Thursday, 8 November 2018

How to go to the zoo for less than £1

I love a day out but days out can be expensive. Especially the zoo. Every time I go I am shocked by how much they are asking for. Recently I found a life hack that enabled me to visit the zoo for just 45p (or 90p for two people) rather than the £25 entrance fee I'd normally have to pay. How you ask? Read on to find out!


The life hack in question was using Tesco's Clubcard Voucher exchange here. If you shop at Tesco regularly, make sure you sign up for a Tesco Clubcard here to collect points on every shop. Because trust me, they do add up. I belong to several loyalty cards schemes and Tesco's Clubcard is up there as one of the best.

Years back I bought one of my first iPhones through Tesco and the points I earned were INSANE. From that one purchase, I made so many amazing memories with days out, travels, dinner dates and so on (and obviously had the phone's camera to capture it all with!) Nowadays I have a Tesco credit card meaning I can build up my Tesco points even when I'm shopping in other stores outside of Tesco. Recently I bought a new sofa from DFS here so I'm due a massive payout!

HOW TO USE TESCO CLUBCARD VOUCHER EXCHANGE

Log into your Clubcard account here and click "spend vouchers"

You will then be presented with a list of categories that - at the time of writing this -  include "travel", "eating out", "fun" "home & essentials" and "lifestyle".



For fun days out, click "fun" to find further categories to choose from:



In my case, I opted for "days out" where you can choose from a vast selection of theme parks, castles and wildlife parks. To refine your results, select by "category" and / or "region".




We wanted to visit a zoo, but not London Zoo as we've done that one a lot and fancied a change. We managed to find a suitable zoo that wasn't too far away.


CONVERT YOUR VOUCHERS

At the time of writing this, the offer on the Tesco website was that 50p of Tesco vouchers translated to £1.50 in credit to spend towards your zoo ticket. So if you need £60 to cover your family ticket to the zoo, you would need to convert £20 in Tesco vouchers.

It's always worth checking the conversion rates on the Tesco Clubcard website as recently they changed some of the offers from tripling the worth of Tesco vouchers to doubling them. I think I got in there just before the changeover, but the vouchers we converted meant that we only had to pay 90p at the gate - bargain!

THE ZOO IN QUESTION

I hadn't been to Whipsnade Zoo since I was little, and I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of space they had there. With some zoos, it can almost feel a little claustrophobic and like the animals don't have adequately sized enclosures. Located near Dunstable in Bedfordshire, at Whipsnade the enclosures were generously sized and it didn't feel like the animals were as confined as some other zoos. The brown bears enclosure was huge, and the elephant paddock was something else.

WHIPSNADE PARKING

If you ever visit Whipsnade, wear sensible walking shoes and prepare for a lot of walking! For the elderly or less able, Whipsnade does offer parking spaces around the zoo, however you do have to pay for this privilege. This is currently £25. Otherwise parking is free if you park outside the zoo. It's not a long walk to the entrance, but it's advisable to get there early so you're not parked further away in the overflow (field!)

WHIPSNADE FOOD OPTIONS

As with any other tourist hot-spot. extras like ice creams were extortionately priced. I don't think I've ever spent so much on ice cream.. but then we made the error of going on one of the hottest days of the year so far.


There were plenty of food options, including River Cottage in the most incredible setting. Food here was a little pricier and nothing took our fancy that day (I would love to try this next time though!) Instead we sat in the family restaurant and ordered chips as it was far too hot to eat anything more.


The cafe was very tech forward and you ordered your food on a tablet.


Just select what type of refreshment you are after / your meal choice


Saying that, I would be tempted to pack a picnic next time because look at these views


HIGHLIGHTS

Being shadowed by these guys. They followed me every direction I walked. Maybe I look like the keeper who feeds them?


Seeing the brown bears go for a dip. One of them was even smiling


These guys clowning about. And how nice is their backdrop?!


Seeing every day people being allowed to feed the giraffes. I've never been so up close to one before


A really nice butterfly house that one of Mr Curiouser and Curiouser's colleagues recommended to us. The house itself is a lot bigger than the London Zoo one, so feels less claustrophobic - however it is every bit as hot. We were there on one of the hottest days of the year, so didn't spend too long in there


My favourites.... ELEPHANTS. I love how they look like they're smiling


The monkeys frolicking in the sun


Birds of prey in flight. So majestic.


