Tuesday, 30 April 2013

April’s Blog Review

At last spring seems to have arrived, with more sunshine on offer, blossom and blooms making a welcome appearance and temperatures rising sufficiently to ditch the fleecy coats and furry boots.

I hope that my blog has brightened up your days too, with many of this month’s posts sparking some interesting comments.

I spoke up in support of markets this month, taking a nostalgic look back at those I used to love (anyone remember Rochester?) but have disappeared, whilst encouraging you to make use of those that remain. JC recommended some great markets in Marlborough (Wednesday and Saturday), Devizes (Tuesday for antiques, Thursday, Friday and Saturday general) and Salisbury (Tuesday and Saturdays). So get out there and find a market near you!

Talking of support, another much-discussed issue this month was the announcement that French sports scientist, Jean-Denis Rouillon, had conducted a study resulting in the conclusion that we ladies don’t need to wear our bras. Personally I just wouldn’t feel comfortable without one – a sentiment backed up by all those who commented on my post. WR asked, “What would we use to stop us flipping and flopping all over the place?” whilst JS mused, “They can keep their study and I will keep my bra thank you!”

With children enjoying a couple of weeks off of school for the Easter break, I suggested some more great places to visit. My travels took me to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse (Norfolk), where I had a fun time with my son, as there was so much to see and do. I’m pleased to say that Gressenhall loved what I wrote, tweeting, “You have a great writing style, loved your description of the workhouse.” So, we were all happy then.

I’m hoping for the weather to keep improving during the coming months, so that we can all get out and enjoy the great outdoors. There’ll be lots more happening on my blog too.

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Monday, 29 April 2013

Portion Sizes – How Large Will We Go?

Whilst out for a recent family meal, I couldn’t help remarking (once again) on the huge size of some of the platefuls of food that were being served.

It seems that many restaurants (especially pub/restaurants) serve massive portions of food that are far larger than appear in any ‘recommended intake’ guidelines for the average person.

When faced with such a plateful, many people just shrug and say, “It’s a shame to waste it”, before polishing off the whole lot, even if they find themselves rubbing their bellies in discomfort as a result.

Personally these over-large portion sizes have the effect of putting me off of my meal. I’m not a particularly large eater, so a plate that’s piled high just makes me groan. In some places I think I’d fare better with the children’s portions.

Those who do manage to clear their plates often only eat out on rare occasions, so supposedly the odd ‘blow-out’ won’t be a problem. However, if you eat out regularly, or serve portions of this quantity at home, you could be doing yourself more harm than good.

Think we need a bit more than this though
All this got me thinking about the size of the meals that we serve at home, and in some ways more importantly, the size of our plates. I was sure that my current dinner plates were larger than the ones I used some years back, so hunted at the back of the cupboard for the remains of an old (bought over 25 years ago) dinner service. Sure enough the dinner plates, side plates and dessert bowls were all at least 1/3 smaller than the ones I now use.

The thing is we tend to fill whatever plate size we have at our disposal, so to keep our portion sizes under control, perhaps we should downsize our plates. Psychologically, if we’ve eaten a whole plateful of food, we tell ourselves we’ve had a big meal and are full.

So come one, get out those smaller plates. What have you got to lose? Those annoying extra pounds, that’s what!

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Friday, 26 April 2013

Mascara – Spoilt For Choice!

I like to play around with make-up and over the years I’ve tried many brands and types of mascara – let’s face it, there are enough of them around.

You can buy lengthening mascara, super extending mascara, volumising mascara, curling effect mascara, lash defining mascara, false lash effect mascara, adjustable mascara …

Mascara can come with a classic wand, slim-line brush, extra large brush, comb applicator, curved brush, spiral brush …

The choices are endless, even before you start on the question of colour – black, nearly black, brown/black, navy, electric blue, violet …

So when I caught sight of yet another variety of mascara in the shops, I just had to give it a whirl.

