Thursday, 30 October 2014

Nathaniel would be proud: Natwest reward loyal customers

Last night after weeks of late nights and tension Hubbie's loyalty to the San Francisco Giants was rewarded when they won the World Series. The zombie who has been occupying the house with us for the last month or so - when he's not at work - may well disappear now. After a 30 year losing streak the Giants won the World Series when our son was a few weeks old. The baby used to snooze next to Hubbie who would take him downstairs so I could rest after the night feeds. You see as well as being a great husband Hubbie is also a loyal sports fan. He supports a non-league football team whose performance is so poor that I rarely even ask how they have done any more. I just make sure that there is something nice to eat when the boys get home on a Saturday evening after travelling to deepest darkest wherever to watch them play. 

You see loyalty is a big thing to us as a family. I've known most of my friends for yonks. The most recent good friend I have has at least 10 years tenure and even acquaintances have served at least 4 years (since I had my son). I don't do new friends often as it takes time to 'break them in.' When I'm good friends with someone I'm proper loyal. I'd known one of my friends for around 5 years and we were in my car sitting in Notting Hill Carnival traffic on the way to pick up a Chinese take away. I apologised for the traffic and my friend said, "Don't apologise, driving with a good friend to pick up Chinese food is my idea of a great time." (I may have paraphrased there) I felt all warm inside as up until that point I wasn't sure if we were good friends or not. That sealed it for me and we have been firm friends since.

Loyalty applies to so many things for me. I've only changed hairdresser if they've physically left the country. I travel a long to way to the same dentist I've been going to for donkey's years out of loyalty. When someone tells me they have had a bad experience somewhere I will boycott it out of loyalty to them. There are places I haven't been to just because they have been rude to someone I care about ! 
I like to reward good service so even though it's sometimes a bit more of a faff I'll continue to use a company I know and trust. I also like to share good experiences so I will tweet to thank a company that have been really great and email to say that someone has been really helpful to me too. It's far too common that people complain about poor service, so I like to balance that out with praise when they get it right.  

Well, can you imagine my frustration when as a loyal customer I see a new customer getting far more than I did when I joined and I don't get the same deal because I'm now 'old news.' Ooh that makes me cross. It happens with phone companies, retailers and banks. Apparently customers are more likely to move house than to move bank so they have to do a lot to upset us enough to move, but it does happen. 

Natwest have listened to customers saying that this isn't fair and are waving goodbye to offers that only apply to new customers in favour of fairness to all. The Hello / Goodbye campaign rewards loyalty by offering the same deals to existing as well as new customers. This little experiment was filmed to show how it feels to be sidelined as an 'old customer' for 'new shiny' ones.

So Natwest are calling time on offers only for new customers and rewarding loyalty from those of us who like to stay put. As someone who has had an account with Natwest dating back to when I collected the ceramic pigs - yes I do still have them - that's great news.

Disclosure: I’m working with BritMums and NatWest to promote the Hello/Goodbye campaign and have been compensated for this post. All opinions are my own (as always).

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Are you sitting comfortably ? Then I'll begin...

Once upon a time there was a little baby boy who hadn't been born yet. He was so wriggly in his Mummy's tummy that his Mummy and Daddy called him 'Jiggly Puff' and they loved to talk to him, telling him stories and singing to the bump.

Mummy would talk to him and use funny voices and Daddy would make sounds and noises to make him laugh. It seemed to work as the growing bump would jiggle about even faster. He sometimes got hiccups too - that always made Mummy and Daddy laugh.

There was another member of the family who hadn't met Jiggly Puff yet and that was Neo the cat. He was a big white cat with a loud miaow and he would sit on Mummy's tummy sometimes. When Jiggly Puff was being playful he would kick Neo and make him jump.

Then when Jiggly Puff was born Mummy and Daddy loved to tell him stories even more and he laughed at the funny voices and the silly sounds and when he was old enough he joined in too. He loved making naughty noises and animal sounds the most.

