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