Tag Archives: shopping

London Laughing with Katherine Ryan

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Katherine Ryan is a Canadian single mum to a 9 year-old girl. They live in a flat in London with a “glitter room” and a “floral” room. She’s also one of the best comedians in the UK.

After a four and half hour coach journey I couldn’t wait to get off the smelly thing to see my friend. Sarah works in a pharmaceutical sales company. She is so organized that when we went to Vietnam she had a spreadsheet for the hotels and one for the flights.

The journey to her new place was supposed to take half an hour. Unfortunately at least three tube lines were having improvement works, so the Circle line was out. I needed to take the District Line (the green one) to Parsons Green, but it didn’t go that far. So I tried to take a taxi, but I was near the Chelsea football ground. It just happened to be Chelsea vs Liverpool, so all the taxis were cancelling on me because roads were blocked off.

Finally I stopped one the traditional way. The charming cabbie said he wasn’t going to work that day because of the match. I was so relieved to be rescued after hours of trudging around with all my bags.

The space and light in Sarah’s flat was lovely after the dark cramped coach. We compared rents and she couldn’t believe how little I pay in comparison. She had a lovely terrace with a city view. I enjoyed sipping tea there in the morning.

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We got to the venue at Leicester Square through the excited evening crowds. I treated myself a Kir Royale cocktail and we settled down for the concert. There was a lovely vocal performance from the London Gay Mens Chorus with intricate acapella arrangements.

Katherine Ryan was hilarious. She was a natural, sourcing material from people in the crowd. It was very engaging. She somehow found someone from her home town in Canada and a single mum of three boys. She is 35 and probably earns a pretty packet.

The Garrick Theatre was a cosy venue, you felt like you were in her sitting room. It was at least half an hour before Katherine started recycling her gags but she created new material on the spot too. Have a look at her on YouTube. Sarah and I appreciate her fearless feminist ethos and gutsy life perspective. She makes us feel empowered and inspired. Catch her on her Glitter Room tour.

I also went to a dress agency near my friend’s flat. It was run by a charming Iranian woman and savvy saleswoman, who talked me into buying two designer dresses and a jacket which I thought was nice for social occasions but which my Chelsea-based sister has said is only suitable for interviews. I grimaced at the handbags made out of every kind of animal and the furs, from mink to fox. I got an embroidered blue wool dress which was so vintage it was actually made in the 1950s and an Italian leather and suede red and black dress, which I wore for the concert. Sadly, the wool dress shrunk as soon as I hand-washed it, and the other items are dry clean only.

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The vintage wool dress

On Sunday morning I went out for brunch with Sarah and my sister and then visited my sister’s new flat.

I was hoping to do something touristy for the rest of the day, but Sarah wanted to go to the gym. She was tired from moving flats and needed a boost. For her, this involves slogging it out at the gym. For me it is going to a coffee shop and having a brew. Each to their own.

I felt better for her boot camp gym workout. She is a natural personal trainer, shouting “no pain no gain!” and “come on, you’re not done yet!” as I groaned under the strain. I wrestled with a 10 kg weight while she did a 20 kg weight for the same time. She looks petite and dainty but this is just an illusion. She could snap your wrist with one hand.

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For 2019, I am planning a holiday to Chile next summer for the solar eclipse. Watch this space…

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My friend and my sister

 

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Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

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Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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Buxton day trip

I have had a lovely couple of days off lately. On Wednesday I went to a shopping mall and bought some presents, on Thursday I went to Buxton and on Friday I joined a new gym, went swimming and had a haircut!

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Buxton is a lovely place to visit in the Peak District. It is a village of around 20,000 with some nice cafes and quaint OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAold-fashioned shops, including a chemist that looks like it is still stuck in the Victorian era.

In 1572 Dr John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. The spring waters were believed to have healing properties. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited to benefit from them. In the Victorian era it was a popular spa town and there is still a baths. You can drink the natural mineral water for free there and it is still bottled and sold today.

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We went to a tea shop for a drink. It was a bit of a disappointment and tasted the same as when I make it at home.

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The “Devonshire Dome” there is a feat of civil engineering. It is hard to believe it was the roof of stables. It was built in 1789 by John Carr, commissioned by the duke for Buxton Crescent, converted into a hospital and is now restored by the University of Derby. Go in if you get a chance. I only got a chance to view it from the outside but the inside looks impressive just from looking at pictures.

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Buxton_Dome_South_Elevation1000Mum’s main mission was the charity shops. Relentlessly we hit every single one. There were rail upon rail of cheap but tacky clothes, clothes only geriatrics wear and probably had. When I am that old I’ll wear charity shop clothes because I won’t need to look presentable anymore. I’ll be like the lady in the Purple poem.

