Category Archives: Consumer

The Week Junior

The Week – a comic sized, comic-looking journal which digests all that week’s news for you (strap line: ‘All you need to know about everything that matters’) – launched 20 years ago. I was a subscriber from the beginning. I LOVED it. Despite working in newspapers since 1993, you do sometimes miss stuff, and also, sometimes, you want a handy-sized journal to stuff in your bag.

The great thing about The Week is that you end up reading about things you thought you had no interest in. It’s brilliant for catching up about world news and, each week, takes a closer look at an important matter you may have suddenly realised you know too little about, but were too embarrassed to ask. The Week has no original news of its own, it takes its material from news reports that have come out that week. It has a great column called Wit And Wisdom (which I’ve been in three times, go me) where it picks up great quotes that have been made that week in the press or TV or radio.

I love The Week. I love that it has hardly changed its format in twenty years (it may in fact have never changed it and that’s great because its format works).

I was a columnist for The Week’s website version (which does generate its own news stories). And then I got made its sketch writer for a while,  a job I’d always wanted. I got that gig the day my youngest started school, so that rite-of-passage was painless because it was all about me me me that day.

Yesterday, The Week Junior launched. It doesn’t quite have the great feel to it of The Week original. It doesn’t obviously take its news from newspapers, as in it doesn’t say “The Daily Telegraph reported this week”. And I think that’s a pity because a bit of that sort of thing might encourage young children to read newspapers and also tell them about reputable places to get their news from. I think more children should read proper news.

It’s well laid out, interesting – both my children started reading it the moment I put it down. I worry about what it will do to First News which is a good children’s newspaper, although neither of my children particularly took to it (and they may not take to TWJ, either).

(I worry because I think it’d be a shame if the launch of one news publication for children pushed out another. There aren’t enough.)

Just going by the first issue, I think TWJ is better, but that may be because I love the original so much that I’m completely biased.

TWJ is aimed at 8-14 according to its press release. I would say that’s pushing at the upper age limit. My eldest is 12 and she reads The Week (original) and whilst she enjoyed TWJ, I’m not sure she will still be interested in it when she’s 14. My youngest, who is six, could read it easily (I’m not saying this in a ‘my child is a genius kind of way, just saying she was interested in it). So I would say the age group is more like 6/7 – 13. But I could be wrong, and what does it matter anyway.

The Week Junior is currently available exclusively from Sainsburys (i’m sure it will roll out in other places soon). Cover price: £1.99. Do have a look at it to see if you think it’s right for your family. Currently The Week subscribers can add it to their subs for an extra £50 a year.

[Disclaimer: I got sent the first issue for free, but if I subscribe I will do so using my own money.]

February 2016: We’ve been taking this for a couple of months now and we think it’s really excellent.

Little Ondine nail polish

I have, on the top shelf of my fridge (it seems to last longer in there), at least 30 bottles of nail varnish. Mostly Chanel, because that’s always been my favourite nail varnish make. Some of the bottles date back to my life pre-motherhood, and still the varnish works beautifully.

But I have a new nail polish love, and that is Little Ondine. Little Ondine is not like other nail polish. It has no solvents in it. It doesn’t smell. And it peels off. it’s cheaper than Chanel by almost half, the varnish is more chip resistant and the colours brighter and shinier. And, dare I say it, I think the colours are a bit more ‘on it’ than Chanel’s are these days,

I know, it’s like getting a divorce! All those things you once loved, now surpassed by someone new, different, maybe a bit younger. Definitely shinier and more eco-friendly.

The packaging is cute, too.

Big beautiful bags that are brilliant for tidying up, storage, and car travel.

Years ago, I worked, briefly, in the Evening Standard fashion department. When we weren’t ordering champagne off the stationery list (really), and drinking it on a Friday night, we were working hard. I used to write features about Chrissie Hynde’s fringe and we would look out over the atrium at who was coming and going. Late into the afternoon, as the sun was starting to set over Kensington, the fashion editors and stylists would come back from their shoots with tales of who had done what and the shots they had got (or not). And they would be wielding these enormous chequered laundry bags stuffed with clothes that, for some reason, held some fascination for me (the bags not the clothes, I was utterly sick of them by that time).