Trying out the app with Daddy 

One day Mummy was sent an app for her phone that played funny sounds and noises. She asked Daddy to tell Jiggly Puff a story using the sounds and he couldn't wait to have a go himself. So, using the Halloween sound board Jiggly Puff decided to tell a scary story that made Mummy and Daddy jump and even made the cat run away to hide in another bedroom. The app was so easy to use that Jiggly Puff was able to choose the sounds he wanted to use and he could make the story up as he went along.

Spoooooky sounds

There were so many other sounds to use he liked to mix them up so sometimes stories would feature pirates, a fairytale frog and a rocket ship all at the same time. It was a lot of fun to play with the different sounds and made story time so much more fun for everyone in the family. Even the cat would sit and listen - unless it was a scary noise of course - then he'd run away !

Mix and match story sounds 
With this new app Jiggly Puff was the king of storytellers. When he wasn't being a pirate, or a brave knight, or a magic frog that is. All he needed now was a magic wand to make it always story time and never bedtime.

The End.

The Deets: the Storytime app from Notonthehighstreet is a free app and works on iPad or iPhone - we found it was great on both with good sound quality. You can download the app here: Storytime Sounds app

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A sea of poppies and a huge hippo: What we did with our 'extra' hour

Having an extra hour in bed was never an option for us with a boy who has always been an early riser and a cat whose internal clock tells him it's always time for a meal. We had already planned to visit the Tower of London today to see the remembrance exhibition today so as we were all up so early we decided to go first thing to avoid the crowds. It was worth the effort of getting out as there was very little traffic and the boy was able to travese Tower Bridge with barely anyone else on it.

When we arrived at the moat we explained to our boy that he had to be respectful and not toot his scooter hooter while we looked at the tributes as some people would be having some quiet time. He did very well and listened as we told him what poppies signify and that there are thousands of poppies to mark all the lives that were lost in the first world war.

The last time I was at the Tower of London was during the epic Honkopoly adventure earlier this year when I scootered around with a lot of other bloggers to raise money for Comic Relief. I sympathised with my boy scooting along the cobbles as it's not that easy. He wasn't too keen to be photographed with a Beefeater though and went all shy so we don't have that classic picture. We do, however, have some lovely memories of the amazing spectacle of thousands of ceramic poppies to commemorate the loss of life in the war.

I'm not sure how much my son actually understood, but when we got home he drew some pictures of the poppies and we talked about what they meant. He recalled that they were in memory of people who had died and when we talked about how it felt to see them he said he was sad. He asked about this image of the bugler playing during roll call and we talked to him about family members who had been in the military and how important it was to us to remember their service.

It's just as well we also did some fun things with our extra hour this morning. After the seriousness of explaining the meaning of remembrance we went for a stroll to St Katherine's Dock. This crazy character is "HippopoThames" and it's an installation that is apparently moving around the dock of its own accord !!

After meeting the hippo we were heading back to Tower Bridge when we spotted this giant sundial which we have never seen before. The boy didn't believe us when we told him it wouldn't turn around, so he did give it a go. Well, why not ?

In the past I would have spent my extra hour in bed, but I'm so glad that we went out and started our day early today. We got to do so much more than we expected and I hope our son has some idea of what it meant to us to do this together. 

This post is being shared with the epic #outdoorfun #countrykids linky hosted by the wonderful Fiona of Coombe Mill 
 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Eight years on, but who's counting ?

Today it's mine and Hubbie's 8th wedding anniversary. We're taking the boy to stay with my parents and we'll have a night away in a nice hotel with dinner and breakfast - bliss ! In the evening, after dinner, we'll be on air presenting our radio show so we'll be online chatting to listeners in the 'shout box' which is a live interaction with presenters during a show. It's not a conventional way to spend an anniversary, but it's pretty much perfect for us. I get to have a swim, Hubbie gets to go to the gym and we both get to be on the radio together.

