REBLOGGED: Diary of an (Actuarial) Undergrad – Trials and Tribulations of a Good CV

I was recently asked to do a couple of guest posts for my university’s careers service blog, which can be found here. I must say, the support I have already received from the University of Kent in terms of careers has been outstanding. I reccomend a look on their website even if you aren’t a student, as there is some amazing advice. Definitely check out their blog too, and here’s my original post.

 

I’ve just finished my first year in Actuarial Science (which is, to put it very simply, a mixture of mathematics, applied statistics, economics and finance) and will be beginning a yearlong placement in the summer of 2014 as part of my degree. As of yet applications are only just starting to open, so I’ve been concentrating on getting my CV up to scratch.

 

The simple fact is you will be asked to produce a CV for potential employers at some point in your life.

I’ve held two part-time jobs whilst studying, and both of these were obtained by handing my CV to a prospective manager, so I know firsthand how crucial these ‘little bits of paper’ are. I also know that having to quickly produce one to hand over is probably one of the most stressful things in existence. So even if you ignore everything else I write in this post, at least do one thing; prepare your CV now, when you have a spare minute, and then update it as and when needed.

 

So, the perfect CV. What’s in it? What definitely shouldn’t be in it? How long should it be? What font should I use?

There’s a list of endless questions you could ask, and I’m not going to pretend I have all of the answers. But I have been told my CV is strong, and I’ve also had some fabulous advice from Nikki Ellis (the industrial placement adviser in the Schools of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science) so I hope I can guide you to the right direction.

The general consensus is that a CV for industrial placements (and indeed graduate roles) should be 2 pages in length. That should be a full 2 pages. Not 1.5 with hugeeee writing. And not squished-up-with-tiny-margins-and-tiny-font 2 pages. You shouldn’t be altering the layout of your paper and the size of your font to compensate for too short/long CVs. On that note, go for a standard font (something like Calibri or Arial) – none of the fancy swirly stuff! Keep the size between 10 and 12, any smaller and it will be difficult to read, any larger and you run the risk of it looking a little child-like.

The layout used is a bit more personal. I went for a tabular style CV, with section headings down the left. I also made important details (sub-headings such as educational results and job titles) stand out by putting them in a bold type face. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is to  break up large chunks of text, either through bullet points or some other means. A hunk of text will be off-putting, you want something easy to scan, something that will easily highlight how wonderful you are.

Content is a bit easier for me to advise on. I’ve been told that the order of the section in a CV should be as follows; contact details and profile; education; experience; skills; interests; and references. This is the order in which I will discuss the sections, just to make it a little easier for both me and you…

  • You want to start with your name and contact details. Make sure you include a phone number, email address and postal address.
  • Then go with a short paragraph (or maybe two even shorter ones) called a profile. This should briefly introduce yourself, summarise your experience and education, and state your current career goals. This section should be brief and to the point, and no more than a few sentences. Now is not the time to waffle (actually, at no point should a CV contain waffle!).
  • Then comes the education section. This should be in reverse chronological order, i.e. the most recent first. A good piece of advice, particularly if you find yourself short of space, is that the most recent qualifications should be talked about more, and the ones you took years ago the least. Hence I have just two lines devoted to my GCSE’s on my CV; the institution I sat them at, and the grades received. I haven’t mentioned specific subjects (although it is a good idea to clarify that they do include Mathematics and English), but I did mention the subjects I studied at A-level and devoted a little more space to these qualifications.
  • University modules and grades are often far more important. If your degree is directly relevant to the roles you are applying for, I’ve been told to detail the modules you have taken. I was also advised that, if ALL of your module grades are of a high standard, to include them in your CV. However, I really wouldn’t advise doing this if one is significantly lower than the others, or if they should any kind of inconsistencies in your academics. Best to use your own judgment to make that call!
  • Again in reverse chronological order comes your work experience. This can be anything from volunteering roles to employment. My personal advice would be to head each section with the place of work and the timescale, then briefly evaluate which skills you have gained from the role.
  • Following this section should be where you detail your key skills. My opinion is that bullet points are best for this, but at the same time make sure you write in full coherent sentences. Steer clear of clichés, and make sure you don’t repeat yourself. I know when I first got my CV reviewed by Nikki Ellis she counted a ridiculous 21 “I am”s in mine! Keep things clear, to the point, and relevant to the kind of roles you are applying for.
  • Next is the interests section. I’ll admit my CV actually lacks this, as I was short on space and it the thing that should be compromised on as opposed to nixing part of your education or employment history. This section is more important to some companies than others (do your research when applying!) and remember that any hobby or interest you list will give an impression about you as a person so think carefully about any potential implications.
  • Finally references. Here you have a choice; include full contact details of your chosen referees (make sure they are happy to provide references prior to submitting your CV if you chose to do this!) or state that you have references available on request. At university I’ve been told I need to include on academic referee (check with your department who the appropriate person is) and one employment referee; I have stated these two referees, and also mentioned that I am able to provide further employment references on request (as I have held done more than one job in the past).

 

And so that’s it, my not-so-brief guide as to what a CV should look like and include. I hope it helps at least one of you to create an excellent CV and hopefully gain a job! I’ll hopefully be back in a few weeks with a post on application processes, and those lovely online logical and numerical reasoning tests that a lot of companies implement into applications. Until then, have fun updating your CV…

Student Shopping: Tips on Auction Sites (And My EBay Addiction)

Sorry it’s been so long again. This operation really has taken a lot out of me, and coupled with trying to get on top of shifts at work (I don’t qualify for sick pay anymore, so wanted to make up for the shifts I missed!) I’ve had little time for blogging. I really have missed it, but my energy has been non-existent and the last thing I want is to be posting flat and tired posts. Hopefully this one won’t be too bad…

 

Over the few weeks between getting home and having my operation, I was tasked with clearing out my room. My parents aren’t planning on chucking me out anytime soon, but they are well aware I’m a little bit of a hoarder, and they also plan on redecorating my room next year. Embarrassingly, it took 3 trips to the dump to throw all of the non-decent stuff (and even more embarrassingly, only half of my room has been done – and it’s a small room!) and many black bags to house the various piles labelled ‘sell’ and ‘donate.’ Quite a decent pile of my stuff made its way to various charity shops, which always makes me feel like I’m doing my bit. I can’t say I give to charity as much as I’d like, sadly I can’t afford to donate often, but giving my unwanted goods for shops to sell makes me feel a teeny bit better. I also try and check out their clothing rails when I pop in – there’s often some excellent deals to be had!

I also had a lot of really, really good bits and pieces) that I felt I could get a bit of money for. I mean, most bits still had tags on! I have a really bad habit of buying things that I ‘might’ wear and then never wearing/using them, and although I’m growing out of that phase now (mainly as it’s my own money I’m spending!) it’s still left me with a lot of things to get rid of. Enter EBay. Not only did I find it an excellent way of getting rid of my unwanted things, I also found myself acquiring a few bits and pieces others didn’t want, which I did. This blog post will be a not-so-short guide to buying and selling on EBay.

