Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Swan Rescue


Another of our Yorkshire holiday trips was a visit to Lightwater Valley Theme Park, once again courtesy of Tesco Clubcard vouchers.

Two things made an impression on our arrival at the park – the lovely countryside setting and the amazing animatronic dinosaurs at the entrance.

On entering the park properly, the first area that we came to was filled with fairground rides, although we soon realised our favourite of these (the dodgems) was missing. What did grab our attention was the birds of prey centre, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Containing many species of owls and other birds, and even a small snake section, this made for interesting viewing and a change from the rides.

A wide selection of rides are on offer at the park, a good number that are suitable for younger children, as well as some more daring thrill rides. The park setting is great for picnics and the little train that runs round the park is a good way to view what’s on offer.

The Lightwater swan rescue begins!
One of the more traditional attractions available is the pedalo ride, little boats in the shape of swans. We fancied a relaxing trip across the lake, so we climbed aboard. The boats hold four people and are operated by a steering wheel as opposed to a tiller. This should have been straightforward, but unfortunately we were assigned a boat that malfunctioned.

A short way into our ride the steering would no longer allow for a right turn. “Never mind”, we thought, “We’ll just do a circuit bearing left.”

But no! It then refused to go in even a straight line (having jammed) and would only send us round in small circles. As we started to drift into the bank, we waved at the attendants on shore – who promptly ignored us!

For some time we debated how best to remedy our situation, until finally another family came along and offered to tow us in. This was not as easy as it sounds, as both boats kept drifting, but after a concerted effort, we made it back to dock – some 40 minutes after setting out!

The young girls managing the ride were still oblivious to our plight, and looked blankly when we tried to explain. However, we eventually managed to persuade them to contact maintenance and left it in their hands.

Looking back we found the situation slightly comical, but at the time it was extremely annoying!

Our saviours!
Apart from this blip, we quite enjoyed our day; Lightwater Valley is a bit different from other theme parks that we have visited.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Tale of Two Abbeys


On our recent holiday to North Yorkshire, we visited two sites of Abbey ruins, both managed by English Heritage. Clutching our new membership cards, acquired with Tesco Clubcard points, we were eager to make use of the benefits.

The majesty of Byland Abbey

Having visited the well-known Whitby Abbey on a previous occasion, we had planned to visit Rievaulx Abbey, having seen it on the BBC programme Secret Britain. However, before we got round to making that visit, we stumbled across a sign for Byland Abbey, which we had not heard or read about, but decided to explore.

The route took us along windy country lanes and we half expected to find a minor ruin at the end of it – a heap of stones or partial wall – but how wrong we were! As we rounded the final corner a stunning sight met our eyes!

The ruins are actually quite substantial, certainly ample enough to give you the feel of what the original abbey would have been like. There is also a small museum on site, housing a model of how the abbey would have looked in its heyday. The setting was quite something too, surrounded by peaceful countryside and overlooked by neighbouring hills, making it a very tranquil spot. Following this visit we knew that Rievaulx would have to go some to beat it.

The day arrived of our planned Rievaulx visit, so we packed up our picnic and followed the signs from Helmsley to the more publicised ruin (it’s given twice the space of Byland in the English Heritage handbook and has a large gift shop and café, whereas Byland just has a small kiosk). Our initial reaction was slight disappointment at the location – the abbey appeared to be shoehorned into quite a small area, whereas Byland enjoys more space. It’s true that a larger part of the original structure is intact, yet it somehow didn’t seem as impressive as we felt it should.
 
This also has a museum/exhibition that’s slightly larger than the one at Byland, but there was no model of the original abbey as we’d expected. We do know that the museum was about to close for refurbishment (strange at peak visitor time) so maybe it will undergo an improvement.

We still enjoyed our visit to Rievaulx, but felt it was a bit of an anti-climax after what we’d been lead to expect, whereas Byland was a surprising little gem.

Exploring Rievaulx






















Thursday, 30 July 2015

July’s Jaunts


Have been a bit quiet on the blog front of late, life has a habit of taking over, and I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Yorkshire. We stayed at the Tollerton Caravan Park, some 10 miles north of York, which proved to be a very peaceful place – well, except for the train line on its border!

Anyway, there will be lots to report on with regard to that trip, including visits to Lightwater Valley Theme Park (watch for the interesting tale of the swan pedalo rescue), Rievaulx and Byland Abbeys and The National Railway Museum (a bit of a sting in the ‘tale’ with this one, or more specifically a burn on the belly).

So that’s a taste of future posts, but in the meantime, before I leave the Yorkshire theme, a word of warning if you’re visiting Thirsk. The short stay car park in front of the Wetherspoon’s in the town square, states that parking is free for up to 60 minutes. However, what is not immediately apparent is that you still have to press for a ticket to record your time of arrival. We missed this bit and were almost presented with a parking ticket, but fortunately our mistake was pointed out to us by a friendly parking attendant (yes, they do exist) so that we could remedy the situation in the nick of time!

As with any holiday, we returned with bags full of washing, only for the washing machine to go into meltdown. There’s no doubt that appliances do tend to pick their moments to break down! However, following my favourable experience of buying a new fridge/freezer from Co-op Electrical online, I headed straight to the website in search of a new machine. I was thrilled to find a sleek silver Beko number, at an astounding £110 off, which boasted rave reviews, so I wasted no time in placing my order. This was on the Monday – by 9.00 am Wednesday morning the machine was here and raring to go! I’m extremely pleased with it, and will be looking at reviewing it in more detail in a future post.

