on a regular basis. Add to the mix the continuing excellent exchange rate of points (four times their value if redeemed for days out) then Tesco Clubcard remains, for me, the clear winner.

Sainsburys have faired a little better than before with their Nectar Points, by issuing some much more useful vouchers of late. Previously I had found many of the vouchers totally useless in my case, but have recently been given some lovely extra points and money-off vouchers. I can only hope this was not just a Christmas promotion and will continue well into the New Year.

Iceland Bonus Card had given me very little in a long time, but there again the frequency and usefulness of their vouchers has increased, at last making me feel it is worth having their card.

Both Superdrug Beauty Card and Boots Advantage Card have been giving lots of extra points opportunities this side of Christmas, but as with all the cards, I do wonder whether the increased benefits will disappear along with the Christmas decorations.

Finally, I have been issued with a new Matalan Black Rewards Card (replacing my Matalan ‘where’s the snappy name?’ Card that I’d had all of two minutes). As a member I was invited to a special ‘members’ evening” (couldn’t attend) and given an extra pre-Christmas discount. Time will tell how many new ongoing benefits I’ll receive.

Whichever cards you use, however, the point is something is always better than nothing. To quote the store with my top-rated card, “Every little helps”.

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Thursday, 20 December 2012

About Face

When it comes to choosing face make-up, there are plenty of products that give a natural glow or tint, without looking too overdone.

I like to use cosmetics that give a natural finish and even out skin tone, without looking too ‘mask-like’. For a sheer appearance, I use No7 Triple Protection Tinted Moisturiser SPF15 with environmental protection (£11.50 at Boots), or for a fuller coverage I opt for Max Factor 2-in-1 Ageless Elixir Foundation & Serum (£12.99). To conceal under eye dark circles, I love Max Factor Mastertouch Under Eye Concealer (£7.99) as it glides on and gives a good, natural coverage.

To add a rosy glow to cheeks, I recommend No7 Blush Tint Cream Blush in Rose Silk (£8), a creamy blusher that enables you to gently build up colour, or if you prefer a powder blush try L’Oreal True Match blusher (£7.69), which has a handy little brush and mirror under the blusher itself – very neat.

To set make-up, a fine dusting of powder is the ideal finishing touch: try No7 Perfect Light Loose Powder (£10.50, available in four shades), used sparingly.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas Catering Cheats

Christmas is a great time for getting everyone together for a lovely meal or a spot of party food, but it’s more enjoyable if you don’t have to spend all your time in the kitchen sorting everything out, so that you can participate in all the fun.

There are several great products that I always buy to help cut-down on festive food preparation.

I always cook our turkey crown on Christmas Eve to avoid making an early start on Christmas Day. Cooking, cooling and carving the turkey (or other joints) on Christmas Eve, and wrapping the meat in foil parcels and storing in the fridge is a great time-saver.

On the big day itself, I minimise vegetable preparation by buying Tesco Finest Orange Blossom Honey Glazed Parsnips (£1.95 for 680g) to roast in the oven, as they are delicious as well as labour-saving, and Iceland Button Sprouts with Chestnuts (£1.50) to pop in a pan. I do like to make my own roast potatoes, although if you really want to make it easy buy Tesco (frozen) Roasting Potatoes (£1 for 1kg bag). I make stuffing balls using Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Cranberry, Orange and Roasted Chestnut Stuffing Mix (currently £1.04), bread sauce using a Colman’s packet mix and I buy Tesco Sausage and Bacon Wraps (£2) to serve on the side.

I used to make my own mince pies, but very few of us eat them in our house, so I now opt for shop-bought ones. The nicest mince pies that I have found are Asda Extra Special Mince Pies (£2 for a box of 6), containing port and brandy in the succulent fruit filling, which are absolutely delicious. We are a Christmas Pudding-free house, as none of us like it, so we choose yummy, creamy desserts such as gateaux and pavlovas instead – Tesco and Sainsburys both do a good range.

A great range of party foods are available in the freezer cabinets of most supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsburys and Iceland. Choose from traditional sausage rolls and mini quiches, spicy mexican and tasty chinese bites and a host of savoury platters and desserts. Why makes things difficult for yourself?

Have a very yummy Christmas!

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Winter Warmers

Tesco pyjamas, £9

Snugly pyjamas are a must this time of year and I love the great range available at Tesco starting at £9 a pair. I couldn’t resist the ‘All Wrapped Up’ design on a black long-sleeved top with purple tartan trousers.

Whilst snuggled up in said pyjamas, a cup of creamy, frothy hot chocolate is a must – I recommend Galaxy Frothy Top Hot Chocolate that you can make with either water or milk. Lovely!

Tu at Sainsburys
If you’re brave enough to (or have to for work) wear a skirt this weather, a pair of thick, warm tights is in order. Florence & Fred at Tesco offer a pack of three 60 denier opaque tights with ‘temperature control finish’ for £4. They are really soft to the touch and I often wear them as an extra cosy layer under trousers.

