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I haven't been to Pizza Express since I was about 12 (I remember this as it was before I saw Titanic with my Uncle and Cousin), preferring to go for the the all-round Italian experience at Zizzi's or Bella Italia. However I recently received a Taste London card, which means I get 50% off at pretty much every Pizza Express in London, so I thought I may as well give it a try. I invited 3 friends to take advantage of this offer, and off we went to our local branch. We were seated quickly, slightly near to the front to perhaps make the restaurant look busier. We decided to go for three courses, as we were making the saving, so I ordered the Mushroom Bruschetta, Etna Pizza and Tiramisu for dessert. It did take a while for someone to take out order, as there only seemed to be one waitress. However the starter came soon enough, and I can't fault the mushrooms in a creamy, rich sauce on nice crunch bread. The pizza choice was slightly difficult, as I can be a fussy eater at times. I'm not a fan of anchovies, capers or runny egg on pizza, and I found that most pizza's contained an ingredient I didn't like. There also isn't a lot of pasta choices, but what was I to expect with a name like 'Pizza Express.' I chose the Etna pizza as it promised a spicy mix of salami, peppers and ham. It was a good choice; a large, thin base with plenty of spicy flavour, slightly difficult to cut, but I got there in the end and my plate was clean when I finished. The Tiramusu was also a great choice for dessert; the portion was just enough, and the flavour wasn't overpowering in the slightest. The perfect end to the meal. The price of these three dishes, plus a soft drink came to just over £10, which I think is pretty reasonable for a three course meal. Of course I had a 50% off card, but I believe there's lots of vouchers available to make their prices a lot more favourable. The service was slightly slow, perhaps due to staffing issues, so our meal took slightly longer than anticipated but the waitress was friendly and apologetic with it. Being a student, I probably wouldn't have paid full price for all of this, but it is a nice place to come for a treat or birthday meal. As a whole, I prefer a bit more choice on a menu, so would probably go elsewhere if I wanted the full Italian experience. Despite this, I'm sure I'll be visiting Pizza Express more often.
Now here's another one of those review sites we're all so obviously fond of, being members of Dooyoo. Bview allows you to review local businesses galore, not just shops and restaurants, but also doctors, dentists, builders and whatever else you may be using in your vicinity. The idea is to support local businesses and to share your experiences with them, with a view to helping others, and there's the added bonus of vouchers being on the site. Of course you can also review major companies such as Ebay and Asos, but the emphasis is on keeping everything local. You can also earn money for writing reviews, I believe there was a special promotion a few months ago, where you could earn 30p per review but I believe that they system may have changed (though there's no mention of it on the site). They pay out monthly using Paypal which is also a bonus. I'm in two minds about bview. Although I welcome the opportunity to earn money over the internet by writing reviews, the payout is quite low due to not receiving extra points when reviews are read. The minimum payout is low, at just a fiver, but to earn that I'd have to write 17 reviews, whereas with Dooyoo I could get by on writing a few less and relying on review reads. The amount you have to write is 150 words, and most reviews stick to this, but I feel like the quality is not the same as a Dooyoo review as people don't spend as much time on a well thought out review. There is also less of a community aspect, and people rarely seem to read my reviews, and are more concerned with writing reviews of their own. I also don't like the fact that they will use your full name on the site (I have had to put my initials), as I prefer to use an alias on the internet. I believe that Simon Miller is the community manager on the site, and I regularly receive e-mails from him about site promotions, such as getting £5 for writing ten reviews. They always respond to any e-mails, and it seems like the site has a very personal touch as you're encouraged to send any questions or queries. I like the idea that you can add photos and videos to your reviews, though I don't really use this feature, I feel like perhaps Dooyoo could benefit from this. I think the premise of Bview is admirable, as many local businesses are struggling at the moment, but something needs to be done to encourage the community aspect, so people respond to reviews more. I also think the rewards need to be consistent, such as Dooyoo where you get standard amounts for reading and writing reviews. I will probably only use the site again when they send me a new incentive.
