Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So That Was 2013

“What have you done, another year over and a new one just begun…” to quote John Lennon. Indeed another year seems to have whizzed by, and now is the time to look back on its highs and lows and think what we would like to do differently, or perhaps more of next year.

Collectively we welcomed the new Pope and the newest addition to the Royal Family, Prince George, and said goodbye to the legend that was Nelson Mandela. Goodbyes were also said to Lady Thatcher amongst much controversy: I may not have loved her politics, but at the end of the day, I held on to the thought that she was a mother too, much missed by her family.

Across the world there was cause for sadness and shocks, as we witnessed some awful human acts and natural disasters that sometimes claimed lives. However, as is often the case in these situations, we must take comfort from the way ordinary people pull together, raising funds and supporting aid charities to help where possible.

On a personal level I celebrated a ‘milestone’ birthday, saw the birth of my first grandchild (a gorgeous little boy), questioned Ofsted and complained at the loss of Hypermobility classes from my local NHS physiotherapy department.

My blog looked at a range of products and services including make-up, cleaning products, toiletries, DS games and supermarket cafés. I looked at the whole issue of supermarkets using meat from sources other than the UK or even the EU, something that I’m still keeping an eye on.

Next year I’ll be reviewing a whole new set of products and services, continuing my ‘Random Thoughts’ and generally offering up my opinion on shopping and consumer issues.

But for now here are some of my winners and losers for 2013:

A Shoppers’ Joy thumbs up for: Tesco Clubcard, EDF Complaints Resolutions Manager, Max Factor Eye Brightening Mascara, the staff at the Morrisons café Cambourne, Avon Solutions Ageless Bloom Neck and Chest Treatment SPF15, the staff at Travelodge Middlewich, the Tower of London and the Nutmeg clothing range at Morrisons.

A Shoppers’ Joy thumbs down for: ‘Which?’ magazine’s subscription department (and the magazine come to that), Aldi, companies that make money from your PPI claim (you can do it for free yourself), Ofsted, people who speak loudly on their phones on public transport and the poor service I received at the Marks and Spencer café at Hempstead Valley.

Who will be in my good and bad books for 2014?

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Sunday, 29 December 2013

So That Was December

OK, so I know the month’s not quite over yet, but I’m saving the last day of December for my 2013 Review.

So how was December for you? Was it a month filled with fun and festivity or chaos and endless Christmas shopping? Was it, in fact, a sad time for reflection – I know I always miss loved ones more this time of year (my dad and two of my sisters).

Whatever you may have done, I hope you’ve had some good times and enjoyed some of the festivities on offer, without breaking the bank. You may have read my Christmas On A Budget blog to help keep costs down, and hopefully the bargain drink prices will help you see in the New Year too.

Amongst my other posts this month I’ve told a tale of British Gas engineers, reviewed ‘Which?’ magazine, had some ‘Random Thoughts’ and reviewed eyeliner – a real mixed bag.

Not quite the scene this December
I’m a big kid when it comes to Christmas, I especially love seeing all the twinkling lights and watching my (not so small) children opening their presents. The added bonus this year was that my seven-month old grandson was around for all the fun too. However, my heart went out to those who were unable to celebrate a traditional family Christmas due to flooding and/or loss of power.

As we all prepare to see in the New Year, I’ll leave you with a few little thoughts, and hope you’ll keep reading next month, and indeed next year.

Best thing I’ve tasted this month: Tesco Finest Belgian Chocolate Assortment, absolutely delicious! Yummy chocolate containing, amongst other things, whole cherries marzipan and nuts.
Best thing I’ve seen this month: People’s faces as they’ve opened their presents.
This month I’ve been reading: Some slushy, feel-good Christmas books including ‘All I Want For Christmas’ by Amy Silver and ‘Sleigh Bells In The Snow’ by Sarah Morgan.

Stop Press! I've just bought Tesco Finest Italian Sour Cherry Pralines for just £1.25 for a 150g box and they are delicious!

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Monday, 23 December 2013

It’s Chriiiiiiistmas! Well, nearly.

Well here we are, the big day is nearly upon us and if you’re not already prepared then this is where the panic sets in.

I’m pleased to say I’m just about ready for it all. Food bought (except for that vital thing I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten at midnight on Christmas Eve), presents wrapped (not wonderfully, as I’m not that handy with a roll of sellotape) and the house prepared – a kind of organised chaos.

Hubby bravely tackled a small Tesco shop this morning, and survived it all pretty intact. In fact at the time he visited, shoppers were still in polite, calm “after you mode”. By now all hell has properly broken loose with trolley rage in the aisles, and customers racing to grab that coveted last bag of brussel sprouts/pot of cream/dejected-looking turkey.

Strangely enough, my shopping trip to Sainsburys on Friday was far more traumatic. Although the shops seemed pretty deserted for most of last week, everyone suddenly decided that Friday was the day to go crazy. One woman in particular made at least three attempts to run me down with her trolley – what had I ever done to her?

So that’s it now. No more shopping for me until well after Christmas. Much as I love a good shop there’s a time and a place for everything and Christmas is family time, and I don’t mean just the one day. My blog post of last year, giving my Thoughts On Christmas And Shopping still rings true. I really don’t believe that shops should open on Boxing Day; we can survive without them, thank you very much.
Anyway that just leaves me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! Or for those of you who don’t celebrate this festivity, a happy winter break. Thank you all for reading my blog again this year, more to come soon.

