Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Head Gardener and Robin

We have had a lovely day today.  We went into town first thing to spend the Christmas money that was burning a hole in J's pocket, then headed over to RHS Wisley.

For the next few weeks at Wisley is the Enchanted Story Trail so we thought we'd find out a bit about it. It was also a great excuse to try out the girls all-in-one waterproof suits that the grandparents had bought them for Christmas (geocaching in every weather is a real option now).  Snuggled into them and wellies on, away we went.

It was very quiet at Wisley but I suspect the cold and rain had kept a few people away but as we got there, the rain stopped and we had a very enjoyable walk around.  

Picking up a map of the story route, we initially thought there was some work going on by the fountain.  

The scaffolding looked more like you'd expect to see in China than in the UK but then it clicked - this was part of the story trail.  We got to the 'entrance' at just the right time for the next performance and it was just us there.  
Meet the Head Gardener
The 'head gardener' came out and introduced himself. Normally you don't see him as he is invisible but this is a special time of year.  N was a little unsure at first and said "We go home now mummy" but she soon settled down.

In we went to this undercover area and the girls had a lovely time helping him find a seasonal clock and working out with him why the flowers weren't there any more.  Sophie enjoyed telling him that they were asleep as it was Winter and would be out in Summer again.  

The girls helped him dig for bulbs. S had a trowel (nol not the thing you dry yourself on after a bath Mr Gardener) and N, J and I had rubber gloves to use. N wouldn't give hers back afterwards so we have a rather odd souvenir of our visit.

Once we had finished there, we headed off to the next area which was in the Glasshouse. Unfortunately it was a 45 minute wait until the next performance so we had a walk around instead.  The girls wanted to get outside again and jump in puddles so we decided to wander back towards the entrance and come back another day to do the rest.

Spot the Robin (on the 3rd sign from the right)
As we were walking along, I mentioned to J that we were by the area where the friendly Robin was last time we were here in the snow and who should appear?  Yes, that's definitely his territory!  He flew right up to the handle of the pushchair then off again into the bushes.  He flew down right by the girls feet much to their delight and they gave him some of their puffs to eat and some apple which he seemed to enjoy.  How lovely to see such a friendly little fella.

Me and my shadow
More splashing as we headed back to the car.  The girls had a great walk, run and splash.

Sulking as she doesn't want to go home
We arrived home to find that N was dry as a bone whereas S had very wet feet. I suspect this was more to do with the wellies than the suit so I think I'd best nip out and buy her some new ones (not that I could spot any holes).

Saturday, 22 December 2012

High heels, dinner, toilet hunting and lights

It was a busy day in this household yesterday. It started with me going to our local Sainsburys and picking up some clothes for S and N.  They both had money given to them for their birthdays and Christmas and they needed (and love) clothes so I went and bought some pretty tops and trousers.  Two delighted little girls when I got home.

Then the teen and I headed off into our local town centre to do some Christmas shopping.

Being a person who does not mind walking (remember all the geocaching?) I am happy to park for free and walk 20 minutes into town. I'm not one of these idiots people who need to park on the doorstep of a shop by their sliding doors.  So, off we both trotted.  

We had a few plans of where we wanted to go and so started by heading into Debenhams.  Fortunately they have a sale on already (yippee) and I needed some clothes from hubby for Christmas (well, it's easier to buy it yourself isn't it) so I picked up a number of items to try on.  

We got to the boots and shoes section and I noticed that they all had 30% off.  I need some ankle boots.  Unfortunately there was only one pair in my size but I tried them anyway.  They were quite lose. Odd.  I tried on a size smaller which were too tight.  Typical.  I then decided to try some varying heels and styles in sizes up and down from mine, finally settling on a lovely pair with a couple of inch heel (I'll rue the day I bought them when I first walk in them - I'm used to flats now) which were a size bigger but a very comfortable fit.  Yay me.

While I was looking around teen had spotted some gorgeous 3 inch (don't forget the 1/2 inch platform too though) black shoes with a little bow on the front. Telling me that her dad had agreed to a pair very similar to this before (somehow I doubt that), she tried them on and loved them.  Fell in love is more accurate.  Anyway, she went and checked the price to find they also had 30% off.  A quick negotiation about no pocket money next month and me putting a bit to them and they were hers.  Yay her.

"Dad said I could have something like these before Mum"
A try on of the clothes I had weeded out the things that looked far better on a hanger than me and we were at the till.  Oddly, my card was declined. What? I know I have enough money in my account - I only put it in there this morning for this very trip.  Assistant was not phased and said sometimes if they didn't press the button quickly enough for the amount to go from the till to the little machine (or some such thing), it did this.  She pressed the button again and everything went through. Phew.  I knew we would not have gotten out of the shop without tears (probably mine) if we hadn't managed to buy everything.

We then went into H&M to have a nose around as I had a 20% off voucher for teen. Nothing she wanted there at the moment so we'll look again after Christmas.

Back to Next where I found a little denim skirt and jeans for S which I wanted to get.  It was the only one for her age group that didn't try and make her look like some demented child beauty pageant reject.  Why would anyone want a denim skirt full of holes and looking like it's been beaten on a stone in a running stream for 3 weeks?  Come on, they are little girls and pretty is the order of the day.  Happy with my finds, I went to the till. Card declined. Oh come on this is getting tedious. Please try again.  Card declined. I phoned my bank while at the till. It turns out that Debenhams had made an error and had 3 transactions (what?) processing - all for the same amount within seconds of each other.  With my huge Sainsburys shop that had also just gone out, those extra transactions had left me precisely £7 in my account. I asked if they could cancel the two, clearly erroneous ones but until one had cleared (the proper one), they could not. They suggested I go back to Debenhams and see if they can clear it from their system.  Back we trottted. Of course they couldn't, I'd have to wait.  Shopping trip prematurely over :(

Home we came and I called the bank again who had seen the proper transaction clear and now cancelled the others.  A sit down and refresh while hubby went and bought a few bits for his parents having been terrorised by S and N for nearly 3 hours ;-)

Guildford High Street Clock
In the afternoon we headed off to another local town to eat and see the lights.  Now, we don't tend to go out for food very often.  This is not due to us being unduly tight (although we can be) but mostly as hubby is working so much.  However, he's now on holiday until Boxing Day so we decided to see some Christmas lights and treat the family to dinner out.

