Friday, 28 February 2014

This February I’ve …

 … been using Tresemmé Heat Defence Styling Spray (bought on offer at Superdrug) after getting a great new hairstyle, which has meant I’ve gone back to blow-drying my hair. The spray is easy to use, smells pleasant and doesn’t leave my hair feeling sticky – just spray onto hair prior to blow-drying to keep hair shiny and protected.

… browsing the many and varied independent shops of Whitstable in Kent. Whitstable, famed for its oyster fishing, is a lovely seaside town that has a unique charm and interesting selection of independent businesses. If you’ve never been there, make plans to visit.

… enjoying Marks and Spencer Cherry Liqueurs, part of the Valentine goodies brought for me by my husband. They are absolutely my most favourite chocolates in the whole world – and I’ve tasted a lot of chocolate!

…watching ‘Death In Paradise’, the detective drama set on the island of St Marie. I really didn’t get into the earlier series of this programme, but have to say I really like Kris Marshall in his role as DI Humphrey Goodman. I’ll be sad when the series ends.

… reading lots as always. Latest books include:
‘The Shadow Collector’ by Kate Ellis. I absolutely love Kate’s Devon-based detective, Wesley Peterson, who investigates crimes that seem to hark back to the past. This was as gripping a read as ever.
‘Murder On Summer’s Day’ by Frances Brody, another great tale from the Kate Shackleton series. This is another great story of intrigue featuring the 1920’s sleuth who is herself such a great character.
‘The Detective’s Daughter” by Lesley Thomson. Although this book has received some acclaim, it didn’t quite work for me. I guessed much of the outcome quite early on, and the actions of some of the characters just left me wondering “why?” I was too busy thinking what the characters should have done, to really lose myself in the story.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Low Tech Cookery

Following my post on Monday where I told the nostalgic tale of my trusty, old Stork Cookbook, it got me thinking just what kind of a cook am I?

Looking round my kitchen, you won’t find a lot of the fancy gadgets that you see on offer in the shops these days. Some people seem to possess some piece of fancy equipment for every food preparation task known to man!

When I did my cookery ‘O’ level at school, I was taught the traditional methods for baking. For ages we toiled at creaming butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, gently folding in the flour with a metal one. Once we’d mastered the technique, we were finally allowed the treat of using an electric food mixer to save time! Indeed the aforementioned trusty Stork Cookbook introduced us to the ‘all-in-one’ method, whizzed up using one of those precious mixers.

For years I made cakes at home using only a wooden spoon, until finally deciding to ‘invest’ in an electric food mixer. I say this tongue-in-cheek, as I only purchased a Tesco Value model for £5, which is still going strong years later.

Even now, said mixer is one of the most high-tech pieces of kitchen equipment that I own! Well, that and a basic blender. Not for me the super-whizzy food processors, juicers, grinders etc. Many items of kitchen equipment, in my opinion, just collect dust and are tricky to clean, so I’m sticking with the basics!

Are you a low-tech or high-tech cook?

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Monday, 24 February 2014

The Stork Cookbook

When I was young, I used to love browsing through my mother’s rather tatty old copy of The Stork Cookbook. It had been published long before my time and had been well-thumbed, but I loved the pretty pictures of cakes and biscuits and loved to plan what I would serve at the perfect tea party.

As I got a bit older I actually got to bake a few of the recipes, although they never quite looked as good as in the pictures. Perhaps it was this early love of baking that encouraged me to take ‘O’ level cookery (or Food and Nutrition as the course was actually called) at secondary school.

As we prepared to start the course, my teacher announced that it would be necessary to buy a certain book, in order to have access to all the vital recipes – The New Art of Cooking, from Stork!

This was the 1978 edition, as opposed to my mother’s copy that must have been published some 20 years before, but it still contained similar photographs of finished dishes and many of the same recipes that I’d pored over in my younger days.

I still own my slightly yellowed copy of this book, which has stayed far more intact than my mother’s version, despite constant use. It is still a major source of reference for me when cooking today. Indeed, I have tried other recipe books but always seem to return to that trusted Stork Cookbook of all those years ago. Apart from the occasional recipe gleaned from the odd magazine, its recipes, along with the pencil-written comments added by my 15-year-old self, are truly the inspiration for most of the dishes that I make (with small variations) today.

What trusted tome do you swear by?

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Friday, 21 February 2014

February’s Random Thoughts

We expect major companies to get everything right in their marketing campaigns, including spelling. I was rather shocked, therefore, to receive a promotional, all singing, all dancing email from Debenhams announcing an offer on “beauty and frangrance”! Really Debenhams, I suggest you learn your spellings for next week and see me.

It’s great that these days, announcements are frequently made on board trains, rather than passengers having to hang out of windows at stations to try and catch an almost unintelligible announcement. But some of the current announcements can be rather bemusing, For example, “You are on carriage twelve of eight” – work that one out!

