Tag Archives: London

Christmas for Kitty

7 Dec

For us Brits, advent calendars are another one of those strange customs that we blindly follow each Christmas. I know some grown ups who still love to buy an advent calendar for themselves each year, myself included. Yet, it lacks the same element of excitement as a adult. Let’s face it, if we fancy a chocolate we can just go and buy some chocolate. After a quick calculation I realised that the average 26 year old has probably opened 575 little doors, and eaten 575 little chocolates in their lifetime. Less if you shared your calendars, and more if you stole chocolates from your siblings! And to those poor children who had the calendars with no chocolates, the ones with only pictures behind the door I can only imagine that as an adult you have given up on the ‘excitement’ altogether.
Dreamies have found the perfect solution – advent calendars for cats. At first I thought the calendar did not appear to be good value, if each door only housed one treat. However on closer inspection i realised that each door actually has approximately 10 treats inside, and on the 25th December your kitty will receive a really speedy wind up toy mouse. My cats both absolutely love this, they come running to the crinkle of cardboard and rub against my legs waiting for the little treats to be released. Thank you Dreamies, for putting a bit of excitement back into my advent calendar experience!

With prices from £2.99 in supermarkets and retailers such as Amazon it won’t break the bank either.

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Verdict: A Purfect 10/10

Dress up this Halloween

24 Oct

I have decided this halloween to get back to basics with face paints. As a child my parents would make our outfits each year for pennies, and let our spooky make up do the trick! (or indeed treat) My favourite brand (for durability and brightness of colour) is Snazaroo:

The Halloween Face Painting Kit
Boasting enough face paint for up to 50 faces, Snazaroo’s Halloween Face Painting Kit (£12.49 RRP) is a staple for those looking for one all-encompassing pack for parties, which can be shared among lots of guests.

Each kit comes with eight Halloween-themed colours. What’s more, the included instructional booklet contains heaps of inspiration and step by step guides to creating numerous Halloween designs, that will take the horror out of face painting. The more adventurous can dream up their own designs.

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Snazaroo Face Painting Sticks
Snazaroo Face Painting Sticks (£4.99 RRP) are a quick and easy way to add a dash of horror to costumes.
Each pack contains four sticks – 1 black, 1 red, 1 green and 1 white – in a transportable, resealable kit. The sticks come in a helpful, crayon shape to make drawing on designs even easier.

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For money savers out there, use current code HALLOWEEN13 to receive 20% off at www.snazaroo.co.uk

Verdict: 8/10

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Metolino – simple and delicious dining

11 Oct

To celebrate our anniversary my boyfriend suggested a whole array of top London restaurants and bars, that would have set him back up to £100 per head. While I appreciated the gesture the last thing that I wanted after a cocktail filled night before, and a busy day at work, was to dress up and spend ages on the tube. Not to mention I was ravenous and wanted to quite literally stuff my face with food – not really possible in the finer restaurants.

So instead I suggested an old favourite, a place I took my parents a while back and was eager to return to – local Mediterranean bistro, Metolino this restaurant is on taste card with 50% off food for up to four people. It has a cafe exterior with outdoor seating – great in the summer, but watch your belongings as the area is known for handbag theft. When you walk inside its a cosy mix of ornate Turkish lamps and random candles. It’s very homely. Randomly I would like to mention the chairs, they were really comfy. There is nothing worse than sitting on a beautiful but uncomfortable chair in a restaurant – especially when you intend to gorge yourself on multiple courses and glass after glass of wine.

We ordered the house red, which was a slightly peppery Spanish red and perfectly drinkable. We were automatically offered tap water with lemon wedges, by a very smiley and friendly waitress. The waitress was one of the best that I have had, in that she was quick to serve us but not interfering or false, and despite the restaurant not being very full she didn’t hang over us. Some restaurants treat you like second class diners when you mention taste card, but here we were treated as any other customer.

For starters we shared Calamari, halloumi and garlic bread. The calamari was very more-ish, crisp light batter and not chewy at all, and the garlic dip went well with the overall flavour. The grilled halloumi wasn’t too salty, and came with a lovely turkish style (chopped-up and well dressed) side salad. The garlic bread was utterly average, sliced garlic baguette – though this didn’t take away from the rest of the meal.

