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 to read more. Introducing this new blog means that my existing #OfstedNoConfidence campaign 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  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

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
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!