Monday, 29 December 2014

Celebrity Endorsements

Advertisements can often be controversial, but I do despair at the amount of celebrity appearances and voiceovers in TV commercials, which must cost a fair whack, money probably better spent on the products themselves – or reducing their prices!

I’ve touched on this subject before, see good ads, but I’m becoming increasingly irritated by the cheesiness and pointlessness of these so-called celeb endorsements. Do I care what Cheryl is (supposedly) using on her hair, which yogurt Nicole Scherzinger (allegedly) prefers or that Victoria Wood appears to extol the virtues of a Dyson? Does it make me more likely to buy these products? Actually, no.

In fact the insincerity of some of the celebrity ads makes the products appear less credible to me. Their only use is to play a game of “Name That Celebrity” – can you recognise that famous voice in the background?

Random kittens in blog,
Much like random celebs in ads
I mean, do we really imagine that Peter André regularly pushes a trolley around his local branch of Iceland and that Mel Giedroyc really believes that “You’re better off at Asda”? The amount of different Asda ads featuring our Mel’s voice in the course of one week probably earns her enough to be far more extravagant with her weekly shop!

Personally, I’d prefer more ads featuring ‘real people’, which would be more cost-effective to make and more believable. It’s not really the TV advertising that encourages me to buy a product or visit a certain shop anyway, but introductory offers for products and loyalty incentives in the shops.

The odd advert can be quite entertaining, with some of the recent Christmas ones certainly worthy of a mention. I loved the Waitrose ad with its traumatic tale of the girl preparing the gingerbread stall and the John Lewis commercial with the lad and his penguins. But whilst the Sainsburys’ World War One ad was a poignant piece of film, I rather wish it hadn’t been an advert at all, just a short film to make us all think.

So does seeing or hearing a celebrity on a TV ad make you more likely to buy a product, or do you think there presence is just a total waste of money?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Open All Hours

It’s been reported that a record number of convenience stores will be opening their doors on Christmas Day this year. OK, so technically the word ‘convenience’ implies that they’re there for you, but surely there has to be a time when even these shops close for a well-earned break.

The thought of all shops being closed on December 25th appears to horrify some customers. “What if we suddenly discover we’ve forgotten the brandy butter or batteries?” they despair. So what? You carry on without them just like we did in the days when shops not only closed for the one big day, but several others too. If Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell at the weekend, Monday and Tuesday were declared Bank Holidays, with shops shutting for the full four days! And this in the days before a lot of homes featured a freezer!

Celebrate don't shop!
Another argument for allowing shops to open on this date is that not all religions celebrate Christmas, so should be allowed to do as they please on this day. Fair enough up to a point. However, I see no harm in declaring December 25th a National Kinship Day, where people have the day off (with the exception of those providing vital services, of course) to celebrate family and friendship. Sometimes we all need a bit of time out of our busy schedules to appreciate those around us, unwind and be grateful for our lives. Whatever your beliefs this is a concept that we can share.

So personally, whatever I find that I’ve neglected to buy on Christmas morning, I will definitely not be venturing out to the shops to track down. Nor will I be scuttling out come Boxing Day to attack the sales. This time of year, I’m quite happy for shopping to take a back seat.

Sadly with our 24/7 culture many people want everything permanently on tap. But here’s a thought, you can survive when the shops are shut!

Monday, 15 December 2014

A Year In Supermarkets

With only weeks left of the present year, I thought it was time that I started looking back at some of my shopping experiences for the year, and in particular, what has been happening with the supermarkets.

Tesco were in the news this year for dodgy accounting, which has resulted in a criminal investigation. Now whilst this is serious stuff, and we should theoretically be concerned, as a shopper, I’m more interested in what is actually happening at ‘ground level’ so to speak. All the while I can go into a Tesco store, find what I want at a reasonable price, get good service from the staff and earn valuable Clubcard points I will continue to shop with the chain. They certainly operate the best loyalty scheme around, with points amounting to four times their value when exchanged for days out and Clubcard send out a regular supply of relevant money-off and extra points vouchers too.

Sainsbury’s, on the other hand, announced that they are set to cut the number of Nectar points that you earn on your weekly shop. (Loyalty cards) With their loyalty scheme already offering a poorer deal than the likes of Tesco I don’t think this is a very clever move. They are, however, pledging to cut more prices, so we’ll have to see how all this works out in practice.

Morrisons launched their new ‘Match & More’ card this year, (I want more) an interesting twist on a loyalty card, whereby you earn points on items that you would have been able to buy cheaper elsewhere – a price comparison that includes the likes of Aldi and Lidl as well as the other major supermarkets. What pleased me about this card was that Morrisons offered three options when it came to registering the card – online, by post or in store – a refreshing change from companies that expect you to do everything online!

Asda has never been one of my favourite supermarkets, but they’ve certainly put themselves in the doghouse recently. My daughter placed an online grocery order with them, but the goods never actually materialised (Oh dear Asda) and despite phone calls, completion of an online form, a blog post and a Twitter conversation (which reaps results in most cases) the company failed to properly apologise for the inconvenience, or offer any explanation as to what went wrong. Needless to say it’s not an experience she has rushed to repeat. In fact, my prize for “The Worst Customer Service of 2014” is hereby awarded to Asda. Perhaps they’d care to take note!

Whilst I continue to give Aldi a wide berth, having rated previous shopping experiences with them at 2/10, I have become a bit of a fan of Lidl. For me, Lidl have been one of the great emerging retailers of 2014. Most recently I’ve found them a great place to stock up with Christmas spirits – port, cream liqueur and cherry brandy all costing around the £5 mark, and tasting delicious – and I love their Stilton too! I’m sure that I’ll have much more to say about them in 2015.

