Hotel, Motel, Whatcha Gonna Do Today?

All of a sudden it’s nearing the close of 2016 and I’m in full-on packing mode, casually ignoring the husband’s jeers of ‘#early panic’ and sticking with ‘#organised’.

Unknown.jpeg

Not my actual case. I would NEVER put it on my bed

In any case, I spy him opening his airline app to see if he can check in online yet.

“Kids! Come here!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Look! These are our seats on the plane. It’s called an ‘A380’.”

Unknown-1.jpeg

Kids just want to know who gets the window seat

This ‘checking’ thing is coupled with regular monitoring of ‘Flight Radar 24‘, a plane tracking app. He and his mate (the only two known subscribers) have spent many an evening verifying a particular plane coming in to land.

But enough about the flight, I’m all about the hotel. No cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no bed-making. Did I mention no cooking?

man-and-woman-messy-kitchen-x-ray-ok-to-use_rect540

For me, it’s the hotel smell upon arrival. I love that foyer ‘whiff’ you get – fresh flowers, furniture polish and the aroma of 24-hour efficiency that wafts around the place.

4e471216d1fbe3526603e4b8fdd85c24.jpg

Reej. Bev. Wilt. It really is. (Never been, but love to)

We choose our accommodation carefully based on the three R’s:

  • RESEARCH
  • RECOMMENDATION
  • REALLY BIG BEDS
fawlty-towers-the-movie

RIP Andrew Sachs

I married a man whose nickname could be Hightower (‘Police Academy’) and whilst he isn’t black (couldn’t be further skin-toned from it), he is very tall. Therefore, at home I sleep in the lap of super-king luxury, so if the hotel hasn’t got super-king or queen or whatever the local equivalent is, I’m not taking this shit lying down.

Call me a snob, but I’m a very light sleeper and I’m hoping for more than forty winks on holiday.

After years of experience, I have learned not to unpack once shown to our room. It’s all very ‘end of the Sound of Music’ where kids and I must remain silent and almost out of sight, leaving husband to shake his head in mock-disappointment at the original room they offer us.

unknown-3

Stay quiet children…

I used to get embarrassed, but now I let him get on with it if it means a free upgrade from the original room opposite the lift. He blags well:

Disney World – fourth time on The Haunted Mansion:

“Mate, help us out, we came here this morning for our fast-pass slot but the ride was closed for maintenance. We’re flying back this evening and it’s the only ride we’ve not yet done.” (All aboard for the fifth time.)

Driving aimlessly round Manchester Square, London

Very late for dinner with friends and nowhere to park. Drops me off at restaurant. Arrives at restaurant 3 minutes later.

“Where on earth did you manage to park?”

“Don’t worry about it, Doll.”

img_2362

There was actually a film crew. He put this on the windscreen

Once finally in the room, I check ‘hanger quality’. I’m not a fan of hole-in-the-rod ones (as if I’d steal them?) or fiddly clamp ones.

I’m almost tempted to try my mother-in-law’s time-saving method of packing everything on a hanger. (I said ‘almost’.)

So, whilst I am doing all the unpacking, husband goes into James Bond mode.

279174369_8f3d3e5c8b.jpg

No. Not that.

I mean the safe.

images-2

Birthday, house alarm or anniversary for the code?

This is his priority and he takes it seriously. I’ve barely walked into the room when I am ordered to shed all valuables and put them in the safe with the passports.

Once I’ve unpacked the clothes it’s onto the bathroom; an almost lengthier unpacking process with my lotion and potion-loving family. After I’ve established that the hair-dryer is a complete waste of time and inspected my face in the giant back-lit magnifying mirror, I stow away the handy sewing kits and shower caps as ‘going home presents’. (No interest in the body lotion – far too allergic.)

images-5.jpeg

Will just go curly then…

I don’t even need to glance at the bed to know that we will need more pillows. Always more pillows. ‘Hello housekeeping?’

