Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Moon over Kings Road

Hope everyone is having a lovely holiday season, even if it's a bit chill!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Partying like it's 1942

Summer is finally here! And it feels like an actual summer, one where I don't need a jacket! Sure, it's pretty mild in my book with temps in the 70s and a light breeze most of the time, but it's warm enough that I don't need to "layer" myself to an over-dressed oblivion. Lovely!

Sunday (June 27) we went to Armed Forces Day events in Forbury Gardens. Lots of booths and stripey lounge chairs and kids running around. Some people even had coffee from the little snack stand, which baffled me -- when it's freezing I see people eating ice cream, when it's hot, a cup of Joe does the trick?!

We were there for a bit of live entertainment, the Dame Vera Lynn Tribute act performed by Diane James. She looked the part in an authentic period olive green uniform and a hairdo that surely required curlers the size of your fist and an hour under an old-fashioned hairdryer (probably also olive green, or perhaps avocado green) to achieve. She sang Vera Lyne WWII classics like The White Cliffs of Dover and sounded just like an old-timey record my mom would love to hum along to. The older folks in the audience sang along, knowing every word to songs I'd never heard of. It was fun and kind of sweet.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Wacky stuff in stores

As the title says, a couple of things I saw while shopping recently...

Hots dogs in a jar at the 99p Store -- now that's living!

A shoe dryer at Clas Ohlson (which is kinda like Ikea -lite) -- looks like it might come alive and strangle you.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Blu-ray looks better when it's free...

Have I mentioned I love bargains? Sure, often I spend too much time seeking them, or once in awhile take up an offer because it's good when I don't really need or want it that much, but this week I got a *great* one -- a free Sony blu-ray player! With a free blu-ray of "2012"! I bought it with points, painstakingly accrued by cutting long, hard-to-read codes out of Coke Zero fridge packs and inputting said codes into the Coke Zone site each week over many months. The codes were 10 points each, so we're talking about 100 packs of Coke Zero to get the 1,000 points to buy my prize. Soda's something we buy anyway with or without rewards, and we wanted a blu-ray player, so this really was a slam-bam-thank-you-Coke kinda deal!

It was also a bit like winning the lottery (a really small, non life-changing lottery) to even get the player, because there are only 100 available and they will be released randomly over a month. I got mine the first day they were up, within the 20 minutes or so before they sold out for the day. That saved me some madness, because otherwise I would've worn out the "refresh" button trying to get one of those bad boys. Seriously, I would've checked a couple dozen times a day to see if they had popped up on the site. I'm so glad it didn't come to that, and Hubby is really looking forward to blu-ray, too. His Coke Zero addiction has finally paid off for both of us! Yay, Coke!

Cafe Rouge ... paint it "blah"

Darling husband took me to dinner for my birthday on Saturday. I picked Cafe Rouge because it was new in town (and yes, also because I had Tesco restaurant rewards vouchers to use there and I'd rather we spend actual money on shopping rather than dining -- and I did a good bit of birthday shopping this month!).

I wasn't impressed. Atmosphere was blah, food was blah, lady coming around trying to sell roses and collect for charity was so blah (but I donated anyway). I really preferred Tootsies, which used to be where Cafe Rouge is now. The dining experience was partially my own fault as I ordered food I couldn't remember if I liked, and once it came I remembered I in fact wasn't a fan of those things -- namely boeuf bourguignon and creme brulee. (Husband did enjoy his steak baguette and brownie dessert, and the bread and dips appetizer were good, so I wouldn't say the place is horrible -- just somewhere I don't find too exciting).

However, I still had a nice time being out with my husband and it was a sweet birthday (other than that business about getting older, man is that starting to be a drag!).

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Around Reading

It seems spring is finally here! It was much nicer to be out than it has been in months. Here are some photos from around town:

This sign (logo? placard? what the heck would you call it?) is built into either side of the bridge on Gas Works Road. Apparently the gas company put it there at some point, and it looks like it represents monarchy, but that's all I know. Anyone have further information?