So wherever you shop, I hope you’ve had good experiences this year – if not, let me know, I’m always keen to hear your shopping stories too!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Memories At Manston

It’s been a while since we’ve had a family day out, what with trying to arrange our new home into something vaguely liveable (read more at ruraljoy to throw some light on this one) and the weather becoming chillier and gloomier. So when a Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, it seemed a good time to take my son out on a quest for material for his art project on ‘conflict”.

We trawled the Internet to find somewhere in our home county of Kent that would make for an interesting visit, whilst fulfilling the brief, so to speak, choosing the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial Museum at Manston.

Situated on the old airfield site, the museum is easy to find and both parking and entrance are free, although there is a donation box, which merits your attention! You can also purchase items at the shop (I bought an interesting wartime-related cookbook) and enjoy a cuppa or a meal at the Merlin Cafeteria attached to the museum.

Although small, the museum does have rather a ‘wow’ factor, displaying one of the few surviving Spitfires and a famous Hawker Hurricane, each housed in their own room surrounded by interesting and diverse memorabilia. Indeed, there are some very poignant displays, telling the stories of the men involved in air combat in WWII. There are also examples of everyday items from the World War II era, giving more depth and understanding of the time.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and my son was able to get some great photos to help with his art.

On leaving the museum we noticed another building opposite, which turned out to be the RAF Manston History Museum – another little gem, so we discovered. With admission costing just £1.50 for adults and 50p for children, this contains items representing the history of the airfield between 1916 until the present day, with examples of both military and civil aircraft.

Displays include a section of a wartime street (my son found this particularly interesting), film footage of the bouncing bomb, aircraft of various types and ages and military vehicles. There is even a doodlebug!

We found the two museums very informative and enjoyable and I can definitely recommend a visit to them both, as they each have much to offer visitors – an enlightening experience!    

Friday, 28 November 2014

I Want More!

When it comes to loyalty cards, I’m a serial collector, as many a blog post has demonstrated. It’s little surprise then, that when I heard about the Morrisons’ Match & More card, I just had to grab one and find out, well more.

Strictly speaking, this is not so much of a loyalty card as a price match tool. When shoppers get their card swiped at the checkout, the grocery spend is compared with Tesco, Sainsburys’, Asda, Aldi and Lidl – a selection of supermarkets that just sent the automatic spellchecker on my computer into meltdown!
Always looking to save valuable pounds!

If you would have spent less at these stores, then the difference (with an added zero) is converted to points and put on your card. My first shop with the card could have theoretically been 54p cheaper elsewhere (despite the fact that I targeted offers), and so earned me 540 points. Once I have accumulated 5000 points I will qualify for a £5 voucher.

When I first heard the details about the card, I was unsure whether the benefits would be worthwhile, but considering I’m already a tenth of the way to getting my first £5 following a relatively small grocery shop, it could prove quite handy.

In addition to the ‘match’ points, I’ve spotted a few items in store for which extra points are awarded and you also get 10 points for every litre of fuel that you buy at a Morrisons’ garage.

But what really struck me when I picked up my new temporary card and accompanying leaflet, was that Morrisons actually provide customers with a choice of ways to register – either online, by post (postage paid) or by dropping off the completed form to a box in store. Following previous posts bemoaning companies that only expect customers to communicate with them online, this was a breath of fresh air. After all, there are still people (some of my more elderly relatives included) that either do not have or cannot use the Internet. Well done Morrisons!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What Price An Opinion?

I was absolutely incensed to see, when I turned on the TV this morning for a spot of news, a couple being interviewed after being ‘charged’ for writing a review about a hotel in which they had stayed.

The review in question had been somewhat negative, but listening to the report, it would appear rightly so. The couple had experienced a number of problems with their room, which they had reported, but had not been solved. Disgruntled with their stay, they consequently wrote a review commenting on their experience, which I believe they were perfectly within their rights to do. OK, so they didn’t pay a premium rate for their room, but it should still have been fit for purpose.

However, the hotel still had their credit card details from when they had paid for their room, and apparently helped themselves to a payment of £100 in light of the comments the couple had made. They justified this by saying it was in the small print (very small print as it appears) that anyone writing a bad review would incur a charge. How ludicrous!

This case throws up a fair number of important issues.
We shouldn't pay for others shortcomings

Firstly, I believe that as consumers, we should all have the right to speak as we find. If we receive bad service or shoddy goods, we should firstly exercise our right to complain to those concerned (as the couple in this case did), but if our grievances aren’t resolved, we should be able to warn others of the shortcomings, to prevent others having to repeat our bad experience.

A second, connected point is that we should all be able to exercise freedom of speech, with the exception of the use of abusive or threatening comments.

Thirdly, it should not be, to my mind, legal for anyone to take further payments from a debit/credit card just because they were once given the details as part of a separate transaction. I believe this is just another breach of consumer rights.

Of course, this whole subject is close to my heart, as I regularly write reviews on goods and services – good and bad – and believe I offer a service in doing just that! If businesses want to avoid getting bad reviews, they should, quite simply, ensure that they maintain basic standards and that the goods and services that they supply meet all health and safety regulations, and are fit for purpose. Where mistakes are made or standards are lacking, they should endeavour to rectify the situation promptly and with good grace – this can turn a potentially bad review into a more positive one!

On the other side of the coin, it would appear that some people threaten to write damning reviews unless they are offered a discounted price. This is equally wrong. Just as we expect to be treated respectfully by companies, we should act responsibly as customers. Reviews need to be truthful in order to be helpful to others, sticking to the facts and be made in order to put across a fair point, as opposed to seeking personal gain.

