Monday, 30 September 2013

So That Was September

Well here we are, well and truly into autumn and the last month has simply flown by. After a short break away from my blog, September saw me return with a few new blog posts that are only just gaining momentum.

My summer was busy with some good fun times included, but towards the end I started to experience a little self-doubt, especially as it’s also a sad time of year for me.

September is the anniversary (three years this year) of the death of my sister who was closest in age to me , with what should have been her birthday also during this month. But on a more positive note, this September also saw the first anniversary of my blog, so I rallied and got writing again.

I also write the copy for websites, brochures and marketing promotions for several companies, and the past month has seen an increase in this kind of work for me, which has been great.

The past month has also seen me launching a bit of a campaign against Ofsted. Despite my son’s school producing well-rounded students with excellent results and good behaviour, and earning comments in its report about some ‘outstanding teaching’ and well-mannered young people, Ofsted, in its wisdom, decided to put the school into special measures.

This was like red rag to a bull for me as I’m a big supporter of the school. In one of my former careers I worked in a few different schools in my area, including some where both results and behaviour were by comparison quite poor, yet their Ofsted reports were good. One school in particular did not correct students for rude behaviour or dropping litter incessantly around the school and some lessons were a bit of a ‘free for all’. After a particular incident with a group of students, I received absolutely no support from the senior management and so decided to leave.

Subsequently I contacted Ofsted but was ignored. You can see, therefore, why I get so annoyed when there are far too many inconsistencies within reports. So now I’m questioning Ofsted further. I’ve written to my local paper, made contact with the local MP and am in the process of communicating with Michael Gove. Am I really the only person who believes it’s high time Ofsted itself came under scrutiny?

So in between writing copy for businesses, letters of complaint and a couple of short stories, I’ve actually managed to write a few blog posts too.

In October you can read how I fared on my shopping quest for leggings, learn how to claim back mis-sold PPIs without paying a fee and catch up with my latest round of 'Random Thoughts'.

Thanks as always for reading.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Shopping Around

You may well compare prices when purchasing goods in the shops, getting to know where the best offers are and stocking up on them when you can.

However, many consumers aren’t as good at shopping around when it comes to buying services such as insurance or roadside assistance cover. Because of this many of us may be paying far more than we need to obtain these services, falling into the trap of automatically renewing cover, however much it may have risen in price, rather than comparing a quote with what else may be available.

Our AA cover recently came up for renewal, but my husband positively balked at the price, which had risen to £129, despite being loyal customers of some 10 years standing. He decided that the time had come to look at other roadside assistance providers.

Hubby duly got to work online, not using price comparison websites you understand, that may in turn have their own agenda, but visiting the sites of individual companies. He discovered that if he bought AA cover online as a new customer it would cost £79; he could get cover from Green Flag for £64 per year and cover from the RAC as a Tesco Clubcard holder for £55 per year.

Armed with this useful information, he promptly rang the AA to reveal his findings. A very charming adviser listened carefully, apparently did a few calculations (probably referring to a crib sheet telling him what to do in this situation, i.e. match price, adding a few pence so it didn’t seem too obvious) and promptly declared that full relay cover could, on reflection, be provided for the reasonable sum of £55.80!

Delighted with the new price, hubby renewed the AA cover, but the point is, if he’d just paid the requested amount on receipt of the quote, he would have been £73.20 poorer, whilst the AA would have offered identical cover for more gain.

So a word from the wise, never automatically renew any insurance, roadside assistance or similar policy or service, without first checking directly with other companies offering the same thing, as to what price they will charge.

Be sure to shop around!

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Short Measures

When buying many products, it’s often possible to tell when selecting them whether we are being ‘sold short’.

It’s obvious if a loaf of bread is shorter than its neighbour, or whether a bar of chocolate doesn’t fill out it’s wrapper as much as the next one. But the way in which some products are packaged can mean that we don’t know that we’ve been given short measures until we get home from shopping and open our purchase.