Earlier in the month we returned to a favourite visitor attraction of ours – Dover Castle. Having rejoined English Heritage this year (courtesy of Tesco Clubcard vouchers) we were eager to make the, now free, trip. However, this meant journeying across Kent, a manoeuvre greatly hampered by the existence of Operation Stack, which is still in place as I write. The journey was a nightmare, with many other roads on route log-jammed as a result. We finally arrived at the castle over an hour later than we should have done, but fortunately went on to have a lovely visit.

For those of us living in Kent, Operation Stack is a nightmare, which needs to be remedied by creating decent lorry parks just off the motorway. Of course, the source of the problem is far more complex, with its origins in Calais, which also need to be addressed.

So with July coming to a close it’s been a busy, but interesting month, now I’m just waiting for the return of summer, which I hope is just round the corner!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Goodbye Twitter!


Just to let you know, those of you have been following me on Twitter will no longer be able to do so.

Following another wrongful suspension from the social networking site (apparently I was wrongly suspended in a job lot accused of automated tweets) that took days to rectify, I’ve finally decided to give up in frustration. I’d also had a bit of an unpleasant Twitter experience recently, so decided all things considered, to close my account, although it may take a bit of time for my profile to ‘disappear’ completely!

You’ll still be able to keep up with me on this Blog and on www.ruraljoy.blogspot.co.uk and www.purelypeoplepower.blogspot.co.uk as well as visit my Google Plus page by clicking here

However, I would like to say thank you to all the wonderful people who I did meet on Twitter, with whom I enjoyed friendly chats and exchanged information. Thank you all.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

June’s Japes


The warmer weather has seen a return to the family picnic. One of our favourite picnic spots is Reculver in Kent, where we recently enjoyed another lovely trip. For those of you not familiar with Reculver, it’s on the North Kent coast and is the site of a former Roman fort, still boasting the ruin of a 12th century church. The area is also a country park with small visitor centre and has a beach complete with rock pools. Car parking is a bargain, at 20p per hour or £1 for the day! However, the car park is not that big, sometimes resulting in queues. Despite that it’s a great place to visit.

Of course, a picnic isn’t complete without the food, for which I turn to the Tesco picnic range for additions to the usual home-filled rolls and healthy fruit. Their tubs of picnic goodies can be bought on a two for £3 deal, and include pasties, cheese onion rolls, pizza pockets and our new favourite, mini chicken kievs.

Until last year we owned a static caravan, which we kept on an independent site on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. However, following our rural move, we decided to sell up and just in the nick of time it now emerges! When we’d first bought our caravan we’d kept it on a Park Holidays site in Kent, but due to astronomic charges and appalling service, we moved to an independent site – Broadland Sands. Now I’ve heard this once lovely caravan park has been taken over by, you’ve guessed it, Park Holidays – a company that I do not recommend. If we hadn’t already removed our caravan from the site, we would now!

In light of that last revelation, you may like to read Static Caravans Can Move and Static Caravan Update

Finally, having had a couple of years break from English Heritage, we’ve just rejoined using Tesco vouchers. For £30 worth of vouchers, we’ve been able to take out a year’s joint membership (includes up to six children under 19 free), which is great value considering the number of places we can now visit at no extra cost. It’s a great use of Tesco Clubcard vouchers!

How did June work out for you?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Controller Of The Bus


Buses remain a popular (perhaps by necessity), if somewhat frustrating, means of transport. There are various bus companies dotted around the country, with some performing far better than others.

My local area is served by Arriva, and sadly I have had some recent cause for complaint. Despite the fact that fares seem to increase every few months, services don’t always run as expected and communication with customers is rather lacking.

Living in a more rural area, we certainly seem to get a rough deal. With buses timetabled at varying intervals of between one and two hours, we suffer terribly when a certain bus fails to turn up, which seems to be happening more frequently. What makes this even more frustrating is that our complaints and comments fail to be met with any concern by Arriva.

Following a disastrous journey, when yet another bus failed to turn up as expected, meaning a two-hour gap between buses, I used the online complaints procedure operated by Arriva. The automated email response assured me that I would receive a reply within ten working days – over two weeks later I was still waiting!

Eventually, nearer three weeks after the event, I was called by an adviser, who although uttered an apology, did not make it heartfelt, nor were there any promises to endeavour to provide a better service in future. Despite the mechanical ‘sorry’, the tone of the whole conversation indicated more of a ‘hard luck’.

The missing bus was blamed on a breakdown, which I appreciate does happen, but my real gripe was lack of information. Considering I was boarding the bus at a major bus station to journey home, and had spoken to an inspector who had assured me that the bus was on its way, I was naturally frustrated that I was not told when it was discovered that the bus was taken out of service.

According to the adviser at the other end of the telephone, this was because the bus station had not been informed. But why ever not? Surely keeping passengers informed of such circumstances should be a priority. It should have been quite straightforward to notify someone at the bus station of the problem, with that person then passing on the message to waiting passengers. This should just be basic procedure.

However, it seems that bus operators can just do as they please, even if it involves leaving passengers stranded for hours, without much thought for their welfare. Communicating with the public seems totally beyond them and they really don’t seem bothered by this. The problem is, in many areas, there is no decent competition to make the bus companies try harder. There is no incentive to be more customer friendly.

There are, I believe, some bus companies that serve passengers better than others. On a trip visiting family in Dorset, it struck me how much cheaper and how more frequent services were than in my area. Indeed, I’ve heard that in some areas fares are very reasonable, but Arriva South East certainly run a more costly service that leaves much to be desired.

Indeed as I write this post I’ve heard of a reduction in services on certain routes, combining a current half-hourly service with a twenty-minute one, forming a hybrid of the two routes with buses running half-hourly. Yet their advert for this new service proclaims: “Buses more often”! Can’t work that out at all; Arriva obviously can’t do their maths.

