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Sunday, August 07, 2016

All Clear

All Clear...

Those were the lovely words I heard after my trip to the Royal Marsden last week.

All that worry, waiting around, poking and prodding the lumps and bumps and fretting over the blue circles drawn on my boob in blue felt tip - just hormones.

The IVF treatment I'm going through is playing havoc with my hormones. It's already played a mean trick on my waistline, giving me a flabby belly and wide water-retaining hips (and the hips don't lie, man!).

Now it's playing games with my boobs, ducts, glands - anything, you name it.

However it's better that my strange bumps and lumps are just a reaction to the hormone-stimulating drugs than anything more sinister. Hoorah!


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Royal Marsden here I am...

Royal Marsden's Surrey waiting room is a relatively cheery place, considering. It has the air of a 1990s country B&B and temperate air conditioning. There are only a couple of people here on their own, like I am, as most people have come with a partner or friend or relative for moral support. 

I have also just signed a consent form for any tissue samples to be used for research. Not sure if I will have tissue removed as pretty sure I just have cysts brought on by the IVF treatment  but I have never had a breast x-ray or mammogram before, so I am naturally both curious and a little ... nervous? No, not nervous. Excited isn't the right word either. Intrigued maybe. 

Apparently a mammogram is not an all-singing birthday woolly elephant. Must remember that next time I send my friends one to surprise them.

No; a mammogram is a breast x-ray. I do not think I will have this as I was told by my GP I was still young enough to have an ultrasound done. I am expecting cold gel on ma boob ('maboob' apparently means 'love' in Arabic. Well, I do love ma boobs) and a small hand-held x-ray type device like they do for baby ultrasounds. 

Hopefully my boob is not having a baby. Apart from the Martian in the original Total Recall, tri-boobed individuals are not considered attractive.

So here I sit, typing away, waiting to hear someone attempt to pronounce my name and then watch them look surprised when they see a blatantly Anglo-Saxon Englishwoman (myself) respond to them. Nobody expects me to answer to my name. 

Oh well I have to get my kicks somewhere, for in about five minutes I will be having my boob squeezed and prodded by some well-meaning mammary expert in latex gloves. To think some people pay for this. NHS does it for free. Bless the NHS! 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Lift etiquette: What not to do in an elevator

Lift etiquette: are you the button monitor?
Lift etiquette has bothered people since the first commercial lift – or elevator, for our American friends – was put into operation by Elisha Graves Otis in a New York department store in 1857.

Since then, there have been countless commentaries published to explain to the unwary how to act in a lift.

Rules can be obvious: no farting, burping, violent sneezing or coughing fits. Basically, don't be anti-social and disgusting, especially if you are at work and the boss is in the same lift. (Unless you hate them and want to drop one silently and run).

Other rules are less obvious. These include:

Button Monitor
If you are by the buttons, you are ‘button monitor’. This is an unofficial rule. It becomes your responsibility to push the button for other people. Don’t let this responsibility go to your head. Do not ask for tips. Do not pretend you’re in the Science Museum and make noises for each floor number you press.

Coffee King
People do have to bring coffee into lifts if they’ve bought it outside of the office. Keep it close to you. Nobody wants your latte down their best suit.

Phone calls
Most lifts do not have cellphone reception but if yours does, please don’t regale your lift buddies with your previous night’s exploits. It doesn’t make you look cool. It makes you look like a Neolithic jerk.

Let people out first
This is something that should not need to be explained. Yet every time I step to the right to allow people to leave the lift when it arrives, colleagues stand right in front – and then act surprised when people try to get out of the lift. It’s simple manners and every day I see morons forgetting the simple fact: people get out of lifts, as well as into them.

Two-floor rule
If you only work on floors 1 and 2, and have no medical, baggage, or age-related reason for not walking, walk up the stairs instead of being a lazy nuisance. All you do is make your lift colleagues going to floors 4 and above resent you for stopping the lift and delaying them getting to their desks.

Conversations
If I am having a quiet conversation with someone and continue this in the lift, I expect to carry on this conversation in low, hushed tones, with that person. I do not expect people I do not know to join in. If you know me, fine, I’m in a shared space with you, but for the sake of a few seconds’ space-sharing, please do not butt into something to which you have not been invited. If we wanted your opinion, we’d ask for it.

This has happened twice today at work, in fact. People I’ve never seen before felt comfortable offering their thoughts and opinions quite freely. One didn't join the conversation but dropped a passive-aggressive 'aside' to me, before running out of the lift before I could respond. The other just blithely gave a running commentary on What'sApp to two people who were not interested. Lady, I don’t care to hear your commentary. 

With both these interruptions happening at work today, I felt it worth double-checking with colleagues and online-based etiquette gurus. William Hanson was kind enough to respond to my tweet:



Apparently, it IS rude when you don't know the person, at least in England, although as Mr Hanson says, it could vary from culture to culture.

So, when in the office lift, please stop butting into other people's conversations. I don’t interpose in other people’s conversations so don’t feel free to blunderbuss your way into mine.

However it is also worth mentioning it could be best and more polite to put all conversations on hold in the lift to avoid giving someone else the opportunity to barge in uninvited, and bear in mind the lift is a shared space.

Caveat
It goes without saying this all only applies if there is anyone else in the lift with you.

If you are alone, or with one other like-minded individual, and there is no camera in the lift, you are quite welcome to play ‘Lift Chicken’.

