Category Archives: Consumer

A great, basic phone: especially good for those who find normal mobile phones difficult.

My aunt is 92 and has had problems hearing for some time. She recently moved into a nursing home and her phone has become more important than ever. Her old mobile phone was no longer up to the job – buttons too fiddly, she couldn’t hear anything. So she asked me to look into getting her a more suitable phone.

I contacted Action on Hearing Loss (what used to be the RNID). It has an online shop which sells lots of phones. One of the advisors was sweet enough to take the time to really take on board what my aunt needed/wanted and suggested this phone: the completely unsnappily named Geemarc CL8450. With VAT it cost £80 (plus there are delivery charges) and it’s a Sim-less phone so there is no contract. I hooked my aunt up to Giff Gaff and she is on PAYG with an automatic top up linked to my card so she never runs out of credit.

This phone has a ‘boost’ button the side so you can really amplify the caller’s voice (this makes it VERY LOUD so you have to be careful if you have normal-range hearing because you will end up deafening yourself) – it’s really easy to switch on and off. Equally however, it would be very easy to switch off by accident.

The buttons are big and the screen is really clear. It’s a clam-shell design so you snap it shut to switch it off: I find people who are not used to mobiles get really worried about whether or not they’ve switched the phone off. The charger is linked to a cradle so you just pop the phone into it – no fiddling plugging in and out of cables, once the charger is plugged in, that’s it. And when the phone is in and charging, a light comes on.

If you have to dial a number not in the memory (I set up my aunt’s phone book so it was all pre-set) the number you’ve just pressed not only comes up on the display but the phone speaks it back to you.

It’s about a simple a phone to use as I’ve seen. Two other great features: it has three present memory buttons: M1, M2, M3 so my aunt has all her super important people at the end of one press of a button. At the back the phone has an SOS feature. If you press the button it emits an alarm, but it also will start to ring a sequence of numbers which you pre-programme into the phone. If one person doesn’t pick up (I believe, I haven’t tried it) it will ring the next. You can also pre-record a message, e.g: Aunty May is in trouble, please call round.

You can do anything you would normally be able to do with an analogue phone – i.e., make calls, text, it has an inbuilt phone book. You can’t take pictures and it’s not a smart phone. Hurrah!

The instruction manual is also better than most, although there is no way my aunt would have figured it out.

I loved this phone, but more importantly, my aunt loved it. I think she’s been ringing the whole of Italy with it. I’ll have to check my credit card..It’s absolutely perfect if you have any one who hates normal mobiles because they are too complicated, or struggles with the size of the buttons or to hear a conversation. It also has loads of other features I didn’t look into. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture so the one attached is a stock photo off the website. Sorry.

Footnote: My aunt died just a week after I wrote this. The last conversation I had with her was on this phone. She loved it and it made her last few days happier as she was able to hear. The last thing she said to me on it was “I love you” and I replied in kind. You do have to love technology at times. 🙂

 

 

Thermos travel mug

When my eldest started primary, there was one particular woman who used to drop her children off and always have one of those insulated coffee mugs in hand. For some reason, one of the other mothers really took against her, starting her moan with a familiar gossip-page refrain:

“Who does she think she is with that in her hand?”

“What, the insulated coffee cup thing?” I ventured. “I think it’s to keep her coffee warm.”

“She’s just trying to show everyone how busy and important she is that she can’t drink her coffee at home like the rest of us..”

I didn’t think that. I thought that, as she came some considerable way (we live in the countryside where people can travel some distance to school), she probably didn’t feel like coffee the moment she left home and, to save some money, she brought it with her to drink on the way home.

But, I guess you see what you want in other people, what resonates with your own life.

I don’t, always, want to eat anything at all when I first wake up. I feel for my children who have to eat breakfast in the narrow window between waking up and going to school, without hope of snack nor sandwich before break or lunch time if they don’t (I am starving by 9am).

When my eldest started high school, she often didn’t feel like drinking her tea or caffe latte before school, so she’d take it on the bus with her. And this is where the search for good insulated mugs came in. They were either horrible cheap plastic, the taste of which permeated anything you put in it and/or they leaked. I’ve always been of the buy well, buy once mindset so I set out looking for a good one that was stainless steel, didn’t leak and had a handle.

Eventually I found one by Thermos: the King Travel Mug (full kennel name below). It’s not cheap. It’s guaranteed for 50 years, it’s absolutely leak proof (unlike so many insulated mugs the top actually screws on) – although I’m not brave enough to just sling it into my bag. It’s stainless steel inside and easy to clean (by hand) and there is no taste of anything else, despite the lid being plastic – it conveniently says when it’s open or closed so there is no confusion.

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It keeps drinks hot or cold for some considerable time – be careful if you give it to children. I tend to put my drinks in at the temperature I want to drink them at and they stay that way for a couple of hours, which is the longest I’ve tried. I’ve even put my delicious hot chocolate in it, which strictly speaking you shouldn’t; milk products don’t really fare well in insulated products in case they turn to yoghurt.

Do not, on any account, be tempted to buy this from Amazon – it’s only marginally cheaper but I waited weeks for mine and then they sent the wrong one (the much cheaper Thermo Cafe mug). I got ours direct from Thermos, where the service was spot on. I paid just under £28. Make sure you get the Thermos Stainless King Leak Proof Travel Mug – there are various other similar sounding ones that aren’t leak proof: if it’s too cheap, it ain’t it.

 

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.