Max Factor Eye Brightening (Tonal Black Volumising) Mascara stands out with its predominantly white packaging – a change from the more subdued black, dark blue or burgundy of many other brands. The idea is that you choose the mascara aimed at your eye colour, as opposed to just any colour that takes your fancy. This was no mean feat in my case, as my eyes are a sort of grey-blue with little hazel flecks for good measure. Can’t think why there didn’t seem to be this option available! So I chose the variety aimed at blue eyes, aka black sapphire.

The mascara has a thin, classic brush, and seems to glide on as it has a creamy consistency and doesn’t clump. The first coat didn’t really produce much effect, but a second coat made my lashes appear a little more defined. I really loved the fact that this mascara didn’t smudge, clump or look overdone.

But do my eyes appear brighter? I like to think that they have an added ‘shine’ to them, but this may be down to my dewy-eyed optimism.

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Thursday, 25 April 2013

DS Games – Big Word Puzzle Book

I really love a good word puzzle – in fact I just love playing with words – so as I’m also a fan of DS games, the Big Word Puzzle Book is a firm favourite.

The game features eight puzzle challenges, each of which can be played at four different levels- easy, medium, difficult and expert.
Some of the word games are old favourites, such as hangman, word search and codeword (substituting numbers with the correct letters), whilst others are a bit more unusual.

I love playing Guessword, where you literally have to guess a random word through the process of elimination. With careful thought it\s amazing how few guesses it sometimes takes to be right.

I also enjoy Combinates, a kind of scaled down Scrabble board where you aim to get the highest score possible using all the given letters.

Other games include DIY Crossword (place words in the grid provided), Spellitaire (a quick-fire word making game) and Pop-Up Garden (an anagram game).

This game allows you to save four profiles at a time and you can play in single or multiplayer mode.

Highly recommended for all word puzzle fans.

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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Tasty Chocolate Treats

I love a bit (OK a lot) of chocolate  – then so many of us do – so I’m always on the lookout for new products to give me my ‘chocolate fix’.

One of my latest discoveries is Cadburys Wispa Instant Hot Chocolate, which is available in 264g jars or individual one-cup sachets. Just mix with hot water for a gorgeous, frothy cup of hot chocolate, not too sweet or sickly, but very tasty. I much prefer this to Galaxy hot chocolate, which can be a little too rich.

I just couldn’t resist picking up a Nestle Yorkie Vanilla Split Pot Yogurt Dessert when I saw one (takes longer to say than to eat). This is a two-compartment dessert, one side containing a lovely, smooth vanilla yogurt, and the other little pieces of Yorkie chocolate. I loved the flavour, but was very disappointed when I opened the pot, as there seemed to be rather a shortage of chocolate pieces in my opinion. Give us more chocolate, I say.

Some of you may remember my disdain at the launch of Cadbury’s Crispello, the chocolate bar that’s designed to be resealed rather than eaten all at once. There’s something about a chocolate bar – once started it’s just crying out to be eaten. However, I find it much easier to limit individual chocolates to a few at a time, which is why I really like new Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocos, individual solid chocolate pieces (look a bit like Rolos without the filling). A pack of these provides a handy chocolate fix.

Stop Press! I’ve spotted Magnum and Cornetto chocolate treats (as opposed to the ice cream versions) in the shops, but not tried them as yet. If you have sampled them, let me know!

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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

April’s Random Thoughts

My thoughts may be random at times, but not as random as the assortment of emails that fill my spam box on a daily basis. I’m currently being offered fat-busting pills, youth serum, collagen injections, electronic cigarettes, laser eye surgery, Viagra, debt advice, accident compensation, PPI advice and the chance to become a plumber or electrician! How strange my life would be if I needed all of those!

How much chocolate qualifies as triple choc?
With the British weather becoming increasingly erratic, and not strictly sticking to what we would consider the appropriate seasons, perhaps it’s time that clothes retailers became a bit more flexible with their stock. Strappy T-shirts and thermal gloves side-by-side, why not?

