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

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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!