What do you think of your local bus service?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Foodie News


On a recent trip to a local Morrisons’ restaurant, I was disappointed to see a change in the presentation of their sandwiches. Formerly served on a little red and white checked tray, with a salad garnish and mini pack of crisps, the sandwiches are now being presented on their own on a brown bit of card! However, on closer inspection, it was revealed that each pack of sandwiches came with a free pack of Morrisons’ crisps, although salt and vinegar was the only flavour available. I miss the cheerful tray and salad garnish, and quite liked the fact that the mini crisp packs allowed for a little treat without overindulgence. The sandwiches themselves are still good, however, with my favourite being the selection featuring egg and cress, cheese and tomato, ham, cheese and pickle and prawn – one of each for £2.49.
Admittedly, I do like a bit of chocolate cake!

After my recent comments about food products that are sporting the word ‘joy’ in their name or slogan, I would like to draw your attention to Cadbury’s Mini Rolls. One of the many slogans currently printed on the wrappers states, “Mini roll, big joy”. Is this meant to be a statement about what will happen to me if I eat too many? I do like a bit of chocolate, but still...

What’s happened to Tesco Strawberry Milkshake Powder? It used to have such a lovely, authentic strawberry taste, containing what appeared to be strawberry pips, but now it’s just bland! The ingredients have obviously changed, though the packaging and price remain the same. It’s very disappointing and I will definitely not be buying the product again.

I do enjoy the odd Lotus Biscoff caramel biscuit, but I don’t’ think that I can bring myself to try the spread of the same name. I mean, can I really imagine having the flavour of the biscuit spread on my toast?

What are your latest foodie loves and hates?

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Much Ado About McDonalds


So what’s been happening to McDonalds? I’m not a frequent visitor, I just take my son there for an occasional treat or grab the odd breakfast if we go on an early morning journey, so was surprised to see some changes on a recent visit. McDonalds seems to have taken on a kind of Argos persona!

It’s true that service in McDonalds seems to have become slower over the years, possibly not helped by the increased range of items on its menu. I remember back in the 80s, if your order was not fulfilled within a certain time span, your food was given to you free! I actually gained through that policy on a number of occasions.

As time progressed that policy was shelved, to be placed only with a “Sorry for the wait”, if your food was slow to arrive. McDonalds has obviously become aware of the slower service and thought that something needed to be done, but I’m not sure that the new setup is the answer.

In some branches, you now go to an order point on arrival, where you select your food and pay for it, before being referred to another (much longer) queue to obtain it. In my experience, this two-step system produced a much longer wait, than the original choose, pay and pick up all-in-one format. Queuing twice is just doubly annoying, and although appropriate in Argos where items have to be located in the warehouse, does not seem suited to fast food outlets.

I can see it’s annoying having to wait for your food, standing aimlessly by the tills amidst the crush of customers, which is why some branches advised you to, “Sit down and we’ll bring your order to you”, if it was expected to be too long. What was wrong with that process?

On the day that we first visited an Argos-esque McDonalds this system could easily have been used, as one member of staff seemed to be employed in nothing more useful than giving out balloons – bringing orders to tables would have been much more helpful.

Of course, the new system could be likened to the drive through version, but I would argue that the drive through (or dreaded ‘drive thru’, as it is cringingly labelled) is rather faster than the in-shop process.

I even feel that a modified version of the system may have worked, but am not about to reveal my cunning plan for a more streamlined service in McDonalds here and now. If the fast food chain would like to hear my idea, then they are welcome to get in touch and I’ll discuss it with them.

In the meantime, the Argos ordering system in McDonalds gets the thumbs down from me!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Shopping Heaven Is...


Finding an item of clothing on a sale rail that is actually your size!

Stopping for an indulgent treat!
Finding an item of clothing on a sale rail that you’d coveted for ages at an outrageous price, now being sold for a bargain – and it’s actually in your size!

Money-off vouchers – and lots of them!

Being served at the till and discovering that an item that you are purchasing has actually been charged at a much lower price than you’d expected.

Finding just what you were looking for!

Fast, friendly service and hardly any queues.

Bargains, bargains, bargains!

What's your idea of shopping heaven?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Pamper and Save


My daughter recently treated me to a pamper session at a hotel spa, something which I’d never actually experienced before, but which turned out to be very relaxing.

Unfortunately, I didn't leave with a
figure like this!
This pamper treat took the form of a five-hour session at the Bridgewood Manor Hotel, Kent, part of the Q Hotel chain. The spa area itself, though not large, houses a pool, sauna, steam room, relaxation beds and treatment rooms. If you’re not feeling as lazy as we were, (we went for the relaxation and pampering not a workout) then there’s a gym, and there’s also a lounge area to slump with a coffee. Sadly, what was missing in my view was a Jacuzzi/hot tub, which I would have loved!

On arrival, we had to fill out a health questionnaire, on which I was impressed to actually see ‘hypermobility’ as a category. I suffer from hypermobility* syndrome, but a lot of people and places still fail to acknowledge this condition, so it was refreshing to see it taken into account on this occasion.

Still, on with the spa. We were shown the facilities by a member of staff, then left to wallow at our leisure until the time of our pre-booked facials. We promptly changed into our swimwear (changing rooms were adequate, lockers nice and large for belongings) then took to the pool. This was quite modest in size, but reasonably warm, and not overcrowded as there weren’t too many people there.

