Two months of avoiding the large supermarkets (listen up @tesco and @sainsburys )

groceries spend

Until a few years ago I used to love shopping for groceries.  Now it is a chore that I put off as long as possible (usually when the cupboards are looking bare).  What started to push me away from the large supermarkets was shopping in smaller discount outlets (for example large chain pound stores and discount chains like Home Bargains).  These shops carry many products that are consistently half the price of the major supermarkets (not to mention the odd end-of-line bargain). Surely if these chains, with their smaller buying power and smaller distribution networks can sell at these prices, the supermarkets can too.

Two months ago I decided to see what the options were to doing the main shop in the supermarkets.  I’ve always bought everything in one place and realised recently that I’ve been paying a premium for that convenience.  I have still popped into the supermarkets for the odd basket of shopping, or for things that I can’t get elsewhere but I’m pleased to report that there are alternatives for those with the time and inclination to use them.

Aldi etc

We’ve had an Aldi in my town for ages and I’ve always avoided it.  The narrow isles and constant congestion put me off.  I’m not that impressed with some of their copy-cat products (some of the products have packaging and names that are as close as legally possible to their named-brand equivalents) but I’ve found their fresh produce and meat is of equal (if not better) quality to that of the supermarkets next door.  Of course you can’t get the same range of groceries in Aldi, and they sell very few named brands, but that’s the price you pay for the significant savings on offer!  The bonus is that I park over the road in Tesco while I shop in Aldi!

Farm Foods etc

A relatively small freezer chain, and I could lump Iceland and other small freezer chains in this category.  Again the choice is limited and the selection of fresh produce is extremely basic.  They do have a good selection of fresh produce (for example meats, bacon and cheese) and where they excel is with selling brand names cheaper than the large supermarkets.  Again parking is limited but thanks to Tesco who have a large free car park opposite that isn’t a problem…

Home Bargains etc

As I mentioned at the start of my post, these companies are the ones that soured my relationship with the supermarkets.  Whilst they carry a lot of end-of-line products that you can’t depend on seeing, they carry a lot of regular items at significant cost savings over the supermarkets.  Some of these have their own car parks, but most don’t and this is one of the prices you pay for their lower prices.

Local shops

We have a Co-op Food store less than five minutes walk from the house, and other local shops within a short walk.  I’ve tended to use these shops for top-up and items that I’ve run out of, as they carry only a limited range of essential items.  I’ve also learnt that a quick visit to the supermarket for a bottle of milk can cost ten times the amount as I put in special offer items that are placed to tempt me.  Using my local store puts a stop to this 🙂

Conclusions

So after two months have I saved any money?  My accounting software suggests I have but that doesn’t include the shops that aren’t primarily grocery based.  I’ve certainly had more food for my money and the cupboards have never been so full.  A supermarket fan might point out that I haven’t been earning loyalty points in these other stores, and that it has cost me extra time and petrol money in travelling between them.

groceries spend

So what now?  Having shopped in Aldi I can see why they have been expanding their sales while the larger supermarket chains lose out.  I’ll keep shopping around – if nothing else I can be smug about not giving my money to the large faceless chains, and if more people join me they will be forced to look again at their charging policies.

Where do you do your shopping?  Have you come to the same (or different) conclusions as me?

12 months since Cauda equina syndrome – an update

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It has been 12 months today since I suffered from Cauda equina syndrome (CES) and I’ve been contacted by several people who have followed my progress.  I wanted to provide an update for the people who comes to my blog and read about the condition, so they know it isn’t always doom and gloom.

As I’ve mentioned previously on my blog, my lifestyle has almost returned to what it was before CES.  I work full time (my working week is 50-60 hours long) in a special school, where I teach science lessons and am the assistant head.  I have been fortunate in receiving support from work so I have made to measure seating which makes a huge difference, and I have an electric desk which I can raise to standing height if required.  I have an ultrabook laptop which means it is light and portable – all these adjustments were recommended by Access to Work when they carried out my workplace assessment.

Some of the nerve damage has repaired itself, and although I still suffer from loss of sensation down the back of my legs, it isn’t as pronounced as it was a year ago.  I can also run now (albeit slowly) which I couldn’t do last year as my legs didn’t obey my brain when I tried!