Earlier this year, as I struggled to fit our duvets (Brinkhaus silk and wool filled brilliant), sheets and pillows (Ringsted Dun, excellent) into a suitable receptacle for going camping (we camp in luxurious style), I thought of those bags again. Weren’t they huge? Couldn’t they accommodate everything? And so I looked them up.

They are really cheap and if you travel by car, I honestly can’t think of a much better way to transport clothes and the like. But, don’t buy too cheap. The really cheap chequered ones of yore can mark the stuff you put in them (the dye is not stable). Then I found these utterly brilliant Jumbo bags from Dot Com Gift Shop. I know it’s slightly mad to rave about a bag but there you go – they are just great: reasonably priced at five Black Jacks under a fiver, good quality, I love the designs (check out the Christmas one which I intend to fill with Christmas presents and not attempt to hide, at all) which are jolly and sweet. You can use them to temporarily tidy stuff away, for storage (although only in safe, stable environment, if you want long term storage that resists damp, wet and all but the  most resistant rodent, you need these Ultimate boxes from Lakeland, which are superb for storing things in the garage/shed, but are not cheap.

And, best of all, and not like boxes, when you’re done with these bags, they fold up really small to be put away.

Sorry about the picture. I’m in the middle of building work and I really can’t be bothered to find mine and stuff them full of stuff to photograph them, so I just nicked it off the DGGS website, I’m reckoning they won’t mind. Plus it tells you that they are made out of recycled plastic bottles!

 

The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum and Garden Cafe, Dedham

Dedham is a village near where I live. We stumbled upon it a few years ago, when we did a marvellous country walk along its river bank (the Stour). It is an area of outstanding natural beauty that is heavily protected and, historically, always seems to have had residents who care about what happens there. It is Constable country: the artist lived down the road at East Bergholt and all around is the landscape he painted. He went to school in Dedham – you can see where in the square, the Old Grammar School – apparently walking there every morning along the same sort of route we took when we first discovered the village.

Dedham doesn’t have many shops, but it does have probably the best toy shop in the world (more on this another time).

The last time we went, I thought I’d see where we could have some good tea and cake. And this search took me to the Garden Cafe in the Munnings Art Museum (you see how I access culture? Via cake). The art museum wasn’t anything I’d ever seen or come across in Dedham before, and indeed, it is tucked away, nearly a mile’s walk from the village centre and badly signposted once you’re through the park (good playground). At one stage you are in deep Dedham suburbia (I guess this is where the houses that cost less than a million are) and you wonder if you’re in the right place at all. But you are and you keep going and then, there before you is Castle House, where Sir Alfred used to live and where a great part of his paintings are now kept.

(You can drive there, but we walked from Dedham.)

The museum is lovely. I love that children only pay £1 (adults: £6.50). I confess I’d never heard of him. Munnings painted lots of horses, he lost an eye to a bramble bush and went on to become a war artist for the Canadian army. He was controversial, as president of the RA, he made a speech slagging off modernists like Picasso and Matisse, live on BBC radio air. His first wife, Florence, attempted suicide on their wedding night. She killed herself two years later. The film Summer in February, starring him from Downton Abbey and Dominic Cooper, is about this part of his life (I’ve yet to see it, but want to). Florence was expunged from all record of Alfred’s life.

I didn’t come away feeling exactly warm towards him. But nevertheless it was a captivating museum. Although most of the pictures are of horses, my favourite was the bon viveur one above which is called Taggs Island and is displayed above the stairs.