Happy Holidays!

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Friday, 20 December 2013

December’s Random Thoughts

The thing that really annoys me about the shops being full of Christmas cards and wrapping paper at this time of year is that it’s so hard to find a decent birthday card! People do still celebrate birthdays in December, despite what some shops may think.

I love Christmas lights!
Last week I arrived home from a shopping trip, clutching my festive TV (What’s On TV) guide eager to discover the delights of Christmas telly. However, imagine my surprise when I found that the magazine was missing pages 5-38, although it had double of some of the other page numbers. Perhaps even more disconcerting, was that when I returned it my local Tesco to get a replacement, the assistant scrutinised my receipt very carefully to confirm the 90p purchase, checking and double-checking before allowing me to get a new copy! I was hardly operating some big-time con!

My husband often meets me in a local car park after a shopping trip, where I happen to stand waiting for him quite near to a ticket machine. Obviously, my proximity to the machine means that people often ask whether I have change for the meter, but more perversely they seem to ask me random questions too. “What time do the shops close?” “Where’s the best place to buy a loofah?” (Or some such item). “Is there a branch of ‘Mobile Phone Mania’ nearby?” It seems they think I’m there to offer some kind of information service; perhaps I should put a sign above my head saying ‘Shoppers’ Joy Information Here’. Who knows, if you’re a shopper in Kent and have ever asked a rather exhausted, shopping-laden lady for advice, you may have spoken to Shoppers’ Joy?

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Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas On A Budget

Christmas can be a magical time of year, but it can also be a drain on already struggling finances. More than ever we’re having to watch our shopping bills and budget as much as we can to get by, in view of rising prices and static wages.

But it’s important to remember that whilst we want to celebrate the festive season with our loved ones, it’s not the amount of money that we spend that counts, it’s the time that we actually spend with our family and friends.

Christmas is a very commercial affair, but there are ways to enjoy the celebrations without spending a fortune.

Now is a good time to check your points’ balances on any loyalty cards that you may have, and make use of these if you can. I recently bought a host of Christmas goodies from Sainsburys using my Nectar points to buy items such as crackers, drinks and chocolate, after discovering I had a balance worth almost £30.

If you’re a Tesco Clubcard holder, then you can use their current points boost promotion to double your points’ value. Just exchange your Clubcard vouchers for coupons to spend in specific areas of the store, to get twice their face value. Categories include Finest Wines, toys, clothing and electricals. You can exchange vouchers up until 20th December and redeem the new vouchers until 31st December. I’ve made use of the Finest Wines offer to get a few good bottles in for Christmas dinner – prices in the range start from just £5.99.

You may also have points on cards such as Boots Advantage Card and Superdrug Beautycard that can be exchanged for last minute gifts.

If you don’t own a loyalty card (and why not?) then you can still find some bargain offers around. Here are a few recommended buys:

O’Gradys Irish Cream Liqueur – A great (more creamy, I think) alternative to Baileys at just £5.50 a bottle from Sainsburys.

If you like Archers Peach Schnapps, then a great budget alternative is Peaches, costing just £5.50 at Iceland. You can also find lower cost supermarket versions of other drinks such as ‘Malibu’ as ‘Pimms’.

Love liqueur chocolates? I recommend The Co-Operative Loved By Us Brandy Liqueurs costing just £1 per box! Lovely! Most supermarkets also stock boxes of tasty after dinner mints, that I enjoy much more than the famous After Eights, for just £1 a box.

Enjoy your Christmas without too much expense!

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Friday, 13 December 2013

What’s happened to ‘Which?’

Several years ago, my husband decided to take out a subscription to ‘Which?’ magazine, as at that time it published some good product reviews relative to our lifestyle.

Out of my league
However, recent editions of the magazine have wandered off the point somewhat, reviewing products including £1000 coffee grinders as opposed to items such as £75 vacuum cleaners.

Indeed many of the products reviewed appear more geared towards those with a very affluent lifestyle as opposed to us mere mortals trying to scrape together an honest wage. You are far more likely to read about products by Miele and Smeg, than Beko and Bosch, despite these brands offering appliances that perform well. It seems us ordinary folk are no longer the ‘Which?’ target audience.

The one exception to this rule is their amazing verdict that Aldi is the best supermarket. Are they kidding? All the branches I have ever tried have been poorly laid out, offered limited product choice and were staffed by some very unhelpful individuals. To me Aldi is bottom of the supermarket scale.

Accordingly, hubby decided to cancel his membership to ‘Which?’ – a process that actually deserves a review all of its own.
Simple but serviceable

Prior to ringing the subscriptions department, he had cancelled membership with another company, a process that had taken approximately one minute. The ‘Which?’ operator had other ideas, however.

The conversation lasted for over 10 minutes during which time various incentives (none of any use) were offered to continue with the subscription, numerous questions were asked (and opinions given) and a large amount of ‘sales speak’ was employed.

By the end of the conversation my husband had indeed managed to cancel his subscription, but was left looking rather shell-shocked, feeling that he had just undergone some rigorous debriefing session.

So my Shoppers’ Joy award for the most harrowing ‘end of subscription’ experience goes to ‘Which?’ magazine. Well, it’s about time the reviewers were reviewed.