I don’t suffer much pain, although I do get twinges in my toes (it feels like someone is stood on my little toe) which my consultant tells me is classic S1 damage.  I’m due to have another MRI scan tomorrow to see if this is nerve regeneration or further nerve damage.  Usually any pain I feel comes from sitting in the wrong position when I have to stand up – I’m getting better at making myself sit up straight too!

The only aspect that hasn’t shown that much recovery is bladder control and the need to practice intermittent self catheterisation.  Fortunately after a year of doing this it is second nature to the point I don’t think about it much in my home/work life (although I do have to plan more carefully when I am going to be away from home for extended periods of time).

Thanks once again to all the people who have got in touch and I hope this post gives some hope to those of you who find yourself unfortunate enough to suffer from cauda equina syndrome.

Online bingo from PaddyPower (@paddypowerbingo) – don’t waste your time.

Those people that know me well know I have a fondness for playing bingo on my iPad.  I play a number of different bingo games on my tablet but always for ‘tokens’ that have no real value.

While using Facebook I came upon an ad for Paddypower bingo offering me a £30 credit if I deposited £5.  There is a slight catch – the £5 has to be spent within 48 hours and the free credit is only valid for a week.  I might not have signed up if I had read these terms and conditions before I joined but I rushed right in eager to play.

bingo ad

The first thing that struck me was that the bingo is nothing like proper bingo.  It is more like playing bingo on a fruit machine since it is a totally passive experience.  You can play up to 60 cards at one in some games and there is no way anyone but an octopus with superpowers could play 60 cards at once!

Some of the games are over in seconds, others last a little longer as you see who won the first line, two lines and then a full house.  The software automatically moves those cards needing fewest numbers to the top of the screen and all the player does is sit and watch (regardless on whether you play on a flash-enabled browser or on your tablet).

The images show the game in simplified mode (just the numbers you need) and normal mode (proper bingo cards).

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Because they realise the novelty of watching bingo cards dancing and changing position on the screen can only hold your attention for so long, Paddypower employ a number of chat hosts who post motivational messages in the chat room.  I assume these people are employed on the basis of their personalities since their literacy and grammar skills appear not to have been tested during the interview process…

To make matters even worse I only received £20 bonus credit, not £30 as promised because I clicked through an affiliate link.  Paddypower told me to chase them – even though I have no contact details and the link takes you straight to the PaddyPower signup page.

Would I recommend this to any of my bingo loving friends? Not a chance.  If you like sitting in front of the screen chatting about the moderators shopping and watching your bingo cards shuffle themselves (with a marginally small chance of winning anything) then this might be for you.  I did manage to win just over £1 with my £25 of gambling credit, but unfortunately the minimum withdrawal is £10 so unless you win £10 you have no choice but to gamble your winnings away.

I’ll stick to Bingo bash on the iPad/Facebook for my bingo kicks – at least I enjoy playing it!

Cauda equina syndrome – six month update

I know a number of people find this website by searching for cauda equina syndrome (CES) and I thought it might be encouraging for them to post an update on how I’m getting on with my condition.

The good news is I haven’t been back to the consultant since I posted last – my six month open appointment is rapidly running out but I’m not worried.  Apart from the odd tingle on a numb patch of leg or foot I don’t experience the pain that other CES sufferers do (at least at the moment).  My phased return went without complication and I’m back at work full time.  I’m fortunate that my teaching timetable is lighter than many because of my leadership role as assistant head.  I’m also lucky that I get the chance to walk about a lot which is good for my back – as soon as I feel a twinge from too much sitting down I know to do a lap of the school!

I’m still using the catheters.  On the suggestion of the occupational health service, school have purchased a locker for me to store my medical supplies where I need to use them.  This saves having to run and get my bag when I need to visit the bathroom (women may be familiar with this problem).  I mentioned in my last post changing the company I use for healthcare supplies (Charter healthcare owned by Coloplast) and I really can’t fault their service – as well as taking the fee for dispensing, they send me alcohol gel and wet wipes and even deliver to me at work.

