Archive for October, 2012

30/10/2012

The Worst Thing About Shopping Online.

I love to shop online. I don’t do it often, but when I do I take my time to hunt for exactly what I want, at exactly the right price. And so far it has paid off for me. Over the years I’ve snapped up some really great deals. A power supply for my PC which should have caught me for 100 Euro came in to my hands for only 35 Euro. Brand new, and in a sealed box. Or the complete Dr. Seuss collection for only 35 Euro, when the cheapest I’d previously found it in my local bookshops was almost 8 Euro per book, and there’s a lot of books in that collection.

But as rewarding an experience as it can be to find that great deal, there is one aspect of online shopping, especially on Amazon, and before that Ebay that drives me nuts. That turns me completely, and utterly monkey-poo. Fake product images.

There are people who will advertise one thing, say a replacement attachment for a vacuüm cleaner. Everything seems legit, the description is right, and the image matches. But when you open your delivery what do you find? A much lower spec item, which in no way resembles the picture of the item you ordered. And guess what? It’ll cost you more than the item price in postage to return it!

I really, truly hate this.

Now I have to admit that I have been pretty lucky in this regard. So far in about four years of online shopping, yes I was a late arrival to the realms of shopping for nice things from the comfort of my bed, I’ve only been stung this way twice. But boy did both of them hurt.

The first time there was this beautiful latex hood, a deep purple color, with gorgeous plaited strands of a thicker latex making up two ponytails. I just had to have it. This being back in the days before I’d realised that the reason I couldn’t breathe when I wore latex hoods was not in fact sheer excitement, rather it was more than a touch of an allergy. I’d asked a friend to use their credit card to buy it, and paid them the money in cash. Again this was through Ebay. Bit of a mistake that. What got in the door, wasn’t so much purple as flesh-colored, and wasn’t so much latex as badly stitched spandex.

The second time I had ordered a dozen mid-range aluminium arrows for my longbow. I’d pretty much destroyed my earlier ones by missing the target, and doing my best to bury them in the concrete wall behind it. I made the mistake of ordering them from a certain Ebay seller. To say the least what I received in the mail was a let down. Half a dozen, bad quality fibreglass arrow shafts, with no tips, or feathers.

Both sellers claimed to have mistakenly posted the wrong item. Both sellers were lying through their teeth, as I later discovered that they both had terrible reputations for just these sorts of bait, and switch tactics.

This topic comes up because, funnily enough, I today ordered a replacement part for my vacuüm cleaner. Again I’m in that place where I have to put my trust in the integrity of someone who I wouldn’t know if I ran them over in the street. And frankly it’s unnerving. I don’t have very much spare cash at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. So those 12 Euro are a big deal for me, even though I do really need that part, I’m sick of the clumps of dog hair, and the dust bunnies that are large enough that they’ve grown their own legs, and developed their own culture. But as I clicked the “Buy” button on Amazon I had that flickering moment of doubt.

I truly hate not being able to trust people to be honorable, even more than I hate wasting money.

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27/10/2012

Little Ruminations on having a cold – So much mucus!

This week has been a red-letter week. For the first time both my Partner in Crime, and myself have come down with coldish illnesses. She with a vicious chest infection, I on the other hand, have a sinus infection with a cough.

However what we both have are unending rivers of mucus flowing from our faces. Which leads to me ask the following question.

How in the hell does the human body create so much sticky mess?

No really, I’m asking. After three days of constant nose blowing, and cough I feel like I’ve brought up half my own body weight in slime. The worst being when I lie down to sleep. Sleep, HAH! What’s sleep?

Between my PiC being up, and down the whole night. My sore throat. And us both leaking liberally from our faces, we both only vaguely remember what sleep feels like.

So right now my regular readers are probably expecting me to come out with five, or six suggestions for how to cope with having a cold, or chest infection. Well I do have two good hints, which I share sincerely from the heart. And here it is.

1: Don’t catch one.

2: If you do, make sure you’re own PiC isn’t coughing, sneezing, snarling, splutering, and leaking at the same time.

25/10/2012

My Random Video Ruminations – Episode 1 – Transphobic attacks, and Mists of Pandaria Collectors Edition unboxed.

Today we have a double feature for my monthly video blog. In part One I’ll be speaking about a transphobic attack I was the victim of two weeks ago. As well as several which have happened to me in Dublin City over the past 10 months.

In Part Two I’ll be sharing my experience of unboxing my brand new copy of the latest expansion to the World of Warcraft, Mists of Pandaria.