Reviews of products and services can be beneficial to all – potential customers and businesses alike – so let’s protect our right to speak out when things are wrong, without the threat of being ‘fined’ for so doing, as this just rubs salt into already painful wounds!

What do you think?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Say No To Plastic Carrier Bags

There’s no doubt about it, we’ve become a nation of plastic carrier bag dependent shoppers. Why are so many people so reluctant to make use of more permanent, reusable shopping bags?

When I was a child, everyone seemed to go shopping armed with a collection of bags in which to stow their groceries. For those who preferred not to use this option, supermarkets tended to keep a healthy supply of cardboard boxes close to the checkouts, which were certainly handy to transport heavier, bulkier items.

Over the years, however, it has become more the norm for shoppers to expect plastic carrier bags to not only be supplied, but to be provided free of charge.

In my teens I had a Saturday job at Fine Fare (there’s a blast from the past) who at that time made bags available (some early bags were paper) but at a cost. But as time went on, supermarkets introduced a limitless supply of plastic carrier bags – and all for free!

Some supermarkets do offer incentives to reuse bags, in the form of points for loyalty card holders, but this it would seem is not sufficient encouragement to induce shoppers to break the habit.

Now there are calls to charge for all plastic carrier bags in shops, a move with which I wholeheartedly agree. What’s wrong with reusing bags, which can be bought very cheaply in the first place, thus reducing the impact that all of this surplus plastic is making on the environment.

The proposed charge is 5p per single use plastic carrier bag, thus mirroring a system already employed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Hopefully, this will discourage their use at least to some degree, reducing the estimated 60,000 tonnes of plastic carrier bags used per year. For those who still opt to use the bags despite this move, the hope is that the money raised can at least be diverted to ‘good causes’. Ideally, I would hope, more environmentally friendly incentives.

Cloth bags are a stronger option, which are not too bulky or heavy, and prove no hardship to take with you on a shopping trip. Yes, you do have to remember to take them in the first place, but it’s just a question of learning a new habit!

Where do you stand on the plastic carrier bag debate?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Oh Dear Asda!

Personally, I do not opt to purchase my food shopping online – I’m much too fussy a shopper to elect someone else to make specific choices for me! However, there are many customers that find this a convenient way to shop.

My daughter often buys her food shopping online, as she has a young son and relies on public transport, so having at least the heavier items delivered can be a big help. Buying groceries from Tesco using this method had proved reasonably reliable. Although the occasional item was missing from the delivery, the shopping did at least turn up and mistakes rectified where appropriate.

However, she recently decided to try home shopping with Asda, which in her case turned out to be a big mistake!

Online shopping may not be the key
Despite receiving two confirmation emails relating to her order, stating the delivery time slot, the shopping never arrived. After waiting a suitable amount of time (sufficient to allow for unavoidable delays), she contacted Asda. The first customer service adviser that she talked to was somewhat brusque, intimating that the order may not have been properly confirmed, despite the receipt of two emails.

She was then passed on to an adviser in store, who at the outset appeared more helpful, but did not go on to fulfil this promise. Despite their assurance that they would track down the relevant order and inform my daughter as to what was happening, they never did get back in touch. And the shopping never did arrive!

My daughter contacted Asda again the following day, when she was told that they would not take the money for the shopping! Did they think they were doing her a favour saying this? They can hardly charge for something that they’ve literally not delivered!

When my daughter expressed her displeasure at the whole debacle, the adviser decided to offer her free delivery on her next order – as if she was going to trust Asda again in a hurry.

I relate this tale as an example of what I consider to be appalling customer service. My daughter was left without vital shopping (including milk for her young son), no explanation has ever been made for the error, and their half-hearted apology doesn’t go far enough!

I was so incensed that I contacted Asda myself via Twitter - a method that has had favourable results with other companies in the past. Although Asda did respond, it was all a bit half-hearted, only providing me with the suggestion that she spoke with the store in question. Not very clever, when I'd mentioned that she'd already done this! Asda home shopping is definitely not an experience that I would recommend.

What online shopping disasters have you experienced?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

I Love My Loyalty Cards

Like many shoppers, I was quite incensed to hear that Sainsburys’ are halving the amount of Nectar points that they award to customers as of April next year. They will only be awarding one point per pound spent, as opposed to the current two (two points are only worth 1p ).

It’s true to say that Nectar points always have been slightly inferior to those awarded by Tesco Clubcard, with the exchange rate of the latter being four times their face value when converted to Days Out vouchers, and each point being equal to 1p .

There are some shoppers (misguided in my opinion) that question the value of loyalty cards, but I believe that any reward you are given for shopping is better than no reward at all.

Less effective than a loyalty card
The argument goes, that if stores are operating reward schemes, they subsequently have to set their prices a little higher to offset these incentives. However, I would refute this, as many good value items I buy are purchased in shops that offer reward points.

Many of the products that I purchase in places such as Tesco and Superdrug, are not only cheaper or at least comparable to those offered at other shops, but earn me points. Over the years I have acquired so many points under the Clubcard scheme, that we have been able to pay for several family days out each year, including trips to expensive theme parks, which we would not otherwise have afforded. Even if I have occasionally paid a few pence more for the odd product or two, I have received this amount back umpteen times over. It’s true to say, that if I could have bought some items slightly cheaper elsewhere and put the pennies I’d saved into a savings account, I would not have accumulated anywhere near enough to pay for the equivalent number of fun outings.

