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Ahhhhh coffee..... Now there is nothing more than tells you its morning by the smell of freshly brewed coffee... none of the instant stuff... fresh from the bean.
Coffee use to fall into a similar category to marmite - you either loved it or hated it. Now I feel like coffee is in a new league - the cool category, where those that sit on the fence about coffee guzzle frupachinos on hot days and eat pieces of walnut and coffee cake.
Coffee is globally everywhere - from business people to your students, teachers to builders - people drink coffee and love it. Coffee is the most popular beverage worldwide with a yearly consumption of over 400 billion cups (that's a lot of coffee!). Hence, coffee has become a highly valuable commodity in the world, second only to oil.
So much importance has been placed on coffee that it has its own designated national holiday!! In Costa Rica, it's September 12; the Irish celebrate it on September 19, and October 1 is "Coffee Day" in Japan. So it has been pretty much received with welcome arms globally (all except for UK of course, where in 1675 Charles II, banned Coffee Houses claiming that they were places where people met to plot against him.
So what is it about coffee that has us hooked? My guess is that it is the aroma... even non-coffee drinkers I have come into contact with sniff the air appreciatively... With family that used to live next to the Nescafe factory on Hayes, you could always almost feel commuters feeling happy that they got their coffee fix from having a quick sniff at the air as they rushed to work...
The history of coffee:
To be honest, this little story has been debated over years - some say its actually based on truth, others fiction, but the last bit of the monks is DEFINITELY true!
The story goes that a goat herder that herded goats through the lands of Ethiopia, awoke in the middle of the night to find his goats wide awake and somewhat hyper active. They were generally kicking and jumping about (as your average goat does!) but at 3am, the goat herder was filled with curiosity as to the goat's somewhat odd behaviour. The next day, the goat herder observed the goats, only to discover they were munching at a plant of which berries were hanging from it. The goat herder chewed on a few and soon found he was joining the goats in their antics in the small hours of the morning! One night a wondering monk passed by, noting the goat herder's insomniac state and enquired excitedly about the cause! Hence, the monks then began to use the berries and form a beverage to help keep them awake during religious rituals, prayers and readings through the night. Then as usual, the word got out and now we're all guzzling the drink!
It has to be said; my love for coffee didn't come naturally. Teaching drove me to coffee (I know so few teachers that don't drink the stuff!) Late night lesson planning, marking, planning....etc although the myth of people drinking coffee because of the caffeine content greater than tea is indeed that. A myth. Tea in fact contains more caffeine. It is bitter yet strangely silky smooth and rich if it's a fresh brew. There is something very sophisticated about drinking coffee now and rightly so...
I'm going to place coffee into two categories, instant and the real McCoy so to speak.....
Produced by placing wet coffee granules on large trays and freezing them. The freezing chamber then becomes a sealed vacuum to prevent condensation, and the chamber is warmed. Then voila, you have the stuff that gets shoved into jars and ends up on the shelves. However, manufacturers frequently use low-quality coffee beans for roasting and grinding, hence real coffee connoisseurs note the generally substandard taste.
- Quick and easy to make. After all, boiling water and dumping it in the mug requires little effort, even for the sleepiest of people first thing!
- Cheap investment - a mug, spoon, kettle and jar of coffee rather than the machine, the filters, the fresh ground coffee....etc
- research has shown that people develop more headaches from drinking instant coffee than fresh coffee
- Taste - it is of a lower quality than that of freshly-brewed coffee
- the percentage of caffeine in instant coffee is less
Now I must admit, before I start this bit. I have been very spoilt when it comes to coffee. I used to live in Guatemala where the fresh coffee was cheaper than the instant stuff!! Also, we had a coffee plant in our flat share garden so got experimental at times with the berries and had great plans of being organic coffee producers after a few drinks!
A coffee bean is the seed found in the red fruit, called a "coffee cherry". The shrubs are found right across Africa, Asia and the Americas (Not the USA though unless you loosely include Hawaii and Puerto Rico). This shrub can grow up to 30 feet in height. Likes a hot but shady environment and the shrub actually only produces a few pounds of coffee a year. Once the berries have been picked and shelled to extract the bean and have arrived at their roasting destination, the roasting of the coffee beans takes place (that is, heated in a large roasting drum to develop a desired flavour and colour). Generally, the longer the beans roast, the darker their colour -- and the stronger their flavour. Most of the beans you can purchase today come from only two species of coffee plants: coffee Robusta and coffee Arabica.
- Far more superior coffee which is better for you than instant!
- Coffee should NEVER be mixed with boiled water, the flavour compounds in coffee that taste best release from water at less-than-boiling-point temperatures. Machines know this so you get your moneys worth if you like!
- It has been discovered that coffee contain anti-oxidants which are good for us - in instant coffee you don't get this
- Coffee consumption lowers the risk of kidney stones formation. Coffee increases the urine volume, preventing the crystallization of calcium oxalate, the most common component of kidney stones.
- Improves the female sex drive!! (Only in rats though! - don't ask... ladies and gentleman, great to know our taxes are being put to good use!)
- Bit more labour intensive if you buy the beans!! Most experts state that you should only grind coffee when you plan to brew it as it loses freshness quickly-- so purchase your beans whole, and grind as needed in theory - at 5am, I barely have the energy to get out of bed let alone starting to grind coffee!!
- Highly chlorinated water, water treated by a softener and hard water can all affect the flavour of your coffee - real connoisseurs recommend using boiled water or bottled water!?
- Expensive at times - the beans in this country, good quality ones can be quite expensive!
- Can cause dehydration - more so with fresh coffee. The caffeine in coffee is a mild diuretic and can increase urine excretion. This effect may be easily neutralized by drinking an extra glass of water
But let's face it, whether its good or bad... pleasurable or sinful, you need it or think you need it... It is pretty good stuff and above all, brings people together whether at work, with friends or at home... Although I'm sure people say that about beer too!
It is so easy to become so disillusioned with so much when you're unemployed.
I've been unemployed for about 9 months now, having finished my Masters last year.
