Friday, 31 January 2014

This January I’ve …

… Been doing lots of baking, not because I’ve got Great-British-Bake-Off-Fever, but because it’s a cheap way to keep the family provided with cakes, buns and other goodies. With Tesco Everyday Value flour costing only 45p for a 1.5kg bag, you can keep the family supplied at a really low cost.

,,, Bought Cross Stitch Card Shop magazine, which comes with a cute card kit and is full of fun cross stitch designs. I got the bug for making cross stitch cards in the lead up to Christmas and am still keen to make more!

… Received my first reward voucher from my Together loyalty card (The Works book shop). If you’re an avid reader this is a great card as you earn 5 points for every pound that you spend, with each point worth 1p. This is better than a Tesco Clubcard where you earn 1 point per pound or a Sainsburys Nectar Card, which awards 2 points per pound, but it takes 2 points to make one penny. But of course, you won’t spend so much in The Works anyway, will you?

Enjoying Carling Zest with a hint of winter berries, the latest edition to their delicious range of flavoured lagers and by far my favourite. Grab a box of 12 bottles for just £7 at Tesco!

… Reading lots of books as usual, including:
‘The Memory of Midnight’ by Pamela Hartshorne, an intriguing tale that combines the modern day life of troubled Tess and the hardships of Elizabethan York as experienced by Nell Appleby. A gripping tale that really gets you hooked!
‘The Flower Reader’ by Elizabeth Loupas. A tale of danger and intrigue set in the court of the young Mary Queen of Scots, which takes a lot of twists and turns before all is revealed. It’s compelling reading.

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Monday, 27 January 2014

Say No To Thai Chicken!

OK, so I’ve mentioned before how fed up I am that so many chicken products are made using poultry that isn’t British. (Read the most recent of these rants here) But I struggle to understand why so much chicken from sources such as Thailand and Brazil is still used in food manufacture.

Supermarkets rallied a little following last year’s horsemeat scandal. The amount of fresh meat sourced from the UK rose, be it somewhat slowly in some stores, and many beef products, such as lasagne and pies started to be made using British Beef.

However, many chicken dishes sold in supermarkets are still not produced using British chicken, or even chicken sourced within the EU. Sainsburys’ fresh kievs, goujons etc are all made from British chicken, which is clearly stated on the label. However their frozen ready meals use chicken from Thailand (even their roast dinners that include a whole chicken breast) and Tesco frozen ready meals also use chicken from Thailand and Brazil.

Of course, you wouldn’t notice this at a glance. The chances are that you have been buying these products without even realising the source of the chicken, as the finished meals are actually produced in the UK. To check what you are buying you have to read the small print on the back of the box, where the country of origin is stated.

But at least supermarket own brands are honest and state their sources, even if not in the most obvious place. Some of the big brand names that manufacture frozen meals and meat products do not state the country of origin at all. I have studied boxes produced by Sharwoods, Heinz Weightwatchers and the like, but can find no mention of where their chicken has been sourced. In order for us to make an informed choice as shoppers, we have a right to be provided with all this information, and I therefore believe that it should be law to clearly state the origin of a product’s main ingredients.

In the meantime if I read that the chicken in a product is from Thailand or Brazil, then I don’t buy it. If a product does not state its country of origin, then I still don’t buy it. I want to know that all meat and poultry that I buy in any way, shape or form is British, not only so that it conforms with food safety standards, but I don’t feel we should be importing such items from halfway across the world. Think of the global footprint!

What do you think?

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Friday, 24 January 2014

Customer Service – Queues

Levels of customer service can vary greatly, not just between different store chains and shops, but also between individual branches, and indeed, individual shop assistants.

I’ve previously chronicled some of the good and bad examples of customer service that I’ve received and now have a couple of new stories to relate.

Hands up who's fed up of queues?
On the whole, I’ve always received a good standard of customer service at my local Tesco stores. However a recent shopping trip to one branch left me feeling rather annoyed. I’d popped in for a few necessary items and joined a checkout queue with only one other customer in front of me. I should have whizzed through the checkout easily, however this was not to be. There was a problem with an item that the customer ahead of me was purchasing – some fault with the bar code. The item in question was only worth a couple of pounds and the easiest solution was for the cashier to total up the few other items of shopping and refer the problem to customer services.