I regard all loyalty cards (and I can boast a considerable collection) as mini saving schemes that allow me to enjoy life’s little extras. Unless prices are considerably higher in a shop that offers a good value scheme, I am unlikely to shop for identical products somewhere that does not offer me these extra benefits.

So my message to Sainsburys’, and any other stores planning to reduce or withdraw their points schemes, is that this may result in a customer-cutting exercise as opposed to your intended cost-cutting one!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Return To Lidl

Following my discovery of gorgeous cherry brandy and yummy chocolate at Lidl (loving Lidl post), I decided to return to the store, scouring the aisles for more products that might be worth a try.

It’s true to say that I did find some surprises! I was quite impressed with the fresh meat, Red Tractor assured British no less, and bought 500g steak mince for £2.59, diced chicken fillets for £2.69 and four fresh quarter pounder burgers for £2.99 – all lean products at reasonable prices. It’s definitely worth stocking up with some of these packs of meat and popping them in the freezer.

The whole family also enjoyed the frozen Harvest Basket potato wedges and oven chips at just 59p a bag, which make handy standbys to accompany many a meal.

Also highly recommended is Valley Spire Mature Cheddar. It’s a great price at just £1.75 for a pack and has a good flavour, great with crackers.

What will I find next?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Quest For Ginger Preserve

It’s really annoying when you start using a product and really enjoy it, then suddenly it disappears from the supermarket shelves.

That’s exactly what’s happened to is Duerr’s Chunky Ginger Preserve, which I’ve previously blogged (see here ). I just loved its spicy tang, which helped to wake me up when spread on my morning toast. But since its disappearance I’m mourning its loss.

I had been buying it at Tesco, but as I could no longer find it in the store, or in any other local supermarket, I decided to email Duerr, who replied within hours, so a big thank you to their customer service department.

I was pleased to learn that they have not discontinued the product, although Tesco have withdrawn the brand from their shelves. Duerr urged me to write to Tesco to complain about this move, which I am in the process of doing, and would encourage other Ginger Preserve fans to do the same. Send your letters to:
Tesco Customer Service Centre
Baird Avenue

In the meantime, Duerr tell me that I may still be able to pick up the preserve at larger branches of Asda (which sadly does not seem to apply to my local branch) and they apparently make Sainsburys’ Ginger Preserve for them, although I have not managed to find this as yet either.

However, in recent weeks I have managed to buy some Asda, Chosen By You, Ginger Preserve, which whilst not quite on the par with Duerr’s, will suffice until I manage to get more of my preferred variety. The Asda version is too jelly-like in consistency and therefore not so easily spreadable.

Have any of your favourite products disappeared from the shelves in recent times?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Great Value Crafting

I’ve long enjoyed working on various craft projects and am always looking for good value stockists of craft materials.

A small, fairly local, craft shop is a reasonable source for certain materials that I buy, but choice can be limited and prices sometimes rather high. At the other end of the scale, I’m not a fan of Hobbycraft with its impersonal warehouse set-up, which still doesn’t result in low prices.

So despite my erstwhile reluctance to buy products online, I recently found myself trawling the Internet in the hope of finding some reasonably priced blank coasters for cross stitch, in addition to other useful materials. My research was greatly rewarded.

I’ve discovered a great company called Willow Fabrics that supplies a range of fabrics, threads, wool and needlecraft accessories at very reasonable prices. For example, a pack of five round coasters costs just £7 (I paid over £2 each in the craft shop), and I bought a large piece (50cm X 60cm) of tapestry canvas for just £3.70. What’s more my order arrived in just under 48 hours and I was really pleased with the products.

I’ve also recently taken up a great deal in Cross Stitch magazines, with Cross Stitch Crazy and World of Cross Stitching running subscription offers whereby you receive five editions of either magazine for just £1 per issue (normal price £4.99). These are great magazines containing lots of lovely charts and they usually come with free mini kits too!

What recommendations do you have for great value crafting?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Mini Oven Review

(It’s the oven that’s mini, not the review by the way)

Due to our current, somewhat strange living arrangements ( read more here ) we decided to invest in a mini oven, which would allow us to cook some of the foods that we’d been missing, and were unable to conjure up on our basic camping stove and grill arrangement.

After doing a bit of research and reading various customer reviews, we plumped for the Andrew James Mini Combi Oven from Amazon. With a two-plate hob and multi-function oven, it seemed a good buy.

I’m pleased to report that we’re really getting on quite well with it and have appreciated all that it has to offer. On the downside, it does take longer than the average oven to heat up (the hob too) but once it gets going it cooks really well. In fact, pastry for example, cooks much better than it did in our previous oven, becoming a lovely even, golden brown colour, of which any Bake Off contestant would be immensely proud.

The oven capacity is a decent size, enabling me to cook a full roast dinner, and the internal dimensions allow enough space for a large pizza tray.

With a choice of five oven settings, however, it seems a shame that the instruction booklet doesn’t explain which setting would best suit which type of dish. The settings consist of: upper heating and low heating with fan; upper heating and fan; upper heating and lower heating; lower heating; upper heating. The instructions merely advise that four out of the five settings are suitable for baking, with the other function acting as a grill. So we’ve resorted to good old trial and error to work out which arrangement is best for which dish, and slowly but surely we’re getting there.

So if you’ve got limited kitchen space, are looking for a temporary cooker whilst living in a shambles, sorry doing a renovation project, or just fancy an economical change, then I can recommend the Andrew James Mini Oven, despite its sketchy instructions

Monday, 29 September 2014

My Autumn Beauty Buys

As I get older, I prefer a more subtle approach to make-up, using products that give me a healthy glow as opposed to emphasising every little flaw. The latest additions to my make-up bag certainly reflect this trend.
I’ve recently discovered No7 Stay Perfect Superlight Foundation SPF15 from Boots, which gives me a light, dewy coverage that evens my skin tone without looking unnatural. It’s a great little product and a little goes a long way.

