A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Silent Sunday - 30/11/2014


Monday, 24 November 2014

Stay Safe This Christmas Party Season

My daughter is only 9 years old, but already she can make that sound - "harrumph" - which implies she hasn't the faintest intention of listening to me; a situation that I fully envisage will continue when she hits her teens.

Christmas revellers the worse for wear - stay safe this party season - motherdistracted.co.uk
Christmas Revellers The Worse For Wear - Mirror.co.uk
Since this is now the season when Daily Mail journalists polish their camera lenses and lurk around the many pubs in St. Mary Street in Cardiff (or any other busy city centre) on Fridays and Saturdays hoping to catch party goers in less than dignified positions (i.e. spark out on the floor, face down in the gutter, etc), I found myself wondering what advice I'd give Caitlin in the years to come on how to stay safe on a night out.

I suspect that very few of us have personal safety at the top of our agenda for a good night out. Most of us are more concerned about whether our dress looks good and we can actually walk in those heels.  But safety IS an issue, particularly at this time of year.

According to the Home Office, more than 300,000 women in England and Wales are sexually assaulted and 60,000 raped each year - a truly staggering statistic.  This means that in the month of December an average of 25,000 women will be sexually assaulted and 5,000 women raped, without allowing for any seasonal fluctuations in statistics due to the party season.

So, below are some tips it would do all of us, male and female, well to read and inwardly digest before stepping into that taxi.

Before You Go
  • Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged.
  • Carry a personal alarm with you - men as well as women - as statistics show that men actually stand a higher chance of being attacked in the street.
  • Keep some money separate from your purse or wallet.  A friend of mine shoves a £20 note down her bra!
  • If you're using public transport, find out the times of the buses / trains so you're not waiting about too long at the bus stop / station and know what time you have to leave so as not to miss the last one home altogether.
  • Make sure you have the taxi firm's number in your phone.
  • Let someone know where you are going and roughly what time you plan to be home.
  • Don't get too tipsy before you leave.  It's tempting to have a few glasses before you go to get you in the party mood (and to avoid the hefty prices some clubs charge for drinks), but you're likely to end up drunker than you might otherwise have been much quicker.
And, on the subject of drinking ...

Festive Tipples
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach - the levels of alcohol in your blood will rise quicker, which means you'll be drunk quicker.  Try to at least have a high protein snack - some cubes of cheese and some crackers, or even a bowl of cereal will be better than nothing.
  • Try to control your drinking - set yourself an upper limit and stick to it.
  • Avoid drinking in rounds - it puts you under pressure to both drink and spend more. The Government advises 3-4 units of alcohol a day for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units a day for women (equivalent to a 175ml glass of wine). And there's always someone who manages to avoid paying for a round, isn't there?!
  • Watch your, and your friends' drinks - take turns to watch each other's drinks when you go to the toilet or outside for a cigarette.  One of my girlfriends drinks bottled beers and advises keeping your thumb in the top of the bottle when you're not drinking.
At The Club / Party Venue
  • Stick with people you know - and try to go home with them.
  • Don't get drawn into problem situations or arguments  - just walk away.  
  • If you still don't feel safe then call the police.
Getting Home Safely
  • Book a taxi before you go out - and make sure the taxi firm's number is on your phone. I'd have the number of two or three firms to be on the safe side. And if possible get them to identify both the model and registration number of the car which will be collecting you. The taxi firm I prefer to use here in Cardiff, Premier Cabs, will send a text to your phone with this information when your taxi arrives.
  • Make sure you have enough money for your journey - and use a reputable firm who won't take the mickey by grossly inflating the fare.  Another of my girlfriends was recently asked to pay £75 to go from the centre of Cardiff to an address on the outskirts - a journey which should have cost £15 - £20.  She had not been drinking on that particular evening and was able to tell the driver where to go! But it is obvious that there are unscrupulous drivers out there who see tipsy revellers as fair game for a financial fleecing.
  • DO NOT TAKE AN UNLICENSED MINICAB! Only licensed taxis are allowed to pull up at the kerb.  You have no idea who you might be getting into a car with.
  • Use your gut feeling - if the driver starts to ask you inappropriate questions or if it's clear you are being driven the long way round or along a route you do not recognise, ask to be dropped off at the next available bus stop / shop / anywhere open and full of people.  Better to wait for another taxi than to put yourself at risk.
  • Sit near the driver on a bus and in an occupied carriage on a train.
  • If you HAVE to walk home, try not to do so alone - and use well lit, busy streets and main roads wherever possible.
  • Take a pair of roll-up flat shoes with you - companies such as Rollasole and Tipsy Feet make roll up ballet flats which you can take in your bag so you can walk home comfortably without having to teeter in heels.  It's much easier to run in flat shoes too.
A lot of this is common sense, but it is human nature to assume that "it will never happen to me". 