I've been going to Poundland for years; as a child I marveled at the fact you could get dolls for a pound, and no doubt some of our stocking fillers were picked up from there. There was only one store local to us, Croydon, and it was tucked away in the Whitgift centre, hidden away out of sight. I remember growing up I used to be embarrassed to be seen going inside. Now there is practically a pound shop in every high street (and probably about 5 in Penge), but what has happened to the original? In my opinion Poundland still has the best range of products and layout. Now once the novelty factor has worn off, you must realise that everything is not cheaper here. I used to happily buy shower gel and toothpaste for £1, before realising that I could get cheaper elsewhere, sometimes half price or less. However, I do like the fact that brand names are a lot cheaper here, so sometimes I treat myself to branded toothbrushes, as these are significantly cheaper than places like Superdrug. There are also various offers, like two bottles of 650ml washing up liquid for £1, which is also much cheaper than the supermarket brands, and works just as well. If you're an avid ebayer like me, it's worth getting your jiffy backs here, as you get since in a pack for, you're guessed it, £1. These products are the ones that are generally always in stock, but sometimes you can get more seasonal items, such as DVDs and books, which you may not see again the following week. They also randomly have different varieties of branded haircare, such as Herbal Essences, so it's best to buy them when you see them. They've also started to sell branded food, as well as some clothing items, though I haven't tried these yet. The stores are often extremely busy, and the narrow aisles can sometimes make it difficult to get around. I would avoid this place at the weekend, as this often stresses me out too much to warrant the extra discount. The checkout staff want to serve people as quickly as possible, so the service is somewhat lacking, but there are some nice staff to be found. Despite this it's worth coming back here again and again, as it pretty much has everything you need. Top Tips: Batteries Jiffy Bags Travel sized bottles (for hand luggage) Toothbrushes Shower gels Haircare Washing Up Liquid Foil Soft drinks (2 for £1) Art Materials Photo paper Scissors Haribo Cotton Wool
Come Dine With Me first appeared on our screens discreetly nestled in Channel 4's daytime television schedule, and it was a definite change from everything else on the box. Although it's reality TV, it really does provide an insight into a variety of British lifestyles and quirks, in a light-hearted way. The premise is simple; Five (or most recently four) cooks compete to win a £1000 prize by preparing a three course meal over 5 consecutive evenings. The episode normally starts by introducing all the participants, showing their reactions to the menu and what they expect the first host to be like (which is often wrong). The host is shown talking about their choices, shopping for ingredients and starting the preparations for the meal. When the guests arrive, they have a nosy look around the host's house before sitting down to the meal. They mark their efforts out of 10 in the taxi on the way home, and the scores are tallied with the winner revealed at the end of the week. I have watched many episodes over the few years it's been on, and there has certainly been some characters, namely the footballers wife who passed off store bought tortellini as her own to romp to victory or the lady who got so drunk that she passed out during the meal. One of the participants was so memorable, I am positive that I saw her in an Oxford supermarket, acting the exact way she was portrayed in the programme. It is a very British show, as it reveals some very eccentric characters with unusual hobbies and obsessions. I also like seeing how the personalities clash, as it's very rare that everyone will be from similar social circles. Some people can come across as very snobby, such as a few weeks ago a lady made everyone feel quite inferior due to her penchant for dining at fancy restaurants and a menu they couldn't understand. I did end up feeling sorry for her by the end, as she obviously seemed somewhat insecure, and her guests made her cry due to them confronting her about her ways. Some people act up in a certain way, so they're seen as a higher class but the truth is sometimes uncovered, with interesting consequences. There's also a lot of scheming, and some people are desperate to win (I remember one lady marking people as low as 1 or a 2 consistently) which I think goes against the nature of this programme. I think it's more about the taking part and being a good sport, rather than belittling everyone and double-crossing your way to victory, though this perhaps doesn't make the best television. The one thing I don't like about the show is the ever changing format. Channel 4 can't seem to decide where it wants to show five cooks over five days or four in an hour. I think the former works better, as it doesn't feel rushed, and you get more of an idea of the participants. The hour long shows are too heavily edited, and I'm sure you can miss out a lot of the drama. They did start to show daily shows again at 5.30 in the evening, so more people can get a chance to watch after work or before going out. I also like the Sunday repeats on More 4, a perfect way to spend a hungover afternoon before dragging myself out of bed to make dinner. Though the episodes seem to be repeated as much as Friends, I never really get bored of them, and they're a great way to fill an afternoon. They've also done a few celebrity versions, which can be a bit hit and miss, as the celebrities are definitely concerned about their public image and try to come off a certain way. The voiceover makes the show in my opinion, with his sarcastic and often very true comments about the participants. Some of the people who take part have the biggest egos and delusions of grandeur I've ever seen, and they probably need taking down a peg or two by Dave Lamb, the most hilarious voiceover artist I've heard. He makes sure the program stays exciting and often says what we're all thinking, and I'd love to see the contestants faces when they watch it all back. This program has inspired me to try out this concept with friends, to see what new things I can learn about them over 5 days, but I doubt I'd ever go on the programme.
Aldo has now become one of my favourite places to buy shoes. The look of the store is expensive, with a clean, minimalist layout, but the prices are typical high street with not much over £100. There is a mixture of trend led and more practical styles for everyday, they're perhaps not as quirky as Office, but the styles have longevity and will be wearable for a good few seasons. I recently bought a pair of black Mary Janes, which are my staple item when I'm stuck for a pair of shoes to wear. They also have a growing accessories section, which stocks bags, purses, tights, leggings and jewellery at a reasonable price. I just wish that certain items were replenished more, as there's a certain pair of leggings I stupidly didn't buy, and I haven't seen them since. Most of their shoes are made from quality leather, and fit nicely, and they do a range of sizes with most shoes going up to a 9. Most of the time they have my size in the stockroom, but when they didn't, they were able to search the warehouse and I was able to order my size to my home. Although I had to pay upfront, there was no delivery charge and I was still able to have a student discount (which you often can't get online) and the shoes were delivered by a courier within a few days. I ordered two pairs, and luckily they were a perfect fit, but I knew that if I was unhappy with them I could return them without any hassle. I also recommend Aldo's sales, as I've managed to pick up a few bargains. It's best to go when they have their final clearance, as they often reduce sale prices by 50%, so if you're not looking for anything too specific, you can pick up something unexpected. I've managed to buy a pair of knee high boots that I'd previously admired at £90, for £35 and a pair of on trend shoe boots for £30, all leather and made in Spain or Italy. They also had my size in stock, which is rare for me in sales due to my size 8/9 feet. Their shoes are always comfortable, and I'd prefer to wait and buy a few pairs in the sales, instead of going to cheaper places. You can also return sale items, which is rare in many shops. Their website also hosts more styles, and there's a few discount codes for free delivery and 10% when you subscribe to their newsletter. They also have a wide range of men's shoes, which I'm sure is of that same quality as the women's.