Staying with No7 products, I’m now using their Stay Perfect Smoothing Eyeshadow in Bronze and Nude to add a subtle sheen of colour to my eyelids, rather than using a product that is too full on and heavy. The liquid formula glides on with the sponge applicator, and the tubes are handy and light to carry in your bag.

I do love the way No7 have developed this “Stay Perfect” range, if only the transformation to my face was that good! Anyway, I do like the products and are happy to recommend them.
I like to add a touch of colour to my cheeks, but don’t like heavy powder blushers or dark shades, so I was pleased to discover Limited Collection Cream Blush from Marks and Spencer. I’ve chosen dusky rose, which gives me a healthy glow, and I really like the way the product glides on, blends easily and doesn’t look overdone.

As the weather gets cooler, skin needs a little more TLC, especially I find, on my hands. My new favourite product is Hand Therapy Anti-ageing Hand Cream from Superdrug. With UV filters, Vitamin E and Co-enzyme Q10, it has a light non-greasy formula that is easily absorbed and just a hint of scent. My hands will thank me for it!

What beauty buys are you investing in this autumn?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Casualty Experience

Last week I had the misfortune to visit the A&E department of my local hospital. It was a worrying experience, not just because of the nature of my symptoms, but I knew the hospital was in special measures and had suffered recent bad press.

As a former nurse I am always more critical as a patient, as I know what should happen ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived in the department as a patient.

The initial reception was quite good, I was booked in straight away (it was about midnight and reasonably quiet) went directly to triage and in no time was sitting in the queue for an x-ray. At this stage of the proceedings I was relatively impressed.

However, after this great start, things went downhill somewhat. Despite there only being about half a dozen patients in the general waiting area, a couple of hours seemed to pass with only the odd person being called. Now I know from experience, there is also the trolley area to account for and Resus (resuscitation area) to staff, but usually there are nurses assigned to each area. A couple of ambulance drivers appeared to book in patients, who then seemed to walk out and join us in the general waiting area anyway. So I can’t understand the delay, especially as I observed several staff members just wandering aimlessly around. When I worked for a time in A&E, I never remember having time to amble, but was kept busy the whole shift.

All that said, when I was seen by a doctor, the service and attention I was given was very good. She examined me thoroughly and performed a few tests, the results of which I then had to wait for until a final diagnosis could be made. This involved another couple of hours waiting time.

Finally, with the results back, I was discharged with appropriate medication and advice, which has thankfully since enabled me to feel much better.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Getting out of the car park proved to be a bit of an ordeal. It’s one of those parking arrangements where you pay at a machine just before you leave, although I do believe this used to be free during certain overnight hours. Anyway, we attempted to put our money in the machine (£5 would you believe?), but it kept rejecting our coins. As it was we had to scrape around for the funds as parking charges are hardly the first thing on your mind when you rush off to casualty.

Finally a member of staff came and directed us to another machine further away (by this time I was really tired and still in pain, despite analgesia) and just wanted to get home. Unfortunately this machine didn’t like are coins either, so we had to locate help, enabling us to hand over our money to a real person to validate our ticket. I do think the whole system of hospital parking is atrocious as I’ve formerly blogged see here

As a final postscript to my visit, a few days afterwards I received a text asking me to rate my experience and state how likely I would be to recommend that particular A&E department to family and friends. What a ridiculous question! If you’re experiencing an emergency situation, you’re hardly likely to survey people you know, you’ll just head to the nearest place that will help. Although in a separate text I was given the freedom to say what I wanted about my visit – perhaps I should just send them the link to this blog!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Shopping Habits

Despite my recent move, which means that I’m now much further away from the nearest supermarket (see ruraljoy ) I’m not about to change from doing my weekly shop in person, to ordering online.

I’ve heard tales from friends and family, bemoaning incomplete orders and poor substitution of products, which certainly don’t inspire me to join the online shopping revolution.

OK I know that for every negative story that I hear, there are probably many positive experiences to be shared, but my aversion to online supermarket shopping goes much deeper than all that.

The problem is I’m a very fussy shopper (you may have realised that by now if you’re a regular reader of my blog) and take great pains to select the right items fit for my shopping trolley. I turn over many a bunch of bananas, bag of potatoes, pack of meat etc before making my final choice. The thought of someone else making these decisions for me brings me out in a cold sweat – I need to be in control of the shopping!

Well, maybe that sounds a bit extreme, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I like what I like – and I quite like to shop. So no matter how much longer it may now take to get to the shops or how far the distance involved, I will continue to trawl the supermarket aisles and fill my trolley with exactly what I want.

Are you a fussy shopper?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I’m Loving Lidl

I’ve previously made it quite clear in my blog how much I hate the whole Aldi shopping experience – well, more of an ordeal really. The stores are too cluttered, the choices too limited and some of their ‘exclusive’ brand products certainly don’t win prizes for taste in my opinion.

It was with some trepidation therefore, that I decided to give Lidl a whirl, having heard some slightly more favourable reports.

My first impression when I stepped into the Lidl store was how much brighter and clearer it seemed than any branch of Aldi that I had ever visited. The next thing that struck me was how much more choice of products there was, including well-known brands at very reasonable prices. I bought a Hovis Soft White Loaf for just 79p (£1 at Tesco) and Bertolli spread 500g was on offer for just £1.

Then I got a bit braver and tried a couple of the Lidl ‘exclusive’ brands, selecting some chocolate bars, rich tea biscuits and cherry brandy – all of which did not disappoint.