Avoid using the body language of a "victim" too.  Stand tall, walk swiftly and with purpose.  Look like you know where you are going. It is illegal to carry weapons of course but I like to carry my house keys in my hand. 

There are also numerous apps now which allow you to use your mobile as a torch but, since mobile phone theft is so prevalent it would be better to keep your phone to hand but concealed.  

Do NOT stop in the middle of an empty street to take a mobile phone call or answer a text.

With these tips in mind, you can enjoy your night out without compromising your safety.  Then all you'll have to worry about will be the photos of you dancing on tables appearing on Facebook the next morning.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Coffee With Currys At Waterloo Tea, Cardiff

When I received an invitation from the lovely folks at Joeblogsnetwork.com to spend several hours with Curry's PC World and Nespresso talking about, playing with and tasting quality coffee made from one of those clever little Nespresso machines I've added to my Christmas list, I accepted with alacrity.

The event, with a certain degree of irony, was held at Waterloo Tea in Cardiff's Wyndham Arcade but being a caffeine fiend this was in no way off-putting.

Cardiff's Quaint, Christmassy Wyndham Arcade

Waterloo Tea
After a delicious lunch featuring flavoursome salads, canapes and wonderful chocolate 'bites', our first challenge was to become baristas for the day and create a latte lovingly adorned with a heart.

It is not as easy as it looks and the coffee making equipment is more sophisticated than I had expected.

The water pressure must be just so as must the size of the ground coffee grains - the latter affecting the taste of the espresso if the grains are too big or too small.

My fellow bloggers and I had been divided into four groups undertaking each activity in turn.

My group and I surveyed the hissing piece of equipment in front of us with something approaching terror. Needless to say, our tutor produced a latte with a perfect heart.

Coffee love
I'm afraid I managed to produce what can best be described as a blob or possibly a runner bean, neither being required in someone's latte anytime soon.

Our next activity was cupping.

No, not the weirdness espoused by Gwyneth Paltrow but a lesson in the art of coffee tasting.

Using one of the natty little Nespresso wizards a range of coffees was placed before us and we were asked to taste each one by slurping some off a spoon.

Noisy slurping is apparently required, if somewhat unladylike.

We were surprised by how much coffee is packed into each of the little coffee pods and also at the variety of flavours available.

There are 22 varieties of coffee to choose from.

The coffees are ranked according to intensity and flavour so Livanto, a blend of Central and South American Arabicas is a medium roast with an intensity of 6, whilst aromatic Volluto has sweet biscuit and light fruity notes and an intensity of 4.

There is a flavour and intensity to match every taste and moment of the day.

Cupping in action
Things were now getting serious and it was time to learn how to combine coffee with alcohol.

I have to say I have been doing this reasonably successfully for years just not in cocktail format.

We learned how to make an Orange Coffee Martini which so entranced me I completely forgot the name of the second - although I do recall it featured espresso and Baileys which is enough information to work with in my book.

We were also shown how to make coffee 'mocktails' but again, I'm afraid my attention wandered back to the martini at this point.

Coffee Cocktail Time
A Raspberry Coffee Mocktail - Sadly Not One Of Your 5-A-Day
Lastly we were given a demonstration of a range of Nespresso machines ranging from a basic model, retailing around the £70 mark such as the Krups Nespresso Inissia to a more sophisticated version such as the Nespresso Lattissima & Espresso Machine at around the £179 mark which also has a milk frother and jug.

Be gentle with me ladies!

We learned that when you buy a Nespresso machine you automatically become a member of the Nespresso Club.

The Club offers numerous privileges including personalised contacts with Nespresso and its coffee specialists.

You can order your coffee fix online, by phone or fax, day or night to the delivery address of your choice or to one of the Nespresso Boutiques.

And, should your Nespresso machine need repairing during its guarantee period, Nespresso will collect it and provide you with a loan machine, subject to availability.

Repairs out of warranty are carried out at a flat fee.

I was impressed by the ease of use (pop a pod in, press a button and hey presto!) but the team at #CoffeeWithCurrys really showed us that there is more to these little machines than just a quick coffee break.