Again, we parked up away from the town in some free parking area. Teen was wearing her new heels - hope she could cope with the walk!  I was a little unsure about the area we were parked in and time limits (they aren't all written on boards and posts around the area except for some streets) so I decided in the spirit of not getting a ticket/clamped, I would move the car to an area I knew was 4 hour limited.  The rest of the family headed off slowly into the town and I moved the car, catching up with them just up the road (me in flat boots is faster than teen in new stilettos).

We got to TGI Friday's and sat down to eat. The plan was to have food, wait for it to get dark and then see the Christmas lights in Guildford. We had thought about going to London then decided the girls wouldn't know much difference with the lights, the train would cost a fortune and the food would be busy so we opted for local.  We had a lovely meal and I have to say their peppercorn sauce was the best I have ever tasted.  N loved the Jack Daniels dip (oops!) and kept putting her chips into it when daddy wasn't looking.  She'll sleep well.  

Desserts eaten, balloons given and off we went to see the lights.  Not quite as exciting as I had hoped but still pretty and the girls were enjoying being out in the dark and the Christmas music playing in the shops.  

Naturally as we went into Gap Kids, S wanted the toilet, despite us asking and checking about 3 times before we left TGI.  No toilet for them to use there.  Hubby ran over to Boots with her and no, sorry they had none. Spotted a coffee shop and went in. Disgusting toilet and no toilet paper but at least that was sorted. Wouldn't want a coffee in there *shudder* (no, I don't mean the toilet, the actual shop if that's the level of cleanliness).

Into M&S we went and I found an equally nice denim skirt and jeans for S and a new warm coat for N which I bought.  Poor hubby had been trying to look at jumpers for Christmas with the youngest two when teen and I had wandered off to find things for S and, typically, they had wanted to follow mummy so he got a bit forgotten about. He's off to get some clothes he needs tomorrow for me to wrap ;-)

Back up the High Street and at the top teen swapped her heels for her flat boots. She did really well for a first time wear and even managed the odd cobble!

Back home we came with two very tired little girls who didn't hesitate to go to bed and were both straight to sleep.  What a cracking day

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Wet tights and an inverted 'V'

We have been going a little stir-crazy in this house with all our coughs, colds and illnesses so today we wrapped up and decided to go and grab a couple of local geocaches to give us a walk and some fresh air.

We drove up to St Johns and parked (none of us felt like walking up there as we were all coughing too much still).  Off we went to find the clue to the puzzle for Canal Crossings - Kiln Bridge.  The numbers were found and we worked out the coordinates and popped a waypoint in.  I then had a totally daft moment and navigated us back to almost the clue, just across the path from where we were standing, to a tree which hubby had a look around.  Realising my mistake, I opened the map a little more and off we went to the correct area.

Typically, as we were coming up to GZ there was a fisherman (why are they out in this weather?) but fortunately for us, we veered off onto a path through some trees and it was a quick find.  The pile of sticks is always a bit of a a giveaway ;-)

Next we went off to try and find St Johns Lye 01 which had eluded us earlier this summer.  Walking across the field I expected us to sink any moment. The grass was absolutely sodden.  We walked to the path as quickly as we could but had some more grass to walk the other side that was equally wet but much longer.  S said she could feel water going into her wellies so we knew we had to be reasonably quick.  Cold feet in this weather after a cough wasn't going to be good.

It was much easier near GZ at this time of year as we weren't up to our waists in nettles and brambles. In fact, the ground leading to the cache was almost flattened out which certainly helped.  It looks like lots of people have been here as there was almost a little path in the grass towards the fence.  

Naturally the GPS gave up and the compass was all over the place under the tree coverage.  We all plodded along the fence to another clearing when the compass suddenly turned around and pointed back the way we had just come. Hard to judge when it said 36m with 32m accuracy!  Well, we had a clue and looked around based upon that.  There were a few of the inverted V's to be seen and hubby and S explored them.  No joy.

I found a picture of some other cachers with the prize. Ah, now I know what we're looking for but a green bullet container by a green fence in among green holly was not going to be easy, even without the nettles to contend with.  

As we did our second sweep, hubby spotted something and the clue suddenly made sense.  A nice find and a good hide.  The log was very damp but still fine to sign so I did that and then took a photo of S with the cache as you can see.

Back we went down another road we had not walked before and headed back to the car.  It was really nice to get out but we're happy now to be back in the warm. The girls tight had got very wet so they now have lovely thick, Christmas socks on and are enjoying a picnic on a blanket in the lounge :)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Croup and vomiting - not a good week

Unfortunately our household has been hit by illness again.  The youngest two are both suffering.  S has missed her last day of nursery and her final swimming lesson.  N just isn't well - simple as that.