My daughter ventured into the sauna, but found it much hotter than others she had tried, but I bowed out of that one. However, we did both enjoy a couple of sessions in the steam room, which was small, accommodating about four people. Unfortunately, we never did manage to spend any time on the heated relaxation beds, as these were always in use when we were free to go on them, but did relax on the poolside loungers.

We were both booked in for express facials, which involved 25 minutes reclining on a warm bed in a dimly lit room, listening to relaxation music, whilst a therapist massaged our faces with a selection of oils and treatments (having first assessed skin type and any problems). I can be a bit of a sceptic when it comes to beauty treatments, and was doubtful as to whether there would be any lasting effects, but have to report that my skin did feel softer for several days after – and it may have been my imagination but looked a bit more glowing too!

Following our facials, we enjoyed a little more relaxation time before adjourning to the lounge for coffee and pastries.

“And what did all this cost”, I hear you ask? Well, not as much as you may think. Although this was a gift from one of my daughters, she operates on a budget, so had made use of a deal from Groupon, a company that I’d heard about but never used. Our five-hour session, including towel hire and the coffee and pastries (actually choice of tea, filter coffee or hot chocolate and two mini Danish pastries each), but not the facials, cost £11.50. For a further £7 each we could have hired robes and slippers, but found that we didn’t really need these. As part of the Groupon deal, we could choose up to two beauty treatments apiece for a 20% discount, meaning that the mini facials came to £24 each as opposed to the normal £30.

My overall verdict of the day? I did feel quite relaxed and enjoyed my time at the Bridgewood Manor Spa, and may repeat the experience once in a while, when offers are available. And I’ll certainly be looking out for other great deals via Groupon.

* You can read more about hypermobility syndrome here  

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Madness Of May


Let’s face it, May did turn out to be a bit of a mad month – the election was a complete madness in itself! The final result was a bit of a shock to many, not at all keeping with the forecasts; you can read my response at the-election-my-response

Having felt thoroughly disillusioned and fed up with certain issues, I’ve started a new blog as a platform to inform and campaign on certain issues, see www.purelypeoplepower.blogspot.co.uk to read more. Introducing this new blog means that my existing #OfstedNoConfidence campaign twitter.com/hashtag/ofstednoconfidence will move to this new site, and I have also started a petition calling for a review of Ofsted, which you can sign by visiting https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/call-for-independent-review-of-ofsted  Shoppers’ Joy can will now revert back to its original use, which is to showcase product and service reviews, consumer issues and general shopping-related chat.

And so in other news...

This month I reviewed both Travelodge and Pontin’s, having experienced recent short stays in each, both of which seem to have undergone some improvement. Travelodge certainly seem to be upgrading their hotels, and whilst Pontin’s accommodation could do with a bit of an update, other facilities on offer are good. I’ll be interested to see how both progress.

In one post this month, I mentioned that my weekly shopping habits have recently changed, with more visits to Morrisons being the norm. I’m now using Sainsburys’ much less, partly because I now live further from a branch than I did before, but also the miserly lot have reduced the number of Nectar points that they’re awarding! Hadn’t you noticed? They’re now only giving one point per pound spent, instead of two, but the value of points remain the same – so basically you’ll have to spend £2 to get just 1p back! And there are no longer points awarded for re-using your own bags. Not a good move Sainsburys!

Finally, I was thrilled to hear that culottes are making a comeback. I think they’re great, offering the look of a skirt but with the comfort and practicality of trousers. I owned quite a few pairs back in the 80s, and I know they say you shouldn’t wear a fashion trend if you sported it the first time round, but I just couldn’t resist picking up a pair sitting on the sale rail in New Look. At £7 they were an absolute bargain, I just couldn’t resist!

How did May shape up for you?

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Move To Morrisons


Since moving to a new, more rural location last year, my shopping habits have changed somewhat.

At my old home, I did my main grocery shopping at the local Tesco Extra, with smaller top-up shops at Sainsburys’ and the Co-op, but all that has changed since the move.

My current nearest Tesco is rather smaller than the Extra at which I once shopped, with far fewer product lines on the shelves, making it impossible to replicate all my most common buys. Although the store can meet a lot of my needs, it falls short on others.

Similarly, I have neither a Sainsburys’ or Co-op within easy reach, so have needed to look elsewhere. Attempts at buying groceries in Aldi failed dismally, I couldn’t get on with their products at all, and although I like Lidl better, the journey to the nearest branch is too far to justify any savings. And when it comes to grocery shopping, I’m not a fan of doing it online, as I like to scrutinise the meat, carefully select the fruit and veg and take the time to mull over relevant offers.

Therefore, my weekly shop now tends to be divided between the smaller Tesco, and Morrisons’, as there is a large branch of this store near to said Tesco.

On my first few visits to Morrisons I tentatively tried a selection of own brand products, as well as selecting some well-known labels that were on offer. I decided that many of the products were of good quality and therefore represented good value, an opinion further enhanced by the introduction of the Match and More card. This loyalty card price-matches your purchases not only with other leading supermarkets, but also with Aldi and Lidl, converting any extra money that you have paid on your comparable Morrisons’ shop to points, which then accumulate until you have sufficient to be awarded a £5 voucher. Despite targeting many own brand and offer items in my shop, I always seem to earn points, and have received several £5 vouchers, further reducing my shopping bill.

In addition to this, Morrisons have been sending me a variety of additional money-off vouchers through the post – they’re really making an effort to gain custom!