When the main course arrived I could smell the aromatic juices of the lamb shank as the waitress set it down. On a bed of mashed potato with steamed broccoli and carrots the dish was fabously plain and simple, just what I needed on a cold autumn evening. Next time I order this dish, I will however order extra gravy. This isn’t a judgement on the restaurant, but is just because I find the London serving of gravy to be too sparse for my northern tastebuds! My boyfriend had the mixed grill of chicken, lamb chops, lamb shish and kofte which again was simple but tasty. Each skewer of meat was moist and tender, the only part he found a little dry was the kofte for which he improvised and made into little sandwiches with the complimentary flatbreads instead. He loved the Turkish rice, and wolfed down the side salad (after I had stolen all of his sweet red peppers from it!) so I think he was a fan. At the end of the meal we were brought a complimentary fruit platter of strawberries, grapes, pineapple, apple and kiwi. It was a refreshing end to the meal and a lovely gesture.

Verdict: a mouthwatering 8/10 for flavour and 10/10 for value

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Made me giggle…

5 Oct

I woke up today feeling ill and with a bad headache. However I received an email from a lovely PR which cheered me up and made me giggle. He was telling bloggers about a new mug design at gift website Prezzybox . The design is meant to be a little rude in its humour probably one for a lad to give to a mate, or a sister to give to a brother. I won’t be including it in my christmas gift guide, but I am writing about it today because of one line in the PR’s email. “It may be a good item for a christmas gift guide, but I understand if it is too risky.” It just cracked me up for some reason, the thought of this poor guy trying to get coverage, but worrying about offending more sensitive folk. Well here is some coverage, and thank you for cheering me up! and for those actually interested – it’s on sale at Prezzybox now for a bargain price of £5.99

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A home to call our own

1 Oct

This month my boyfriend and I have finally decided to take the plunge and share our flat together, alone with no lodger. This will mean finding an extra £700 a month from somewhere to cover the excess rent and bills, and while I am under no illusions that a little scrimping here and there will add up to £700 you would be surprised at what counting the pennies can achieve.

Head of the House - Cleo

Head of the House – Cleo

Given that the whole concept of this blog is how to live in London on a Northern budget I will need to pool every technique that I have for money saving this year! So for all of those Londoners who want to say adios to their housemates, here are my top ideas:

Admin:
Firstly get your figures in order, make a spreadsheet (or if you are a couple a google document so that you can make changes in real time) and see how much extra you have to pay monthly. Record any money savings that will help you to get there. It not only enables handy and accurate records for splitting bills but makes your goal seem easier to achieve as you chip away at the total.

Switch to a HALIFAX reward account
You get £100 for switching and £5 per month for each month that you remain in credit – seems like a no-brainer!

Call up our current utility providers, and ask for a better rate
This may seem futile, but believe me it has paid off three times for me now. British gas offered £75 credit if we stayed with them for another 6 months, and Virgin media allowed us to reduce our TV and increase our internet for a £5 per month saving.

Council Tax
Ask for this to be spread over 12 months and not the default 10 months. This means the first month they skip for you while the account is closed and reopened, and then your monthly payments are reduced. It only takes a five minute phone call.

Change utilities and get £100 cash back
After we receive our credit from British gas we can use a cash back website such as www.quidco.com to switch providers, getting up to £100 cash back. Do this every year or so, and you will always save.

Random cash back:
Many cash back websites such as www.quidco.com and www.topcashback.co.uk offer cash back for taking free trial’s of services. For an audio book service Audible £4 is offered, and for Lovefilm and Now TV I have seen between £10 and £15 offered. Just remember to cancel after you get the cashback! I recently got cashback on a free sim card which I then used to get 2-4-1 cinema tickets on a Wednesday.

Lifestyle changes
I already buy my clothes second hand on eBay, use cash back sites for every household purchase and stock buy reductions and sale items, so I do wonder how I will cope cutting back a bit more! One change we have agreed to is to not order wine while out with friends (tap water, or council pop as they call it back in Northumberland, is not only hydrating but is calorie and cost free!) We will also take packed lunches to work every day (no treat Fridays!) which makes a massive difference with London prices.

New customer bonuses
Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose/Ocado all offer up to £15 off your online shop for new customers. With delivery as little as £2.99 you can save £12 on your monthly shop. I have used this to stock up on essentials for the kitchen and bathroom cupboards rather than perishables which I can pick up daily.