CONTEXT OF WRITING:
I know most people after finishing a period of study (I went on to do my Masters straight after my Bachelors - so was 7 years studying whilst juggling various part time jobs, of which I had to quit in May last year so I could complete my thesis research overseas), would be relishing the time out, kicking back, doing the liver some serious injustice at the pub and generally enjoying the freedom of not having to study as soon as you get home.
My experience was different. Having had a lot of financial problems during my masters degree (through no fault of my own) - I juggled my masters degree and three part time jobs. I managed to pay for everything I needed to, my fees which were over £10K and clear bills. Once I had finished my masters, I needed to start earning straight away for basic survival.
I went into auto-pilot, scouring Guardian jobs, various NGOs (My field is working with charities - particularly with women and children, securing and protecting their rights - through abuse and conditions of conflict and post conflict countries) and various organisations here. I sent out application after application, thinking that surely someone would want a recent postgraduate and would be willing to take me on....
Not the case.
THE FIRST SET OF JOB REJECTIONS
At first, I was convinced it was something that I was doing wrong. I went to see various people - the job centre wasn't one of them, but university careers advisors, my old tutor, a friend of mine who is a recruitment consultant, a few job agencies to ask them what was I doing wrong with my CV? I took along some sample personal statements too and was open to the fact that clearly I was over selling myself and sounding arrogant or underselling myself and appearing to be a meek and mild employee. The fact that I read my stuff and couldn't see anything wrong, convinced me I had bad judgment as clearly I wasn't seeing anything wrong with it and others clearly were.
I was reassured I wasn't - although I'm not sure how much this helped to be honest. My recruitment consultant friend tweaked my CV only slightly and read my personal statement, baffled as to why I wasn't at least getting to interview stage. I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but I knew what I was writing couldn't be THAT awful as so much time, thought...etc was going into them and I was getting other people to proof read them, not the friends that would just say yes it's fine because they don't want to hurt your feelings, the brutally honest friends who I knew would be give me constructive advice. To anyone else out there - definitely get your CV and personal statements checked over - so many places offer this as a free service - Guardian jobs have a CV checking service which I believe is free.
So, was the case of just ploughing on. I found my Masters degree definitely a plus in what I was applying for - the fact that people wanted that postgraduate degree meant one more tick in the essential criteria box. However, experience may be what I lack - having only three years of international experience and three years here, considering I'm only 26, I didn't think that was so bad. Clearly I'm wrong. So I guess I kept trying to weigh up how much energy and time (if any) I should put into the application if they're asking for 5 years and I only have 3. Some people still read it, others simply shred it.
On the lead up to Christmas, I managed to secure a temp job for a few weeks leading a drink drive campaign, which I really enjoyed. One thing about being unemployed is that you miss the daily interaction with people. I hate the fact that I had become a recluse. I did my job hunting from home and hardly saw people. I got to the stage where I didn't have enough money for a travel card into central London and only made those trips if I knew I had about 5 things to do at the same time otherwise I couldn't justify the cost of travel. It is an isolating and lonely world.
The other thing just having this temp job for a few weeks, also made me realise that when meeting up with friends, I had nothing to say. People always ask you how's work, and the response is usually that you're busy, talking about office politics, gossip, funny things that happened.... I felt like I had nothing to contribute. My day was in front of a PC scouring for a job, day in, day out.
New Year was awful. No job to go back to. Everyone is a little down anyway, post xmas blues but I found it so hard. Having already suffered with depression, it's so easy to fall back into that cycle of life being so meaningless...
I went through peaks and troughs... peaks where I would wake up one morning, be determined to find something and apply for it that day, determined to find something temporary. Troughs, the days where you feel so tired and sick of it all that you just can't summon the energy to write another application or even look. Your eyes are sore from searching and you really start to doubt your own capabilities and strengths. You find yourself reading something and dismissing it straight away thinking that you can't do that.
I hadn't applied for Job seekers. I must admit, this is my own pride getting in the way. Since 16, I've been independent financially and never asked my parents for money so just couldn't bring myself to go to the job centre. This is silly I know, as I've worked, and earned the right to have someone support me now while I find work. Not like I'm at home eating popcorn and watching DVD's. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I had these images of the centres being filled with Vicky Pollard's and sneering attitudes.
My 140th job application rejection was what did it. I only know it was 140 as my laptop ran out of memory and I had to start deleting files. I started going though my jobs folder and curiosity of how many I had applied for got the better of me. I wish I hadn't as that was pretty depressing.
(I use the word job rejection here loosely, what bites nowadays is that people can't even do you the courtesy anymore of actually saying "thanks for your application, but no thanks" - which actually makes you feel so little in the scheme of things. That someone can't even do you the courtesy of emailing you one line, so you don't have to wait in hope, that you're told straight up. Although, this has backfired too - where you assume you've been unsuccessful, apply to a handful of other jobs and then two months later, are called for an interview for a job you've forgotten about now as you assumed you hadn't got it. Then the person on the other end of the phone gets all huffy over the fact you can't remember... Maybe it is just me, but after 140 applications, I do forget...)
The 140th was for a job with the UN which I got and was told, two months later, had been pulled due to lack of funds.
I went to the job centre last week - and applied for job seekers. The process was a bit lengthy but as I've just started, I can't comment much on the service so far. It wasn't full of Vicky pollard's although I must admit, I found it weird, 16 year olds, myself, 40 year old professionals now been made redundant are all under the same roof. A real melting pot in that respect of people. (Advice to anyone else in that situation - there is a time and place to be proud, this isn't one of them. Use the service if you need to).
I've lost count of the amount of people that have told me "well it is the recession" - I know times are hard. But I was unemployed way before we were in the recession.
The other few things that I find hard are the organisations that advertise the job, knowing full well that they already have a person in mind. It's insulting. I've been for an interview where I was told to wait in the office and outside; my interviewer was telling the chosen candidate for the job that she just had to go through formal procedures (i.e. external interviews) and would start her induction tomorrow.
The final one is where three recruitment agencies have told me to take my Masters degree off my CV. As employers are less likely to employ me as I'd cost more and they think I'd jump ship as soon as a better job comes along. I understand this to an extent, but feel so sad, that I slaved away for two years studying and working, to be told that is has no value.