 

Selling On EBay

  • Make sure it’s something that someone will want. Cheap items do sell, but is anyone really want to buy a broken Primark dress, pay postage, and repair it when they could buy a brand-new one for under £10. Special occasion items, like this here (I love it!), seem to sell well.
  • Set a reserve price just right. No point starting off your old ‘best’ leather jacket at 99p. But equally no point starting a well used t-shirt at £5. Judge it properly, and you’ll get interest.
  • Don’t charge ridiculous postage fees. It costs me £3 to post a small parcel (shorts/dress/t-shirt) and £3.50 for a pack of five postage bags. So to me, when someone asks for £5.50 postage for similar items, I get annoyed and put-off bidding. The ones EBay suggest are good estimates, and there for a reason, so do consider using them!
  • Take decent photographs, and lots of them. If you’re selling a patterned item, make sure your photos show it clearly. I also suggest taking photos of size/brand labels if possible, to avoid being accused of false advertising.
  • If selling clothing, please wash it before posting it off. I know people (me at least!) will most likely wash it when they receive it, but no-one will give you positive feedback for items with your dinner down them!
  • Make sure any items don’t smell. I won’t state which, but a clothing item I have received in the last few weeks had clearly been stored in a damp environment. Three washes and airings later it’s far improved, but I can’t stay I was impressed upon opening!
  • Don’t be disheartened if things don’t sell – list again, and again, and again, adjusting the reserve price if you feel it needs it. Remember that at certain times of the year (holiday periods) bidding will be less.
  • Ensure items are posted out quickly after payment is received. I always try to time my auctions to finish on a Saturday or Sunday, ensuring I have postage bags ready, so I know I can send them out the day after payment is received.
  • Keep an eye on items, as potential bidders may ask questions. It annoys me hugely when I ask a seller a question, they don’t respond, and so the item goes unbid on.

 

Buying on EBay

  • When searching, always try to be specific – don’t search for skirts, search for ‘floral skirt’ or ‘maxi skirt.’ No point wading through hundreds of entries you’re not interested in! Ideally, search for your favourite brands/shops too.
  • My biggest piece of advice is to include the size you’d want as a search term -you don’t want to find the perfect item and then it be miles too big/small for you.
  • Ask questions before bidding, especially if the seller won’t accept returns.
  • I don’t bid on things I like straight away. I add them to my watch list, set a phone alarm for just before bidding ends, and then bid at the last moment. This helps me to avoid a bidding war, and keeps me to a budget.
  • To keep to a budget, decide on a maximum bid and stick to it. Entering the auction with minute to go lowers the chance of you being outbid, and so removes temptation to spend more than you would have.
  • Don’t bid on everything you like – consider where it is from, and how well it will be made. I’m sorry if you think I’m a snob, but I would not buy a second-hand, used item from Primark for £5+postage, as I know perfectly well I could get one for the same price that hasn’t been worn before.
  • Last of all, always, always, please, please, please give feedback to your seller!

 

That’s my basic guide to selling/buying on EBay. I will admit the majority of things I have been interested in are clothes (I am a girl after all!) and here are the three items I have won this summer.

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A lovely vintage-style Urban Outfitters skirt. I just adore the different buttons on this, plus it’ll be far easier when I inevitably lose one!

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A less vintage, but equally lovely (and apparently one-off) unbranded skirt. This is a little on the tight side, but I got overexcited and ignored the ‘to fit sizes 6-10’ in the description as it was the first item I bid on.

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An absolutely gorgeous (the photograph doesn’t do it justice) mini-dress from Mango. I can’t wait until the winter to wear this with thick tights and boots!

 

I have also used EBay to try and find some items of sentimental value.

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Since I was very little, I’ve had one cuddly toy, and it’s the only one that I ever truly loved. It, or he, came everywhere with me, experienced things a bear shouldn’t have to experience (being stuffed in a drawer after getting lost in Marks and Spencer’s, and being posted from Cornwall for Leicestershire after I left him in a holiday cottage) and was basically glued to my hand when I wasn’t losing him. I loved, and still love, Bear. Yes, my bear’s name is Bear. I was an imaginative child (the story is, he was actually bought for my mum when she announced she was expecting me, I fell in love with him as a child, but I wasn’t allowed him until I said the word ‘bear’ – it ended up being my first word, and the name stuck). Anyway, I decided to search on EBay to see if I could find another, and found several straight away. I duly purchased, not to replace my Bear (he is irreplaceable!) but to store for the future day I have children, in the hope that they too have a cuddly best friend to see them through their childhood and beyond. See, EBay can be used for sentimental reasons too, and that just shows how soppy I am at heart…

 

For all of you Filofax fans out there (and I know there are a lot thanks to Philofaxy publicizing my blog on their round-up posts) EBay is also a great source of cheaper Filofaxes. I greatly aim to get hold of a vintage Filofax one day, and probably spend a little bit of time twice a week searching for these on EBay. I’ve not found the perfect one at the perfect price, yet, but I’m sure I will one day.  I want something like this…

Filofax

Image from here.

I will say though, I’ve seen a few try to sell non-leather folders expensively by mis-describing them. I’ve also seen multiple sellers listing other folders (i.e. cheap store bought ones) as “Filofax-style” in order to try and gain more money. So do be careful with what you are buying – Philofaxy has a great advisory post here. My biggest piece of advise if buying a Filofax is to definitely ask on Philofaxy, or on one of the Facebook groups, just to check that you are getting the real deal.

 

So that’s it, my rambly guide to using EBay. Hope that helps the potential bidders in my readers!

The Long Road To Recovery

Hello again! I did warn you here that posts were going to become potentially a little sparse, but I didn’t really anticipate quite how sparse. The recovery from my operation has taken a lot longer than I anticipated (and indeed it is still continuing) and to be honest I haven’t felt up to switching my laptop on, yet alone being able to actually type something reasonably coherent.

All in all, my operation was deemed to be successful, but it wasn’t as straightforward as expected. I ended up with more invasive bone restructuring, resulting in external swelling and bruising, reacted badly to the anesthetic, resulting in an overnight hospital stay, and then have suffered with pain and a slight infection within the stitches. So not a pleasant week really…especially considering my grandmother decided to attempt to paddle in a rock pool, slipped and broke both wrists. It ended up being like an episode of Casualty in my house as my parents took up the task of nursing us both. Bless them.

 

Anyway, I have some exciting news. I have been asked to write a series of guest posts for Kent University’s Employability blog, the first of which will be posted there at the end of next month (and reblogged here a few weeks later). These posts will detail my journey into applying for an Actuarial placement year, which I will hopefully obtain and begin next summer. The first in the series will focus on CV writing, so keep an eye out if this is something you need a hand with!

I’m also planning and drafting a lot of other posts at the minute too. I aim to do multiple posts on learning to cook, and on thrifty recipes (for instance, how to stretch a standard pack of beef mince into at least six meals). And of course, all of these will be specifically tomato-free – I’m excited to announce that I have now perfect tomato-free chilli, tomato-free bolognese and even a decent tomato-free pizza. There will also be more guides on shopping for starting university, especially as I know how I struggled with that next year (for now see this post) and a few generic posts. I have a lot of ideas for this blog! But for now I’ve exhausted myself simply typing this, so I think it is nap-time for me!

Finding my “Impossible To Find Necessity” – Part Two

I know a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment of “Finding My Impossible To Find Necessity.” I outlined the problem here, and began the instalments in this post. Anywhere, here the second instalment is! Today I’m going to be discussing more the service I received from The Leather Satchel Co, and my first impressions of my satchel.

I say satchel – I should point out that technically I have a batchel – because I chose to have a handle added to mine. However, I prefer the term satchel, and so will continue to use it. I just thought I should explain in case of any confusion when cross-referencing with other bloggers.

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Firstly, the service I received whilst ordering. I mainly dealt with Keith, who I must say is an excellent example of how staff should deal with customers. He was friendly (which is always important!), polite, made me feel comfortable and was both extremely helpful and accommodating. He explained that they can make satchels to virtually any specification (have a look on their Facebook page at some of their custom bags – there is a green one that is utterly fantastic!) so this company is definitely worth considering if you want a bespoke bag made for you, or if you have needs which aren’t being met by bags ‘off-the-shelf.’

After I ordered my bag, I briefly dealt with Tony – I was worried as I had originally arranged for the bag to be delivered to my halls of residence back in Kent, however moved home before despatch. Tony ensured my bag would be sent to my home address, for which I was greatly relieved.

