3 top tips for first year university students

I never really went to university.

I mean I went – I have a degree and everything – it’s just that I didn’t go in the sense of moving into halls, staying up all night playing drinking games, sleeping all day and generally dossing about eating pizza. (That’s what students do right?). I lived in a little house with my toddler, Bee, drove in for lectures and went to bed at a sensible time. Drinking games with a two year old are generally frowned upon.

Said toddler is now in her second year at university and has gone in the proper sense. She lives in halls near Waterloo, with a lovely view of the London skyline, and I’m sure eats less fresh fruit than she should. She is doing an amazing job of living on her own in a big city and is working really hard on her course too – I am full of pride and admiration for her. Well done Bee.

Not having had the full student experience myself then, I turned to Bee’s instagram feed for some inspiration to help me come up with some top tips for students. Here’s what I picked up:

Make the most of wherever you are

The temptation I’m sure is to spend as much time as possible asleep or in a Wetherspoon’s but don’t! Any decent university city is going to have a lot to offer culturally and you may very well look back in ten or twenty years time and wish you’d made more of the opportunities on your doorstep.

London skyline Read more

What will you do if trick or treaters knock on your door?

I remember one particularly ill-prepared Halloween; I had forgotten completely that it was October 31st and the house was definitely not well-stocked with suitably spooky sweet treats. Blissfully unaware of the ghouls that would be waiting for me, I happily opened the door when the doorbell rung.

Fortunately it was one of those groups of pre-teens who see Halloween as an excuse to wear a black coat and hassle vulnerable people for sweets rather than a collection of adorable five year old witches, so I didn’t feel so bad when I came back from my rummaging in the kitchen with a handful of apples. They did not look like the sort of children who considered fruit a ‘treat’.

Still, at least I made the effort to give them something. According to a recent survey from Webloyalty, over half of you aren’t going to even open the door. Worse than that, there are a small proportion of people who will actually open the door, get their visitors’ hopes up and then crossly send them away! Shame on you.

Alongside their extensive research into the nation’s Halloween plans, Webloyalty has produced this fun animation highlighting some of the most interesting findings.

I’d love to know what your plans are for Halloween. Will you be thoughtfully carving a pumpkin and fashioning yourself a hand-crafted costume or will you be of the 50+% of people closing the curtains tight and pretending not to be home?

This year I’ve decided I’m definitely going to be better prepared. I’ve bought apples and bananas.

Don’t forget – you still have until Monday to enter Webloyalty’s quick competition to win £50 to spend on Halloween fancy dress so go and enter now!

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COMPETITION: Win a fabulous family roast dinner with Mash Direct – £50 Asda voucher + yummy veg up for grabs

There are a lot of things that I’ve inherited from my mother. These include:

  • A low threshold for boredom
  • Crumbly teeth
  • A tendency to eat too much butter and cheese
  • A habit of putting ‘My Friend’ before people’s names when talking about them to other people, even though the person I am talking to knows them well. E.g ‘I went out my My Friend Andrea at the weekend’.

Aside from all of these charming attributes, I have also been blessed with the ability to whip up a delicious roast dinner. You can’t beat a roast can you? Mountains of vegetables, (ideally covered in a cheese sauce – see point three above), bread sauce, gravy, a big glass of wine; I am salivating as a type.

If you feel in anyway as passionately about roast dinners as I do then this competition is for you. It’s brought to you by a Northern Irish company called Mash Direct. Mash Direct grows delicious vegetables and gently steam cooks them immediately after harvesting to ensure unrivalled freshness of flavour as well as texture, whilst retaining their natural nutritional benefits. They are gluten-free and free from artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings so a great brand to introduce to children to help ensure they eat their veg! Read more

Easy chicken tikka masala recipe – celebrating #nationalcurryweek with a little help from The Spice Tailor

chicken tikka masala

I love a curry. Poppadoms, naan, that minty dip thing that I never know the name of that you always get in a tiny pot when you order takeaway – I love it all. As it’s National Curry Week then it would be positively remiss of me not to whip up a delicious spicy feast.

