Saturday, 23 September 2017

A surprisingly healthy few weeks of freebies

Well, I started my last post by saying I was going to start blogging weekly. That was just under 2 weeks ago. Meh.

School has started in earnest and I'm 4th in the queue for the laptop. My 3 kids all go to bed that bit later too so by the time I get my go I'm too tired to think. I wish blog posts were as easy as Instagram...

Late summer and autumn is a wonderful time for a walk - the greatest freebie of them all. The colours and smells change, the animals are grown, the leaves start to fall. Plus, there's an abundance of free food in those hedgerows. Off we set through one of my favouritest corners of Derbyshire for a blackberry forage. A tree full of crab apples was a welcome bonus too. We took just as much as we needed and left the rest for others or the birds - there are always plenty to go round.



A few days later my wife magicked these into a wonderful crumble - I don't remember a year we haven't had blackberry something. It's usually a crumble (sometimes eked with elderberries or, like this year, crab apples) but we've enjoyed pies, tarts and I've made a lovely liqueur before now. Popping blackberries into vodka with some sugar syrup at this time of year gives you a stunning drink just in time for Christmas, and the booze-soaked blackberries can then be mashed into whipped cream or ice cream for a boozy dessert.

The Carabao Cup appeared at Manchester Piccadilly station last week. Nobody seemed too bothered to lift it and have their photo taken, the cup seems to be as popular with commuters as it is with Pep Guardiola. Carabao gave plastic cups of the drink away and it was OK, as energy drinks go. I'm not a big user of them but I don't mind them - this seemed very similar to Red Bull (Carabao is also from Thailand) or stores own brand drinks to me. Fine, but nothing different. Other people seemed to disagree and maybe were caught out by it being an energy drink. The outside of the station had a few plastic cups lying around with this yellowy liquid in it - I was reminded of the aftermath of a large rock concert.

Dead Man's Fingers is a small batch spiced rum produced by the Rum and Crab Shack in St Ives. I've
entered a few competitions to try and win a bottle but in the meantime I received half a dozen cool stickers. I suspect they are bottle labels, but the kids loved them as stickers. There's something about skulls and a bit of kudos in having boozy merch on school books, I'm sure.

The highlight freebie of the last few weeks is my huge chimenea that I won from Santa Maria latin American sauces and stuff like that. It's a contemporary cast iron structure and was easy to assemble. We've had about an hours fun with it so far as the weather has been shocking but so far so good. Maybe this weekend we get to taste a marshmallow or 2. I really must highlight the incredible service from Santa Maria - the parcel company managed to lose the original chimenea (how you lose something this size I don't know) and then continued to mess up every instruction sent to them. I won't say which they were but I was tracking the parcel on the internet and it wasn't getting closer to me. The contact at Santa Maria was wonderful and kept in touch for the several weeks it took, even popping in a gift voucher as a gesture of goodwill. I hadn't paid for anything, it was a competition prize! If the customer service for paying customers is as good as it is for comp winners like me then they deserve every success. I must point out that Santa Maria have no idea that I write these blogs or post in Instagram, I was just any other comp winner to them.

I finally got to the end of The Ice by Laline Paull. full review is on Goodreads (yes, it was yet another of their giveaways sponsored by the 4th Estate) . An important environmental message comes through the story line but it did plod along a bit before rushing the finale.
My

L'Occitane en Provence have some very generous giveaways. One of their Manchester stores happily parted with a sample of a shaving balm in return for a voucher that was offered on the internet. It's lovely - you'd expect high quality as it's not cheap stuff and their shops look quite exclusive. It's on King Street, if that tells you anything. The balm is thick and soaks in wonderfully, lasting all day. It smells fresh and slightly manly but not overly so - it reminds me of holidays but I've never been to Provence.It's a smell I feel proud of when I get on the train in a morning.

Talking of generous giveaways in return for a voucher, Holland & Barrett surprised me when I went
to claim one of their freebies. I was expecting a sample sized jar of vitamin C tablets but no, it was about £9 worth to last 3 months. If I have a cold in the next 3 months I'll edit this post and complain but no complaints so far. they do taste a bit more orangey than the cheap soluble ones I usually get from a budget chain.