For a great choice of warm knitwear check out the Tu range at Sainsburys and the Falmer Heritage range at Matalan.

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas Gifts Episode VI – The Game Is On

Here we are, Christmas looms near and the final stages of Christmas shopping must be faced. It’s at this time that I often consider buying a ‘family present’ – a game or activity that we can enjoy together on Christmas Day and beyond.

This was a tradition when I was a child too. One of my favourite family presents was a large Spirograph set. The hours of fun we had trying out new patterns, although it often ended in tears when I lost control of the ‘wheel’ at the last vital moment of making an intricate design. (Apologies to those not familiar with Spirograph, ask a 70s throwback for more info).

Today you can still pick up a great variety of games and activities that can be shared by the whole family, ranging from old favourites (think Monopoly and Scrabble) to those that incorporate modern technology.

The ‘Scene-It’ games have been popular in recent years, which combine moving round a board whilst answering questions and watching film clips on a DVD. The Works are currently selling a selection of these games including Harry Potter, Disney Magical Moments, Glee and Star Trek for just £7.99 and £9.99, depending on theme.

It’s great to see that many games from my childhood have stood the test of time such as Mousetrap, Operation and Cluedo. For an older family group that enjoys murder mysteries, Sainsbury’s are selling Inspector McClue games, including titles such as ‘Death by Chocolate’ and ‘The Champagne Murders’ for £9.99. For all the family, an updated version of Guess Who (eliminating characters in order to guess who your opponent has) with lights and sounds is available from Argos for £19.97.

Games based on TV quiz/game shows can be great entertainment for family gatherings, with those currently available including Pointless, The Cube, Deal Or No Deal and The Chase. Last Christmas we had a great laugh playing Family Fortunes (traditional board and electronic versions available), with my son gleefully pressing the buzzer every time we got a wrong answer.

Not a fan of board games? Then why not opt for the Chad Valley Striker Pro Darts Board (£12.99 Argos), which comes with safety-guard darts so that the whole family can play, or Chad Valley Air Hockey (£14.99) for some ‘arcade-style’ fun.

Whatever you choose, have great fun!

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Friday, 14 December 2012

December’s Random Thoughts

It’s now that I really miss Woolworths. It was a kind of one-stop shop for Christmas shopping – cards, wrapping paper, decorations, toys, chocolates, kids clothes etc. I know that you can get them all under one roof at supermarkets, but the choice of toys is inferior, and I just miss the old favourite.

Don't think results of cake maker would have been this lavish
Am I the only one who buys a bag of Salt ‘n’ Shake crisps and doesn’t add the salt? In fact, am I the only one who hates the ‘n’ stuck in the middle of things?

This time of year I find myself remembering the Christmas of my childhood when I dearly wanted an ‘In-A-Minute Cake Maker’. I marvelled at the TV ads that showed preparing the ingredients, then popping them into the ‘magic oven’, resulting in a tasty looking chocolate cake. Sadly, I never did get one – one of life’s disappointments.

Why do shops put up silly little signs saying things such as “I’m only £3” or “Try me”. Products are objects, not living things, and I’m not three (you have to multiply that figure a considerable amount of times to get my age), so credit us shoppers with some sense.

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Just Desserts

When I was young ‘puddings’ were a big part of the main meal, whether at home or with school dinners. At school I hated the lumpy banana custard and unpalatable ‘frog spawn’ tapioca, but loved the semolina with strawberry jam (buy Whitworths semolina 98p for 500g) and the gypsy tart served with half an apple. I still love the occasional gypsy tart today and sometimes buy Mr Crustie Kentish Gypsy Tarts, £1.40 for two (individual) available at Morrisons and Asda.

At home we were often served home-made apple pies, crumbles, fruit sponges or rice pudding, or perhaps shop-bought sponge puddings boiled in the tin (you can still buy Heinz tinned sponge puddings in varieties including jam and sticky toffee, £1.29) or packet desserts such as Angel Delight (still available in five flavours for 49p a sachet, or buy Tesco’s own at 35p).

These days we often finish our meals with just a piece of fruit, a little ice cream, a yogurt or an individual pot dessert. I really enjoy Aero chocolate mousse, which tastes indulgent, but is only 97 calories per pot.

However, now and again we treat ourselves to a richer dessert or more satisfying pudding. When it’s a warming pudding that we fancy, we opt for Tesco (frozen) Apple Crumble, at just £1 it’s really delicious whilst being great value. Or for a cold dessert we choose Tesco Everyday Value Strawberry Trifle, 450g for £1, which tastes just as good as more expensive brands.

What are your favourite desserts?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Where Have All The Good Ads Gone?

When I was growing up, I looked forward to seeing some of the fun TV adverts almost as much as watching the programmes. The 70s yielded a host of great classics – remember the little metal aliens laughing, “then they smash them all to bits (Cadbury Smash) or the Cresta bear declaring, “It’s frothy man”. Even the middle-aged man in his pyjamas crooning, “R Whites lemonade” became something to look forward to.