Lift Chicken: The Rules

Lift Chicken: Solo
If you are on your own, and the lift slows to stop at a floor other than the one you’ve chosen, the Game of Lift Chicken is officially on.
Strike a ludicrous, exaggerated pose right by the doors.
See how long you can wait in that position as the doors open.
If you bail out before the doors even slightly part, you’re a chicken.
Don’t get caught by the boss.

Lift Chicken: Two people
As before, but the winner is the last one to cave in to decorum before the doors open.

The other is the ‘chicken’.

Don't be chicken - play Lift Chicken to win!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Entertainment on a budget

This year has been pretty tough, physically and mentally and emotionally.


One could also suggest financially, as we are spending so much money on IVF treatment and associated costs that we have not had much chance to take a couple of long holidays and two or three short domestic breaks as we would usually. 

We have also curbed food and entertainment spending drastically. First world problems, right? Some people can't even take a short domestic break so I accept we have been really blessed.

However we have been able to meet all our bills this year thanks to wise storing in the good years, and even with the cutbacks, we have been able to enjoy several low-cost or even free outings to give us a break from the stresses of work and my treatment.

For example we walked over the O2 dome and saw Bryan Adams for free with loyalty points.

Star Wars Celebration - we paid for these tickets but mostly brought our own food to avoid the costly concession stands.

Lambeth County Fair - free to enter, only cost was food on the day. Too hot to bring a packed lunch all the way via church!

A few restaurant evenings and lunches with my gal pals (some meals using discount vouchers)

CountryFile Live at Blenheim Palace ... A free ticket plus one! Hoorah! What a bonus.

Films we have seen at Cinema using Groupon vouchers (Batch of 5 tickets for £20 - bargain)
X-Men Apocalypse
Tarzan remake
Independence Day sequel - George went by himself

Bourne - again, George went with our friend Geoff on a freebie jolly so nobody paid anything!

Films I would like to see:
The Jungle Book 2016 remake
Ghostbusters 2016 remake with all-female cast. 
The BFG
Captain America - Civil War
Star Trek - whatever it is called. I lose track at my age.
Through the Looking Glass.
Independence Day II. But maybe not at the Cinema. Apparently it is not worth a full-price ticket. Or paying for. But George said he "didn't hate it". So that's alright then

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Zombies: 20 things to take in event of an apocalypse

Twenty things to have in the event of a zombie outbreak
1) A six-seater pick-up with coverable roof and a full tank of gas
2)A shotgun
3)A rifle with a silencer
4)A pistol with a silencer
5)A crossbow and quiver
6) Knife 1
7)Knife 2
8)A guard dog
9)One rooster
10) Hen 1
11) Hen 2
12) A crate of bottled water
13) a saw
14) an axe
15) 100m of thick strong twine or thin rope
16) a he-goat
17) a she-goat
18) Proper first-aid kit, including supplements and ladies things
19) blanket
20) big box of matches 

People to take
Hubby
Mum
Cat
Steve & family. Fit and fearless and he's a fireman so would be useful.

Priorities
Get out into countryside
Raid small stores on way for food, clothing and pet food
Siphon off petrol into empty cans where safe to do so
Collect wood, pallets, crates 

Find remote spot with remote farmstead or small holding 
Fortify with fences and barricades
Fortify places for hens, goats and any random farm animals in vicinity
Fortify places of entry into farmstead with high walls, barricades, etc.
Fortify the house itself.

Hunker down amd wait for the helicopters to airlift.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Social media award winner

Well those years of pushy tweeting and engaging with people in financial services and beyond on Twitter have finally paid off!

I am now officially the most useful intermediary journalist tweeter

As such I should be able to use this badge on my blogs and websites to prove my usefulness to society!


PanaceaAdviser award winner

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Appalling treatment from my home insurance provider