And so the last freebie and one I nearly passed up on. As you've noticed, I spend too much time noticing the best things in life and finding little victories that cheer me up cos I'm as skint as most other people with five mouths to feed, clothe and shelter. I walked past JD Williams giving away nags of something as it appeared to be stuff for the ladies and that's not part of
this blog's mission statement! However, a colleague did grab a bag and in it was a very good quality brolly that wasn't overly girlie. Now I love a brolly as the sound of walking under one in the rain reminds me of camping and makes me feel cosy. I went back and was cheerfully given a bag so thanks JD Williams and I'm sorry I won't be buying any frocks just yet. Mrs Blogger has flicked through the magazine though, so who knows.




Not a bad few weeks really. Nearly £200 worth of freebies I reckon and all happily given away. When I started blogging I had 2 rules - I won't lie and I won't beg or blag. See you next week (or the week after, whatever homework allows).

(All the photos are mine).

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Music, curry and clowns - my week of freebies

I've decided to change the way I blog and move to a weekly summary rather than individual posts. I like posting about each freebie on Instagram but trying to come up with something each day about, say, a bottle of Coke can be burdensome. I'll still post book reviews on Goodreads rather than here and link through but all others will be below. I also aim to still give away as prizes any freebies that I've enjoyed but don't want to keep - usually books or DVDs. Follow by email (it's on the right, over there) to make sure you find out when. I might not even run a competition and just give bits away to a subscriber drawn out of a virtual hat.

So here goes...


Sunday started the week well with the culmination of the Town Hall Sessions free music festival in Glossop. It moved into town centre this year rather than being in Bankswood Park in neighbouring Hadfield and several pubs and clubs also held gigs. Due to other commitments I didn't get to see as much as I liked but I did catch the closing set from Rook and the Ravens and they were excellent, as expected. Quite a coup getting a decent band like this at a free festival. They've been going for a few years now and have a great catalogue of songs (and singers) to choose from. Great weather and a decent turn out - roll on next year.


Monday was a Bank Holiday and a chance to try a free sample of Simoniz car shampoo. Instruction were followed to the letter and the results were fine. Nothing more special than most other shampoos but no smears or marks so fair enough. First time I've actually enjoyed washing a car for a few years too, not sure why that was. It looked great all week until today. I had to park under a telegraph pole yesterday and now it's splattered with starling cack. Gits.

On Wednesday I spotted the smiling face of a jolly chap outside Leon's on Piccadilly Approach in Manchester. Nothing unusual about that but this chap was holding a tray of samples. Free food is always good even in small amounts, and Leon's is good food. The South Indian spiced fish was delicious. Nice chap informed coley from Scotland and it was lifted with a creamy coconut and turmeric sauce. Slightly spicy but not too much to take away from the fish, although coley does have a stronger flavour than most white fish and can carry off spices well. It was on a wee bed of Leon's rice that is a triumph in itself. It's brown rice and is also lightly spiced or dressed in something to give it some body. For those not in the know, Leon's does fast food in a healthy and generally ethical way. Walk in, tell them what you want and it's already cooked just like any other fast food joint. The difference is that this is healthy stuff cooked well. It's a pay day treat as ethics don't come cheap but it does make a change.
me that the fish was sustainably caught

Also on Wednesday was the usual Shortlist magazine, I'll write more on this another time but it's a free magazine I look forward to each week and go out of my way to get. As I do with the Manchester Evening News every Thursday - it's jobs day!

The week finished with me finishing off another book that I was lucky to win in one of Goodread's giveaways. Clown Wars : Blood & Aspic is dark humour or humorous horror, whichever way round you prefer. It's gruesome, sickening and genuinely funny and a clever satire on the state of the modern world. The pictures in my head were like scenes from the League of Gentlemen and the plot like a terry Pratchett. My full review is on Goodreads and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. Nice of the author to comment on my review too.

So there it is, my week in freebies. Not a bad haul and not a penny spent on all those. I'll leave you with another freebie - a ten song Spotify playlist to see you through until next week.


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Berghaus give a masterclass in brand reputation

Today's freebie? Taking part in Berghaus' #TrailTakover in the Goyt Valley, with a bit of the ViewRanger app and others thrown in

Thanks to? Berghaus, of course.