N has been croaking like a little frog for some time now.  We all had coughs and colds what seems like years ago now but they never completely cleared up although we weren't unwell.  However, over the past few days, N's voice got worse. It was almost demonic at times. Quite scary.  Tuesday night was not a good one. Poor little N was coughing uncontrollably and I had to bring her downstairs a few times as it sounded like she was struggling to get her breath a bit.  As soon as she was upright, she had a few more coughs and fell asleep.  As soon as she was laying down, it started again. You get the drift.  She finally did manage to go to sleep with a second pillow under her head but she kept slipping off it.  What with the coughing and constant checking to prop her up again, it wasn't the best nights sleep.

At 5am S woke up and all we could hear was the familiar sound - she was being sick. Oh no!  Hubby scooped her up and rushed to the bathroom with her but it was too late. I stripped her bed but unfortunately the duvet and pillow themselves also needed washing so I borrowed one of J's pillows and put a sleeping bag on the bed for S.  She finally got back to sleep with the bucket beside her.

My poor girls.

We suspected S may have Norovirus as that is (pardon the pun) going through the population again this Winter.

As for N, we weren't sure as at one point it almost sounded like she was starting Whooping Cough!  Hubby took her to the doctor while I looked after S.  It turned out she has Croup.  Not a very nice infection of her voice box and throat.  The doctor said if she gets worse we may need to take her to A&E as they can struggle with their breathing. He gave hubby a prescription for antibiotics but said not to get it unless it doesn't start to ease in a day or two. The trouble is there is a viral and antibacterial version so it's not easy to treat.  He suggested we run a shower in the bathroom, nice and hot, and sit in there with her for a while to try and ease the congestion.  It's all in her throat area (he checked her chest and temperature) so that may help.  We did that on Wednesday night and it certainly did help her. She slept all the way through last night.

S is feeling better as well. I think now it was just a little tummy bug.  As we all came down with the Norovirus earlier this year, we know what that is like and I'm pleased to say it isn't that.  She is better today but still coughing as well.

Isn't it rotten when children are ill.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Santa and Joseph

Quick, my bottom is getting cold!
Today has been magical.

It started with a visit to Chessington Garden Centre to Santa's Grotto.

The girls didn't know where we were going and, oddly, were excited when I said we were just going to look around a new garden centre. Maybe I'm taking them too Wisley too much and they are now over-excited about plants and flowers. Hey, that's not a bad thing surely.

We had set off early as the traffic on the M25 can often be so bad, so we had a little time to kill first.  We went and looked around at the lovely Christmas decorations and the sparkling trees that were in the garden centre.  N kept bending down and kissing the little soft snowmen on their noses.  I was sorely tempted to buy one for them as they were just so cute.

We then wandered over to the aquatic and reptile area.  S was amazed to see tortoises and lizards.  N was simplyl fascinated with the Koi.  They were huge and around £200 each. I'm not surprised people with those in their gardens don't want to see any herons around.

Can I have it with chips?
Ten minutes to go and we headed to Santa's Grotto.  S realised what was happening and got very excited.  We had a little film to watch first and it seems my timing was spot on as the Elf who took my ticket said we had just made it before a school party were arriving (we heard them as we went around - it would have been hard not to!).  Well done mummy.

After the film, we had a walk around the grotto area looking at all sorts of magical characters from Alice in Wonderland, Toad of Toad Hall and elves working in Santa's workshop.  There were even ice-skating penguins.

At the end we went in to see Santa.  That was just magic!  Santa picked the girls up and plonked them both on his knee.  I think their faces say everything.

Meeting the 'real' Santa
Santa had a lovely chat to them and told them to be good and make sure they were asleep before he arrived on Christmas Eve as he can't leave presents when they are awake.  He also said they were both in his good book and so was I.  Daddy, however, needed some improvement!   The girls were given some super gifts and we left to drive home, where they opened their presents and were delighted.

In the afternoon we went off to see S in her school nursery Nativity.  All the girls were dressed up and looked amazing.  The youngest girls (Chicks) did some lovely songs and poems about Christmas and the older ones (Ducklings) who are S's group did the traditional Nativity story.  S was Joseph.  That is one of the cutest things about being in a girls' school.

My little Joseph
The whole thing lasted about 15 minutes and was simply magical.  The outlaws (grandparents to you) had come too and my mother-in-law was in tears at the end.  Proud grandma.  I have to confess to having watery eyes when the children all filed into the hall.

The nursery girls
Considering they are 3 and 4 years old only, they did an amazing job. They were all involved and all had their own things to do and they behaved impeccably.

Today has really been the most super-duper day!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Wisley with just a dusting of snow

Me and the girls at Wisley
I was surprised to look out of the window this morning and see a dusting of snow on the cars and rooftops.  The girls loved it!  It is always so exciting when children see snow.

After I collected S from nursery, we decided to head over to RHS Wisley. We had promised the girls yesterday that we would go today and we stuck to it.  A crisp walk would be great fun.

I was surprised to see the car park so quiet as Wisley is one of those places that people love to see no matter what the weather.  Perhaps the cold had put a few off.  We found a nice spot, parked up and headed in.

A few paths were shut off as it seems they are very busy getting rid of branches and having a tidy up.

I wasn't surprised to see the large grassed areas cordoned off as you can imagine what a mud bath that would become in winter if everyone walked across.

Quite a lot of paths were still covered with a dusting of the white stuff and, of course, the girls wanted to walk down those ones.  N managed to fall over 3 times as we went around. I think the combination of snow, wellies and running wasn't the best.

We went into the glasshouse and they were setting up a display of Poinsettas with a Christmas tree made out of them as a centre piece.  It looked lovely already so I can only imagine what it will be like when it is all completed.
Poinsetta Christmas Tree

N loved the pink passion flower. We have a white one in our garden that has produced so many fruit this year but this colour is beautiful.

Pink Passion Flower
We had a walk around in the glasshouse (what a super place to warm up a bit in the cold weather!) and then headed off out the back door towards the wild gardens and the children's play area.