And finally this guy who looks like how I feel on Mondays


Next time you plan a day out - whether it's to Whipsnade zoo, another zoo or somewhere else entirely - do log into your Tesco account and see whether you can convert up vouchers for it. And if you don't have a Tesco clubcard, then what are you waiting for?! Get collecting those points!

Apologies in advance to all my international readers for a UK specific offer / life hack - hopefully the lifestyle day-at-the-zoo types pics are enough to pique your interest!

Monday, 29 October 2018

My experience of We Heart Mondays and things to be mindful of with blogger events

I'll be honest, this is something I never expected to write about. Well, not in this way at least. But due to the lack of transparency and also the lack of information available, I felt compelled to spread awareness. As a blogger, you know the deal. Some days your inbox is fairly quiet (*cue the tumbleweed*), but on other days you may get an exciting opportunity or three. And this is how this story begins.

THE CONCEPT

We Heart Mondays had been on my radar for a little while. The concept of We Heart Monday? Celebrating women. Specifically providing work spaces and networking events for meeting entrepreneurial women with workshops designed to empower women. We Heart Mondays founder Layla Rivelino was quoted saying this in an interview*

* article no longer available for reference but was originally found via Lady Like You 
"Our aim is to create work spaces and services that equip female entrepreneurs with everything they need to approach Mondays with confidence. I listen to a lot of podcasts by female entrepreneurs which inspired me to create an environment where like-minded business women could come together, be themselves, be productive, network, and make new friends"
Sounds good, right?

I was some how signed up to their mailing list (a mystery still to this day) and would get emails about events at their venue in Hackney Wick (supposedly a really, really beautiful venue)

THE EVENT

Then early April this year they announced their next event. The email came through with the subject line "Midsummers Night Dream Dinner Party Invitation" and I was initially excited because I thought it may have been with a brand (I have been invited to blogger breakfasts with brands before). When I clicked into the email and saw it was with We Heart Mondays, it was that initial uncertainty of a company I hadn't had dealings with before, nor did I know anyone who had attended one of their events before. But clicking into that email with pictures like the below...  it grabbed your attention instantly.

I would photo credit all the images used in this post, but honestly have no idea where We Heart Mondays found these...
Please contact me if you are the owner of these images and I'll be more than happy to co-operate and credit your work!

No word of a lie, but being a massive foodie, it felt like the event was made for me. An evening of unlimited drinks, massages, manicures, a three course meal and to top it all off, a goody bag at the end of it (on reflection, it now all sounds too good to be true..). The email detailed the food as being from The Meringue Girls' savory menu, followed by a picture perfect dessert and these are the types of pictures they used in their email.


Good so far, right? This is when things start to get gnarly.

We Heart Mondays was asking for £50 for this event. I did initially question this as I have been blogging for over 8 years now and usually events are complimentary in exchange for coverage in the form of a written review. There is sadly this generalisation that bloggers and influencers are freeloaders and want everything handed on a plate to them for free (not true for all of us!). I went in with good intentions. Always wanting to see the good in people, I figured that renting an office space in London must be expensive, and that maybe the cost was to go towards the decor for the event, as well as the food and wages for those working that night. I saw it as a supper club type event (and supper clubs are never free!) and for everything it included, I didn't think that £50 was a horrendously outrageous ask.

But before I parted with my money I did do a bit of research first. Their email worked (I had actual human contact and spoke to a lady called Erica from We Heart Mondays via email), their website was professional looking enough, and I found blog posts about people who had gone to their events before. I established that trust, so I clicked through and paid via PayPal, knowing PayPal has a degree of buyer protection through my dealings with eBay.

RED FLAG

The first red flag was that I never received a confirmation email, receipt, or proof of purchase. Fortunately because I paid through PayPal, I had something I could refer to. On the lead up to the event, I didn't receive any emails from We Heart Mondays confirming the time, place or date. On the morning of the event I emailed the team. And the email bounced. As in, the email account could not be found. I went onto the We Heart Mondays website... also gone. And likewise both their Instagram and Twitter accounts had been deleted. On Google they were listed as "permanently closed", and I went onto PayPal and noticed that my payment to "We Heart Mondays" was now a payment to "CLOSED".  I contacted the supplier who was meant to be supplying the food at said event that day, but they had no knowledge of this and in fact believed to be working with them on an entirely different date later that month.