I’ve now also become a fan of certain of their own brand products. Here are a few of my favourites:
Morrisons Laundry Gel (Bio) 540ml (up to 18 washes) for just £1.75 – just as good as the Ariel version in my opinion and much cheaper!
Morrisons Pure Fabric Conditioner £1.50 (up to 42 washes) is a great bargain buy that leaves my laundry really fresh.
Morrisons Bolognese Sauce 725g for 99p, we actually preferred this to many other makes that we have tried.
Morrisons Chilled 100% Fruit Juices, 1-litre bottles, 3 for £3 (£1.29 each), not only are these really tasty, but there is such a great range of flavours. In addition to the normal apple, orange and pineapple, I love the apple and mango, Clementine, apple and pear and red grape and berries.

I’m also a big fan of their deli items, such as vegetable samosas and olive selections, and am pleased to see that their meat tends to be sourced from British farmers.

It would definitely seem that I’ll be doing much more of my weekly shopping in Morrisons in the future.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Pontin’s – My Bargain Break


A few weeks back, I found myself packing my bag and heading off to Pontin’s at Camber Sands. Not something I thought I would find myself doing, as I’d heard some none too favourable reviews in the past, but my daughter had booked a cheap break, and I’d agreed to accompany her and my toddler grandson on the trip.

My expectations had not been particularly high, partly due to what I’d heard, but also because I knew that my daughter had only paid in the region of £60 for a Monday to Friday stay. The paperwork had stated that our accommodation would be available from 4pm, but as we were relying on a lift there, ended up arriving before midday.

My plan on arrival was to ask if there was somewhere comfortable that we could wait with our luggage, but when I approached reception I was met with a cheery, “Hold on, I’ll see if your accommodation is ready,” – and it was! So by noon we were in our holiday apartment settling in, which gave us, in effect, a bonus afternoon.

Our ground floor ‘apartment’ (requested to make it easier with a pushchair) was basic, but adequate for a short stay. There was one bedroom with a double bed and a sofa bed in the main area, a small kitchen area with new-looking fridge and tired-looking cooker, which actually worked very well. The bathroom consisted of toilet, washbasin and shower that were OK, but we discovered the shower cubicle was broken. However, when we reported this to reception a maintenance man was despatched and a repair made within about half hour, so that was good service

Our main gripe was the bedding. Having paid for the privilege of having bedding provided, it was thin and ‘shiny’ and tended to slip off the beds every night, leaving us a bit chilly. I’m unsure as to whether this was the regular bedding however, as towards the end of our stay, we saw ‘proper sheets’ being placed in the neighbouring empty apartments.

Site facilities are good. There are a number of outdoor play areas for children of varying ages, a pirate crazy golf and a swimming pool, featuring a main pool with slide and a lovely warm toddler pool with assorted floats. Of course, there was also the inevitable arcade and a children’s club, large clubroom, pub and restaurant. Being off-season, evening entertainment took place in the pub as opposed to the larger club, as there didn’t appear to be that many of us staying there. Despite that, every evening there was a quiz (which I actually won one night and was presented with a bottle of wine) a children’s dance session and other entertainment.

My grandson loved the dressed-up characters that appeared at 10 each morning and again at the evening session and made use of the soft play area and toys in the children’s club.

As were we fortunate to have such lovely weather during our stay, we were also able to visit the beach, which just involved crossing the road outside and walking down a short lane.

We went for the self-catering option and, although there was a Nisa at the site entrance, found the shop opposite and the post office/village store further down the road cheaper options for shopping. Although, in its favour, the Nisa did have a £1 section selling useful things such as children’s arm bands.

There is actually a half-board option available, whereby breakfast and evening meal are provided at the Sands restaurant, but even if you do not select this deal, you can buy a three-course evening meal for £8.95, which is worth remembering.

Overall I enjoyed our Pontin’s stay, some of the accommodation is a little tired, but a little sprucing up could make all the difference. The facilities were good, but with over 700 apartments on site, could get a bit packed during high season. We were fortunate that as much of the accommodation was empty during our stay, we had easy access to everything that we wanted to do.

Although we didn’t meet huge numbers of fellow guests, we did see quite a few rabbits (lovely) and a huge number of seagulls, with regards to which I must issue a warning. On our first morning there, we heard a rap on the door. When I opened it there was no one to be seen, however when I glanced down towards the ground I was greeted by the sight of a cheeky gull. It was funny the first time, but wore thin as the week progressed, with this happening several times a day. At no point did we feed the gulls, indeed the site requests that you don’t, but did return one afternoon to find our ‘neighbour’ feeding them – not good!

I’m not sure that I would have wanted to spend a long holiday at Pontin’s Camber Sands, but would certainly consider another short break in the future.

Fancy a trip to Pontin’s at Camber Sands?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Travelodge – A Peaceful Harbour


It’s been some time since we stayed in a Travelodge, having not had any distant family gatherings or long haul visits needing accommodation in the past year or so. However, a couple of weeks ago, hubby and I decided to have an impromptu break whilst our son was up to knees in a river in Wales (geography field trip).

My husband had wanted to visit The Turner Contemporary in Margate for some time, so we decided to head down to Thanet and make an overnight stay of it. The gallery itself was disappointing (see wheres-turner for more about that) but our choice of Travelodge was a great success.

Before travelling, I’d trawled the Internet for B&B accommodation that looked promising, but didn’t find much to my liking. So I decided to see if there were any Travelodges in the area that may be worth a try. I was immediately drawn to the Ramsgate Seafront hotel, which overlooks the harbour. Prices were reasonable (£47 for double room) and we decided to go for the breakfast option bringing the total to just over £60.

Although this branch did not have dedicated parking, it was opposite a public car park where it cost just £4 to leave our car for 24 hours.

