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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Thursday, 15 November 2012

Shopping Nostalgia

Remember when …

The only thing found frozen at the supermarket was the food – now it can be the computerised tills as well.

Half the things that we buy now were available at almost twice the size!

Going a bit far back!
Walnut Whips had a walnut inside at the bottom as well as outside at the top.

BHS was known as British Home Stores and stocked its own brand of pick ‘n’ mix, crisps and grocery items, as well as the clothing and household items that they sell today.

We managed fine with our shopping despite shops being closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays – shop workers actually got more than one day off at Christmas to spend with their families!

But we certainly don’t miss …

Communal changing rooms – what a nightmare they were!

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Cleaning Without the Cleaning Products

Some cleaning jobs are a real chore and expensive too if you buy many of the big brand cleaning products available. But you can make all those niggling jobs easier and cheaper (plus kinder to the environment) to carry out by using other items from your kitchen cupboards.

When a casserole, cottage pie or whatever oozes on to the base of the oven take immediate action by sprinkling the spillage liberally with salt. Leave to cool, then the offending mess can be lifted off as a hard crust. So much easier than scrubbing.

Don’t spend money on fridge fresheners; just place a small bowl of bicarbonate of soda in the fridge to absorb any unwelcome whiffs. Don’t forget to change it regularly.

If you have chalky deposits round the base of your taps, soak some heavy-duty kitchen roll (e.g. Regina Blitz) in white wine vinegar, wrap it around the affected area and leave for a few hours. Rinse and dry for a gleaming, lime scale-free finish.

To clean a microwave, place a bowl of water inside and heat for 2-3 minutes. This loosens grime which will then wipe away. For added freshness, add a couple of slices of lemon.

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

November’s Random Thoughts

Whilst contemplating the very complex decision – KitKat or Time Out – my mind strayed to memories of a Bar Six. You know, six piece chocolate covered wafer biscuit in an orange wrapper, remember those?

Why do some shoppers resolutely refuse to pass the ‘next customer’ divider whilst waiting in the supermarket queue?

I’m always looking at people and noticing the similarities to well-known faces. One of the most worrying experiences was when I got on a bus and thought how much the driver resembled David Blunkett …

I wish weather forecasters would stop telling me what the weather has been and tell me what it will be – the clue's in the word forecast!

Does anyone remember Flatsy dolls? They were small, bendy dolls which were, well, flat. I had one with long, auburn hair, called Pamela.

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas Gifts Episode III – The Vouchers' Tale

When Christmas shopping, buying vouchers/gift cards as presents, or using vouchers to buy gifts, can be a great idea providing you check carefully what you are getting for your money.

The Tesco Clubcard Voucher Exchange is back. Until 5th December you can exchange your Clubcard points for double their value in shopping vouchers (multiples of £5 into multiples of £10) redeemable for a variety of departments in store. Categories available include Toys & Bikes, Books, Skincare Cosmetics & Fragrance, Wine and Clothing; just choose how you would like them split. The vouchers issued can be spent up until 13th December in the named departments. Although by exchanging your Clubcard points for days out you would get four times their value instead of two, this is still a great way of increasing the value of your points and helping out with the Christmas budget at the same time.

There is a large range of ‘Gift Experience’ vouchers available from places such as Argos, but I would issue a word of warning about these. A couple of years ago my daughters bought me one redeemable for a manicure and pedicure. However, to use the voucher I had to post off a form, then make a phone call in an attempt to make the desired appointment. The selected beauty salon was meant to get back to me, but didn’t, so I had to telephone the central information line a second time. They issued me with the salon’s number, but I got rather a frosty reception when I phoned. The manager ranted on about the scheme losing her money, but grudgingly gave me an appointment. The manicure and pedicure were of poor quality and performed to a background of further moans and groans – not the enjoyable, relaxing experience intended. The manicurist did have a point though, for the cost of the voucher she could have offered me a far more comprehensive beauty treatment had it been booked and paid for directly with her.