Alfred’s second wife, Violet, had a black pekingese called Black Knight, which she carried everywhere with her. When he died, she had him stuffed and continued to carry him everywhere with her. One of the stewards in the museum remembers her, in the village, asking other customers to hold the stuffed dog, whilst she got money out to complete her transactions. There was even a ‘autobiography’ written by him, Diary of a Freeman (the dog was made a Freeman of the City of London, of course)..Black Knight is still there, stuffed and forever asleep on a cushion, in a glass case in the museum, with a red telephone next to him, presumably so he can order room service, when no-one is looking. My youngest was transfixed by this. Just goes to show that Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, isn’t the first pet to chronicle their comings and goings.

The cafe in the garden, next to Alfred’s studio, is lovely. I mean, really first class. The staff were just delightful, the cakes (and you know how I am about cakes) DELICIOUS, all light and airy and even though I didn’t think I wanted them, I managed to eat everything on my plate. We had a coffee and walnut cake and a Victoria sponge, which had just been put out and was giant and multi-layered, the size of one of those pans we have in Italy, to cook pasta for fourteen in.  I didn’t try the food but it looked really good – all sorts of healthy salads and nice looking paninis. I promised the children we’d go back in the autumn to sample lunch, but it was a promise I mostly largely for myself

Do check opening times – of both the museum and the cafe. At the time of writing they were:

“The Café’s opening hours are 10:00am to 5:00pm and the Museum is open 2:00pm to 5:00pm Wednesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays (April to October). Please check in advance if we are open at other times.”

Pump Street Bakery, Orford

Orford ness is one of our favourite places. We go there at least once a year, for a very long walk, a picnic, and chats. Even my youngest can manage to walk around the red and blue walk (not green though, it’s never been open when we’ve been there, we always time it wrong).

(For those on Fitbit, you can rack up about 15,000 steps, or six miles  walking those routes.)

What we like to do is get up really early and head out without breakfast, fantasising about what we’ll eat from the Pump Street Bakery, when we get there. The fact that such an amazing bakery exists in what is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere astounds and delights me. And makes me very jealous. I wish we had one where I live in Suffolk.

This is a tiny bakery, that is crammed into an old house. There are very few seats. But it is glorious. Please don’t miss it if you venture anywhere near Orford (which is a very pretty village). We’ve sampled the Bear’s Claws, the doughnuts, the brownies, the Eccles cakes and the almond croissants so far. You have to try the Eccles cake to believe that currants can be held in a puff pastry and be a thing of eye-watering beauty.

We have breakfast – cappuccinos (very good) with pastries dipped in them, perched on the benches outside.  I want to try a gibassier next time I’m there. I’m afraid the pastries are so good, I completely forget to photograph them, so the picture above is a photo of my feet on Orford ness beach. Probably my favourite beach in the world.

Not to be missed.

Swing seats (i dondoli)

On my uncle’s farm in Parma, there was always a swing seat or ‘il dondolo’. We would fight to sit on it and it seemed so much luxurious than a sum of its parts – basically a garden seat which could swing (swang?).

For the first four decades of my life, I never had so much as a scrap of garden. I had a window ledge, on which I could have balanced a plant pot, over the heads of the litigious, but I was not brave enough. In my childhood flat, I did have wide window sills, atop which I would grow pot plants. I was master of my miniature world but somehow this has not translated into my adult life (I know nothing about gardening, it really is like a language I can’t speak).

Anyway. When I got me a garden I went slightly mad with all the things I always wanted, but never had. All manner of garden games, climbing frames, slides, swings. And finally, a swing seat.

I got my first one six years ago. I went for beauty – wooden – with a cream awning. Mistake. Sure I could put cushions on it but it wasn’t really built for comfort, more perching and thinking “isn’t this wooden structure so, wooden?” Then, after a few winters, the cream awning went green and ripped. So when my friend Meg got a swing seat which she talked about with love – how comfy it was, how much it had changed her life etc. I stored this piece of information away in the back of my head.

IMG_2358

Then they sold out.

This year, come April I was in there, at B&Q (from whence it came) to see if it was as comfortable as Meg said.