Next, I like to find most useful/accessible plug point and claim it as my own. There’s usually only one unless we unplug the useless lamp in the corner too.

So, what about the rest of the family whilst I’m doing all of this hard work?

Well, the kids are trying on the free slippers and maintenance are on the way up to sort out the tv for my husband. We may make it out of the room by lunchtime…

Happy holidays and thank you for all of your blog support this year. It means loads. x x x


Here’s a fun festive recipe to round things off for the year:

Rice Krispmas Puds

img_7186

Noms

Ingredients:

100g Rice Krispies

5 or 6 full-size Mars bars

3oz unsalted butter

Red, green and white ready-to-roll icing

Method:

Chop the Mars bars up and melt with the butter in a microwave for 3-4 mins on medium.

Stir melted Mars into bowl of Rice Krispies and mix.

Roll into golf-sized balls. Add a Malteaser in the middle of a few of them (yassssssss!) – finders wins prizes! (Ensure you actually have prizes.)

Top with a white circle of icing (snow), red balls (berries) and green sprigs (holly).

Mummy Pig Goes to Prison

IMG_3659.JPG

If you need me, I’ll be at HM Prison Bronzefield.

Seriously, one day, I fear the nice staff on the tills or the online end of my favourite shops will politely yet firmly ask me to step aside whilst security take me ‘out the back’.

I am a ‘serial returner’, often knowing that the item will inevitably be returned. Poor size, poor quality, poor performance. Whether it’s for me, my kids, my husband or my home, in order to be a keeper it has to be perfect and sometimes I will only know that once I’ve got the item home. The amount of duplicate sizes of things I buy for my kids is insane. Or normal it would seem, as friends seem to experience much the same.

I am a Libran through and through: ‘kind, gentle and lovers of beauty, harmony and peace’. Sounds good so far but: ‘one of the most difficult things for a Libra is to take a decision. When faced with a choice, it is very tough for them to select what is best for them, which can become a big hurdle in their path.’  Yes, I know. First world problems and all that.

Yup. That’s me. Indecisive as hell, swinging like a pendulum as to whether I am completely sure about something, especially when there is such a broad choice. (Over 10 years into my marriage, he is definitely beginning to grow on me. Plus, he is well past his return date and I know my Mother in law wouldn’t take him back.)

I shred all useless receipts – and by useless, I mean I’m definitely not returning it/them. A box of red Lindor for example. Hardly going to have an issue with them now am I?

Stationery, supermarkets, restaurants. Those kind of receipts will usually be shredded. I’d love to say I check them off against my bank statement one by one like a fastidious friend of mine, but it gets to insanity point and takes me way back to University days in Manchester when the itemised phone bill would come in. My 5 housemates and I would sit round that farshtunken kitchen, as if we were FBI agents going through classified intel looking for clues. In reality, we were just cross-referencing who was racking up the lions share of calls, circling the ‘unidentified numbers’ and subsequently calling said number to discover who had made the original call. It was a false economy as we would inevitable do the it again next bill, querying the same number. All to save a couple of quid. (Although in fairness, £2 got you a round of snakebite n’ black in the 90s.)

“Hi, who do you know living in Mabfield Road, Manchester?” It wasn’t all fruitless – one call to a Birmingham number resulted in a marriage. True story.

So what of the ‘to keep’ receipts?

Well, these get removed from my wallet, kept in an interim clear plastic wallet, until they can be properly dealt with and filed in this receipt storage book (Hurry. There’s only 4 left according to Amazon.)

IMG_3684.JPG

She may not look a beauty, but this receipt storage book is flawless to me. (It’s the accountant’s daughter in me.) There is also a whole shelf of lever arch files and folders for instruction manuals, guarantees, warrantee and assembly instructions. Sometimes I may be a little too steadfast – am I really going to need the installation manual for my hob and downstairs loo? Unlikely. (Will keep for a while longer, just in case.) If something breaks, tears, shrinks, malfunctions or falls apart, I am ready with the receipt, guarantee, or Allen key that came with it. (My toolbox is a whole other blog post.) I don’t have time to search – a return needs to be made immediately, especially if it is dangerously close to the within ‘xx days’ return policy. So far, the system has yet to beat me. Even on out of guarantee items. Some people excel at parking ticket loopholes. Stores are my thing.

