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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