However, she chose to send a colleague to track down a better bar code, who proceeded to do so in the manner of someone taking a Sunday afternoon stroll. Ten minutes later the assistant finally returned with the new code and finally the queue got to move!

At no point during all of this did either the cashier, or her colleague, attempt to apologise to those of us waiting in the queue. When it was my turn to be served I was just met with the customary, “Thank you for waiting”, said without any feeling. I did not reply, “That’s OK”, because it wasn’t.

I am quite prepared to wait in a queue if I 1) feel there is a valid, unavoidable reason for this and 2) receive an apology for the delay. As neither of these points applied to this situation I was far from happy and will be contacting the store manager.

On the flipside, my local Sainsburys, who I’ve previously had to take to task over a 20-minute hold-up with a customer service query, appear to have upped their game. How refreshing it has been to arrive at the checkouts with a full trolley of shopping and be met by a smiling-faced individual who proceeds to take me to the checkout with the shortest queue. It’s these little personal touches that make a difference to a shopping trip.

The same branch of Sainsburys sent a letter to me just ahead of Christmas, thanking me for my custom and enclosing a gift voucher. OK, they probably did that to lots of customers, but once again it made me feel appreciated.

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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

School Tuck Shops

Sadly school tuck shops have become very much a thing of the past. Healthy eating gurus now consider it inappropriate to sell the odd biscuit in school, with many schools either allowing a child to partake only of a small piece of fruit during morning break, or even nothing at all. Our brains benefit from a bit of a mid-morning boost, so denying children a small, healthy snack seems unreasonable.

But old-style school tuck shops weren’t just about the food, although I profess that I miss pop nuts (who remembers them, resembling Wotsits but with a nutty taste) and potato puffs. As snacks go these were actually lower calorie, lower fat than many of the crisps that we do buy today.

No, tuck shops were educational in a sense too, often run by pupils who had to learn about setting up displays and handling money. At my primary school, pupils in what is now known as year 6 (then 4th year juniors) were in charge of the tuck shop, with a rota system of different individuals manning the shop (well two trolleys parked in the corridor) for a week at a time.

We sold two Jammie Dodgers for a penny, three Cheddar biscuits for a penny, chocolate teacakes and of course, those much-missed pop nuts and potato puffs. We did not pig out on these products or grow fat on them, because we bought them in small quantities and they tended to be our one treat of the day. If we were lucky enough to be given a precious penny or two for tuck, we had to choose carefully. I suppose with today’s expectations children may arrive with fistfuls of cash and buy much more, as so many seem to receive a startling amount of pocket money now.

With the over-the-top restraints and rules of today, it would probably be expected that those handing out the biscuits etc (unwrapped from open packets) hold a Certificate in Food Hygiene – at the age of 11? Then there would be the question as to whether you should really split up packets of biscuits and sell them separately, or whether this actually is against the law!

Why have we made our lives so regimented and difficult that even school tuck shops no longer thrive? They were fun, educational and certainly hold fond memories for me of my school days.

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Monday, 20 January 2014

January’s Best And Worst Buys

The Best

I’ve been enjoying Tesco Micro Oats, but have been frustrated that I’ve had to buy the variety box in order to obtain any of the apple and blueberry flavour. Despite online research suggesting that this flavour was available on its own, I’ve been unable to find any in store. I was delighted, therefore, to find that Sainsburys Express Porridge is available in apple and cinnamon and raspberry and blueberry flavours, costing £1.59 for 10 sachets, or currently two boxes for £2.50.

I prefer the healthier breakfast option
I immediately bought a box of each of these two flavours for £2.50 and have to say I really love them. They are also available in original and golden syrup varieties and they make a tasty, filling start to the day. This will definitely be the brand that I’m buying in future.

The Worst

I was intrigued when I noticed Tesco Steak and Cheese Pies (frozen) on a recent shopping trip and just had to try them. At £2 for four, and containing British beef, I thought they would make a tasty change for the family meal. Sadly, however, I was very disappointed.