Hopefully, armed with my inherited (thanks dad!) money saving knowledge I will be able to lessen the blow of the extra costs that come with a housemate free home. And given the announcement of David Cameron’s early release of the Help to Buy Scheme (regardless of the potential damage schemes as such may cause to the property market in the long run) it may not be such a far stretch to think that young professionals such as ourselves could be a little closer to stepping onto the elusive London property ladder.

Get crafty – Knit your own Britain

31 Aug

Words can not describe how happy I was when I received a copy of ‘Knit your own Britain’ by authours Jackie Holt and Ruth Bailey. It is so good (Buy it, buy it!) and it made me laugh then tweet and email my friends to spread the word in appreciation. I love knitting and all other crafts really, so a book filled with ideas such as knit your own Boris Johnson, Ant and Dec or Posh and Beck’s is right up my street. Alas my knitting skills proved to be too amateur to attempt any of the designs, but I have sent the book to my Grandma so watch this space – you may yet see some of them created. Here’s a selection of my favourites:

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Verdict: 10/10!

Austerity 2013

12 Mar

After assessing my expenditure year for 2012 it is clear, it was a great year. I ate, I drank and spoiled myself and my other half rotten with trips to the cinema, nights out, take aways and extravagant gifts at christmas, anniversaries, valentines and birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, my version of spoilt rotten is probably someone else’s version of a typical year – after all, those who work in media know that the pay is not great! The problem with such a great year is that I haven’t saved a penny, and that goes against everything I believe in as my time in London, while fun, needs to have a purpose which without savings for the future, it doesn’t.

The other problem is the reason for my luxury 2012 – my boyfriends cancer. Starting with the iPad I bought him for Christmas, our dream Egyptian holiday and then the little things such as buying lunch each day instead of making my own, because I put a premium on my time with him at any financial cost. (Never mind the extra wine I got through that year to ease the stress!) I couldn’t cure his cancer – luckily his doctors can – but I could buy his favourite duck for dinner or take him to a movie.

We both had the greatest time, cancer aside, but this year with Huw doing well with his recovery we have decided to embark upon Austerity 2013. This will be a year of saving money where we can, particularly where it has been wasted and spent unnecessarily. I will never sacrifice fun, but if I can use a voucher or a discount code to get that fun I certainly will be! So expect more blog posts than ever along the theme of money saving this year, top tips on how home made can cut the costs and how living a luxurious life does not have to break the bank if you take time to make a plan.

Rachel
x

2012 - We made it a great year

2012 – We made it a great year

Keeping Mam Sweet

5 Mar
The bests edible gifts

Shops are filled full of Mother’s Day goodies, ‘mum’ shaped biscuits, chocolates and cakes charged at 3x the usual value for the privilege. Much like valentines day, Mother’s Day has gone commercial and with busy lives commercial can be rather convenient – if you shop in the right places to avoid paying a fortune. My favourite sweet treats this year are from Asda, I have sampled a few if their goodies and particularly love their chocolate heart priced at £5. It is very similar to the famous Hotel Chocolate slabs, with thick milk chocolate marbled with white and pink, sprinkled with a generous helping of dried raspberries. I also love their choice of biscuits and chocolate sets, I know it’s very cheesy but something about a chocolate or biscuit in the shape to fit the occasion really does make it taste better!

Verdict: a tasty 9/10

Heart shaped chocolate £5

Heart shaped chocolate £5

 

Shoe chocolates £2

Shoe chocolates £2

 

Mum shortbread £1

Mum shortbread £1

 

 

Eat Out – The Real Greek

20 Sep

Just because he summer is drawing to an end, does not mean the end of tasty foods such as hummus, olives and flat breads. Where better to indulge than The Real Greek, where you can have dinner for two consisting of seven dishes and two glasses of wine for the bargain price of £10 per person. The promotion can be viewed at www.therealgreek.com/promos.html

Yum!

Doggie gifts!

20 Dec

Doggie gifts!

When you buy a gift for your dog it is either devoured or chewed up in ten minutes flat. This is why I am a fan of dog gifts that you can use over and over again, and that benefit you as the owner. The Dogs Trust have a new range of pet grooming products, and I decided to try the works (Shampoo, condition and spritz) on my dogs Bob and Harry.

