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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Saturday, 24 May 2014

A Hidden Gem

With the big improvement in the weather recently, my thoughts turned to outings and I started looking for new and different places to visit.
My recent research resulted in a visit to a stunning building virtually on my own doorstep, which I had vaguely heard about but had sadly previously ignored.

Temple Manor in Strood was originally built in 1240 by the Knights Templar and was used as a stopping point for travelling dignitaries. Today, following restoration by the Ministry Of Works in the 1950s, it stands proudly in a leafy garden, nestled between business units on an industrial estate. Incongruous as this sounds, the surroundings do not spoil the peace and charm of this lovely building.
Cared for under the English Heritage umbrella, the property is open weekends between April and November and admission is free (although donations appreciated).

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Temple Manor, the building has been lovingly restored and there are some very interesting information boards not only about the building and local area, but the Knights Templar too. Although unfurnished, the building has some interesting details, including traces of original wall paintings, grand fireplaces and a vaulted undercroft.

This really is one of Kent’s hidden gems.

What ‘hidden gems’ have you found where you live?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Random Thoughts For May

As I fast track another pile of badly thought-out election leaflets from the door mat to the recycle bin, I can’t help wondering how many politician’s faces are destined to become tomorrow’s packaging materials. Who says politicians don’t do enough to help the environment?

Whilst enjoying a cheese scone at my local Sainsbury’s café, I started pondering the pronunciation of the word ‘scone’. The lady who served me pronounced it as I do, with a long ‘o’ as in ‘bone’. But of course, many people use the shorter ‘o’ version to rhyme with ‘con’. This always puzzles me, as it seems to follow the pattern of words such as ‘cone’, ‘crone’, ‘phone’, ‘tone’, ‘zone’… Well, you get the idea. Mind you, the ‘scone-related’ scenario that really irritates me is that many cafés that offer cream teas serve them with fruited scones, as opposed to the more traditional, plain Devon scones. Sorry, this combination just doesn’t work for me.

It’s very nice of Cadbury’s to emblazon my name across many of their chocolate multipacks. Does having the name ‘Joy’ on them mean they’re all for me? Well, there was no harm in asking.

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

A Life In Boxes

As I write this I’m sitting in a house filled with boxes. Cardboard boxes of all sizes that are currently being filled with what amounts to my life.

This may all seem very melodramatic, but I’m sure the coming months (and beyond) are likely to be filled with a certain amount of drama. We’re about to embark on a rather complicated move, which we’re trying to synchronize and plan with precision. Yeh right!

In our household we don’t often do plans. We more commonly operate on a kind of ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ mentality. Many a time we’ve enjoyed an outing or holiday where the kids (can barely call them that now) have exclaimed, “Wow, you did well planning that one!” At which point hubby and I exchange knowing looks indicating, “Well, actually we made it up as we went along”.

What I’m actually anticipating is an element of chaos and the likelihood that ‘plans’, such as they are, will change on a near daily basis.

We’re currently at stage one of said move – packing all the things that we can manage quite nicely without for some time into a series of boxes, duly sealed and labelled. These will then be stored so that we can enter stage two.

Of course, part of this process involves ditching the junk, which is easy for me as I’m a ‘serial sorter’ anyway. Any excuse and you’ll find me rummaging through various cupboards and drawers, throwing out unwanted items and meticulously putting the rest in order. It’s something I do when I have things on my mind that I just can’t seem to resolve – a psychologist would have a field day with me! The good thing is that now the rest of the family have the incentive to clear out all their junk too!

So on to stage two. This will mean moving all our remaining belongings into what we are calling ‘temporary accommodation number one’. Basically a brief period spent kind of indoor camping at a relative’s outbuilding, before spending the majority of the summer in our beloved static caravan.

OK. With me so far?

At the end of summer we’ll be getting ‘temporary accommodation number two’ in place and that’s when the fun begins …

More than that I won’t reveal at this time, as final arrangements have to be confirmed and we have much work to do. All I will say is that we’ll be trading a suburban lifestyle for village life, views of the house opposite for a countryside scene and busy roads and good transport links for winding lanes and an hourly bus service.

So keep watching for future posts when more will be revealed …

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Paper Bills

The Internet has proved such a useful tool in so many ways. The choices are endless – ordering shopping, booking holidays, comparing prices, researching everything from family trees to ‘useless’ facts – but using it should remain just that, a choice.

It appears that the answer to almost anything is increasingly becoming “Look on the Internet”. This is fine for those people who are actually able to do so and, indeed, want to. However, there are still a large number of people who don’t have access to the Web, whether it’s due to financial restraints, lack of skills or personal choice. That is why in any situation people should be given a valid alternative without penalty.

Even though I regularly use the Internet for a list of tasks, there are still a few things that I prefer not to do online. When it comes to bills, online versions are all very well, but I have to remember to look for them. At least receiving a paper bill requires no more thought than retrieving it from the doormat!

Of course, pre-Internet we all regularly received our paper bills as there was no alternative, but if we want to continue receiving them in this way, we often have to pay a charge. Although not extortionate (commonly around £1.50), this is still unfair to many people who do not have any choice in the matter – pensioners, those on a low budget etc. The very people for who every penny counts!
Although I opt for some of my bills to be sent on paper, it’s exactly that, a choice. For others it’s a necessity for which they should not be charged.