Sun in cloud
Despite being to Wisley so many times now, we still had not managed to get to the play area and I was pleasantly surprised by what awaited us.

Welcome to the Playground
I am not sure why, but I never expected Wisley to have swings and a slide but what greeted us was magical. The carvings made out of the wood were amazing and the girls loved them.

I bet that's a tough snail to get off your lettuce
They were all around and the detail was lovely.  The girls were running from one to another looking at them and shouting for us to come see.

They had a look at the den building area.  This basically consists of large pole frameworks which children can then place other lengths of wood, branches and sticks around to make a den.  I could imagine this being a lot of fun (and very busy) in the summer.  The girls went in to explore.

We then headed over to the rest of the play area for them to have a look around and have a climb on some of the rope shapes, stepping stones and bridges.  There is even a little area with lots of fixed binoculars so that they can look around the gardens but they were all a bit steamed up (no surprise there).

Once they had finished exploring, we decided to head back to the cafe to warm up again as the sun was already starting to dip in the sky and it tends to get quite chilly all of a sudden when that happens.  They had to go and look at the sculpture of the Hare though.

We just stopped N from disappearing under the little fence that was around it or it would now be a pile of sticks on the ground!

Back we went past the glasshouse again. How the colours have changed at this time of year.

Winter glasshouse
As we walked back along every path that was covered in snow, we spotted a little Robin watching us.  We walked right up to him and instead of flying away, he hopped off his branch down by our feet. The girls jumped back at bit at first as even our friendly garden Robin never comes this close.  I'm sure he is well known to the gardeners here as he was a very brave and cheeky little fellow who came right up to the girls and was about 6 inches away from me when I crouched down to take this photo.

He stayed with us just hopping around near our feet for ages, much to the girls' delight.  I only wish we had a few crumbs to feed him. He even hopped off to hubby when he stretched his arm out towards him.

Can you spot the Robin?
Back when went to the cafe by the shop but they didn't have any Ribena (which naturally the girls wanted) so  we just headed back to the car where I had some ready in my bag.  Mummy always knows you know ;-)

We are looking forward to coming back again soon as Wisley starts its 'Enchanted Story Trail' before Christmas and we are certainly going to have a wander around and see what we can find.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The tree has arrived

Two very excited girls jumped around on the sofa when the Christmas tree arrived on Friday afternoon.  We were going to wait until Saturday to decorate it as J wanted to join in this year too.

Saturday morning arrived and S didn't want to go to ballet (I wonder why?) and so we set about decorating the tree, Christmas music playing of course.

It was lovely to see how much N joined in this year and how much she enjoyed it.  Although maybe she hadn't quite got the idea of how to put baubles on.

We had bought new baubles this year in purple and gold as I fancied a change of colour scheme.  We have had the other scheme for almost 10 years so I think that is fair enough (I'm not one of these people who has a new theme every year you know).

Tree done and we just needed chocolates to go on it.  Fortunately Cadbury are very kind and made the parcels in purple and the caramel bells in gold so they fitted perfectly with the tree.  Not sure how long they will last though.

We are all really looking forward to Christmas this year. Isn't it just the best when you have little ones around.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

5 caches and 2 FTFs - a good day

Not a yummy sandwich
Dragged J out kicking and screaming today.  OK, not quite kicking and screaming but she wasn't brimming with enthusiasm to start with. I needed some fresh air as I've been a bit housebound this week with the girls and it's nice to get out with her and do some caches quickly and near roads and places it's not quite as good to take the little ones.

We parked up easily and walked off to In a Massive Sandwich. I had guessed what it was likely to be as we approached and J made the find.  Not exactly an easy place to be inconspicuous! One down.

We walked up the road towards the next cache, Special Branch.  Now this bottom part of the road is two-way but when you get to the public footpath and farm, it becomes one-way but judging by the speed of the cars travelling up here, they all assume they aren't going to meet anyone coming the other way. I'm rather surprised not to see little piles of glass and metal at the roadside.  We were safe and ducked down the footpath towards GZ.  GPS playing up a little bit due to tree coverage but as we walked under a tree that had fallen across the path, J spotted something but we carried on for a moment as the GPS was taking us past.  It adjusted itself and J went in for the find.  Good spot and the very thing she had noticed.  We were about to carry on up the footpath when I did a refresh of the map and a new cache had appeared - Hooked!  J said "I want a FTF" so off we went.

This really was taking out life into our hands in the name of tupperware as we had to go up the one-way part proper now and there was no footpath.  Instead of racing up the road like headless chickens, we really should have headed back to the car and driven up but we were on a mission.  I've got a cough and cold but still I was being marched up the hill by J, as we clambered up the bank a few times to let speeding cars through (at least they were only coming from behind us!).

Two FTFs in this ring of trees (image Google Earth)
At the top we went past the turning we needed so had to double back.  Blasted GPS.  As we approached, we spotted the pond and had some ideas.  Compass was bouncing between two suspects so we took one each.  As we were rummaging around, a lady approached us (where did she come from?) and asked what we were doing. We were cornered so I had no choice but to explain.  She commented that it was interesting but don't people need permission for that kind of thing?  I said they did when it was on private land and cache owners were generally very good about asking.  She pointed out that even public footpaths went through land owned by someone.  It was then that she said she owned the pond and wanted to know what had been put there.  I explained some more and offered that if we found the cache we would show her if she was happy for us to do so (I didn't want to be trespassing!). She said that would be good and went a little way down the road to clear leaves.  I suddenly spotted something and the cache was in hand. Brilliant!  I called to the lady and she came to have a look and asked me what now happened to it and how long would it be there, etc. I was feeling very awkward and said perhaps it would be wise of me to contact the cache owner and ask him to get in touch with her. She provided me with her phone numbers and name and said she would have a chat to him as it could be that the cache may not be able to stay there (I won't say why as it would give too much away). [It turns out the CO spoke to her and all is well, it can stay]

We signed the log - a FTF for us both, although J said "I haven't actually found it properly myself though" but hey, she was searching with me.  She was so excited about this first though that she stuffed the log back into its container without the protective plastic bag. Oh no.  We both tried for a good 20 minutes to get it out again but I had swapped handbags and had no helpful implements with me :(  We had to give up in the end and just let the CO know - with her sincere apologies.