Update: Tom has suggested this is the original Reading Coat of Arms (see comments section). I think he's solved my mystery; thanks Tom!

The above photos are of a gypsy caravan (i.e. wagon or coach) and the placard explaining it at the Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock. I couldn't get at an angle for a better shot,but it's a really beautiful piece of work with glorious, bright colors. A great picture inside the caravan can be found here.

The above is a painting at the Lemongrove Gallery on Minster Street that I liked when I saw it in passing. I couldn't make out if a price was listed on the little card, and when the price is not listed or written small, I'm sure that means it costs more than I'd pay.

This final photo was from a few weeks ago when it was still dreary out. The men are collecting garbage from the water. It's very hard to see, but on the top right of the boat and down behind the dumpster is a long line of shopping carts plucked from the river. Seriously, who throws a shopping cart in the river?!

Monday, 5 April 2010

So does that make 40 the new 80?

Flipping through a recent issue of the UK's More! magazine (it's nothing I'd ever been the least tempted to read before, but I had a coupon for a freebie), I discovered two important things: 1)The mag is aimed at 20-somethings, and 2)the target audience apparently thinks I'm old.

I joke about being old, but don't think I am, really. I'm 30-something (by the skin of my teeth). But I guess the younger generation wouldn't think I'm joking at all, based on an article in More!

The bottom left cover of the April 5 issue reads: "MEET THE MEN WHO ONLY DATE OLD WOMEN." As I turned to the story, I had a sinking feeling I wouldn't like what they called "old." Yep, I was right -- the oldest "old" woman these young bucks were reported as having bedded whilst in their late teens was 42. Forty-two! Years! Old! That's not a freakin' "old" woman, that's an "older" woman, for Pete's sake! Oh crap, do only old coots say things like "for Pete's sake?" Dagnabbit!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Soap and Glory glee

My post on Boots got a bit long, so I've broken out a section on one of the benefits of Bootsing, which has been discovering a few great products that I might never have tried otherwise. The downside is that if I find an item, say a body scrub, that I really love, I will also have several other types of body scrub from past deals that are merely OK that I need to use up before I buy more of The One, The Keeper, the brand worth Full Price. Ah well, so it goes when you stock up at sales.

The Soap and Glory brand of products is one of my favorite finds, and it's only available at Boots and Harvey Nichols here in England. In the States, you can find it at Target (yet another reason to shop at Tar-jay! Not that I needed one, mind). S&G products sport whimsical, girlie packaging. The names have fun with puns, like Endless Glove, Glow Job and Scrub 'Em and Leave 'Em. The labels often feature lovely divas sporting '50s glamor. It makes me smile just to see them on my shelf.

Yes I did! That's right, I took pics of some of my Soap and Glory goodies. And that's not nearly all of them. You should see the hatbox hubby dear bought me (now that's a good man!).

In case you're interested, curious or looking for fabby, fun ways to pamper yourself, here are some S&G products I highly recommend:

--Endless Glove Hand Cream. It's a creamy white lotion in a flip-top tube that really does make my hands feel soft and lovely. They smell mucho awesome, too, thanks to ingredients like daisies and kiwi. It costs £4.50 at Boots or $9.99 at Target. Of course, Boots often has it on sale for three items for the price of two, or 1/3 off each item (my favorite time to buy). I don't know if Target offers any such bargains, but I sure hope so.

--Heel Genius Foot Cream. The scent and even color are divine. The cream is a tasty looking shade of cotton-candy blue (that's candy floss blue to you Brits) and it has macadamia oil, bilberry, and orange and lemon fruit acid smoothers, among other things. There's a light citrus scent and it feels rich and so cool and creamy going on (sometimes too cool; I'll set it by the heater to warm it up). I use it before bed and pull on some cotton socks after. It leaves my feet smooth as a baby's bum, but smelling a whole lot better than said bum. This is $9.99 at Target and £5 at Boots (again, only if you pay full price, but why would you? Wait for a 1/3 off sale and pay £3.35).

