Be a Good Sport…

On my first date with my husband (Silks & Spice, Camden), he casually mentioned in conversation that he was ‘into sport’. Alarm bells should have rung, but it was only through marriage and a shared custody of a Sky remote control, that I truly realised the extent to which ‘into sport’ actually meant.

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Silks & Spice sadly no longer open. Marriage still going strong. 

I’m quite aware that most of my life revolves around a sporting event. For example:

Me: “We’re going over to friends tomorrow for tea.”

Husband: “What time?”

Me: “Why?” (I know full well why.)

Husband: “(*insert seasonal sport here*) is on tv. If they haven’t got it on in the background, I’m going home.”

My social butterfly…

 

 

Thinking back, my first birth gave a clear indication of life as a sports widow.

Around 2am on the 14th September 2006, my husband found me at the foot of our bed, curled over a giant gym ball thingy, declaring, “I give up.’

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I think I was doing it wrong. Photo Credit: Rooted for Life

A couple of nights previous we’d had a false alarm, so once the hospital staff had finished prodding me and were satisfied that I was definitely in labour this time, husband decided we were in it for the long haul and proper arrangements needed to be made.

He even managed to schmooze the nurses into dragging a camp bed into the room for him. Tiring for the men, after all…Unknown-11.jpeg

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‘Comfty’, as my youngest says

Around 15 hours later, my beautiful daughter was born and whilst dizzy from both the epidural and the fact that she wasn’t a boy, I will always remember that soft green glow as I was wheeled back into the room…

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I always favour a v-neck

 

No. It wasn’t the staff in their scrubs.

It was the green haze from the football pitch on the tv screen as my husband held our daughter, experiencing her first game of many, whilst cradled in daddy’s arms, lying on the camp bed. (Ah, now I could see the urgency of the camp bed.)

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Not actual husband. Or daughter

I looked on in marvel at the thing next to me, peaceful, calm, content.

And that was just my husband. He even remembers the game. (Of course he does.Unknown-11.jpeg)

UEFA Cup – West Ham vs Palermo fact fans.

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Actual footage 14.9.06

I’m not a particularly sporty person, safe to say I’m not really sporty at all. I like the gym, Pilates, a friendly game of badminton or table tennis. Even basketball, but only if it’s at the funfair and involves winning a bag of candy floss.

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Yum. Get in my belly…

I just have zero interest in reliving my ‘wing attack’ days at school and joining a ladies league of netball.

No offence to those who do this pursuit for pleasure or professionally…plenty of my female friends are loving this release on a weekday evening – it’s just not for me. In fact, massive props to the England Netball Team who recently thrashed to receive gold at the Commonwealth Games.

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So emotional.. as I watch from the sofa.

Before I get trolled and bashed on social media for dividing the sexes, lots of female friends watch and attend just as many games as their other halves on a regular basis and have done since a very young age. (Even funnier when rival husband and wives are at the same match. You know who you are…)

But going back to base levels, I’ve been through alot recently. Alot.

Darts. Done. (He threatens to take me every year. FYI, I would go.)

Olympics. Done.

Cricket. Done.

Golf. Done. (Although I secretly quite like watching The Masters because:

A) the clapping and birdsong is so calming

and

B) my usually 9pm-watershed husband is actually still lucid at midnight

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So relaxing

So, to all of my football widow friends – we’ve performed really well this season, with limber checks on our phones for match updates and team support over whose evening will be the most ruined due to a match loss.

Just a few weeks to go and it will all be over  Unknown-9.jpeg

.

.

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…I’ve just been gently reminded that the World Cup starts in under two months.

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I think I might take up netball for the summer…

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ps. Good luck to everyone participating in tomorrow’s London MarathonUnknown-10.jpeg(I’ll be watching. From my sofa.)

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes….

I would’ve liked to have called this post ‘Changing Rooms‘, but was worried you’d be hoping for home improvement tips from Handy Andy and Lawrence Lleweyn Bowen.