I still interpret on an adhoc basis for the NHS and Police which I love - but it is so adhoc, if everyone is healthy and are law abiding citizens, I don't get any work.
I'm still applying like crazy - I get days where I just don't want to get out of bed as I just feel so fed up. But I'm carrying on. I know a job wont land in my lap and I'm really grateful to friends who listen to be sound off each time.
Hang in there is all I can advise. Don't doubt yourself, what you are capable of and those skills and qualities you do have. It's just going to take time.
Without a doubt, everyone needs to save up to this site.
A site that helps you to save money - no catches, no signing up to anything to access it (unless you want to post messages on the community boards or receive the weekly email)....nothing but just good advice on how to save and live in an every increasingly expensive world.
The site is run by Martin Lewis, a man dedicated to consumer revenge and more importantly, is a site based on the UK so it's not a whole lot of advice, offers and tips that are not relevant to you.
What it offers:
A comprehensive list of what the site offers would lead me writing until next week but some of the most popular items include:
- Information on credit cards and loans - the best credit card to take out, the lowest APR on loans, credit cards that are not to be taken out because of that extra fine small print that you need to read and have mislaid your glasses...etc
- A way to reclaim back money - So if you've been charged unfair bank charges, information on how to get those back including template letters, parking tickets and how to tackle your local council to benefits and those you may be entitled to but don't know about!
- A shopping and spending section - including 2 for 1's on eating out, places that are doing the cheapest petrol, freebies on the web, which shops - online or high street are running sales, when eBay is planning to do 5p listings, getting the most out of store loyalty cards - anyone who has a Tesco loyalty card for example, the site is a must as it shows you how you can get more than the face value of the voucher...etc
- A way to cut your bills - who's providing the cheapest electric, which gas provider to go for, which mobile company is providing the best deal...etc
- Banks, building societies and ISA's - who's providing the best interest rate, if you have an ISA, where you should move it to...etc
- Travel and transport - way to find cheapest rail deals, advice on using search engines for flights - the airlines they miss... advice on holiday insurance to how to wangle a free upgrade!
- There are also sections on mortgage and your house, insurance, family & health and protect your pocket.
The appearance of the site - whilst busy, is clear - you have the tabs of which sections you would like to go to clearly visible at the top of every page so you can get to the pages you want to very quickly. You can also search for a specific item using their search engine, which I must say is pretty good.
The site provides a forum which is great if you have found a deal and you want to share with others of equally, if you're looking for advice and help on finding a cheap deal on something or looking for advice.
He provides a weekly newsletter that is sent to your email address - either as a web link or as an email. Thankfully, this is just once a week and you're not bombarded by other offers, third party advertisers...etc - none of that! Martin only occasionally sends out one off emails in addition to that weekly mail if there is a special offer that is too goo to be true and that the majority of readers will benefit from it in some shape or form.
The site has a section for teenagers too, helping them become a little more thrifty with their money and also offers them simple advice on financial jargon, which to be honest, I wish I had discovered when I was younger as it would have certainly helped trying to understand things a lot better when applying for your first bank account, student loan...etc
Pros of the site:
The discounts/deals all seem to be valid when you go to print them - haven't had a dodgy one yet where I've printed off a voucher, headed somewhere and found it expired; they are on top of site maintenance.
It covers literally anything - if you're not a homeowner and you're a young something with no responsibilities financially, there is still something for you on here - in many ways it's an extension of some features of last minute.com in finding cheap deals for flights, going out...etc
It is user friendly; Martin has produced jargon free guides which help to cut through confusion.
Template letters for so many things, like you really have no excuse if you've been done out by someone or a company and wish to claim the money back. There is usually something to help you.
Some of the deals expire very quickly - you do have to be quick although that's not the site's fault but more the deals directly with the company. You do have to be quick. 1p flights usually are only around for the first hour or so after it's advertised on here so watch the site more than your weekly newsletter if you're after the best deals.
Site can be information overload at times
I would defiantly recommend the site - chances are, you will find a good deal on something you were meant to shop around for but forgot, or for that night out where you cut the restaurant bill in half.
I have a feeling this review will strike some debate...
But I will continue.
I'm choosing an element of the NHS service to review - that's off the interpreting service that is given FREE OF CHARGE to all patients who do not have English as a first language or to those that are hard of hearing or deaf (using sign language)
Now, when I talk about this to people I meet and they ask me about my job (I translate freelance for the NHS), the first shouts I usually get are "outrageous, why is money being spent on translating for patients. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or in this case, I think they are referring to language"
There are three sides to this I would like people to consider:
Those that are in the UK, English is ok, enough for them to get work (i.e. bus drivers, majority are not British born citizens) and contribute to the system. If they are working, paying taxes, but have been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis and diffuse infiltrative pulmonary diseases (which I'm sure most of us would have to look up and find out what the really does mean) and want someone to interpret that into their language. I think they are perfectly within their rights. Being ill is scary.
Next, you have those who seek asylum, for reasons of persecution they are here. Now, I don't believe I'm in a position to judge their circumstances and neither does the NHS, if they have been granted asylum, welcomed into the UK, there is a duty of care.
And yes, you have those who do take advantage, but let's face it; they come in all shapes and sizes, including the Brits themselves....
So it's keeping it in context.
But anyway, the service. It is free and I think that for that reason alone, it's brilliant. It caters for the diverse population the UK has, and the service is covered as part of the NHS budget. Professional interpreters are give the patients time, appointment details and wait for them to arrive, usually asking reception to give them a shout when they arrive if you haven't met the client before.
The interpretation takes place with social services, NHS appointments, PCT appointments, Speech and language therapy appointments and event dental appointments.
The role is to interpret for both the doctor and the patient to ensure each is clearly understood and that appropriate treatment is given.
Pros of the service:
- It is free
- Every patient has a right to one - some clinics get funny about booking them (as it comes out of the clinic's budget, and if they refuse, a patient can still call the service direct and get one)
- You translate during appointments, procedures and pretty much anything else; they have that level of support at all times.