As the years progressed, we waited with baited breath to see the next instalment of the Gold Blend Saga, or looked forward to the latest escapade of dodgy spy (Rowan Atkinson, prototype Johnny English) equipped with Barclaycard. Celebrity appearances in adverts were not as common as today, but when they did appear it tended to be in more of an acting capacity. Remember Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter in the Cinzano ads?

However, I feel that TV ads have become more dreary over the years, with ‘celebrity’ faces and voices the norm, extolling the virtues of products that they probably would never dream of using themselves. Some of the worst of these adverts have been aimed at vulnerable people, struggling financially for example, who may believe the product/service they are seeing must be fine as it is apparently endorsed by a famous face. Do top earning celebs really take out ‘payday loans’ or exchange their ‘gold for cash’?

Apart from anything else, a famous person reading from a script is painfully dull and TV adverts no longer capture my imagination. I miss the old catchy jingles and slogans that inspired us to join in. Remember ‘Lipsmackin'thirstquenchin'acetastin' etc Pepsi or “Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry mints’?

What I’m currently finding particularly irritating is the trend to repeat the same ad two or three times during the course of one commercial break. Does this make me more interested in a product? No. Does it make me want to buy the product? No. In fact, it makes me fed-up of it and I switch off mentally – classic put-the-kettle-on-time.

So come on all you producers of television commercials. If you seriously want to sell a product, put the money into making ads that are fun and interesting, rather than paying a ‘celeb’ to read from a script. Current TV ads on the whole just aren’t working for me. In fact, you may notice I have not mentioned any specific recent ads. Why? I can’t remember them!

What do you think?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

This December I’m Loving …

Asda Chosen By You 100% Pure Pressed Fruit Juices, they have the appearance and taste of much dearer brands, but are just £1.20 each. I particularly love the pineapple and mango & apple varieties.

The fun selection of ecards at featuring a great range of cards for all occasions. At just £7.50 for 12 months membership, you can send as many cards from the collection as you want for a year, putting a smile on the recipients face whilst dispensing with rising postage costs.

My lovely new, snugly, dark pink (also available in black) padded coat, with fake fur trimmed hood, catalogue number 28 2CK12 from K&Co. It’s certainly keeping me warm now the weather’s getting chillier.

But I'm not loving the cold, frost and snow
The great ideas in the current (dated January 2013) issue of Prima Magazine. I particularly love the pompom draught excluder, which is easy to make and uses up all those odd bits of wool that you tend to stuff at the back of the cupboard, sorry, keep carefully for future use.

Tesco Goodness (for kids) Cereal Bars with strawberry pieces, 64p for six, at just 80 calories per bar with no artificial preservatives, colours or hydrogenated fat, they make tasty lunch box fillers for kids of all ages.

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Winter Outings Part 3 – Journey Back In Time

Continuing my look at visitor attractions that remain open for the winter season, today I’m looking at taking a trip back in time.

Yesterday’s World, Battle, East Sussex, is a great place to visit even on the chilliest of days, adults £7.25, children £5.25. Browse the recreations of time gone by including the wartime kitchen, Victorian playroom, shops of the past and the Royalty room. To allow the kids to let off a bit of steam, pop into the garden where they can explore the charming play village – a group of miniature buildings for them to play inside

Its sister attraction, Yesterdays’ World, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is sadly not open for the winter (except for the tea room), but it is well worth pencilling this in your 2013 diary for when it reopens in spring.

However an attraction that you can visit at this time of year in Great Yarmouth is the Time & Tide Museum, excellent value at £4.90 for adults (£4.10 if part of family group) and £3.60 for young persons (4-16). There are some fantastic exhibits including a recreation of the Yarmouth Row Houses, and seaside memorabilia, but kids will love the many games and activities that they encounter en route. Situated in the atmospheric setting of an original herring curing works, there is a great emphasis on the local herring fishing trade, portrayed through clever displays and activities. We loved our visit here.

I really love places that offer a ‘young person’s’ ticket, which goes up to the age of 16, as opposed to places that only offer ‘child’ tickets, with child often only meaning up to age 12, it's something more attractions should consider.

Let me know your favourite winter outings,

Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas Gifts Episode V – Stocking Filler Heroes

Gone are the days when an apple, an orange and a sugar mouse constituted the contents of a Christmas stocking.

Whether you’re literally filling stockings or goody bags, or just looking for small gifts to tuck in with a larger present, these great little ideas are all £3 or less – they could be just what you’re looking for.

Sweet Treats
You can buy all kinds of novelty chocolate items this time of year, but I particularly love Sainsbury’s Chocolate Tool Set and Chocolate Make-Up Set at just £3 each. Other great buys are the Decorate Yourself White Chocolate Snowman, £3 at Morrisons, and small Mini Smarties Penguin (69p at Morrisons). For a slightly different sweet treat, check out Marks and Spencers Jazzie Trousers Mini Gingerbread Men, £2 for a pack of 10.