Yesterday was a delightful example of those wonderful times when you take part in an event that was completely free, thoroughly enjoyable with happy, friendly people and with bonus freebies thrown in. Berghaus showed that building a brand reputation by holding an inclusive event can be fun and rewarding without needing to give the hard sell every few minutes. I shall certainly be looking out for the next one and absolutely recommend everyone else to do the same.

It started a few weeks ago when I spotted the first references to Berghaus' #TrailTakeover - the chance of winning a holiday drew my attention of course. I duly registered my interest and waiting to find the location. On Thursday (2 days before) the email came out with a link to the route on the ViewRanger app (more on that later) and I was pleased to see it wasn't too far from home and a place I knew well and had walked often - I even blogged on it last summer.

I rolled up to the Berghaus marquee at the Errwood Car Park just after midday and was greeted by a lovely person who ticked my name off, gave me a wristband to show I was part of the event and then surprise number 1 - a carton of Vita Coco coconut water and a block of Romney's Kendal mint cake. She checked I had the ViewRanger app and the route loaded (I did) and off I went.

I've had the ViewRanger app for a while as a few sites (such as the Outdoor Guide) release free walks through it. This is the first time I've actually used it though and it was useful for the first half mile or so as there are a few ways to get to Pym's Chair from Errwood. Once at the top of the woodland walk I didn't bother as I knew where I was headed after that. Being used to using paper maps I confused myself with the app at the start as the lines of the route and the direction I was headed clashed, but it was accurate and once I understood what it was meant to do then it was fine. Of course the real downside of walking apps is battery drain - I left the app running in the background to map my route, speed and collect all the other data it can but together with taking and posting a few photos on Twitter it meant my iPhone 5s battery when from full to about 20% over the 2.5 hours of the walk. Those with a portable charger or charging backpack will probably be fine but walking and following it for the whole route wouldn't have worked. The app is probably most useful to people testing new walking routes as it gives lots of detail on speed, elevation etc. Plus, it's free! There are purchases that can be made  - walks I have looked at are priced at 99p and you can also pay for OS maps on top, but this freebie released by Berghaus for suited me just fine.
[edit - one of the Berghaus people contacted me after I published this to say that ViewRanger had given them a battery-saving tip. If you download the route and then switch your phone to airplane mode it saves your battery loads]

The start of the walk is steep and after decades of walking my body still hates hills, particularly at the start of the walk before I get my rhythm going. I wandered off the set track by a couple of hundred metres as I got used to the app, probably to the amusement of the 3 much younger lads following who soon found me following them 😳. I hit my pace, overtook them again and soon found my heart thumping, copper taste in my mouth and realising I'd hit this climb too fast (even though I've done it a dozen times!) so I sat back in the heather and ate my lunch as they overtook me
again. I need to grow up.

After polishing off my homemade tarka dall whilst watching the paragliders over the later part of the route I enjoyed more freebies thanks to nature's bounty. The Goyt Valley is the best place I know for bilberries. They are plentiful, unbelievably healthy and delicious yet nobody seems to bother with these fruits - maybe the effort required to get to them and pick them isn't enough as they are quite small and would take some picking to fill a pie. All the more for me and the birds I suppose.

Up the Street and on to Pym's Chair with its incredible views over the Peak District, the Cheshire Plain and towards Manchester. The walk along from here to Shining Tor via Cat's Tor is stunning and has to be seen to be believed. It's within view of Manchester but you can't comprehend the beauty unless you are on the edge and can see either side.

More lovely Berghaus people at Cat's Tor who persuaded me to try and balance on a rope line (I struggle to balance on terra firma after a climb like that) and for the price of my email address a £20 voucher for Berghaus.com in a lanyard. Free walking socks, I reckon! A nice chat and onwards and upwards to Shining Tor. The Berghaus guy here was resplendent in waterproofs with hood up and seemed surprised I wasn't cold. He has no idea how much sweat was trickling down my back. I welcomed the chance of another stop and chat and posed for my pic next to the #TrailTakover post that is now posted on Facebook and will act as my entry to the competition to win a holiday. No. I'm not posting it here, it's bloody awful and looks like a fat middle aged fella who has just walked too quickly up too many hills. More fine conversation with this lovely fella was cut short before I started to chill and off I set for the last part of the walk - probably about a third of the walk but as most is downhill it went so quickly.