--Mist You Madly body spray. I totally groove on this scent! I have various pricey perfumes (thank you Bootsing), but Mist You Madly can hold it's own as I'm trying to decide what shade of lovely I'll smell like that day. Very fun and light, and nice to spray on before bed so I can try to drift off to sleep with the feeling of how fabulous I smell. It's £6 at Boots for a very long-lasting 250ml bottle, and you can get it at Target too (though it was out of stock when I checked and no price was listed. I'd guess it's around $11.99 like the Girliglo body mist).

Other notable S&G products: Scrub Your Nose In It, The Righteous Butter, The Scrub of Your Life, Clean on Me, Calm One Calm All bubble bath, Hair Supply, and Flake Away Body Scrub.

Other fab Boots finds (also available at Target):
--No7 Quick-Thinking 4-in-1 Wipes: I recently read that face wipes can be harsh on the skin, and when I used them exclusively for a few days I did get some dry patches. But used at night only with a regular cleanser in the morning these cause no ill effects and feel lovely and refreshing. They are £6.50 at Boots, which is crazy high -- but it becomes a fair price when you wait until there is a £5 off No7 coupon out and stock up at £1.50 each. They're normally $6.99 in Target. I'm not sure I'd pay that much for them, may have to switch brands whenever I'm living in the States again.

--No7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum: Reviewers rave about this stuff, and it really does feel nice going on and seems to give the skin a bit of a glow. That may be imagination, all I know is I bought some when it was on sale (of course!) and really like it. I don't know that I'll use a serum on a regular basis when I run out, but I can definitely see buying this to use once in a while, maybe instead of a moisturiser some days rather than in addition to one. It's a much better deal in the States where it's $19.99 at Target, whereas it costs £18.50 at Boots. Of course, Boots being Boots, it's often on sale 3 for 2, or else there's a "free" sample bag of goodies as a bonus gift with a given spend. Yippee!

Boots bliss

If you've ever been to England, you've noticed a very British tradition on the high streets, and at airports and train stations. The oval blue sign of Boots just seems part of the landscape to me, and seems closely associated with England itself; it's somehow iconic.

Everyone pops round to Boots for prescriptions or toothpaste or a sandwich at lunchtime (you'll see lines of people around noon with a "meal deal" of sandwich, drink and snack in hand for £2.99, which is often consumed on a bench on the high street despite frequently chill winds and threatening rain).

When we first moved here, we went to Boots for prescriptions and not much else. It seemed so very overpriced. It wasn't until later I learned that Boots jacks its prices sky high so it can offer sales and coupons and points on its store loyalty card (which can be spent in-store like cash). And then often marks things down for clearance, frequently leaving them on the regular shelf rather than moving them to a special clearance aisle, which makes it a bit of a fun bargain hunt each time I go in. It was due to deals and coupons that I discovered the fun Soap and Glory range, but I'll get to that later.

I indulged a bit too much in my gleeful bargain hunting when I first discovered all the deals to be had. Many was the time I came home with a bulging bag of heath and beauty products valued at £5.2 billion for which I paid a paltry £8.99. Or something like that. I've reigned that in greatly in the past year, but still have loads of lotions and potions weighing down my shelves as reminders of my early frenzy. I won't need to buy body wash or shampoo for a few years. Or mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss, perfume ....

The phenomenon, no the pastime, that is hunting for deals and getting some amazing finds at Boots is known in online forums as "Bootsing." Yes, people actually discuss their finds and bargains online, and share tips on how to get the best deal. And that's where it really becomes Bootsing, because the best deals are often a bit crazy, so good you wouldn't have guessed it was available (as in, why does that coupon apply to clearance items? Who cares, it just does!). Say a coupon is offered for £1 off a given toothbrush. Well, then Boots will go right ahead and mark those toothbrushes down to £1, and guess what! The coupon still works, the barcode scans, the register accepts it, and the sales assistant bags it up! Presto whamo, free toothbrush. And excited little fingers fly in a flurry to share the news, and then hundreds of Bootsers are storming stores around the land clearing the shelves of toothbrushes.