Enjoy, and I’ll be back again on Saturday with your regular burst of randomness.

23/10/2012

Big – Birth of a Monster?

Last weekend, for the first time since it was in the cinema I watched the Tom Hanks movie “Big”. I can honestly say that I barely remembered anything from it, but everyone seems to have warm, happy childhood memories of watching a little kid, meeting what must bea god/genie powered wish machine, wish himself into being a young Tom Hanks, so I thought why not. After all it was there, on the telly, so, not as if I have anything to lose.

*sigh* That terrible hair, it gives me nightmares. (Image via http://www.nndb.com)

Well except for some of my little remaining faith in humanity. You see I think what everyone has mistaken for a fun, frolic filled family movie, is in fact intended to be a window into the birth of a serial sex offender, a serial killer, or perhaps even a despotic world leader such as has never been seen, not even in humanities rather sordid history. Or at least that’s how I would have written it.

But why Amanda? Why would you think such a thing of a sweet early Tom Hanks vessel?

Well dear reader, I think it because…

1: Too much power, and freedom far too young.

Do you remember when your parents let you move out of home when you turned 12?

How you went off, and got yourself a high-powered job?

How about the way you ate whatever you wanted, when you wanted, and stayed up as late as you wanted?

No? Really, to all three?

Me neither. That’s because no sensible, or competent parent would allow their children to live that way. As children we’re surrounded by boundaries, rules, and parental guidance for a reason. The reason being that children are not generally good judges of what’s best for themselves. Though sometimes they do grow up to be people who are in fact good at making decisions for themselves.

But in Big the main character, Josh, receives all the freedom of being an adult overnight, literally overnight. Sure to begin with those freedoms include the freedom to starve to death while huddled for warmth in a ditch, somewhat like the Little Matchstick Girl, as portrayed by Tom Hanks. But he manages to land on his feet, not once but twice.

The first time he somehow finds a job as a clerk in a major company. The second time when he flukes his way into a job as a junior executive for the same company.

Maybe if you danced a little harder he’d have let you have his 12-year-old granddaughter, Josh.

Yup so lil Josh learns early on that life just works out in his favor. Need a job? The world provides even though you have the social security number of a 12 year-old. Want a better job? Dance on a giant keyboard with the company owner, and you’ll end up with a higher rank and more power.

2: Lying little git.

Through out the entire movie Josh shows an amazing comfort with lying in the most casual way. He lies constantly. He lies to his parents about his whereabouts, and condition. He lies to his landlords, co-workers, bosses. And he lies to his first girlfriend, but we’ll get to her later.

So what? Many of you must be thinking. Amanda, look at the situation he was in, of course he had to lie.

And of course you’re right. His survival to a degree depends on his ability to lie, otherwise instead of watching a family comedy named “Big” we’d be watching a tragedy named “The Gape: A Magical Story of a 12 year-old rent-boy, With Unfortunate Hair.”

But what does he learn about lying over the course of the entire movie. Why only that lying never has negative consequences. Seriously, the only negative consequences that happen due to his lies are to other people. His parents live shattered lives believing he’s a kidnapping victim. And what about any men, who whose lives are torn apart when the police show up to interrogate them, on suspicion of that kidnapping. And of course he winds up breaking his 30 year-old girlfriend’s heart.

But every lie leads to a pot of gold for Josh himself.

3: Selfish little b*****d.

The movie ends with Tom Hanks wishing himself back into his 12 year-old body. And walking away from his heart-broken statutory rapist girlfriend (we’ll get to that), heading home to his parents and their shattered lives, with a song in his heart, and on his lips. Happy ending!

Selfish little bastard is what I say.

Let us, for a moment, consider the Zoltar Speaks machine. This object grants wishes.The sort of wishes that require at the very least a temporary local rewriting of all temporal and physical laws. It can make a young boy into a grown man literally overnight, and a grown man into a young boy in very baggy clothes. And all without even being plugged in.

I remember even as a ten year-old watching this movie, and thinking that the machine had to bea trap, a cage for a god, or a genie, a demon, or some other supernatural, and above all else insanely powerful being. Yes being, after all it shows itself to be able to correctly interpret a spoken wish. Then it somehow moves billions of atoms from one place to another, thus making a functional, living Tom Hanks. And as we see in the finale of the movie, it can reverse this in an instant. And all without coating every nearby surface in a thin layer of main character.