The rich tea biscuits weren’t bad, but the chocolate and the cherry brandy were absolutely delicious and such great value! I chose to buy Mister Choc chocolate bars, priced at 99p for 11, in the strawberry yogurt and latte varieties. Both were gorgeous, really tasty and just big enough for a little treat, with each ‘bar’ consisting of three little squares. The Serenade Cherry Brandy Liqueur cost just £5.99 for 50cl and was actually one of the best that I’ve ever tasted – warming, not too sweet with a good cherry flavour.

I’m definitely planning another trip to Lidl very soon.

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Day At Thrigby Hall

During my latest stay in East Anglia, I visited the delightful Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens near Great Yarmouth, which proved to be a real treat.

Thrigby centres on the wildlife of Asia, housing creatures such as tigers, leopards, red pandas, gibbons, crocodiles, snakes and storks. Although not one of the country’s largest wildlife parks, it offers a lovely garden setting, and represents great value for money, with admission costing just £13.50 for adults and £9.50 for children.

One of the things that my son and I particularly liked about our visit was the opportunity to get close to the animals due to the walk-through enclosures, treetop walks and tiger tunnel. The treetop walk near to the gibbons’ enclosure allowed us to watch these fascinating animals swinging through the trees whilst being at their level.

One of the most stunning animals from our point of view, however, was the clouded leopard, which has the most beautiful markings. Other high points as far as my son was concerned were the crocodiles in the swamp house and the snakes (he particularly enjoyed feeding time for these).

Overall Thrigby is very well laid out and I was pleased to discover that the café provided very reasonably priced lunches – soup and a roll for £2.50, hot pasties for £1.80 and a selection of sandwiches, snacks and jacket potatoes. Ice creams were also standard prices, as opposed to the over-inflated ones charged at some attractions.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Thrigby and recommend it for a fun, yet educational, family day out.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Thank You Tesco Clubcard

I’ve previously written about my frustration at how more and more businesses only want to conduct transactions or communications online. Although I’m happy to use this method for certain things, there are cases where I prefer to get in touch by phone or letter, or even in person.

My argument against the emphasis on things being ‘online only’ has been that some people still do not have Internet access or the skills to use it.

I was recently without Internet for some time (during my 'big move' ), but wanted to exchange some of my Tesco Clubcard points for days out vouchers. Forms used to be provided for doing this by post, although this no longer seems to happen. In addition to encouraging the ordering of vouchers online, Tesco now operate a system whereby they email some of their vouchers to customers to be printed at home. A straightforward system when you have the facilities to do so, but not so good if you don’t.

However, after having communicated with Tesco Clubcard, I’m happy to report that vouchers can be ordered by post or over the phone. If you are unable to supply an email address (as I couldn’t for a short time) then they will print vouchers and send them to you.

So if anyone else is looking for the more traditional way of exchanging Clubcard points, here are the details:

By post: Tesco Clubcard Boost, PO Box 654, Crawley, RH10 1RG (You need to send a request by letter, not that there is no form available).

By phone: 0808 100 0707 (free from BT Landlines) or 0330 123 0707 (charged at local rate from mobiles and private telephones), Option 2, Monday to Friday: 9am to 8pm and Saturday: 9am to 5pm.

So thank you Tesco for providing these services, responding promptly to my query and issuing vouchers to me via the good old-fashioned postal method.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Customer Service – Responses

I’m a stickler for good customer service and am of the opinion that we should always speak up when service falls short of reasonable expectations.

Since starting my Shopper’s Joy blog nearly two years ago, I have taken up customer service issues with various retailers and service providers with rather mixed responses.

In the fledgling days of my blog, I experienced problems with both Sainsbury’s and Greggs, both of whom I sent letters of complaint, in addition to featuring them on the blog. I was pleased to report that both responded promptly and reasonably sympathetically, assuring me that they would address the issues raised and sending some handy vouchers by way of apology.

Long before my blogging days, I occasionally had cause to approach a company, either by letter or phone call, with regard to poor customer service, sometimes receiving an appropriate response, although at other times being totally ignored. It is fair to say that since any complaint that I’ve made has been shared on the public domain, responses are much more forthcoming. Thank goodness for the likes of Twitter, Blogger et al.

In the days when our grievances were only aired behind closed doors, companies had the option of brushing any complaints under the carpet, in the belief that they would be unlikely to become common knowledge. Although some firms have always responded well to reports of customer dissatisfaction, others have had to improve their reactions in the light of social media. Let’s face it, when we’ve had a poor experience, first and foremost we want an understanding reply, backed up by the promise that future service will be improved.

It is true to say that sometimes it is only an individual employee or isolated branch of a chain that lets customers down, but if the company as a whole does not respond positively to criticism, they risk being given a bad name.

More recently, I blogged about my experience of two different branches of the Hungry Horse pub/restaurant chain. One branch couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly; whilst the other gave the impression that they really couldn’t be bothered with my custom. On this occasion I cut straight to the blog without directly contacting the company and lo and behold, the manager of the poorer branch responded with a request for further details so that she could resolve the issue. The only sad part is that despite an encouraging first response, I never heard from her again. For the record this was The Star at Gillingham in Kent – just so you know!

Needless to say I have not returned there since!

In the last couple of weeks, a trip to my local B&Q store resulted in me leaving without my intended purchase, following what I can only describe as total indifference from the staff.

My attempt to by a floral arrangement in an odd-shaped pot was thwarted, when staff could not supply the means of transporting said pot without either crushing or totally losing its contents. A request for a box resulted in being presented with the most pointless, shallow example of its kind known to man – totally useless. An additional colleague was summoned who shrugged off the request with a kind of ‘haven’t-got-anything-hard-luck’ attitude. Right, thanks for your help guys!