It appears that at least some of these ‘Gift Experience’ vouchers absorb a percentage of the money paid in admin fees, so check if you can book something similar for less by booking directly with a company, or at least ensure you understand the extra costs incurred, what exactly is being offered and how complicated it is to redeem the voucher.

I love the fact that gift cards for so many shops, cinemas and restaurants etc are available in supermarkets, so that you don’t have to journey to the store in which they are to be spent. They make great gifts, but avoid buying them too early. Some people have been caught holding invalid vouchers as stores have been closed down with very little warning.

Why not make your own gift vouchers? Have I gone mad? No, it’s simple. Design and print off (or draw out) your own, promising something you’ll do for the recipient in lieu of buying a present e.g. baby-sitting, DIY (if you have the skills), help with cleaning out the attic – just whatever is appropriate. This is a really useful idea if money is tight. Just remember to honour the vouchers!

It’s not over yet …

Let me know your ideas

Friday, 9 November 2012

Autumn Tips

I’m always amazed when I hear people talking about storing their ‘summer wardrobe’ to replace it with their autumn/winter clothing. Personally I find that garments can often be worn across the seasons (they seem to merge into one these days anyway) by using clever combining. By planning your clothes wisely, you can trim your clothing budget and reduce the amount of storage space required.

Strappy Vest Tops make great camis under sheer blouses and lacy jumpers. They’re also great modesty savers for low-fronted tops.
T-shirts of all varieties make a welcome extra layer under winter jumpers on cold days.
Floaty Dresses can be worn over long-sleeved T-shirts and leggings/skinny jeans or trousers.
Lots of thin layers are often better than one thick one, so rather than stock up on lots of thick, bulky jumpers, buy lighter cardis, jumpers and long-sleeved T-shirts to mix and match. Next summer these can be worn on chilly evenings too.

Make use of some of the great seasonal veg available in the shops when preparing meals at this time of year. Marrows can currently be bought for around £1 and are great stuffed with a minced beef or veggie rice mixture. For extra flavour add a teaspoonful or two of chilli powder to the filling – warming in more ways than one. Supermarkets are also selling some great packs of fresh stew veg – Co-operative stew pack (carrots, onions, parsnip and swede) is currently £1.

Fight the Damp
Bowls of salt placed strategically around the house absorb excess moisture and help prevent patches of damp and black mould taking hold. Refresh from time to time for maximum effectiveness. This is also worth doing in a caravan when storing it for the winter.

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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Afternoon Tea

The term ‘Afternoon Tea’ conjures up pictures of Edwardian ladies eating dainty, wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches and bite-sized, melt-in-the-mouth scones, served on delicate floral china in the drawing room.

Even when I was a child (long after the Edwardian era) ‘tea’ was still a meal we had, especially on a Sunday. Then it consisted of bread and butter with tinned tuna and tomatoes, followed by Hales Lime Layer Cake (whatever happened to that) for example.

Now it seems that ‘Afternoon Tea’ is well and truly back on the menu at many Supermarket Cafés, so why not give one a try?

Morrison’s Afternoon Tea – definitely the best value, £2.05 - £2.59, price has varied between branches I have visited lately. For this you get sandwiches filled with cheese/ham/egg or whatever is available, a cream-filled scone or egg custard tart (sometimes 2) and a pot of tea, so great value whatever you pay. I love the fact that sandwiches come with this one – it doubles as a light lunch.

Sainsbury’s Cream Tea, £2.55 - £2.75. Consists of a fruit scone, pot of clotted cream, mini jar of jam and a pot of tea (£2.55) or cup of coffee (£2.75). I seemed to have more cream and jam than I needed, so took the rest of the (yummy Taste The Difference strawberry) jam home, bit tricky to do this with the cream though. Nice this gives you the choice of tea or coffee.

Tesco’s Cream Tea, £3. The poorest value, which is unusual for Tesco.  The standard pot of tea, fruit scone, clotted cream and a pot of jam, which is quite ordinary, but charged at a higher price than the others.