Or perhaps there will be a range of body butters where Boots is offering 150 points back on your loyalty card if you purchase one (and that equals £1.50 you can spend on almost anything in the store). And perhaps the coupon is aimed at the full-size items that cost £7.50, but it's accepted on the "mini" versions as well, which are on sale for £1.66. So in what is called "Boots logic" you are only paying 16p for the item because you get £1.50 back on your card to spend. And the Boosters are in bliss. And I end up with a stack of mini body butters at home that I didn't really need or want, and loads of points on my card. Those of you who know me will probably get some of these as a "just because" gift the next time you see me.

I have no idea if Boots does this intentionally to clear out items and increase foot traffic, or if it's a thoughtless mistake to mark things down just as a coupon is offered. And these lovely coupons are offered by Boots in a store magazine or in the store Account Card Machine (ACM), so the company knows full well what coupons are out there before they decide what to mark down or put on sale. But I ain't complaining.

The lovely bit about points is no matter how much you spend to earn them, they feel like free money, even though they most decidedly aren't. It's all the better because Boots is not like your average U.S. drugstore in that it also has premium beauty counters -- Dior, Clinique, Clarins, etc., as well as Boots own brand of No7 cosmetics. Visiting the Clinique counter is guilt-free when you're paying with points. Lovely. There's also a good selection of digital cameras, and I proudly took one home last year and presented it to my husband as a glowing example of what I could snag for "free" with points.

Not all of the deals were quite as good as the ones I've mentioned, and I often spent vastly more than I intended in the process of getting them, but it was fun while it lasted. The super deals seem rare these days, and you can't even clean up on the after-Christmas clearance sales online because so many Bootsers log on at once that the system crashes and Boots ends up scrapping the sale. The Golden Days of Bootsing are done, and that's fine by me. I had fun for awhile, but I'm done with getting an overload of items it will take years to actually use.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Duck fight!

Hubby dear doesn't like me to toss out old bread -- that's for feeding the ducks. Which he never gets around to, or if he does it's after stacks of bread have grown into a hefty pile on the table. Today I told him either the ducks get the bread, or the trash does. I added in some tortillas to the bread and naan. So he wings the tortillas out across the water, whole, like a Frisbee. See the floating discs below? That's the tortillas floating along unmolested by duck, goose or swan.
Next he tossed out the bread, properly broken into pieces. Which promptly started a duck fight (I missed the best of it, but you can see below the victor chasing away his foe). That's probably the most excitement we'll see all day.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I am the champion, my friends...

I failed to mention it sooner, but early this month I actually won something! The latest book by Julie Cohen, "Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom." Yay, me! (Turns out Julie's an American living in Reading, like me. We should form a support group for Yanks Out of Water, though she probably doesn't need it at this point.)

How did I win, you might ask? I entered a competition on The Writing Playground where I described the most magical place I've ever visited (because Nina Jones is based around gorgeous Highgate Cemetery in London, the author's pick of a magical site). My pick? The Alabama Shakespeare Festival Park in Montgomery, Alabama, (the actual name is the Wynton Blount Cultural Park, but it's always the ASF park to me). Lovely theater, ponds filled with ducks and black swans, and a feeling of stepping out of the blandness of highways and shopping centers into a beautiful, peaceful world of quiet reflection once you enter the gates.

As for Nina Jones, I haven't read it yet due to the pressing weight from a stack of books yay high already battling for my attention. However, I did read another of Julie's books this month, "One Night Stand," which I bought when she gave a talk during local author day at the library. That book is set in Reading, and it was fun to see local landmarks pop up here and there and get a dose of romance.

And now on to some pictures of my favorite spot to linger, ASF park:

I adore this bridge. It's romantic and lovely and if you walk through that entrance to the right, there's a sheltered seating area overlooking a pond.

And this is the view from that little seating area. Divine.

And these are the HUGE fish you'll see frolicking away in the pond below. OK, maybe fish don't frolic, but whatever they do in there they've got a beautiful spot for it.