After some digging on Twitter and Instagram, I managed to track down other individuals and small businesses who had also been affected (because don't forget, when it comes to events, suppliers also feel the impact!). Many of these complaining about having tickets to an event the previous weekend, paying for the privilege, and turning up to find NOTHING in said venue and then upon emailing We Heart Mondays, having emails bounce back like mine was. Some of the small businesses had lost out on £600 which is horrible for any brand or business, but especially despicable for smaller businesses and new businesses where every penny counts. As annoyed as I am to have lost money, I can't help but feel even more angry on behalf of all the small businesses that were targeted and taken advantage of.

STRIVING FOR BALANCE

Whilst really frustrated, I don't know the whole story - it's merely speculation at this stage -  and I always try and write in a balanced way and present both sides.

Maybe they have re-branded with a new website, new email, new social media account and new premises. But how are people paid up to their events to know that? The most frustrating part of this all has been the lack of communication. I can't say for sure that We Heart Mondays are a scam business. Maybe they were a legit business and went bust. Or maybe they played the long game, built up a reputation for themselves, starting charging for events and that's when it all begun. I honestly don't know. But if I have paid for a product or service, I expect an order confirmation or receipt, and if there is anything potentially in the way of getting said product or service I have paid for e.g  bankruptcy I expect to be kept informed.

So with their mission statement of entrepreneurial women and trying to empower women, I guess they have both failed and succeeded here. If this was all indeed one big con, designed by one women (there is talk of "Layla Rivelino" being a fake name) to get people's money, it's entrepreneurial of sorts, I'll give them that. However if a woman taking advantage of lots of young women and women in business... it's not at all empowering and embracing of the sisterhood. It's easy to be angry at someone and play the blame game, but ultimately I'm angry at myself. For falling for it. For not questioning things more. The real shame is that this whole experience has shaken my confidence in blogger events. There is an event in November which is asking for tickets to be purchased in advance, and now I'm shaken to get involved with any events that involve payment. Can you blame me? The whole experience has been a lesson learnt and I will be more careful in the future.

NEXT STEPS

What's next? In an ideal world, I hope that the people behind We Heart Mondays do the right thing and come forward and try at the very least to explain their side of their story rather than leaving us left to fill in the gaps and naturally thinking the worst. I am hoping I have a degree of buyer protection through paying through PayPal, and fingers crossed I do get my money back. I am signed up to a wonderful support group with everyone that was affected and together we are fighting to find out more, get the answers we deserve, and get everyone's money back. If you have experienced something similar, do reach out to me and I''ll pass on the details for the support group.

In summary, it has been a learning curve. Not only did it fool me and small businesses, but imagine new bloggers to the industry who don't know any better. I want to ensure that something like this never happens again, and here's how we can achieve this:

RESEARCH THE COMPANY

Yes, I did my fair share of research on the company but looking up social media accounts and previous blog posts are not enough. We live in an age where things can be glossed over and dressed up on social media. It's so easy to deceive others.

Do the social media accounts have a good amount of followers that inspire confidence? Even if it did, the followers on the account could be bought or mostly bots. If any money is involved, Google the company and try and find out about their financial history etc etc.

Some of the blog posts may have been written by We Heart Mondays' people, or even commissioned by them. A lot of these blog posts are still live and if they are genuine blog posts and if the person in question really did attend and have no complaints about the company or how they were treated, that's only fair. However what baffles me is that knowing what I know now, and with the widespread knowledge that the company may have screwed lots of people over, if I had written one of these blog posts, I wouldn't want to associate myself and my blog's branding against a potentially corrupt organisation and would delete the post instantly. But that's just me.

CONTACT THE SUPPLIERS

The email I received told me who'd be supplying the food that evening so in future, I'd contact some of the suppliers and double check that a) they have indeed been booked and b) that the dates line up. Because if not, that's a red flag. I learnt this far too late.