Related to this is delivery time – my bag took a lot longer than others I have read about, but the team explained that was due to my embossing requiring a new plate. From what I have read, delivery from this company is generally extremely quick – and to be honest the wait for mine was only ‘bad’ because I was so excited to receive it! I’m not sure of the exact time frame, and at this point too lazy to check my emails, but I would estimate it took maybe 3 weeks from order to receipt of my bag – so for a custom build that really is excellent!

 

Now, to delivery/packaging, and then finally the all-important first impressions. Once my bag was despatched, Tony emailed me a tracking number (the company ship from APC Express Couriers) and I obsessively tracked my satchel. It very quickly reached the local depot (which I happen to know is very close to my house). It then stayed there for an entire weekend. Sob. I then waited in, not daring to shower or even cook spaghetti carbonara for lunch, until it turned up. Which (obviously) it finally did. Yay!

Here’s the long awaited parcel!

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What’s not overly clear from this picture is that the box was quite damaged – scuffed along all edges, and quite a big hole in one side. I panicked hugely (hence only having the one photo of the box) and quickly opened it to check the inside was undamaged. Luckily it was, however I would like to ask APC to be a little more careful of parcels, particularly ones who are likely to contain items of considerable expense.

As soon as I opened the box, the room was filled with a lovely leather smell – my dog certainly found the smell attractive (indeed, he managed to plonk his wet nose on my bag within five seconds of it being fully unwrapped…)

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Included in my box was a dust bag. I was initially very grateful for this, until I realised that actually it doesn’t (easily) fit my satchel inside, and I was very worried about damage to the satchel on the one occasion I did try to squeeze it in. So, my advice to anyone with a Tallboy with extended gusset is to buy or use a cheap pillowcase when storing your bag – it works for me!

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Now, to the packaging. I had read on many blogs about the wonderful packaging that this company used – brown paper packaging tied up with string. So I was kind of disappointed – my satchel came in a plastic bag. But this really doesn’t detract from the bag itself, and I still got the beautifully worded envelope which contained the details for my guarantee. The Leather Satchel Co guarantees it’s products for five years – you fill in a form on the website, and the guarantee is emailed. As my bag is part of a affililate deal, I wasn’t sure if I qualified for the guarantee – I’ve filled out the form anyway, so I shall see if I do get one or not. I don’t really expect to need it, as my satchel feels so well made, and ready for a long life.

 

Here’s my bag straight out of the packaging (snotty dog nose print removed):

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You can see the bag is a little dusty – I assume work shop dust. It wiped off easily with a soft cloth, so nothing to worry about if your bag arrives like this. It’s something to be expected from an item handcrafted!

Here’s the top of my bag. I thought this was a good photo to show both the strap, shoulder pad and briefcase handle.

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One thing I will say is that in my order specification I actually stated I wanted the shoulder pad to be in the Patent Oxblood Red – it was a bit of a surprise when it arrived with a black one, however I’ve grown to be glad that it did, as I do think a contrasting one may have looked a little odd. I’ve also mentioned previously that I perhaps should have asked for a shorter shoulder strap. At roughly 5ft4 and which it on its shortest setting it is just about right although I’ve prefer occasionally to have it higher as it has bruised the backs of my legs where it swings as I walk.

Above all, probably my most important piece of advice for you if you are ordering a satchel for use at school/college/university is to get a shoulder pad – trust me these bags are heavy even when empty, and carrying around one is quite tough (in a summer dress) with the shoulder pad. I can’t imagine what my skin would look like without that extra padding!

As you can see from all of my photos, the quality and stitching of the leather is absolutely second to none. After a lot of use over the last two/three weeks there has been absolutely no loose stitches – something I actually was expecting.

There were a few little flaws on my bag – two scratches are noticeable to me, although they aren’t particularly photographable. I’m guessing if I had chosen a non-patent leather they would be even less obvious – it appears to be a teeny bit of damage to the finish. No matter though, it’s things like that which make a satchel appear used and loved! This is a handcrafted item, so perfection can’t be expected – it is pretty close though!

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Now, I think that I should discuss the buckles a little bit – this is the part I was probably most concerned about when ordering. I did want buckles – they are more traditional (and I really am a traditional girl at heart!), more secure (having been targeted, although thankfully not caught out, by pick pocketers before this was important to me), and generally just a nice feature. But I was really worried about the leather straps peeling, or becoming damaged due to heavy use. When my bad arrived, the leather straps felt a little dry, so I rubbed some nivea on. Not sure if this is the best thing, but it was all I had and doesn’t seem to have caused any adverse affects. I will be in contact with the company in due course to discuss the best products for caring for the leather. I have come to the conclusion that my straps are safer if I don’t pass them through the final bar – just leave them after putting the prong through the hole. The final bar seems sharper, and more likely to damage, and leaving the straps this way means less effort to get something you need.

I feel that I should also make some attempt to describe the Patent Oxblood colour, however I think my photographs do show it of quite well. It is the perfect combination between neutral and stand-out – it is smart enough to take to work, or for interviews, whilst still being pretty and fun enough to actually want to carry.

 

This has been a bit of a jumbled post, and probably not a hugely wonderful one. I blame the drugs (pre-operation medications have been having some very odd side effects – here’s to the procedure going well on Wednesday!). But what I hope I have made clear is the love for my satchel, the greatfulness to the company, and the fact that I do genuinely recommend that you consider ordering from them. I know I definitely will do again in the future!

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Unfortunately my affiliate code has been removed due to it being shared outside of my sites. There will hopefully be development of a new scheme in the first months of 2015.

Please note, I haven’t done this for my own personal gain – I wanted to truly see whether it is worth spending the money on a bag, to see if it will last, and to work out the best specifications for a student. All opinions on the company will be 100% honest, and I will be happy to answer any specific questions from readers.

 

 

 

Review: A5 Original Filofax in Patent Black

I have a few points to make before I begin the proper review of this lovely Filofax. Firstly, thank you to Steve of Philofaxy for featuring my blog on various posts, and for putting Jess from The Ideas Network in contact with me. Then, thanks to Jess for sending me this Filofax, and for putting up with the long wait before this review has been published. It arrived in the middle of my exams, and obviously getting a 1st (which I’m over the moon about!) took a lot of work and needed no Filofax-shaped distractions. Thirdly, thank you to whoever nominated me for “Best New Filofax Blogger” in the Philofaxy 2013 Blog Awards. They feature some excellent blogs, so the nominees are well worth a glance at, and please vote in the sidebar for who you feel is the worthy winner!

 

A quick warning – my pictures aren’t currently very great at the moment – I only have my phone as a camera (as much as I’d love a digital camera, I really don’t know how to use one, and I really don’t see how much better they could be). Normally my phone takes pretty amazing shots, with some spectacular ones taken in the Switzerland Mountains last summer, but for some reason it seems to fail in focussing occasionally. A lot of these photos were taken on one of these occasions.

 

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So, here’s the lovely note, and almost lovely packing sent to me by Jess. The packaging is almost lovely because I unwrapped it in excitement, then tried to rewrap it!

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And here’s the Filofax in its actual packaging – what you would receive if you bought and ordered it. I’m not convinced it’s an improvement on the old box-type packaging. I can see the point if they are in a shop – sort of. As long as one was out for the prospective purchaser to feel (and, erm…sniff…?) the rest being in the packaging could be beneficial as it would prevent accidental damage, and fingerprints. But then, I know from experience and reading many blogs that Filofaxes leather can vary hugely between each actual Filofax – many have commented their Maldens feel differently, and I have to say the leather on my card holder (see here) and personal vintage pink (see this post) are quite different in texture. My biggest bugbear with this packaging is that it would not be protective AT ALL if items are sent in the post. And the last thing you want to receive is a damaged Filofax!