One point that I would like to make about all these teas though  is that they are served with fruit scones, whereas I would prefer a traditional Devon (plain) scone – as would my husband who has a violent dislike of sultanas and currants.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Store ‘Currys’ Favour

To all intents and purposes, my fridge/freezer came to a sticky end a few days ago. A series of mini (30–60 second) power cuts proved too much for the (not so) old thing and it relented by furiously flashing its warning lights and refusing to function in any way, shape or form. The light didn’t come on when I opened the door, the motor was silent, (it usually ‘bickers’ according to the manual, which is apparently ‘not a trouble’) and it wasn’t the slightest bit chilled – neither was I!

We changed fuses, cleaned all cleanable parts, jiggled it a bit (well, it’s what you do isn’t it?), cursed it and read the manual cover to cover – no mean feat thanks to the dodgy translation from Korean. The booklet did indeed contain a section entitled: ‘Failure Running Function’, which gave the following words of wisdom, “When indication lamp flashing, it shows the refrigerator is in trouble – inform authorised personnel”. Great. We all know what charge is involved to illicit a session of head-scratching and sharp intakes of breath, before pronouncing nothing short of a total parts change will do.

So not my kitchen
Eighteen hours after the appliance fell silent, with not even a flicker (except for warning light) of life, the general consensus of opinion (backed up by internet research) was that the circuit board had ‘blown’. So off we trundled to our nearest branch of Currys.

After a little deliberation, we selected a new, very reasonably priced model, ordered it and were thrilled to be told it would be delivered the next day.

The next day dawned. We prepared the old fridge/freezer for its imminent departure. Then my husband said, ‘Turn it on one more time just to be sure.”

So I did. And it worked.

There followed some moments of panic and indecision – should we cancel the new one, or would our existing one give up again any minute. We decided to stick with what we know, with all its quirks, bickering, flashing lights, total flaunting of the ‘frost-free’ rule and rang the cancellation number. They took it very well, despite already loading our new appliance on the van for delivery.

We then journeyed back to the store, feeling rather sheepish, to ask for a refund. What great service we received! All money paid was refunded in full immediately – no arguing, no admin fee, no hassle! And all done with a smile!

Thank you Currys. If only all shops were as efficient.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Cutting Hairdressing Costs

A trip to the hairdressers is supposed to be, and indeed can be, an enjoyable experience, but finding a good one, and working your way round their sometimes complex price list is not always easy.

Many hairdressers offer several price bands according to whether your appointment is with the junior stylist, stylist, senior stylist, stylist with gold bells on (ok made that one up), manager etc. However, I have found from experience it is not necessarily the person charging the highest price that offers the best cut. One of my most successful cuts to date was carried out by a young lad, who could have been doing it for ‘bob-a-job’ week to look at him – but he was brilliant! If someone has a natural flare for something such as styling hair, they will do it well regardless of their charges and status.

The best guide to use when choosing a hairdresser is recommendations by others. Don’t be afraid to ask someone whose hair looks great, “I really like your hair, where do your get it done?”

There are times when I make an impulsive decision to have my hair cut. I wake up, take a look in the mirror and think; “I really must get something done about this today!” So off I head to Supercuts where I can just turn up, take my place in the queue and wait my turn. As my hair has a natural tendency to curl, I just pay for a wash and cut, rather than the extra £10-£12 for a blow dry, which would involve the stylist trying to ‘tame’ my hair into a sleeker style. I pay in the region of £23 for a wash and cut and for this I do get my hair ‘rough-dried’ so that I don’t leave the salon dripping wet, just slightly damp. Skipping the full blow dry is a good way to save money.

Of course, another great way to save on hairdressing costs is to visit your local college and offer to be a model for hairdressing students. My local campus in Medway of Mid-Kent College offers a cut and blow dry with a level 2 student for just £3, whilst an appointment with a level 3 student is £7.50. Some salons also offer reduced costs if styled by a trainee under the watchful eye of a trained member of staff.