CONTACT OTHER BLOGGERS

I shouldn't have been complacent with seeing the blog posts and taking these as proof as trustworthiness. In future I know to reach out to the bloggers and get their take on it. In this case, it wouldn't have necessarily helped because all the bloggers I contacted about their We Heart Mondays blog posts say they had genuinely good experiences and weren't compensated to write the reviews. But you never know. It's always worth a shot. Alternatively reach out to the blogging community on Twitter and ask around. Through talking to people, I learnt about issues dating back as early as June. Which had I known earlier, I wouldn't hit "book" in April.

USE PAYPAL OR A CREDIT CARD

If you choose to part with your money, try and use PayPal or a credit card as both offer you some coverage / buyer protection. I luckily used PayPal and have submitted a claim already. Because like with an eBay purchase, if a company doesn't provide you with a product or service you paid for, you are entitled to claim and get your money back. Apparently the company has 20 days to dispute or get in touch, and after that, PayPal will escalate the case. We Heart Mondays is now down as "Closed" on my PayPal account so I'm not expecting to get any sort of response or dispute in the next 20 days. So watch this space.

REPORT FOR FRAUD

If you experience any problems, research your options. I'm still figuring out what to do (I'll update this section once I have learnt more about my rights), but there have been talks of getting fraud departments involved and the police and the press.

LET'S TALK

Let's talk to each other. The big problem here was the lack of communication and information available. Both from We Heart Mondays and also the individuals and suppliers who trusted them. Before I started asking around on Twitter, I didn't see anything on Twitter about this, nor any blog posts expressing concerns. Let's get chats going on Twitter and hopefully my blog post is the first of many where we can spread the word, get the answers we deserve, and ensure something like this never happens again.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Hosting the perfect party and 6 of my favourite homeware purchases

I love a party. With so much negativity in the world, it's good to embrace the good whenever or wherever it happens and celebrate the heck out of it, right? The other month, Mr Curiouser and Curiouser and I celebrated our first year wedding anniversary. Whilst we could have easily had a fancy holiday abroad, we were more sentimental for the wonderful people in our lives who made our big day - and the lead up to it - so special. So instead of going overseas, we had our bridal party and both of our families round for food and drinks (we later went to York for a couple of days and kept it domestic).

From a waste perspective, nowadays I'm trying to avoid buying new things every time a special occasion crops up. And if I do, I do so in the hope that it will serve another purpose another time for effective "cost per use". Our anniversary shindig was composed of items we'd bought years ago and already had, along with a a couple of new homeware pieces that I just couldn't resist.

COPPER VASE

I had to throw out one of my old vases (a beautiful clear cylinder with a black frame) as it wasn't washing up well anymore and the wooden frame had split. I expected to replace it with another clear glass vase but when I saw this copper vase, my head was turned. It adds a a lovely warmth to any room and can you believe that it was only £6?! I tried to source roses and gyp for our anniversary get together as a nod to our wedding bouquets, but sadly our local supermarkets were a bit dry on the flower front (typical!). As luck may have it, one of our bridesmaids came to the rescue and gave us these lovely pink and blue flowers as an anniversary gift along with a bottle of bubbly. Aren't they beautiful?


ALICE IN WONDERLAND INSPIRED TEA SET

Food and drink wise, we had different zones - one for food, another for prosecco and champagne, and last but not least... a tea zone! We left out boxes of honey & chamomile, turmeric, green, mint and standard teas, as well as two types of coffee and white hot chocolate. The pictured tea set was a bargain from Asda and very Curiouser and Curiouser as I'm sure you'll agree! I was so impressed, I later went back and ordered another tea pot (I was stunned at how these huge things were only £8 each!) so we could dedicate one to 'builders tea' and the other to herbal teas. How cute are the matching milk jug and sugar bowl? (just £3 each!). We ran out of space in the kitchen with the sheer amount of food and drink, so had to set up (tea) shop on the cooker (literally can't wait until we get our kitchen extension done!) Although my OCD wishes I'd put the left tea pot more on the hob to match the right one in the below shot! ;)


HAPPILY EVER AFTER SIGN

Funnily enough, this was an item that I featured in last's year Christmas gift guide here. I was delighted to discover that it was back in stock (and it still is here if you're interested!). It would make a lovely wedding prop and at £6 doesn't break the bank. It takes pride of place in our kitchen, but I may later re-locate it to the hallway (as and when I actually have a console table to sit it on...)