Back we went down the dodgy road scrambling up the bank again for passing cars and back to our car and home for some lunch.

However, I could not log this last cache as it kept giving me a message saying "The listing has been locked and is not accepting new log entries."  

I decided to check what this could mean so I asked on the Facebook geocaching group and it seems that either Groundspeak or the Publisher may have locked it. I wonder why?  I emailed the cache owner to mention this and also tell him about the conversation I had with the lady and pass on her details. I hope he's not in trouble as he's a very nice chap and has placed lots of caches around us. [All resolved in the end and successfully logged - still no idea why it did this though]

We had some lunch then realised another cache by our friendly cache owner that had appeared seemed to still be unfound so off we went again.  A short walk down by the golf course and we had Really Branching Out in hand. A 'true' FTF for J this time and she was delighted.  A fox was running backwards and forwards across the path around us which was interesting to see.

Can you spot the fox?
We had a walk down to KBR 18 Revival that we needed to collect and then realised this would have been a much safer (even if a tad longer) route back to our car last time rather than run the gauntlet of the one-way system on foot.  There was that fox again...or was it another one?

Back to the car very satisfied. It's not often you go out to hoover up a few odd caches around the area and end up being lucky enough to get two FTFs as well :)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Off to The Priory - Addicted to Caching

Yes she can see out of that hat
Well, not entirely.  We are kind of addicted to caching, although it hasn't been easy of late to get out as both the little ones have had bad colds, coughs and sore throats. Not ideal weather to drag them around in the mud then.

Today we needed to get some fresh air before we went stir crazy in the house!  Everyone packed into the car, bobble hats, scarves and gloves on and we were away.

We parked up just down the road from The Priory in Woking. In case you're not aware of this The Priory Group are the rather famous hospitals that have been known to treat celebs for their various addictions.  They deal with a variety of issues from the expected ones of alcohol and substance abuse through to more unusual ones such as computers or forensic addictions (what the heck are those - people who watch too much CSI?)  Our local one deals with acute psychiatric illness. I have to say it's a rather nice looking and relaxing building, even on a dreary day.

Our first cache was called Humps and was nice and obvious, except I was on the wrong side of the road. Oh well. It was then that I realised I had come out without my bag and that meant no pen. Oh dear. Only one thing to do, photographs at locations where no pen was present!  The joys of a smartphone.  Here's S holding the cache and N admiring her wellies.

We carried on around the corner past a group of landscapers doing the rather pointless task of collecting up leaves.  With the wind blowing and the rain coming down, it seemed a bit of a futile exercise but they were doing their best.

Here's the Priory Hospital itself. I bet it is glorious around here in the summer as it is surrounded by green fields.

The Priory Hospital, Woking
Heading to the next cache involved a rather steep, around 12% gradient hill that was just a mud bath.  Hubby (who you may recall does not wear/have wellies) was trying to negotiate himself and S around the edges.  N and I, wearing wellies, were slipping and sliding down the middle. Even we had to get to the edge eventually as I could see me whizzing past hubby on my backside with N face down in the mud beside me (remember our last muddy walk out?).

We got to near GZ for Up on the Ridge and realised where we had to go.  This was going to be fun in rain and mud.  Off I went.  GPS was having a mad moment so it seemed to be between two objects.  I noticed some string hanging down from one but chose to ignore it and looked at the other one.  Hubby clearly was desperate to have a go so I took over hand-holding of the girls having half slid, half run down the slope and up he went, straight to the string which was attached to the cache.  As they say in CSI "Nobody ever looks up".  So, that taught me. Hold on, is that a forensic addiction showing?  So he brought me the cache which I signed and then replaced.

We were going to walk to the next one but it was starting to rain very hard and we thought we may be pushing our luck for our first trip out with the girls since they had been unwell.  Two in hand, it was time to get home in the warm and dry.

We went back past the landscapers who were still trying to fight the same piles of leaves it seemed.

I do think that they could make thigh-high wellies for kids though as my two both had soaking wet tights when we got home from jumping in puddles. Perhaps I could take that idea to the Dragons Den?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Am I insuring a Bugatti Veyron?

Bugatti Veyron Super Sports
My car insurance has gone through the roof this year.  Heaven knows why.  I am (inevitably) a year older and have another years no claims under my belt.

You can see a lovely picture of my new car on the left.  It's a snip to buy at $2.4 million.  Dream on.

As much as I wish I did, I do not drive this, an Aston Martin, Lambourgini or Ferrari.  I drive a SAAB 9-5. Not even a new one at that.

I was shocked when my insurance renewal came through. It had gone up from £252 last year to £704 this year. WTF?  When I queried this, thinking that perhaps they had misread SAAB for Rolls Royce, they simply said I had an 'introductory discount for being a new customer' last year. Thanks for that. I'll leave you this year and come back as a new customer in a couple of years time then.

So, off I trundle to my favourite place - the home of the Meerkat - and get some quotes.  It was hard to find a quote in the first 30 or so that was even close to the renewal cost so I was delighted to tell my current company to push off and I'd buy online nearer the time.