But not all returns are made the same.

I’ve highlighted a small selection of frequented shops. Feel free to comment with your own experiences and tips:

H&M (They do the best homewares which people often overlook. In my basket amongst kids leggings and plain white t’s, I often sneak in a few candles, bowls and napkins to add finishing touches to my home)

When returning an item, you think you have got off lightly with just one signature so you pass the pen back to the till person. But hold on. Not so fast. They operate a TWO part signing, including name, address and another signature. I am now ‘au fait’ with the fact that I don’t need to write out my full address – just the postcode is sufficient. (And good luck reading my handwriting.)

In general I can’t bear returning things to H&M – the queues can be vile (ditto some of the queuers). If I have no choice, them I try to return things to the Menswear section as it’s normally quieter. If you’re local to Intu in Watford, the upstairs bit in H&M is a brilliant hack as it’s normally really quiet. There’s no lift or escalator available so all the parents with buggies (who are generally the bulk-returners) can’t access this level. Hurray! I’m not being mean here. I used to be one of those people. However, I am now ‘BF’ (buggy-free).

If you ordered from H&M online then an alternative return service to the post office or to store, is to use the free (unless otherwise specified) myHermes service. They deliver and collect for stores including H&M, New Look, Next and that one I can’t pronounce, Vertbaudet. The first time I got a text to say ‘Your Hermes delivery is on the way and will be delivered between 15:00-16:00’, I honestly thought I was about to receive an extremely generous birthday present from the husband in the form of a Hermès Birkin bag. Ah, but not so. Hermes/Hermès. Such a subtle yet enormous difference.  (And yes, it took me about 6 attempts to get the accent grave over the ‘è’ from my laptop. At least on my iPhone is does it automatically.)

But no, Hermes ‘sans accent’ is a great courier service that delivers stuff you order online and then if you don’t like it, they come and collect it at a time that suits you.

Round my way, there is a lovely man called Barry that covers the local area. Everyone knows Barry. He’s like Postman Pat but without the cat. A local friend said she had a different Hermes delivery man, called Gary. She described him. His car. His bluetooth earpiece. The shorts he wears in all weathers.

Nope. That’s Barry. You’ve just been calling him Gary.

 

M&S (linking to the BEST diffuser out there IMO – come sniff my downstairs loo)

Not much to say here really except, whatever you do, don’t return to store. You have far better things to do with your time. You may think you have got there as the store opens. You may think you will be first in line for customer returns, but somehow, through clever store design, you turn the corner to the customer services department and WHAM! Straight into a line as long as 30 Colin the Caterpillar cakes. It’s not worth it. Collect+ is the way forward. If you order online – and have it delivered usually next day to your local store (even ‘Simply Food’ stores), just pack up your ill-fitting vests, tops and cigarette trousers that looked quite ‘Marant‘ online but much more ‘Matalan’ in the flesh. Then, find your local Collect+ store by postcode and just drop it off. Easy as M&S Steak Pie. (FYI, I love Matalan – they have some brilliant finds especially for my daughters, so no offence meant. Purely for comparison purposes and I’m gunning for the .)