Three weeks ago, I reported a home emergency to my insurer, Aqua.
Storm Katie had come and wreaked havoc on the flat roof extension behind our house, with water pouring into the top of the ceiling join, down the walls and out of the light switch.
Storm Katie in our Kitchen
Naturally this freaked me out as I was worried for three days whether I would get an electric shock if I turned the light switch on. So I didn't. My kitchen was out-of-bounds.
Light Switch of Doom
We reported this on the Bank Holiday Monday (28th) to Aqua and understandably were told there was a high volume of repairs being requested. I was told someone could not come out on the Monday (28th) but someone could come out on Tuesday 29th.
Water damage to the paintwork
This was confirmed later on the Monday by CET, the home emergency repairs team. Late on that day we were told CET could not come but they might come on Tuesday 29 March. They did not confirm a time but expected it to be in the afternoon. They told me I would receive a call.
I asked my boss if I could work from home but as nobody called me I actually went to work in the morning.
On the morning of Tues 29th March, from the office (using my mobile), I spoke with J- at CET to book a time for the contractors to come.
It was she who told me nobody could get out to me that week. I asked her what she meant. This was when I told her: "What do you mean you can't get out to me this week? I don't live in the Mull of Kintyre, I live in Surrey."
She said the weather might be too bad in the coming week to allow contractors onto the roof, and that I was looking at Monday 4th as the earliest.
She also promised me over the phone if the weather changed and got better, CET would call me to book an earlier appointment. 
As it transpired, the weather on Thurs, Fri and Sat that week was dry, no wind at all, and totally beautiful. Nobody from CET called me at all as promised.
Because I am a journalist, I have transcripts of all conversations. So I have a note I called S- at Aqua on Tuesday 29th and told him J- at CET had told me nobody could come out on the Tuesday (which was when the CET were supposed to call in as they had promised on Monday 28th, the bank holiday).
He told me I could "ask for someone else" to come in and do it - ie get my own contractor. It was he who confirmed the booking for Monday 4th from 8am to 12pm.
This was repeated several times to me in that call and in subsequent calls, that Monday 4th April, a CET contractor would call between 8am to 12pm. Ie, in the morning of the Monday.
Eventually my husband got involved and called our insurance adviser, Profile, who said he would sort someone out that day (Tues 29th) to come in. A little while later, a man called R- at Asprey rang me and said someone from Asprey which is a CMC (claims management company) would come at half 3 and would do an assessment of the work, which would be at no cost to me, and covered under the policy and would carry out formal repairs. But they would be coming from Blackburn so it may take time.
I rushed home as soon as I heard that at 1:30. 
The guy came (nearly 2 hours late, gone 5pm and when it was getting dusky outside), in jeans, a shirt and a jacket, used my step ladder to look at the roof. 
He merely said it would not be covered under the policy. I asked if he had seen our policy. He said no, but usually flat roofs are not covered under home insurance. I said had he spoken with Aqua and he said no, he worked for Asprey.
So he basically interpreted a policy he had not seen, without even talking with my insurer, and did no emergency repairs. He did not check that the light switch was safe for me to use.
I called up Aqua again the next day and asked when someone would be coming out. They confirmed (I think this was a chap called P-) at 8am-12pm on Monday 4th April to do the emergency repairs.
So I booked 4th April off with my boss and EXPECTED that someone would turn up at 8am-12pm as they had promised.
Moreover, I confirmed this on the Friday 1 April (April fool? I certainly was beginning to feel like one) and the person to whom I spoke at Aqua (I did not get this person's name) again confirmed CET would be sending someone at 8am to 12pm.
I had to confirm this timing because on the Friday the clinic called me and said I would have to go in and have my bloods and the scan done in the late afternoon of Monday 4th April. I said I would confirm that the contractors were coming in the morning, which would enable me to be free in the afternoon. 
That is why I was in contact with Aqua/CET on Friday 1 April to confirm the CET contractor was coming at 8am to 12pm, before I booked the hospital appointment for 3:45 on Monday. Only when it was confirmed to me that CET contractors were coming in the morning between 8am and 12pm did I book the hospital appointment.
Monday 4th April dawned, a little blustery. I called Aqua first thing and they confirmed CET would be sending someone between 8-12 but I would have to call CET to get a more definitive time.
I spoke with A- at CET, who said the contractors had "this booked as an all day job. The sub-contractors are coming at 3pm".
THREE PM!?!?!?
I was astounded. How could this be, when five different people from Aqua and CET had all confirmed to me over the phone (and recorded in their own phone conversations) the contractor would arrive between 8am and 12pm that day?
I told her I could not be there at 3pm as I had a hospital appointment. She said: "Do you want me to cancel?" I said: "NO, I am not cancelling! I was told 8-12 and I have kept that appointment. I am not cancelling, your contractors are because this is the first time I've heard 3pm."
In the end - as their phone records will show - I asked if they could come about 6pm.
Nobody came; I called Aqua and spoke to F-, who said Aqua had it written down as 8-12. She put me on hold while I spoke with CET. She said CET had it down for 8-12. 
I called CET again and spoke with yet another person, who said: "You cancelled the appointment" - totally disingenuous - and then acknowledged there had been a mistake. She told me she would flag this as a complaint and someone would call me from the complaints team. She also told me I could call HER back - when I suggested that as I've been the one wronged, they should be calling me as courtesy, she repeated that I should be calling them as "they were busy".
I did not call
Nothing happened on Tuesday 5th.
Wednesday 6th, while I was on the underground, I noted a missed call from a private number. I thought nothing of it.
No calls from CET, no emails or calls from Aqua.
Finally I got my husband to call them on Monday 11th April. He put in a complaint and then.... 
Today at 12:22, while I was in a meeting with my managing director and my line manager, my phone rang. I recognised the number and took the call. It was F- from CET, calling me to rebook the appointment.said "Wait a minute, what appointment?" She said: "We came but there was nobody at the property". I lost my temper for the first time and said: "This is bollocks. That is absolute bollocks". She called me out on my swearing, for which I apologised, several times. However it was untrue. "Nobody at the property". Every phone record will show that I was at the property at the appointed time - 8 to 12. 
Plus my hospital is 5 mins up the road from me by bus and 12 mins walk from my house. I could not have been gone more than 45 mins altogether, it was only bloodwork and something a little unmentionable. 
Add to this I had made CET and Aqua aware of the situation and rescheduled for after 6... 
I explained to her I would not book anything until I had had my complaint resolved. I also reiterated it was CET and Aqua's fault for failing to tell me, on five different occasions, that the appointment was an all-day one. In fact, they told me five times it was 8-12.
She said "P- called you on Weds at 9:45". So that was the missed call! Mystery solved.
However as I explained, simply calling once, not getting through, and then not repeating it again for five days is NOT complaints resolution. It is not TCF. Aqua had my email and phone number. They could have called me. I said I wanted to have my complaint dealt with, before I booked CET to come look at my roof.
She promised a nice lady would call me back and get it resolved. I have not had a call back from CET.
What I did get was a call from UKA 24/7, a chap called R-. He told me Aqua had called him to ask his contractors to come and look at my roof. I explained the situation and said I will not book anyone else until I get my complaint resolved satisfactorily by Aqua/CET.
Aqua has not spoken with me.
Unless you have spoken with me, you have not contacted me.
I am here now, my phone is on loud in the office (sorry guys) and I have not had anyone speak with me. 
And for the record, I am NOT calling people who should be calling me to apologise for:
  • Lack of contact
  • Lack of communication
  • Failure to give me correct information
  • Failure to treat me fairly as a consumer, especially when I had raised a complaint
  • Making promises that have not been met
  • Failing to adhere to the FCA's TCF standards
  • Failing to fulfil the BIBA code of conduct