Interestingly, however, a single tweet about my trip elicited a response from the B&Q help team, promising to investigate the matter. Great! Trouble is I’m still waiting for the result of that one …

And now BT is in the doghouse. My recent move saw me cut my ties with this company – a more expensive transaction than I would have thought. Watch this space for more news on this one.

So the point of all my waffling? Well, I have several in fact:
- When you receive poor service, do speak up; it’s the only way to get things improved.
- If you have access to social media, then use it! Pushing your complaint into the public domain increases your chance of a response.
- If you are a company on the receiving end of a complaint, then for goodness sake acknowledge it, investigate it, improve on it and say sorry! Remember, ignoring a complaint is just another form of poor customer service!

Which companies do you find are good or bad at handling complaints?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Wow, So That Was July!

Well July was certainly a busy month for me. After gradually moving the contents of my former home over a period of many weeks, much into temporary storage, July finally saw us moving ourselves into our present accommodation (currently more of a glorified shed).

We are now living a kind of ‘not-quite-camping’ existence in what we hope will be our ultimate destination, but there is much work to be done before achieving the finished result worthy of being called ‘home’.

I seem to be spending a huge amount of time watching the wildlife, birds, bats, butterflies etc, when I should really be working, but the novelty of the rural location has not worn off us yet.

Amidst ‘The Big Move’ we still managed a trip to Legoland, a fun evening at a barn dance marking a friend’s wedding anniversary and, more recently, have been spending time at our static caravan, soaking up the sun. Though strangely, in view of our new permanent, more rural, location, the latter seems far from being the novel experience that it once was.

As the month comes to a close, it’s lovely to take a few deep breaths and recover from the stress of this stage of ‘The Big Move’ – before embarking on the next stage some time in the autumn! Look out for my new additional blog then too (to run alongside Shopper’s Joy) chronicling all the fun and games of my new life.

How was July for you?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Return To The Hills

I’ve really been enjoying the recent sunny, summer days and spending time at my caravan in East Anglia, where we’ve been on some more fun family outings.

Last week we made a return visit to Pleasurewood Hills in Lowestoft, that we visited for the first time last year.

Once again we were entertained by the fun parrot and sea lion shows, but instead of the illusion extravaganza supplied last year by Sean Alexander, we were thrilled by the amazing Acapulco High Dive Show team, who demonstrated a great range of high dives displaying both dramatic and comedic elements. The show definitely had the ‘wow’ factor.

Of course we also enjoyed a variety of rides, though I must confess to be more of a spectator when it comes to the big ‘thrill’ rides such as Wipeout (a large roller coaster that goes backwards, forwards, upside down etc) and Enigma (with its dramatic plunge). But thankfully, Pleasurewood Hills offers a good variety of family rides, which are literally much more down to earth.

It was very relaxing to ride the paddle boats (OK, I was a passenger allowing others to do the work), great fun being driven in the dodgems by my son, who is a master of the avoidance technique, and like a return to childhood riding the carousel and miniature railway!

The theme park has a lovely, friendly feel and a relaxing countryside setting, making it a great choice for a family, summer outing.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Supermarket – But Not As I Know It

Following my recent, more rural, move, I have had to make a number of changes to my everyday life. One of these changes has involved visiting a different branch of Tesco to do my weekly shop.

Formerly I shopped at a big Tesco Extra store, which always seemed to be busy, even mid-week when I opt to shop. Queues would often build up and negotiating the aisles could be a tricky business in itself. But my new shopping venue is a smaller Tesco store (not an Extra, but not a Metro, something in between), where the whole shopping experience seems that much more civilised.

To visit this branch I have to venture out from my new village location to the nearest small town. Once in the store the aisles are pretty devoid of customers, with the few I do meet generally pausing to pass the time of day. What a joy not to have to play ‘dodge the manic trolley driver’ or ‘avoid the mass of parked trolleys’!
On my first visit I was pleased to see that the checkouts looked, what I considered to be, very quiet, with only about one customer at each. So imagine my surprise, when as I approached, a call came over the tannoy requesting, “All red cardholders to checkouts please.” Why? Was that busy by their standards? Anyway, I shouldn’t complain, as I was promptly whisked to an empty, newly opened checkout where I was given help to pack the shopping!

And no, this wasn’t a one-off as much the same thing happened on visit number two!

OK, so it doesn’t offer the all-singing, all-dancing non-food aisles, but at least I can get my weekly shop without being tempted to buy all the other things that I don’t really need. Sounds like a win-win situation.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A New Chapter

It's been a busy few weeks, packing up the last remnants of our 'old life' and moving on to pastures new - quite literally as I am writing this in my new setting, surrounded by green fields!

Shopping, as so much else, has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment, finding homes for all that we already have, has left little time (or need) to accumulate more. We are still in the early stages of a multi-layered move, currently living in a building not really designed for family life, but which has lots of, what an estate agent would call, potential. The fact that we are living a semi-camping existence is quite forgiven, when we look at the views of rolling hills, picturesque countryside and a tranquil river.

We are now starting to embrace our new rural, village life. It was certainly a different experience to hear the sound of bell ringing practice at the village church as opposed to the traffic noise and sirens of busy town life. Indeed there is no traffic passing our front door (or our home at all) except for boats, which are restricted as to when they pass by the tides.

The first view that I saw when I got up yesterday morning was the sight of cormorants diving for food - makes a change from just seeing the odd sparrow in the garden.