I find myself using my stick less and less.  My walking stick has become something of a security blanket.  I feel self-conscious walking in busy places because the nerve damage means my calf muscles don’t work properly.  Using a walking stick tells people there is a reason I have a slight wobble and it isn’t alcohol related!  I keep a fold-up walking stick in my drawer at work just in case (although I haven’t used it yet) and I’m trying to wean myself off using one for longer walks.  It follows that if I can walk miles over the course of a day at work without using one that I must be able to do so elsewhere.

I’m waiting on an access to work application for a full workplace assessment (occupational health suggested an electric height adjustable desk!) and I find that as long as I am sitting up nice and straight I am quite comfortable but if I don’t I soon get aches in my back.

I realise that each person who has CES is different but that doesn’t stop me wanting to talk to others who have had the condition.  There are some excellent support groups on Facebook (with some frank and open conversations/questions) and more recently UK based charitable organisations have emerged to provide support.

I’m happy to talk to anyone about CES – if that’s you then leave me a message.

Cauda equina–3.5 months after surgery–an update

It is now just over 3.5 months since I had surgery to remove the compression on my spinal cord.  I’m not sure how much of the progress since then has been recovery and how much has been adaptation but:

  • I’m half way through a phased return to work.  They have been really good at listening to my needs and making adaptations to my job (in line with disability legislation).  I’m finding being back tiring but that is to be expected after nearly six months off work.  The students have been very supportive and keep asking me how I am, and if they see me without my walking stick they want to know why! 
  • in terms of my nerve damage, it is hard to see any improvement since my last update – I’m still walking about the same amount, still have stiff heavy legs and still need to use the catheters.
  • I’ve had to change healthcare suppliers for dispensing my medical prescription.  My previous supplier (Wilkinson Healthcare) had no facilities to take payment for my prescription fee.  I’ve move to Charter Healthcare who seem very efficient and there are freebies too!  Who would have thought it would be so hard to pay for something?

Compared to many who suffered at the hands of cauda equina I have been very fortunate.  I tell my story to give others who have suffered from this condition hope that their lives will improve.

Follow my chain of cauda equina updates here

Review: Joyland

Joyland
Joyland by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What more can I say about this book. I bought the book (on Amazon’s Audible) without reading the blurb so had no idea what the story would be about. This is quite different to the typical Stephen King novel, it has a much slower pace and the supernatural element is almost secondary to the story. That said the characters (as usual) are extremely well described and detailed so you feel you know them and want to know what happens to them. The story ambles along and the story is set mostly around a theme park called Joyland and some of the characters that work there. This story has everything in it – love, sex, murder, ghosts and friendship.

I’ve always moaned about his endings but in this story Stephen King nails the ending, which wraps up all the loose ends. The conclusion brought a tear to my eye and I was sorry the story had to stop. This story might not appeal to traditional King fans – it made me think of a feel-good story like “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café”

The slower pace of this story is ideally suited to an audio book (it lasted 7 ½ hours!) – if you haven’t tried audio books give them a go – they are great if you are a dog walker or spend a lot of time commuting (both apply to me!)

View all my reviews

Book review: The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha

The author, Alom Shaha, has been in my Twitter circle for years as a physics teacher but I’d not got around to reading his book as the title put me off (it made me think of some kind of anti-bible).  Following lots of discussion about this book from my circle of science teachers on Twitter I decided to check it out again.  After reading some reviews I found out that this book was a mixture of autobiography and reflections on atheism and decided to give it a go.

I found the book extremely easy to read and the stories from the author’s childhood held my interest, and gave an engaging framework on which to pin the more gritty content.  The language of the book is suitable for all would be highly appropriate for older school pupils and university students who are starting to question their beliefs.  Having dabbled with writing by Richard Dawkins, I found this book far easier to digest and relate to.

I have already recommended this book to my friends – and I hope Alom goes on to write again.  I rated this book 5/5 stars on Amazon/Goodreads because it tackles a difficult subject in a sensitive and engaging way.

Book review: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt

Full disclosure: I was sent a free copy of this book by the publishers after they read my review of Dan Brown’s Inferno.  My review is based entirely on my opinion after reading the book from cover to cover.