Behold you mortals the face of a god! (Image via http://www.pinrepair.com)

So let’s just say that young Josh has access to his own personal enslaved god. And he makes precisely two wishes?!

What the hell? What about your heartbroken parents Josh? Don’t they deserve for all this to have led to something good for them? Like winning the lottery? Or finding Ollie North’s gold under their floorboards?

Or let’s not think small here. What about world hunger? What about street children Josh? You could have been one you selfish little prick.

Hey let’s think even bigger, you have access to a limitless source of power Josh. How about this wish…Zoltar I wish for the world to be a truly safe place for everyone…Just imagine the dystopian sequel that wish could have spawned.

The point is that throughout the entire movie Josh again, and again strikes me as am exceedingly selfish brat. Not in the “I want everything”, way. But in an unthinking disregard for other people, and for the potential of what he has right at his fingertips at the close of the movie. And by that point he doesn’t even have the excuse of immaturity to fall back on, he’s spent the previous months living as an adult. Which leads us finally to…

4: Premature sexual awakening.

And I do not mean a twelve-year-old, semi-innocently fumbling with his first girlfriend in his treehouse here. I’m talking about full-on, outright statutory rape.

Hang on! What?! I hear you cry.

Well the main character is of course 12-years-old, though admittedly a 12 year-old in a 30 year-old man’s body. However his girlfriend is a 30-odd year old Elizabeth Perkins.

Well, at least he has good taste. She on the other hand…a little boy trapped inside a fully functional and anatomically correct Tom Hanks? Really? (Image via http://www.thefancarpet.com)

So what do we call it when an adult has sex with a minor?

And make no mistake he is a minor. Check up Josh Baskins birth certificate, and it would tell you he was 12.

So now you’re wondering how all this leads to his being a dangerous predator?

  • This boy has his first consensual sexual experience with an experienced older woman at far too early an age. (Though it’s highly questionable that he could have given anything like informed consent with the average 1980’s 12-year-olds life experience.)
  • He has experienced power, prestige, respect, and legitimate adult authorities and freedoms, with the mind, and outlook of a young child. This has then been stripped away.
  • He has, by the end of the movie become and accomplished, habitual liar. Not such a long leap to go from there to self-delusions.
  • He’s a selfish little so and so, as shown by his not asking the Zoltar god/genie to help anyone in his life with their problems.
  • He walks away from the life he’s built as an adult, leaving his company, adult friends, landlord, etc to pick up the pieces of his mess with absolutely no signs of guilt, the movie even ends with him having a jolly sing-along with his best friend.

In short I watched this movie, and saw a VERY young adolescent get his every fantasy made real. He has sex, has his dream job, freedom, money, and power. True, he gives it all up in the end. But I can’t help but wonder how his still not fully formed personality would cope with everything he’s been through. And I see three main possibilities.

A: He convinces himself it never happened, or otherwise finds a way to normalise it all, and lives a normal happy life.
B: He lives an increasingly bitter life, as his natural adulthood fails to live up to what he remembers from his first one. Leaving him an embittered, sad, shell of a man who never amounts to anything.
C:
His experience of too much, too young, and his encounter with a trapped god/genie with the power that represents twists his mind over time. Leading him to a life of evil, crime, and horrific acts.

To see this movie as the genesis of a monster, all you have to do is try to look at the lessons he learned, the adult things he experienced through the eyes of Josh as a twenty-something.

As for what he might become, think of it this way, he’s only one small step from absolute global power. Find the Zoltar machine again. Make all the wishes he wants. Or even one carefully thought out, and worded wish. Boom! The sort of power even Hitler never dreamt of. And as we all know from our history lessons, power does in fact corrupt the wielder. Now imagine that power in the hands of an emotional cripple…

(Admittedly he might use that power for good, but then this wouldn’t be nearly  so much fun to imagine.)

20/10/2012

Stalled plans, and huge frustration

I’ve mentioned my upcoming webcomic several times in the past year. And each time it’s had to be put back by another month.

I moved home partly to be able to lower my cost of living, but also because that new home had enough space to give me a small woodworking workshop. Why does that matter? Because I’ve spent the past year designing my ideal ukuleles. I want to build them for myself, and perhaps some day to sell to other. Again delayed.

My video blog which started last month was another project which had been stalled again, and again.

Even this written blog started out as a project which had been put off over, and over.

That’s the thing about large projects, they tend to need fairly substantial preparation time before you can get into the meat of them. And life will often get in the way. At best this is frustrating, at worst it’s beyond infuriating.