So, if you will indulge me this is my post dedicated to celebrating the top 8 things about being married to Hubbie. To misquote Ross Geller from Friends: "One for every year I have been married to and loved him."

  1. He's a key member of any pub quiz team with his extensive sports knowledge. Don't ask him about popular culture or pop music though, it will not end well ! 
  2. He's taller than me - well let's face it most people are - so he's very handy for reaching things on high shelves. This isn't quite as dim as it sounds. Hubbie has a genuine aversion to DIY, but he does the 'manly' stuff around the house which means I don't have to :)
  3. His incredible patience with my backseat driving. I'm always pressing an imaginary brake on my side and will advise him what not to do when driving despite the fact that he's much better than I am at driving long distances - I rule when it comes to city driving though.
  4. Even when I doubt myself and my ability Hubbie wants me to do well and is ambitious for me. He's not jealous or competitive, but supportive and genuinely happy when things go well. 
  5. The songs - oh the crazy made up songs. Even before we had our boy he used to make up silly songs for and about me. Mostly to the tunes of current hits, but often just out of the blue.
  6. Despite wildly different musical tastes we often go to gigs together. I went with him to watch the Fall a few times and he's been to see Prince with me. There's a mutual respect if a bafflement at our respective choices of music. 
  7. When we're together we share the stupidest jokes and puns. No one else would find us as entertaining as we do each other - and ourselves. 
  8. He knows how to make things all better, whether it's finding a 'kunkarella' to make me laugh or reminding me that I don't like salmon and shouldn't order it in restaurants. 
So, here's to us and our quirky married life. If anyone needs me I'll be in the hot tub worrying about the cat being home alone.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Just stop saying first world problems - please.

Spidey was distraught he'd spun Tuesday's web on Monday

Ok, the next person who uses the term 'first world problems' will get a massive rhetorical slap from me. Apart from Jason Manford as it's the name of his most recent show and he seems a decent enough guy so he's the exception. The rest of you, however, knock it on the head please.

It's not the meaning of it I object to ie. people moaning about absurd issues that aren't entirely serious or of little consequence when compared with famine, poverty, etc. I completely get the comedy value of laughing at someone who considers it a tragedy that Waitrose has run out of Moroccan houmous just before Wilhemina's birthday party - especially when it turns out Wilhemina is a miniature schnauzer.

Of course I can identify with and laugh at the absurdity of being so apparently disconnected with the 'real world' that it's considered ok to have a Facebook page entirely devoted to mocking what's apparently 'overheard in Waitrose.' It's actually the term 'first world' that jars with me. You see it suggests that those in the 'third world' are all tutting at our "Marks and Spencer have run out of artichokes" dilemmas. That we are in some way superior and deserving of the status of 'first' while those poor pathetic sorts in poorer countries "probably don't even have houmous do they I expect ?" Surely they are far too busy digging latrines or carrying water to care about our middle class and selfish problems. How dare we express dissatisfaction with our over-fed, pompous lives filled with TV, cars and fattening food.

It's patronising in the extreme to pretend that countries in Africa, Asia or other countries that were originally identified as 'third world' do not also have an equivalent sneering culture. I recall visiting my cousin in Bangalore and her brother asking why she hadn't left for work yet and she bemoaned, "Mum won't let me have the driver today - how can I possibly go to work ?" This is in a city where going for a coffee and not being able to get wifi in the cafe was considered completely unacceptable.

The hierarchy of first, second and third world was coined to identify whether or not countries were aligned with NATO and those that weren't were 'third' in the list. It was judgemental and inaccurate back then and it remains so today.

So, here's the deal. I'm still going to laugh at the notion that someone genuinely thinks that brioche is 'a bit common,' but I might just try to encourage everyone to say something like, 'North London problems' - ok, maybe, not it's a bit too judgey. How about 'Seriously ? You call these problems ?" - ok, too sarcastic. I could just settle on 'posh problems' which is more accurate. I mean it's not like we're laughing at those who shop at Asda or Tesco or Lidl is it ?