At least you can see how many eggs are in a box
Multipacks of crisps, biscuits and sweets may often contain fewer bags than the stated amount. But let’s be honest, do you always count?

I recently bought a multipack of Curiously Cinnamon Cereal to take away on a short break. The packet was supposed to contain five bags of cereal, but in actual fact there were only four inside, leaving me short of breakfast supplies.

Although this wasn’t a major catastrophe, I decided to write to Nestlé with my complaint. Well, I say complaint,  I kept my letter light-hearted, adding humour, and was rewarded with a reply within the space of a week. Not only was it a reply, it was an apology accompanied by £8 worth of vouchers to spend on cereal.

I have to say I was impressed by Nestlé’s speed of response, the fact that they held their hands up to their mistake and more than reimbursed me for the shortfall. I, in turn, would like to thank Nestlé for their efficiency in dealing with a customer complaint and congratulate them on having a customer services department that actually works for the customer, as opposed to defending the company at all costs.

In my early days of blog writing, I wrote posts about ‘How To Complain’, ‘Saying Sorry’ and ‘Saying Thank You’. I think this blog post illustrates all of the above very nicely!

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Head For The Hills

Amongst the most recent round of trips to visitor attractions that I made this summer, was a great day spent at Pleasurewood Hills, a family theme park in East Anglia.

Those of you who have been regularly reading my blog will know that I’m not a big fan of thrill-seeking rides, but I was largely drawn to this attraction by the shows that it provides.

Fans of Britain’s Got Talent may remember Sean Alexander, a past contestant on the programme and a very entertaining illusionist. His twice-daily shows performed at the park’s Castle Theatre are definitely worth a mention. My son and I were spellbound by the series of surprising illusions performed by Sean and his ‘Angels’ and highly recommend his show.

We were also greatly entertained by the park’s sea lion duo, performing a string of antics both in and out of the pool. The pair obviously enjoyed the limelight, ‘smiling’, ‘clapping’ and executing a number of clever tricks. I was particularly amused by the sea lions’ impression of a seal!

Not to be outdone, the Pleasurewood Hills parrots put on a fun show too. From counting to skating, they certainly had mastered a fair few tricks to perform.

Shows aside, there are plenty of rides to choose from – there’s certainly something available for all ages and levels of daring. Traditional dodgems, roundabouts and a carousel sit alongside thrilling rides such as the 120ft tall ‘Wipeout’ and 600m long ‘Enigma’. There are even a few more unusual attractions such as chair lifts and pedalos.

Although Pleasurewood Hills is smaller than many of its counterparts such as Chessington and Thorpe Park, it still provides a good day’s entertainment at very reasonable prices. Tickets cost £19 on the day for adults and £16 for children, with youngsters under 1m high going free. There is a reduction of £1 per ticket if you book online, with group tickets also available if you choose to buy them in this way. Or you could do as we did, and use Tesco Clubcard Days Out Vouchers to pay for admission.

Pleasurewood Hills is currently open at weekends only, with a full week of opening at October Half Term holiday.

For a fun family day out, then be sure to ‘head for the Hills’!

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Maps Vs Satnavs

In life, there are two groups of people, those who use maps and those who use Satnavs. I have to say, I fall into the ‘maps’ category.

On any journey I am assigned the roll of navigator, which I love. Hubby comments that in our car we don’t have a TomTom, we have a JoyJoy!

I simply love maps. I love planning the routes for our journeys, working out the most interesting, scenic or easiest routes. If we hit a problem when travelling, all I have to do is check the map for an alternative route and make a detour. We never get sent down dubious tracks or through places that we’d rather not go. Oh no, I certainly wouldn’t swap my map book for a Satnav any day!

Armed only with a road atlas, we have travelled over a large part of the UK and through France without getting lost, and have found some little gems of places along our chosen routes.