They seemed to cook unevenly, with the pastry topping cooking well and the pastry case remaining soggy and slightly undercooked. The feeling did not taste of cheese at all, but just like any other type of steak pie that I have sampled. I really won’t be buying these again.

On the subject of Tesco, I have to say that I was appalled to find, on a recent visit to my local branch’s Family Café, the cost of their toasted sandwiches has risen from around £2.30 to up to £3.95, depending on the filling, when the only other thing that appears to have changed about them is the packaging! I expect a supermarket café to offer a budget menu, not charge as much, if not more, than trendy coffee shops. (By the way, you can get a basic cheese and ham toastie in Costa for £2.85.) You need to think again Tesco!

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Friday, 17 January 2014

January’s Random Thoughts

I’ve been stunned to see that in some shops, knocking as little as 50p off of an item appears to qualify as a sales bargain! Not in my book it doesn’t!

Individuals with an ‘L’ in their surname must be rubbing their hands with glee when they become driving instructors. Don’t they realise how unoriginal it is to have ‘WiLliams’, ‘Lawson’, ‘MiLler’ or whatever emblazoned on their vehicles?

If only supermarket aisles were fitted with traffic lights, one-way systems and ‘no parking’ areas, our lives as shoppers would be so much easier!

A sign on one of the hand driers in the ladies at my local Tesco reads, ‘Sorry, this facility is temporarily out of order’. What I would like to know is what is Tesco’s definition of temporary? The sign has been there since last October!

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

DS Games – Jewel Quest Mysteries 2

In my first DS game review of 2014, I’m looking at Jewel Quest Mysteries 2, ‘Trail of the Midnight Heart’.

I’d thoroughly enjoyed playing the original Jewel Quest Mystery, ‘Curse of the Emerald Tear’, which combined hidden object scenes with jewel matchboards, as opposed to Jewel Quest games that only have the jewel boards, such as ‘Expeditions’. As Trail of the Midnight Heart offers the same kind of game play, I was eager to give it a go.

However, although the game did indeed contain some of the very elements that made me enjoy the first of its kind, I was disappointed that the inventory lists on the hidden object levels appeared somewhat shorter than on the previous game, meaning that I was able to complete them that much more quickly. I also found the objects themselves easier to find as the graphics did not seem quite as detailed as in the earlier game.

However, I did like the new addition to the game,  the moving scene where you have to collect 20 versions of a given object. This at least presented a new challenge, which I found a little tricky at first, but improved at as I progressed through game.

As with the first Jewel Quest Mystery, you collect jewels and coins as you progress, which you can use as hints and to boost your points.

I did still enjoy ‘Trail of the Midnight Heart’, but have to say I found it that much less of a challenge, and finished it in a shorter time than the previous game, If a third version is made, I would like it to contain the best elements of the two versions to date combined.

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Monday, 13 January 2014

Sifting Through The Sales

Although the sales started in the shops some time ago, it’s not too late to pick up a bargain or two. In fact, some of my best ever bargains have been bought during the closing stages of sales.

You may have heard me talk about the £3 pair of boots that I picked up in Marks and Spencer or the £5 pair of jeans that I bought on another occasion. This January I’m scouring the stores as usual for last minute finds.

There are still a number of toiletry, make-up and perfume sets on sale in places such as Boots (currently 50% discount, but usually changes to 75% or even 90% as sales progress), Superdrug and some supermarkets. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these sets are only useful as gifts, as they are handy to just stock up your general supplies of cosmetics and toiletries if bought for the right price.

I’ve purchased a Nivea set containing Express Hydration Body Lotion (250ml), Express Hydration Hand Lotion (100ml) and Hydro Care Lip (4.8g) for just over £2. The usual retail price for these items individually is £3.75, £3.39 and £1.99 respectively, so this was a fantastic saving. This kind of gift set offer allows you to stock up with cosmetics and toiletries for some time to come at a bargain price.

Of course, a big rule of sale shopping is to only buy things that you are really going to use – don’t let a ridiculously low price tempt you into buying something that you wouldn’t normally consider purchasing!

