Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Life Lessons - Level Crossings

I remember in the dim and distant past of my childhood, amongst the Public Information Films about things like flying kites near pylons and always telling your mummy before you go off somewhere, seeing films about safety at Level Crossings.  Level Crossings themselves are a rarer breed than they were during my childhood, but if news items are anything to go by, there's still a need for education about crossing safely. There's so many videos shared on facebook and YouTube of people risking their lives in near misses on level crossings, and I'm sure in part it's due to their decreasing numbers.  To be honest, thinking really hard, I can only think of 3 I know the locations of; one just outside a holiday camp, one in an oddly busy town centre somewhere on the south coast, and one just up the road outside a local fruit farm.

It was the last of these that Squeaky & I, along with PirateGirl, MiniMe and Mummy Mandy found ourselves last week. We had planned to go fruit picking, but sadly the farm had a bad crop last year & don't do pick your own any more, so instead we had a happy hour sitting in a vineyard drinking coffee & eating ice cream.

It was, however, a good opportunity to teach the girls about Level Crossing safety, and what an opportunity. The crossing is a properly manual one, with gates you have to open and close yourself (and I'm too scared to drive over), and the line is really quite busy, with around 12 trains per hour going through. That meant that there was every chance of a train being due while we were at the crossing, giving the girls a real understanding of the crossing, what to do, and why.  And the trains came through, as if we'd planned it. Standing at the crossing gates, checking the lights, and waiting as they has turned to red, along comes a train, whistling through (ok, honking his diesel horn) while we watched from yards away. And then we waited, as the light stayed red, and a second train passed through in the opposite direction. Once the lights changed to green, the girls behaved beautifully, held our hands and walked quickly and carefully across to the other side where we'd parked our cars.

It's not something I would necessarily have thought about, but the increasing rarity of level crossings means that people are less aware of their correct use, putting them at more risk of injury or death.  Hopefully this impromptu lesson will be one our girls retain for the future.  Is this something you've done with your children?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Astral Cream - When will it take you?

Olfactory memory, scent memory, is an amazing thing.  A single sniff of certain scents can transport you to times and places you wouldn't otherwise have thought of.  With that in mind, I was happy to see when and where Astral moisturiser would take me.

Astral has been around for over 60 years, and while the pot has undergone a little bit of a makeover, the formula remains the same soft and creamy moisturiser it's always been.  With a scent that takes me back to playing supermodels in my childhood friend's kitchen (though I think they were just called "models" back then), caking ourselves in makeup, teetering around in high heels and the kind of early 80's fashion mistakes that no revival is ever going to bring back.  Once we'd finished our show, we were restored to our infant school glory by liberal application of Astral on a cotton wool ball to remove the make up and leave us fresh and moisturised.  The scent lifts me there in seconds, close my eyes and there are 7 year old giggles ringing in my ears.  And I'm sorry to disappoint, but I was young long before digital cameras were readily available, and there are no photos for you to laugh at.  Instead, look at my finger!

I love the little pots, they are so handy for in the car and at work. While the cream doesn't have an SPF, so I wouldn't replace my facial moisturiser with it in the daytime, it's a great product to have around after washing up, running from place to place, or to deal with itchy dry knees and elbows all year round.  Miss Squeaky is away at my folks' for a few days, but I've no doubt when she returns she'll love the idea of a grown-up cream that she can share as well. That's the thing I really like, I'm confident that Astral is safe on her skin, as it's tried and tested through time, and I can maybe give her the same olfactory memory I have of growing up with it.

Would I buy Astral again? Definitely, it's so soft & gentle on my skin, and the smell is so reassuring and calming, just what I need when work is getting too much.

Astral is available from many high street retailers in 50ml (pictured), 200ml and value 500ml sizes.

Disclosure: I was provided with the above pictured products free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Through Another's Eyes

We went on a day trip last week with the preschool group Squeaky's been part of over the last while.  Nowhere is more likely to appeal to me than a day at the seaside, particularly in Weston-super-Mare, as I grew up just down the road and spent far too much time there in my not-so-wild and mis-spent youth  And the thought of someone else coming up with an idea for how to fill an entire day of the seemingly endless school holidays is very attractive indeed.

So, onto the coach we climbed, and headed off for our adventures.  Riding the donkeys on the beach (it's the law!), a lovely lunch with my parents (who still live just up the road), a trip on the merry-go-round, and an afternoon in the splash park meant we had a wholesome and fun filled family day out in the sunshine.  It didn't cost us a great deal, just a couple of £s for the rides, and more importantly, it didn't take huge amounts of planning from me.