 

First of all, I’m going to discuss the basics of this Filofax. It’s actually made by some of my favourite people at The Leather Satchel Co (if you remember this post, you’ll note how I wished for a matching/coordinating Filofax and bag – that wish came true!) and so is truly made in the UK. I’m not sure if the ring mechanism is also made in the UK, but the leather does show the true quality that appears in many of the vintage Filofaxes (I keep losing out whilst bidding on Ebay – I’ve love a vintage Mulberry organiser, or a Filofax of course!). It’s a single piece of leather, with no cardboard in between layers as I’m led to believe is in the Malden. The leather is nice and thick, but with a huge bonus – it lay flat straight out of the box! My Malden also did this, but quite a few Filofaxes need training, or never lie flat at all, so it’s worth a look at this product is that is something important to you. Everything feels very strong, and sturdy – I do get a feeling that it is a Filofax that is built to last. Here is is:

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Compared to my Malden, it is quite simplistic in terms of the insides, no fancy zips or pockets. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a good or bad thing. It definitely wouldn’t work if you’re like me and want to store your whole life in there, and use it as a purse. However, I think this is going to be my placement Filofax, in which case it doesn’t need all that storage. Also, the big elastic strap is the perfect size for holding my current phone (Samsung Galaxy S2) although seeing as I use this as a camera I have no photographic evidence. I have no idea what the slots could be used for!

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One thing I do like is the back pocket/features. There’s a wide pocket, which could be used as a notebook storage, or possibly for some papers/post-it notes. But my favourite feature is the jotter pad. I think this is an excellent feature, and perfect for a leftie like me as it’s easy to write on. One thing I do think is that a right-handed person may struggle as the folder’s strap does tend to get in the way from that side. Comments welcome on that matter!

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Now to the insides and inserts. Here comes the big issue – rings. The fifth ring down, the exact same one as my Malden, has a gap. It’s not quite big enough to snag pages, but it is noticeable. And to me, I really don’t think Filofax should be selling expensive products with continually appearing faults like this. I know many over on the Philofaxy community agree with this viewpoint, and it’s something Filofax should really work on in the future. I’d attempt to swap both my Filofax to get ones with better rings, but (1) I don’t want to risk not being able to get another Vintage Pink Malden, and (2) this Filofax was a gift, so obviously asking for a better one is hugely cheeky and just not something I would do!

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Inserts. This Filofax came with a good variety of inserts, of which I have a lot of photos. I won’t post all of them, but if anyone requires to see them they will be in a folder on my Facebook page.  Another complaint however is the dividers. I’m not sure what on earth Filofax were thinking here – they look cheap and tacky! I love the Cotton Cream ones in my Malden, and I’d expect these as a minimum standard in any other leather Filofax. These look and feel far inferior, and I will be covering them at first opportunity, or buying some more! Inserts included a To Do List (I love Filofax’s layout of this sheet), a Contacts list (new, and in my opinion improved, from the one that came in my Malden), various bits of paper in various colours (narrow-ruled lined, square and plain) and then there are the diaries. Sorry Filofax, but here comes another complaint! If you are going to send me a 2014 diary, and one with the remainder of the 2013 months, at least make it so you’ve sent me the same layout! Rant over, as I utterly adore the layout of the 2014 diary, picture below. It just seems perfect for a business diary, and something I will probably make full use of next year. You know, when it actually starts.

 

Finally, I’m going back to the outside of the Filofax. The patent finish is very shiny, which I think is clearly shown on the next photograph, where the Filofax is alongside my Malden, and my Leather Satchel. I like how it looks, but for me is just isn’t particularly practical in that I’m becoming obsessive about removing fingerprints!

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The next photo shows the thickness of the leather, compared to my Malden. Remember that the Original is a single piece of leather, unlike the Malden.

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The photo above gives an indication of the size different between a personal Malden and the A5 Original. The next photo also does the same. To me, I like the size of the A5. I couldn’t use it as an everyday planner (or I’d need an even bigger satchel!) but I like the idea of using it as a desk planner and meeting note-taking.

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All-in-all, I really like the style of this Filofax as a folder. I think Filofax need to rethink the inserts they send out (consistency would be nice!) and the provider of their ring mechanisms. But they do need to do more good quality, simply leather Filofaxes, and I love that this is made in the UK. I like the patent leather, my OCD doesn’t. I also love all the other colours available (if I hadn’t had a satchel to match, I’d have gone with either the yellow or the green – the more fashionistas amongst you might be tempted by the fluro range too!) and I think it would be a perfect organiser to give as a graduation gift or similar, as it would be ideal for a working environment. It won’t oust my Malden as the holder of my life, but at the moment I can see it working as a careers Filofax, in helping me find a placement for my industrial year and keeping track of all the work I do whilst I’m there.

So that’s my review of Filofax’s new folder, made in the UK, and lying flat! If you have any questions about this organiser, please don’t hesitate to contact me either on here, through Twitter, or on my Facebook page.

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Once again, thank you to Jess for sending me this Filofax for review, and to Philofaxy for giving me the opportunity to get into contact with Jess. Oh, and remember to vote for my blog your favourite blog in their awards – voting takes place in the left-hand side bar!

Upcoming Posts: Sparse and Sporadic or Regular and Ramble-y

This is just a quick heads-up posts warning my lovely readers that posts over the next few weeks may be a little, well, odd. Having suffered from regular health problems for many years, I finally have a date to go under the knife (well, laser) for an operation. Next Wednesday I will be a day patient at William Harvey hospital in Ashford, ready to have my deformed nose straightened and everything flushed out. There’s names for this in medical terms, but they’re far too long and scary!

At the moment, other than being drugged up to the eyeballs with pre-meds (seriously, side affects of insomnia and tiredness – how?!), I’m more than a little nervous, but also excited to potentially have an answer to the problems that have been increasingly debilitating over the last few months.

I aim to have at least one post completed before my operation – a review of the A5 Original Filofax kindly sent to me to review by the Ideas Network. I also have a list of new posts I wish to do over the next few months, though it obviously is dependent on a lot of factors as to whether they get done.

So, that’s your warning, although I hope that it will all go okay and I’ll be posting as normal. Just maybe a little confused, so ignore silly typos and spelling that’s more appalling that usual!

What’s In My Handbag (or What Fits In My Massive Satchel)

This post is a little different from my usual posts. When I saw Money Supermarket were running a competition, I decided I would kill two birds with one stone – enter it, and show you all what I can fit in my satchel – something valuable as you’ll be able to see that it is indeed big enough and deep enough for an everyday school/college/university bag!

I’m still drafting the second instalment of reviews of my satchel from The Leather Satchel Co, but I feel it is getting possibly a little mean of me to not show any pictures anymore. So I thought I’d do a “what’s in my handbag” post. This is not a typical handbag contents for me (although I will briefly describe that at the end) but rather one for a mini-break. The mini-break described here in fact.

So, here’s the outside of my bag. So pretty. Ignore any heads which reflect in the patent leather, I’m having a relaxed greasy-hair-no-makeup day after waking up with a migraine.

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Also ignore my dog poking his head up above the bag. I was going to crop him out, but he’s just too cute! Here he is again…

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And so to the insides!

In the front pocket is my Filofax. I probably didn’t need this over the weekend (if I’m honest it needs pruning, and it is really heavy, and as a result my bag was far heavier than it needed to be – and walking around London for hours with a heavy bag is not overly fun!). Maybe if I got the London tube and street map inserts, which I really want but can’t justify, I’d be able to forgive the extra weight more! But anyway, the front pocket of this satchel is the perfect size for a stuffed personal Filofax. Which is excellent as my Filofax really is my must-have in any bag (see here), it contains everything (contact details, important dates, deadlines, etc) and I’d truly be lost without it. The satchel clearly isn’t too full with the amount of stuff in it either, plenty of room for more!