Right, I'm off to watch the Apprentice with my decaff yorkshire cuppa and a gluten free biscuit. I'm not even going to mention that I've run out of almond milk.

Pah !

Monday, 20 October 2014

And another thing...

I found myself wondering this morning what constitutes stainless steel. I know, it's a laugh riot around here most days. Anyway, the cutlery set I've been using for around 15 years is now marked with rust stains which I'm pretty sure is not what is supposed to happen. I have a 'good set' which I can use instead, but I am still puzzled. Why do some things just not make sense ?

School photos used to include a formal photo in uniform and looking like you had been forced into it - now it's all posed like your child is in a Next catalogue photo shoot. I don't want him jumping in the air or looking down at his feet like a movie star in an aftershave advert, just give me a traditional awkward photo that his grandmothers can put on the wall unit and embarrass him with when he is 15 and too cool for school.

When did simple fairies get promoted to Fairy Princesses ? Isn't it enough to be a fairy with the magic and the wings and all that ? In the show Ben and Holly she is a fairy princess and he is an elf. Not an elf prince, a basic workaday elf. Oh and he isn't even given magic. That's just old fashioned sexism isn't it ? Admittedly it is turned on it's head from the traditional gender balance of power, but still.

Why can't I just buy a normal box of matches ? I have the worst oven in the world and need to light it using a contraption that cost £1, but needs to be refilled and since Hubbie hasn't gotten round to it yet we have been using those long cook's matches that aren't that good and are hopeless as they burn too quickly. Just a single normal size box of matches is all I need, but I have to buy either a mega pack of many boxes or pinch them from bars where smoking is not allowed, but matches are still kept under the counter.

What are toy manufacturers afraid we'll do if they don't lash the toys to the box using wires, elastic and now screws that require a screwdriver ? I mean shoplifting is annoying, but seriously when my boy opened all his birthday presents we needed a full toolkit to unpack the cars, transformer and fire engines. I'm just glad he didn't have a doll as well or we would have had to explain what looked like a hostage situation.

Ok, I'm not entirely curmudgeonly I will admit that it's better now that we have cool stuff like the internet on our phones. I mean I recall travelling on a train to Swansea at the break of dawn - seriously I was in my pyjamas and I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes and put in my lenses on the train -  only to arrive hours later to find my appointment had been cancelled and no one had been able to get hold of me. Now I'd be able to tweet them before I left and check train times and watch an episode of Hawaii 5-O to console myself when turning back half way.

So my list tomorrow includes finding a normal size box of matches, replacing the current cutlery with the 'good' cutlery and at some point getting a life.

Ok, ok, it's on my list.

Friday, 17 October 2014

It's not quite Howard's Way is it ?

I've been a bit off radar this week, but I do have a very good reason. I was on a cruise ship. In case you're wondering how I got home so quickly I'll clarify that. I was invited onto the ship, but we didn't make it to the Caribbean (sad face). I did, however, get fed to within an inch of my life - I didn't need to eat until after 1pm the next day I was still so full !

The view from the lifts is amazing !
It would have been great to actually visit the Caribbean, but it was still pretty great to be invited by Royal Caribbean to have a nosey around the biggest cruise ship in the world. The Oasis of the Seas was in Southampton this week, so while they boarded actual passengers a few of us were invited on board to sample some of the delights of a cruise. I have never been on one before and haven't seriously considered booking to go on one as a family as the only people I know who have been on and enjoyed a cruise are my in-laws and my elderly neighbours. In my mind it's a pastime for the retired and not for families with children. That's exactly why they wanted people like me to come aboard and change our minds about what cruising is like.

Not a shopping mall but the main promenade
So first up the ship is absolutely massive - the main promenade is twice the size of any other cruise ship and it's like being inside a shopping mall rather than at sea. It took us a while to board, but that was only because so many passengers were checking in super early so they could peruse the ship and take it all in. We were assured that it's actually a process that would take no more than 15 minutes in real life conditions. Security is like at an airport so you do have to walk through arches and provide photo ID before boarding.