But surprisingly we did find some that weren’t from M ‘n’ S, Tesco or Primark – Coast ones. I got a painted silk-style sleeveless ruffled top with a dark beige pencil skirt and a 1950s-style A-line dress. It’s blue with roses on and I can’t wait to wear it. Even mum laughed at the “vintage” charity shop. The clothes were like fancy dress for a 1970s party.

We went back to the tea shop for lunch. I was impressed with the selection – chicken curry, jackets with cream cheese and spring onion, steak sandwiches and “Buxton” burgers.

Mum said the burgers were good so I went for one of those. This was served with salad and posh crisps. Salt and vinegar, my favourite. I was enjoying it until I crunched on a couple of bones. I got one and thought that was it, continued eating and then got another…and another. Luckily I didn’t swallow them as I may have choked. I was slightly put off. The meat had been lovely, but I didn’t want to be reminded that I was eating an animal. The whole point of cooking meat is not just that it tastes better but also that you don’t feel like an animal eating another animal, like a lion at zoo feeding time.

I didn’t want to make a scene but Mum insisted we say something. They’d be nice about it, she said. So I told the manager.

“Ohhhhh.” She said, haughtily, the disdain all too audible, “we haven’t had that before. We’ve never had a customer complain about that.”  I thought I must be imagining her tone. I went to the toilet. It was cold like the cafe – at least the food was hot. There were flannels to dry your hands on that you put in a little basket, a nice touch.

On the way back, I saw her poking the burger meat around angrily with a knife, peering at it from the side. She then triumphantly reported to mum that it was “gristle” I had nearly taken a tooth out on, not bone. She said “I poked it with a knife and it wasn’t hard, so it must have been gristle”. How gristle was better than bone I don’t know. One woman walked out having hardly touched her “spicy potato soup” a thick orange lumpy broth. Mum was served hers with stale bread, the staff urging her to “help yourself to more if you want”. Clearly they needed to get rid of it.

Mum bought some cake and they charged her full price for that and the meal, despite my bones of contention. It had butter icing, not even cream cheese icing like mum does, which is much better and tastier. Cheaper ingredients and maximum profit. I stalked out indignantly. Mum was apologetic as I grumbled about the disgusting lack of customer service skills. I wouldn’t be going there again. Its name was “The Cafe at the Green Pavilion”.

Anyway then we went to the library and art gallery, which was a much more enjoyable experience. It was combined in an old building with wooden doors and stained glass windows. But it had also been converted into a museum about Buxton’s history. I expected it to be poor as it was only two floors and looked poorly funded. We went into the exhibition space of a dire modern artist, abstract shapes in different colours spoiling the walls.

In the corner was a dark corridor. I went down it and there were little labels indicating different periods of time hanging from the ceiling and a video showing the passing of time from prehistoric to modern times in photos and drawings. I turned a corner and walked into the Cretaceous Period.

A massive dragonfly clung to a tree and there were noises of the forest around me. I walked on and into a cave.

There were bones of mammoths, bears, hyenas and in the corner roaring at me, a bear that looked rather too life-like. I quickly walked on into the “hunter-gatherer” age and a skeleton lay in a glass case, a man of 25-30.There was a little burial tomb reconstruction that you could crawl into. There were knife and axe heads on display. I went under an arch into the Roman period.

This interactive journey through time just kept on going, a maze of corridors and passages making you feel like you were actually in that era. It was fantastic.

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There were Roman columns all around me and a life-like centurion in full armour standing by the wall.

A ceremonial washing basin was on the right with a bronze head above it. Further on was a Roman rubbish dump – much nicer than modern ones – all broken jars and animal bones. I wonder what future ancestors will make of ours.

There were videos playing and you could hear the audio so you could take it in as you looked at the exhibits without having to watch them. I heard that to become a Roman citizen you had to serve 25 years with their army. Many Anglo-Saxons did and were posted away from their families in the Empire. Some would never have seen their families again.

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Due to space there was only a corridor linking this age to the 1700s, telling of medieval hunts in the forests. Then I went into a 1700s sitting room.

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You could sit on an imitation chair by the fire surrounded by fancy things. In the next room was a reconstructed “Buxton” black marble workshop.

The public went mad for this rare marble in the Victorian era and would buy loads of the stuff while on their spa breaks. It was made into everything – tables, chairs, jugs. But production virtually stopped when the craze was over. You can still buy it though.