I find it really annoying when I’m out shopping, browsing the shelves and I suddenly hear someone behind me sighing loudly or ‘huffing and puffing’. For goodness sake, if I’m in the way just say, “Excuse me please” and I will move!

I may be a fan of recycling, but not when it comes to TV programmes. I’m fed up with shows that dedicate whole episodes (or even a spin-off series) to showing clips of past programmes, with just a hint of original dialogue thrown in!

If McVities Double Chocolate Digestives contain chocolate digestive biscuit and chocolate chips and chocolate coating, then shouldn’t they be called Triple Chocolate Digestives?

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Monday, 22 April 2013

Have Clothing Sizes Gone Mad?

When buying clothes, finding your size isn’t necessarily as easy as identifying a number on a label and discovering the perfect fit.

I’m sure many of you have ventured into a changing room armed with garments that you believe to be your size, only to find they all fit differently. I know I have. My wardrobe currently contains clothing that spans three different sizes – all of which fit!

It wouldn’t be as bad if each retailer was at least consistent within their own lines – for example I know to buy a size larger in tops in Matalan if I don’t want too tight a fit – but sizing inconsistencies within a single range or store can be maddening.

How many garments do I need to take into a changing room to ensure I’ll find a size to fit? On one ‘trying on’ session during a shopping trip in Tesco I took three different tops in to the changing room, in three different sizes, then ended up buying different sizes in the different styles!

But my most annoying sizing scenario to date has been in my attempt to buy some new jeans. Last year I ordered two lovely pairs from K&Co, both of which were (and still are) a lovely, comfy, flattering fit. So I thought I would order some more the same – oh how disillusioned I was!

The first pair, from their South range, which I ordered in the same size as before, but a different colour, were far too tight – I couldn’t quite do them up. I thought this was merely a blip and hoped that when the other pair arrived they would be better.

The second pair was from the Confident Curves range, which I’d found very comfy. This time however, despite ordering the same size as my first purchase of these jeans, I couldn’t even get them over my thighs! I’m sure that even if I’d ordered the next size up they would still not have fitted properly.

The whole issue of clothing sizes has become absolutely ridiculous. If you can’t even guarantee that two identical items in the same size will give the same fit, then how can we believe the labels at all?

It’s high time clothing manufacturers and retailers aimed for more standardisation of sizes.

What do you think? comments@shoppersjoy.co.uk

Friday, 19 April 2013

Hands Off My Bra!

Have you heard the latest ladies? It’s been decided (following a 15 year study) that we don’t need to wear a bra, in fact we may even be preventing supporting tissues from doing their job if we do!

OK, so whom do we have to thank for this much needed (really?) study – one professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, a French sports scientist, apparently. (How did I know it be would be a man?) 130 women took part in the study that resulted in the conclusion that bras are just not necessary, maybe even doing more harm than good.

I’m always sceptical about this type of study, where time and money are often spent on either a) researching the blooming obvious, b) obtaining data that nobody really knows how to use or c) reaching conclusions that are subsequently proved wrong (remember the whole MMR debacle?).

The point is there are many reasons why many of us ladies choose to wear a bra. Bras can enhance your figure, accentuate your natural assets, control large breasts that seem to have a will of their own, provide modesty under sheer clothing and prevent uncomfortable wobble during vigorous exercise.

There are times when you just need a bit of scaffolding
Personally, I’m rather attached to my bra, as my figure looks all the better for it, and I certainly don’t have the guts of some of the ‘A’ list celebs that flaunt everything on the red carpet.

If you’re a woman who wants to be taken seriously, then it’s best not to distract those you meet, by allowing braless breasts to become more obvious than the point that you’re trying to make (excuse the pun). Think Charlie Dimmock – I heard more people discussing her unrestrained boobs, than her gardening skills in her Ground Force days.