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Monday, 9 December 2013

Is The Customer Always Right?

In the early days of my blog, I wrote a post about being a good customer, which I called my customer code

I was reminded of this recently as I sat enjoying a latte in a local branch of Costa, positioned quite close to the counter, where I could hear customers placing their orders.

One lady approached the assistant at the till, almost thrust a baguette at her, simultaneously ordering a drink in very gruff tones, then snapped back sharply when asked the question, “Is that to eat in?”

Now obviously, I don’t know what kind of day this woman had been having, but whatever may have occurred, there was no need to take it out on an assistant who was a) trying to be helpful and b) nothing to do with her day up to that point.

Think of something to put a smile on your face
Immediately following this, I popped into Boots, where a man (I refuse to use the term gentleman in this instance) was publicly berating a member of the pharmacy department, who was actually trying to give him advice about the medication that he was taking, only to be met with the retort, “It’s none of your business, what I do with my medication!” This was accompanied by numerous expletives that I am too polite to record here.

I’m always put out if a shop assistant is brusque or rude towards me, saying something if necessary or even withdrawing my custom, but by the same token I think that we, as customers, should also be polite and approachable.

At the end of the day, customers or shop assistants, we are all just people and should at least attempt to be civil to one another, especially during what is now supposed to be the ‘season of goodwill’.

So please, let’s all be pleasant to one another when shopping, so that we can all have an enjoyable shopping experience.

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Friday, 6 December 2013

How Many Gas Engineers?

There’s a standing joke in our house that goes, “How many gas engineers does it take to service a boiler?’

This harks back to the time when our boiler was due its annual service, but instead of just one gas engineer turning up to do the job, we ended up with several!

British Gas are usually quite good in that their engineers usually inform you of their imminent arrival. On the day in question we did indeed receive a call from an engineer on our landline, but not long after also received a message on one of our mobiles. “He’s being thorough,” we thought, not realising there could be more than one engineer involved.

Engineer number one turned up and started work – everything appeared to be going to plan. Then the doorbell rang. There stood another engineer – and another. These two joined their mate, more in the capacity of spectators you understand, and a conversation ensued about who should really be doing the job.

Tea was served, and what with it being close to Christmas and the tree lights twinkling in the background, it all started to feel very festive. Then the doorbell rang again. “That’ll be another one of your lot”, I quipped, but never was a truer word spoken in jest. Yes, there was gas engineer number four.

A change from four gas engineers round the fireplace
By this time I was passed being surprised and was, in fact, beginning to wonder whether my house had become the unofficial location for the British Gas Christmas party. It all started to feel very jolly, but the service was taking somewhat longer than usual, as the original engineer was, I believe, more hindered than helped by his colleagues.

Finally they all left and it started to seem a bit quiet, but how we giggled about that day for some time to come.

We’ve just had this year’s boiler service. One engineer, speedy service, job done. Seems a bit of an anti-climax really.

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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Real Eye-Opener

Although I’m a regular user of mascara and have tried many brands and types over the years (detailed here) I’ve never really got to grips with eyeliner.

When it comes to make-up, I prefer a natural look, and definitely want to avoid ‘panda eyes’, which has been my experience with some brands I’ve tried, but now I've discovered a make of eyeliner that I actually like.

My latest find is Avon Anew Smoothing Eyeliner with retinol. It does indeed glide on smoothly and is supplied with it’s own ‘smudging’ tool, to blend the liner gently along your lash line for a natural effect. It’s available in black, brown/black and emerald, but I chose the brown/black for the most understated effect.

The eyeliner normally sells for £8.50, but is currently on offer for £5, although I actually received it as part of a cosmetics offer bundle, which is a great way to try new products at a low cost.

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Friday, 29 November 2013

So That Was November

It may still technically have been autumn, but the weather in November has, at times, had the definite feel of winter about it and I’ve actually found myself getting into Christmas shopping mode quite early on. As I write this, I have actually bought over half of my gifts, more by accident, admittedly, than by any planning. I just seem to have been spotting goodies whilst out at the shops and grabbing them while I can.

Am actually on target with Christmas shopping!
Also on a Christmas note I have been busy cross-stitching festive cards, and have now accumulated quite an impressive selection to start writing, along with little notes that I like to slip inside.

With the temperature falling I’ve been sure to have a good, warming breakfast each day, and have become rather partial to Tesco Micro Oats, available in ‘original’ and ‘golden syrup’ flavours and a variety box that contains apple and blueberry in addition to these flavours (£1.59 for 9 sachets). I’ve not found a box of just apple and blueberry flavour on its own locally, but according to the internet they are available, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my local Tesco stores will stock them soon.

Although it’s been a busy month for me in many ways, I did actually manage an outing to the Tower of London (read here) which actually made me look a very cool parent when less than a week later, my son settled down to watch the anniversary episode of Dr Who and discovered it was partly filmed at, yes you’ve got it, the Tower of London! What great timing for the outing, be it a total fluke.

No doubt, I’ll be writing a few more festive-based blogs during December, along with my random thoughts, recommendations and musings, but I’ll leave you with these little points to ponder:

Best thing I’ve seen this month: The crown jewels – they’re just one of those things you that just have to see in life, and I finally got round to it!