There was a corridor dedicated to more recent years and all too soon I was back from my time-travel journey. I enjoyed it so much I went back in time instead of forwards. I couldn’t believe the collection box was empty. Museums are poorly funded these days so if they do a good job they need financial backing. I gave them a little. The time travel machine was too good to be free.

We then went round the flowers in a conservatory, enjoying the sweet scent that filled the air. We passed by the Pavilion Gardens on the way out but sadly it was too cold to enjoy them.

On the way home we saw what looked like World War Two bunkers but they were in fact enclosed kilns (enclosed to conform to blackout regulations) for the production of quicklime from Derbyshire limestone, which was produced in Buxton from the late 1800s until 1944.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire or England for that matter, don’t miss Buxton and its museum. It’s great for adults as well as children.

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Competition and Coffee Cake

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Are you in it to win it? Show the recruiter you are!

Today I took a bus then a train and then walked to get to the recruiters. There were so many applicants the employee would not tell me about the competition. He just said they did have 400 positions and now they have 50. I didn’t get interviewed for about half an hour as other candidates were dealt with first. This was good as it was an open-plan office, so I heard what was said. This helped me to get a job one time, earwigging on the questions.

The lady before me was interested in leaving her permanent job for the temporary position, for a change. She had good experience.

The next lady was from Holland. She had been out of work since early last year, having graduated from York University and then worked at M and S.

I sat there with my degree and all my worldly documents feeling a little uneasy, until the manager went round offering home-made coffee cake and there was a spare piece. Needless to say with my eagle eye on it he noticed. After succeeding with my cake application I sat there in seventh heaven, cream oozing between moist chocolate cake. The office faded out and all I was aware of was the taste sensation going on. A bake-off was proposed. I want to apply for another job in case they interview me next week, when a recruiter promised to make raspberry chocolate cake.

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Awakening me from this taste experience, someone rang up about the job I wanted. The agency had taken the advert board for it inside and I could see and hear why. It started on minimum wage and was for a month.

Allow me to share some of the things I have learned from this experience.

Network

  • I had heard about it through a friend and I couldn’t find it advertised. It’s all about networking. Ask for help on Facebook, ask friends and family.

Register with the agency before your meeting, and check it

  • Ensure your registration has gone through – mind hadn’t. The recruiter had to do it for me. He would have expected to process me quickly and he had the pressure of the next candidate waiting. 

Prepare 2 days in advance

  • I knew an assessment centre test was involved but I only started revising yesterday, and this affected my performance.

Bring bank statements to cover company absence

  • As I said in my previous post, you should make sure you have all your documents the day before. With references, if there are any gaps in your employment history, or if you have not worked for a company in that time, bring along your bank statements covering this period. 

Don’t consider the competition, consider why you’re the best

  • With a new burst of confidence from the coffee cake experience I decided that I would no longer be intimidated by the opposition.
  • Instead I would demonstrate why I was the best, and I planned how I was going to do that in my head. 

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A highlight of my travels into town in the morning is The (Mighty) Metro, a newspaper available free on the bus. It has all I need, plenty of sensational news and romantic/celebrity gossip. If I want to read more in-depth news I buy a paper – I feel the need to support print journalism as the industry is really suffering. I opened my saved copy. After chuckling out loud at a series of pictures of a border collie balancing Pringles and biscuits on its head I turned the pages to more news of economic gloom.

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On Wednesday Republic fashion chain joined the host of high-street shops that have had to go into administration, with 2 500 jobs at risk. I then passed the store, decorated in bright signs advertising impending doom and REDUCTIONS ON ALL STOCK. A great time to be in work I thought as I gazed enviously at (still) unaffordable fashion. Last month 2,000 jobs were lost at Jessops, 4,190 at Blockbuster, and 4,123 at HMV, according to the paper. That’s over 10, 000 redundancies and thousands more on the way, not counting cuts to smaller and government businesses.

If you are/have been made redundant think of all that experience you gained. I’m sure it will be an asset on your applications. If things are tough maybe look at another area you could go into. The high-street is suffering from lack of spending as job security, spending power and consumer confidence have been affected. £375 billion has been put into circulation as a last resort, to no effect. The Metro suggested this was partly due to a “high turnover of Treasury stock-photo-869687-background-of-english-sterling-pound-notesstaff”. This means that due to budget cuts services may be affected. I have witnessed skeleton staff situations in the police and NHS, threatening front-line services. Surely money can be saved elsewhere.

Anyway I digress. After another security clearance to confirm that I am not a terrorist (in the American immigration department this involves a tick box question “are you a terrorist : Y/N) and possibly a submission of several months of bank statements I will wait and see whether an 80% test pass rate is acceptable…passfingers-crossed

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