GEOMETRIC BASKET

This was a bargain purchase from Flying Tiger (which I'm pretty sure was just called Tiger before?) a few years ago. They usually do wire baskets and the like so it's definitely worth having a look in-store as it's the sort of thing they may still have. I lined mine with paper and filled with warm, sun-dried tomato bread which all our guests raved about! Mine alternates between being used as a bread basket and a fruit bowl - but there are plenty of other good uses for it I'm sure!



GOLD POLKA DOT NAPKINS

I found these delights in my local Dunelm store when I was there buying curtains and cushions for our lounge (something for a future post!). As I talked about here, a lot of our wedding stationary and accessories came from Kikki K and was white with gold polka dots - so these napkins were bang on!


STRIPED STRAWS

Another Flying Tiger purchase from a few years back! They ALWAYS have paper straws in cute striped and floral patterns (I think my pack of straws was only a pound at the time?) so it's definitely worth a look! I couldn't believe my luck when I found these in our packing boxes - they matched perfectly with our gold polka dot napkins! The miniature buckets were a gift from a couple of years back. I love filling them with fries, bread sticks, or in this case, straws!


That day we toasted married life, family and good friends, and ate salmon, homemade salads filled with grains, chickpeas and roasted vegetables, crunchy veg dipped into hummus, falafel, popcorn (this was pre popcorn machine!), macarons, cheese, crackers, and chutneys. A veritable feast and one that resulted in lots of leftovers that we were eating for a while afterwards! And just a few of the lovely anniversary cards we received from friends and family:


The personalised anniversary card I surprised Mr Curiouser and Curiouser with!


It was a lovely day catching up with friends and family and reminiscing about the most special of days. A huge heartfelt thanks to everyone who sent us cards, gifts and well wishes and thought of us!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Food and wine tasting with a difference // Sake & Beyond

The other night I was invited to the launch of Sakenoteca by Sake & Beyond in London's Soho in the basement of top Italian Soho restaurant Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion (here). Sakenoteca (a blend of 'sake' and 'enoteca') is the first of many sake concept-bars and experiences being brought to the UK by Sake & Beyond. You may also see Sake & Beyond listed as Sake & Beyond Enoteca - 'enoteca' being an Italian word used to describe a local or regional wine shop in Italy where customers have the chance to try different wines. And that's exactly what we got up to the other night!

                                                            Photography my own (please credit me if used)

Photo credit: Fleur Challis photography

For those who haven't tried sake before, sake is a Japanese rice wine which goes through a different brewing process to wines you may be more familiar with, whereby rice is fermented and the starches from which are converted into sugar. Usually paired with Asian dishes, Sake & Beyond aims to re-define sake as you know it, and on this occasion instead paired it with Italian tapas style dishes. A concept that may bamboozle sake connoisseurs, but seeing as I'd never tried sake before, I didn't go in there with any preconceptions. This is just the beginning for founders Tokubee Masuda and Takeshi Sekiya who plan to use sake within a wide range of cuisines.

Photography my own (please credit me if used)

Food that night was in the form of Italian tapas which worked for me as I love small sharing places - it means you can try a bit of everything! I love classic Italian flavours which center on just three or four fresh ingredients - simple but effective! The night ended on Italian tiramisu with a difference which contained - you've guessed it! - sake.

Photography my own (please credit me if used)

The venue itself was homely and welcoming - it was not in any shape or form pretentious or overly formal. Although I wore a nice dress for the launch, I'd be more than comfortable dressing more casually on future visits. Sake & Beyond has a fully fledged events programme in the works, including cookery classes and direct experiences with a sake sommelier.

                                                                   Photo credit: Fleur Challis photography

But the big question: did Italian cuisine work with Japanese alcohol? To be honest, I thought the sake lent itself better to sour flavours like blood orange and grapefruit in the cocktails than with some of the savory dishes. Although saying that, I was at a slight disadvantage as lots of the food came around on trays and got snapped up by other people before it got to me (I had more sake than food if I'm entirely honest!). But it was a fun experience and one I recommend if you would like a wine tasting experience with a difference!

Address:
Vasco & Piero
15 Poland street,
W1F 8QE

Nearest station: Oxford Circus (just a 5 min walk away!)


Book a session of your own here