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Then there is the rest of the inside. The important/interesting content is pictured here:

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There are two cute paper bags, from shopping done over the break. The yellow one is from the bakery (you know, the one where I sent boy to fetch croissants, and pain au chocolat, and the one that bakes awesome bread). The brown one is from Wahaca; we had a fabulous meal there, and had to buy ingredients from the shop to make up the value of a voucher. The bakery bag obviously wasn’t needed after lunch, and the Wahaca bag didn’t seem strong enough to hold the ingredients, so these were transferred to another bag.

Then we have specific items relating to the mini-break. Train and theatre tickets in the envelopes. The theatre programme. An A-Z of London (not photographed here as I had to give it back to my boyfriends parents on returning). A whole packet of plasters (if just out for the day I usually rely on the 2 or 3 kept in my Filofax).

And then the everyday items.

  • Purse. This is a lovely dusky pink one from Accessorize. I actually made a mistake and ordered the incorrect one, as they did have one the exact same shade as my Filofax (yes, I do like thinks matching!) but these coordinate well, and it closes securely. I know I said previously that my Filofax is generally my purse – but when I have a lot of coins (as in London – I love Camden Market where a large amount of people/places don’t take card payments) I like to use a purse as well.
  • Kindle. I love my Kindle! I read a lot (come to think of it, I read and write a lot more than a mathematical science student really should, surely I should spent my time playing with my calculator…) and since I started university I missed having a big bookcase of reading material to hand. A Christmas present of a Kindle was the perfect answer to this, and I know I couldn’t be without it now. It’s also lovely to know I have a lot of extra weight available when I go on holiday – I usually take 12-14 books on a fortnight’s holiday, and last year we became the group unpacking at the check-in desks of Zurich airport… My Kindle is currently housed in a lovely Radley case, which I fell in love with the moment I saw it. It is lovely and secure, a nice neutral colour, but still different, and of excellent quality.
  • Umbrella. I’m a sucker for a nicely designed umbrella, and this vintage-style one from Primark is my current favourite. For the price, it has held up remarkably well, and is currently one of the only ones I have ever owned to last an entire winter (the other we found in a bar in Turkey, used it during a horrendous downpour, and which has lasted a ridiculous four years and is still going strong).
  • Sunglasses. I’m ashamed to say I rarely wear sunglasses, as I feel they don’t suit my face. However I found these in this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan (they are a match to my boyfriend’s everyday glasses). For some reason, taking these didn’t jinx our chance of sun over the last few days!
  • Keys. Note the cute picture of me and my boyfriend. He made me this keyring for a Valentine’s present, and there’s a disgustingly romantic note on the other side. I love carrying it though, cheers me up if I need it! He’s a budding design-y person, so if you’re interested in having someone design something similar, or indeed anything at all, contact me via the Facebook page and I’ll see if he can help.
  • Card Holder. I generally keep this within my Filofax. It’s actually made by Filofax, and completely matches my Malden. I treated myself to it after receiving an instalment/ of my scholarship at university (for academic excellence no less), as I found it difficult to negotiate ticket barriers and a Filofax whilst travelling through London during Friday rush-hour. The joys of a long distance relationship. I definitely recommend something like this if you travel regularly, or alternatively as a nice looking holder for business cards.

And that’s what generally goes in my bag, especially for a mini-break.

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This bag is realllyyyy my university/student/I’m-really-organised bag. It will also, I hope, last long enough to be my bag I use for work when I eventually graduate, although it should at least get me to my industrial placement which will begin next summer. Because of this, it’s usual contents will be rather different to what I’ve described above. The following photos are a little bit improvised, as most of my university stuff is packed away in boxes in the garage.

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You can see from the above photo that my bag will be a lot fuller than with the contents discussed above! The next photo shows just how full it is – it’s NOT crammed, and I could still fit more it, and the straps definitely aren’t straining. But its comfortably full and, as its such a heavy bag, I’d struggle to carry it if it was filled anymore!

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There will always be my Filofax in the front pocket, or at least somewhere in my bag. There will be an A4 folder (this bag also fits an arch lever, amazingly, although not much else would go in with it!) and spare A4 paper (Ryman’s narrow ruled refill, specifically!). There would be my pencil case, and at least one calculator. Most likely a mini-makeup bag for those essential touch ups – Benefit is my go-to brand for this, as I love their pencils. Next year, there will be a lunch box and water bottle, which fit in quite nicely. A lovely classy umbrella. The only thing I’m slightly worried about is where my keys will go. There’s no pocket (other than the front one) in the bag, and I know perfectly well my keys will just fall to the bottom. I’m currently thinking of some kind of zip back which would clip onto the rings where the strap goes, but I’ve not found quite the right thing just yet. If anyone sees anything, please let me know!

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So that’s a little preview of my bag, the type of things that fit into it, and what will hopefully be generally in it next year. A bigger, better, “proper” review of my satchel, or at least part two of it, will be coming soon! But here’s just another photo of it – I couldn’t resist!

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It’s now important for me to briefly analyse the cost of what’s generally in my handbag. Just thinking about my Filofax and Kindle, we’re on just shy of £150 (eek!). Then there’s whatever is inside (luckily I don’t tend to carry cash unless I know I’m somewhere I’ll need it), any tickets (if on a mini-break), ID, make-up (as my ‘touch-ups’ are generally Benefit items, this amounts to a lot), and various random goodies. A typical non-university say would easily see me carrying around probably £250 worth of stuff. Then my bag alone would ‘retail’ at approximately £185. This is assuming my phone isn’t in my bag, as it’s usually in my hand or pocket. To be honest, despite it being classed as a ‘good’ Smartphone, it doesn’t work and I don’t value it – to the point where I don’t bother to pay to insure it. But for arguments sake, if we included it, my bag contents would go upwards of £750. If I was in university, the cost would probably be closer to £150 – I don’t tend to take my Kindle, and again my phone would be in hand. Having considered that, it’s still a surprising amount that I carry around each day, and I think I’d definitely be more wary to pick-pocketers now (having been the victim of an attempted one before, I am a lot more confident with my satchel as it’s so secure). I will point out this though – it may be worth the least amount of anything in my bag, but if anyone tried to steal my lunch, I would be entirely unimpressed. So take the phone, leave the sandwiches!

Strawberries, Sunshine, Sightseeing and a Show: Romantic Mini-Break in London on a Budget

Many, many months ago I had to deal with one of the worst aspects of being in a relationship; what to buy them for Christmas/Birthday. This is made all the worse by my other half very inconsiderately having his birthday at the beginning of January. So two presents in just a few short weeks. This stretches both my pocket and my brain, as I do generally want to treat him to something special. For the first year, I went generic male present with a watch and wallet. The year after was his eighteenth, so I found 18 little meaningful (I hope!) things. This year I cheated and moved away from the tangible goods (see, I did learn something in Economics lectures!) and went with an experience. I booked tickets to see the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory musical (which, by the way, is fabulous and if you get a chance you should definitely go!), and a hotel in Covent Garden. I say hotel, I mean a travellodge. Well, student budget and all… Anyway, this trip was taken over the last few days, so I thought I’d blog about the experience, blog about interesting things to do in London, and hopefully offer a few tips on how to survive a few days in London without spending too much money.

