Wednesday, 28 January 2015

January’s Highs And Lows

It’s been a strange month. The weather has been freezing cold one moment and unseasonably mild the next. With a general election looming this year, there have been debates on how and even whether there should be party debates and slanging matches have started between party leaders.

I’ve been trying to keep warm in the ‘glorified shed’ (you can keep up with the latest on that at and despairing as to whether any party leader is actually fit to run the country!
Anyway, here are a few of my other highs and lows for the month.


Discovering a handy website for knitting patterns and wool, as I had been very frustrated at the lack of decent patterns available. My local craft and wool shop only seems to stock patterns that appear to belong in the 1970s and knitting magazines tend to print lots of patterns for small items, with only the odd cardigan or jumper that may or may not be appealing. I was very pleased therefore to discover where you can sign up for a newsletter giving you access to free patterns as well as purchase reasonably priced patterns and wool. My order was processed and despatched literally within hours and I was very pleased with my purchases.

Grabbing some late sale bargains, including a pair of trousers from Wallis reduced from £30 to £10, a cardigan from Dorothy Perkins down from £25 to £10 and a perfume set from Boots for just £8 as opposed to its original £28! That amounted to £83 worth of shopping for just £28 – well £20 actually, as I used my Boots Advantage points for the perfume!

Receiving my first £5 Morrisons’ Match and More voucher, despite only purchasing quite minor amounts of shopping in the store and targeting offers most of the time, these points still added up very quickly!

Enjoying Father Brown on TV, although why it’s shoved into an afternoon slot on BBC1 I don’t know – it would make great evening viewing. In fact, that’s exactly when I do watch it, as I record it on my Humax box. It has a great cast and if you’ve never seen it I strongly recommend you start watching!


Finding out that Sainsburys’ online grocery shopping slaps on an extra charge for orders under £40, although I can report that Tesco only put an extra fee on the bill for orders under £25. My elderly mother-in-law particularly wanted to order some groceries from Sainsburys’ and enlisted our help. As she is only catering for herself, we checked that the minimum order for delivery was indeed £25. It was not until we got to the checkout stage, that we discovered the extra charge. Fair enough, there has to be a minimum amount to make delivery viable, but I don’t believe any supermarket should be charging extra for orders above the £25 mark.

The return of Broadchurch to our TV screens has been somewhat of a disappointment to me. I’d read various articles saying that the story was going to be really different and exciting, yet half of the programme each week seems to be going over old ground and dwelling on the court case relating to the last series. I would have much preferred more emphasis on a new story than dredging up the past – I can only hope it will improve as the weeks go by.

Reading ‘Natural Causes’ by James Oswald, which I’m not criticising for its writing or characterisation, but purely saying the plot was not for me. I like a good detective story, but this was too gory for me, with a higher body count than even a series of Midsomer Murders! It has some great reviews, but personally I prefer a little more mystery and a little less graphic content.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

What A Sauce!

I’ve often stopped to grab a bite to eat whilst out on a shopping trip, pausing at a supermarket café or High Street restaurant.

Of course, choice and standard of food can vary greatly between cafés, but what can also vary vastly is the way in which the condiments are made available.

It’s often nice to add a bit of vinegar, ketchup or mayonnaise to a meal, preferably from a decent bottle, but this is not always the case. Sauces can be served in anything from tiny, hard-to-open sachets, which can be free or cost anything up to 12p, to large bottles that are left permanently on the tables, with a number of other options in between.

Plastic sachets are the most annoying ways to have your ketchup served. You can spend ages trying to open them up, spraying unsuspecting fellow-eaters in the process, only to end up with the most minute splodge of sauce on your plate. It can take several of these to produce enough of your chosen sauce to complement your meal – not really an option if you’re paying for the privilege, not to mention all that plastic waste!

It may be that some cafés fear that bottles of sauces will ‘disappear’ or are less cost effective, but considering what you pay for some meals, a bottle of sauce is a small ask. Some eating-places bring the bottles to the table with your meal and remove them when you’ve finished – there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Sainsbury’s restaurants have tried various systems over the years. Originally I remember being able to help myself to sauce from a bottle, then to sachets that were readily available at no extra cost. Then they started to supply a pot of sachets at the till point, which in my local branch at least, has now been reduced to an odd sachet or two being produced reluctantly when you pay.

One of the best systems, for customers and café owners alike, is that adopted by McDonalds – sauce on tap. This way you help yourself to your chosen condiment, in suitable amounts, in a type of card-based pot, which is much more user and environmentally friendly than plastic sachets.

However the sauces are served, I don’t believe that customers should pay extra for the privilege, but what do you think?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Annoying Packaging

You know the feeling. You get out that new pack of oh-so-tempting biscuits, finally locate the end of the ‘pull strip’, grab it and pull – and it promptly disintegrates in your hands, along with half the contents of the packet.

Or you buy your child a new toy for a present, which they simply can’t wait to get their hands on, but you realise you need a degree, not to mention a whole tool kit, in order to remove all the wires, tags and mini-screws that are there for product presentation, as opposed to any benefit to the consumer.