Grooming Gifts
A traditional but handy gift is a manicure set and you can’t go far wrong with the Woodland Escape manicure set just £1 from Wilkinsons. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive hand treatment, then the Skin Therapy Nail Gift Tin complete with hand cream is ideal, previously £4, now £3 at Wilkinsons. For a hand treatment that sounds good enough to eat, Sweet Snuggles Chocolate and Vanilla Hand Cream (boxed), 99p from Superdrug, is a great stocking filler.

There are some fantastic budget make-up and perfume sets around too. I recommend Woodland Escape Lip & Eye Set (£3, Wilkinson) and So Perfume/Body Spray Duos (also £3, Wilkinson). The W7 Brow Bar Stencil Set will also make a handy stocking filler at just £2.99 at Savers.

For the Guys, how about the Gillette Arctic Ice 3 Piece Gift Set, £2.99 at Savers.

Toys For The Boys
If the man in your life likes gadgets why not get him the 9in1 Multitool (£3, Wilkinson) or the LED torch (£2, Wilkinson). Or why not treat him to a special Christmas beer, Morrisons has a selection of 500ml bottles for £1.50 each, including Rudolph the Red Nosed White Horse Beer.

Kids Treats
There are so many well-priced stocking fillers available for children including Pirate Stationery Set £1.30 at Wilkinsons, Cra-Z-Art Glitter Poster Set £1.50 at Tesco and Tesco Go Create craft boxes including Keyring & Badge and Doorhanger & Bookmark kits, £2.95 each. Or if you’re after a cheaper version of Lego, Wilko Blox, £2 each or two for £3 at Wilkinson, make up great little vehicles (larger, higher priced sets also available).

Odd Fillers
For something a bit different try Christmas Scentos, colourful character scented marker pens (peppermint, chocolate and pine) £1.47 at Tesco. Or a good all-rounder is a pair of magic gloves, which expand to the required size, only 59p at Savers.

It’s getting nearer …

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Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Eyes Have It

I’m one of the ‘less is more’ camp when it comes to eye make-up, and like products that enhance my eyes rather than make me look like a startled panda. Easy-to-use cosmetics giving natural results are what I choose.

Before applying eye shadow, I always use No7 Stay Perfect Smoothing and Brightening Eye Base (£7 at Boots) as it gives a lovely even-toned surface to apply the colour. Then I use Avon True Colour Eye Shadow, currently the 6-in-1 palette in Neutral Eyes (though this option does not appear to be on their website at present) or Chic Glamour, £11 each. This is a great little kit as it comes with two decent sized applicators and a mirror in the lid, and the toning shades just glide on. Also available in the range are handy True Colour duos and quads, for a splash of colour I like the Retro Glamour Duo (£6).

For eyelashes I use a brown/black shade of mascara, either Avon SuperExtend Extreme Mascara (£10 but on offer for £3.99 in Brochure 01 2013) or Max Factor Masterpiece Mascara (£9.99 at Boots) to define the lashes without clogging. To correct any mistakes along the way, I love Marks and Spencer Mascara Correction Buds (£3), little cotton buds filled with eye make-up remover, which target the mishaps without ruining the rest of the look.

To groom eyebrows the handiest little kit I’ve found is the MUA Pro Brow Ultimate Eyebrow kit, which holds everything you need in one handy little compact, including tweezers and taming gel, £3.50 at Superdrug.

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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Saying Sorry

We all make mistakes and are hopefully big enough to admit to them, apologise and correct them if we can. I sometimes think that we do this better as individuals than as companies. Too many businesses and organisations fob off customers with poor excuses or denials in response to stories of bad service or faulty goods, but fortunately some are still prepared to come clean.

I remember having trouble with British Gas in the past and ringing them to query errors with my bill. How refreshing it was when the voice the other end said, “Oops, we really messed up this time didn’t we? Yes, it’s our fault, we apologise!” This admission of guilt was followed up by promptly rectifying the problem, which made me respect the company much more than if they’d tried to pretend they were not at fault. Companies everywhere could learn from that – deny your mistakes and customers will go elsewhere, face up to them and put them right and you earn a customer’s loyalty and respect.

We should all put up our hands and admit mistakes
More recently, a local coffee shop was in the doghouse for poor treatment of a breast-feeding mum, reportedly requesting that she used the toilets as a place to feed her baby. Following public outrage, the Rochester Coffee Company in Kent issued an apology and took it one step further by pledging to donate 50p from every coffee sold during the course of a week to a breast cancer charity. A marketing ploy? Possibly an element of that, but I hope it was offered and will be carried out with suitable remorse and understanding. Hopefully, the coffee shop will have learnt from this episode and be more amenable to breast-feeding mums in the future.

So we should all remember, the issue is not whether we make the mistakes in the first place; it’s the way in which we apologise and correct our errors that really counts. As for businesses, don’t try and deny that things go wrong or shift the blame, honesty and courtesy is what keeps customers loyal.