Just before the descent I cracked open the Vita Coco water. Refreshing and 99% coconut water not from concentrate so if you have drunk the water from one you've won at the fair you'll know it's not unpleasant but a bit bland.

Halfway down I got my last boost of energy from a square of mintcake. I love this stuff but am good enough to keep it aside for when I need it (unless the kids find it, then it goes in seconds and they run around like loons) and it lasts for months unless it gets wet.

So, 2 and a half hours after setting off I reach the end and that included stopping for chats and lunch. And what a welcome at the end it was! A handbell tolls and I'm invited to the TrailTakeover pub (another marquee) for a beer. It would have been so easy to bulk buy bottled lagers but no, I'm handed a bottle of Hesket Newmarket's Helvellyn Gold - this was the point I knew how much quality means to Berghaus! A lovely golden ale that was welcome and given with beautiful smiles by people who have spent all afternoon being eaten by midges while seeing sweaty tired people come off a hill.

What a wonderful afternoon and I can't wait to hear about the next in November. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

History of wolves by Emily Fridlund - an observant debut

What's today's freebie? History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Where from? Another from the mighty Goodreads


This uncorrected bound proof copy for review was a lucky giveaway gain for me from the blessed Goodreads where my profile grows. My review is posted on there and is copied below. A bleak book, but thoroughly engrossing and recommended.


History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Goodreads win.
This is as remarkable a debut novel as any I have read for a number of years. It is quite beautiful, darkly mysterious and heartbreaking on many levels. Fridlund skilfully maps the Minnesota landscape with the human condition - bleak and dark in the winters of life, but warming and engaging at others.
This is a book of observation. Told entirely in the first person it is a story of a young girl's coming of age as recalled by her older self. Linda (also known as Maddie) develops a companionship with neighbours of her family in an old series of shacks near a lake. She becomes the babysitter for their 4 year old son and establishes bonds she is unable to forge with her own family.
This is a book about observation more than anything else. Events are related in a relatively factual manner, devoid of feeling. It is a story of disassociation - Linda doesn't fit in with anyone: school friends, family, neighbours. Even the core companionships with her neighbour, Patra, are lacking in closeness. Only young Paul seems to trigger any sort of emotion with Linda, maybe because he too is slightly odd and distant but is willing to learn and share with her.
Linda does blend well with the earth and land though and all non-human life. Trees, the lake, her dogs, insects and other pests are accepted, tolerated or even liked by Linda. She gets high; she even finds an enjoyment in chopping wood. She seems to understand anything which has no great thought of its own.
Although Linda lacks empathy she does seem to have an understanding of the human condition and an almost primeval instinct for life and self-preservation.
The second half of the book jumps in time to after the events of the first part of the book, recalling the circumstances they lead to but also jumping into the times leading up to them. The narrative moves from early childhood to the time of the main part of the story to adulthood and possibly ending in the present. It requires concentration and some effort of imagination - some things appear deliberately left to the reader to fill in the gaps.
The story, seen entirely through the eyes of a remarkably observant but unemotional narrator held me fascinated and broke my heart. The characters are not cruel; they have no hate or conscious cruelty, but each person's inability to understand the feelings of others can be a bleak read. The ending, unfortunately, needs some work. I have no problem with an open ending or things left unexplained, but I do get annoyed with them being confusing. This isn't as big a matter as it might be though. Whereas Maddie/Linda misses the bigger picture by concentrating on the detail, I enjoyed seeing the bigger picture where so many sub-plots are left unresolved. The style and language is mesmerising.


View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Ship Trilogy by D Krauss - an epic journey that deserves wider audience

What did I get? The Ship Trilogy by D Krauss, comprising "The Ship to look for God", "The Ship Looking for God" and "The Ship Finding God".

How did I get them? The first was from a giveaway at, you've guessed it, Goodreads. The second and third were sent by the author after I posted a review at Goodreads. See? It pays off to post!


My review of The Ship to Look for God and The Ship Looking for God  are worth reading to see how my reviews progress with this strange series - the final review from Goodreads is below. They aren't good reviews, I'll admit that, as the trilogy is hard to talk about without giving too much away. They do deserve a wider audience though.