My two worst current bug-bears in this regard are my webcomic, and my video blog. My webcomic is a project with 2 years of work already done on it, without a single panel having found its way on to the internet. I’ve spent months working on my drawing skills, working out characters, storylines, learning to use graphics programs, etc. It’s a lot of work to have already done with nothing solid to show for it. Why nothing to show for it? I’m doing the ground work for a new novel at the moment, which is rather time intensive, so until that’s done, and I get back to my regular writing schedule I’m buggered for time.

As for my video blog, it has admittedly been launched. But even after another month, and 40 hours of work over that time because of financial issues it still won’t have grown to what I had hoped it would be when I release my second edition next week.

Both of those projects are not precisely stalled, but they are being held back in different ways by life in general. The webcomic by my mad dash to clear a backlog of other work so I can finally set aside so much time per week purely for drawing. The video blog by my income having been savaged in the past two months reducing my discretionary budget from tiny to almost nothing. And it’s driving me nuts.

I have a story I want to tell, a story I’m excited by, enthusiastic about; the webcomic.

I also have things I want to say to the world, things I want the world to hear from my lips, not read from a page; the video blog.

But despite my hard work. Despite my enthusiasm. Despite how much love I have for both projects I am stalled. I drink not from the keg of victory, rather I’m stuck in the corner of the bar, and the barman just pawned me off with the dregs from last nights run off. And I am not happy about that.

Now that said I know I will get to where I want to be. My webcomic is going to be launched, come hell or high-water. My video blog will develop from a “talking head” model to the more magazine show format I want for it, just more slowly. So I’m not frustrated by things which will never happen. I guess that I’m simply irked by having run so hard and fast, just to stay where I am.

Here endeth the bitching, and moaning with a question. How do you deal with this particular sort of getting nowhere? And what mechanisms have you used in your own life to get through it.

16/10/2012

A badly run prebooked seat system on trains. Ya, probably not a great idea.

Yes you (might have) guessed it, I’m in Cork. The place which to every loyal daughter of Cork is the bright shining centre of all civilisation in this or any universe. (I may, or may not be joking about that.) Of course there is a problem for me in getting to Cork, Irish rail. Due to certain minor health concerns such as needing very quick access to an easy to use bathroom I basically have to use them.

So I did. On a Sunday afternoon. I must have been out of my mind.

Now in the past I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I feel Irish Rail is a moderately well run lesser evil. Kind of like if Cthulhu decided to play with a scale train set, built scale for him I mean. And that contact with a Greater Evil has rubbed off somewhat.

Well is there’s one thing about Irish Rail that is a true expression that nature, it’s their prebooking system for seats. Not tickets mind you, but the actual seats.

I should say that I strongly agree with prebooking in airplanes, theatres, cinemas and of course restaurants. But on a train when it’s badly executed it just leads o huge amounts of stress, and many passengers being pissed with one another in what is, for much of the time, a sealed environment.

The problem is not so much that this system exists, but rather in the fact that it doesn’t seem to be managed in anyway beyond a “oh nice extra money.” thought process. This means that when someone who hasn’t booked a seat arrives they’re often faced with a sea of signs that this seat, or that seat is booked. But hardly any seats which are free for them, sometimes actually no seat in a carriage (though admittedly that is rare, something I’ve only seen twice).

That situation is made worse by those who have booked a seat deciding not to bother taking the seat they requested, and instead take one which is unbooked. That meaning that now for the whole journey their real seat will lie empty.

THEN you sometimes have people who have taken their booked seat filling the unbooked seat next to them with luggage, and if there’s no host, or ticket inspector on the train, refusing to move it. Their attitude being one of “I booked this, so this one’s mine too by right of luggage based conquest, stand and suffer plebian.”

I don’t know what the solution is to this situation, but I do strongly feel part of it has to be to make sure there is enough unbooked seating to at least allow those who simply physically can not stand for three hours to sit. And to do so as a matter of course. But apart from that, I’m at a loss as to how to fix a system which has made rail travel even more of a misery if you’re unable to afford, or unable to book ahead for a seat. And let’s face it, public transport is something of a misery at the best of times.

But solution aside I don’t think it’s a good idea to engineer a situation where random strangers in a confined space are pissed off with one another. For some reason all I can see down that path at some stage is hair being pulled and teeth flying. I just hope they won’t be mine.

13/10/2012

Little Ruminations on Food – I Thought I hated it.