King Julian serving at lunch 
Luscious lunch 

It's Alex the lion !
Once on board we were given lunch at Giovanni's. There are a lot of food outlets included in the price, but Giovannie's is one of the restaurants that requires an additional cover charge.  The charge is actually very reasonable, the food was delicious and the service just wonderful. It's not somewhere I'd eat often, but would be great for a special meal. While we were eating our starters we spotted these characters who joined us for photos and even came to see us at the table. I have to admit I was more than a little star struck !
Touch screen guide

This is a wall mounted guide that has a touch screen so you can see where on the ship you are, where you want to go and what activities are on that day. I've mentioned the enormity of the ship and it is a concern that you might get lost or - horror of horrors lose your child. You are never more than a few feet away from a member of staff and they are very helpful and friendly. If you lose a child you notify one of them and the entire staff on the ship stop what they are doing and search their area. Apparently it takes no more than 3 minutes to locate a lost child on board.

Trevor the fresh juice man
One of the things that I love about going on holiday is the relaxation, the fresh fruit and the opportunity to unwind. On board there is a very well equipped gym where you can do spin classes and you can work out from early morning to 1am !! We also had a mini treatment in the Elemis Spa and that would be one of my favourite places to visit I can tell you. After a workout and a relaxing treatment I always look forward to a refreshing drink of some kind. Trevor is the man who can help make magic happen. I asked for a drink based on pineapple and he created something of beauty out of pineapple, banana, orange and (as he told me conspiratorially and with a twinkle in his eye) "a little bit of peach." It was heavenly !!

Lilting music 
There is a lot for adult passengers with on board entertainment including live shows and we were serenaded by a band that included steel pans to get us into the Caribbean feel. I was interested to see what was available for children though as my son is aged 4 and I couldn't imagine what would keep him occupied and enable me to relax while on a cruise. The kids' club is a series of rooms that have age appropriate activities including science experiments, sports, arts and crafts. It's clean, well set out and staff are trained and first aid qualified. You can leave your children safely and know they are being cared for.

Outdoor pool fun 
Kids' club playroom 

My major concern was that as I have a very active child I wasn't sure there would be enough for my son to do that would stop him going stir crazy. Then we went outside and I saw the amazing sports deck with a number of fun pools, hot tubs for grown ups, crazy golf and the zipline that is included in the activities package (as is the flow rider) and you can go on it as many times as you like. In good weather it would be amazing to spend the day outside having fun swimming, playing and being active and might go some way towards counteracting the overeating that can happen on a cruise. I did a zipline along the top of the ship - I wasn't sure why I agreed to it, but as I zipped along over the carousel I was not at all scared and actually enjoyed it :)

Enormous starter
Decadent dessert 

When you talk to anyone about cruises the topic of food is never far away. There is a lot of it and it is pretty much inevitable that you will eat more than you intend to as there is so much on offer. Our food was amazing and I genuinely didn't need to eat the next day as it was so filling. There is a wide variety of food outlets to try and some are included and others require an additional charge. I did wonder what my son would make of the food, but there is so much choice I'm sure we'd find something that he would enjoy on board. Also with a cruise that makes frequent stops we could go ashore and try different cuisines in the ports.

The zipline was great fun
Overall I did rethink my preconceptions about the kind of people who go on a cruise. I mean who on earth would have predicted that with my propensity for seasickness and fear of heights I would willingly clamber onto a zipline and career along the 15th floor of the ship way above the decks ? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we would consider booking a cruise as a family. I'm not sure I'd like to be at sea for days at a time, but a Mediterranean cruise with stops at different destinations every day might appeal. Having seen it in real life I can see what an amazing experience it could be for children to enjoy.

Disclosure: Royal Caribbean kindly invited me and some other Mumsnetters on board to experience what a cruise has to offer for families. I was not paid for this review.