Our new friend Fred

In fact, Squeaky's very favourite part of the day was climbing onto, and jumping from a large rock in the playground of the splash park.  The local council spent thousands on converting some old wasteground into a fantastic park, and she's more interested in a rock.  Figures.

Rock, obvs

My favourite part, on the other hand, was chatting to some of the other parents on the coach, and hearing what they had to say about Squeaky.

I mean, I know that much like Mary Poppins, she's "Practically Perfect in Every Way", but when you hear from other parents that their children say to them that "Squeaky's a big girl, but she still talks to me, I like her", or that they report back every day on whether she was at the group that day, and are really sad on the days she's not there, it's quite a thing.  (And for full disclosure, as I was writing this longhand in my notebook at the local soft play, when a grandparent came up to me and complemented me on how nicely Squeaky was playing with her much younger granddaughter)

There are times when I worry about her, that she seems shy, or doesn't seem to know how to ask to join in a game with others, and finds herself left on the sidelines.  But really, it seems I have nothing to worry about.

Our day in the Somerset sunshine is linking up with Coombe Mill's Coutry Kids Linky.  
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Friday, 8 August 2014

Bonmarché, a real Good Buy

There, a bilingual joke. That's as academic as this blog is ever likely to get.  Well, you certainly didn't come here to read my so-called comedy, so on with the post.  I was honoured, yep actually honoured to be invited to the official opening of Bonmarché's brand spanking new Cardiff store last week, in the presence of gorgeous bloggers JoKate, and genuine real life celebrity in the form of David Emanuel.

With David Emanuel (and Peter Rabbit!)
If you haven't visited Bonmarché for a while, you might not know that David Emanuel, famous for designing Princess Diana's wedding dress, has teamed up with the store to create gorgeous and affordable clothes for each season. And who can resist the glamour of a designer name tag?  In fact, in a very strange coincidence, the day that my invitation arrived, I was wearing a top from one of David's previous Bonmarché collections.
So, it was clearly meant to be.  Squeaky and I bowled up to the store, just a little bit late because school holidays = chaos, and were greeted by a veritable crowd of people waiting to brush shoulders with fame, and get their hands on the latest collection.

A few of the pretties that caught my eye
Now, despite saying above that I've already got a few items from Bonmarché, I'll be honest and say that in my head I was expecting a mixture of basics and pastel cardies.  My auntie has a Bonmarché loyalty card for goodness sake.  However, I couldn't have been more wrong. Beautiful jewel brights, co-ordinating outfits and accessories, and fab wide leg trousers that are a million miles from the pension book crew.  Honestly, whatever you were thinking, forget it.  The store feels far more upmarket than I ever expected, with chandeliers & silver dressing tables, it seemed perfectly in keeping with the St David's centre, which has undergone a real swishing up in recent years & is home to a great selection of big names (and some equally big price tags!)

Boutique stylings
We were each invited to put an outfit together, and took off to the changing rooms in a whirl of giggles and cameras, much to the confusion of other shoppers. Apparently "it's ok, I'm a blogger" only goes so far in the real world.  But we did our thing anyway.  And I channelled my inner Toddlers & Tiaras and hammed it up for the camera, because, well, why not?

Don't laugh. Please.
We've got a branch of Bonmarché in my local town centre, though I'm not sure it's got the full range that I saw in Cardiff, I'll definitely be popping in.  Especially now I've got my own loyalty card - they're not just for aunties any more!

Disclosure: I was invited to this opening event and gifted with an item of my choice from the store's range in return for my honest review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will; not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Newlife Foundation

You all know, I hope, that charity shopping is one of my favourite pastimes. I can't resist a bargain, and if I can do some good at the same time all the better.  This means that when I was asked (ages ago now *shame*) if I would like to write about the Newlife Foundation, I was only too pleased to say yes.

I've known about Newlife for ages, because their main base is just around the corner from my in-laws' house in Cannock, Staffordshire, so I make a point of popping in to their retail superstore when we're visiting.  However, the store was about all I really knew, so I loved the chance to find out a bit more, and spread the word a little.

