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 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?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Burger Bars

As I sat in a branch of Wimpy recently, enjoying lunch with my son, my mind wandered to thoughts of the way so-called ‘Burger Bars’ have evolved over the years.

As a child, I was never actually bought a burger in a bun – it just wasn’t the big deal that it is now. When I was taken to the Wimpy (in the 70s, though first UK Wimpy opened in 1954), it was to have egg and chips, although people were eating burgers – served on china plates, with knives and forks supplied.

Fast forward to the early 80s, and my first trip to McDonalds (first UK branches opened in 1974). When the ‘golden arches’ were new to our high streets, the emphasis was very much on fast food, the speed of service being of the essence. McDonalds operated a ‘maximum waiting time’ policy – if you waited longer than a specified time for your order then you were given your meal, or at least part of it, free! I was fortunate to gain a few free meals under this policy, which I much appreciated as a struggling student nurse.

This policy seemed to fall by the wayside as more branches of McDonalds opened, fast service was no longer guaranteed, and now you’re lucky if you get a mumbled apology if you’re kept waiting too long at some branches.

McDonalds evolved, adding salads and fruit to their menu, opening ‘drive thrus” (how it pains me to write ‘thru’ and not ‘through’), and seemingly dominating the market.

Meanwhile, other burger bars such as Wimpy and Starburger, have stuck to the plate, knife and fork formula, with waitress service for those eating in, whilst adapting their menus to meet present demands.

In more recent years, I’ve made a fair few visits to McDonalds when giving my son a treat, but as I’m really not a huge fan of burgers, I normally just plump for a ‘Filet-O-Fish’, which I can never quite manage to ask for without tripping over my tongue.

How refreshing then to visit Wimpy after all these years and discover some different menu options. I absolutely love their Hawaiian Toastie (cheese, ham and pineapple) served with a side salad of tomato, cucumber, red onion and crisp lettuce (as opposed to limp, curly leaf) for just £2.70. In fact, my son has now also been tempted by said toastie, abandoning the dreaded burger!

We also lovely the Wimpy milkshakes, creamy without being too thick with a bit of froth on top, served in a real glass. They transport me back to my childhood, when my mum used to take me to the milk bar in our local High Street – all blue tiles, chrome and 60s glamour!

Yes, there certainly have been a few changes to burger bars – but in Wimpy’s case it’s for the better!

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