 

First of all, transport. We (or I) booked our train tickets from our home town wayyyy in advance. Well, about 8 or so weeks ago. Doing this meant we got a excellent deal, but it did mean we were limited to exactly timed trains. But it saved us a lot of money, and I think it worked out to be around £3.95 each way, per person. A generic one-month return is generally around £25, so we saved a considerable amount of money. I recommend any young person gets a 16-25 rail card. Mine has more than paid for itself (I only have to do two journeys to the boy’s university to make up what I my parents paid for it). Then look around for the cheapest deals, and try to book as far in advance as possible. A trip to the boy’s, with railcard, costs a scary £56+ booking the same week of travel. Booking in advance I have managed to reduce this to under £40. However, train prices for next year seem to have skyrocketed, and currently I am less than impressed at the prices, even for trips in September. I also recommend you follow 10 Ways to Have More Money As A Student Without Working, as they often have deals whereby you can gain vouchers to use on Red Spotted Hanky, a train-booking site. I prefer this site, as they don’t charge booking fees (ahem, trainline) and it is free to have tickets delivered to your address.

For the tube, it IS pricey. The standard travelcard for zones 1-2 (which is generally all you will need, unless you want to visit Stratford shopping centre) is £7-something, which is quite frankly ridiculous. But, if you first state that you have a railcard, you can then get a card covering all 6 zones, for £5-something. Definitely the cheapest and most flexible option, although the ticket machines don’t exactly make it easy for you to find it!

 

For where to stay, I’m not sure you could beat the Travellodge in London. The prices in the area are just extortionate, with the only other affordable options being hostels where we’d be sharing a room. Not exactly romantic if you know what I mean…
I booked the Covent Garden travellodge for around £47 for one night, with an additional £1.50 cancellation insurance. This turned out to be far better inside than out (the exterior of the place looks, to be honest, pretty horrible and grim!), which a very welcoming reception area (although the self check-in machines did annoy me slightly – I do like to talk to a real person occasionally!). The room itself was spotless, the bathroom not so. It was clean, apart from the bath which needed a good wash before I used it! The room was also lovely in its decoration, and smelt very fresh. And we got this view, what more could we want…?

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It was a surprisingly quiet night for a stay in the middle of London, with an exceptionally comfortable bed. Even with my recent bout of insomnia, I managed a good bit of sleep. Recommended, particularly if you want somewhere close to Covent!

 

Now, for food; a romantic dinner for two. Please, please, please; whatever you do, don’t just turn up at a restaurant as you will pay a fortune. Look around, find deals, book in advance. I spent a long time looking for a nice pre-theatre menu. There are some lovely ones out there, but unfortunately with an allergy to tomatoes I was so limited in choice I decided against them. Instead I found an offer at Cafe des Amis, a lovely restaurant just off Covent Garden. I was first introduced to the place by my dad late last year, and really enjoyed the food. And this offer was far too good to pass up; two course, a glass of proseco, for two, for a grand total of £28. It had to be paid for in advance, via Paypal. And as I have £5 credit on my account (a joining incentive if I remember correctly) this made it even better value for money. I duly paid for and booked a table, and then slobbered over my laptop as I stared at the online menu. I’m notoriously known between friends and family for taking a long time to decide what to order, so I started in advance. It definitely made the decision easier on the night!

For my starter, I went for a crab risotto, topped with scallops, and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.

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This photo isn’t mine (for credits see the end of this post – I must say it is far better than any I could have taken!) but it definitely shows the delicacy of the dish. Mine was topped with rather less green stuff, although I still picked it off – I don’t like restaurants who insist on garnishing like this, as I find it rarely compliments the dish. The risotto was wonderful – rich, creamy, sweet and fishy, with a fabulous bite where the rice had been perfectly cooked. The sauce disappeared beneath the other aspects of the dish, but it wasn’t missed. The scallops, however, were definitely the star of the show. Cooked to absolute perfection, they melted in the mouth and were no-where near the chewiness that tends to put me off ordering them. A fabulous dish, one that I truly loved.

My boyfriend opted for a ravioli, of spinach and ricotta, with a sun-dried tomato dressing. The dressing was very sauce-like, but apparently it tasted great. For obvious reasons I didn’t try the dish, and nor have I managed to source a photo. I also failed at finding a photo of his main; roast rump of lamb, with buttered green beans, pomme mousseline, and lamb jus. I have eaten this dish in the past, and I can confirm is is utterly superb and well worth a try.

For my main, I went for the venison medallions on a grain mustard mash, with a shallot and port jus. The menu advertised buttered salsify; I’m not sure if I received carrots instead, but whatever the vegetables were, they weren’t cooked enough and were far too crunchy. Again, this photo is not mine, but its very accurate to what I received. The meat was perfectly cooked, I definitely prefer how French restaurants cook meat (never overdone, if anything under what you ordered – so if you don’t like blood order well done). I love my meat almost running around the field, so it was perfect for me! The venison was also perfectly flavoured; this was the first time I had eaten it, and I will definitely order again. The mustard mash was a little too strong for my liking, although it worked extremely well with the sweet and sticky jus. Another more-than-satisfactory dish.

Venision

We declined pudding, and then had a bit of embarrassment when asking for the bill – we knew we had nothing left to pay, just the service charge, and this confused the waitress slightly. If you do this, I recommend ordering bread at the beginning, or an extra drink, so that you have more than the service charge to pay!

Service was excellent, if a little too fast. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic, until the adverts came on the playlist softly playing in the background – this spoilt the mood immensely, although it was quickly restored once the music recommenced. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, but would I pay full price? Probably not. My two courses, both the most expensive choices, were £11.50 and £24.50 – so we made a huge saving. Previous meals there have been using a Taste Card, which meant 50% off the food bill. In my opinion, prices are too high normally, but with the commonly-occurring deals, its a place well worth a visit as it is truly lovely food.

 

Obviously, I have only discussed one meal so far – and there are obviously many more that need to be eaten if staying in London more than a few hours. So,  eating in London on a budget. A restaurant (sort of chain, there’s only a handful of restaurants, all in/around London) that I LOVE and that is affordable is Wahaca, and this will feature in a blog post of its own over the coming weeks. If you’re staying overnight, particularly around Covent Garden, I heavily discourage you from choosing to add a breakfast to your hotel stay. In the travellodge we were offered this option for £7.95 per person. I decided to send the boy out in the morning to one of the many local bakeries (we went for the Balthazar Boulangerie, attached to the restaurant) for pain aux chocolat and croissants. These were superb, far better than any I have eaten before.

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He also came back with a fabulous full-sized baguette (the total of this came to, I believe although he didn’t divulge, just under £10 – a bargain for the quality) which would make up the bones of our lunch. We had originally planned to visit a food market to buy additional bits for a picnic. But it was a Tuesday, and we were struggling to find one within an acceptable distance, especially with our outdated A-Z street map. So instead we popped into an M&S and had a browse at their new/improved picnic range. I have to say, there is a huge amount of stuff I’d love to try in the range, but we went for the basics – a chorizo selection, and a punnet of strawberries, for the grand total of around £4.50. We went and sat in Green Park, in the rare English sunshine (I even managed to take my cardigan off…) and ate baguette torn with our hands, and chorizo, then fed each other strawberries, each grimacing at the icky display of public affection we were taking part in. It was a wonderfully romantic picnic, and incredibly cheap (far cheaper than two eating out at McDonalds!) for the amount of food we got. So, if in London on a budget, buy a picnic!

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Now, for “things to do”. We could have gone really cheap, and visited (like the child inside me wanted) the free-entry science museum. There’s a whole host of free museums to take advantage of, but for us the weather was too nice to stay indoors.