So thanks for the study, but I’m an ardent bra supporter (well, we support each other), so I won’t be ditching mine any time soon.

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Thursday, 18 April 2013

DS Games – Amazing Adventures The Forgotten Ruins

Another day, another hidden object game – this time levels alternate with some fun minigames including ‘spot the difference’, ‘memory match’, ‘tile swap’, jigsaw puzzles and, my favourite, Mah-Jong.

The mix of games is really quite good and the hidden object scenes are clear, with a good assortment of objects to find. During the course of the game you also need to find 17 jade masks and 17 glyphs in order to unlock the unlimited ‘seek and solve’ and freeplay minigames.

This game has a good, clear layout, the option to save 3 versions of the game at a time and you can achieve different ‘levels of player’ as you progress through the story.

I’ve actually played this game a few times over now, but still enjoy it just as much as I did the first time through.

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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Products For A Pound

Those of you who have been reading my blog from the early days may remember that I admitted to not being a big fan of Poundland. That was until I braved a branch and discovered the amazing £1 shower curtain.

Six months down the line said shower curtain is still going strong, unlike its more expensive predecessor that ripped around the eyelet holes. I love its cheerful raindrop design and still rate it as one of my best buys.

Now I’ve been tempted back to Poundland, as a new branch has recently opened in my local shopping centre, which is brighter, more cheerful and much more organised than other branches I’ve seen – and in a much better state of repair too.

One of my most recent Poundland finds is Thirsty Bubbles Kitchen roll – a triple pack of kitchen roll that I prefer to the budget supermarket brands. Their packs of ‘metallic’ gift bags are also a great buy (packs of 2 or 3 depending on bag size), as they appear identical to those sold in many card and gift shops for at least £2 per bag! 

I’ve also noticed that some branches of Tesco have introduced a ‘pound aisle’. Best buys here include: Dr Magic Snatch-A-Dye sheets (budget version of Colour Catchers, but just as effective), Carex shower gels and creams (500ml), Kleenex Original tissue boxes and, although sold in the ‘pound aisle’, Wisdom Xtraclean toothpaste for just 50p!

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pubs – The New Coffee Shops?

Pubs have undergone many changes over the years. A large number have closed, due to falling trade and the effects of the recession, whilst others have had to ‘re-invent’ themselves to survive.

Several pubs in my area have been taken over by pub/restaurant chains, which has actually changed (for the better) the amount and frequency that we use them.

Many of these chains are family-friendly, with children not only well catered for on the menu, but also often provided with indoor/outdoor play areas and mini TV screens showing children’s programmes.

But what I’ve particularly noticed is that many of us now think of popping into these pubs just for a coffee. My favourite chain for a coffee break is Wetherspoons, as it offers reasonably priced tea, coffee (including cappuccino and latte) and hot chocolate (topped with whipped cream). The surroundings tend to be comfortable and friendly, with many customers enjoying just a hot drink or a snack, as opposed to an alcoholic drink or a full meal.

With coffee prices much lower than in coffee shops such as Costa and Starbucks, high street branches of Wetherspoons make a handy coffee stop on a shopping trip, or somewhere to pause for refreshment on a family outing – my son loves to have one of their ice cream sundaes while we enjoy a coffee.

To my mind, pubs really are becoming the new coffee shops.

What do you think? comments@shoppersjoy.co.uk

Monday, 15 April 2013

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

On my travels last week I visited Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse (near Dereham, Norfolk) with my son. We had a great day, helped by the sunny weather, and recommend that you add it to your ‘places to visit’ list.

Gressenhall is a former workhouse where you can get a taste of the life of the ‘inmates’ from the displays, films and artefacts on show. We were surprised by the strange, wedge-shaped beds, shocked by the rules and harsh punishments recorded and intrigued by the graffiti wall ‘signed’ by former residents.

We enjoyed exploring Cherry Tree Cottage, the old School Room and the ‘shops’ in Village Row, but there is more to Gressenhall than just the fascinating museum displays.