However, like with anything these announcements can sometimes develop faults. Whilst travelling on a train where some problem was preventing the recorded announcements from being broadcast, the guard had to take over. He obviously was not at all familiar with what he should be doing, or even where he was, as he announced, “We will shortly be arriving at another station – somewhere.” That was clear then!

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Monday, 17 February 2014

Re-usable Shopping Bags

There has been talk of late about placing a charge on carrier bags that are issued by shops, as if this is some new innovation. However, this has been done before, and quite honestly I don’t really know why it was stopped in the first place.

When I was a child, people tended to take their own bags when they went to do their weekly shop. I remember my mother gathering together her sturdy bags without giving it a second thought. Once in a while, if she bought an extra lot of shopping that wouldn’t quite fit in the bags, she would select a cardboard box from the pile provided by the supermarket for customer use.

By the time I got a Saturday job in Fine Fare (whatever happened to them?) carrier bags were much more in evidence – but customers were charged for them. Rival supermarket Safeways (another blast from the past) provided large paper sacks, which although were more environmentally friendly, were hard to carry as they had no handles.

Re-usable bags don't have to be boring!
So basically, there were generations of shoppers who were quite prepared to provide their own shopping bags, or at least pay for the ones available in the shops.

More recently, customers have come to expect that stores will provide bags for free. Many shoppers bear little regard to the number of plastic bags that they stuff their shopping into, or give much thought to the impact on the environment.

Carrier bags have almost become a habit, they are taken for granted as part of an average shopping trip.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsburys have long offered an incentive, in the form of extra loyalty points, awarded for every reusable bag used by the customer. I have often thought incentives (points) work better than punishments (charges) but sadly in this case many customers have not been persuaded to kick the carrier bag habit.

I would quite happily see as much as 5p charged per carrier bag, with proceeds going to good causes if possible, to hopefully reduce the amount of bags used and see a return to shoppers providing reusable bags of their own. This is definitely a good habit that we should all get into.

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Friday, 14 February 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day – Again!

The presence of heart-shaped chocolates and the increase of cute, fluffy toys in the shops over recent weeks have heralded the approach of Valentine’s Day – and now it’s arrived.

Last year, I wrote about the history of Valentine’s Day, which you can read here. The tradition of Valentine’s certainly gives us the opportunity to remind a loved one how much we care and for some it proves an ideal time to drum up the courage to ask someone they fancy on a date. It can be a popular time for proposals, and indeed weddings. Valentine’s Day is actually my wedding anniversary too!

But we shouldn’t just rely on today to be romantic and show how much we care. Whispering sweet nothings and presenting our loved ones with little gifts and chocolate shouldn’t be things that we do only on special occasions. Whether we are talking about the love we have for our husbands/wives/partners or the more general love we have for family and friends, we should take the time to express it once in a while, whatever the day or date.

At the other end of the scale, Valentine’s Day can be a sad reminder of loneliness for those not in a relationship or at least surrounded by a good network of friends. The full-on hearts and roses theme of the day can make some people feel a little excluded.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t just remember romantic love, take the time to show and tell others how much you appreciate them too, and remember to make people feel loved and wanted all year round, not just today.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Loyalty Vouchers – The Reply

As a follow on from Monday’s post, bemoaning the short expiry date on some of the loyalty vouchers printed at the Sainsbury’s checkout, I’d like to share with you some comments I have received from the store.

They remarked, “I am sorry to hear you have been unable to take advantage of some of them (vouchers) and understand this can be frustrating to find they have expired when you are shopping. We know a lot of customers shop weekly and therefore find these vouchers appropriate and appreciate receiving them each time they shop.  We are trialling different types of offers and validity periods to ensure we meet our customers' needs. I have logged your comments on our internal system and they will be shared with our marketing team.  They take all customer feedback into consideration when issuing similar coupons in future.”

Pleased as I am to receive a prompt response, I do feel this is still all a bit vague. I was not saying I did not shop weekly at the supermarket, just not on the same day each week, so was missing out on valuable offers.

I sincerely hope that they will be reviewing the expiry dates soon, to make it better for all their customers. I look forward to that Sainsburys.

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Loyalty Vouchers

I’m a big fan of loyalty cards as regular readers will know, My purse houses a fine collection, all of which are put to good use. But as with everything in life, there is always room for improvement as I have discovered.

Recently, I’ve started buying the larger part of my food shopping in Sainsburys, following the discovery of several products and prices that I prefer to those at Tesco – my previous store of choice. When my Nectar card is swiped, I’m invariably presented with a selection of vouchers printed at the till point, my favourite being those giving me extra points on or money off my entire shop. However, there is a drawback with these, and that is the expiry date.

Suppose I shop on a Wednesday one week, the vouchers issued (with the exception of those for specific products) expire the following Wednesday. Now that’s fine if I want to shop the same day the following week, or even a day of two before, but not if that week I would like to do my shopping on, say, Thursday.