On arrival we received a friendly greeting from the guy on reception and were promptly directed to our room. My immediate thought as I entered said room was that it actually looked different from other Travelodge rooms we’d stayed in before. It definitely felt a bit ‘higher end’ with a really comfy king-sized bed, tasteful decoration and a smarter looking bathroom. I understand that Travelodge is currently updating some of its hotels, so hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy more of these improved rooms.

The cleanliness of the room was also better than some we’d visited and all of the staff that we encountered during our stay were friendly and helpful.

We’d never gone for the breakfast option at a Travelodge before, partly because all that had been on offer was a ‘pre-packed’ version, but at this branch a full buffet breakfast was provided. By pre-booking our breakfast it was £1 cheaper per person than if we’d decided to request it on the day, a small saving but worth bearing in mind. We were able to help ourselves to whatever we wanted from a number of choices including various cereals, fruit, croissants, scrambled egg, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, beans, toast and various preserves. There was apple and orange juice to drink as well as tea and a range of coffee. We left feeling very replete!

There had also been an evening meal option too, but we had decided not to go for this, as we had wanted to stroll out in the evening and eat elsewhere. As luck would have it, just a very short distance from where we were staying, we found a pub/restaurant called ‘The Goose’. This worked on the principle of a Wetherspoons but the food was actually nicer and even better value. We enjoyed two main courses for just £8.95 and two delicious desserts for just £4.75 (not each but for the two!) I can highly recommend the food and service at The Goose!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Travelodge Ramsgate Seafront and would certainly return for another visit. Thank you to everyone there.
You can view this accommodation at travelodge.co.uk/hotels/510/Ramsgate-Seafront

You can also read my previous Travelodge reviews and comments by visiting:

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Election - My Response


Like many fellow voters, I'm stunned and dismayed by the outcome of this week’s general election.

I’m hugely disappointed that we’ve been saddled with a Conservative government, as I would have preferred almost any other option, in order to facilitate a much needed change.

Even some of the more unlikely party combinations would have been preferable, to my mind, than having the country led by someone that historically appears to believe in kicking people when they’re down. I worry for the future of the NHS and our education system; I fear for the disabled and ailing individuals who have been brutally subjected to the bedroom tax; I’m concerned for the welfare of so many families that are already struggling. So many ordinary people have already been subjected to harsh measures, whilst the wealthy are given an easy tax ride – some evading the system all together!

Of course, the real problem with the whole election process is the British voting system itself! A government is chosen by the number of seats that it holds, not on the amount of individual votes. A party may win more seats, but a so-called ‘losing party’ may have won the seats they do hold by larger majorities, and possibly have more constituents within those seats. Therefore, as a nation, we often don’t get the government that we’d most like.

The other problem is that a large proportion of the electorate do not make use of their great privilege to vote, citing that, “It will make no difference”. But of course, it would!

I’d desperately like to see a government that is truly represented by the people. It’s time the British voting system underwent a complete overhaul.

What we really need is proportional representation (as in many other Western European countries), or some other similar workable system. Sadly the government are unlikely to willingly bring this into being, having ‘won’ under the existing, antiquated system. But as a nation it’s something that we should be crying out for.

Voting also needs to be made compulsory, as in countries such as Belgium and Australia. If you live in this country then you make use of available services, contribute to funds and expect support during hard times. Therefore you should equally expect to have to vote.

But back to the here and now. I’m slowly starting to recover from my initial shock and disgrace (writing this post has been somewhat cathartic) and I’m ready to campaign for causes close to my heart – something we should all consider doing regardless of our party preference.

Let’s fight for the NHS, push for a better education system and fight the things that we regard as injustices. As individuals we need to lobby MPs, write to newspapers, get our voices heard on issues that matter. I will certainly be renewing my call for a review of Ofsted*, and who knows what other campaign trails I will join?

The point is, it’s not a question of who is right, but what is right, and as a nation we need to pull together for the good of all.


*If you’re not familiar with my call for a review of Ofsted, please read my previous posts Are Ofsted Off The Mark? and Ofsted - The Response
If you use Twitter please join the #OfstedNoConfidence campaign, see https://twitter.com/hashtag/ofstednoconfidence
Thank you!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Where’s Turner?


Last week I paid a visit to The Turner Contemporary in Margate, part of my husband’s birthday treat, and promptly embarked on a game of ‘Where’s Turner?’ It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’, though with the latter you actually have a chance of finding him!

My husband loves a good art gallery and a good piece of art – he’s a graphic designer and bit of an artist himself – but had not got round to visiting Turner Contemporary. It should have been a great trip out, but I know that he was sadly disappointed.

The first thing that struck us on arrival was the dull design of the building itself. The gallery consists of a series of ‘boxes’ with sloping roofs, which are a very poor representation of the ‘sails’ that we had expected. Rather than enhancing Margate, the structure does it a disservice, as the town actually has some lovely old buildings.

Spot the eyesore!
As it was around lunchtime when we arrived, we decided to check out the café, but were not impressed. We had wanted a light lunch as we had a big dinner planned for the evening, but most of the food served was too substantial (and a bit pretentious), apart from some tired looking baguettes priced at £4.50 each. On to plan B then.

A walk round the harbour revealed a friendly little café where we purchased two toasted sandwiches and two hot drinks for just £7! The sandwiches were delicious, nicely toasted and packed with filling, unlike some of the supermarket offerings that you get. We sat and enjoyed them on the harbour front seating provided, gazing at some of Margate’s more interesting architecture.

Anyway, back to the gallery. The first sight you see on entering is the donation box – admission is, after all, free, but I’m more likely to consider a donation once I’ve seen how the money is being spent. The next sight is the shop – but the gallery is free, so their leaflet assures us!