Today was nearer the time so away I click to buy the cheapest insurance from Sheila's Wheels.  Well, it seems that Sheila does not want to insure my wheels when I get to the checkout.  A message comes up - quite rude really - saying that based upon the information I have provided, they cannot provide me with insurance and if I have come via a comparison site, please find another insurer to use and do not call us.  Wow, thanks for that. Did I offend them by using the Meerkats?  If so, why are they on there in the first place?  Baffling.

So, slightly aggrieved, I go back to get the next price up. As it's only a few pounds different, I'm not too bothered.  Make my selections for additional things I want and click buy.  Tilt!  Sorry, they cannot insure me based upon the information provided.  What?  I'm confused. Okay, let's try again but just taking their preferred selections (a bit more expensive but only a few pounds so who cares) into account and buy. Nope.  Sod off it said.  It didn't really but it was close. Pretty much we aren't interested in insuring you despite giving you a quote so please try elsewhere.

By the time I've reached the fifth rejection, I am getting more than a little worried.  What could be the problem? They all quoted when I input my details.  There were a list of insurers who would not provide quotes with reasons beside them, mostly for type of vehicle which made me wonder.

So, it turns out that having a SAAB is a major problem since they went bankrupt.  A few insurers I have spoken to (those not on comparison sites) explained to me that they either refuse to insure SAAB at all or load the premium for insurance as they consider that parts will become scarce and labour will be expensive for any work that needs doing.

So, I finally managed to find an insurer to take my SAAB. I'm pleased to say still at less than half of what my previous insurer wanted at renewal but the excesses mean that the car would most likely be a write-off for any minor prang.  That's how it goes I suppose but somehow it feels less than fair.

Next year I'm getting rid of the SAAB and buying myself a Volvo!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Roll out the red carpet

I'm a celebrity!  Slight exaggeration maybe but I'm just a little bit famous - well among my friends anyway.

I appeared on TV yesterday on Watchdog Daily

I had written to them when I received my Vodafone price increase. I was 'Mrs Angry of Surrey', not because of how much my mobile tariff was going to rise but the fact that it was going to go up. A  fixed tariff for two years?  I think not.

I am one of around ten million people who received this text from Vodafone.  My tariff went up by 60p per month. Multiply that up and you'll see how much extra money Vodafone are making!

So, I didn't quite get my fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised but it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Christmas is coming - let's hike the prices

I love Christmas.  I love the excitement around wrapping the presents, handing them out to friends and family and, most of all, the faces of my children then they see how many presents are under the tree and the ooo's and ahh's when they open things they are genuinely excited about.

What I do not like about Christmas is the price hike that Amazon seem to manage almost every year.  Have you noticed? Well, here's an easy way to see.  Put some items into your basket or 'save for later' about a month before Christmas and then watch.  You will see that around 70% of them increase in price as the weeks pass.  Why does this remind me so much of the rip off that holiday companies run where they are now putting up the prices of their holidays weeks either side of the school ones to stop any parents who may not want to pay an extortionate price try and get away during the cheaper periods.

The Amazon price increases can be quite significant.  For example, a Moshi Monsters Treehouse that I was looking at (and contemplating buying) has gone up in from £18.49 to £20.00 in just one day - same supplier, same postage cost. That's a £1.51 increase! That's a lot of money when you add it up a few times over for children's gifts as it is far from the only one that has done this.

Then there is the sneaky price increase.  The cost of the item stays the same but the postage increases (clearly this only applies to outside companies using Amazon).  Very sly that one.

I am finding that I need to almost do a 'compare the toy' (are the compare sites missing a trick here?) for each item as the prices can vary wildly between Amazon, Toys R Us, Argos and other retailers. I know this is the same the rest of the year but somehow when it is Christmas we are more aware of it.

I wonder if this happens with other items too?  Has anyone noticed that the price of jewellery, mobile phones or housewares increases around Christmas or is it mainly centered around toys, games and DVDs?

I find this whole price increase with an online company such as Amazon rather odd as many of the High Street stores are offering discounts at this time.  Mind you, I never noticed if they increased the prices first a few months ago to make the discounts look good. Remember, the retailers are not being kind to you so it is more likely that they are being a bit sneaky and hoping we don't notice.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Fetish-it-now on eBay

Lucy and her...err....bra
I was slightly shocked yesterday. I did also have a jolly good laugh. You see, I decided to sell two old (in the sense that I can’t wear them now, not that they are grey and ugly or anything) bras on eBay.  I have done this before with maternity bras and they sold surprisingly quickly.

I know sometimes rules apply to one thing but not another so I decided to check on eBay and ensure I could list regular bras that had been ‘used’.

A quick search and there appeared the bras.  Hang on.  As I scroll down the page to see if mine would be worth listing as they are big, basic (most are frilly, sexy types)  and I used them after I finished breastfeeding, I came across some pictures.  

There were women clearly modelling their bras! 

I was a little taken aback by this. Why the heck would you need to stick a picture of your boobs in a bra onto eBay? Surely us women know what a bra looks like on?  

One seller had listed her item as ‘Lucys worn turquoise bra’ and the description was a classic.  It says “Photos are to show what item will look like and of no sexual content”.  Yes Lucy, clearly us women need four photos of you almost falling out of your bra so we know what it will look like on us.  I wonder if you're trying to prove a point to your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/boss as it is rather odd to name yourself in the listing.

A bit more scrolling and it got worse. Now I was confronted (if you pardon the pun) by someone with middle-age spread and bad cellulite, modelling a bra – but via a shot of herself in her suspenders and thong with just the head missing. Judging by the rest of the body, it was probably good that her face was out of shot.  I couldn’t help myself. I had to peek. I opened up the page to find about fifteen pictures of this woman ‘modelling’ her bra.  Someone should have told her though that you cannot see the bra when she is bent over, facing away from the camera with her flabby arse eating a thong right in your face.