How ironic then that earlier this year I won a Satnav in a prize draw! Needless to say I wasn’t thrilled when my prize arrived, but then I saw how it could actually benefit me. I left the box sealed, advertised it on Amazon as ‘new and unused’, priced it a few pence lower than other sellers of new Satnavs and found a buyer within 24 hours! Just think of how many map books I could buy with the proceeds!

So despite my win of the year, you will still see me poring over my road atlas in anticipation of our next journey. After all, hubby can rely on his JoyJoy – even though unlike a Satnav I can answer back!

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

September’s Random Thoughts

Why is it that when I select a few garments to take into a changing room when out clothes shopping, (a couple I really like the look of and an OK one that I might as well try), I only ever end up buying the one that I took in as an afterthought or to make up the numbers?

With the summer holidays over, it won’t be long before the shops start displaying all their Christmas goods, no doubt. (In fact a local shop put out some Christmas cards a month or two ago). So I thought I’d get ahead this year and be the first to wish you all a Happy Christmas!

An early Christmas pic just for you
My local Tesco Metro has just had a revamp. I love the new, brighter feel. I love the new more user-friendly fridges. But I hate the narrower aisles, lined with higher shelf units – a trend in many shops now it seems. Why don’t they just go the whole way and turn the shop into a maze? Customers lucky enough to find their way to the centre can be rewarded with the products that they were looking to find!

When it comes to buying jeans it would seem that we are spoilt for choice. There are skinny, straight leg, bootcut, relaxed, loose, comfort, carpenter and boyfriend fit jeans. I’m waiting for ‘actually fit’ jeans, as no matter which style I opt for, there’s always something not quite right about them.

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy

Friday, 6 September 2013

Return of the Blog

Yes, I’m back in the saddle, and plan to write a steady stream of new blog posts following my short break.

I decided to take some time out to recharge my batteries and reflect on a few things. This time of year is a bit of a tough one for me. In a few days it will be the third anniversary of the death of one of my sisters (the one closest in age to me, with whom I shared many happy childhood memories), followed by what should have been her birthday. Just over a week ago, it should have been my eldest sister’s birthday (just days after my own) but she too died just eighteen months ago, and August is also the anniversary of the death of my much-missed dad.

Apologies for all the gloom, but I find the reminder of all these events somehow makes me stop and take stock – evaluate what I’m doing in my own life, being aware as I am of how precious life is.

This year I became even more thoughtful following a bit of personal criticism that I couldn’t help taking to heart, causing me to look at things a bit deeper.

But I’ve paused for thought, dusted myself down and now I’m ready to write, and rant, again.

One of my current gripes is with Ofsted. Can’t go into too many details at this point, but I really question the validity and motivation of Ofsted. How can a school that has one of the best achievement ratings in the country, is filled with diligent, polite students who not only achieve academically but within sporting and community areas too, encourages students to take pride in their school and offers a good range of extra-curricular activities, get a truly damning report? It’s something I will be looking into and would really like to discuss the whole Ofsted thing with Michael Gove, who I’m hereby inviting to join me for tea and debate!

My other current issue is with Tesco who, to my mind, have failed in their promise to stock more British meat on their shelves. Recent shopping trips to the store have revealed that there is still a high proportion of meat from various other sources, both in fresh cuts of meat, and chilled meat and poultry products such as Chicken Kievs and pies. The worst offenders are products that contain chicken sourced from Thailand and Brazil!

I’d also like ask whether any of you have been invited to become ‘expert patients’, i.e. patients who have an ongoing condition and who are willing to share their experiences with others. This is something that has been suggested to me and as a concept this does have some good points; peer support can be very valuable, but it’s the terminology I don’t like. By becoming an ‘expert patient’ it conjures up an image of someone who’s very good at lying in bed and doing exactly what they’re told. I know this is not what is really being implied but can’t we think of a better term. Maybe something like ‘patient pals’ or ‘treatment buddies’?

So yes, I’m back with the rants, but will also be reviewing and recommending (or condemning) products, visitor attractions and services. It’s good to be back!

Follow me on Twitter @shoppersjoy