Surely the point of a loyalty card or vouchers is that they are to thank you for your loyal custom. Therefore, if I’m buying a trolley full of shopping each week in Sainsburys, I should be rewarded whatever day of the week I shop. The answer would be to ensure that the vouchers in question are issued with the end date of the following week, meaning they are valid for your shopping on any day in that week.

I’m not of my mother’s generation where I have set days for things. I like to vary my shopping day in line with whatever else I may need to do, but don’t expect to lose out on an offer just because one week I shop on a Tuesday and the next a Wednesday. So come on Sainsburys, review this dating policy!

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Friday, 7 February 2014

DS Games Review: Mah Jong Quest Expeditions

I’d never played the game of Mah Jong until I played it on a DS game a year or so ago. It appears as a minigame in James Patterson Women’s Murder Club, Games of Passion – a feature that I’d really enjoyed. So when I spotted Mah Jong Quest Expeditions I decide to give it a go.

For those of you who have never played Mah Jong, it is a tile matching game. The trick is to match and remove the tiles in the order that enables you to clear the whole board.

You can play three different versions of the game in Mah Jong Quest, with different modes available in each. In Kwazi’s Quest you don’t have to clear the whole board, just sufficient to match the black and white hat tiles, and there are all sorts of special tiles available, to enable you to make additional moves in order to clear more tiles. You play against a timer, work your way through a number of levels collecting points and have a limited number of lives available (you lose one whenever you run out of time) but do collect more along the way. Some of the boards in Kwazi’s Quest are quite challenging, but that’s what makes them so good.

If you choose to play the puzzle game, you a presented with a series of boards of increasing size, that don’t have to be completely cleared, but once again you need to match the black and white hat tiles.

The classic game is completely what you would expect, the traditional game of matching tiles to clear the board.

I really enjoyed the challenge of the game, with Kwazi’s Quest being my preferred method of game play. You do have to be a fan of Mah Jong however, as there is nothing else involved in this game – no other puzzles, no hidden object scenes – it’s just Mah Jong in all it’s glory.

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Customer Service Update

A couple of weeks ago, I related a tale of what I considered to be a bad example of customer service at my local Tesco. I was kept waiting for some time at a checkout when the delay was easily avoidable (see here)

A big cheer for good customer service!
I was thrilled therefore, when on a shopping trip to Sainsburys last week, I experienced customer service working as it should. A problem occurred with the shopping of the customer in front of me, but rather than keep everybody in the queue waiting, a supervisor came over, suspended the transaction (which involved printing out a slip) and took the customer and all her shopping to the customer service desk to complete her transaction.

This was the ideal solution as it meant that the customer in question was given assistance, but the rest of us were spared a tedious wait. Well done and thank you to Sainsburys for a very good customer service experience.

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Monday, 3 February 2014

The Right Cut

I’m someone who never seems to get round to getting my hair cut until I wake up one morning, look in the mirror and think, “Help!”

I invariably just pop into a hairdressing salon when out on a shopping trip, in the hope of having a rescue cut there and then. I’ve previously visited various branches of Supercuts, the chain that has a no appointment policy, so attempted to get a cut there again last week, when it got to the stage that I could not longer see past my fringe.

Calling in at a branch of Supercuts in a local shopping centre, I was pleased to see that no one was queuing there. I presumed I would only have a minimal wait and attempted to book in. However, I was told that a man was in front of me, although he’d currently wandered out, which I thought strange as I have always been told that once you have booked in you have to wait in the salon, otherwise if anyone comes in whilst you are away, they get priority. Apparently this rule does not seem to apply to everyone. In addition to this I was told that I would have a 45-minute wait. Now, I’m not being rude, but when said man walked back in during this conversation he didn’t have that much hair to work with so where did the 45 minutes come from? Especially as there were two stylists in attendance at this time.
This information, together with the generally unhelpful attitude with which it was delivered, made me decide not to stay. The question was where else could I go at short notice?

Not far from the shopping centre was a small hair and beauty salon that I decided to pop into on the off chance. I received a warm welcome and was pleased to find that a stylist was available straight away. I was then offered tea or coffee – no chance of that at Supercuts with its conveyor-belt mentality!

The stylist, Alec, then proceeded to wash and condition my hair, with a gently head massage, then cut and styled it very professionally, being friendly and helpful throughout. He was careful to angle the hairdryer away from my face, something that I appreciated as I hate being blasted full on the face (it makes me catch my breath) as some hairdressers do.

The whole experience only cost me £24 and the salon operates a loyalty scheme. So if you live in or are a visitor to the Medway area of Kent, do call in to Phixx in Chatham for a great hair cut in a friendly atmosphere.

Of course, for those of you living elsewhere, I recommend that you abandon some of the more impersonal hairdressing chains in the High Street and give a smaller independent salon a try.

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