Best thing I’ve bought this month: The current (dated December) issue of ‘Crafts Beautiful’ magazine, which not only comes with a free felt and decoupage kit, but if you buy it at Tesco, a free copy of the book ‘All I want for Christmas’ by Amy Silver.

The worst thing I’ve had to do this month:  Close down my static caravan and put it into hibernation until the spring. I really miss going there and look forward to spending lots of time at it again next year.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The New Card On The Block

I’m a big fan of loyalty cards and have quite an impressive set, as previously blogged in my loyalty card ratings but now I’ve discovered a new card on the High Street.

As an avid reader I often take a trip to The Works to buy multiple books at reasonable prices, so imagine my joy when I was offered a loyalty card for that very shop! I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer, taking the proffered card home and registering it online.

Within a few days I was sent an email including a selection of vouchers to use instore but I have yet to see how the long-term benefits actually stack up.

The card is called the ‘Together Rewards Card’ and you actually earn 5 points for every £1 spent, with vouchers issued four times a year, providing you have a balance of at least 50 points – you actually receive your first 50 points when you register! Every point then equals 1p, so it depends how frequent a visitor to The Works you actually are, as to whether you gain much during the course of a year.

Still, as a rival company would say, “Every little helps”, which is why I collect all the loyalty cards that I can!

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Autumn Reads

During the past month I’ve been having a bit of a reading fest, so rather than just name my best read at my end of month round-up, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite titles with you.

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell
An intriguing story that illustrates how the actions of our past can have such a big impact on our future. In the present day Lila is given an isolated cottage by a mystery benefactor, but why? Events that took place during 1980 are slowly revealed to provide the answer to this question, whilst uncovering some startling secrets. I was hooked.

The Silent Tide by Rachel Hore
I love all of Rachel Hore’s books, mixing the past and present, joining two threads in time to reveal different elements of a shared story. In this book Emily Gordon’s much-loved publishing job sees her digging into the past of a revered writer, learning some surprising truths about his life and the lives of those he has left behind. A great read.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
Based on the historical character ‘Typhoid Mary’ a cook accused of infecting a number of her employers and their families with typhoid in the course of her food preparation, this story surmises what Mary’s life and personality may really have been like. My feelings for Mary alternated between sympathy for her personal situation and scorn at her disregard for the rules, although I do feel she was given an unnecessarily tough time. Decide about her for yourself by reading this great book.
The Light Behind The Window by Lucinda Riley
Another great blend of past and present, encompassing the exceptional bravery of British agents in 1940s war-torn France and the personal struggle of Emilie in more recent times. Emilie feels at a loss as how to proceed in life following the death of her mother, her subsequent inheritance and revelations about her family history. It was one of those books that I just didn’t want to put down!

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Friday, 22 November 2013

November’s Random Thoughts

Am I the only shopper that when hearing an announcement in a supermarket to the effect of “Will all department heads now please attend the rumble?” pictures Ant and Dec performing their ‘hit’ song? Perhaps stores should just play “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” over the tannoy to summon staff and put a smile on all of our faces into the bargain.

Speaking of Ant and Dec, I’ve been watching the latest series of ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’, but feel that more than ever the definition of celebrity is somewhat dubious. Contestants really seem to qualify for one of two alternative shows, ‘I’m A Has Been Get Me Out Of Here’ and ‘I’m A Wannabe Get Me Out Of Here’. Still I can’t resist watching the victims, sorry contestants, putting themselves through the whole ordeal.

I’ve checked the calendar multiple times, but it’s still definitely November, so why have so many weekly magazines decided to put their ‘Bumper Christmas Issue’ on the shelves this week?

Oh whoopee! Bisto have brought out a special Christmas gift tin of their gravy granules – bet you’re all hoping for one of those in your stocking!

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Monday, 18 November 2013

To The Tower!

I’ve visited many tourist attractions over the years, a number of which I have blogged during the past year or so, but somewhere that I had never got round to visiting was The Tower of London.

But now I’m back fresh from a visit to said tower, full of enthusiasm and information about my day.

As with all the London attractions that I visit, I tend to go on a Sunday, when there is no congestion charge and parking can be found cheaply or even free. When there are several of us going together it is cheaper and more convenient than using the train.

For our visit to The Tower we parked in The Minories Car Park, details here, a multi-storey just a few minutes walk from the attraction, which costs £2 per hour during the week, but on a Sunday costs just £2 for the whole visit.

Arriving by 10.30 we found that there were no ticket queues (on this particular Sunday at least) and instead of paying the admission fee of £19.50 for adults and £9.75 for children (higher rates if you include the voluntary donation) we exchanged Tesco Clubcard Days Out Vouchers for tickets.

Once in the grounds I was pleased to find plenty of benches to pause and picnic on, several blocks of well-kept toilets and a restaurant providing drinks, meals and snacks at quite average prices, as opposed to the more inflated ones found at some attractions. We paid just over £9 for a Latte, an Americano, a bottle of 7Up and three delicious pieces of shortbread.

I loved seeing The Crown Jewels, especially the dainty coronet sported by Queen Victoria and thought the moving walkway system past the main jewels a clever way of keeping visitors moving.

Other highlights included St Thomas’s Tower above Traitor’s Gate complete with bedchamber and small chapel with a lovely stained-glass window, The Coins and Kings Exhibition with fun interactive displays and the small monument at the Scaffold site.