On the day that we visited, the atrium housed a kind of display of cymbals that you could participate in playing on the hour. Now I know in the art world this was meant to be a poignant piece, but to a mere ‘pleb’ like me let’s face it, it was a bunch of cymbals!

Proceeding along the bottom corridor, we observed a photographic display, by some chap whose name I can’t remember, but which made no impact on me (or my husband) whatsoever. They were no more exciting than viewing Auntie Elsie’s holiday snaps of Torquay.

Venturing upstairs the thing that actually did make a big impact was the large window framing the stunning sea view. Nature’s art at its best, and certainly a reflection on Turner, but where was his work?

The upper floor consists of a series of small galleries and even smaller ‘cinema’ rooms. The current exhibition is entitled ‘Self’ and of course, features an array of self-portraits. The gem of this was the Van Dyck, which I thought was stunning – at last a big thumbs up! Some of the other exhibits were a bit dull, but there were some recognisable pieces from artists such as Hockney and Warhol.

By far, the exhibit that made the most impression on me, in a somewhat haunting way, was Jeremy Millar’s sculpture of his own ‘drowned body’. When I entered the room containing this piece I had to do a double take. I slowly walked up to the ‘body’ not completely convinced that it wasn’t a person that would jump up just as I got near. As gruesome as the subject was, it was extremely effective and a great piece of work!

But where was Turner? Just as we were about to leave the final room, we stumbled upon a small display case containing a fairly disappointing Turner miniature. So small and insignificant that we nearly missed it – and that was it! The audacity of naming a gallery in honour of a great artist and not representing his work or life in any great form!

Sadly our visit was rather disappointing, the exhibits were sparse with so much empty wall space that I was tempted to ask when they planned to finish hanging the paintings! The only saving grace is that we didn’t have to travel that far to get to there.

My verdict – dull, disappointing and an insult to Turner to put his name to it. It was basically a waste of money and prime seafront space, which could have been put to better use to serve the good people of Margate. It earns a Shoppers’ Joy thumbs down!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

All About April


Well April’s certainly seen some lovely weather, with warm sunny days that hint more at summer than spring. I’ve certainly been enjoying the warm spell, experiencing my first spring in my new rural home – you can read more at www.ruraljoy.blogspot.co.uk

Of course, one of the big stories of the moment has been the election campaign with all its related debates, broadcasts and inevitable slanging matches – candidates running down the opposition as opposed to concentrating on their own policies. Like many voters I’m finding this a tough one to call, although I think that I’ve finally decided on how I’m going to vote. Key issues for me include saving the NHS, protecting our children’s education and putting an end to the ‘rob the poor to make the rich richer’ mentality!

With regard to education, I’m continuing my campaign to call for a complete review of Ofsted, please join me with that by tweeting #OfstedNoConfidence or lobbying your local MP.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get away for a short break this month, enjoying some time with my daughter and toddler grandson at Camber Sands. The weather was unbelievably kind to us and we were able to build sandcastles on the beach and even paddle in the sea! My daughter had booked us in at Pontin’s, which had caused me a little trepidation as I’d heard some damning reviews in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the accommodation was a little tired, the staff were lovely and the facilities pretty good. You’ll be able to read more about my stay in a future post.

Although I’m only a very occasional visitor to McDonald’s I recently went to my local branch that had recently been refurbished – and promptly despaired at the service! The branch has taken on a new Argos-esque persona whereby you queue twice – once to order and another to collect said order. The waiting time seemed much increased from the old system and the staff appeared more interested in distributing balloons than serving customers. This is no doubt another subject I’ll revisit in a future post.

Hope you’ve all had a great month, soaking up the sunshine and hopefully not becoming too disillusioned by all the political speak. Feel free to share some of your April highs and lows in the comments section of this blog!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Return Of The Random Thoughts


It’s been some time since I last shared some of my random thoughts with you, so here goes...

I’ve been enjoying the indulgence of the variety of little desserts that come under the heading ‘Pot Of Joy’ (current favourite Terry’s Chocolate Orange), but feel that there may have been a mistake with the labelling. I think it should read ‘Pot For Joy’, then they could all be mine!

Whilst out shopping recently, I bought an item that for some reason proceeded to set off the alarms in nearly every store that I subsequently entered. Annoying? Yes. But what was actually quite worrying was that in none of the shops that I visited did anyone check what was causing the problem. I could have been walking out with half their stock for all they knew!

So much for Tesco’s new, permanently low prices. Some of the targeted items that I’d started buying in the store have risen by as much as 40p during recent weeks. Granted, some products are still cheaper than elsewhere, but is this the start of a slippery slope, reverting back to higher prices quite quickly?

Talking of Tesco, I’m thoroughly frustrated with their freezer arrangement in my local store. The items seem to be displayed using some sort of spring-loaded system, meaning that if you select an item that you subsequently want to put back, you can’t fit it in. Even selecting an item in the first place makes you feel like you’re under attack – it’s a worrying experience.

Believe it or not, I’ve only recently discovered wine boxes! I often enjoy a glass of wine with the evening meal, sometimes adding a splash to a dish that I’m cooking, and I like to have a bit in reserve should visitors descend. I previously made sure that I had a bottle or two in stock, but after being given a box of wine as a present I’ve been converted. With boxes containing the equivalent of between three and six bottles of wine and lasting some six weeks after opening (keeping fresh, not magically refilling) they can be a handy, cost-effective buy. I’ve not been tempted to drink more because of the discovery; it’s just nice to know there’s enough to offer round if unexpected guests arrive!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ofsted – Review and Reform


Over the last few months I’ve written a couple of blog posts Are Ofsted Off The Mark? and Ofsted - The Response highlighting the inconsistencies of Ofsted reports and calling for a review of the system. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have joined in the #OfstedNoConfidence campaign, see hashtag/ofstednoconfidence
 
The reasons that I would like to see a total overhaul of Ofsted stem both from personal experience and the accounts that I read and hear from others concerning inconsistent and unfair reports.