OK, so this may all seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but let’s face it, a huge amount of product packaging is both frustrating to open and wasteful.

During the recent festive season I was appalled at the over-the-top packaging containing my grandson’s toys. Not only was every one of them extremely tedious to open, but the packaging comprised of a number of plastic and metal fixings that could prove rather dangerous to small children! He’s 18 months old for goodness sake, he wants toys that he can get out and enjoy with minimal fuss and certainly without a choking hazard!

And as for the boxes of chocolates and biscuits! Whilst most were quite straightforward to open, I was incensed that some manufacturers printed the ‘selection menu’ on the bottom of the pack. We were then torn between reading the selection first and trying to remember what our chosen biscuit/chocolate looked like (makes a fun memory game) or holding the box aloft and performing a minor contortion to view the pictures without spilling the whole contents of the box. What’s wrong with printing the selection on the inside of the lid or on a piece of paper inside?

When designing product packaging, companies could bear in mind the phrase ‘user-friendly’ and stop and think about the ease of opening, the ability to reseal if appropriate, recyclability of materials and practical use.

It’s great that so many manufacturers have cut down on plastics used and, in some cases, reduced the size of packaging, but could they now please think more about ease of use as opposed to products looking pretty?

Next festive season I’d like to enjoy a biscuit without performing a weird limbo dance and present my grandson with his toys without leaving a trail of plastic ties in my wake!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Where Have All The Shoe Shops Gone?

There’s no doubt about it, shopping for shoes is not the straightforward experience that it once was. Locating a shoe shop can be an ordeal in itself.

Way back in that hinterland know as the 1970s, my then local High Street was positively teeming with shoe shops, as was the shopping centre that opened there during that decade. We were spoilt for choice – Manfield, Saxone, Dolcis, Curtess, TrueForm, John Farmer – the list went on!

Are shoe shops becoming as extinct as the dinosaurs/
However, a visit back to that same High Street today is quite a different story. All that exists is a branch of Shoe Zone and a small Chockers store. Even venturing to an out-of-town retail park only yields a rather sad looking Brantano, which I view as a kind of shoe jumble sale – lots of random styles in random sizes, but not normally the one you’re actually seeking.

Of course, I realise that many High Street stores now include a shoe department – New Look, BHS, Matalan and Select to name a few – but many of these only offer women’s shoes. Where are you supposed to go to buy footwear for children and men?

This week I faced the unenviable task of buying new school shoes for my son. Needless to say, the choice was very limited. He may not be particularly fashion conscious when choosing footwear, but it would be nice to have more options available to him. My husband is also frustrated about the lack of choice – it’s not always an option to buy from premium shoe retailers and certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a necessity.

There are, of course, a number of online shoe retailers, but footwear is the last item that I would consider buying on the Internet. Finding the right fit can be a nightmare! How many pairs would I end up ordering and returning before I found the ideal fit? I want to go into a shop (or several if I’m honest), view a large selection of shoes and try on as many pairs as I like before making my choice.

I dream of walking down a High Street that hosts a range of reasonably-priced, well-stocked shoe shops and trying on endless pairs until I find my ideal style of fit. But tell me, where have all the shoe shops gone?

Monday, 5 January 2015

January’s A Good Month To ...

Avoid making a New Year’s Resolution. Yes, seriously. Many people find that the pressure of undertaking a big life change at New Year makes it more difficult to accomplish their goals. Deciding to lose weight, quit smoking, get fitter etc is sometimes easier to accomplish at a time of your own choosing, or when the weather is warmer to make you feel more optimistic. The only resolution I’ve ever made and stuck to, is not to make a New Year’s resolution!

Raid the ‘End of Sale’ rails. I’ve never been one to queue on the first day of a sale, or even turn up within the first few days of one starting. I’m much more the type of shopper that scours the shops for ‘End of Sale’ bargains. Past finds have included Marks and Spencer jeans for £5, M&S boots for £3 and toiletry gift sets from Boots at 90% reduction. OK, so there’s not so much choice towards the end of a sale, but the savings can be huge!

Fill up those charity bags. Now’s the time to clear out all of those cupboards and drawers to make room for all of the goodies that you received for Christmas. And if you received some unwanted gifts, why not donate those to a local charity shop too? Beware, however, of some of the so-called charity bags that are posted through your door. Whilst some are genuine, others most definitely are not. If in doubt, try to take your donations directly to a charity shop, to ensure that your gifts are helping the people that you intend to help, as opposed to lining the pockets of unscrupulous individuals.

Curl up with a good book. Whilst I accept that e-readers have their place, I feel you can’t beat holding an actual book in your hand, with it’s intriguing cover beckoning you to discover its treasures within. I love to turn the pages – sometimes with some speed when I reach a particularly exciting bit – enjoying the feel of the paper and weight of the tome. Snuggling up by the fire on a winter’s day, book in hand, is sheer bliss!