I can still, vaguely, remember my first time in a McDonalds. I was maybe 4 years old, living in west Mayo, and on a visit home to Cork to spend some time with my Moms family. Anyway in, what I imagine was, an effort to separate my brother and I, from our cousins for a few hours of blessed peace, Mom took us to Maccy-D’s in Cork City.

This was about 30 years ago, and I had a cheeseburger.

This article is not about how I thought I hated McDonalds food. Though I still truly loathe it, I really do.

No this is about how McDonalds was responsible for my thinking I hated pickled gherkin. You see, just in case you’ve either been living under a rock for the past several decades, or are Hindu, most burgers in most fast food chains include a single, thin, sad, pathetic, rotten tasting piece of what they claim to be pickled gherkin. And because of that singular piece of revolting organic crap I spent the next 25 years thinking that I hated pickles.

I didn’t, I hated fake pickles. Fake pickles that tasted horribly sweet, and somewhat like the way that rotten boiled cabbage smells. It was only when I had started hormone treatments, and was beset with lots of often quite insane food cravings that I discovered what real pickles taste like.

In a two words…

FRIKKIN DELICIOUS!

So what’s the point of this post? Why gentle reader simply this. If you think you hate a food, maybe you should try a different brand, or type. Because it may well be that some soulless, low grade evil has misled you into thinking you hate something, that actually you’ll love.

In my mind that’s Tim Curry under the make-up. (Image via http://www.forkparty.com )
09/10/2012

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 3: Thrift Shops.

Over the past two weeks I’ve written about how I make my clothes budget stretch as far as possible. But there’s still one type of ultra-thrifty real-world shopping we haven’t touched on yet.

“What type is that Amanda?” I hear you ask.

Well, imagine a place filled with clothes. A place with shelf after shelf of books. A place to go and buy a DVD, or console game. How about a place where you can get yourself a nice computer desk for 7 Euro (I did, once.).

“But where is this magical land of moonbeams, and pixies who fart rainbows?”

Well actually, it’s your local thrift shop. These are usually run by one charity or another, and work by taking in donations of clothing (and just about anything else.) which they then sort, get rid of the crap, and sell the rest on to the public. They’re my favourite places to shop, you could find just about anything there, leather-wear (In 8 years I’ve found two designer leather skirts and an ankle length leather coat.), vintage fur (One X-mas I gave my mom a rabbit-fur jacket which was in perfect condition, and 40 years old if it was a day.), goth-wear (My shiny New Rocks spring to mind here.), just about anything.

The thing is though, there are ways to make your cash stretch even further, even when using a charity shop. So here are my tips for maximizing your value for money while Thrift shopping.

1: Learn to haggle:

Yes I know that the items in thrift store are already dirt-cheap but by the careful application of a little negotiation you may well save a few cents more. Remember these aren’t high street shops, the people working there know that they’re selling stuff other people didn’t want anymore. And what’s more, they know you’re doing them a huge favour by not only taking that stuff off of their hands, but by actually paying for the privilege. Think about that for a second. You’re paying to take away things which were freely donated to a particular charity.

So haggle people.

I’m not saying be obnoxious, but ask if that price is the best they’ll do on the item. If they offer you a top for 6 Euro, offer them 5. If they go for it you’ve saved yourself a Euro (not to be sniffed at in these recessionary times), they don’t go for it, well all you’ve wasted is a little breath.

2: Bulk buying.

This leads directly from my last point. Sometimes if you buy a few items in one lot, you’ll find it easier to cut a deal on the cost. The classic example of this is to bring 3, or 5 items to the til, and try to get the cheapest one free. Again if they don’t go for it, it’s only cost you a few seconds of your time. Though this does work best if the cheapest item is considerably cheaper than the rest.

3: Check for invisible cosmetic damage.

You should always check any purchase for visible damage no matter what it is. Sometimes that damage can be the first warning of serious underlying problems with your new possession. And I would say as a general rule if it has any significant visible structural damage you should pass on it, unless it absolutely will not affect the function/lifespan of the item, and can be used to lower the price at the till. Now that said, what I just wrote really only applies to appliances. For clothing if there’s any visible damage I just let it go. But what if there’s a small amount of internal damage? A slightly torn hem. A small tear in the lining. Something easily repairable?

After over a decade of good finances most of us would say “Pass on it.” But if it is easily repaired, by yourself or someone who isn’t going to charge you, or if the item is something exceptional AND the damage is still minor (A genuine designer jacket with as mentioned a slight tear in one hem, or a missing button, things like that.) you should buy them. Not only that but you should try to use that damage as a negotiating point to cut to cost of that item.