Let me know your hairdressing experiences

Monday, 5 November 2012

Those Handy Little Extras

There are often fiddly little bits that we need to buy, which help us perform everyday little tasks, such as applying/removing make-up, cleaning teeth etc, for which we don’t really want to spend a fortune. We’d rather save the pennies for the actual cosmetics or whatever, but fortunately these odd little items can be picked up quite reasonably when shopping.

Tesco Everyday Value Eye Shadow Applicators, 33p for 4. These work and last, just as well if not better than others I have tried. They actually didn’t fall apart as quickly as others that had cost five times the price!

Skin Therapy Cotton Wool Pads (Oval, Large), 65p for approx. 50 at Wilkinson. These are good, absorbent pads that are great for removing make up or even popping in the first aid box. The size and thickness of these is much better than many more expensive versions.

Johnson Cotton Buds, 59p for 100 at Savers. As well as cleaning those ‘important little places’ they are handy for applying/removing make up, correcting make up/nail varnish disasters (dip in remover and dab) or even cleaning round the computer keyboard keys! Johnson’s seem more robust than other brands, but can be bought very reasonably at Savers.

Superdrug Nourishing Nail Polish Remover Pads, £1.39 for 20. I much prefer using these to a bottle of nail varnish remover, as they are quick and easy to use and fit in a handbag for emergency removals.

Wisdom Interdental Brush £1.59 at Savers. Great for reaching all the awkward areas that your ordinary toothbrush misses, meaning cleaner teeth and healthier gums.

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Friday, 2 November 2012

Supermarket Conundrums

Why is it when I try and shop at my local Sainsbury’s the aisles are often blocked by enormous ‘on-line’ shopping trolleys, making it impossible to reach what I need, so that I feel, as a visiting customer, I am secondary to the online shoppers? Yet when I shop at my local Tesco I have never even glimpsed an ‘on-line’ shopping trolley, which is great. How do they manage to fulfil the online orders unnoticed – invisible elves perhaps?

Why do many supermarkets insist on chucking their reduced label items in a big heap, so that I feel like I am rummaging at a Jumble Sale? They may have had to reduce them as they are at their ‘sell by’ date, but surely they would still prefer to sell them, rather than throw them away, so why not display them better? Happily, I can report that my local Sainsbury’s has now adopted a new system. Items carrying a reduced sticker are displayed on the original shelves next to their original priced counterparts, with the price reduction facing outwards for all to see – a much better system.

Despite Aldi products earning much acclaim, I have yet to try many of the much talked about items. The reason? My nearest Aldi is about as welcoming as a miser’s hovel. Are all branches like this? I know the Aldi experience is supposed to be about value for money products, but I’d like to actually feel vaguely comfortable walking round the store and have more than one choice of each product.

I’ve never ventured into a Lidl or Netto either – there are no branches particularly local to me. Perhaps you’d like to tell me your thoughts about them, email

Thursday, 1 November 2012

This November Why Not…?

Remember to support the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and wear your poppy with pride. Look out for Remembrance Day parades and services in your area.

Find a firework display where you live. Many are run by charitable organisations and scout groups to help raise funds, whilst still putting on a great display in a brilliant atmosphere. Admission charges are normally very reasonable, with hot dog stands, jacket potato stalls and the odd tombola thrown in. We always attend a great local display, run by ‘The Wheel of Cuxton’, which includes a guy competition and entertainment from majorette troupes and local talent.

Reach for the porridge (I love Tesco Hot Oat Cereal £1.49 for 750g), great topped with blueberries and a dash of honey. Healthy, tasty and warming.

Get knitting! If you’re new to knitting, start with a scarf in a cheerful colour and simple pattern. Individual knitting patterns can work our quite expensive, so consider buying one of the various knitting magazines available, which often come with an added gift such as wool, knitting needles or stitch holders. Look out for Simply Knitting, Knit Today, Let's Knit and Knit Now, ranging from £4.99 to £5.99 each.

Curl up with a good book. I love a good mystery/crime story – check out P.D. James, Kate Ellis, Alison Bruce, Lesley Cookman and Jacqueline Winspear.

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