- Probably reducing the likelihood of the NHS being sued (i.e. I said the left kidney hurts.... Ooops, we just took out the right one...etc!)
- Doesn't provide restrictions to access, probably means that ailments are treated before they become more severe and called in via an ambulance, so cost effective in that you're not treating something more potentially serious.
- Preventative advice...etc can be translated too - again, prevention better than treatment = cost effective.
- People are resentful about booking interpreters and therefore some clinics refuse to book it - thus actually causing more problems for doctors and patients alike to be understood
- Some patients, if they don't keep their appointments, don't cancel (same everywhere) but in this case, there is the added cost also that the interpreter doesn't know, so still turns up, still has to be paid.
- Sometimes if the clinic is cancelled or appointments rearranged, the clinic forgets to inform interpreters, excessive cost in paying the interpreter who shows up when the patient isn't there or the clinic has been cancelled...etc - the patient therefore doesn't have an interpreter at the next appointment.
- Doctors can get very stressed and hurry appointments as an interpreting appointment can take longer
The patients have the opportunity to give feedback so if you're not a good interpreter, you're found out. Each interpreter is signed up to the obvious codes of conduct, need to keep everything confidential...etc - also they try and assign the same interpreter to the patients so its not someone fresh who doesn't know the patients history - really helps, especially if you have potentially embarrassing appointments for the client such as the STI clinic.
In short, it is a great service, it has its flaws admittedly but it provides a high level service and assists in all areas of the NHS run more smoothly with the ease of speaking a common language either directly or via an interpreter, to save lives and get people well.
Giving Blood - everyone has seen the adverts, everyone has seen the extra plugs when a specific blood Group is low in stock, how many people give.
My first time I gave, I was a little reluctant. I had no idea what to expect. But I got a very friendly welcome and off I went.
First of all, any people thinking of giving blood, if you want to, I would seriously suggest booking an appointment (unless you have loads of time on your hands) as the drop in service does exist but of course people with appointments have priority so you can be waiting potentially hours for an appointment.
You can call up the National Blood Line or book the appointment online - whichever is easier. I've been told so many times, if I am running late for an appointment, it's still better to have it rather than drop in so definitely advise that!
You are given lots of information to read on what happens to the blood, privacy if anything emerges when the blood is screened and they find something e.g. hepatitis and also how it can be used. It makes you realise it's a pretty good thing you are doing.
You go through a questionnaire - tick box, yes or no, of about 50 questions which looks at sexual history, medication, any risky activities you may have been involved in and also travel history.
A nurse then calls you up, goes through this with you - if you answered any questions that need further clarification, you speak to a Dr who is at the centre or unit and they require further details...
(I.e. one question there is have you ever lived outside the UK. Being a person that has lived in several places, I always get asked that and always have to have a doctor countersign and check I'm still Ok to give blood. I must admit, they are thorough with this, especially as I have travelled to malaria zones frequently so I always get tested for tropical diseases too once they take the blood. If I'm all clear, I don't hear from them, if something is wrong, I get a letter. Safe guards them as well as me)..
A nurse then does an anaemia test, a drop of blood in a blue solution, which I always forget what it's called! But if you're good to give blood, your blood drop will sink, if it doesn't, you are more than likely to be anaemic and you can't give blood.
Once that's done, you wait to get on the counter! You are asked to lie down, confirm your name and DOB and then are prepped to give blood. The needle is inserted - I'm not squeamish about needles, but I don't exactly enjoy being prodded wither, but for those with needle phobias out there, it really isn't as bad as it sounds - they are gentle. I've give over 20 times and not had a bad experience yet!
It literally takes 10-15 minutes for the bag to fill, in the mean time you squeeze like a stress ball or asked to make that movement with your hand to get a good flow into the bag.
Once you're done, you slowly get up, book another appointment and then sit down for a good cuppa or glass of squash and some bikkies or crisps - I'm doing weight watchers so was most impressed to find Special K bars last time I went!!
The waiting is the longest part of the process but take a good book and the actual giving blood, takes all of 15 minutes. Doesn't harm you. You are advised to take it easy for the rest of the day and don't do strenuous activities. As I'm far from a newbie, I gave in the morning early and by 6pm the same day, was my belly dance class. I assumed I would be fine but I did get really light headed and had to sit down!!
So be warned, don't be silly like me and heed their advice!!
The Quorn range I am a big fan of and this cottage pie I used to love in winter to take to work. Our work place used to be constantly cold so this would be a great winter warmer!!
The meal in itself is very big - 1 ½ times the size of a regular ready meal, so it is pretty filling on its own, never mind if you have vegetables...etc to accompany it!
For those of you doing weightwatchers, the whole thing is a really low 5 points - given the size of it, is really good so you feel like you've had a really good hearty meal without having been naughty. It is low in fat and relatively low in calories too.
The packaging is simple - the cardboard sleeve that can be recyclable. The actual plastic dish can be placed in the microwave. The film on the lid however is the biggest pain known to man and woman to get off. It doesn't just peel off for some reason! You find your self spending ages just trying to get into it - so take a pair of kitchen scissors with you if your work kitchen is downstairs or use a knife.
As I said, you can put this in the microwave although it does tend to come out a little bit sloppy. The mashed potato feels almost too sloppy (ITS NOT RUNNY but its not like firm mash potato either - consistency is difficult to explain) and looks a little anaemic in colour. There is a lot of the potato too (in fact the majority of this dish is potato at 52%! The Quorn only makes up 8% lol!).
The mince is lovely though, in a great onion sauce with peas and carrots. It doesn't stick to the container which is great! And the flavour isn't overpowering. I think it is a lot more sloppy than a regular cottage pie but it is nice :).
If you cook it in the conventional oven, it does taste better. The potato obviously has a grilled top (eventually) and the consistency does feel a lot firmer.
It is a bit pricey but you can sometimes find deals in Sainsbury, 2 for £5. Otherwise, it is usually about £2.99. Although I suppose considering the size of it, if you bulked out a peal with say roast potatoes, vegetables and beans or something - two people could easily share it.