Fortunately, I recently discovered The Spice Tailor curry sauces, so rather than having to spend ages grinding things in a mortar and pestle or trekking to a specialist supermarket for spices I can have a chicken tikka masala ready in about 15 minutes – a proper one that doesn’t taste like it’s full of sugar and just came out of a jar. Read more

Discover fear with Thorpe Park’s Friday Fright Nights

Fancy the idea of being trapped in the dark in a terrifying SAW inspired maze?

No, me neither to be honest. I’m much more of a Sweet Home Alabama kind of girl. I actually sometimes find it a bit too scary to watch Inspector Morse on my own and then don’t like to go to the toilet in case someone is hiding behind the shower curtain.

I know that lots of people do get their kicks from all things horror though, so in my role as a Thorpe Park Blogger Ambassador it is my duty to inform you that as well as all of the regular rollercoaster and Shark Hotel funtimes you can enjoy at the resort, there are also these very scary Friday nights happening until early November.

Look away now if your idea of frightening is not knowing whether or not Reese Witherspoon will get Bruiser’s Bill passed in Legally Blond 2.

Find out more about Fright Nights and book your tickets now.

Disclosure: We are Thorpe Park ambassadors. We have received Merlin annual passes in return for sharing our news and views but all opinions are my own.

The Apprentice episode one – 11 reasons why I couldn’t be a contestant

I’ve been looking forward to The Apprentice for weeks now, if not months. It’s one of the only programmes, apart from the Great British Bake Off obviously, that I actually watch live.

The Apprentice

I don’t know what it is about The Apprentice, but it’s compulsive viewing for me. As much as I love watching it though, I could never actually be an Apprentice contestant. Having just watched the first episode, I came up with 11 reasons why not.

  1. I do not ‘dance the dance.’ That’s not to say I don’t dance a dance, but it’s definitely not the dance. It’s more of a sort of twitch or fit of some kind.
  2. I don’t give myself 9 out of 10 for attractiveness. 6.8 at best. 7.6 maybe after a few sambucas.
  3. Owning a four year old Toyota would not be the stuff of nightmares for me.
  4. I do not see myself as a cross between Gandhi and the Wolf of Wall Street. Perhaps more Judy Finnigan meets Edina from Ab Fab.
  5. I could not pull off white loafers, no socks and a blue suit. (To be fair, no one can.)
  6. I could not sell ice to the Eskimos, nor would I want to.
  7. I don’t speak about myself in the 3rd person.
  8. I don’t believe that my success depends on the length of my skirt. ‘Making sure I have some nice make-up and heels’ isn’t top of my list when heading out to a meeting.
  9. I know that a man in a cheap hotdog costume does not equal ‘gourmet’.
  10. I barely spend any time at all thinking about how much cheese I need.
  11. I have an IQ higher than 92.

Are you a fan of The Apprentice? Would you ever apply to be a contestant? 

What’s your Halloween costume of choice? A Webloyalty competition!

Do you have your costume ready yet?

In the next two weeks, ecommerce partner Webloyalty will be releasing fresh research which looks at what the UK is planning for Halloween this year, and how it has evolved. The research will also look at our attitudes towards trick or treating, pumpkins, and how much we plan to spend.

As part of the lead-up to the research being released, Webloyalty is running a competition to reveal the most popular Halloween costumes. 

Now as a child I have to confess that our Halloween costumes were very much bin bag inspired. More often than not we could be found at around 5pm on October 31st with a pot of tippex or tin of white paint, drawing star and moon shapes onto a bin liner with holes cut for a head and arms.

Classy.

Nowadays of course you can’t take a trip to a supermarket without having to hack your way through a forest of spooky outfits, with nothing at all left to the imagination. Sure they look much more professional, but I do sometimes think fondly back to the bin bag days and wonder if we haven’t stifled our children’s creativity a little.