The White Tower is full of armoury, which I confess to becoming a little tired of by the end, and whilst the climb up was not bad, ascending one floor at a time largely via reasonable staircases, the climb down was by way of one long spiral staircase leading to a cellar before depositing us in the gift shop.

There are plenty of other exhibits to see and a great view of Tower Bridge, the Yeoman Warders were helpful and informative and the ravens a powerful presence. We had a really great day.

For more information see http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Supermarket Updates

Over the course of this year, I’ve been blogging about the amount (often not enough) of British meat stocked in our supermarkets (see here) that fortunately has seen improvement over time. Many supermarkets have increased the amount of fresh British meat available on their shelves, reducing that sourced from overseas, but have not always carried the trend through to meat products and ready meals.

Back in May I reported that Tesco fresh lasagne was at least now being made with British beef (read here) although many of their other products still were and are using meat and poultry from across the world. More recently I have bought their frozen Chicken, Cheese and Bacon Bakes, which have been made using British chicken and pork. However, when I considered buying their Creamy Chicken Bakes in the same range, perversely I found the chicken for these was sourced from Thailand and Brazil – where’s the logic in that?
Similarly all of the own brand frozen ready meals that I recently looked at in Sainsburys used chicken from Thailand and beef from some vague sources, whilst their fresh ready meals all appeared to be made using British ingredients.

The key here is to read the country of origin very carefully, which on the case of frozen foods and ready meals, is often placed very discreetly on the back of the packaging.

In August I told you some ‘Tales Of a Set Down Point’, stories of how customers used (or misused) the set down point at my local Tesco (the story so far) and I now have another somewhat worrying use to add to the list.

On my last visit to the store, I noticed that a woman had left her children sitting in the car at the set down point, whilst she did her full weekly shop. The eldest didn’t look more than about nine or ten, so can I remind this woman (or those of a similar mind) that the set down point is not a crèche in any way, shape or form?

These are just some of my current supermarket whinges, what are yours?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

DS Games – Professor Layton vs May’s Mysteries

Regular readers to my blog may know that I’m rather partial to puzzles and DS games, with DS puzzle games the ideal combination. It’s some time since I wrote a review on any games, so I thought it was time that I reviewed and compared a couple of my favourites.

Many of you may be familiar with the Professor Layton series, where the animated Prof and his trusty assistant (or assistants depending on the story) set off to solve a mystery and encounter many puzzles along the way. I’ve played most of the Professor Layton games, with the exception of the most recent, as I tend to wait for the price to come down – I’m always after a bargain!

I really love the puzzles in Professor Layton games, but I have to admit to finding the stories a little long-winded and tedious, not to mention a tad bizarre. I play for the puzzles themselves, not for all the weird chitchat. I also find it a pain tapping on all the scenes to find hint coins, although I do to try to avoid using these if possible. There are some great puzzles in the games, and I like the fact that they are of different levels of difficulty, worth different numbers of points. Of course, once you have played a game all the way through, you can replay the puzzles without the story, and there are bonus puzzles too.

I also really like some of the fun minigames in Professor Layton, such as creating cunning rail tracks and assault courses for a pet hamster. Despite the dodgy storylines, I am a fan of Professor Layton games.

I was interested, therefore, when browsing on Amazon, to discover another game called May’s Mysteries, which was billed to be another Professor Layton. I promptly ordered ‘The Secret of Dragonville’ at the bargain price of around £3, and was not disappointed.

The game very much has the feel of a Professor Layton, but I found the storyline didn’t drag on so much – there were fewer tedious conversations with characters. There was none of the silly tapping for hint coins either; you earn hints by completing the bonus puzzles that you collect along the way. Many of the puzzles were of a similar type to those in Professor Layton, but there were some interesting additions, such as ‘Hidden Picture’ puzzles, which are somewhat like Hanje puzzles (where you logically work out which squares to shade in to form a picture) and hidden object scenes.

There were a few downsides to May’s Mysteries, however. All puzzles are worth the same number of points although some are so much easier to solve than others. One of the so-called puzzle-types irritated me terribly – the rhythmic game, where you have to tap along in time with a tune. It was the ones where you also had to slide your stylus that got me and I ended up skipping most of these.

But over all I loved May’s Mysteries and will be looking out for more stories.

Can you recommend any good DS puzzle games?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Mad About Shoes

I’m mad about shoes. “So what?” I hear you ask, “Don’t so many of us love them?”

But no. I don’t mean I’m mad about shoes in the sense that I love them, but more in the sense that I’m getting a bit annoyed about them.

Why? Because it can be frustratingly difficult to buy just the right pair that you want.

You know how it is. Off you go merrily shopping for a new pair of shoes and half a dozen shops later (if you can find that many shoe shops in the High Street in the first place) you find yourself wailing about how you can’t find a single decent pair.

Kitten heels or kitchen heels?
Many’s the time I've ‘homed’ in on a gorgeous looking pair of shoes on a rack, only to be sadly disappointed by the type of heel revealed when I remove them for closer inspection.

Sometimes I want a small heel, but the style I like is either completely flat or about six inches high! Similarly a style that I think would look great with an elegant slightly higher heel can only be found with a tiny heel or clumpy wedge.