What do I want? I want full roof repairs, not emergency. I want these carried out by R and his team at UKA 24/7, and I do not want to pay the £500 excess.
And yes, I intend to complain to FOS, write this up as a news story and request on-the-record comments.
After all,  I am a life and protection specialist insurance journalist. Probably not the sort of person an insurer wants to keep mucking around. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Wedding Anniversary: Paper

Wedding anniversary celebrations, disclosed to the world on Facebook, have always annoyed me slightly. Given so many of my friends are single or divorced, having other smug married friends rub it into their faces with outpourings of emotion over their soulmates is a little mawkish, in my view.

That said, Mr Mermaid and I do love to celebrate our wedding anniversary (and keep it on the down-low). True, we have been married just three years but it is fun to mark the anniversary of the day we both became tax-incentivised adults with the full legal and financial – I mean, the day we celebrated our love publicly in the honourable institution of marriage. Ahem.

Apart from the smug satisfaction of having outlasted the Kardashians in their various marital endeavours, it is good to be able to use the nearest weekend as an excuse to get away from everything and everyone else and focus on our gratitude to God and each other.

That said, finding appropriate gifts can sometimes be problematic. If one follows the traditional rules around giving - paper, cotton, leather, etc, then getting something good for a reasonable price is not easy. Correction: it is easier for men to buy for women than the other way around.

For our first year, paper, I wanted to get Mr Mermaid some bespoke, quality stationery. I explored some of the high-end options from boutiques he appreciates, such as Smythson, Aspinall and Liberty.

But the price tags for what I wanted were phenomenal. No discounts - and a starting price of at least £100. By the time all the bespokery (is there such a word? There is now) would have been completed, I would be looking at a bill of nearly £300.

Now I love my husband greatly but there is no way I would spend £300 on paper. The very idea was ridiculous. Notwithstanding the fact we had just got married and were, therefore, broke, I have always laboured under the principle that if you can feasibly make something yourself, then do not pay for it. I am a card crafter. I am artistic. Therefore branching out into stationery did not seem too high a leap for me.

Cue Amazon. I had seen in various high-end stores boxes of luxury cards from a certain company, retailing for about £40 for blank notelet cards (not folded). I figured I could get the same blank cards for less on Amazon. I did. 50 cream Crown Mill luxury cards with matching lined envelopes, for £26.99 plus P&P. 
Crown Mill laid paper in Cream
I also bought one tiny wooden-handled rubber stamper of a star, and a square inkpad in military green. On a different site I paid just under £5 for a personalised black-ink stamp with my husband’s details on it. A few day later, all my materials had arrived - for less than £50.

It took a few practice runs on scrap paper to get the right pressure and, having carefully marked in faint pencil straight lines on each card front, created a bespoke set of stationery that looked professional, felt professional and cost barely anything. I have had to remove our address from the below, of course.. so you can only get a rough idea of how nice this looked. 

What's inside the box? Personalised Stationery, of course!
As I had some money left over from my original budget of £70 for gifts for George, I meandered to my local picture framing store, which has won many awards for its creative framing. I spent £24 getting five hearts cut out of the stiff card by their laser cutter (I got to keep the bits of heart-shaped card), and printed out in colour five Google maps: where we both grew up, where we met, where we married, where we live (this bit was free).

Wedding Anniversary gift idea: personalised maps
This now adorns my husband's study wall, and he loved his stationery. And all for a bargain, whereas if I had opted for ordering all these things from another artisan, I could have spent between 300-400 smackers.


So I am now in the business of making bespoke stationery, as well as cards and jewellery! Oh and with those cut-out hearts, I made several Valentine's Day cards in various styles, which I sold for approximately £2 each.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beating the business card blues

Recently, my employer was taken over by another firm, which necessitated the destruction of thousands of business cards.

I had only recently been given reprints of my previous ones - which meant I had 200 cards sitting unused on my desk. My colleagues, likewise, had more than 100, as did my husband (we work for the same company).

It does grieve me to see waste. Even though most people in my immediate vicinity dutifully put their unused old business cards into the recycling bin, I thought there had to be another way to put these to good use, rather than simply relying on a very energy-intensive industry to process them and probably turn them into new business cards. Or a shirt. Either way.

At the same time that I trundled home with five heavy plastic boxes filled with old business cards, my husband managed to buy me: 20 sheets of Mr Men stickers for £1, one 20m reel of orange ribbon and one 20m reel of turquoise ribbon for 50p each.

I had a long weekend planned - ie, one without additional freelance work, hosting Sunday lunches for family or friends, and without anything at all to do. So I ensconced myself in my teeny-tiny 'office' (aka craft room) and began to make batches of cards.

I experimented first of all with the Mr Men and Little Miss notelet series, on pale cream card and using scraps of orange card that someone had given me several years earlier.
Close-up of card front Image: SimoneySunday via Instagram

The work in progress. Image: SimoneySunday via Instagram
Having made about 40 of these cards, I batched them up into sets of six (with some left over) and started to sell these on my Original Shimmering Designs Facebook page as notelets - ideal gifts for people who live a long way away. Light, unusual, original and using recycled/repurposed materials.

It should be stated that I used liquid paper (Tippex for the Brits, Copydex for Americans) to blot out the details on the backs (fronts?) of the business cards before sticking them onto the card fronts. 