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and trawl those last minute sale bargains.

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Friday, 10 January 2014

Keeping The Old

Long before local councils provided recycling facilities, we used a different form of recycling in our homes – it was more a case of re-using.

I grew up in a family where my nan kept buttons and the cards from tea packets in old toffee tins, my dad stored nuts and bolts in old coffee jars and my mum kept ‘odds and ends’ in an old biscuit tin. Things were re-used in all sorts of other ways too, rather than discard perfectly good items.

Today, many a jar, tin and box can be found in my house, put to some good use or other. I too have a button tin, but mine is in the shape of a house and once contained stationery. I fill it with the spare buttons that come with items of clothing and also buttons from garments that are past their wear – you never know when they may come in handy.

My sewing items are stored in a rather snazzy Marks and Spencer biscuit tin, circa 1984, which is just the right size and shape for all my needles, pins and reels of cotton. Then there’s the box full of things my children made at school, the jar of small change, the old sweet tin that gets refilled with treats (didn’t like the latest plastic version of Christmas chocolate containers though), the ‘odds and ends’ pot, the old tins containing pencils, pens etc – need I go on?

Just like my dad, my husband keeps assorted nails, screws and ‘things-we-might-need’ in numerous jars. Amongst the gifts I bought him at Christmas was a retro radio shaped tin containing toffees, in which he now intends to keep stationery items.

I love some of the clever designs of tins that exist and I much prefer to use them for storage than some of the (frankly quite expensive) trendy, purpose-made options in the shops. Why buy empty tins to put things in, when you can buy full tins, use or consume the contents then re-use for storage? It’s cheaper, kinder to the environment and much more fun.

So take my advice, it can be good to keep the old.

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Monday, 6 January 2014

Starting The Year Anew

Following my success using Avon Anew Smoothing Eyeliner, I decided to try a couple more make-up products from the Anew range.

Having reached a ‘certain age’ I am conscious of needing products that give my skin a bit of a boost, and bear this in mind when buying cosmetics and skincare items, so I’m loving the Avon Anew range.
The first new product I’ve tried is the Youth-Awakening Eyeshadow and Primer Kit, a handy little pot that has a cream primer on the bottom, an eyeshadow duo on the top and even comes with a handy little mirror in the lid. I love this product! It is convenient to use and compact to carry around. The eye colours are subtle and feel smooth on my lids. I’m currently using Shimmering Walnut, but you can also choose from Smoky Violet and Spring Green. The product normally costs £10, but is currently on offer for £6.50.

The other Anew product that I’ve recently tried is the Lip Restoring Colour Balm, which glides on easily, conditioning lips whilst giving them a touch of colour. With a choice of four shades currently (a couple of shades were available pre-Christmas that I can’t find now), this product sells for £9, but personally I wait for an offer to come up. In fact, you can currently choose a balm for free when you spend £15 or more on Anew Beauty products.

I’m now planning to try some more Anew products as so far so good!

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Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year Wishes

“Happy New Year, Happy New Year, May we all have a vision now and then, Of a world where every neighbour is a friend”… so said Abba, and as a new year begins, we are all filled with hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

We would all like to see a more peaceful world, with major breakthroughs in treating many terrible diseases and everyone getting their fair share of everything. It would be great if everyone just got along with one another, respecting one another’s ways and beliefs – a live and let live mentality.

Perhaps you’re the type of person who makes New Year resolutions, though personally I’m not. To resolve to diet at the start of the year is always too difficult – it’s the time of year when comfort food is needed, much better to wait until salads are more inviting and you have the incentive of a holiday to get in shape for. The ideal is just to aim for ongoing healthy eating anyway.

To resolve to do anything just because it’s the beginning of another year seems to put too much pressure on your aspirations – just do things gradually, I say.

So what does 2014 have in store? Who really knows? All I can say is that on my blog I will be reviewing products and services, sharing some of my (sometimes cynical) Random Thoughts and generally spouting forth about all things shopping! Hope you’ll join me in my ramblings.

A Happy New Year to you all!

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