Across the road from the workhouse is the farm, where you can see horses, pigs, sheep etc, as well as visit the old farmhouse and shepherd’s hut. If you’re lucky enough to experience good weather on your visit (as we did) then you can wander along the river and farm walks. On these trails, children have the opportunity to stamp a card that they are given – a full cards results in a badge. You can also enjoy a tractor and trailer ride around the farm.

Other attractions include the centenary wood, where you can take a stroll, a woodland playground, to allow the kids to let off steam and a café, for some well-earned refreshment.

What I particularly like about Gressenhall is that there are plenty of areas with picnic tables and benches to pause for a rest, and toilets are plentiful too, situated in many of the buildings. However, there appeared to be a shortage of bins for the rubbish from our picnic, although we did eventually spot one by the chapel. I was impressed that ice creams were not over-priced as at some attractions, with a Magnum costing £1.60 as opposed to the £2+ that we have paid at some places.

Overall we had a really great, reasonably priced day out (admission for adult accompanying young person £8.30, young person £6.30), with lots to see and do.

I would have liked to be able to share some photos of our day out with you, but unfortunately I experienced a camera mal-function that day, sorry!

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Friday, 12 April 2013

This April I’m Loving …

The Saucy Fish Co Salmon Fillets with Watercress and Crème Fraiche Dressing. These salmon fillets have a lovely flavour and I didn’t find a single bone, unlike other so-called ‘fillets’ I have tried. The dressing can be served cold or you can warm the sachet in hot water. Really delicious!

The Rose Trevelyan books by Janie Bolitho. Intriguing Cornish mysteries featuring artist Rose, on the trail to solve local crimes including murders, disappearances and burglaries. I really enjoyed these books but was sad to discover that Janie died of cancer back in 2002, so there will be no more of these enjoyable stories.

Asda Chosen By You (frozen) Bramley Apple Crumble, £1. This is a lovely crumble really packed with tasty apple, which makes a great budget, family dessert.

Imperial Leather Oriental Calm Cherry Blossom and Vanilla Bean Shower Cream. It’s lovely and creamy and smells gorgeous!

Walkers Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Crisps. They remind me of the Cheddar Cheese crisps that were around when I was a child.

... and Spring - well the thought of how it should be anyway
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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Supporting Markets

There used to be a large, vibrant market in Rochester, Kent, which is quite local to me. For years it was a great place to go, with a large selection of stalls including those selling clothes, housewares, greengrocery, shoes, fabrics, bakery items, tools, meat, haberdashery, books, sweets, toys, pet supplies, electricals and one of my favourites – out-of-date magazines for bargain prices!

I used to love the atmosphere – with some of the characters proving as colourful as the stalls they ran. Sadly, as time went by, the number of stalls dwindled. The market was reduced to half its original size – then smaller still – until this incredible ‘shrinking’ market ceased to exist. I missed it terribly – and still do!

A couple of other towns in the area still have markets, but to a much smaller scale – one lines its high street twice a week (Gillingham), the other sets up in a small car park (Strood). Both of them still have some very worthwhile stalls – just in smaller numbers, without quite the same atmosphere.

The wool, fabric and haberdashery stalls are very welcome as there has definitely been a reduction in the number of these shops in my area. I also love the stalls that sell ex-store fashion lines at great value prices. But I expect that many market traders have been pushed out of business by some of the bargain stores that now exist in high streets, that just weren’t around in the heyday of Rochester Market and its like.

I believe that we should make use of the markets that still exist and support our independent market traders to ensure their survival. Markets can be such fun, original places to shop, with a charm all of their own.

In addition to general markets, you can also find Farmers' Markets (great for local produce), Craft Markets (handy for original gifts) and Antique Markets (you never know what you may find). Whatever type of market you visit, you’ll discover a very different shopping experience to that of the high street.