The Newlife Foundation are a specialist charity, providing essential aids for children with disabilities and life limiting illnesses.  Things that can't be provided by social services or their local health board, for whatever reason.  That could be a wheelchair, a special bed, communication equipment, depends on the needs of the individual child.  They also have loan packs of sensory toys to enable parents to find out what works best for their child before purchasing.  The charity are totally funded by donations, and receive no statutory help, which is why they need to raise funds through their store.  While their base is in the West Midlands, they help children and families throughout the UK.

Take your pick!
Now, I mentioned the retail superstore. Superstore is the right word. Put all thoughts of the average charity shop from your mind, with its stretched jumpers, eau de mothballs scent, mismatched crockery and grouchy pensioners getting in the way of the bargains. Oh no.  For a start, all the stock is new.  Stock is donated by major high street retailers (I'm not sure if I can say who, but if you've got a good eye and know your High Street fashion, you can tell who some are), de-labelled to remove the original retailer's details, and put up for sake at bargain prices.  Some items are end of range, or previous season, others are slight seconds. All are a bargain.  Seriously, I've had some beautiful clothes from there, for a fraction of the high street prices.  As an example, I bought a hoody with a silly pattern on the front last time I visited for £4.99. I hadn't seen it in stores, but googled it out of interest, and found that the "new" price if I'd bought it in my local store was £35.00.  Definitely a good deal.  You do have to pay for membership on your first purchase, but even so, this quickly offsets against the level of savings.

East European Hooker Shoes.

Its fun too.  Something like a good quality jumble sale, with added East European Hooker Shoes. No, really, there's always shoes that could only seriously be worn by someone who never actually stands up in them, in lurid shades of lime, fuchsia and gold glitter.   I shouldn't call them that, but you know the kind of shoes I mean.  The polite term might be "limo shoes", but I think mine's better.  The jumble sale aspect is mostly due by the sheer quantity of clothes on display. They're mostly sorted by size groups (e.g 10 & under, 12 & 14, 16 & 18, 20+), with a few racks where they've got a job lot of the same item in various sizes.  If you're the kind of person who likes to pop in, grab the one thing they know they want, and run, then it's probably not for you. But if you like to hunt and find a real bargain, it's bliss.

Gorgeous skirts, every size but mine!
This is the point where you realise that I'm not joking when I say I should have written this post ages ago, because I had a clutch of photos on my old phone that I took in the store last time I visited, but I've completely lost them to the mists of time, and the vagaries of modern technology.  And they were all jumpers & winter stuff.  So that seemed like a good excuse to go back (hey, what can I say?)  So the photos you can see here are from my most recent visit.  Admittedly, all I bought for myself was some sensible sandals & a pair of pyjama pants, but I managed to stock up on a few items for Miss Squeaky as well, at a price I'm happy to pay.

The charity are always looking for volunteers to help out with the store's activities. If you're in the West Midlands, love clothing and doing something great for others, you could get involved with sorting & delabelling clothes to go on the shelves, or wherever you are, you can host a party selling items from the store, they are happy for people to get involved or host a coffee morning, or whatever takes your fancy really.  Or you could just go and spend your cash!  I hope I've inspired you in some way, and I'm sorry it's taken me so long!

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for this post. I am a genuine shopper and member of the retail superstore. I was invited to write about the charity and their store, and I have given my time free of charge in order to support their cause.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

As One Door Closes...

After a whole year of part time nursery class, Squeaky's broken up for the summer holidays, and is moving upstairs to reception full time in September.  While she knows the children and the teachers, and it's exactly where she goes to Breakfast Club every day, it's still a pretty big change, and she's been showing some anxiety about it all.  Clingier than I've seen her in a very long time, wanting to stay with me rather than go to activities and join in with other children.  Sometimes I think we forget how much our children know, and what seems insignificant to us can be huge to them.  Nursery is all the school she's experienced, so it must be pretty big.

In addition to moving upstairs, and going full time, there's more changes going on at school.  Rather than being the last remaining separate Infants school in the borough, the school is merging with the linked Junior school that pretty much all the Year 3's move on to.  The head of the Infants is retiring after over 20 years at the school, and both schools are getting a new name, motto and uniform.  It's quite the end of an era, as the Infants school has been there for 112 years.  Forget parents having gone to the school, we're talking Great Grandparents, and beyond!  That's something I fell in love with when we first visited, the real sense of history and place.

The new headmaster is doing a good job of involving parents in being an active part of the new school though.  We've been invited to make suggestions for the school name, logo and motto.  And I'm secretly more than a little bit proud that my motto suggestion has been adopted by the school, so we're already making our mark on the future.  You can dress it up any way you like, but it's still a tie-breaker competition, and my inner comper can't resist a good tie-break.