I wonder if I have stumbled on an eBay fetish area by mistake?

One thing is for sure, there won’t be any men in macs looking at my bra pictures!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Amazon Associates - won't say but won't pay

I signed up to the Amazon Associates scheme some years ago.   The reason for the sign up was to generate a little bit of income to help support my WWII Memories site, which I fund totally myself.

It has taken me about 3 years to build up to the princely sum of £16.44 so to say it is slow going is an understatement. But do you know what, every little helps.

With Christmas coming up I have reminded friends and in-laws about the link on the WWII site and asked them to please order via it.  I am optimistic about reaching the £25 pay-out level in the next 3-4 years ;-)

My sister-in-law very kindly ordered some of her Christmas shopping just that way.  I could see the orders. She had purchased some items from the Wish Lists that I keep for us all.  How kind :)

Anyway, I see the items showing up as Orders but nothing further seemed to be happening.  So, yesterday, I contacted Amazon to see why the Earnings did not show up.  Of course, you cannot phone these people so I wrote an email.

Today I received this reply:

"I have checked your account and found that you have not received advertising fees for the order not appearing on your reports as a result of personal orders being placed through your Associates links.

Due to the proprietary nature of the process, we will not share with you the criteria by which we detect personal orders placed by an Associate. Please know that we are able to determine when an order has been placed by an Associate via their Associates links."

So, Amazon have accused me - totally incorrectly - of ordering items using my own link. This I have never done. I know the rules and abide by them.  The only time I have clicked the link in my site was yesterday - to check that it did indeed have the correct ID in it for me to receive payment. It took me to Amazon, I looked at the ID in the URL and then shut the web page down.  As this was after the event in question and no order was made, surely they cannot be referring to that?

However, as you will see from the very statement contained in Amazon's reply to me, it occurred to me that there is no way what I can challenge this fact.  Why?  Well clearly because Amazon won't disclose to me how they 'know' this incorrect fact. So, clearly I have no recourse.

Today, I sent a rant of an email back to them.  I am absolutely disgusted with Amazon.  It seems to me that all these 'pay per click/view' sites are a total scam.

Looks like I am not the only one to be met with their all encompassing T&Cs (commonly called a 'get out clause').  Have a look at Joshua Odmark's experience with them.

Here are just a few more of the examples from doing a quick Google search:

Is Amazon's Affiliate or Associate Program a Scam?
Amazon Associate Scam
Amazon Assoicates Program is a Scam

I have just sent them another email saying close the account and have now removed all their 'free advertising' from my WWII site.  No more of this advertising on my site for nothing. If you want to show your products, you're gonna have to bloody well pay for it!

23rd January 2013 - I would not let this lie so after numerous emails and complaints, despite me shutting my account down as I was so furious over this, Amazon paid up in gift vouchers which I am happy to use.  I feel I achieved a small victory.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pass the Dettol...and a cloth

We went to another party yesterday at a play centre called Jakes.  I have to say that while the concept of these places is good, I cannot help but find this particular one quite dirty.  

Don't get me wrong, as a family we don't live in a gleaming palace of a house - far from it - and I know we do not have hundreds of children traipsing through our home (although it can feel like that at times) but a basic bit of tidying up and wiping down can make anywhere feel clean, can't it?

The place holds about 2,000 children - or at least it feels like it does!

The climbing frame in this place is lovely but the first problem arose for me yesterday in that N, who is 22 months, wanted to follow S around the big play part.  Of course she is too small for this but that wasn't about to stop her - not with mum in tow!  Off we all went.  Remember these places are designed for children - not adults - so some of the areas were quite a squeeze in/through/over/on.  Fortunately there were quite a few mums and dads having to endure this so I didn't feel too alone up there.  I did feel very hot though. I had forgotten how much heat a mass of children can generate in a large warehouse style structure. I was positively 'glowing' by the end of my first pass-through.  After the second one, I said to S that she can play with her older friends on the main frame and I would go to the smaller, baby one with N and off we went.  Phew!

Now, if you've ever been to one of these places, you'll know when I say that I am so glad that N is past the point of wanting to put things in her mouth.  The thought of her doing any such thing here would have me running, screaming for the Dettol.  

The baby area was dirty. Not just a bit grubby, but really quite grotty.  Every piece of equipment seemed to have something black or brown stuck to it. One of the rocking horses was no longer beige but more...well, poo coloured.  Not pleasant to look at and I wasn't about to sniff it.

When the main character, Jake, came out for a dance, sadly I was not in the least bit surprised to see that the costume was as filthy looking as it was at the last party we came to around a month ago.  Surely it wouldn't hurt the staff to put the outfit into a washing machine at the end of a day and make it look clean?  They must have a spare surely in case part of him tears or falls off?  He also greets the party children and poses for photos with them cuddling him (arghhhhhhh) but quite a few of us parents didn't want our children to go near Jake or hold his hand as he looked just so, well, unclean.  All he needed was the bell.

We headed upstairs to the party room. The tables had been laid out with appropriate coloured plastic clothes and party hats. The girls all sat down.  A few parents had little ones and there were quite a few highchairs around. Natasha wanted to sit in one (heaven knows why) and so I went to get one for her.  Of the three that were on my side of the tables, every single one had a dirty tray and seat. Now bearing in mind highchairs are often used for younger children who will eat off the tray, would it not have been appropriate for the staff to give them a wipe down before any party arrived?  The seats were full of crumbs and other bits and pieces. If you lean the highchair forward you can bang those bits out that you can then sweep/hoover up or just use a damp cloth again to get them out. It's not rocket science here folks.  This is a play centre for 'children' so shouldn't the staff know just a smidge about cleanliness?  Every parent with a smaller child had them sitting on their laps.  That says it all.