This year we have a puppy to dress up. We know she isn’t adverse to a costume as recently we have been dressing her up like a crayon:

Dog crayon costumePets at Home had a vast array of costumes when we were browsing at the weekend and while I do quite fancy the idea of Margaux in a black and orange tutu and scary pumpkin hat I can’t help but wish I had four dogs so that I could create this look: Read more

REVIEW: Tristans Bistro in Taunton

We lived in Taunton first time around about 12 years ago when Belle was a baby. As she got slightly older and less likely to scream the second I broke physical contact with her, going out and about became easier and eating out less of a nightmare. Taunton wasn’t overrun at the time with nice places to eat, but there was one very lovely little restaurant down on East Reach called Tristans.

Tristans was run, funnily enough, by a friendly chap called Tristan, and Tristan made just about the best eggs Benedict in the entire world. Brunch there on a Sunday was bliss, and not just because I could keep Belle quiet for a good twenty minutes by filling her mouth with hot buttered toast.

Tristans Bistro has changed hands a couple of times since then, so being newly back in Taunton Belle and I were very excited to be invited to visit for dinner and to see how it’s doing now. We decided it would be our date night and Belle made the effort to put on a pretty dress and wear a flower in her hair. It was very sweet.

On arrival we were greeted by very friendly and helpful staff and Belle set about assessing the surroundings. She really liked the cosy atmosphere and the cutlery passed her test – no ‘previous food’ to be seen. She even had a feel under the tables for gum and declared everything up to her high standards. Read more

Housework: do your children share the chores? New survey from Mumsnet and Women’s Hour makes for depressing reading

How many hours a week do you reckon you spend on household chores?

According to recent surveys for Mumsnet and Women’s Hour  it’s an average of 10 hours a week for working mums and just five hours a week for men. Given that I’m a single parent, I reckon I’m notching up at least 15 hours a week doing tedious things like shopping, cooking, washing and hoovering. Sure, I save some time by avoiding cleaning the bathroom more often than I need to to avoid dysentery, but it’s still a lot.

Housework survey

We know all this though.

As much as some men would like to have us believe we live in an age of gender equality – ‘there’s that ad on TV remember, where the man is made to look stupid!’ – we don’t. It would be nice, but we just don’t. Women still get left with the lion’s share of housework, parenting and other caring duties, on top of working in jobs where they are quite likely paid less than the average man. And that’s just the surface inequality.

In a way I feel a bit sorry for men. Apparently out of 54 common household tasks, women are chiefly responsible for 36 of them. There are just three where men predominantly take charge: changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY. It feels a bit like only trusting a small child with a pair of special plastic scissors. Read more

How often does the average person have sex? Dispelling the three times a week myth

How often have you had sex in the last month?

sex

If you coughed a bit and looked sort of embarrassed then fear not; a third of Britons haven’t done it at all. Not once. That’s apparently the reality of modern Britain – we’re doing it less than ever and, when we do, we’re not even sure we’re as good as we once were.

I’ve not been out asking people in the street or anything, this is all coming from a comprehensive study undertaken by The Observer, and to be honest it makes for fairly depressing reading. The survey is a follow up to the one they carried out in 2008 and shows some rather worrying trends. Some people believe the results are a reflection of a depressed economy and people working harder than ever – as parents particularly we all know how much more attractive sleep can seem than sex when you’ve been mentally battling a toddler for 14 hours straight.

I wonder too how much is to do with mobile technology and a tendency to sit in the evenings dual screening rather than retiring to the bedroom for an early night. Come on, admit it – have you ever thought about having sex but instead turned to Twitter or WhatsApp? There is much less effort involved when the person you’re interacting with can’t see that you’re in pudding stained pyjamas and haven’t shaved your legs since Christmas. Read more