I then received in the post some gorgeous little doggy buttons in painted wood. I'd ordered these way before Christmas but they took a while to arrive. Again, using the backs of old business cards, and coloured card which had once been marketing material from my office and I found in the recycling bin (yeah, sorry, I went bin-raking like a tramp), I experimented a week or so later with the darling doggy cards. These are also for sale via my Facebook page. 

The work in progress Image: SimoneySunday via Instagram
I also used up some other wooden buttons that I had lying around, as well as some of the pages of an old book about British Woodlands. This book had been left outside someone's house, in the rain, without any covers. When I asked about it, the lady had left this, along with other cover-less books, for anyone to take to use for craft. I jumped at the chance!
Close-up of the doggy card. Image: SimoneySunday via Instagram

Two of the finished products. I think they are really cute (but then I would, I made them). People say I am a cat-lover but I hope this tribute to our Scottie Dog friends might make people realise I love ALL animals (except spiders but then they do not count as an animal as they are arachnids).

Two of the finished products. Image: Simoney Sunday via Instagram
Who knew that old business cards, leftover pieces of scrap marketing material and discarded books could make such beautiful things? Well, it beats buying cards for £4.50 from an 'artisan' shop when you can get them from £1.50 upwards from the Mermaid of Moorgate! 



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cash in the attic? More like the car crash of my past

The other day I received a press release entitled: Cash In The Attic.

Apparently, British lofts are repositories of hidden treasures. The press release cited research that put the average worth of items left loitering in the loft at a rather peachy £1,922.

I remain to be convinced as to whether or not lucrative chattels do indeed lurk in hidden corners of England's lofts. They certainly don't rest in my mother's attic, which last time I was sent up there to 'clear it' had a princely treasury of half a table, an empty wooden container from a boxy TV from 1980s and a blue Princess Bike that I took apart when I was seven and could never put back together again.

But the good folk at Essex Rooms (a firm which builds loft conversions) who put the survey together, also discovered that Britons have a lot of really weird, dark scary stuff in their attics and to this, I can relate.

The most unusual items were, according to 2092 UK adults surveyed, dentures, dismembered dolls and urns containing ashes - both human and animal.

Source: Tumblr Strange Taxidermied Cat. Is there one in your loft?
There was also a taxidermied cat, a box of Victorian doll heads ... but no bodies ... and a tin can from the 1930s. No knowledge of what was in it. Probably Spam. I expect it was still good.

The majority of people have in their possession old Christmas decorations, baby clothes and furniture that was inherited from Great Aunt Gert and may be worth something but it is really damn ugly and you don't want it in your bedroom, in case you wake up at 3am to hear the chair creaking in the corner and your dead ancestor sitting in it, knitting a ghostly shawl. 'Don't mind me dearies, you continue with preserving the family line'.

To be honest, I would rather have a questionable-looking divan than a box of Victorian doll's heads, which is pretty creepy. I mean, I've seen those films. Even borrowing a neighbour's DVD of 'The Conjuring' made me  nervous. I became convinced that having it in our house would somehow open a portal to the Western shores of Hell, and I'd come downstairs in the night to see the Anabelle Doll sitting on the cat's cushion, staring at me. And there would be no cat ... taxidermied or otherwise.

How do you know if your parents hated you? Did they give one of these to you? They hated you
In fact, I deliberately spelled Anabelle wrong in case it's like the Candyman or like Bloody Mary or one of those monsters whose name you must not say three times while looking in a mirror, or they will leap out of the reflective surface and kill you.

You know, the sort of creepy tales that older girls delight in telling you, shortly before sneaking up behind you when you're in the school toilets, minding your own business while washing your hands and looking in the mirror, and then shouting 'Bloody Mary' at you three times and running away.

Then Mrs Smith or Mrs Bailey come in to ask why you're screaming and pummeling your wet hands on the mirror when you're alone in the toilet. And then the teachers inform your mother at Parents' Evening: "Your daughter is a little .. odd." Yeah. No kidding.

Where was I? Oh yes, in my attic. Now I have a nice attic. It has already been converted into a brand spanking new Master bedroom and, apart from those freaky-ass ravens jumping around the roof in the wee small hours and whooping like headless Victorian child dolls, it is a pretty un-scary place.

The cupboard space, however, is stuffed full of, well, stuff. Mostly it is Christmas Decorations, and Wedding Mementos. But it is also full of bags and tubs of papers from school and university, things that I do not need but which I don't really feel that I can part with, just yet. Notes, folders, boxes of my earliest literary endeavours - all of this is secreted into the corners of cupboards.

I also found a box load of Commando Comics. My mother gave them to me to 'throw out' as they had been at her house for aeons. I used to love those comics. I lent my favourite ones to my friend Will (WHO HAS NOT RETURNED THEM YET), but I still have dozens of them. I say still have, because I did not throw them out. I took them home and read them all over again.

I don't know why I got so wrapped up in Commando comics. I basically went straight from magazines like Twinkle, Judy and Just Seventeen, straight to NewsWeek, National Geographic and Commando Comics, from about 14 years old. Yes, I was 14 years old, talked like David Niven, obsessed by WWII and learning all about international diplomacy from reading "Dagger for a Nazi" and "Dive, Dive, Dive!". Two of my new favourites from my remaining, if depleted stack.

Commando Comic
Clever Tommy
I also became a polyglot, able to speak the dying words of Germans and Japanese Kamikaze pilots as the brave Tommies and Septics shot them down in a fiery battle.