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Fixing and florals

I’m talking actual changing rooms, in a shop. For the most part, I try to do everything online as I just find it more efficient (and I’m all about efficiency), but from time to time I like to have a ‘shmy‘. Shmy is a wonderful word of yiddish origin (I think), which essentially means ‘to browse, have a looksie, without necessarily having something in mind that you’re looking to buy.’

I’m sure there have been a hundred blog posts about these horrific confined spaces that we voluntarily enter into, but here’s my observational two bobs worth…

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1. The Gathering

Once I’ve lacerated both arms and almost cut off my circulation from holding existing shopping bags, my handbag and potential purchases, I finally make it to the changing room.

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Serious arm damage

I long for the service you get in the States: “Hey, would you like me to go on and start a fitting room for you?” (Yes please, I just may need a reminder of where it is.)

 

2. How Many is Too Many?

Some shops’ changing rooms have a five items or less policy, some take you up to ten. I like the ones where they are completely unmanned and you just stroll right in armed with the entire store’s ‘nueva colección’. Basically stuff you like, stuff you know won’t suit you but someone was wandering around holding it and stuff you want to try because your favourite blogger said it was ‘the’ seasonal piece and it’s sold out everywhere.

The issue with the number tags they allocate against your item is when you start swapping stuff in and out. So, unless Carol Vorderman is manning the changing room, you’re leaving there holding six items, giving back a tag for ten items and there are three excess hangers on the floor, that may or may not have been there previously. (Either way, you’re made to feel like a shoplifter.)

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Scene of the crime

3. Curtain or door?

I must admit I like a door, preferably with a lock. Curtains don’t tend to close all the way and it plays havoc with my OCD, whilst I faff about trying to get it central enough to hide my modesty.

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The one on the right’s killing me

I also like to be positioned near enough to the rail of swap-in potentials. This means you have the ability to do the ‘peek-round-in-your-undies-with-the-curtain-wrapped-round-you’, politely asking staff if they’ll pass you the red top with the frilled sleeves. (And no, you’re not keeping the frayed hem jeans.)

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“Have you got this in a size 10?”

4. Added Extras

A stool, or even better, a chair is a nice touch. A shelf is always useful too. Big fan of the buzzer to alert staff that you need another size or just to ask their opinion without having to do the head poke.

A mirror is a given – preferably a flattering one. And shame on you Selfridges – some of your departments have changing rooms WITHOUT A MIRROR!! I don’t to share a mirror with a Russian model.

Plus, stepping outside is always a risk, especially when you need a particular item in a different size and the person right next to you has the only one left on the shop floor/in the entire country. *prays they abandon it upon exit*

Hooks, double hooks, rails… chuck it all in. The more hanging space the better.

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New Look hook situ, if you’re interested.

5. Order! Order!

The likelihood is, you’re shmying in your active wear and wearing the most unflattering sports bra. (And that’s just the men.) So, if you’ve got a variety of things to try on, strip off and do it properly – the floaty Vitakin dress is never going to look right with gym leggings and a battered pair of Asics poking out the bottom of it.

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Strong look

7. What’s That You Say?

You hear all sorts when you’re in a changing room:

…Crying baby and nappy definitely being changed (yuk) – Primark 

…Click of iPhone camera. Someone definitely taking multiple shots of themselves in different outfits and sending to a friend. I know this for sure as I heard them follow up with a phone call to said friend, demanding an immediate opinion – Topshop

…Teens discussing whether to get the black vest top for £2.99 one or the white one – New Look

…People taking calls and pretending they are at work/just not shopping in general – Zara (for the record I hate their changing rooms – they’re so tiny that your nose is almost against the mirror, so you’ve little choice but to swoosh back the curtain for a proper look in the big mirrors outside.

“I”m busy, Doll. Will call you back in a minute, I just need to finish something.” Me, today, Brent Cross, Fenwick changing room, on phone to husband dearest, taking photos of myself, Whatsapping to stylist friend. Standing, sitting and jumping up and inspecting from every angle. And if I like the item, I will of course take a ‘fresh one’ from the shop floor.

Oh come on, you know you do it too…

Mummy Pig Goes to Prison

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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.)

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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…?