Do businesses do enough to apologise? Contact

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Women and Chocolate Update

Back in October I blogged that Cadbury were introducing a new supposedly lower calorie chocolate bar aimed predominantly at women, called Crispello. I have now been to the shop, paid my 50p and tried one – in the name of research of course!

The chocolate consists of three individual pieces (55 calories each) in what is supposed to be resealable packaging, though not sure mine opened the way it was supposed to, as it only partly resealed, the other part of it flapped open. As if I eat just one piece of chocolate at a time anyway!

The chocolate is of average taste really, nothing special to rave about, not particularly original, and certainly not really lower calorie. Described as ‘Thin crispy shells with a creamy chocolate filling’ I would say Crispello reminds me of Ferrero Rocher without the nuts, so not as interesting really.

For the calorie count I would rather have a Jaffa Cake, which at 45 calories is less than one piece of Crispello, a fun size bag of Maltesers, at 99 calories less than two pieces or a Galaxy Ripple at 174 calories not much more than eating all three pieces! Even comparing Crispello to another Cadbury product doesn't help - a flake from a multipack is just 135 calories.

Verdict: Not for me, sorry Cadbury.

Let me know what you think, email

Monday, 3 December 2012

This December Why Not…?

Remember Charities
When doing your Christmas shopping, endeavour to include a charitable donation or two during your gift buying. Consider using charity gift catalogues or websites to buy novelty gifts, which help to support worthwhile causes, or buy Christmas cards that include a small donation in their cost.

Look out for collections of toys or food items that are then distributed to deserving individuals or organisations. For information on food collection schemes visit or and look out for local festive collections.

Go Ice Skating
During November many outdoor ice rinks have been put in place and are now open until early January. Old London favourites include The Natural History Museum (adults from £11.50, children from £8) and Somerset House (tickets from £7.50 until 7th December, then from £12.50 starting 8th December) are now booking, but do look out for other local, less expensive venues. Regional favourites include The Ice Factor at York Designer Outlet (£9.75 adults, £8.75 children, family £33), Winchester Cathedral (adults from £7.60, children from £4/£6 depending on age, with slight reductions on internet booking) and Calverley Grounds Tunbridge Wells (adults from £9.50, children from £7.50).

Take Up A Craft
Long, dark evenings make you want to curl up and stay indoors, but why not make use of the time by taking up a new craft or hobby? If you’ve never got on with knitting, try a spot of crochet instead: so many items can be made by joining together simple ‘granny’ squares. For those of you who have never really got on with general sewing (me included) try a bit of cross-stitch or tapestry, I find these much more enjoyable with some great end results. For supplies check out local craft/wool shops (I find Hobbycraft too expensive) or look online. Or to get you started look out for magazines that include mini kits or materials, such as Cross Stitcher, £3.99, or Let's Get Crafting Knit and Crochet Magazine, £7.99.

Buy A Turkey Crown
I stopped buying a whole turkey long ago, as it seemed to result in a fair bit of waste. Instead I can strongly recommend Morrisons Turkey Crowns, which I have bought for years and have always found good quality and value. Buy fresh now and pop in the freezer, a cheaper and easier option than ordering one from M&S or Sainsburys to pick up amidst the panic of the final few shopping days before Christmas.

When it comes to cooking the crown, wrap it in foil surrounded by quartered apples and onions and cook slowly. This helps to keep the meat moist, adds flavour and the resulting juices make a great flavoursome stock to use in turkey gravy.

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Friday, 30 November 2012

November Blog Review

With the leaves now thick on the ground and the weather turning colder and wetter, my mind this month turned to indoor activities. In the first of my ‘Winter Outing’ series I reviewed some of the attractions keeping their doors open for the winter season. Suggestions included the Horniman Museum, the Jorvik Centre, Leeds Castle and a selection of English Heritage properties. Remember to look out for the great value membership deals for English Heritage, allowing unlimited visits to their properties for a whole year. Look out too for more featured winter attractions in my December blogs.

Christmas shopping has now started in earnest and this month I explored the voucher options and ‘No Wrap Gifts’. Animal adoption schemes and magazine subscriptions may not be the first things that you think of when choosing gifts, but they certainly make a welcome change.

Of course, I have continued to review a number of products including skincare items and limited edition products such as Marmite Gold (doesn’t work for me) and Carling Zest with Spiced Orange (love it).

November also saw me take a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about Chef Square Shaped Soups, Milk Tray bars, Chillo ice cream mix and the old style British Home Stores. I’d love to hear about your shopping related nostalgia, so let me know at

My big project of the month has been to attempt to spread awareness of Hypermobility Syndrome, a condition that I suffer from, that can be very painful and debilitating. It’s a much misdiagnosed, mismanaged and misunderstood condition; so do read more at

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Mince – Making a Meal Of It

Minced beef is a really versatile ingredient when making family meals. There are budget varieties available such as Sainsbury’s Basics mince 400g for £1.32, but I prefer to buy a leaner steak mince such as Country Menus Steak Mince £2.69 for 500g at Tesco. Here are some of my favourite minced beef recipe ideas.