"Achtung! Der Englander! Schweinhund!"

"Aieee! Tora! Tora!"

Yep, not racist at all.


Having just written all this, it probably does not take too far a stretch of the imagination to work out why my teachers thought I was weird.

So, that's what's in my loft.




Monday, January 18, 2016

Perfect Party Planning for January... on a budget!

Several of my friends are having birthdays or having to attend post-Christmas children's parties ("Let it Goooo, Let it Goooooo") in January and early February - just at the tightest financial time of the year. Of course this lends itself to a fiscal dilemma - trying to make the special day special without breaking the bank.

The other year, we threw a surprise party for a friend's daughter who was 21. Being a steampunk aficionado, we spent an evening working out ways to design and create a themed party for her, while keeping a tight budget. The idea was to have as much as possible for as little as possible - I think the whole party, food included, was meant to be under £100.

The results were amazing, and only involved a little paper, cardboard tubes, glass jars, scissors, twine, glue and good old-fashioned grit. Oh, and a lot of imagination and gold paint spray.

The following tips are perfect for any celebration, especially for a money-saving New Year party.

1) Bunting
To decorate a wall or garden, bunting is ideal as it takes up a lot of space and can transform a plain wall into a perfect party room.

How to
Rather than throw out old cotton or linen sheets, wash them, and cut out small triangles of equal size. Take some soft twine or strong wool, and attach each triangle to the twine, allowing a couple of inches space between each triangle. To attach, simply fold a little bit of the cloth over the twine and either staple or do a running stitch. Alternating colours of cloth makes for a pretty pattern.

2) Teasing tea-lights
Baby food jars can make great ornaments, especially if you want to light up your garden. Tying 20 or so to a tree and filling the garden with twinkling tea lights is a wonderful touch, or dot them around
staircases or mantelpieces to add a bit of seasonal sparkle.


Go home Lantern, you're drunk
Right-side Up
You will need:
Baby food jars
Some thin but strong wire - jewellery wire or picture wire
Some natural foliage from the garden
Some battery-operated tealights

How to:
Clean as many baby food jars as you can. Put a tiny layer of leafage at the bottom of the jar. Use the wire to create a little 'basket handle' around the lip of the jar. Make it as high and hooped as possible. Cover any unsightly knots and ties around the jar with a little (non prickly) foliage. Test the tealight and make sure it can sit reasonably straight on the foliage. Otherwise it gets drunk and falls over, like the wee lantern on the left...

3) Lovely labels
Make food more inviting by creating themed mini menu cards to stick into dishes and sit alongside cakes.

How to:
Print out some coloured paper to match your bunting / colour theme.
Many crafting website offer free print-outs of party paper in myriad colours and patterns, and fix onto a sheet of card.
Any card will do; empty boxes or Christmas cards are perfect, as it helps to recycle and clear up after Christmas.
Choose whichever shape suits you and make a template to trace around as many as you need.
Take a nice pen; gold or silver or black make stand-out descriptions. When the ink dries, use a little sellotape to stick toothpicks onto the back of the card and use to adorn your table.

4) Paper chains get perky
A great way to use up leftover paper is in the making of paper chains.
Whether you use coloured paper, newspaper or shiny metallic paper, the outcome can look swell. We used old photocopied sheet music, copied onto some cream-coloured paper I had leftover from my wedding craft box. The effect was striking.

How to:
Choose your paper scheme cut into even strips
Glue or use double-sided tape on one end and hoop each strip through to complete a chain.

And why stop at chains? We also traced some cogs of different size onto cardboard, traced onto metallic coloured card and created a string of brass-shimmery cogs, fastened with metal paper fasteners.

5) Paper roses
I made roses out of an old, battered version of my favourite book and a copy of the Financial Times - where I met my husband - for my wedding bouquet, and for my bridesmaids.

This was the FIRST time I had ever made the roses - and the FIRST time I had ever done ANY flower arranging. So I guess it was a success!
Me with my bouquet getting ready 
One of my bridesmaid's bouquets

In addition to being lovely wedding bouquets that really will last forever (and cost next-to-nothing to make), I have given out single ones and smaller arrangements. These make magnificent gifts for individuals and a wonderful ornament for the dining table if you are having a family meal or dinner with friends.
Unique and budget wedding or party decoration
You will need
Some 16- gauge green florists' wire
Paper - lots of it
A glue gun
Some thin jewellery wire
Some sparkly beads from broken necklaces
Any stick-on sparkles

How to
These will take time but I PROMISE they will look amazing.
Cut five sizes of petal. The smallest should be as small as the tip of your index finger, the next a little larger, the next larger still and so on until you have some large and broad petals.
Imagine a rose and shape each of your cut out books or coloured paper like a real petal. Slightly curl the tips of the two larger size petals to make them resemble real rose petals.
Start with twisting a small bead onto a piece of wire, and wrapping it around the top of the florist's wire. Imagine this as the stamen of the rose.
Then start to wrap the smallest petals around the wire, using a little hot glue at the bottom of each one to fix it. Use five of each size for each rose.
Start on the second size petals, fixing them around with glue on the bottom of each one, slightly overlapping each one.

By the time you get to the third layer it will start to look like a rose bud. On the last layer, you will need to cut a little bit into the bottom of the petal so that it can wrap around the bottom of the rose better. You can start to shape the petals a little when it is formed. Use a little ribbon or green tissue paper to cover up the messy base of the flower, cutting it like the sepals of a real rose.