The challenge of full time school, for us, is going to be all about the food.  I'm confident Squeaky will cope with the hours and the work, but the big question is will she eat?  And if so, what?

We're trying our hardest to get her to expand her diet, with some small successes, but she's what can be politely described as a stubborn creature - it's the Capricorn in her.  I've looked over the school dinner menus, and over the three week cycle, she'd probably eat about 5 meals, and that's being optimistic.  The alternative, obviously, is packed lunches.  Again, a battle.  When she eats only a limited range of foods, I'm terrified of falling foul of the lunchbox police & having my marmite sandwiches and babybels confiscated.  I have enough trouble getting us up and dressed in time for school in the mornings, never mind making a packed lunch as well (as you can tell by the rubbish I eat in the office). And really, bento?  No offence to those who can, but this is my reality. I have neither the time nor inclination to make pretty garden scenes out of cress, carved tomatoes and pasta shapes.  Which will only get swapped for someone else's squashed jam sandwich anyway.  If I had time for that in the morning, maybe I'd have time to blog more often!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Let's Talk Christmas

I KNOW.  OK, I know.  It's July.  The last thing you want is a chorus of Jingle Bells and to start thinking turkey and tinsel.  But don't hate me yet, bear with me. It'll be worth it in the end, I promise.  And in case you were wondering, I haven't been to any of those Christmas in July things that PR companies so kindly wave in front of your nose, in three days time, in central London, with no offers of travel costs, or even consideration for the fact that parents tend to have children.  And I'm not about to tell you what theme your Christmas table should have (Scandi-style is SO last year), or which toys your children will be clamouring for come December.  But it is worth starting to think.

Christmas seems to be getting increasingly competitive - who can give the biggest, best, shiniest, most expensive gifts.  And if that's what floats your boat, go to it, I guess.  But it takes planning, and that's why I'm writing this now.  It's no good having an entire room stuffed with colour co-ordinated presents if you're struggling to pay the electric bill.

The obvious way to prepare for Christmas is to start saving, as early and as much as possible.  But let's be honest.  That's not always possible, or easy for a lot of people, so here's some alternatives.

Savings clubs and hamper clubs - both national ones like Park, and local ones at the corner shop, allow you to save a little each week, without the temptation of having the cash at home or at the end of the debit card, so that come Christmas the presents and food are already paid for.  They have had some bad press, but that was an isolated incident, and as a rule your money is safe, and you can choose how to spend it - either on vouchers or on well priced items as the clubs are able to use their membership numbers to negotiate discounts from suppliers.

Taking on a part time job, or offering to do things like babysitting or ironing for cash to your friends and neighbours can bring in some additional cash - though please bear in mind that this could affect any benefit entitlements - and if you can put this money aside, there will be a nice little nest egg ready and waiting in December.

High street Hire Purchase companies and Coin-Op TV companies may seem affordable, with their low weekly payments and bright shiny adverts, but do you really want to be still paying for this year's Christmas presents in 3 years time?  That's the average length of their loans, so think about it very carefully.  And don't even get me started on payday lenders and doorstep lenders.  I've said before that they are toxic, and I'm fully in agreement with MP Stella Creasy that they are simply legal loan sharks.  So please, for me, steer clear.  If they look like your only option, seek advice first, there is always an alternative.  (I am not going to link to any of these companies. I have some rules around here)

Sometimes, with all the will in the world, credit IS the only solution.  I don't live in cloud cuckoo land (though I think it's not that far away)  Even then though, it takes planning.  Speak to your bank if you're likely to go overdrawn. It's much better to have an overdraft facility set up & not have to use it. An authorised overdraft will have much lower charges (if any), and won't damage your credit rating later on.  Credit Unions are another good way to access a relatively cheap loan, and they work in local communities, putting that investment back into the community for a warm & fuzzy feeling at the same time.

And if you are having money problems, seek advice sooner rather than later.  Citizens AdviceStep ChangePayplan and Christians Against Poverty offer free advice and help dealing with debts.  There are other debt management companies out there which charge for their services, but these organisations are free, and working in the interests of their users.  You aren't the first person to get into a financial mess, and you won't be the last. You won't be judged, and they can do an amazing job if you let them.

So start thinking now, and you can look forward to a great and stress-free Christmas.

I was not asked to write this post. All links are provided free of charge and come from my own knowledge of the agencies and situations involved.