Beauty Counter Direct offers leading cosmetics and fragrance brands, at a price far lower than the high street. So if you're a fan of Benefit, Hard Candy or Elizabeth Arden, it's worth a visit as the prices are up to 70% off High Street prices, which is perfect for students who want to keep up with the latest beauty trends. I found out about this site through good old Money Saving Expert (the bane of my life, I know) after reading about their regular magazine offers. The offer of a free Hard Candy Eye Palette (plus £2.99 p&p) was too hard to resist, and even though it wasn't completely free, £2.99 on the high street would get you nowhere near the same amount of quality. Soon enough, I received my eye palette, and I was bitten by the Beauty Counter Direct bug. I started to order Pout eyeshadows, Hard candy lip palettes, all just £2.99 (with the help of a few codes from the Money Saving Expert forums). I had to order them separately, as only one discount code works per order, but then I started to find other little bits to add to my order, such as Hard Candy false eyelashes for £1.50. These were a total bargain, as most falsies will cost you from £4 in Superdrug, and branded ones far more. I had to limit myself, but I also noticed Benefit eyeshadows for around £6 and Urban Decay nail polish for £4.50. The only thing is that the colour choices can be limited, and you can't always tell the exact shade on the site. I also want to know the key features of a product before I buy it, so I tend to go to the brand's website for a clearer idea of what the product is like and what it's benefits are. I have found that this works for me, and all of the make-up I've ordered has suited me well. The site is easy to navigate as you can such by brand or product type, so if you're a fan of a certain product, you're only a few clicks away. There is also a wide variety of perfumes, fake tans and skincare, so there is definitely something for everyone. I would definitely recommend this site for presents, as this make-up will instantly look impressive to any label-obsessive when wrapped up, and your money will go much further than on the high street. Some of their products are available in sets, but I find that it can be easier to buy separately and personalise with your own gift wrapping. The customer service is great, I once had a problem with processing my order, so I called up and it was sorted out within minutes. They also seem fine with you setting up new accounts and using the discount codes again and again, but I guess eventually you may end up buying other things on the site. I would definitely shop here again, and have my eye on a few perfumes, which I couldn't ordinarily afford. There are also similar sites springing up, so it's worth keeping an eye on the Money Saving Expert forums for future offers.
Now if you've ever been a student, you'll probably know what it's like to have your food disappear. After numerous occasions, where I'd come home to find my milk gone, cheese halved and butter non-existent, and many furious denials, I knew something had to be done. I'd always had the idea of getting a mini-fridge in the back of my mind since starting uni, but my new thieving housemates were the catalyst for this final decision. I found the 6 Litre Mini fridge on the Argos website, which was temporarily reduced to £19, and after reading a few customer reviews, I opted to pick it up in store. Even though some of the reviews referred to the noise, I knew that I'd rather have that then dwindling food supplies. The fridge was relatively easy to set up, coming with a standard and additional lead, meaning that it can be plugged into cars when going on a long journey. At the back you select whether you'd like it to be hot or cold, (naturally I chose cold) and leave it for around half an hour to reach a nice cold temperature. After removing the included shelf, I found that I could fit in a 2 pint milk bottle, 1 litre juice carton, small tub of butter and block of cheese, plus whatever else I could fit in. It can also fit a 4 pint milk bottle, though not much else, and I'm sure it could fit quite a few cans (though it doesn't stretch to bottles of wine). I was quite happy with the temperature of my food, I even saw ice forming near the back, meaning that my milk would last until and perhaps beyond the sell by date. The main problem I had at first was the noise, as it's kept in my bedroom. The first few nights, I found it difficult to get to sleep (the sound is similar to a PC that's been left on), but after persevering, I got used to the constant humming and now I hardly notice it. I think I had problems because I'm quite a light sleeper, but if you're one of those people who can sleep through anything, or keeping it in another room, I wouldn't worry. The size could also be bigger, but I'm quite happy with what I've got for the price. I would say that roughly half of the dimensions make up the refrigerator, and the rest is the motor and components, so when seeing pictures on the website you may think there's more space than there actually is. Another small thing, is that the door isn't magnetic, so no fridge magnets will stay on. Now I know this isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but we students love our quirky decorations... I would recommend that all students get this product, I wish I could have had it in halls (when I'd come back from lectures and find my butter had bits of garlic in), and it's really helped my peace of mind. It's reasonably priced and can fit all of your essentials, so I think it would be a handy going away gift for any student or useful for long journeys. I don't know how I'd live without mine.