I have come to the conclusion that certain styles of shoes should be sold in a variety of heel heights offering something for everyone, just like jeans and trousers are sold in different leg lengths. Many shoes would lend themselves to a number of heel designs and heights, whilst still looking stylish in each.

Ok, some pairings wouldn’t quite work (think high-heeled trainers) but many would open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Come on shoe retailers, take up the gauntlet and give us the shoe choices we really want!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

So That Was October

October – a nip in the air, mists moving in, the faint smell of bonfires, leaves turning gold and in our household the return of casseroles, jacket potatoes, cottage pie and yummy henhouse pie (recipe here) to the menu.

I hate the onset of the long, dark evenings, but always find that this time of year I return more enthusiastically to the many crafts that I love. I’m currently preparing to embark on some cross stitch projects for Christmas, and have just bought the latest issue (number 10) of Enjoy Cross Stitch, a magazine full of cross stitch projects that comes in a zip-up plastic wallet, which also contains threads, cards and envelopes, felt frames, ribbons, Aida fabric and a needle all for the price of £7.99. I’m also back to knitting jumpers and gloves, rediscovering latch-hook rug-making after several years away from the craft and finishing a couple of tapestry projects.

On my blog my thoughts seem to have been very much focused on clothes – leggings, pyjamas, shoes and wardrobe favourites have all had a mention. With the onset of autumn it’s certainly a time to review our wardrobe, weeding out the summer clothes that we never did wear, and the jumpers from last year that we’re not really sure why we kept. Now’s the time to see what items we’re missing to complete our outfits for the new season – any excuse to go shopping!

Amongst all my ramblings I championed StayNew Leggings from the M&S Collection, but have to say the second pair I bought of these did not appear to be as thick as the first when it came to wearing them, which was somewhat of a disappointment, though I still prefer them to many other versions that I’ve tried.

There’ll be plenty more reviews and tales of customer service next month, in the meantime I’ll leave you with these little gems:

Best thing I’ve seen this month: Joseph And The Technicolour Dreamcoat performed at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, Kent, a vibrant performance of the old favourite. This should have starred ‘H’ from steps, but on the night we went he was 'indisposed' and therefore replaced by Rob Wilshaw, who gave a stunning performance.

Best thing I’ve read this month: ‘The Sleep Room’ by F. R. Tallis, a subtly chilling read that leaves you wondering about the realities of life. Set in a part of Suffolk that I know well, it seemed all the more disturbing for me.

In my bad books this month: Marks and Spencer Café, Hempstead Valley, where a very surly assistant was rather rude and abrupt to me, resulting in me abandoning all ideas of lunch there! I promptly took my custom elsewhere – somewhere that treated me as a valued customer as opposed to a nuisance.

Friday, 25 October 2013

October’s Random Thoughts

Whilst out clothes shopping recently, I’ve been aware that so many shops and clothing departments seem to have reduced the number of mirrors in store. I find myself traipsing halfway round the shop in search of a decent mirror to stand in front of ‘umming and aahing’ about the garment draped across me. I know I can go into the changing rooms, and ultimately I do if a garment looks worth it, but I don’t want to spend my time vying for a cubicle if the colour of a garment is going to make my skin look yellow! To reach that conclusion all I need is a simple mirror.

The only problem I’ve found with my son’s Marks and Spencer ‘Ultimate Non-iron School Shirts’ is that ultimately they need ironing!

My award for ‘staying power’ has to go to Virgin Media who have consistently sent promotional literature to me about every three weeks for years on end, despite me resolutely ignoring them. I’m never going to be tempted by their services, and I’m sure I have made this known to them in the past, but still they soldier on, bless them (she says through gritted teeth).

Yes, I know it’s barely two months until Christmas, but I really don’t want to start buying all the food now, even if I’m starting to look at gifts. So why do supermarkets insist on stocking all the Christmas fayre now, clearing some of the things that I really want to buy off the shelves to make room for festive food far too early?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Our Favourite Clothes

According to certain statistics, we wear approximately 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.

It’s true, we all have our favourite clothes that we are quite happy to wear into oblivion, but why do we ignore so many of the other garments in our wardrobe?

I have several current favourite items in my wardrobe: the snugly cardigan that I miss when it has to go in the wash; the beloved pair of jeans that get worn endlessly, despite having several other pairs; the dress that does wonders for my figure. Sometimes we don’t even know what makes a garment a favourite, we just find ourselves wearing it all the time, until it either falls apart or we eventually tire of it.

It’s always a sad time when a much loved garment reaches the unwearable stage. I still greatly miss another favourite pair of jeans that I had to bin a year ago, because parts of the denim were becoming so ridiculously thin that the jeans were bordering on indecent! And then there was the beautiful pair I owned many years ago, with the gorgeous embroidered butterflies, which I had to let go, as I could no longer get in to them (must have shrunk or something!).

And whilst we have our favourite items of clothing, then there’s even more of a case for having favourite footwear. Once a pair of shoes has been ‘worn-in’, sometimes after a period of initial agony, we don’t want to swap them for anything else. I once had a pair of ankle boots that I suffered wearing for a couple of weeks, and was on the verge of thinking I would have to abandon to the back of the wardrobe, when they suddenly transformed into the most comfy boots ever. Needless to say I went on to wear them constantly, until eventually they were beyond repair and I had to assign them to the rubbish. Oh how I mourned the loss of those boots!