Chilli Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add a medium, chopped onion and soften, then add mince and brown. Add a teaspoon or two of chilli powder (depending on personal taste), can of chopped tomatoes, small can of kidney beans (drained) and a splash each of tomato puree (I use Tratorria Verdi 35p for 200ml at Tesco) and Worcester sauce. Crumble in an Oxo cube and stir in a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of vinegar, a little water (depending on how much liquid you like) and a generous splash of red wine. Place in a casserole dish and cook for an hour at 175C (gas 4).

Spaghetti Bolognese I used to make my own from scratch, but now cheat and use a jar of sauce when I want a quick family meal. I love Tesco Bolognese Sauce 750g for £1.49 (smaller jars also available).

Cottage Pie Heat oil and soften a medium, chopped onion. Add mince and brown. Stir in a dessertspoon of plain flour and cook one minute, and then stir in ½ pint of stock. Add some finely diced carrot, a few peas, a splash of tomato puree and Worcester Sauce and a glug of red wine. Simmer whilst you make some mashed potato. Place meat mixture in ovenproof dish and top with potato and grated cheese. Bake at 190C (Gas 5) for 25-30 minutes.

Enchiladas I like to use an Old El Paso Enchilada kit, but substitute the recommended chicken for minced beef as it goes great with the cheesy topping.

Or why not use minced steak to make your own burgers or meatballs?

What is your favourite mince recipe? Email

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Winter Outings Part 2 – Our Heritage

A large number (though not all) of the many English Heritage Properties around the country do stay open for the winter season, although some venues do restrict their opening days and times during this period. Check out their website for details.

Remember English Heritage members get unlimited visits to all their properties throughout the year, so do take advantage of the different membership options available. Here is a selection of their properties to visit this winter.

Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent is open Saturdays and Sundays between 5th November and 17th February, admission Adults £6, children £3.60. The excavated remains of this fascinating Roman Villa are housed within a modern, ‘protective’ building where you can view the great floor mosaic, an interesting selection of relics and watch an informative film. Children will love to play the Roman games and to dress up in costume.

Audley End, Essex, although the actual house is closed here for the winter, you can still view the extensive grounds and explore the service wing, including kitchens, dairy, dry larder and laundry, and the stables, which house a variety of interactive displays. This is one of my favourite places to visit with or without the house. Visiting between 3rd November and 17th February costs £9 for adult non-members and £5.40 for children.

Eltham Palace and Gardens, Greenwich, is open from 10a.m. to 4p.m. during the winter season, £9.60 adults, £5.80 children. The striking house containing a wealth of Art Deco features and furnishings (you may recognise some of the rooms from episodes of Poirot) contrasts with the impressive Great Hall in the adjoining Medieval Palace. The gardens are a great place to wander too.

Amongst the castles under of the care of English Heritage that stay open for the winter are Dover Castle, Kent, Framlingham Castle, Suffolk, Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight, Tintagel Castle, Cornwall and Carlisle Castle, Cumbria. Some of these only open at weekends at this time of year, so do check their website details.

Where do you like to visit during the winter months? Let me know,

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Whatever Happened To …

When I was a child I could tell the day of the week by the meals my mum served. Sundays always meant a roast, whilst Mondays we ate the remaining meat from the joint, either served cold with mash, peas and pickles, or if it was lamb, chopped finely and turned into a shepherd’s pie. And so the week went on …

But during the 70s all manner of convenience foods were introduced to the shops – what you couldn’t buy in a packet wasn’t worth having. Some were great and stood the test of time, others, well, you can see why they’re no longer around.

Here is a selection of the good and not so good.

Chef square shaped soups show how a good soup should be. Loved the tongue twister, can’t remember much about the taste, but do know that my mum sometimes added one of these to a casserole.

Winnie the Pooh Hunny Pudding, a variation of Angel Delight/Instant Whip with added honey flavour. I actually loved this one.

Chillo, an ice cream mix to whip up at home, don’t remember it tasting much like any ice cream I knew, however.

Sweet Tops, a crème caramel style dessert mix, but in place of caramel, the toppings were fruit-flavoured – I adored the pineapple.

Rise and Shine, a packet mix to which you added water to form ‘fruit juice’. It had an ok taste, but I much prefer the cartons of juice that I buy today.

Vesta Chicken Supreme, a boil in the bag meal with rice, which in our house was an occasional Saturday treat. Other varieties were available (in fact I have spotted some in recent times) but this was our firm favourite.

Not a packet mix but – Cadbury’s Milk Tray Bar, literally (like a box of) Milk Tray in a bar. I loved the lime cordial barrel. A plain chocolate bar was also available called Plain Choice.

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Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas Gifts Episode IV – The ‘No Wrap’ Revolution

It can be tricky trying to decide what to buy friends and family for Christmas each year, so why not try some of these more unusual ideas. The added bonus is they don’t really need wrapping – great if you’re as hopeless at it as I am.