Now, I started using Google Reader after reading the other review on Dooyoo. I'd recently started to read a lot of blogs and online content, and was finding it hard to keep up with updates, so after reading, I was willing to give it a try. It has basically changed my life, dramatic I know, but I know check it probably hundreds of times a week. I know RSS feeds are not known by everyone, but from what I understand, they are a way of reading content on a website, without actually having to visit. Say you're in a rush, and just want to quickly glance at the top stories of the day, an RSS feed has all the main stories on one page in an easy to read list-like format, without all the fancy, confusing graphics that websites tend to have. For example, many newspapers have them, so you can quickly read new articles without leaving the page, as well as shopping websites like Topshop informing you of the latest must-have item. An RSS reader will tell you when you have new articles to read, so you're not forever checking the website, and previously I was using bog ordinary Safari on my Mac to do this. After a while, I realised that it was taking too long to inform me of new articles, and I was having to go back to the original sites to look for new content. Google Reader has changed all of this for me. Google offers a wide range of services, e-mail, web searches and blogs to name just a few, and they can all be accessed from any computer just by logging in. This is immediately preferable to the RSS reader on Safari, as it only works on my computer. With Google Reader I can check my favourite feeds when I'm at Uni, on a friends computer or away on holiday, so I don't have to worry about not being able to access any of these feeds if I leave my computer. Google Reader is simple to set up and understand, you can set up a new account or use your existing Google account, and start adding feeds (if you're using Firefox) by clicking the blue RSS icon in the address bar. When you sign into Google Reader, they will all appear under your subscriptions, and any new content will be highlighted in bold with the amount of new articles next to the feed. This is so useful, as I now have around 60 feeds, so I can quickly look and see whether any of my favourite fashion blogs have any new content. Even if you have Google Reader as a tab in the background, it will let you know if there is anything new, so you know when to check. You don't even have to read them all, say you've been on holiday or read all the items by another means, by selecting 'Mark all as read' you can clear the new items from a feed, and wait for newer content. After reading quite a few of your feeds, you may notice that you like some posts more than others, or would like to save it to read later. Instead of cluttering your web page favourites list, you can 'star' the item to add it to your Google Reader favourites, another option above the subscription list. Even if you forget to star an item, and you want to revisit an article, you can search all or a specific subscription using keywords making it easy to find (though not as easy as starring it). I do like this feature, as I like to keep my blogs separate from normal websites (I already have enough of these to wade through), and it's easy to find things that I've previously read. There are numerous Google'esque features with Reader, for example you can read your statistics, so you know which feeds you read the most and how often they post. For example I have read 4,243 items within the past 30 days (1,409 by Perez Hilton!), geeky I know, but some nice trivia to have. Of course reading the feeds does take up quite a bit of my time, but it is certainly faster than visiting all these sites individually. Reader will also recommend new feeds to you, based on what you have, so you never know what gems you will discover when you visit. You can also share items with friends who have a Google Account, which I haven't managed to do yet, but it's only a matter of time before I start. Now hopefully my review hasn't totally baffled you, but I do feel like there is a definite place for Google Reader in people's lives. Say a friend has a blog where they post travelling exploits and adventures, it's far easier to have this as an RSS feed so you know when and if they post. RSS feeds are on most newspaper and magazine sites, as well as blogs, so there really is something for everyone, and I can't begin to tell of the amount of knowledge and insight I've gained into the lives of many people (and I'm not just talking about Cheryl Cole). I would definitely recommend to give it a try, as I'm typing now I can see that Dooyoo has an RSS feed, so why not sign up and subscribe to your newest review category?
I do often get asked 'How do you stay so slim, when you eat so much?' to which I don't really know what to say. I sometimes put it down to having a fast metabolism, an idea I don't really understand, or lots of nervous energy, but ultimately I know I am a healthy weight for my height. What I sometimes wonder is what the seriously slim people eat, those under a size 8, and whether some of them really do eat as much as me, and stay even slimmer. Supersize vs Superskinny answers the myth, in the most voyeuristic way possible, poking, prodding and weighing subjects like rats in a laboratory. In typical early-evening Channel 4 style, a super slim participant is paired with a morbidly obese volunteer, with the idea that they swap diets, and gradually change their eating habits. When they first meet it tends to be in their underwear, of course, and they express previous held beliefs about what the other person must eat. They are also shown a typical weeks intake, which shoots down a tube reminiscent of the one Augustus Gloop gets sucked up in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and this is dissected by the TV rent-a-doctor, Dr Christian Jensen. They then swap diets and live together for five days, trying to understand a new approach to food. They are then sent off for six weeks, and given a diet plan to stick to, before a final weigh in to see if a difference has been made. Now I know the premise of this show is important, as there is a problem with obesity and eating disorders in this country, but I'm not sure this program goes about it in the right way. The 'Supersize' diet, often of junk-food and stodgy meals is not the best way to gain weight, and sometimes you'll find that the 'Superskinny' doesn't always have the healthiest eating habits. I understand that it's to try and change the way people think about food and to enjoy eating a wide range of foods, and I guess this has to be done in the most outlandish way possible for television. So you'll oven see the larger person practically in tears at a small potion of pasta, and the slimmer person overwhelmed by a large takeaway. This program uses the shock factor and I guess to some extent, it works. Due to my nosy nature, I'm more interested to see what 'Superskinny' person eats. I find that some do find it hard to gain weight, but many just don't get hungry or have the self-control to stop once they feel full. I think that these eating habits are difficult to change for some people, and think it's a case of eating the right kinds of foods to reach a more healthy weight, and I don't see much of this on the show as it tends to focus on them eating the obese persons diet, and not the healthy eating plan that is later given to them. I feel uncomfortable with the way they are shown pictures of themselves in underwear, complete with unflattering lighting and underwear, and shamed into wanting to gain weight due to unsightly bones. I think that people do come in shapes and sizes, and although they could do with gaining some weight, it is hard for people and they shouldn't be told that they are disgusting. I think this should be dealt with in a more tactful way, while still highlighting the detrimental effects of being underweight. I must add that most of the skinny subjects do not reach a 'normal' BMI category by the end of the program, and only seem to gain a few pounds (I think the smallest I saw was 2) and inches, and are instantly applauded for gaining weight. Somewhat contradictory, when the bones are still visible, but of course it is an ongoing thing. I do carry on watching this show, I guess to gawp and stare at the subjects, but I do sometimes disagree with it's methods. It does educate people on why it's best to be a normal, healthy weight, as it also features stories of recovering anorexics, and gastric bands, but also parades two extremes of weight, which I do feel uncomfortable about. It would be interesting to see follow up stories, to see if the participants ever reach a healthy weight.