Apart from the obvious favourite items in our wardrobe, there are also the slightly perverse ones. You know, the ones that sit untouched for months on end, then we suddenly discover them and think, “Why on earth didn’t I wear this before?” promptly promoting said garment into the realms of ‘hot favourite’. Then we have the reverse, the ones that we wear like mad for a couple of months before exclaiming, “What was I thinking?” and relegating them to the charity bag.

Many of our little worn items of clothing may be garments bought for a special occasion, that we rarely get the opportunity to wear again, but keep hold of ‘just in case’. Others sadly, we may never have worn, putting their purchase down to a ‘moment of madness’.

Fortunately I rarely make the mistake these days of buying something that I will never wear (she says smugly). When I go out shopping for clothes I always stop and try things on, which was something I rarely did when younger because a) as a teenager I was too impatient b) as a twenty something I had young children in tow and c) dreaded communal changing rooms – need I say more?

Whatever our shopping habits, however, we will always have our particular wardrobe favourites – what are yours?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Travelodge Tales – The Latest

A recent family get together saw us travelling towards Manchester from Kent, and it was therefore inevitable that we would once again opt to stay in yet another Travelodge.

Regular visitors to my blog may have read Travelodge Tales and Travelodge Tips chronicling my previous experiences and thoughts, but if you’ve not yet read them, why not take a look now?

Anyway, back to my most recent Travelodge experience in Cheshire. To ensure the best price we booked about 23 days in advance (cheaper than booking fewer than 21 days before), paid the money and looked forward to our rooms (one for hubby, son and me and one for mother-in-law).

On the day we travelled the roads were a bit of a nightmare, and although we left home before 5pm, we didn’t arrive at our destination until close on 11pm. Thankfully we were greeted by a really lovely, friendly receptionist on arrival. Much to our horror, however, she informed us that we could have lost our rooms, despite being booked and paid for in advance, as the Travelodge had been about to go into overbooking.

On receiving this information we just stared blankly at her, so she explained if all the unbooked rooms got full, they would then re-allocate rooms that had been paid for, if they had not been claimed by 10pm. This was certainly news to us, but we were grateful that on this occasion our rooms were still actually there for us.

For the record we asked what would happen if we turned up and our rooms had been re-allocated. The answer to this was apparently we would be sent to the next nearest Travelodge with an available room. That would not have gone down well after the journey we’d had, I can tell you. However, we did learn, for future reference, that if we are held up, as long as we ring the Travelodge concerned before 10pm, we could book in over the phone and our rooms would be safe. This is definitely worth remembering, although when Travelodge have already received money for a room, I believe it should not be re-allocated, unless officially cancelled.

Our other big shock of the night was that although both the rooms were booked together, they were nowhere near each other: one was on the ground floor, the other on the first floor. Unfortunately, the one on the lower level had been made up as the family room, whereas it was much more needed by my tired mother-in-law, who felt too weary to manage the stairs (there was no lift).

But once again our friendly receptionist came to the rescue, ensuring us she would move the extra bedding up to the first floor room. Not only did she do this immediately, but also actually made up the sofa bed for my son, whereas we are normally left to do this for ourselves. We were very grateful for this little act of kindness, as we were shattered!

We were told that to avoid getting rooms so far apart in the future, we should ring the Travelodge concerned directly, to request that the rooms be together and to request ground floor if needed. Well, we all learn by our mistakes!

Despite these little blips, I have to say it was the most peaceful, well-kept Travelodge we had stayed in. Rooms were clean and well stocked with tea, coffee etc and the staff members were really helpful and friendly. Thanks for a lovely stay!

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Love Of Pyjamas

What is it about pyjamas that make us so attached to them? I have chatted to women from all walks of life – executive types, stay-at-home mums, those with sedentary jobs and those with active jobs – and time and again they all admit to love wearing their pyjamas.

For some it seems the logical end to a busy day – just put on the pyjamas, even if it is only 6.30pm! There’s something comforting about curling up on the sofa ensconced in one’s favourite jim-jams that feels reassuring, yet indulgent, at the same time.

I do admit to being rather partial to a good pair of pyjamas myself. Admittedly it seems to be more of an autumn/winter thing, with the earlier it gets dark in the evenings, the sooner it seems only right to snuggle into a favourite pair.

It’s also a bit of a Sunday morning indulgence to linger in pyjamas for longer than would normally be either practical or acceptable. Pyjamas epitomise relaxation, comfort and ‘me-time’.

So yes, I do confess to owning a fair few pairs of pyjamas, some in fact for every time of year and mood I’m in. I have pyjamas consisting of shorts and vest tops for the warmer weather, pairs with cropped trousers and t-shirt tops for the in-between weather, some with long trousers and t-shirt tops for when it’s a bit cooler and some with long trousers and long-sleeved tops for when it gets really chilly.

My favourite shop for pyjamas has, for some time, been Tesco. They do a good range of reasonably-priced pairs starting from about £7 – and I do admit, I much prefer to buy my pyjamas as a pre-determined pair as opposed to separates. I know there will be those of you who are all too ready to explain by buying separate tops and bottoms you can a) get a fit you want above and below the waistline and b) be a bit creative in your choice. But call me old-fashioned, but I buy my pyjamas in pairs.