Companies obviously opt for online billing to reduce their costs and paperwork, but if they could afford to send paper bills out at no extra charge when all customers received them, then surely they can continue to do so for the reduced number of people now receiving them in this way.

As for the ‘saving paper’ argument, those bills that I do receive online still have to be printed off for tax purposes as we’re a self-employed household – and we’re not the only ones.

So maybe it’s time that companies reviewed the billing situation to allow everyone a ‘free choice.

What do you think?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Hungry Horse – Good and Bad Service

We enjoy an occasional meal at a Hungry Horse pub/restaurant and have visited our local branch (The Star, Gillingham) several times. So when we decided to pop out for an evening, we headed there again.

On entering the bar it appeared quite empty, but as we wandered round in search of a table, it became apparent that all the empty ones were displaying ‘reserved’ signs.

Speaking to a member of staff about the possibility of a table, we were met with a most unhelpful response – in fact, his attitude indicated that he couldn’t really be bothered and didn’t actually want to speak to us! In answer to the question, “Is there a table available?” he shrugged, “ You just have to look.”

However, we were observed by an off-duty member of staff, who gave the impression of being the only person who actually wanted to help us, but who was sadly not supported by his colleagues. He reasoned that some of the reservations were for later in the evening, meaning that we could use one for an early meal. Unfortunately this suggestion was thwarted by a waitress who maintained that all the many reserved tables were booked for exactly the same time. That was a bit hard to believe.

Feeling very unwelcome and a bit dejected, we decided to head to the next nearest branch (Poacher’s Pocket, Chatham), which we had never visited before.

On arrival we were met by a much busier scene, with most tables actually in use and only a couple of empty table marked as ‘reserved’. We were thinking of giving up and going home, when a cheery waitress greeted us and asked how many we needed a table for. To our answer of ‘three’, she located a couple of small tables and put them together to accommodate us. It appeared that the level of helpfulness at this branch was 100% better than we’d received at The Star.

And so the evening continued. All the staff were cheerful and helpful, checking on us regularly and making us feel welcome. The food was lovely and what had actually looked like being a disastrous evening, ended up being thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s worth remembering that whilst all the branches of any one pub/restaurant chain may offer the same menu, the quality of food and the level of service received can vary enormously.

No prizes for guessing which Hungry Horse will be our restaurant of choice from now on!

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Not So Simple

I’m always looking in the shops for interesting products to add to my make-up collection. I’d been growing tired of the same old moisturiser and foundation routine and decided to look at what BB creams have to offer.

After some deliberation I chose to buy Simple Perfecting BB Beauty Balm, which states that it is in a ‘universal shade’ and offers SPF15. It claims to ‘moisturise’, ‘even skin tone’ and contain ‘illuminating particles’. Well, I could certainly do with a bit of illuminating and like the fact that Simple products are suitable for sensitive skin, so it seemed like a good choice.

The cream felt nice on my skin and was easy to apply, but sadly I looked like I’d been ‘Tangoed’. So much for the universal shade, it’s obviously aimed at orange aliens.

Still, not to be beaten, and always loathe to waste money or purchases, (even though I did the Shoppers’ Joy classic thing of buying on offer) I found that if I combined a dab of the BB cream with a spot of Simple Illuminating Radiance Cream (I’m determined to be illuminated) the result was far more natural!

On the subject of dodgy beauty buys, I was also disappointed with my recent purchase of L’Oreal 3 in 1 Micellar Solution. This did not leave my skin feeling anywhere near as fresh and clean as with other micellar lotions that I have tried, the best to date being Avène Micellar Lotion, which left my skin feeling gloriously cleansed and refreshed.

Which make-up and beauty products do you recommend?

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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Toddler Toys

I’ve had great fun shopping for toys recently, ready for my grandson’s first birthday. Although I have to say, the onslaught of noisy, flashing, brightly coloured toddler ‘gadgets’ greeting me in the shops has become a bit overwhelming.

Much as I can see that many of these toys are educational and fun, I think there is a limit to how many of these ‘full-on’ toys any one small person needs.

My first purchase was an eye-catching fire engine from Carousel. Yes it does have a flashing light (it’s a fire engine), yes it does make a noise (it’s a fire engine) but it also has several features for a child to operate manually – i.e. you push it to make it move and it has little doors that open up to reveal activities.

When choosing a second toy I was looking for something with a bit less ‘bling’, electronic learning toys can be great, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The only problem was everything I touched in the shops seemed to beep and flash at me, rather than hint at more traditional play. 

Of course, I’m of a generation whose toys had very few beeps and flashes and batteries were very seldom required. Many toys just needed pushing, building, playing ‘pretend’ or manual operation. Although I do remember my parents giving me a clever little train engine, that moved around the floor until it hit something, whereupon it emitted a whistle, flashed a light, reversed and headed off to repeat the whole process again. As far as I remember that was the most ‘high-tech’ toy I had as a child, and indeed the only one of its kind that I had.

But back to the present. With my mind firmly on trains I selected ‘My First Train Set’ from Tomy, which consists of a little track, tunnel, trees and a train with moving eyes. How does it work? Friction. You just pull back the little engine and watch it go – no batteries, no beeps, no flashes!
A very young me with said train engine

Flushed with success I decided to quit whilst I was ahead and completed my gift shopping with more traditional purchases of books and some character pyjamas.

Electronic toys can be fun and educational, but we must choose more traditional ones too, in order to promote motor skills and, most importantly of all, imagination!

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