 

Boots (taking you through to ‘Mummy’s special carrots’ as my youngest refers to them…)

My local branch is unfortunately quite small and lacking in range, but sometimes even by visiting a larger store I find I’m still short of something specific. Online ordering. It’s brilliant. Everything I need. And more. Plus there’s advantage card points. Offers are much easier to spot and click straight into your online basket rather than getting to the till in store and being told it’s ‘buy one get one free on toothpaste’.  Who can be bothered to weave their way back through the store? I normally go for the self-service tills, aiming for the thrill of a fuss-free transaction with no ‘unexpected items in the baggage area’. A rare but fulfilling experience. Much like M&S, you can order to any local Boots store and expect a text within a couple of days to say your order has arrived in store. All packaged up in a nice box, so no-one has to see your super plus Tampax carton poking out of your carrier bag. (Sorry, ‘bag for life’.)

 

Next (I want this for the Summer  – all 6.5 days of it if we’re lucky…)

Pretty on the money I’ve got to say. Returns are piss-easy. Just be careful you don’t make the mistake I recently made. Each item has a unique barcode. They don’t even need your original receipt anymore as they can tell if the order was made online, bought in-store, gift card, stolen (!) and then match it to the payment method. Unfortunately one item I was returning was a gift that I wanted to exchange. The payment went back to the gift bearer. Let’s hope they don’t check their receipts as fastidiously as I do…

 

Z

Zar

Zara

Sorry, I just can’t.

Ok. I’ll try. But only because I want to help others.

Zara (these I want for when the weather gets warmer)

Once the balance of ‘sale vs new collection’ is restored to a more sensible ratio, you can really see all the lovely things they have to offer.  (As opposed to a tiiiiiny corner with a couple of new tops and a pair of black palazzo pants, completely hidden by rail upon rail of sale mayhem.)

Zara is lovely. Zara has such nice stuff. Zara have finally added a ‘refund and exchange till’ to most of their stores. It used to be that you could duck into the back of the not-too-busy kids department for a swift return, but I think everyone cottoned on to this and as a result, Zara now staff it with the most miserable and moody staff members they can possibly find. This is how I imagine their interview process:

“Show me moody…”

“Show me miserable…”

“Show me your most audible ‘tut’… ”

“Show me your stapling skills…”

Some say don’t bother turning up to Zara for an exchange without proof of purchase or a gift receipt. I beg to differ. See me after the blog for more information. (You CAN beat the system. Trust me. I have intel.)

Instead of store purchases, online is pretty good but can take up to 3 weeks to arrive so it’s a risk you have to take, but be warned – I once got caught on an E&R trip (exchange AND return). Multiple receipts, frazzled staff member. It was a fiasco. And then she ran out of staples. I thought the girl was going to faint. Enough with the staples Zara. One receipt. With all the information on it. Come on Zara. You can do it… Take a leaf out of River Island‘s book – they seem to have it sussed. (And you still get a paper carrier bag)

 

The White Company (some say the kids nightwear shrinks. Wash it properly and I beg to differ. It’s beautiful, pretty, long-lasting and I always bag PJs in the sale for my girls)

If you’re paying full price, you’re obviously a tourist. I reckon I could re-paper my lounge with the amount of loyalty cards that pop through my door. You are probably carrying 3 out of date ones in your wallet. Yes. You. Bin them. And the WHSmith 20% off card from Christmas. Or is it of sentimental value?

Kudos to the White Company on their smiley staff, lovely range and serene stores, but 9 times out of 10 customers are buying items as gifts. That’s a sh*t load of tissue paper, wrapping, sticking and ribbon-tying in front of you in the queue. Even the staff apologise to you with their eyes for the long wait. Online all the way for me.

 

A recent trip to America and I have to say, they’ve got it right in their stores:

  • Staff members wandering around with handheld devices, taking card payment from people waiting in the queue
  • The ability to return an item at ANY till point within a department store
  • Plus, FREE CARRIER BAGS!!! Although, I’ve got to say, through habit, it’s been heart-warming seeing the array of bags for life that us environment-aware UK citizens are keeping on us, not to mention the Lakeland trolley bags in the boot of my car that I love to whip out.

On the flip-side it kind of makes me miss my Maclaren buggy and all its super useful bag-hanging properties. But then, how would I get to the upper level of H&M…?