The sofa and chairs that were in the area away from the tables were - to put it mildly - rank.  They were sticky and just plain dirty.  I realise that children with all sorts of food on their hands are likely to be on and off of them but they weren't material that was difficult to clean, just faux-leather so again, a wipe down with a damp cloth would have done the trick.

When you are charging £4.50 for a young child and £5.50 for an older child to go play in one of these places and asking even more for a party, what can possibly be the reason for not being capable of wiping a bit of seating and some trays down and making them look nice and clean?  The staff are not that busy that they cannot spend ten minutes doing this simple task.  

As for me, well I won't be back until we have to go to another party there which, with any luck, will be never.

Friday, 9 November 2012

No, I do not want to be your friend - ever!

An aspect of social media that we all enjoy is being able to get back in touch with people from our past. Sometimes it is old friends we lost contact with through moving areas or it is former work colleagues.

While many aspects of being on Facebook, Twitter and, to a degree, LinkedIn are positive, there are some negatives also.  In my case, these are the ex-boyfriends.

My first experience of an ex-boyfriend trying to get in touch was a bit of a shock.  I opened up Facebook one morning to see a ‘Friend Request’ had come through.  Opening it up, I felt my stomach turn over as I looked at the picture.  It was an ex-boyfriend from when I was a mere teenager.  Why the stomach wrenching feeling?  Well, for three years he beat me up.  But not only did he do that to me, he was very clever about it. He never hit me in the face – everywhere else was fair game – he didn’t want anyone to see the damage he was doing.  You know the type. Poor boy came from a broken home, father was an obese bully, mother was one step short of a hooker the amount of men that came and went in his life.  So, somehow, everyone felt sorry for him.  If only they knew.  Why was I with him for three years when he had done this to me? Simple. He destroyed all my self-confidence and was very convincing that it was ‘my fault’ that he hit me. You know the kind of thing – “you smiled at that man in the garage when paying for petrol so you must be having sex with him”, “you wore that skirt so that men would look at you at work”, “you ignored me when I spoke to you”, “you made me do it” – I’m sure you’ve heard that many, many times before in the media.  How did I find the courage to leave in the end?  Easy. He tried to stab me in our flat.  Did I ever report him?  Of course not. Who would have believed me?  Even my own mother could not believe the things he had done!

Why the hell did this man think, even almost thirty years later, that I would want to be his friend?  To see his profile picture - standing there, grinning, holding a lobster he had caught, made my stomach do a complete flip.  I looked at his profile briefly.  Was he just out of prison?  A divorcee?  No, he was happily married for over twenty-five years with adult children and – get this – a foster parent!  I hit the ignore button. 

Three hours later, there was another friend request waiting for me.  Guess who?  Yes, he had tried to friend me again.  How?  I had ignored the last request.  It turns out that clearly he must have been monitoring his account as once you ‘ignore’ a friend request, the status goes from ‘pending’ to nothing at all, so clearly he had seen I had not accepted it but rather than leave it at that, he sent another. I instantly blocked him this time and reported him for harassing me (not that Facebook will do anything about this).

I wondered how he had found me after all this time.  I had changed names where I had been married so how did he know who to look for?  Although my first name is a bit more unusual, there are plenty of those on Facebook too.

It turns out he simply Googled me.  As I have a WWII website containing family information, it was as simple as him entering one of my parents details and where I grew up and the page was presented to him.  At the bottom of the page was my name.  I had never considered that would lead to something like this.  Naturally I removed my name from every page there and then.  Too late on this occasion but at least it was done now.

A few days ago I got another friend request on Facebook.  Another ex-boyfriend.  This was the third time he had attempted to be my friend, both others were ignored (I must remember to open the profiles and block, which I did this time).  He isn’t anyone nasty but just someone from over ten years ago that I left and haven’t thought about since.  I have no interest in being his friend. This wasn’t his first attempt at contact either, he has tried via LinkedIn as well.  So, another block onto my Facebook account.  There, that was easy.

A few days later - day after my birthday - I got a text message.  Yes, you guessed it, from this same ex.  He had even kept  my mobile number from all that time ago!  I didn’t put two-and-two together at first and wondered who this text was from. It just said “Hey, happy birthday. I almost missed it. JT”.  Who the hell was JT I thought?  Having not given him any brain space in ten years, he wasn’t anywhere on my radar.  “Who is this?” I asked.  “JT” came the reply.  “JT who?” I asked.  This was getting silly.  “John” came the reply.  The penny dropped.  “Oh.  Look I don’t want to be friends or stay in touch so please delete my number” was my reply.  All went quiet. Good, he’s got the point.

The same evening I get two texts in a row.  The first from him says “Hey, neither do I. Was just being nice” followed by “Deleted”.  OK, so he needed the last word.  It was very clear to me that he didn’t want to be my friend or stay in touch – why else tried to friend me so many times, keep my number and text me?  Stalker issues?  Who knows.

Of course my husband is angry about it.  He is very protective of me and his family.  Naturally he would like to 'talk' to these men (if you get my drift).  I have dealt with it all. He understands that but is not happy about it.

So, for the majority of us a friend request is a good thing. It brings back fond memories and can be a laugh to be in touch again.

Every now and again though, it is something we would rather have never encountered in our lives.  This is the problem with social media.  The two men in question live a long way from me. The chances of us ever bumping into each other are almost non-existent.  But sitting at a computer, they can search the entire world for people they would never meet in the street.