Of course, I will still be venturing to supermarkets for the weekly shop (supplemented by visits to our local village store) and to High Street shops for the odd browse and purchase, but I feel my life is about to become far more village-based - and not just because there is only an hourly (sometimes two-hourly) bus service.

This is indeed a whole new chapter of my life!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Pointlessly Random Thoughts

Following Friday's post, I'm glad to report that Debenhams Beauty Club finally rallied and managed to update my details. The organisation currently dragging their heels at acknowledging the 'Big Move' are my local (soon to be ex) council. My emails have been resolutely ignored, and an attempt at ringing them resulted in me having to negotiate half a dozen automated menus, before being put into an enormous queue to speak to a general adviser! What was the point of the menus if I'm still lumbered with waiting in the general queue? Needless to say I abandoned my mission and have decided to attack from yet a different angle.

Chocolate cake - now that's not pointless!
I've been colour matched! Now that was a pointless exercise if ever there was one. On a recent shopping trip I was persuaded by the lovely lady in Boots to be assessed for my correct foundation shade. I duly sat on her stool while she cleansed a couple of patches of my face, held her little machine to my skin and read off the result - the shade I've been buying for the last goodness how many years! What's more I was informed that sometimes you don't buy the colour the machine says, as formulas for different types of coverage vary anyway. Right, so what was the point?

I see a bit of a pointless theme emerging here, so I may as well throw another question on the 'What's the point?' theme into the mix: Why does Legoland insist on parking charges when many other theme parks, don't? You can hardly park there to do your weekly shop, so what's the point?

For those of you reading my blog for the first time, I must apologise if I currently sound ridiculously crotchety. Put it down to the stress of my 'Big Move' - at last, something that isn't pointless!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Breaking The Silence

Sorry folks, it's been some time since I've written a blog post. Things have been somewhat hectic with various stages of moving house taking place and life generally taking over.

It seems that every time I do sit down to write of late, it's either for work purposes, or to let another batch of people or businesses know my new address - and believe me the latter has been a revelation in itself!

Some companies have been helpful and efficient about changing my details on their records, whilst others have either failed to recognise what I'm telling them, been very slow to respond or have just basically cocked it up!

A relaxing scene to relieve the stress
Top of my list for helpfulness and speed have been Superdrug Beautycard, whilst currently bottom are Debenhams Beauty Club, who just can't seem to grasp what I'm actually trying to tell them, bless them, with all levels of efficiency nestling between the two.

Anyway, as I write I am still in a kind of 'limbo' state. Half my home in one place, the other in another, with months of temporary accommodation still to go before reaching our final goal. Amongst the chaos I will be endeavouring to keep up a steady stream of Shoppers' Joy posts and plan to start an additional blog in the autumn about the ups and downs of my new life.

All will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Thanks for continuing to read - Joy. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

In May I …

… have been getting to grips with mastering my new hairstyle. My new cut meant a change in blow-drying technique and even saw me ‘investing’ in a set of straighteners. It called hardly be called investing however, as I picked up a bargain from Sainsbury’s where Phil Smith hair-styling sets were being sold at a 75% discount. For around £7 I bought a handy travel bag containing ceramic-plated mini straighteners with cover and a handy folding hairbrush. A really great buy!
… ate lots of Duerr’s Ginger Preserve. It all started when I lost my appetite due to a bug, and the thought of most food left me feeling queasy. As ginger is recommended a stomach settler, I decided to give it a go, and am still totally hooked on it long after recovering from said bug. It’s delicious on toast.

… made lots of lists. Lists of people to notify about change of address, lists of jobs to do on the current house to leave it in order, lists of what is to be stored where during our complicated multi-stage move, lists of food for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday bash … perhaps what I really need is a list of lists.
…read ‘Peril On The Royal Train’, another great story from the Railway Detective series, penned by Edward Marston. I really enjoy these crime stories set in the golden age of steam and featuring the masterful Inspector Colbeck and the feisty love of his life Madeleine. The tales are very atmospheric – a piece of history and crime combined.

… also read ‘The Missing One’ by Lucy Atkins, which I found quite chilling yet felt compelled to read at the same time. The book demonstrates how keeping family secrets can have far-reaching consequences and disturbing effects.

Monday, 26 May 2014

My Best Buys This May

I’ve really been enjoying the return to salad weather and tucking into Tesco Sweet and Smoky Beetroot – shredded beetroot that actually isn’t dowsed in vinegar. To my mind this is how beetroot should be eaten. I’m a bit unsure about the packaging though. It proclaims, “I’m new” and “Keep me in the fridge”. Er, I don’t think it can actually talk Tesco, so why insist on trying to thrust this human quality on it?

In our household, we occasionally enjoy a glass of Sprite/7Up Zero, but it can be pricey at around £2 for a 2-litre bottle, so I was thrilled when I discovered Tesco Lemon and Lime Zero for just 65p for the same size bottle. But then I was even happier when I found Sainsbury’s Lemon and Lime Zero for just 55p a bottle! Although the price has now risen to 60p it’s still a great buy, which is as tasty as the big name brands.

For a lovely summer meal, we’ve been enjoying Sainsbury’s Minted Lamb Grills (frozen, 4 for £2) accompanied by Sainsbury’s Microwaveable Golden Vegetable Rice (frozen, £1 for 2 sachets) and served with a salad. This is a tasty, budget, family meal that is quick and easy to prepare.

As a bit of a treat I’ve bought Marks and Spencer Passion Fruit and Peach Jaffa Cakes. They are absolutely gorgeous, but strangely come in packs of eleven, what’s wrong with twelve? Nevertheless, Jaffa Cakes have come of age!

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