Nice Large Bottles

The products are either fragrance free, or have natural fragrances such as basil – it is strong enough to cover up ‘wet dog smell’ but not artificial at all. The products left my muddy pooches Bob and Harry gleaming (I don’t think that they have ever been conditioned in their lives!) though they didn’t enjoy the extra five minutes in the bath! Like most of the men in my life I fear grooming is a bore for them and they would rather be off doing other things.

Shiny and Mud Free!

Effortlessly Groomed

The detangling spritz however, they loved. The extra attention, strokes and being brushed was certainly a hit (and the softness of their coat and freshness of their smell was certainly a hit with me!) The products can be ordered from www.dogstrustproducts.com and from January the full range can be picked up from Pets at Home. Prices start at £5.99, so a little pricey, but given the price of other dog shampoos out there are for much smaller bottles I still feel it is good value, and of course it is in aid of the Dogs Trust Charity which helps dogs in need.
Verdict: A super clean 9/10

Santa Bob! Ready to hit the town…


Gifts for him…

13 Dec

Gifts for him…

It can be hard deciding what to buy that special man in your life (after all who can afford an iPad or whatever gadget he is really hankering after!) All too often women rely on the good old staple gift of underwear or socks. Luckily I have found a way to make this a bit more exciting!

Jockey (www.jockeyuk.com) have a really fun festive range this year. My favourite is the Jockey Countryside Quebec Short Trunk (aka snowflake pants!) which can be bought at www.deadgoodundies.com. They are tight, they are tiny, and the snowflakes make for the perfect excuse to give them to your man. At around £13 I don’t think they are badly priced either.

Well hello Mr Snowflake Pants...

Another must have in the dreary winter weather is the Jockey Body Suit (aka Sexy Onesie!) Imagine smart, tight underwear seamlessly attached to an easy to unbutton t-shirt. Quirky thermal wear at its best, after all the hot men we know need to stay warm this winter too! (Please note the model in the image does not come with these gifts – boo!) The only drawback is at around £28 it would be cheaper just to get some undies and a separate t-shirt. Though that wouldn’t be as much fun…

Fasten up those buttons, you may get cold!

Well I certainly cannot wait to give these gifts to my boyfriend this Christmas, and unwrap them myself!

Verdict: A very sexy 9/10

Days Out: London Aquarium

15 Nov

Days Out: London Aquarium

I have contemplated visiting the London Sea Life Centre for some time now, but have always been put off by the reviews of other London dwellers. I have heard that it is expensive, with dirty tanks, poorly labelled tanks and a lack of sea creatures in general. However, armed with my Kellogg’s 2-4-1 voucher I decided it would make the perfect location for a date and took the plunge.

It was actually amazing! and I do not just say that it is good compared to the reviews, it is just good. It is really fun, we were there for almost 3 hours in total (okay, I will admit we did spend about 30 minutes alone ‘talking’ to the stingrays) the tanks were all really clean and clearly labelled, the sea critters seemed really happy, and there was a really enthusiastic staff member on hand to give out interesting facts and let you touch the rock pool creatures.

Do not compare the aquarium to swimming with dolphins, or snorkelling and diving in the sea – clearly it cannot live up to that. However, it is a really relaxing place to watch marine and river life (including penguins, turtles, sharks, sea horses, frogs, a wide selection of fish, and sting rays) and is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

You also really have to appreciate the animals, and the wonder of the sea or you may just skim past the tanks, bored. One of the highlights for me was the fish eggs that they have attached to a lighted background while they hatch (this takes 9 months!) and you can see the baby fish wriggling around inside. I also loved that the sting rays like to come up to you, smile and say hello. If this does not appeal to you or make you go ‘awwww’ then it is probably not a trip for you!

"Oh hi there!"

The adult entry fee of £18 is very steep (though I would spend close to that if I was in a bar for three hours!) but with the 2-4-1 deal it is much more affordable. I think that the door price is the reason why it receives so many bad reviews, as people expect a lot for a day out of that price. The only negative thing that I could say is that some of the tourists were a little rude, pushing you out of the way and using flash photography which was not allowd, but for the most part we managed to stay clear of this!

Verdict: A very relaxing 8/10

Puurrfect Presents…

10 Nov

Chistmas Gift Guide

Puurrfect Presents…

If, like myself, you are addicted to the joy of giving at Christmas you will find just about any excuse to buy the perfect present for every member of your family. There is not a single aspect about the gifting process – whether it is giving or receiving, wrapping or unwrapping – that I do not love. Even looking at the neatly stacked gifts under the tree gives me a shiver of excitement. For pet lovers, Christmas is yet another excuse to spoil those furry little creatures that give their cuddles freely and can put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces.