I live in a town of many Tescos. There's a Metro store in the busy Victoria Centre, an express store round the corner opposite the Police Station, one in the Market Square and another about 5 minutes away in the Lace Market, meaning that my visits to Tesco are mainly due to convenience. I know that the Metro store will stock a variety of different brand levels, such as the Value and even cheaper Discount brands ranges, and it's open till about 10 at night, so I can do a weekly shop after work or a late night at Uni. As a student, I only really have Aldi, Tesco and Asda at my disposal, and I am beginning to learn what the best bits to get in each store are. I tend to buy most groceries here, including tinned food, milk, juice cartons and household bits like toilet paper and washing up liquid, as well as the odd treat when it's on offer. I know that I can always get what I need here for whatever I may be making, such as couscous or Nandos marinade and that it will be a reasonable price. I am also impressed with the Discount Brands range, designed to rival Aldi's slightly foreign-looking produce, as it is often slightly cheaper than the equivalent Value product (but probably the same thing). I find the taste of their Value products acceptable, but most things I buy I add extra seasoning or ingredients to, to give it something extra. Their special offers are something I also look out for, as they are often significantly cheaper, and I have a chance to try things I wouldn't normally splash out on. For example this week, I went for a half-price Finest chocolate pudding, a rare treat. They choose a range of items on offer, so there is definitely something for everyone (especially meat, always good for a student barbecue). I would definitely allow a part of your shopping budget for these treats, adding a bit of excitement to all your Discount Brands items. Being in a busy shopping centre, the Metro store does tend to get quite busy (the longest I've queued for is about half an hour!) and I often find that the cheaper items I want are out of stock. Now I guess this is the reason that 3 smaller Tesco stores have appeared within the past year. These Express stores tend to be open later, and have a simple layout where you can find what you want easily. The main problem I have is that the prices of some of the items is more, not by much, perhaps by 5p, but as a student you will notice a difference doing your weekly shop here. There also tends to be 2 or 3 different brand levels, and none of them cheap. If you want washing up liquid, you will either to buy Fairy or Tesco own brand, no Discount Brands Daisy in sight. The premium Finest range is also prominent, so I imagine that the perceived customer of these stores is quite well off, just popping in to buy a few bits for dinner and some wine. I try not to visit these stores as much for this reason, and I guess others do the same, which is why the main store remains overcrowded. One thing I do like about Tesco, is the Clubcard system. It's a simple scheme, you get one point for every pound you spend, and once you get 150 of them, they send you a £1.50 voucher. They also send you extra vouchers to increase your points, and I've noticed that they must be tracking my spending as I tend to receive them for milk, bread and frozen foods. I don't really mind though, as it's quite handy to receive vouchers for things I actually want to buy, rather than what they think I should. There is also the opportunity to trade your vouchers for 'Deals' vouchers, sometimes quadrupling their value so that they can be spent in restaurants and theme parks. I am trying to wait until I accumulate a few of these vouchers, instead of spending them straight away, so that I can get something worthwhile. Supermarkets are now becoming one-stop shops, and Tesco is no exception. I have a Tesco Mobile, and Tesco Savings account and I'm sure the amount of Tesco branded things in my life can only increase (slightly scary I know). I do like the brand though, as I associate it with simplicity and value, mainly due to their effective and instantly recognisable advertising. Within the Metro store you can buy dinner, household bits and basic appliances, and they keep their stock relevant to help the growing student population, which is why it's always full. I doubt my twice weekly visits will end any time soon.