View all my reviews
The Ship Finding GodThe Ship Finding God by D. Krauss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for sending this book after I reviewed the first 2 books in the series.

This book concludes the trilogy after "The Ship To Look For God" and "The Ship Looking For God". The trilogy is an odyssey in which our hero, Otto Boteman, dies and embarks upon a journey through times, spaces, dimensions and mind boggling circumstances in search of an answer.

This volume moves Otto on to his goal and there are far fewer new faces in this book. The tone is different as the answer nears and the steady introduction of famous names from history makes way for angels and other beings. It's difficult to talk more openly for fear of spoiling the plot and the answer to the supreme question and I'm going to hope that this ambiguity encourages readers to read my reviews of the first 2 books and seek them out for themselves. This trilogy is not published by a major name, in fact it seems to have been self-published. In my view, Otto's journey deserves wider attention. Goodreads is full of testifying memoirs and books in praise of God, Christ and other deities. These books are different - they ask questions. Of course it leads to a spiritual conclusion and yes, JC has a cameo. But it also has an open ending that makes one think and leaves space for you to find your own interpretation. It's a positive message, I concluded, that steers away from hate and damnation and points towards being good.

I have typed this review some time after reading the book. I wasn't as pleased with the ending as I wanted to be as I, like most readers, expect and prefer a distinct conclusion. Maybe that's unfair with a subject matter like this and having re-read main parts again there are different interpretations that can be made by different readers. I'm not a very religious person but do appreciate spirituality and the loving parts of faith.

And after everything Otto has been through, he still seems oddly surprised at each new acquaintance!


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Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Index of Dreams by Vicky Matthews - a macabre tale of obession

Today's freebie - The Index of Dreams (paperback) by Vicky Matthews

Thanks to? Goodreads, as usual.


Yet another giveaway from Goodreads and another fine debut novel. My quick review below is taken from the Goodreads site.


The Index of DreamsThe Index of Dreams by Vicky Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this through Goodreads.

A fine debut novel that deserves a wider audience. Sabina (Beanie) is one of life's drifters - temping job after temping job with no plan and not much promise for the future. Her only meaning in life is an obsession with a film she hasn't seen (it's banned)- The Index of Dreams - and it's creator Ossian Brohmer. A chance encounter brings Beanie and the film closer together and Life takes on meaning and excitement. Beanie moves to the seaside and becomes acquainted with Brohmer as the story takes on deeper themes of control and obsession.
Everyone seeks some meaning in life and some people don't find that in day to day things that surround them - they reach for art or celebrity, anything that can hold focus. This is Beanie and the story of her search for meaning and whether she has the strength to control or be controlled.

Thoroughly recommended.


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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Carrying Albert home by Homer Hickam. Wonderfully bizarre.

Today's reviewed freebie? "Carrying Albert home : the Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife and her Alligator" by Homer Hickam

Where from? Another one from Goodreads



Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her AlligatorCarrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator by Homer Hickam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Goodreads for this giveaway.

Sometimes a couple's love isn't based wholly on love as we think of it. It's sometimes based on respect, a deep feeling that doesn't always manifest itself but is there nonetheless. This book is of such a couple - a hidden love.

This dreamy novel is based on stories told by the author's mother that are somewhat embellished by the author. Albert is the alligator, a gift to Elsie from a former lover and a reminder of her days in Florida when life stretched before her. That life was meant to be with Buddy Epsen (the real person - Google him) but when Buddy moved to New York Elsie found herself back in West Virginia and married to her high school sweetheart, the miner Homer Hickam. Albert was Buddy's gift, a memento of Florida.

Elsie remains unfulfilled with life in West Virginia, raising an alligator in a bath. When Homer tires of his housemate he gives Elsie an ultimatum - Albert or him. Elsie considers in some depth, and decides to take Albert back home to his native home of Florida. Homer gets a sabbatical period from his employer and accompanies them both on a bizarre road trip across America during the Depression era.

On route the trio meet other real characters such as John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and even appear in a Tarzan film.

Akin the "100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson, this is a hazy novel with some real dream sequences. It's a warm, funny, uplifting book that is a love story without romance. Quite bizarre, in fact utterly mad at times, it's a wonderful summer read.

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