One of the best gifts that I have found to date for cats is the cat play house from iwantoneofthose.com (http://www.iwantoneofthose.com/gifts/gifts/pet-gifts.list) For £14.99 you can order a plane, tank, Cadillac or fire engine, and the concept is a flat pack cardboard set that you can then slot together to build the play house for your cat (I presume the idea was borne from the fact that cats love jumping into cardboard empty boxes) Upon arrival, I was very surprised at how large (though flat) the box was, the whole set comprised of under 10 pieces, which is quite handy if you do not like the ‘fiddly bits’. It did take me about 20mins to put together, as my cat Cleo was already intrigued and tried to lend a helping paw. This in itself was a rather fun activity!

Checking it out...

Confused...

After building the plane, it did take me a while to coax Cleo in. As it has a hole in the bottom (which isnt really very accessible) and a hole in the top it did feel like the wings got in the way a little. In this sense I think Cleo, being quite a curvaceous cat, would have been better suited to the Cadillac or fire truck. That said after throwing a few treats in there she quickly overcame her fears and was jumping in and out happily.

The plane now sits in our living room and Cleo loves it. I can imagine on Christmas day it will keep her occupied and away from our presents (especially if we throw our used wrapping paper in there!)

...Pro!

As an added extra, I am told by my partner that it also makes a great hat….

Verdict: A very fun 9/10

Upside down it makes an excellent hat.

Globe Café Bistro

1 Nov

Tastecard in hand I have been trawling the streets of London for the best place to eat out with friends. While the discount that a Tastecard brings is welcomed, I cannot help but feel that some restaurants try to give you a substandard service to compensate. Take Thai Thai in Old Street for example, mouth wateringly delicious food and at a total of £10 per person for a main and a starter (after the discount) it seems perfect. However when there the staff would not honour the offer advertised on the Tastecard website (where you only have to order one course not two) and made what should have been a simple process altogether too complicated.

The best place that I have found to date is Globe Café Bistro in Finsbury Park. The Turkish food on the menu is simple, but cooked very well. When I visited I shared the hot mezze platter for two, which consisted of falafel, grilled halloumi, fried calimari, sigara boregi and hummus. This as a starter for two is so large it could easily be between three or four. For the added touch they also give you a free plate of flatbread, dips and olives.
For the main we shared the Globe Special for two. This is a huge sharing bowl of lamb chops, lamb shish, adana shish (beef) and chicken shish. It is served with a large side salad, beautiful wild rice, roasted peppers and mushrooms. The meats have that delicous slightly barbequed taste (ironically it reminded me of the rodizio style meats from Brazil and Argentina!) and the flavours were just right. Dinner for two, plus wine came to around £30, which is certainly a bargain for the quality of the food offered.

www.globecaferestaurant.com

Nights Out

10 Oct

Nights Out: Soho

Do you ever want to leave the old mans pub that you sit in with colleagues and head to a bar where you can actually just dance the night away with no concerns about being chatted up, spending 3 hours getting ready and then feeling pretentious or spending a fortune? Well I am in the search of the perfect after work dancing spot in London.

Club number one: Low Profile night club, Soho.

Ok the first mistake I think was being attracted to this bar solely for its neon lighted entrance. Like moths to a flame we dodged every other club and made a beeline for the pretty lights.

The entance is impressive, and after bartering the door price down from £8 to £4 we felt like a treat was surely in store. The bouncer lady was a little over friendly (after searching my bag and asking me about almost every single product I had inside I was a little near telling her to politely jog on) but this did not put us off.

The music was a little strange, a bit like eclectic electro with a jingly beat(?!) and the drinks were your standard ‘I am a gay bay therefore I sell alcopops and nowt else’ but all in all it had a good vibe. We were initially alarmed at the empty dancefloor, but to our refielf a team of Fresh Prince of Bel Air lookalikes arrived and filled the room. The only problem being, that they danced in a crazed synchrony like some kind of bizarre dance troop. There is nothing more offputting when busting some drunken moves than feeling that you have somehow fallen into an episode of glee…

I would definately go back (on a night with better music) but I certainly have not found my number one dance spot!

The quest continues!

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