I’m glad to see there are areas where markets have survived much better – I’ve visited some on recent trips to Great Yarmouth and Norwich for example – but I’d hate to think that these would suddenly disappear too.

So support markets everywhere and help preserve this very traditional, yet fun way of shopping.

Can you recommend a market near you? comments@shoppersjoy.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Lesley Cookman – The Libby Serjeant Series

Today I'm looking at another of my favourite murder/mystery series of books - the Libby Serjeant series by Lesley Cookman.

Set in a ‘quiet’ Kent village, these tales of murder and intrigue are great to curl up with and ‘lose’ yourself in.

Ex-actress Libby just can’t resist trying to solve the mysteries unfolding around her with the help of her friend Fran’s ‘special insight’.

The plots include tales of witchcraft, the discovery of a skeleton, echoes of the past and a host of interesting and believable characters.

These books are a pleasure to read with great plots surrounding down-to-earth characters, a good helping of day-to-day life and a bit of romance thrown in. I can imagine bumping into Libby on my travels around Kent.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Easter Holiday Fun – Down On The Farm

Children always seem to love visiting farms and petting the animals or feeding them. Here are a couple of suggestions of where they can do just that – and more.

South Of England Rare Breeds Centre, Ashford, Kent adults and children from £5.45 (winter ticket price without Gift Aid). Plenty of animals to see, including some rare breeds no longer bred for commercial farming, alpacas, a walk-in aviary and a selection of insects, snakes and lizards at Creepy Crawly World. There is also a butterfly tunnel, but this doesn’t open until May. Other attractions include trailer rides, play parks, woodland walks (which we really enjoy on a warm day and have discovered grass snakes along the way) and the Mysterious Marsh Trail, which you are meant to negotiate without your feet touching the ground – quite a challenge! This makes a really fun day out, especially on a warm, dry day when you can take a picnic and enjoy all the trails and activities on offer.

Knockhatch Adventure Park, East Sussex, admission adults £1.99 - £7.99 (depending on day) children £4.99 - £9.49 (Tesco Days Out vouchers accepted). The children’s farm has a large number of animals including alpacas, chinchillas, deer, goats, guinea pigs, wallabies, pigs etc, whilst there are a number of activities on offer too. Have a ride on the Go-Karts or a row on the boating lake; children can enjoy adventure play or get daring on the ‘devil-drop’ slide; or have a game of crazy golf or relax while the children enjoy the soft play area. With all this and more to do, it’s a great family day out with something for everyone. 

To find a great farm attraction near you, visit http://www.farmattractions.net

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Monday, 8 April 2013

Does Size Matter?

Over recent years product packaging has been getting smaller, sometimes because the products inside have become more concentrated and at others to reduce waste packaging as a ‘green’ measure. However, some products are now available in smaller sizes purely to cut costs and maximise profits – they are sold for the same price (or more) as their originally larger counterparts.

So which products are being sold in smaller sizes with good reason, and which are helping the companies concerned to maintain their profit margins?

Recent additions to the toiletry aisles are compressed deodorants. These 75ml aerosol cans are available from Dove, Vaseline and Sure and claim to last as long as the larger 150ml varieties. They are priced the same as the larger cans, so as long as they do last the same length of time, they will make no difference to your purse, but will help the environment by generating less waste from packaging. I’ve just bought a compressed version of Vaseline Aloe Vera, so time will tell what my verdict is on that one.

I tend to use Ariel Excel Gel, but this has been doing an incredible shrinking act over the years. Available is two sizes, the larger one currently claims to last for 24 washes. This was previously 28 and prior to that 32, whilst the price has not gone down accordingly. Give Ariel their due, however, at least the number of washes is displayed on the front of the bottle, so we can keep track of what is happening. I recommend that with this type of product you do check the number of washes as opposed to amount in mls, as this indicates whether it is the concentration of the product that is different as opposed to just the volume.