Magazine Subscriptions
It can be great to curl up with a good magazine and there are so many available, ranging from general women’s/men’s interest, to specific hobbies and children’s favourite comics. There are currently plenty of good subscription offers around, providing the recipient with something to look forward to all year round, when their favourite mag arrives on their doormat with a satisfying thump. IPC Media have some great value 12-month subscription deals currently available including: Marie Claire £18.99, Woman & Home £24.99, Living Etc £26.99, In Style £18.99 and Rugby World £35.99 – all available with a gift card as part of the deal.

An Evening Out
Gift cards for places such as Cineworld, Nandos, Zizzi, Ticketmaster etc make great presents. Instead of buying your loved ones material goods that they can never find a place for, it can make a real treat to provide them with an evening out instead.

Adopt An Animal
For animal lovers it’s possible to adopt an animal in their name at one of the many wildlife parks and zoos that offer this service. Check out some of the animal attractions local to the person receiving the gift, so that they can use the tickets included in the package to pay a visit. For example, Colchester Zoo, Essex, offers a gift adoption package for £45 including adoption of animal of your choice, a personalised laminated certificate, information sheet, 3 issues of Zoo Matters newsletter, mounted photo and two day tickets (usual adult entry price ranges from £12.99 in winter to £17.99 at peak season). Drusillas Zoo, East Sussex, offers packages for £40 (including one entry ticket), £50 (2 tickets) and £60 (3 tickets).

The story continues…

Let me know your ideas

Friday, 23 November 2012

Love It Or Hate It?

What has happened to Marmite? I’m actually one of the ‘love it’ camp when it comes to Marmite, but am a bit bemused by their latest offering – Marmite Gold (Limited Edition), 250g jar now at ‘Special Purchase’ price of £3 at Tesco (rrp £5.99). Apparently the old favourite has been blended with gold-coloured flecks to give it a festive touch, and put in a ‘gold’ jar. It’s Marmite for goodness sake, we love it (or hate it) for its taste not its gimmicks!

On the other hand I love the latest limited edition offering from Carling Zest. Following the refreshing lime summer version, a new seasonal variety is now in the shops – Carling Zest with a hint of spiced orange. A subtly flavoured, gorgeously refreshing drink, it is currently on sale at Tesco for £2.50 for a pack of 4 (330ml bottles). Grab it while you can!

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Hypermobility Syndrome – My Experience

Hypermobility Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder, which causes joints to be overly flexible and can result in a variety of joint problems (e.g. dislocation, severe pain, recurrent injuries) and other related disorders such as hernias.

I was diagnosed with the condition six years ago, but of course it has affected me all my life. Unfortunately as I have got older I have experienced more pain and injuries, suffer from a hiatus hernia and am aware of other related problems such as poor balance.

Supple is not always good
Although awareness of Hypermobility Syndrome is growing, there are still many people who have not heard of the condition. What is more worrying, however, is that many members of the medical profession still fail to diagnose the problem (some believing that sufferers are making a fuss over nothing) or diagnose it but do not follow it up with the correct advice or care.

I am fortunate that I attend a Hypermobility class at my local physiotherapy department, as many other sufferers do not have this opportunity. In an attempt to further raise awareness of the syndrome, I have written an article of my own experience.

To view the article visit

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Winter Skincare

Our skin can really suffer during the winter months, with our faces being bombarded by the wind and freezing temperatures, in addition to the usual pollutants and maybe the odd bit of sun. A good skincare regime using nourishing products is therefore essential.

I always ensure that I clean off all make-up every night as failure to do this can result in blocked pores and encourage blemishes. I love L’Oreal Dermo Expertise Visible Radiance Renewing Cleansing Milk and Renewing Gel Toner (each 200ml, £2.79 at Wilkinson). These contain vitamin C and leave my skin feeling soft and fresh. I also use L’Oreal Dermo Expertise Gentle Eye Make-up Remover (125ml, £1.99), which removes all traces of eye make-up including mascara without making my eyes sting.

You too could be smelling of roses
Another great cleansing range is Boots Botanics. I particularly love the 100% Organic Rosewater Toning Spritz (£4.99 for 150ml), containing Damask Rose. It has a gorgeous, delicate scent and leaves skin feeling soft and revived.

After my cleansing regime I apply a night cream, a practice I started in my 20s, as it’s a really good time to nourish the skin. My current favourite is NIvea Daily Essentials Regenerating Night Cream (50ml). At £3.99 (Superdrug) this is very reasonably priced yet performs as well as dearer brands, gliding on easily, leaving skin moisturised but not greasy.

In the mornings I prefer a facial wash, using either Boots No7 Beautiful Skin Foaming Cleanser, £9.00, or Olay Essentials Daily Facial Cloths, box of 30 £3.99 at Boots. The cloths are really convenient, just moisten, gently lather over your face and rinse to leave your skin feel refreshed for the day ahead.