For a number of years I worked in schools as support for the visually impaired. One school in particular that I went to had been given a glowing report, but turned out to be the worst school I’ve ever set foot in. Behaviour was appalling, morale was low (teachers and students) and lessons were not taught with any energy or enthusiasm.

A few years ago my son’s school was put into special measures by Ofsted, despite it being a high achieving establishment with a sense of pride and belonging. When I challenged Ofsted they admitted they had marked the school down on teaching and behaviour purely for it to score low enough to be put into these measures. Their main gripe was financial management, but as the school had no bursar or finance department, perhaps all that needed to happen was to agree to instigate one or the other. For some reason their agenda included getting rid of the (great, to my mind) head, by promising him that if he resigned other posts would be safe. As soon as he was clear of the school all the governors were dismissed and certain teaching staff ‘disappeared’ overnight. So much for making that deal good.

More recently there have been some other appalling, and quite sad, stories in the news about popular schools that have been condemned by Ofsted to the incredulity of staff, parents and pupils alike. Think Durham Free School, Bisham Primary School and The Ilfracombe Academy, to name a few.

Appeals and complaints directed at Ofsted themselves cut no mustard and The Department of Education seem to think that it’s nothing to do with them. So it’s down to us – the parents, teachers and students – to make enough noise to force an independent review of the situation.

It would appear that Ofsted don’t always work to the agenda that you would expect. Are some schools merely condemned just so they can be controlled by some of the dubious trusts that exist? To quote the Green Party, “Ofsted has become a political tool, as schools put into special measures can be fast-tracked to Academy status”. This is just one point of view, but I personally believe Ofsted have a different motive than is first apparent.

What reforms do there need to be? Well, here are a few ideas for starters.
- Change the existing forms designed for parents to complete, from tick boxes to forms that allow free and full comment.
- Include parents in the inspections themselves, holding a discussion session that can be attended by all those who would like to have their say.
- Ensure that all Ofsted teams are made up of a fair mix of inspectors from different backgrounds, beliefs, ages etc
- Ensure that all relevant data and comments are considered during the inspection, to include press (good and bad), parental complaints, evidence of community involvement, details of particularly difficulties that the school has had to overcome and so on.
- If a school genuinely falls down on a particular category, assistance should be provided to overcome that particular issue, rather than dismiss the head/close the school/put the school in special measures when there is often a solution available.

If there are ideas that you would like to see added to this list, please leave a comment on this blog, or tweet me @blogsbyjoy

Thank you for your support, please remember to use #OfstedNoConfidence on Twitter!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Death Of A High Street


Many High Streets have seen a large number of shop closures over the last couple of years, with some towns suffering more severely than others.

In some cases, closures have been the result of the demise of whole shopping chains, whilst others have been due to localised closures, where retailers have had to reduce store numbers to avoid total collapse.

I’ve visited some High Streets and shopping centres that appear to be holding up quite well, but others are ghosts of their former selves. One in particular that falls into the latter category is Chatham in Kent.

I was born and bred in Medway, having lived in various locations around the towns, often using Chatham as a place to shop. Although I have now moved out of the Medway area, I have made a couple of recent trips back to Chatham High Street when visiting relatives and can’t believe the change in the place.

As a child I loved to go and spend my birthday and pocket money in the town. There were some great toy shops (Youngsters and Gees) in the town and lots of big High Street stores such as Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, British Home Stores (as it then was), Co-op and Featherstones.

In the 1970s the Pentagon shopping centre opened (I remember going there to see the Wombles turn up for the official opening) and some of the stores from the High Street, such as WHSmith and Boots moved inside, as well as new shops arriving such as C&A and Etam.

Today both the High Street and Pentagon shopping centre are shadows of their former selves. Marks and Spencer and the now rebranded BHS moved out years ago and of course, Woolworths disappeared from all of our High Streets, but what is more concerning is the number of other retailers that have pulled out of the town, seemingly making it their first choice of towns from which to withdraw.

In light of the news that Tesco needed to close a large number of stores, Chatham was put on the hit list. Now WHSmith have also announced they’re shutting up shop and rumours are flying about who else is set to go.

Over the years national chains such as Next, Peacocks, Mothercare, HMV and The Early Learning Centre have, one by one, left the town, although all still exist in nearby Maidstone.

The only new shops that seem to be opening in the town are pound stores. Poundland, 99p Stores, Poundworld, The Mighty Pound, Around-a-pound – talk about in for a pound! Now whilst these shops may have their place, there are a hell of a lot of things you can’t buy in them and not all of us want to shop in them. It seems the more that the council allow these shops (along with betting shops, pawnbrokers and dubious ‘market-stall’ type shops) move into the town, the more the long-standing stores decide to leave. I always thought councils looked carefully at the balance of shops in a town, limiting numbers of any one type of shop, to maintain diversity.

shops are packing
up and going!
There was a time when people would have travelled to the town from all around Kent because of the great selection of shops on offer. Now the choices are miserable, the town looks dowdy and people not only don’t visit there to shop anymore, but even locals choose to travel elsewhere.

The decline of the town’s High Street is very sad and is largely due, I feel, to bad town management. It will take something miraculous to revive this dismal High Street.

How are High Streets near you holding up?