Many manufacturers state that they would rather reduce product sizes as opposed to increasing prices, but this still means we are effectively paying more per 100g, 100ml or whatever of a product. The initial outlay may remain unchanged for these items, but they will not last us as long.

All that we can really do as shoppers is to keep an eye on product sizes as well as prices and buy the items that work best for us.

However, I would like to see more companies reducing their packaging without compromising their products. Reduced packaging in some cases will also reduce production costs, savings that can then be passed on to the consumer (well, we can dream). After all, how many packets do you open, that contain more ‘space’ than product?

What are your thoughts? comments@shoppersjoy.co.uk

Friday, 5 April 2013

Easter Holiday Fun – Model Outings

There’s something quite magical about mini worlds and model villages, attracting adults and children alike. Become ‘giants’ for the day and visit a ‘model’ attraction.

Merrivale Model Village, Great Yarmouth, adults £7, children £5, family £21. Admission is valid for the whole day and a game of crazy golf is included. The models are charming and there are working vehicles and buttons to press to produce sound effects. The site is beautifully kept, with flowering plants, fish in the pond and benches to pause on. Exit from the village is via the old penny arcade, which has some great old machines to play on – you can ‘buy’ a bag of old pennies for £1. There is also a lovely little tearoom in the courtyard where you exit, that sells some amazing cakes! We love visiting Merrivale.

Bekonscot Model Village, Buckinghamshire, adults £9.50, children £5.50, family £27, but Tesco Clubcard vouchers are being accepted for 2013 season. Not a place we’ve visited as yet, but it has been highly recommended to us, and it’s on our ‘to do’ list. In addition to the lovely buildings and model railway, there is a tearoom, picnic area (with shelters) and a children’s playground. Let me know how you get on if you visit.

Legoland, Windsor, adults gate price £45.60, child gate price £36.60, but tickets are cheaper if booked online. You can also exchange Tesco Clubcard points for day tickets, £11.50 worth of vouchers per ticket. Essentially a theme park, with a good assortment of rides, but also a must for Lego fans of all ages, as the models are amazing. Featuring scenes from around the world (including London and other UK destinations, France, Scandinavian countries, NASA), many with working features, this is the main reason why my son likes to go there – the rides are secondary in his book.

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Thursday, 4 April 2013

DS Games – Mystery Tales Time Travel

This wins the prize for the most frustrating DS game that I have ever played! Why? All will be revealed shortly.

The blurb made the game sound interesting, spanning settings across France, China, Egypt, Rome and so on. It’s basically a hidden object game once again with the added twist of ‘casting spells’.

In addition to finding listed objects, you need to find frogs, eyes, jewels and feathers, which combine to make ‘spells’. What you actually do is join some dots to make a shape, releasing a hint, some extra time or whatever. Drawing the shapes becomes very tedious and several times I got over-enthusiastic and started to draw too early, failing the task, which meant I had to repeat it – maddening!

You are also meant to collect jigsaw pieces throughout the game, but I often forgot to look for these.

The first few levels were fine to play, some things were a bit tricky to find, but it’s boring if you find everything easily anyway. But then I got to the Sacrificial Altar level and things started to get very frustrating.

I spent ages trying to find the numbers and arrows requested, eventually finding the first few, before becoming completely stuck. Even returning to the level over a series of days got me nowhere, partly because the graphics in this scene are not at all clear. In desperation I turned to the Internet for help – something I never normally do. One suggestion was to turn the brightness up on the DS, but this didn’t help me. Another was to use a spell, but either this is only possible on certain versions, or my game had a ‘bug’ preventing me from doing so. In the end I resorted to random tapping, which meant time penalties, but with perseverance and restarting the level several times over I go there in the end. A very haphazard method that I went on to use in another couple of frustrating levels.

Another really annoying thing about this game is that you can only save one version of the game at a time, and when you load story mode ‘new game’ appears top of the list, meaning it’s very easy to click on it by accident as opposed to ‘continue’ and lose all your game so far.