“Don’t they do it in any other colours?” my partner asked, pained expression on his face. I caught him one day looking up more classy swing seats – they exist but my God do they cost. Anyway, true to what Meg has said, this is so comfy. It sits outside the back door and whenever I have a moment I go and sit or lie on it. Sometimes I work on it, legs outstretched, laptop where it’s meant to be. I’ve also fallen asleep on it. It’s a relatively small thing which has added to the pleasures of life. It augments sunny days and we all sit on it after school’s out. It’s been a really good purchase. I even let my partner sit on it (he did assemble it after all: which took a couple of hours).

(And yeah, I am aware there are wars on. I work in newspapers, this is why I need a swing seat to buy moments of calm and peace.)

Sure you have to take the cushion in if it rains heavily. And in the winter it will need to be striped down (awning and cushions off), but in the meantime, it’s everything you’d want in a swing seat, at a good price. Have I mentioned how comfy it is? And it has a small table upon which you can balance, you know, whatever you want that’s small.

My friend Karen has an Old Rocker – and by gosh they are beautiful and Karen saved up and deserves it – but they cost lots. Too much for me.

But, for the money you can’t beat this one from B&Q. Trust me I’ve looked.

The Nutribullet

Ours is not a house short on gadgets. This is due to many things. We cook and bake a lot. My partner and I were fully formed adults when we joined households and we both cook and bake a lot, as I just said, and we had our own homes. So when we threw our lot in together, we discovered we now had four sieves, 12 pans that all did the same thing, 25 wooden spoons etc.

We have a juicer, a blender, a grinder (two actually), two ice cream machines, a food processor, a food mixer, a dehydrator, a stick blender with enough attachments to build a robot man…you get the idea. And we/I use all of them. Regularly.

So did I need a Nutribullet?

Strictly speaking no. There’s lots of talk about how it busts open the cells in your food. Sounds fabulous! But that’s what your teeth do and also, that’s what any good blender will do.

And make no mistake, the Nutribullet is a blender. That’s it.

But this is why it’s good and this is why I’ve used mine every day since I got it at Christmas.

The foot print is tiny (14cm) compared to that of any other blender that I know of. So it sits on the work surface and you’ll use it.

It’s unbelievably simple to clean. You just rinse the blade part under hot water and put it on the draining board and stick the cup part in the dishwasher if you have one, if not that is so easy to clean, too. If you do this immediately after you’ve made your smoothie you don’t need to do anything else. I have a toothbrush I use to clean any bits that get stuck under the blades, occasionally, but that’s it. No seals to take off like on my other blender (a 1000W machine).

And those really are the two reasons why it’s great. It’s easy to use and easy to clean. What more do you want? It comes with another blade – a grinder – which I use to make things like oat flour (just chuck in porridge oats or oatmeal). The Nutribullet comes in two versions, a 600W one, which is what I have, and a 900W one which costs 50% more.

You get two blades and various container ‘cups’  (the large one is the one I use most) in the smaller version, three blades and various other gizmos in the larger version. I’m sure you can decide which one, if either, is right for you. It costs about £100 for the 600W version, £150 for the other one.

I got mine (with my press discount of 20% which I’ve had for 20 years) from Lakeland which offers a life time guarantee on everything (or at least it used to but this now seems to have disappeared from its website so I’ve asked them to clarify) *.

I use it every day to make smoothies of varying degrees of “Gwyneth-ness” and my children have one every morning (God we are so GOOD). If you need some smoothie inspiration see my drop down menu on the right for ‘smoothies’.

*And Lakeland did:

“Thank you for getting in touch to ask about our guarantee.

We’ve recently changed the wording on our guarantee but it’s still the same Lakeland ethos.

Our guarantee states ‘We’re only happy when you’re happy’. So if you’re not delighted with your purchase or our service, please tell us so that we can put it right.

So, if at any time, you feel the product hasn’t given you value for money or develops a fault we’ll be happy to help.”