Royal mail... My granddad used to work for them and I often get the reminiscence of "it wasn't like that in my day" when I visit him on Saturdays and I'm told it took him 45 minutes to queue and collect his pension (45 MINUTES!!! - apparently that was a good day!) And the level of service.
Having read the reviews, I feel inclined to comment on something which I don't think has been mentioned here yet.
Their international service.
I am a little old school - I send emails for work...etc but I love writing letters and sending cards. There is nothing cooler than coming home and finding a card on your doorstep from abroad, just a little note to say hello - a lot more personal than an email and it really does brighten me up at that moment.
Cards & Letters:
First of all - did you know that if you send a card by itself, and send a card with a letter inside (even if it's the thinnest piece of airmail paper) you get charged almost double for some destinations for it!!! - Why, no one can tell me!! I only found this out (as there is nothing on the website that tells you this!) by constantly being asked what's in the envelope - I usually just say a birthday card for convenience and then I got quizzed if there was a letter...!
I'd understand if the letter was weighty but it seems to be more on the principle of having a letter in there or not rather than having anything to do with the weight!
However, 9 times out of 10, cards seem to get there. I wish they wouldn't give you an estimated delivery time as for some regions; they are so out of touch. I have more chance of swimming to Guatemala and delivering the card personally in two weeks than it reaching there via Royal Mail in the same time frame. I know that's not their fault, but a bit more heads up on their partners overseas would help improve that service!
A general problem that has occurred to me a number of times and happened to me this morning (which has spurred me to write this!) is that if you put the return sender address at the back of the card, they actually post the card back to you!! I usually have little labels at the back of the cards and postcards, and yet somehow, the machine doesn't pick up on my huge scrawl of the address (well it's not scrawl - its legible) and yet decides to stamp the stamp and send it back to me!! Having contacted Royal Mail about this, I am told to fill out the lengthy P58 form so they can refund the postage, but I need to send the postcards to them so they can see for themselves and ONLY if I have the receipt for the cards, will they refund it... after 28 days...
Such a lengthy procedure....!
First of all, the customs declaration. I write these in English and as most of my parcels are headed towards Latin America, I write them in Spanish and get people sending them to me to do the same. Yet they are opened each and every time on entry to the country.... Again, no one can explain why. Everyone reading this I'm sure must be thinking... well they're probably checking for drugs! I know the stereotype in that region but seriously, I object to having my favourite chocolate bars being nicked by customs!!
Another thing about the parcels, if your parcel is 2000g or less, it can be sent as a "small packet". If it's a gram over that, the price rocket and you find that you're paying again, almost double! If they could share that with customers, would be great as just before xmas, I see loads of customers unpacking parcels, weighing them, trying to get it right...etc it wastes their time, wastes your time.
Internationally signed for parcels do get there. If you send a parcel to Latin America not signed for, it's 50-50 whether it will get there or not, (Asia, if it's not signed for, it's 20-80 that it's likely to get there unopened and with everything inside it) which leaves be slightly miffed and out of pocket.
Whilst I know Royal Mail can only control so much - but if they are agree to provide an international service, a little bit of a shake up would be great just so your stuff gets there. It's no wonder so many small companies are now on the market to deliver international parcels.
To summarise, I find their international service odd. There is a lot of "small print" that you can't find anywhere on how to get your stuff to it's destination via the cheapest means possible. Considering the cost of sending these items goes up significantly every year, you'd think (or hope) that would guarantee a better service or better information. When they do get it right, it does work, but part of them getting it right is you being well informed too!
Last minute.com is one of those websites that if you have a degree of flexibility under your tail, you'll find good deals.
The general appearance of it is clear - you can find things easily, from flights and holidays to spa breaks, to comedy club tickets, to meals out... The colours are bold and the lay out is easy on the eye (i.e. not messy)
The best deals at present are advertised (usually holiday deals) and if you scroll down, is the bit I love, which is literally package holidays or flights that are leaving in two days time. So if you've booked your annual leave and stuck for ideas, this is the place to go, as long as you are flexible and open about where you go - you'll find something usually at an amazing price.
(for example, four years back, straight after my finals in May, I went on the website, found 14 nights, all inclusive, 4* hotel in Kenya for £299.00. All I had to pay for was transfers on top of that which was £10 each way and then if I wanted to go to any safari trips, which weren't that expensive.... So a pretty impressive deal and the trip really did live up to its expectations!)
Comedy nights and theatre trips, you usually find the tickets on the website for almost half the price you pay at the box office and sometimes they throw a meal deal in too.
I took my brother to see the Lion King last year, £30 ticket including a meal and a glass of wine at an amazing restaurant (Fire & Stone - Gorgeous pizza!) and good seats!
If you actually sign up to an account with them, you get a newsletter sent to your email every two weeks or so with good deals, I think these are exclusive deals. For example, I have just booked tickets to go to a comedy club. Usually £12, but the special offer is for £3 plus a £1.50 booking charge. By not following the link of the email, I can't find this deal. So it is worth signing up. It isn't just London based activities, its nationwide and obviously the holidays and city breaks.
Spa deals are another thing that seems to come up exclusively in the newsletter a lot. The deal I have bought a friend as a birthday present is a spa day for two, where one gets a thirty minute treatment (they choose one of four) for £20.
This new year, they gave every customer who signed up to lastminute.com a voucher for £20.09 which could be used against ANY purchase on lastminute.com. So you can't complain!!
You can sort for virtually anything in order of price - which I love and can filter hotels...etc by destination.
The only complaints is that the comedy night tickets for example, the booking fee applies to per ticket, so if four of you are going out, you're easily paying £6 just to book it, so the saving can be deceptive.
Also they charge you £4.99 to use your credit card. Obviously, the way things are, some purchases you'll want to put on your credit card for extra protection but you have to pay for that luxury too.
Lastminute.com I think is the site for those who don't fret. It sounds patronising but I promise you - it isn't meant like that. If you are happy leaving it pretty late to score the best holiday and flight deals, this is the site for you. If you are happy to select their promotional deal and pay for a half price top secret 5* hotel who's name will be revealed to you (in your chosen location) AFTER you have paid for it, than this site is for you.