These sweets always end up in my basket during my frequent trips to Tesco (in fact I bought a bag just yesterday) and have become my unofficial snack on the way home. At 39p (3 packs for a pound), they are cheaper than most branded sweets, such as Haribo or Rowntrees, so handy for long journeys or cinema trips. You get 100g in a bag, which doesn't look like a lot, but the bag is pretty much full and I guess it helps the environment with less packaging. Described as 'Strawberry flavoured jelly shapes', you get a mixture of red jelly lips, which are delightfully sweet and flavoursome and white and pink teeth, not so nice to look at, but nice and chewy. It's hard to choose a favourite, but I would have to say the lips, and they are nice and sweet. It takes a lot of self control not to chew it straight away, instead of leaving it in your mouth to taste all sweet, strawberry flavours. The teeth, a close second, have a mixture of foamy goodness (think the fried eggs of Haribo Starmix) and jelly, so the best of both sweet worlds. The packaging of the bag is somewhat childlike, with a cheery and slightly monkey adorning the front, seemingly not doing very much, but don't let this put you off. It's easy enough to get into the bag, a small rip does it, and soon enough you can smell the inviting flavours. The main thing is that there are no artificial colours and preservatives, which is an added bonus. The ingredients include blackcurrant concentrate and carrot extract, which may seem unusual, but I'm not complaining as I guess you need these unexpected things to make them taste so nice. The annoying thing, which I just realised, is that the nutritional information reveals that a QUARTER of a bag contains 85 calories and 13.1g of sugar. Now if you are a sweet addict like me, it is impossible to just eat a quarter of this 100g bag, especially since it is so small. This means that I regularly consume 340 calories and an awful lot of sugar when polishing off one of these bags, which is slightly misleading if you just glance at the front. I will definitely make an effort to control myself in the future, perhaps I can bring myself to share them with a friend... These sweets were never going to count as one of your 5 a day, but they are definitely nice as an occasional treat. I would definitely recommend trying them, as 39p is great for 100g of sweet perfection.
After becoming quite a fan of Dooyoo and the whole review writing phenomenon, it wasn't long before I found out about Qype. The site has a similar concept to Dooyoo, but members write reviews purely on places they visit, such as shops, restaurants, hairdressers, museums, even events, but in any location. This means that there may be multiple reviews for different branches of a brand, so that you can find out whether Zizzi's in Portsmouth is worth a visit, or how big Topshop in Derby is. You gain points for each review you write, 8 for a standard review and 20 for reviewing a place for the first time. You also get various amounts of points for adding photos, creating events, inviting friends and attaching videos. After gaining a certain amount of points, you can reach Insider or Ninja status, meaning prizes and recognition if you are a significant contributor to the site. I first heard about Qype via Money Saving Expert, and at the time there was just the promotion where you could get a free iPod shuffle as well as other goodies after reaching Ninja status. I did write a few reviews, but this then petered out as I realised how much work it would be. Then they had their Amazon voucher promotion where you had to write 50 reviews, all decent of at least 100 words in length, to gain a £50 Amazon voucher. This really appealed to me at the time, as I could add it to my Dooyoo vouchers and end up with quite a significant amount. So I started reviewing away, basically racking my brains to review everywhere I have ever visited, quite easy as I have lived in London and Nottingham, so there was no shortage. It was also quite easy to add new places to review, no lengthy suggestions process a la Dooyoo, so I added my hairdressers, a few cafes and ended up with quite a few extra points for first reviews. Over the course of a few days, I'd done slightly over the required amount, just in case a few of them didn't make the cut, and waited patiently. Soon enough I'd received e-mail confirmation that I'd be getting a voucher and roughly 10 days later, I received a voucher by e-mail. Another advantage of completing the promotion was that I'd reached Ninja status, so I was eligible for the iPod shuffle, t-shirt, USB, sweets and plush mini-Ninja toy. Not bad for a few days work. This took a lot longer to receive, maybe around a month and a half, but just before it did, I received e-mail confirmation so I knew roughly when to expect it. I was pretty pleased that they kept up their side of the bargain, when other freebie sites aren't so honest. I feel that Qype is a friendly, light-hearted kind of company, I get a few weekly emails from them, but they are always written in a down-to-earth way and are informative enough to keep me going back to the site. I still visit Qype, eagerly waiting for details of their next offer, but also to check out local cafes and places to eat. I don't really post, unless I feel I need to add my opinion, but I like the fact that you can read opinions from 'normal' people and not some hard-nosed restaurant critic. It's useful if you are perhaps new to a city, and don't yet have local knowledge, and people tag keywords to places such as 'cheap', 'Chinese' or ;'tasty', so you can quickly find what you are looking for. I find that most of the reviews are to the point, and not as wordy as Dooyoo reviews, which I think is necessary in this situation. You can find out about a chain on Dooyoo, then search on Qype for the edited local version. I like the fact that you can review events as well, and find out what other people think, such as a vintage sale that recently happened in London. You can also post your own photos at these places to add a personal slant. They are also an international company, so if you're off to Europe on holiday, you can check out places to eat recommended by locals (there tends to be a mixture of reviews in English and other languages). There is also a strong community feel on Qype, and they regularly arrange meet-ups, such as ice-skating at the Natural History museum. I'm probably a bit sceptical of these events, but at least it puts a human face to the company, making it seem more accessible. There are also forums, so you can find out how people are progressing with challenges and the admins are quite visible in these forums and quite quick to answer any questions or queries. I feel that Qype has something worthwhile to offer, compared to other review sites, and I like the feeling that you are recommended places by real, unbiased people. I will definitely keep visiting. I'm hoping that they have another promotion soon, as I'm saving up places to review for this reason, they recently had a Virgin vouchers promotion that didn't really appeal to me, I think an ongoing promotion would be a better idea. More Amazon vouchers would be great...