After coaxing me up from the grass where I was soaking up the sun, my boyfriend decided he wanted ice-cream. After reading the Londoner’s review of an interesting ice-cream parlour place in Camden Market, I knew it was the perfect place for us to visit. Chin Chin Labs offers yummy ice-cream to satisfy me, weird machines and chemicals to (hopefully) keep my wonderful nerd of a boyfriend entertained (I lie, we’re both a little bit like that…)! The decor is nice and minimalist, with fabulous chairs (I love metal ones, my fashion sense of skirts disagrees as they were a little chilly!). The menu is also minimalist – a choice of four ice-cream flavours, with about 3 sauces, and then maybe 8 toppings. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love; they GRILL white chocolate. Mind is still boggling at that! We quickly decided to go for the specials (vanilla and chocolate flavours and permanently offered, with two specials per week) – I had “Strawberry and Hay” and chose a topping of the aforementioned grilled white chocolate, and W (the boy) went for “Griddled Peach” topped with a pistachio and cardamon crumb. The peach is dairy free, which was amazing as upon tasting it was so creamy, so I’m planning to take my dairy-free mum to London just to introduce her at some point. I couldn’t decide which I liked loved more. The staff pour the right amount of mixture for one serving into a KitchenAid mixer (my boy was already excited – I think it’s a lifetime ambition for us to own one in our future house, though we currently argue over what colour) and whilst it is mixing add liquid nitrogen. There is a lot of gas which is released at this point – not to worry as you don’t consume any. Or if you do then its a negligible amount. But its worth it for the ice-cream! Its then scooped into a bowl, and the topping of your choice added. At £3.95 for each, its not cheap. But this seemed to hit my pocket less hard than the £3.50 ice cream cost in the theatre the night before. It was definitely worth it, for the portion size, the smoothness of the ice-cream (the nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick, it prevents ice-crystals forming and makes the smoothest mixture imaginable), and the unique flavours. Whoever discovered the strawberry and hay combination needs a pat on the back, for it was simply gorgeous, and I hope I will get to try it again! The grilled white chocolate was a complete revelation, and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash (they don’t take card payments) to purchase a bag of it. Or a truckload. So good, and I will be back!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of Chin Chin Labs, although I have emailed them to ask if they can supply any, as I’d love to show you the experience a little more fully. I did however manage to get this picture:

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That is clearly the face of a boy who has tried something that has change his life (I like to think he looked like that when he first met me!). As we were eating our ice-cream, in the hot sun, on freezing chairs, we noticed a board outside the neighboring shop. It was advertising Chocolate Bacon. I think if I’d have refused to go in I’d have been leaving London on my own! The shop was called Mighty Fine, and they make chocolate and fudge on-site, where you can view the production process. There was a lot of fudge to sample and chocolate to try, but we only had eyes for one thing, the chocolate bacon. At £1.50 per rasher, I’m glad it wasn’t me paying, but it was a delightful mix of salty and sweet, and worth it! Be warned, more than one rasher and you will be ill, as it is rich, but it is also delicous. We washed it down with one of their homemade ‘slush puppies’ which reminded us of our youth, but a lot better – this was a lemonade ice base, topped with a choice of either raspberry or passionfruit coulis. We went for raspberry, and it was immensely pretty (I insisted on carrying it) and very refreshing. A must on a hot day, and on a par with the rest of the drinks prices in Camden Market.

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As for completely free-activities, I so recommend walking along the Thames. I love it, especially along the Southbank. It’s fabulously touristy, without having to dodge them (as in Oxford Street), you get fabulous views of the city, discover hidden gems (there’s many nice restaurants, and they’re noticeably cheaper on the north side of the river), and on a hot day like yesterday there’s a cool breeze which was very much welcomed. There’s the street performers in Covent which are well worth watching, although the acts are getting old (the same man has repeated the same performance over the entire length of mine and the boy’s relationship), and general window shopping to do. Camden is great for a wander round, but not with a suitcase. I also aim to head over to Portobello Market for a browse, and visit Primrose Hill for the view at some point.

 

For the more extravagant, you may want to see a show or musical. I highly recommend Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but it obviously depends on taste – we’re a couple that are just two kids at heart, and we loved it. The scenes and props were utterly magical, the acting and singing superb. Another excellent product is War Horse, we have seen it twice (it really is that good) and I would also recommend the Bodyguard. A word of warning, don’t take a tall boyfriend into the balcony unless you have booked aisle seats. He will have to sit squished and folded up for several hours. One advantage of having short legs I guess!

 

So that’s it, my guide to doing London a little more cheaply. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d happy hear them – I’m always open to new cheap ideas for days/nights out!  For now I’ll leave you with one of the views across the Thames (taken a few months ago, hence the winter coat modelled by the photo-bomber…)

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Feature image courtesy of Love of London.

Cafe des Amis images from Food Spotting, and Holly Hearts Food.

Finding my “Impossible To Find Necessity” – Part One

After writing this post here, and continuing to do a lot more research and contacting companies to find out more, I decided that the first company I would try was The Leather Satchel Co.

This company really appealed to me because of the excellent customer service reviews, and the possibility of huge customisation – I really wanted a unique bag. Not to mention that this company also make the Original Filofax (I am now the proud owner of an A5 in patent black, which will be reviewed over the next few days). What’s not to love – you could have a matching bag and Filofax!

I sent off for some leather samples, which arrived about 18 hours after I emailed my choices. To me, this was excellent customer service, and the person I was first in email was extremely friendly. You can view their colour choice here, but nothing compares to viewing them, feeling them (I found some had a different texture) and putting swatches together to decide on colour combinations.

Here are the colour swatches I ordered:

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The image quality here is really poor – no matter what I did I couldn’t get them to photograph in their true light. I suggest that if you are interested in purchasing from this company, you ask for some swatches. I believe that this service is currently free, although I definitely wouldn’t begrudge paying postage costs.

I knew, before receiving the colour samples, that I’d want a two-colour design, rather than just the use of one colour all over. The question was which colours!

Before receiving the leather samples, I was pretty much set on having neutral brown colours. I wanted something classic, and wearable. Something that would go with everything. Although I was tempted by the green, particularly seeing this blog post here. All that changed when I saw one particular colour! I completely and utterly fell in love with the Patent Oxblood Red, satchels in which you can see on the company’s Facebook page, and on blog posts here, here and here. I decided to pair this with a non-patent leather, as I thought the buckles would be easier (having received my bag, I believe this to be true), and after tossing between the darkest brown (top left) and black (top right) I went for the black.

 

Then there was the question of the other customisations I would require. This company became my favourite due to the huge amount of choice they have available – you can buy a truly bespoke bag. If you look at this page of their website, you can see how flexible they are. AND if you speak to them direct, they can do even more. Looking on their Facebook page they have created some amazingly unique bags.

I went for this two-tone colour pattern, with the first colour being the Oxblood, and the second being the Black. I added a black handle, which from reading reviews seemed a necessity, and a black strap. Thinking practically (for once) I realised I’d need a shoulder pad, so decided on one in Oxblood (unfortunately, this detail was misread, and I ended up with one in black, rather than what I stated) as this would make carrying the bag for comfortable. Size-wise, I know I carry a LOT so went for a 15″ Tallboy satchel, with an extended gusset of an extra 33%. This makes for a very tall, wide and bulky bag, with plenty of space! I went for traditional buckles (nice and secure, plus they probably allow a little more space for tall items), and a standard length shoulder strap. On reflection, I probably should have asked for one shorter than standard, but with it on the shortest length it is just about right.

 

Having decided on my bag specifications, I was then stuck. I couldn’t afford the bag, and my birthday isn’t until December (just as a hint for all you readers…). I was content, however, to struggle through with my current bag and wait until I could persuade someone to treat me. But then Keith from the company got in touch and, amazingly, offered me a bag to review. A bag completely to my specifications, with the added bonus of embossing. To say I was shocked is an understatement, and I was also incredibly grateful. And a little nervous – I certainly hope my writing and photos shows off this bag to its best. So, I sent off my specifications, and waited. My bag is now here, and it’s virtually perfect. But that’s another blog post! I will be a doing a review of the delivery, packaging, and first impressions of my bag shortly, along with posts in a few months time as to how my bag is lasting. Because after-all, the main reason for reviewing it on this blog is to see how long it lasts with use at school, college or university. For now, I’m going to sit and stare and stroke and sniff my beautiful leather satchel. And if you want a sneak peak at it, look at my Facebook page!