It takes about 40 minutes. So it does take time, but these roses last forever. And if you want to go the extra mile, try making these bespoke - perhaps out of photocopies of someone's favourite poems or book. I suggest using a COPY of their favourite book... don't just chop up their limited edition signed by Margaret Atwood. Just a suggestion...


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Helping those in need

More than 13 million people in Cameron's 'All-in-it-together' Britain now live on the poverty line, latest figures from the Trussell Trust have claimed.

According to the charity, in 2014-15 foodbanks fed 1,084,604 people nationwide. Of those helped, 396,997 were children.

My husband and I have seen first-hand the need for foodbanks in our local area. At the beginning of 2015, we set one up in our local church and it has been used nearly every week.

We have people who are homeless coming throughout the week for a meal and for some items to tide them over for the next few weeks until they can return. We have families where both parents have lost their jobs and are unable to get back into work - largely because of inherent ageism that, while illegal, is still prevalent. We have families moving into sheltered accommodation or those struggling with small benefits payments.

As with most foodbanks, we have a once-a-month limit unless it is a family we know are in absolutely desperate need, and will always direct people to Citizen's Advice for debt advice or to the local council foodbanks and help centres.

What we have learned from running the foodbank is the following:

  1. The people with the least money are always the most generous in giving good quality food and items
  2. People who have struggled in the past are more likely to be regular, generous donors
  3. There is always a need for nappies - and in the right size. 
  4. Women using the foodbank need to have feminine hygiene stuff discreetly placed into their bags
  5. It is no point giving a homeless person food that needs to be heated up in an oven. Provide food that can be eaten 'as is'.
  6. Not all families eat bog-standard Western food. Provide plenty of canned vegetables, beans, chickpeas, lentils, rice, etc.
  7. Long-life milk is essential
  8. Don't forget to provide toothpaste and toothbrushes
  9. Always make sure the food has a long shelf life - and use up food in chronological order
  10. Always give the best. Do not give out of date food. Do not give 'basics' food. People in need have no choice but to use what you give them. So give them the best - what they could not afford. 

It has been heartbreaking to hear some of the stories - and to have someone you know well come alongside you and explain in private tones of a huge financial struggle they've kept from other people in the church for months. So when you give, give on the premise that, but for the grace of God, you could be in this situation. 

It is sad that foodbanks have to exist. Terrible to think that from 90,000 users under Labour there are now more than 1m under the Tories having to go to foodbanks. But sadly this is the reality...

Monday, December 21, 2015

DIY Christmas? Why the heck not?

Did you read about the money-saving mother who bought hundreds of presents for her sons? Although she is evidently a savings queen - having bought everything at a discount - one has to wonder whether this devalues the worth of each individual gift.

She claimed to the Daily Mail that her children were not spoiled or treated lavishly throughout the year, and I absolutely agree that she has the right to spend her money as she feels fit. It's her choice, and her Christmas.

Personally, were I to be in the blessed state of motherhood, I would hesitate to give more than 3-5 presents to each child at Christmastime, so that I could make sure they properly understood the value of each item and that each toy would mean more to them. Furthermore, I have seen first-hand that cheaper toys just do not last very long - a friend of mine saw two Christmas toys broken by Boxing Day by her energetic three-year-old.

Therefore my mantra is, and should always be quality, not quantity. Always quality (and if you can get this at a discount, perfect!). I get this from my mother, who always told me that if she were given £200,000 to buy something, she would rather buy one exceptionally nice painting or an antique bookshelf or piano, rather than 20 cheaper, flashy items.

It seems this view is shared by many across the country; PromotionalCodes.org.uk surveyed UK adults and discovered that what people really want is a good-quality, long-lasting gift rather than a cornucopia of ... well, crap.

According to those cheeky money-saving elves, investing in quality gifts can prove to be more cost-effective for the receiver, such as soy candles, which last longer than paraffin wax, and eau de parfum instead of eau de toilette.

Darren Williams from PromotionalCodes.org.uk said: “Christmas is the time for giving, but why not let your gift keep on giving by saving the receiver money?

“When your loved ones ask you what you want for Christmas, think really hard about what you really enjoy doing, then think about how you can save money without compromising on what you like.

“Or better yet, what causes a hole in your pocket and what product would prevent it?

“Some of the gifts are a little pricey to start with but in the long run you’ll be thanking Santa for saving you cash.”

Here are some of the site's 15 suggestions:

1. Eau de parfum
Always go for eau de parfum not eau de toilette. Parfum is more expensive but will last for double the amount of time and the scent does not fade after a few minutes.

2. Hand blender
Buying a meal deal everyday for lunch adds up to well over £5,000 so why not ask for a hand blender to make your own soups to take to work? You can also use it to make pasta sauces from scratch which saves a fortune compared to shop brought and are much tastier.

3. Filtered water bottle
Buying bottled water to take the gym or have at your desk can add up so ask Santa for a filtered water bottle. You can refill it for free and the filter will remove any hardness from the water, making it taste better and encouraging you to drink more.

4. Salad spinner
Pre-made bags of salad are pricey and have a short shelf life. Instead buy your salad ingredients separately and use your new salad spinner to turn it into the real deal.

5. Soy candles
Soy candles burn 50% longer than paraffin candles so whilst they are more expensive they are hugely cost-effective.

They also topped this off with buying classes for yourself or a friend. This is an excellent idea. Whether it’s mechanics, knitting, cookery or woodworking, you can have loads of fun learning a new skill as well as saving money once you’ve mastered the craft.