I am probably the type of person that shouldn't have a credit card. I love to buy anything, especially clothes, and I tend to buy things on impulse without really considering that I may have many more of the same thing at home. A £1500 credit limit on my first card, not long after Christmas wouldn't immediately seem like the best idea, but I knew that I would use it responsibly. I plumped for the M&S and More card, which offered 12 months interest free and 1 point for every £2 spent (as a student, it was the only way I could afford to shop there). After receiving my card, I soon realised that I'd have to pay something each month, so it wasn't really free money, but at least it would allow me to take a bit of time to pay for things over the course of the year. My main use of the card was to buy flights to Hong Kong as soon as I saw a good deal. I was working quite a bit at the time, so knew that I'd be able to cover it. Gradually a few other bits ended up on the card, such as new boots, and festival tickets, stuff that I perhaps wouldn't have necessarily had the funds to buy immediately, but the 12 months interest free on purchases allowed me to pay them off gradually, plus I accumulated a fair amount of points. I also paid for my university halls fees on the card, and put my loan into a savings account for the remainder of the interest free period. Once the interest free period finished, I continued to use the card for large purchases, purely to get points, but it can also offer piece of mind paying this way just the company that you've bought from ceases to exist (you're covered for purchases over £100). I find that the 56 days interest free period on my card is long enough for me, as I tend to pay the balance off in full once I get my statement. I would advise a student thinking about getting a credit card, to understand the logistics of having one, such as APRs and minimum payments, instead of just taking one because your bank says you're 'eligible' for one. I have tried to help my friend understand that withdrawing money on the card is not the best idea (as interest is ALWAYS charged, so you can scrap paying it off in full when the bill comes), and that paying off the minimum payment just tells the company that they can make money off you for many, many years, but it does just fall on deaf ears. I think a lack of information and awareness can get people into sticky situations, and the detached nature of spending the credit card gives you, doesn't help with this. I wouldn't recommend getting one if you're well into your overdraft and looking for a last resort, but if you do have a part-time job and budget in place, I'd recommend making the card work for you with the various cashback or air miles offers. I can make my £12 in Marks and Spencers vouchers can go a long way in the food hall, and I know most students would appreciate the odd treat like this. I believe that having a credit card since the age of 18 has helped my credit rating quite a bit, and as I've never paid interest on it, I don't feel as if I've lost out. Having the right attitude is key, and self control is a major factor in me not going overboard, and I do aim to live within my means (meaning a splurge can realistically be paid off within 56 days). There are some pricey things that I may 'want', but I know saving up for them and making sure I have the money in place (before perhaps putting them on the credit card to accumulate points) is a much better option. I think I'm scared by having large amounts on my card anyway, so I prefer to have manageable amount on it, ideally under £150. A benefit of having a credit card, is the freedom it gives you, as Mastercard and Visa are accepted and recognised worldwide (try paying with your Solo card in Hong Kong) making it easier to get bargains from abroad via the internet or to pay for something in a shop when visiting abroad. You also have a bit of time to think before committing to a purchase, so if I end up buying a lot of things from ASOS in various sizes, I know that I can refund it all without a penny having left my account. I know the situations I face could be different once I graduate, once the added costs of everyday start building up, but I'm hoping that with this financial knowledge and attitude, I can keep it under control.
Note: I've been trying to write this review for ages, but due to the demands of my course I've had to keep putting it on hold. I'm really glad I've finished it, as I've always wanted to set the record straight about my course. I've never really wanted to do anything else but fashion. Ever since I was young, I've always been drawing pictures of models wearing my creations and even now I follow fashion related programmes religiously. Throughout school I did everything I could to try and head in the right direction, such as relevant work experience and Art A level, but the most important way to get started on the Art and Design route is to do an Art Foundation course (there are other ways, but I think the art foundation is the most well-rounded). This course makes you forget anything you may have done at A level, and introduces you to new ways of thinking and working. You tend to try out different areas within art and design, such as fashion, textiles, graphic and product design, before choosing something to specialise in. It was quite tricky to get my head around some of the projects at times, such as drawing crowds of people at the British Museum, without drawing arms or legs, but merely squiggles to represent them and flashes of light. Once I'd chosen fashion to specialise in, I felt a lot more comfortable. There are many art colleges who offer this course, and I don't think it matters where you go as such, just make sure you ask plenty of questions to see how the course is structured at your interview. Decent facilities are also a must, as it gives you the best chance to learn new skills and use the best equipment and technology out there. I chose Camberwell for my Foundation, purely because it was far away from my secondary school, and had a relaxed atmosphere. It was also relatively easy to get to, and as the course was free (for those under 20 I think), I didn't have a lot of outgoings. For my degree I moved further afield which obviously upped my outgoings, but there are numerous Universities around the country which offer decent courses, some of them extremely specialised such as Lingerie or Shoe Design. There is really something for everyone. Anyway, aside from the practicalities, the main thing about art and design courses is that you have to put a lot of work into them to get the best result. It's not like History or Psychology, where you can perhaps switch off when you go home. When you have a new project to do, you will most likely be researching and thinking about it constantly, as the work can often be quite personal. Even when you don't, you may still be inspired by certain things, and take time out to do sketches etc. It can