BUT, at the same time, for booking smaller things - like days out, meals out, theatre and comedy bookings, everyone will find something here and 9 times out of 10, it is cheaper than buying direct from the dealer.
A brilliant site that I would highly recommend!
Starring: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic
Director: Chris Wedge
Runtime: 85 mins
The film is set as the title indicates, during the Ice Age, where you have the fiercely independent and grumpy Mammoth (Manny), the cute, cuddly and very funny sloth (Sid) and the Sabre Tooth tiger Diego - a tiger that isn't all he appears to be.
Manny and Sid stumble upon a baby that has been separated from his camp. Manny, being indifferent to the baby and Sid, determined to take care of it, are trying to decide what to do when Diego shows up, convincing them his intentions are honourable and wishing to return the baby back to the humans!
Reluctantly, they form a trio to try and return the baby and the plot unfolds... I can't say anymore than that as it will ruin the story!! But let's just say, Diego's intentions are not as honourable as he claims them to be!!
The characters are wonderful - really showing very human qualities: Manny who is coping with accepting the responsibility of a baby (realising Sid is using the baby as a pulling accessory! And Diego is a little bit suss...) and also struggling with his own inner demons. He likes the baby, but it was due to hunters that he believes he is the last of his kind. His warmth, kindness and sense of loyalty is really beautiful - he's still grumpy, but lovable too.
Diego - I can't say too much as it will ruin the story. But lets just say, it shows appearances and reality are often two different things. I showed the film as part of a TEFL course I did with younger children and it's great to open up conversations about trust, second chances and friendship. Diego appears to be the streetwise sabre tooth, without a soppy bone in his body. But you see that develop as does the friendship between the three of them. Watching him play peek-a-boo with the baby is hilarious as is watching Sid try to find a mate and play the hero for the ladies!!
Sid is hilarious - is very well intentioned and sweet - if not a bit slow sometimes and insensitive (but certainly not bad intentioned!! Just his way of blurting things out and saying it how it is!) Whilst Manny appears not to care too much for Sid, the reality is that an unlikely combination forms a close bond!!
The film - a comedy for sure! The adventures on the way with the baby is hilarious - "it's crying... MAKE IT STOOOOOP!" - It would be like a comedy crash course for new parents! Trying to establish why it's crying, who should be the designated poop checker...etc...etc! What adds to the comedy is also little frames of a squirrel (I'm not sure we're ever given his name as his story runs separately to that of the trio but is great as a break in the story line now and again!) who is trying to try and gather this one acorn. It appears to be the only acorn around... so you see clips of him making brave and courageous attempts to get hold of gathering this acorn and unfortunately, not getting very far! He is hilarious and his escapades continue in Ice Age 2.
The film is brilliant for kids and adults alike. Whilst it doesn't have the adult under tones like Shrek did, there are a few subtleties that adults will find funny and it will wash straight over kids! Even though it's set in the Ice Age, the colours are vibrant and attractive, the characters are believable and the voices are excellently done.
Whilst it contains no real magical element like the traditional Disney films, it still has a magic of its own - and that's through the story and the developing relationships between three very different animals.
I'd really recommend this to adults and children alike. It is funny - not only through the script but the actions of the characters and it has enough sentiment to make you go awwww at the end but not get overly mushy!!
Having Asian skin, finding a good foundation is a real nightmare - they're either too dark that makes you look like you were going for tan of the Century or just too Light and makes you look washed out.
I tried this product about two years ago and haven't used anything else. I was gobsmacked at the range of shade it comes it - from my friend who has a traditional English rose complexion to my other friend whose complexion is that of a smooth galaxy bar, we've all been able to find shades for ourselves! We only discovered the project after being pounced upon at the beauty section of a store and before you know it, we were sat down and being made up!
It comes in a small round glass container, the size of those travel Vaseline tubs, just a bit thicker, which is great for putting into handbags.
The actual mouse is very light and fluffy - it doesn't come with a sponge and I've been told by lots of people at beauty counters to use your fingers to blend it in. I'm totally fine with that - the only problem that may arise is for people with long nails, I had a bit of a disaster when I first got it and was new to applying it. You forget you can sometimes get the mouse lodge in your nails, I was wearing a white skirt at the time - you can guess what happened!!
I know some people get worried about the foundation not being even - but the best way around that I feel is putting a dab on your chin, on either cheeks, your nose and then a thin wipe across the forehead. Then you know you have everywhere covered. I still find you need to be careful with getting the lines so just make sure you blend it in well from say your jaw line down, and you'll be fine.
It is really easy to apply and take off. For those of you who get in late and washing you face is the last thing you want to do, it does come off with facial wipes... In fact it does come off easily if you touch it. I have shiny skin sometimes so if I'm using a tissue to pat my skin to get rid of the shine, I often find I'm taking off some of the foundation too. However, this is by no means an excessive amount that you need to retouch for example. (I have quite shiny skin generally, I don't think this is caused by the foundation)
For people who have dark circles under their eyes, scars from spots, general lighter or darker patches - I would really recommend this product. It covers up well and it saves almost a two-job, make-up job i.e. concealer first, waiting for it to dry, then the foundation...etc.
The price ranges from £3.99 to £5.99 is the most expensive I have seen. But it does last ages - you really don't need as much as you think you do. Superdrug often does offers like 2 for £7 so take advantage of that if you see it.
In short, a great product worth investing in. For winter, it does give you that "just back from holiday glow" if you change the shade :)
I definitely agree with the last author that reviewed this that the SALT is Amazing!
It comes in a small tub which is great for storage and is re-sealable too - which in my house is great as we often have the "open-cupboard-things-come-tumbling-out" syndrome.
The sea salt is in the form of granules (isn't fine) and obviously with various herbs. The herbs included:
Mixed provincial herbs (unfortunately it doesn't say what herbs! I've just run out and ditched the packaging but this is what I was told by Lakeland)
lavender (!!!!!!!!!) and
It is suitable for vegetarians, it doesn't contain GM ingredients and it isn't gluten or nut free surprisingly - so be careful if you have someone round for dinner and you're putting this on the table!