I started this book expecting it to be similar to a Dan Brown book.  There are some similarities but they aren’t as obvious as the publisher would have you believe (in a good way!).  The story is set in Venice and there is a lot of detailed description of the city and surrounding area.  There is some history of the city but this history isn’t as central to the plot as in a Dan Brown novel (however there is lots more history that is).  I must mention the symbols as well – there are some symbols (standard fodder for a Dan Brown clone) which form part of the story line.

The pace of the story is more measured than a Dan Brown but that’s not to say it doesn’t hold your attention.  In fact I found myself wanting to read the book every day to find out what happened next.  The characters were believable and well described, so you want to know what happens to them.  The early story flicks between the three main characters and if you are bad with names like I am this can be a little confusing until you work out who is who.

The quality of the writing is much better than Dan Brown’s style which makes up for the slightly lower levels of suspense.  The slower pace isn’t a bad thing as it gives the reader chance to assimilate the story and enjoy the ‘scenery’.  The chase and action scenes are much more believable than Dan Brown’s and the characters don’t rely on luck and memory from previous visits.  The plot is believable for most of the story but becomes a little too fanciful towards the conclusion, however that is to be expected from a thriller!

I have to say that if the story portrays Italian crime fighting and justice accurately then I feel sorry for the people of Italy!  However I really enjoyed the writing and this book made for a very entertaining read.  This is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to the next book being released.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon/Goodreads – highly recommended.

Cauda equina–12 weeks since surgery

IMG_0388It has now been just over 12 weeks since surgery (how time flies!) and so an update for my cauda equina syndrome (CES) recovery.

I have seen my Urology consultant, my orthopaedic consultant and my GP since I posted last. 

I’m still having to use single use intermittent catheters but have managed to get my prescription changed (thanks to my GP and consultant) to 100% Coloplast Speedicath compact (now I don’t have to ration them!).  This is the part of my condition that other people feel should be the worst part – but once you have a routine and have practiced it isn’t that bad (the hardest part is doing it away from home since you can’t follow your routine the same and end up doing it crammed in a toilet cubicle!)

My GP told me I was only his second patient ever patient to get cauda equina – a mark of how rare it is Sad smile  He did sign me off until I got to see my spinal consultant.

My spinal consultant was pleased with the progress I was making, so much so that he doesn’t need to see me again unless I want to – so I have a six month open appointment.  I was thoroughly examined, got to read my theatre notes, saw my MRI (above, taken just before surgery – can you see where the compression of my spinal cord is?), and I saw the X-rays of my back with retractors in.  In short any further recovery is down to how much my nerves are able to heal.  The best thing I can do is to remain as active as possible and to help that he said I could have a go at returning to work (as long as I was careful!)

I am walking further now, but I suspect that is more down to adaptation than healing.  I have gradually increased the distance I walk, and although I need a stick over longer distances, I have improved several-fold over the distance I could walk when I left hospital.  Whilst I don’t feel quite as able as I did before CES took hold, I do feel positive about my recovery and my future prospects.

A phased return to work should start soon – watch this space!

Book review–The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

I’ve had this one in my collection for a while and couldn’t remember reading it – so I gave it a blast.  I’ve read lots of Stephen King novels and whilst he tells an excellent tale, he doesn’t always get the endings right.  I thought that Tommyknockers has one of the better Stephen King endings, much better than some of his recent books like ‘Under the Dome’.

The story introduces us the characters in the book and we start to get to know them.  Even the secondary characters are well detailed and brought to life by King’s narrative.  We start to get a hint of the pace changing when lead character Bobbi Anderson trips over a piece of exposed metal on her land.  Gradually we find out that the metal is part of a much larger structure, one that begins not only to affect her life but those of the other town-folk as well.

The story is a long one, and the pace is brisk for much of the book although there are some parts that you need to read in fast forward (am I the only one who doesn’t like quotes from songs/other books at the start of chapters?).  The characters are believable although the science is a little less so (I think there is probably a limit to what you can build with old calculators and batteries…)

The story picks up pace as you get past the half way mark, and even towards the end there are new characters and twists that keep you reading.  I enjoyed this book and found myself picking it up and reading it to see what comes next – always the sign of a good book.

I gave this 4/5 stars on Amazon – I could have given it 5/5 but I felt that the book could have been cut by a good hundred pages without losing any thing of value.  An excellent read – check it out.