At this time of year you may like to adjust your daytime moisturiser to cope with the elements. I recommend Neutrogena Multi Defence Daily Moisturiser, £7.99 for 50ml from Boots, SPF15, which contains UVA and UVB filters and ‘promises’ to protect against heat, cold, pollution and wind. I thought it may be a heavy, greasy formula to deliver this protection, but it actually feels light and nourishing and is easily absorbed into the skin.

What skincare items do you swear by this time of year?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Top of the Shops

I love a good bargain, so shops that can offer me value-for-money are always firm favourites. Here are a few stores that I highly recommend.

H&M Always has a great choice of clothing at very affordable prices and unlike some of the other low budget stores, their garments actually withstand the test of time, rather than fall apart after a few wears. I bought a lovely lightweight, frilly cardigan for £8 a couple of years ago and it still looks like new!

Bag a bargain
Sports Direct Has great top name sportswear bargains to kit out the whole family. I recently bought my son a pair of Lonsdale trainers and two pairs of Slazenger track pants for £20 the lot!

Savers Lots of my favourite skincare and toiletry items at unbeatable prices. For example Simple Kind To Eyes Revitalising Roll On is just £1.99 as opposed to £4.99 in Boots.

Matalan Not only stocks reasonably priced clothes, but is great for household items too. Check out the brand name bedding items for up to half recommended price – I bought a Slumbalux double mattress protector for £9.99 as opposed to £20.

The Works Great for stocking up on books – 3 paperbacks for £5. Currently selling calendar and diary packs, 3 for £6, ideal as stocking fillers.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

Winter Outings Part 1 – A Few For Starters

The weather may be chilling down, becoming wetter and windier, and generally making us feel a bit miserable, but there are still times that we’d like to get out and about.

Many attractions are now closed for the winter, some understandably so such as Theme Parks and Seaside Funfairs, but other closures puzzle me. Certain indoor attractions and stately homes close their doors during the winter months – perhaps they just don’t want us trudging through leaving muddy footprints. Fortunately, however, some visitor attractions offer a warm welcome all year round.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be recommending a selection of places to visit during the coming months. Here are a few to get you started.

Leeds Castle, Kent – Adults £19.75, Children £12.50, with 10% discount given to English Heritage Members. This may sound a bit pricey, but tickets are valid for a full year (though not for some selected events) so you can make multiple visits. The castle is in a beautiful setting with extensive grounds to wander round, or if you prefer you can take the land train (50p per person each way) from the gate to the castle. The castle itself is beautifully furnished and other highlights include the really tricky maze, which you can exit by a charming (though scary for some little ones) grotto, and a great play area for the kids. November 24th/25th there is a Christmas Gift Fair in the grounds and 8th to 24th December the castle’s rooms will be decorated for the festive season.

The Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, South London – is open daily 10.30-5.30 and is FREE! This is a little gem; we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The museum houses a great aquarium and a wide variety of exhibits including African displays, a music gallery and large natural history section. In the gardens you can learn about the medicinal properties of plants. We ate in the café on our visit and were pleased to find some lovely sandwiches at a reasonable price.

Yorvik Centre, York – Adults £9.25, Children £6.25, Family of 4 £26, Family of 5 £29, tickets are valid for a year. You can also use Tesco Clubcard Days Out Vouchers to gain admission. Not huge this place but has some interesting features. My son loved the ‘time capsule journey’ – a ride through the Viking Jorvik settlement, complete with appropriate smells. After the ride you can browse the museum exhibits at your leisure, but would say this is more of a couple of hours type visit as opposed to a day out.

More to follow …

Any recommendations for winter outings? Email

Friday, 16 November 2012

Things I’m Loving in November

And what I'm not loving - November weather

Old El Paso Extra Mild Fajita and Enchilada kits. I found the original versions of these were all heat no flavour, but love the extra mild varieties, as they’re really tasty. They make a quick and easy meal – I limit the amount of meat I include and add lots of chopped, fresh veg, such as onions, peppers, mushrooms and celery.

Tesco Everyday Value Jaffa Cakes, 85p for 24. These are just as tasty as more expensive brands and make a yummy treat at only 44 calories per Jaffa Cake.

Mua Pro-Brow Ultimate Eyebrow Kit (£3.50 Superdrug). A handy little kit that contains everything you need to keep your eyebrows in shape: compact enough to slip in your handbag, but big enough to accommodate all the essentials – tweezers, mirror, shaders with applicator, gel and a highlighter. I may actually get round to shaping and grooming my eyebrows a bit more often now I have one of these.

The November issue of Cross Stitcher Magazine, (£3.99). It contains lots of colourful Christmas cross-stitch designs and comes complete with a kit to make three cute little reindeer cards.

‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!’ Oh how we love to watch others squirm. Quite frankly, if I were a celebrity, it would be more of a case of ‘I’m A Celebrity Don’t Put Me In There In The First Place!’

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