O is for …. Outlet Shopping

Anyone who knows me will be quite aware that I’m not a fan of shopping, unless it’s for crafty things, cook-y things or irrelevant, unneeded nonsense. To find myself spending Saturday sat in the car for 2+ hours to travel to Swindon Designer Outlet might, therefore, be a bit surprising but I’m all for outings to somewhere new and to find something different to see.

As Outlet shopping goes, Swindon’s pretty good I think. The outlet occupies the restored Great Western Railway Works and opened in 1997. I found looking around the bits of left over engine works the most interesting bit, but that’s just me. The centre was actually surprisingly quiet for a Saturday, but perhaps the locals had stayed away as the outlet is undergoing a big makeover at the moment, reopening properly in the autumn.

So, on arrival the first thing to do, other than marveling at the high ceilings and wonderful natural light (see, not a shopper!) is to approach the information desk at the front of the outlet. We stopped there initially drawn in by a compeIMG_2095tition to find the right key to open one of 3 boxes containing designer goods. Once we were at the desk we were asked if we’d like to sign up for a Privilege Card to gain another 10% savings on top of the already generous discounts available. On top of that we were given 2 sheets of paper with special offers available just for that weekend. As we looked around I was amazed by the number of people who were just handing over their money without using the card or the additional sheet of offers. For example, we ate at Pizza Express just before leaving and handed over one of the sheets which allowed us 25% off our total bill. This sent the staff into a bit of a frenzy over what to do! It must have been the first time they’d been handed that sheet on that day, or at least on that shift. Given we were eating after 6pm, a lot of people must have missed out on that offer presumably?

Kevin and Holly picked up great bargains during the shopping spree, particularly at Superdry where prices were slashed by an average of around 60%. On top of designer clothes stores there were three different chocolate shops (yay, more my scene!), cookery shops and home furnishing outlets. Plenty for everyone. And if you don’t like that, there’s plenty to see in, as previously mentioned, the old station works and several large Lego displays!

If you’re in the area, it’s well worth the visit – just remember to pick up your privilege card on the way in!

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Oh, and look out for the odd famous model hanging around too!!

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N is for …. Never Forget

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If you visit the Tower of London before 11th November you will see the “Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red” installation, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. 888,246 ceramic poppies have progressively filled the Tower’s moat, the sight is stunning and the crowds are strangely hushed as an atmosphere of reflection falls over them.

Please do take the time to go and see it if you can. You won’t regret it.

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https://poppies.hrp.org.uk/ to find out more.

M is for …. Medals

The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 is now officially over! That isn’t to say that we won’t be making up certificates and awarding medals to those children who didn’t manage to get to the award ceremony last week – we wouldn’t be so mean!

If you haven’t heard of the Summer Reading Challenge before, it’s a scheme backed by the Reading Agency and it takes place in libraries all over the country during the school holidays. There’s a different theme each year and children have an absolute free reign on what they read – fiction, non-fiction, picture books, audio books – anything so long as they’ve borrowed it from the library. Their only commitment is to read 6 books during the holidays and to come in to tell us what they thought of the books, and to fill out the information on the back of their sticker sheets, marking the books out of 3 stars depending how much they liked the book. Yup, you read that correctly, they get stickers into the bargain too! Each set of stickers features a scratch and sniff sticker which provokes LOTS of eugh-ing, laughter, conversation and dispair from the adults (which adds to the fun of course!). This year’s stickers weren’t too bad, fortunately. Last year they were so bad we actually had people walking past our stock room where the stickers were kept and coming and telling us they thought we had a gas leak!

AND there are medals (just as well given the title!).  IMG_1850As well as having various (FREE!) activities during the school holidays along the theme of that year’s Challenge (Mythical Maze this year) we have an award ceremony at the end of the holidays so that the children can be presented with their medals (very patiently threaded by Linda!) and certificates.

IMG_1852This year we were lucky enough to have the services of our local Town Crier, Dave, to help with the award ceremony. He came in full costume (how he managed to stay upright given the temperature of the library with that many bodies in it on that particularly hot evening I don’t know!), with bell and did a special cry that he’d invented just for us.

We were delighted to have more children start and finish the challenge than ever before. We’ve had about 150 children finish the challenge this year – last year, our then highest figure, was 87. Given the great weather we’ve had this summer in particular, we’re really pleased with this figure and would like to say a huge thanks to all the children who took part and all of their parents to for bringing them to the library.

Here’s a photo of Linda with one of the medals and our breakdown of figures of starters, finishers and their age groups.

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And here’s a photo of some of our wonderful finishers with their medals and certificates. Funnily enough there were lots and lots of parents gathered at the back until we got the camera out…and all of a sudden lots of them disappeared behind the bookshelves…! Though I have to admit I’d be hiding with them if I wasn’t lucky enough to be stood at the front holding the camera in order to stay out of the photo!

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A-Z Foodie Challenge – D is for Dates

Of course dates had a special offer on them when I went into the shop didn’t they?! So, unable to resist a BOGOF, instead of one recipe this month, I’ve actually tried three of them – and still have a whole bag of dates left over!

With some help from great birthday presents and from Kev’s Aunt Kate, I’ve got a good variety of treats this month.

My lovely daughter bought me the new Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking and a quick look through it brought forth the recipe for Oat & Honey Flapjack Cookies. These contain 100g of dried fruit and nuts…dates being one of their suggested fruits. To this I added pistachio nuts and dried cranberries to make up my 100g. I think they were the most successful thing I’ve made on this challenge so far – well successful apart from the fact I ate a few bits that had fallen off the side straight out of the oven and was a bit stressed by the sound of my tongue sizzling! Lesson learned – til next time!

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Second birthday present to come in very handy was a great little set called The Preserving Kit, a gift from my sister. From that I chose a recipe for Peach & Date Chutney which they suggest will be “a good accompaniment to ripe, creamy Brie, full-fat soft cheeses and roast poultry. Perfect for serving with your cold roast Christmas turkey”. Sounds good to me!

I halved the amount of ingredients used partly because I wasn’t sure if we would like it and partly because I’m quite short of jars at the moment. It resulted in 2 Kilner jars full of great smelling chutney which only have to sit for 2 weeks before we can try them. Bring on the Brie!

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Finally (until I start again with the second bag of dates!) I used the website suggested by Kate to find a savoury recipe – http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/date+recipes  From there I chose Date, Gorgonzola & Prosciutto Tart as I’d always fancied trying to cook something using a sheet of puff pastry. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Gorgonzola cheese in town and had to opt for Feta instead, which didn’t melt as well of course. Had a bit of a panic when the pastry rose in the middle when it wasn’t meant to, but other than that it worked out okay and tasted really good. I’ll look around for the correct cheese and give it another go at some time in the future I think.

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Linda went a bit Nigella had a sticky date herself! Read all about it here http://lindasmakes.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/d-is-for-culinary-alphabet/