The actual salt is very damp - at first I thought maybe it had something to do with where I was storing it but when I asked someone in store, they said it was naturally like that.
It is great in cooking, as it's mixed with the herbs, I do believe you use a little less as the flavour of the herbs become more prominent. If you're making things like pasta sauces from scratch, it's great to use as the salt eventually dissolves. If you're using it on top of things like salad, I've found because it's damp, it doesn't do too well in salt grinders. The actual taste is refreshing for lack of a better word. It is very distinct on the tongue; it certainly gives things a little bit of an edge. I find dry herbs to be too dry, whereas the herbs in this pot don't taste like that. Despite being dry, they are quite powerful (but not overwhelmingly- but it is trial and error and obviously everyone is different!)
What I do usually do is buy two pots, one I leave as it is for cooking, and the other I throw in a grinder so it becomes fine. Sometimes a few lumps do bind together but these can easily be broken between your fingers. I usually fill salt pots up with these - according to the Chileans, if you throw in a few grains of rice as well, it absorbs the dampness!
I use the herb salt whilst making sauces for Pasta, macaroni cheese, even in Indian cooking as it gives it a different taste! The ground salt is great to use when making home made garlic bread (although careful the combination of the salt and butter that it doesn't become too salty!), roasted vegetables too is nice to sprinkle over with extra virgin olive oil and even tuna pasta salads or just plain pasta salads, it goes really well! An especially great accompaniment to BBQs!
At £2.99 a tub, I do think it's worth it - it does last a long time. There is a Lakeland in Bluewater for any London/Kent based reviewers (and 42 stores nation wide), if not, you can order it online - I think there is a delivery cost involved and a minimum spend to get it delivered free, but they have a number of reduced items there now anyway - so good to stock up on friends birthdays or even (gulp) Xmas 2010 & get the delivery free!?
I definitely recommend this!
I first joined weightwatchers about 5 years ago and have since gone back and forth with joining and rejoining since.
The long and short version, if I had to summarise the article in a line, is that it does work, if you can stick to it.
I joined weightwatchers to obviously lose weight - I didn't have huge amounts to lose compared to the stories of people needing to lose 10+ stones, in fact, mine was 3 stone but I still felt that it was a chunk of weight to lose.
The way weightwatchers works is that all food has a point's allowance. Point are calculated based on calories and saturated fat. So for example, bean shoots, onions, red peppers and tomatoes have no points. So you may eat as much of these as possible (there is a huge variety of zero point food but these are just a few examples off the top of my head) and there are foods which have points, such as a potato is ½ point per 50g, a whole mango is about 1 ½ points, a packet of marks and spencers jelly beans is 3 ½ points, 2 slice of bread is 2 ½ points....etc. You are given a food list so you can calculate these and you're also given a slide chart to calculate points in food that isn't in the list.
You are given a points allowance and this is calculated using your current weight, gender, how active you are in the day, your age...etc
The idea is that you stick within your daily point allowance. You can earn extra points (bonus points) through exercise - so if you're headed out to eat, you can earn some extra points so you can still be naughty but good.
On average, you're meant to lose between 1lb-2lb a week, this is after the initial first few weeks of weight loss which can be anything from 1lb - 7lb!!
At the meetings, there are a variety of aides to get you through the programme such as cook books, treat bars, crisps, measuring spoons, weight watchers weighing scales - of both the person and the food!, pedometers...etc.
The idea is that you are weighed in every week by your leader and it is strongly recommended to stay for the meeting - to get advice from other members, hear their stories, hear suggestions for foods they have tried and liked/disliked...etc and a leader is there to help you out if you get stuck.
Pros of weight watchers:
Once you've read the paperwork, it actually isn't difficult to stick to.
Lots of support on hand through the meetings and through community forums online.
A huge variety of products out there - weightwatchers have their brand, the M&S count on us range has points values on it as does Tesco Healthy Living brands.
(Of the WW brands, the cereal bars at meetings are brilliant and their deserts, particularly chocolate éclairs, you can't tell its ww!)
If you want to eat out, the vast majority of restaurants are included in the eating out guide so you can still keep on track.
If you sign up to the direct debit method of payment, it works out cheaper than paying every week and plus you get free online access to the weight watcher forum where you can track your weight, take part in the recipe swop, get extra motivation...etc
Cons of weightwatchers
It's expensive - you pay roughly £17.99 a month for the meetings - then whatever you pay on top of that for the products
If you haven't got a British diet (i.e. Asian, Mediterranean, African heritage, it can be difficult to get used to and point as a lot of specialised foods are simply difficult to point)
If you don't get a good inspirational leader, you can lose interest
It does require discipline, if you don't go for one week, you think "it's ok, I can be naughty, and I'll make up for it next week" and you can slip into not going.
Of weightwatcher food - if you happen to be a vegetarian and don't eat fish, you are limited with the WW endorsed brand of ready meals
Around Easter/Christmas...etc - It is a nightmare to follow!
It doesn't take into consideration that when people bring food to work for you to try...etc - if you have an office baking culture, its hard to resist and also if you keep saying no all the time....!
You have to be organised - in getting the food that you need for the week, having meals prepared so you don't binge eat as soon as you get home, a low fat cereal bar in your handbag if you get the munchies out and about...etc
It has worked for me in the past but I have stopped and started weightwatchers for the following reasons:
Whilst I was studying, I was hungry all the time - working through the night, so was running out of points and there is only so much zero point soup a girl can eat!
I was working three jobs and physically had no time to do the prep work of getting food ready.
I lost interest in the programme - the leader wasn't hugely inspirational.
So I'd recommend going with a friend as that's a good way to stick to this and find a meeting with a really enthusiastic leader and stay for meetings. If you do this, you are definitely more likely to stick to it.
Even if you don't do WW, switching to some of their food just to be a bit healthier isn't such a bad thing - deserts are great, weight watcher chips I cant tell the difference, the weight watcher mature cheese - ick, don't but it, if you like cheese on toast, you'll be highly disappointed as it doesn't even melt!! The WW yoghurts are good, rich, creamy and again, taste just like the full fat version.