Despite all the setbacks, I managed to get to the end of the game – I must be a glutton for punishment, are you?

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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Gift Aid Explained

Have you, like me, become a bit confused about the whole Gift Aid process, especially when applied to visitor attractions?

Gift Aid as a basic concept is quite straight-forward when it applies to charitable donations. The explanation given on the HM Revenue and Customs website is that “Gift Aid increases the value of donations to charities by allowing them to reclaim basic rate tax from your gift.”
Simple, you make your donation, declare yourself as a UK taxpayer and your donation is worth more as the tax is claimed back.

However, the concept becomes somewhat more vague when applied to visitor attractions, which often have charitable status. I have visited attractions where I have paid the standard entrance fee and just signed a form to agree to Gift Aid. Yet I have visited others where if I want to agree to Gift Aid I have to pay a higher admission charge for this to take place. This got me wondering why that is.

Apparently, in 2006 the law surrounding Gift Aid on admission charges changed, stating that as Gift Aid was aimed at donations, it was not appropriate for it be to claimed on standard admission charges payable by all. Instead, in order to qualify for Gift Aid, visitors had to make a donation on top of the standard fee of at least another 10%. Providing the donation element of the charge has been paid, the whole amount of the admission fee can then qualify for the tax benefit. For example, if the admission charge is £10, providing you pay at least £11, Gift Aid will be given on the whole £11.

However, there are some conditions attached to the Gift Aid pricing strategy. The difference between standard admission charges and the Gift Aid inclusive price must be clearly stated/displayed, with the visitors choosing for themselves whether they want to pay the higher amount, rather than be coerced.

On a visit to a National Trust property (Bodiam Castle), we were automatically charged the Gift Aid price, without being asked, let alone volunteering it. This was wrong and we stated as such, insisting that they reissue standard tickets, amidst much groaning on their part.  Sorry guys, but the law says that we must volunteer the donation amount – otherwise it’s hardly a donation!

I can’t help thinking charitable status is issued a bit too freely anyway; with organisations/attractions qualifying for Gift Aid when I don’t think it’s appropriate. If too much tax is claimed back, that leaves the public purse a bit short for other essentials, like education and healthcare. We should really only agree to Gift Aid in situations where we think it is wholly appropriate and most needed.

What are your thoughts on Gift Aid? comments@shoppersjoy.co.uk

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Easter Holiday Fun – Adventure Trails

Continuing with my suggestions for Easter Holiday outings, today I’m recommending a few fun trails to follow.

Groombridge Place Gardens and the Enchanted Forest, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, adults from £8.95, children from £7.45, family of 4 from £29.95 (slightly higher charges apply event days and Bank Holidays. Follow a woodland trail, discovering models, activities and play areas along the way. We love the raised wooden boardwalk that weaves through the woods, the Blue Pool with its exotic plants and Dinosaur and Dragon Valley. In addition to this fun trail, you can take a short boat ride on the canal, stroll round the formal gardens and visit the Conan Doyle museum. Lots of opportunity to use up all that extra energy!

Dinosaur Adventure, Lenwade, Norwich, from March to September admission is £10.95 for adults and £15.95 for children. Walk through the woods on the lookout for dinosaurs (you will find them), and then visit some live creatures at the Secret Animal Garden. For a small extra charge you can also take a safari through the deer park. Play a game of Jurassic Putt, a fun crazy golf course, and allow the kids to let off steam in the adventure play area. My son loved the 23 metre climb-a-saurus – we ‘lost’ him in there for ages.

Bewilderwood, Wroxham, Norfolk, admission charges depend on height varying between £10.50 and £12.50, although under those under 3ft are free and over 65’s are charged just £8.50. Though we’ve not actually been there ourselves as yet, this has been highly recommended. A feast of outdoor adventure including treehouses, zip wires, bridges, boat trips and marsh walks. Apparently you get to meet Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles – let me know how you get on.

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