In my case, jewellery making and card making classes would be an amazing way to take my wee craft stalls onto the next level, learning more and making more money in return.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Outrageous Predictions for 2016

At this time of the year I am inundated with press releases and marketing material, all predicting 'what will happen next', while assuring us that nobody has a crystal ball.

All these predictions are, of course, mere consensus. Nobody is saying anything too different from the next person and that, quite frankly, is boring. So here are my Outrageous Predictions for 2016. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

1) Yellen will regret raising rates and try to lower them again.
2) Apple will create a TV screen.
3) World supplies of chocolate will melt away.
4) Nigella will show us how to make a cup of tea.
5) Mario Draghi will smile, perhaps, later on in the year.
6) Carney will rush to raise rates to copy the US, only to get blind-sided by Yellen changing her mind
7) Carney and Yellen will be found dead together in a hotel room in Brussels, hand in hand, oranges in their mouths.
8) The price of orange juice will tumble.
9) House prices will go up - again.
10) Photos will emerge of Cameron and Osborne with farmyard animals.
11) Osborne will be caught with an orange in his mouth, self-asphyxiating over his new tax plans to be announced in the 2016 Budget.
12) Farm payrolls will treble.
13) The government will ban Ofsted.
14) Mourinho will seek to take legal action against his Russian employers. He will later be found in Soho, with some strange depletion of Uranium in his bloodwork. And an orange in his mouth.
15) Trading Places will get a remake with Seth Rogan and Tatum Channing. Channing Tatum. Tanning Chatum? Whatever, that fit chap with the 8-pack and strong shoulders you just want to bite.
16) Something, something Kardashian.
17) Something, something Bieber.
18) Ant and Dec finally break up. Queen declares day of national mourning.
19) Katie Holmes says something nice, with which most people agree. Queen declares national holiday.
20) Dismayed by volatile orange juice prices and poor economic data, Americans turn to Trump and he gets voted in.
21) In direct response, Angela Merkel becomes voted in as president of Europe.
22) Aliens invade, but find property prices in the US and UK too high for them. They go to Canada and cause $10CAN worth of damage.
23) Aliens turn out to be Asgardians and the men all look like Thor. Earth women swoon. Everyone plays The Weather Girls for months while their ovaries throb painfully.

YES PLEASE
24) Aliens seek to migrate across Europe, depleting coffee supplies in cafes everywhere. Mama Merkel announces sweeping, bilateral changes to the Shengen Agreement and Lisbon Treaty. Aliens are shipped off to Syria, where they defeat Isis.
25) Aliens given green cards and free Starbucks for life in gratitude. NHS reports a massive baby boom.
26) Actuarial assumptions start to look better for people's pension arrangements as the demographic trend reverses.
27) All national rail operators agree to add extra carriages and freeze travel price increases for two years. Yeah, Right!
28) FOS carries on as before with no change, despite a mauling from the TSC.
29) Osborne gives Aliens the Isle of Wight in exchange for defeating FOS.
31) Aliens get fined £6m each for SYSC failures and banned for life from operating in any regulated military capacity.
31) Aliens mass-migrate from earth in disgust, taking Boris Johnson with them as one of their own kind.
32) Ant and Dec decide to give it one last chance. They release a cover of 'I got you, Babe'. Cher sues. Everyone is shocked because they thought she was dead.
33) Nobody tunes in to watch non-entities on TV. Real actors and people who have actually achieved something with their lives suddenly get offers of jobs.
34) Jeremy Corbyn turns up in the Commons in a Hermes suit and a tie. Daily Mail journalists simultaneously choke on their oranges.
35) FCA takes over regulation of journalism. All reporters must go to Canary Wharf to get their pencils sharpened. Failure to keep proper notes will be hit with a ban. (This one might actually come true)
36) Jeremy Corbyn buys a home in Hampshire and hires several man-servants to carry him into Westminster each day in a sedan chair. He starts identifying as Cleopatra and is awarded Time's Woman of the Year 2016.
37) Cameron is so dismayed he goes and molests some live farm animals, and is arrested. He is later found trussed up naked like a turkey somewhere near the Brandenburg Gate.
38) Merkel becomes president of the World.
39)  China discovers a seam of oil under its mountains and suddenly becomes the world's main producer - and user - of oil.
40) Russian Oil-y-garchs leave London. Football clubs are forced to close up.
41) North Korea launches a cat into space, which knocks out some major satellite systems. For three weeks, all anyone can use the internet for is to watch live streaming of a cat sleeping 18 hours a day in a spacesuit.
42) Cat seeks American citizenship upon repatriation. Trump refuses asylum and builds a dome around America.
43) Cat becomes big in Japan and gets its own reality TV show.
44) South Korea drops Big Macs across North Korea in a mass show of propaganda. Fuelled by fast food, the people overthrow their leader but have no idea what to do with themselves afterwards.
45) Bob Geldof launches a Concert Campaign to raise money to help North Korea build Subway franchises across the country.
46) Aliens return Boris Johnson to the UK, but thanks to too much probing, he can no longer cycle. Depressed, he sets up a Subway franchise in North Korea and gets fat.
47) Something, something Simon Cowell.
Nice to eat you, to eat you, Nice
48) Bruce Forsyth is unmasked as a 200-year-old vampire.
49) Tom Cruise leaves Scientology to join Boko Haram. He gets lost in the undergrowth and turns feral. Prince Harry is sent to track him down.
50) After a turbulent year, an Alien (looking like Thor) is elected as prime minister of the UK. 98% of the UK's female population turns out to vote him in. He's photographed with his wife, who looks like Sif. Men celebrate everywhere. Daily Heil journalists rise from their graves at the sniff of fresh scandal.