WW wine - definitely worth having a glass of the real stuff instead of this! A friend of mine politely described it as gnats pee!
So there you have it!
I'm sitting here sipping the product as I type so excuse the blow by blow account of it!
First of all, having just reviewed the skinny cow drink and having hated it! I'm now sipping this drink and really enjoying it!!
The packaging - it is attractive, an individual sachet (32g) again which I really like (especially for those on weight watchers like myself, helps you keep in control of the portion sixes - the only snag is that it is 2 points so a bit more than what you might like to blow on just a drink but I do think it's worth it! Go for a walk around the block before sipping it!) The blue smiley dreamy moon is of course enticing!!
Just tip the contents into a mug and add water - now I like my drinks very sweet so I didn't use the usual docker mugs I use for tea, but a smallish cup - like a medium coffee cup you get in Costa coffee. It dissolves well and it doesn't leave a thick layer of liquid horlics at the bottom of the mug, which I always find annoying! So stir well and you don't get that.
It is still creamy - especially once you've just stirred it, it has that sort of frothy top to it which is very enticing! I think as a low fat drink, it tasted great. True horlics fans will probably find that it isn't as creamy and as thick as a regular mug of horlics but as its light, I guess that's the compromise. I think it's still very sweet and does taste malty, although this isn't as over powering and prominent as you get in regular horlics. I really don't think there is a huge difference between this and regular full fat horlics. It didn't leave an aftertaste in my mouth like some low calorie drinks can, the only think I have noticed is that I do feel thirsty after drinking a mug.
The sleeping side of it - I can't really comment on, but I do feel relaxed for drinking a mug of this and in a better frame of mind to fall asleep rather than it being sleep inducing. In short, it's a great drink, very warming, sweet, surprisingly thick in consistency despite being made of water and it is satisfying!!!
I must admit, being a bit of a fan of the skinny cow brand (as a person who is on weight watchers - you find that their products are incredibly satisfying for hitting the sweet tooth and enjoying the naught luxuries but being an angel at the same time!)
However, I was really disappointed with their hot chocolate. I usually have the highlights but thought I would try this one.
The plus is that it is an individual sachet - I think they sell it in jars but if you're on something say weight watchers, you find you're monitoring portions like a hawk so it is easy for that reason. Also if you want to take a few sachets to work, always great for the handbag and they are plastic/foil wrapped so ladies, tweezers or anything else sharp is less likely to puncture it and make a mess.
My initial first thoughts. It is too watery!! The whole intention I would have thought of having hot chocolate is to feel like you're having something rich, to have a sense of it being creamy (even though its made with water, you can achieve that with other hot chocolates!) and to have a sweet tooth satisfied. I didn't find that. It's not to do with the size of the mug either. I deliberately chose a smaller cup (anyone who goes to café Nero, like their small coffee cup size) and I didn't fill it to the top with hot water. So definitely a lot more watery than expected.
The colour of the hot chocolate is quite rich and dark - but yet the taste was so disappointing. It doesn't taste rich and sweet and like a luxury chocolate drink. It honestly tastes like a regular water hot chocolate that YOU'VE JUST ADDED WAY TOO MUCH WATER TOO. It certainly didn't leave me feeling satisfied, that I just indulged in something sweet and tasty. Another author described it as dissolving well with "no gloopy bit at the bottom" - I definitely agree - if you still fancy drinking it after all the above, you don't get that sugar hit when you reach the bottom - although to be fair, as it wasn't hugely sweet anyway, I was almost disappointed!
There are better low fat and low calorie drinks out there - if you don't have a sweet tooth, this may be fine for you. But the fact that it is so watery, it doesn't leave you feeling satisfied at all. I usually have a hot chocolate between lunch and dinner to keep me going and with this one, I just didn't feel satisfied.
Being recently made redundant - I have been turning to a lot of supermarket own Brands to make the pennies stretch that little bit further.
My hair stuff I do spend a fair bit on (not excessively!) but after having an experience of it falling out while I was ill, you appreciate it lots more I guess!
However, this product I really would recommend.
First of all, my hair is thick, curly (susceptible to frizz!) and just below shoulder length. It is a nightmare after a shower and you're trying to detangle. I must admit, you spray this into your hair and it really does help to detangle it - I've noticed a lot less hair in my hairbrush since using this product.
Secondly - the smell! Anyone who went to the Bubble works attraction at Chessington World of Adventures about 6 years back will totally relate to the smell! It smells exactly like that! Sort of bubbly gum smell!! It leaves your hair smelling great too!
If your hair needs a boost and you haven't washed it but need it smooth and to style it, a few squirts of this and it makes it a lot more manageable and shiny. HOWEVER, it doesn't get greasy!! Even by the end of the day which is what you want!!
It does feel a lot more softer and suffering a lot from split ends, I have noticed that on the last couple of times, the hairdresser has been chopping off far less hair when I ask for a simple "trim to get rid of split ends" - I think it's down to this product as I haven't changed anything else as part of my hair routine.
It is a spray bottle, and whilst this sounds silly - the bit where you press down to spray is made from the type of plastic where if your hands are went, they don't slip and slide over the place and you end up having to use two hands! Great for when you're multi-tasking the hairbrush, hairdryer and spraying!
I use this before I blow dry my hair and my hair does feel a lot better for it - it doesn't frizz and for anyone with curly hair, the curls form and stay together rather than go all over the place. It is easier to manage your hair with it and I can do the whole "wash and go" routine a lot more faster as I'm not fussing with the hair so much!
Having lived abroad, a friend sent this to me while I was working in 38oC - sometimes you couldn't wear a hat or bandana so I used this and certainly when I got home, my hair didn't feel straw like, like it usually does from being in the sun all day. So I would definitely recommend this for the beach maybe or if you go hiking somewhere - although be careful, it is sweet smelling so you may attract some beasties too!
You can recycle the whole bottle too which is great!! Superdrug always seem to have it on offer (well when I go in!) you can normally pick up two bottles for 5 pounds - which feels a lot less painful! However, it really does does last well (one bottle for me - I use it roughly every other day, it's lasted me well over three months) so it is worth the purchase!