 

I have become an affiliate with The Leather Satchel Co. Currently there is no referral code due to is being shared outside of this site, but I will update with more info in the first few months of 2015.

Please note, I haven’t done this for my own personal gain – I wanted to truly see whether it is worth spending the money on a bag, to see if it will last, and to work out the best specifications for a student. All opinions on the company will be 100% honest, and I will be happy to answer any specific questions from readers.

Making Halls into a Home

This post is again one I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It follows on from here, where I talk about essentials for taking to university. I will continue to update that post, and probably do a less bulked up version, something easy to print out and take to the shops.  Here, I will show you pictures of my room in halls, how I organised it, what my essentials were, and what my tips are.

This blog post has been inspired by similar ones written by Apt Pupil (a blog I’d forgotten about until now!) and Rachel at Handbags and Cupcakes (which is quickly becoming a favourite). Thanks girls – your rooms look great by the way!

I got lucky with my university halls accommodation. I chose the cheapest available (and yep, it still exceeded my loan) for financial reasons, and was prepared to live in a box for nine months. I really wasn’t expecting it to be nice, big, comfortable or even very sturdy. But I was very, very wrong! Firstly, I ended up in a massive room, easily twice the size of my room at home, and much bigger than friends in the same halls. Secondly, the painting matched the colour scheme that I’d already decided on before university (so everything I’d bought matched…well apart from the hideous curtains and carpet!). Thirdly, it has recently been refurbished, and so the desk, shelves, drawers and bed were new, and completely functional. And my desk was hugeeee…it’s the thing I will miss most!

The next few photos were taken as I was unpacking, all the way back in September:

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As you can see, I had a LOT of stuff. To the extent that when we packed up the car, we had to make my mum and sister take the train. And daddy had to up-size his car when they came to pick me up last week. In my defence, he wanted a bigger car anyway…

I had pre-decided on a colour scheme of pink and green, mainly as those were the folders I had left from A-Level. I found two perfect duvet covers in Tesco (I really recommend them – cheap enough to throw away at the end of the year, but sturdy enough to last the fate of washing washed by the inexperienced!). I bought “velvet” cushions from H&M. These were about £5, but considering I had to buy the fillers they turned out quite expensive. I also bought extra pillowcases (plain ones) and pillows cheaply, as I love making a fort for myself to sleep in. My bed was also extra long (and those who know me will immediately say that that is completely unnecessary for me!) so I liked the cushions to make it look more like a normal size.

I bought everything to match, even the pop-up washing basket you can see in the photos, an extra waste-paper basket, and desk stationary (such as hole punch, stapler, tape dispenser, pen holder etc). One thing I really, really recommend is purchasing an additional lamp – the ones provided are often very, very bright, and I like a nice soft light to have on before bed, as it helps me to chill out. I bought mine from Tesco. I used my parents club-card vouchers, in a double-worth event, so ended up getting a lot of items very cheaply (i.e. I think we paid £1.50 for £50 worth of stuff). I bought one similar to this, but in green. I also recommend, particularly if you expect to have partners staying often (my boyfriend came around twice a term for a weekend), getting a double quilt for a single bed, or an extra blanket. I bought a fleece style throw, which I loved – it was definitely a necessity as my boy tends to steal the covers!

Now, onto the littler stuff, which made my room my home for the nine months I was there. Here’s a few pictures of my shelves, taken just before I started packing last week.

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As you can see from the first picture, I kept all of my cooking stuff in my room. My housemates weren’t the cleanest (that’s another blog post) and after a bought of food poisoning early on in the first term, everything stayed upstairs. With the amount of space I had, it wasn’t an issue, and next year I’m living with three other wonderful girls who I know I won’t have the same problem with.

After realising that I needed to store EVERYTHING in my room, I bought lots of jars, one of which you can see in the first photo filled with rice. These are lovely, pretty jars, and were extremely cheap at 99p each, from the local 99p Store. I was so proud of these bargains, and I know I’ll use this for years to come. The pink pot was a plant pot I painted myself, as I couldn’t find anything else big enough to hold my excessive (but totally necessary  – and I DID use them all) amount of cooking utensils. Almost all of my utensils came from Aldi, with  few silicone ones from a more expensive range stocked in department stores (all I can say is thank goodness for staff discount!). I also have a shop local in my home town which sells discounted branded home items, and this serves to occasionally fuel my addiction to Le Creuset kitchenwear. I love it! It lasts for such a long time, takes everything I throw at it, and is the perfect size – the only dish I currently have is wonderful for a single serving of pasta bake, or lasagne. I’d love more, but my student budget won’t allow it! *sad face*

Also in the top photo is my wonderful vintage-style alarm clock, also from Tesco. They’re currently selling similar versions like this one, but be warned; their ring is VERY loud. I have my knives, which I bought ridiculously cheaply in Switzerland last year. I can’t remember how much they cost, but it was so little I had to go and buy more chocolate to spend the rest of my currency before coming home. I also keep a little “ladies” Swiss army knife handy – it has a file, knife, and scissors, as well as tweezers and toothpick, and is wonderful for going into the handbag for dealing with clothes snagging and broken nails. You may wonder what the dog ornaments are – they are actually Cath Kidston Salt and Pepper pots which my parents bought for my birthday, as the brown one is the spitting image of my adored dog at home. That also explains the cushion on my chair in earlier posts – that also looks very much like him.

The second shelf was just above where I sat on my desk, so that mainly housed textbooks and stationary items. And a teapot, with a spout so dreadful it was impossible to use to make tea. I’m currently thinking of what it can store, as I don’t really want to throw it away! By the way, if anyone is studying maths at university, I highly reccomend the Schaum’s Outlines series of maths books – they are excellent. I have about 10 currently, and will be buying more. So helpful, with lots of worked examples! Also on this shelf are my two favourite perfumes – A Scent by Issey Miyake and the orginal Paul Smith woman. I desperately want See by Chloe this summer, but we’ll see if the budget allows it!

Also filling my room was storage in the way of lots of stackable boxes. Mine were actually from ASDA, but they are a pretty generic product that’s available just about everywhere. In these, I kept shoes, spare refills of pens and paper, toiletries, items of food I didn’t need at the time, belts, and just about anything I didn’t want cluttering up my room – they were also invaluable for packing up my room at the end of the year (and I hate the sound of cardboard boxes, it sets my teeth on edge) so I’d definitely suggest investing in some.

I bought over-door hooks, like these, which were another item that proved invaluable. I could hang my bulky coats on these, saving precious wardrobe space, and I also invested in some hanging cosmetic bags, which provided a cute way of storing everyday items – cleanser, toner etc. These were also great for hanging towels on after showering to let them dry – saved having to get my giant airer (which I hardly used) out and up.

One of my biggest points, however, is to make sure you have photographs. I’ll freely admit that most of mine are of my boyfriend and dog (although a talking point when university friends first came into my room was a prom photo – me in a fireman’s lift by eight guys) but they make me feel so much at home. One of my favourite sentimental objects was an I.O.U that my boyfriend gave me just after we started university, for our second anniversary of being together. I pinned it on the board in front of my desk, and it gave me an instant boost everytime I saw it:

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My top tips for making the most of your university halls are:

  • Try and co-ordinate everything
  • Don’t take too much (check it all fits in the car!)
  • Buy useful storage options, such as hooks and boxes
  • Be organised – have set places for everything. For instance I kept a space to the left of where I sat at my desk just for my Filofax. You have to be able to know where to find everything quickly.
  • Buy nick-nacks and homey things
  • Use photographs

If you liked this post, I suggest reading this and this.