The park's a perfect location for a little sunset-watching.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Fire up the blur tool, that dude's smoking!

I noticed last night that cigarettes were blurred in sketches on The Soup on E!. So were guns (we assume they were toys gun and have no idea if they were realistic toys or even Barbie pink plastic). So in a country where you could almost surely show a closeup of someone getting a Brazilian wax after 9pm, you can't show someone holding a cigarette or a gun at 7pm? I've also noticed that Comedy Central bleeps "dumbass" on "That 70s Show" (and if you watch the show, you know that's practically Red's pet name for his son, so the bleeps are flying).

One of the things I like about Brit TV is that they don't seem to chop up and censor everything. You can actually watch a movie or an old episode of Sex and The City on non-premium channels and see it uncut and unedited, which beats the hell out of what most U.S. stations do. All of which makes it seem all the odder when they won't show a guy holding a cigarette! The blurs even make things seem nastier, because when you see a man with something blurred in front of his mouth, you wonder what could be so filthy they had to blur it -- until you realize he's smoking. We're in Bizarro World.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Southern Gas Social Club

There's an abandoned building by the canal with the windows boarded up and the gate chained. Over one doorway behind the gate is the sign: "Southern Gas Social Club." It's on Gas Works Road, so we presume it was a pub for employees of the gas company once upon a time? I can't find anything about it online, but it looks so interesting (with that mystery that all old, boarded up buildings seem to exude). It also looks like it could be converted into some great waterside flats. Or even a cool pub -- I'd hang out at a place called the Southern Gas Social Club.

If anyone knows the history of this building, please share!

And a view of the back from across the canal:

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Fancy a cup of tea, mate?

Throughout my life, people have offered me tea, at times forcibly. We moved to the Deep South when I was 13, and an old family friend insisted on pouring me a cold glass of the ubiquitous Southern sweet tea. Protests that I didn't like tea brought a laugh and a glass pushed into my hand, as though I'd made a little joke, because who doesn't like sweet tea? To me it looked like rusty water and didn't taste much better. I grimaced and left it on the table.

People went on offering sweet tea and shaking their heads in bemused amazement while muttering about "Yankees" when I turned it down time and again. By my early 30s, I was still a staunch tea-loather when an English boyfriend convinced me it was quite good hot if brewed properly. I wasn't totally convinced, but he was cute and I'm easily swayed. I started drinking hot tea now and then, mainly if I was freezing in an arctic workplace and wanted something with less calories than hot cocoa. (Why are offices kept cold enough to cryogenically freeze the staff, anyway?) I'm pretty sure I wasn't preparing it properly, but at least I was willing to give it a go.

Fast-forward several years and I'm living in England, the land where tea is so popular that many even call the evening meal "tea." It took me quite awhile to figure out that when someone said they were having company for tea, they actually meant dinner and not cups of tea served with scones and jam. And wonder of wonder, no one forces tea on me here.

But as of last week, they don't have to, I actually want it. Thanks to a little glass teapot I bought at Poundland (care to guess the price?), I love making tea, watching it change color, and pouring it out into a big mug. It even seems to taste better than ever before.

The hangup for me was always how to actually make the tea. I knew how to hang a teabag out of a cup of boiled water, but I couldn't figure out those ceramic teapots. Did people put those on the stove to heat the water? That didn't seem right. Did you pour boiling water into it (bingo!), and if so, where did the tea go (would you just leave loose leaves inside, or what?) Turns out there are various methods to deal with that (here's a nice tutorial for other tea numbskulls like me).

However, my magical little cheapie teapot comes with a built-in infuser (a little strainer that fits inside). I can put a teabag or leaves in there. It's especially lovely because the one time I always loved tea was if I went to a restaurant that brought my own small teapot to the table -- I'm totally charmed by that concept, like having my own little tea party. And now I have my own cute teapot and even know how to use it. I've even found a few teas I like, such as white tea and a specialty blend of blueberry and yogurt.

Now if I can only figure out the appeal of dry, dusty scones...