For those who are interested in gourmet coffee and expanding their knowledge of what I think Blackadder once referred to as 'that naughty bean', this is an excellent and cost effective way of doing so.

Yes, the cost per cup using the pods may be slightly higher than a jar of instant and a spoon but in terms of taste, the coffees I sampled were certainly excellent quality.

A Nespresso machine is now definitely at the top of my Christmas list.

More information about #CoffeeWithCurrys is available HERE.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Review: A Star Is Quorn

Being a regular reader of the Daily Mail online, I have the opportunity to enjoy a positive cornucopia of health related scare stories which demonise a food group (or, more usually alcohol) one week and then sing its praises the next.  

Like most of us, I have what can best be described as a rather 'pick 'n' mix' approach to health and nutrition. 

That said though, there are some simple common-sense ideas which even the Daily Mail would struggle to turn into five paragraphs of hysteria and a picture of a journalist writing from a Boden-covered semi in Primrose Hill.  

One of these rules is to eat less meat on the basis that it is better for us, better for our animal friends and ultimately better for the planet.

Whilst, here at Downton Shabby, we have not quite managed to adopt "meat free Monday", I have flirted with vegetarian cookbooks and when we were given the opportunity to try out some Quorn, it seemed like the ideal time to test Mo Farah's rocket fuel.

 Quorn Mince

Quorn is meat free and made with mycoprotein.  

It is also low in fat and a source of fibre.  

We need protein to maintain normal bones and muscle mass and consuming less saturated fat helps to maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.  

Quorn is now the leading meat free substitute in the UK and Ireland and, since its launch in 1985, is now sold in over 16 countries.  

We tried the mince which is cooked from frozen in either 12 minutes on the hob or 9 minutes in a microwave - extremely quick and easy.

There is a range of products made from Quorn and the website contains a number of easy to follow recipes.  

Whether you fancy burgers, sausages, chicken pieces, a hearty chilli, shepherd's pie or spaghetti bolognese, there is a recipe for every taste - these being also available on a free ios app for your mobile.

Just some of the products in the Quorn meat-free range 

We tried Quorn spaghetti bolognese using the recipe on the website and despite my rather limited lack of cooking skills, I found the recipe simplicity itself.  

The true test, of course, would be to serve my meat free dish to the rest of the family to see if they would notice.

Quorn, straight from the freezer

The Quorn itself does not have a strong taste but is easy to cook with and so it is easy to add flavour using herbs and even a dash of red wine.

A tasty meat-free spaghetti bolognese

So easy, even I can make it

Both the kids and the husband cleared their plates expressing surprise at how tasty it was.  I have to say that I noticed very little difference between a meat and a non meat bolognese.

No complaints here!

We are now looking forward to trying the sausages and burgers and plan to make Meat Free Monday a regular event in the Hobbis Household.    

I will certainly be keeping a bag or two of Quorn mince available for those days when a speedy nutritious tea is needed.  

A 350g bag of frozen Quorn mince retails at around the £3 mark making it a comparable price to minced beef.

Further information is available at www.quorn.co.uk.

*Vouchers were received for the purchase of the products featured in this review.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Shared Parental Leave Comes Into Force 1st December 2014

From 1st December 2014, Shared Parental Leave will come into force.  It will enable mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. For example, the mother or adopter could share some leave with a partner, returning to work for a while and then resuming leave in the final months of the year.

Caitlin in 2008

The idea is to give greater flexibility in how to share childcare in the first year following birth or adoption.  Basically there will now be one pot of leave available to both parents which they can allocate between them. And, of course, it means that fathers will be able to play a greater role in caring for their children in the first year.

Shared Parental Leave does not replace Maternity and Paternity leave but is a separate option available to those parents who meet the qualifying criteria.  This means that a mother would need to end her maternity leave early and opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. She would then need to decide how to share her Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement with her partner. Maternity Leave is currently 52 weeks of which 39 weeks accrue either statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Paid Paternity Leave of two weeks will still be available but it proposed that Shared Parental Leave will eventually replace Additional Paternity Leave.

Qualifying criteria are explained in detail on the ACAS website but will apply for parents where a baby is due to be born on or after 5th April 2015 or for children placed for adoption on or after that date.  Employers can start to receive notices of intention to take Shared Parental Leave from January 2015, provided that the qualifying criteria are met - for example you must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week in which the child is due.

If you think this arrangement may work for you and your partner, now is the time to start researching the new regulations to see if you will be eligible.

For information is available at www.acas.org.uk


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Silent Sunday - 02/11/2014

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