also take time create sketchbooks or to resolve technical issues, which is why we are told to spend 40 hours a week doing homework. On my Fashion Knitwear course, we don't just have to design and make the garments, but also keep a Technical file full of knitting and sewing processes, as well as a Contextual file with fully referenced research and annotations. We also have a Design and Visual culture module, which includes lectures and seminars once a week, plus roughly an essay every term. It really annoys me when people think that my course is a cop-out, as I spend so much time working. I also believe that you have to be quite intelligent to do an art and design course, as it involves responding to visual and sometimes written stimuli and create a concept from start to finish. Add that to the technical know-how it is necessary to possess, and your have yourself a pretty talented individual. We also have a lot to juggle, for example I have 3 projects on the go, a fashion show to help organise, driving lessons and a part-time job, as well as a small fragment of a social life. There are constant deadlines and 'crit' style sessions, where you discuss your work in front of your tutor and peers, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the stress of it all sometimes. Time management is still something I'm trying to master, and I have to set myself daily tasks during the 16 or so hours I'm awake. Art and Design courses can also be very costly. There are still hundreds of books to buy (yes, I know there are libraries but with so many competitive colleagues holding on to books for ages, it is sometimes best to have your own copy), plus pattern cutting equipment, fabric and in my case yarn which can range from anything between £1 and £100 a cone. There's also travelling to the various exhibitions that are on, as well as foreign trips that are put on to trade shows. Most things you can shop around for such as fabrics to get a good deal, but there can be a massive outlay at the beginning of your course, though once you have your equipment and skills you can basically use your know-how when you have a fancy dress party and nothing to wear, or even sell some basic designs to make revenue. I think it's best to set aside a separate fund for art and design related bits, which relatives can contribute do at Christmas or birthdays. After the course, a job is far from guaranteed, as the the world of fashion is highly competitive and requires you to make contacts and gain experience, much of it unpaid. This might worry some people slightly, but I feel like all graduates have to work hard to get a job these days, and I have many friends doing 'normal' courses like Psychology and History struggling to find something to do once they graduate. I feel like I've chosen to do something I'm truly passionate about, and I suppose I love being behind the scenes, understanding how something goes from being on the haute couture runways to the high street, spotting trends before they happen and knowing how a garment is constructed and trying to recreate it. With positive thinking, hard work, creativity and determination, I believe I can get somewhere, and have a career that I enjoy.
When in central London, it isn't easy to find a cheap place to eat. There are fast food places and well known chains, with slightly inflated London prices, and people holding billboards advertising a £4.99 buffer for a random nearby restaurant. It takes me quite a while to find a new place to eat, since I rely on personal recommendation, but when my friend told me of a place in Kingly Court (can be reached from central London's iconic Carnaby St), where all the dishes were £3.50, I thought it was too good to be true. Cha Cha Moon is the creation of Alan Yau, a man who's made Chinese food a 5 star affair in restaurants such as Hakkasan but also brought Wagamamas to the High Street. The concept behind the restaurant is that all the food dishes are £3.50, and turnover is fast with a constant queue of people waiting to take over your table. Dishes come when they're ready (I'm very much used to this concept now) and the tables are canteen style, complete with the obligatory randoms either side of you. The food is a mixture of Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporean and there is a mixture of soup based and stir fry noodle dishes (note, no rice anywhere to be seen, it's just not fast enough) plus side dishes such as guotie dumplings, won ton and other dim sum. Drinks are pricier than the food, with unrecognisable brands such as 'Afrikola', and others around the £3 mark if my memory serves me correctly, so I'd recommend getting tap water if the names confuse you too much. On the occasions I've been here, it's always been busy (once I had to queue for 20 minutes as the queue went out of the back door and around the corner), but the food has always come relatively quickly (apart from the dumplings). The authenticity of the menu means that the dishes can be tricky to work out if you're not used to anything beyond your 'Sweet and Sour Pork' so it's worth asking the staff for explanations and recommendations if you're not used to certain things. Being a more adventurous eater, I've gone for seafood, Chinese salami and beef ho fun which all of course come with noodles, but there are other dishes including duck and chargrilled chicken (can't quite remember the names, but they are easy to find on the menu). After a bit of investigating, there should be something to suit everyone on the menu. Since the mains are £3.50, many of the dishes are pretty similar relying on the same broth and noodles with slight variations such as the sauce, but at that price I wouldn't really be expecting the most ground breaking dishes. The taste of everything is quite pleasant, though the portions vary, some dishes come with an extra soup and others (such as the seafood) can be finished within minutes. I often get a side dish to fill myself up, though the dumplings I have ordered twice seem to take a while to come, and I end up polishing them off within seconds. I did once overestimate some of the dishes and ended up with two rather filling mains, which was reasonable for £7, which is the cost of one meal at Wagamamas. I think it'd be a great idea to go with friends, maybe getting a few extra dishes and sharing it all for the perfect portion size. Some of the reviews of this place in the media haven't been great, criticising the random combinations of ingredients and taste, but I think they're over-analysing the place too much. You can eat out here for less than a Mc Donalds meal, and the food is so much more exciting. It's a functional place purely for eating, and opens your mind up to the foods of another culture for less than a fiver. It isn't the place to go for a special occasion, but for a lunch break or quick bite before taking on the Oxford St crowds, it's perfect. I'm not sure if the prices are a promotion, but I hope they last forever.