So which shall I wear tonight? Will it be the ones emblazoned with ‘Moody Cow’ (most suited to when I’ve had a bad day), the really girlie ones with the pink hearts all over the trousers, my beloved butterfly pair, the snazzy ones with the polka dots and frills or something with a touch of tartan? Oh so much choice – so little pyjama time!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

No Fee PPI Claims

“Oh no!” I hear you cry; “Now even Shoppers’ Joy is jumping on the PPI bandwagon.”

You may well be fed up with the whole PPI business and I don’t blame you. How many times do you rush to answer a call, only to hear an automated message droning on about mis-sold PPIs? And as for emails – don’t get me started!

But all of this aside, if you have been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance, which many of us were, then you may have a valid claim. But take a word of advice – DO NOT use any of the companies that offer to manage the claim on your behalf. They’re not offering to do this out of the goodness of their hearts, they want your money!

The truth of the matter is that you can claim back payments made on mis-sold PPIs, complete with interest, directly from the organisation that sold you the policy in the first place, at no cost. As long as you have some basic information such as who provided the policy, it’s simple to do it yourself.

A great starting point is to use the letter template provided by Which? Just visit www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-reclaim-mis-sold-ppi/ and add your own details to the letter and send to the company concerned.

This is how we initiated a claim. In response to that letter the company involved issued their own claim form, which we completed and returned, swiftly receiving the payments that had been made, plus interest, without incurring any costs whatsoever.

So do ignore all those PPI claim calls and emails, but don’t ignore your right to claim. Just do it yourself for free!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Thank You Morrisons

On several occasions I’ve written about the highs and lows of supermarket cafés, and in a comparison of them all, looking at what they provided and at what cost, I decided that Morrisons cafés came out the best.

I would now like to go a step further and nominate one particular branch for its friendly staff and great customer service.

When we go on long journeys we often track down a supermarket café to stop at for a meal, as they tend to be more cost-effective and have more appetising food than the average motorway service station. A recent trip, which involved some nightmarish stretches of motorway heading in a northerly direction, was no exception.

Studying our route before we left, we decided to stop at the Morrisons café in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire. This we discovered from the internet was open until 8pm, which is actually later than many supermarket cafés, although we expected to be there by 6.30 at the latest.

However, things did not go according to plan, thanks to motorway mayhem and a rather tedious diversion, which together resulted in us arriving at 7.30pm. I know from experience that some restaurants stop serving hot food about half an hour before closing, or at best offer a very limited menu at that time, so gingerly approached the assistant with a tentative, “Are we still able to get hot food?”

He greeted us with a smile, informing us that yes, we could have hot food, and apart from jacket potatoes we could pretty well have anything on the menu. We then proceeded to order four different meals, which were freshly cooked, and served with a smile. The choice of food was very good and the food itself was lovely, as were the staff members, who were helpful and friendly.

You may think I’m getting a bit excited over nothing, but let me remind you, or for those of you who have never read the dreaded ‘Sainsbury’ saga inform you, that an evening trip to one of their restaurants was quite a disaster – poor choice of food, disinterested, unhelpful staff and a weird service system (Sainsburys Stanway, Colchester read more here ) Though I must admit, I have not returned to this branch since, and it may well have improved – well, hopefully!

Anyway, back to Morrisons, particularly the staff of the café at the Cambourne branch, who I would hereby like to present with the Shoppers’ Joy award for great service. Thanks guys!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Long And The Short Of Leggings

Leggings – they can be as controversial as they are comfy and be seen to be as slovenly as they are stylish, depending on your personal point of view.

I first wore leggings in my late teens/early twenties. It was lovely to come home from a hard day on the ward, and swap my nurse’s uniform complete with its ‘American Tan’ tights, for a loose top and a comfy pair of leggings.

At that time, leggings tended to be made from a substantial, jersey material that gave good coverage, even if they did cling to any odd lumps and bumps. Even so some fashionistas berated them, casting them into the realms of ‘crime against fashion’.

Alongside these leggings, you could buy footless tights – thick tights that, well, had no feet!

Fast forward to more recent times. A few years back my daughters started buying leggings – but not as I knew them. Eyeing the thin, Lycra material I exclaimed, “They’re footless tights!”

“No”, they replied, “leggings!”

Well, I beg to differ. So many pairs of ‘leggings’ that they have subsequently purchased have been much more reminiscent of footless tights.
If I had legs like these, I wouldn't bother with leggings

Meanwhile, with all the stylish tunic tops that are available, and lovely dress that beg to be worn but without exposing my knees to the public, I have once again returned to buying leggings myself.

And what a shopping experience that has been! I have trawled the shops rejecting many a pair on the grounds of being too thin (back to the footless tights), too patterned (I want to take the attention away from my legs not highlight them), too shiny or too wrinkly.

Then came the ‘Eureka’ moment, when I found my ideal pair. I can now happily recommend StayNew Leggings from the M&S Collection (good old Marks and Spencer). Available in three different leg lengths and a choice of colours (I’ve bought black and navy), they’re not too thin and fit really well thanks to the wider waistband, which doesn’t seem to slip down like thin elastic. At £9.50 a pair, they’re worth every penny.

So my daughters can keep their footless tights – what do you mean they’re leggings?