 

Towelling turbans

Swimming is a fairly big thing in our house. I don’t swim in winter, because I am a wuss. But my children do. In the summer, however, I swim every day. Sure you can wrap a towel round your head turban-style. But these (see links below) make the job so much easier, because you can fasten it up so it doesn’t fall off. Also of course, these are super useful every time you wash your hair. Especially now that I have LONG HAIR (almost). Indeed, I am actually writing this post with a turban on my head whilst my hair has a conditioning treatment on it.

Talk about method writing.

I must interrupt this post to tell you about the time I had to go to a party and face my nemesis, an ex girlfriend of my boyfriend who had caused a lot of trouble (this was the first and last time I ever let this happen to me). I took ages getting ready. And I thought I looked great. Except for one problem: I still had my hair all piled up on my head in a towel, turban-style. Without the turban it looked all wrong. Anyway, I went to the party – without a towel on my head – and I faced her and she was actually perfectly nice and we sort-of became friends. There is no moral to this story other than, sometimes, you can demonise people you’ve never met and there are very few people who don’t suit a turban.

Don’t be tempted to buy cheap ones. I have an Aquis Lisse one, which is made of microfibre; I was sent it ages ago when I wrote about beauty. For an adult head I think they can’t be bettered. But they cost £15 odd. For children the Cuddledry ones, £9 odd, are perfect and well worth buying. Once properly secured they pretty much stay put.

Perfect trousers, not just for Christmas

It isn’t madly often I can recommend trousers but here is why these are good:

They come in various colours. I like this choice even though, of course, I stick to black and navy. (I may tip toe into taupe in the new year, who knows, I do live in the country now.)

They are slim fit, skinny I guess, without being unflattering. But you can tuck them into boots which I wear every day because, have I mentioned, I live in the country. I got these after seeing a picture of me wearing normal trousers with a wind behind me and realised I didn’t need that much fabric around my legs.

They have a gentle stretch which means you can eat over Christmas, still look good, but without feeling as if your trousers have given you gastric band surgery.

However, they have a proper waistband. This is terrifically important over any holiday season. Never wear elasticated trousers long term. And here‘s why.

They are not fucking hipsters. God I hate hipsters. I hate watching women pulling up their fucking hipster trousers because they are falling down. And that’s just me, watching my own reflection. Yet they are not so high waisted that they make you feel like you are in an ad for  incontinence pads. You know the ones.

They are the perfect waist-band height, I think

Anyway, I think they are optimum trousers for this winter. For Christmas, for beyond Christmas. They are corduroy, which I like, they are also apparently slightly thermal (‘heat tech’). I can’t say I have noticed, but I haven’t been cold. When I bought them they were on offer at half price, but sadly they’ve gone back up to £29.90 now.

Alcohol laced creams. Mmm.

Today I was in Waitrose and I found these flavoured creams. They have a really long sell by date (the ones I picked up today were sell by 10th Jan), I guess because they are pasteurised and have booze in them.

The two I picked up were laced with amaretto and spiced plum and dark rum Channel Island creams. I picked up two because they were on offer: two for £4 instead of £2.65 each, so it seemed mathematically wrong not to have two.

You hear what I’m saying.

There was also a Cointreau one and a Remy Marten one.

Anyway they are pretty fab. You can put a dollop in hot chocolate for adults, or do as I did tonight: spooned some of the amaretto cream onto some crushed amaretti biscuits and ate it like a sort of lazy, boozy, two-ingredient (okay, three if you count the amaretto) pudding, in front of the fire. It reminded me of the sparse, yet oh so delicious assembly job dinners I’d have when I was single. Like mashed potato studded with chopped up bits of salami and mozzarella (truly, delicious).

Note: the next day, I had the Spiced Plum and Dark Rum cream with this toffee apple, apple crumble and it was delicious. And really Christmassy. But don’t tell anyone because it’s still only November.