4: Get to know what you really wanted from last season.

I’ve lived on a shoestring for a long time. Since I transitioned 8 years ago I’ve bought maybe 20 brand new items of clothing that hadn’t had a ridiculous mark down (50% minimum) during a sale, that weren’t underwear (never buy secondhand undies, seriously, there’s a line in the sand.). Sometimes walking into clothes store filled with lovely brand new clothes, which I couldn’t afford in a fit, is a hugely depressing experience. In I walk, see a dress (It’s usually a dress, though sometimes it’s a skirt.), fall in love, see the price, and somehow stop myself from crying in public.

But the thing I’ve found over those years is that usually at some stage those same outfits will be in a thrift store near me. Patience is the key here, patience and a LONG mental list of things I want from the last four or five seasons.

Keeping a clear image of the things you really want in mind from that length of time saves you money for one very simple reason. If you know what you want, what you really want, you’re far less likely to waste what little money you have on something you really don’t want, and will never wear.

5: Thrift stores are for Christmas too.

I’m not saying that you buy all your presents in one. After all, that’s probably not truly feasible, especially if you have kids to cater for. But, you could easily get your outfit for the day itself, and something pretty to wear for when you’re giving a pretty Velma-like geek-girl her New Years lapdance. You could find that really unusual curio that would be the perfect gift for your eccentric friend who loves old statues of owls. Or your bookworm cousin who just can’t find the last part of that collection which has been out of print for a decade.

But mostly think clothes. Have you that friend who only wear vintage (damn hipster wannabe)? Or someone who would truly adore that very decoratively and well-made velvet skirt you can see in the corner? Remember that for some people it really is the thought that counts, not the expense. So find out which are which and your local thrift store could be a financial life saver next Christmas.

6: Get to know your local Thrift/Charity shops, and their staff.

This is the most important thing you can do to save money when thrift shopping. And here’s why. Shops are like human beings, creatures of habit. They tend to get they deliveries on the same day every week. They tend to put out new stock on the same day every week also. Habit is sometimes efficient. It certainly can be for the intrepid thrift shopper.

Find out what day the main sorting house for each store delivers in your area. Talk to the staff in your local shop, get to know them, and get them to hold on to certain types of things for you. Be friendly, be excruciatingly polite. Be a regular face that they always see on a certain day. Become a part of the habits of that shops ecosystem. Donate items yourself.

The key to really making thrift shopping pay off is to work at it. There are amazing deals in those shops some of the time, and the trick to finding those deals is being in the know. So be in the know, find a way to the inside track, and combine it with your haggling, your lists, with knowing you measurements perfectly. Spend wisely, don’t buy things you don’t really want. Think clearly, and with a little extra effort you could quickly find yourself with a wonderful wardrobe, at a fraction of the price.

So, that’s it. Our guide to clothes shopping on a budget is finished. I hope it’s helped you at least a little, and that you’ll stick around for future “Poor girl guide…”‘s…

Ah bugger! I forgot online shopping. Right, that will be coming up in the near future too. *sigh*

06/10/2012

Little Ruminations on Television – Three more years of Top Gear.

Well it’s official, Top Gear has a new sponsorship deal, and so will be with us for at least three more years. I stunned by my not being utterly overjoyed, Top gear is one of my favorite slices of television cake. But lately that cake has started to taste more than a little stale. I’m sure most people who watch the show regularly love the mixture of comedy, fast cars,and insane challenges. I know I do. But how long can they keep this going before people start switching off in their millions?

Don’t take me wrong in this, Top Gear is still entertaining. But, and it’s a very big “but”, am I the only one finding the challenges are becoming a tired cliché? Yes, back when they started them they were genuinely exciting. I still love to watch the one where Clarkson somehow manages to drive from London(ish) to the most northerly point of Britain, AND back on one tank of diesel. There’s genuine comedy, and tension in that little adventure. And in many of those that followed. But now the newer challenges seem to have become cartoonish parodies of themselves.

I won’t even go into the one-off New Years specials except to say that while the first one, the Polar adventure, was something truly special, and the Botswana adventure was really fun, the rest have felt like 90 minutes of “some television.” As for last years Indian one…that one was just painfully embarrassing to watch.

So where am  going with this?

I do still love Top Gear. I used to watch “old” Top Gear when I was a teen, and I’ll probably watch “new” Top Gear ’til the day that they finally pull the plug. But I wish that they would stop trying to out-do themselves. Don’t stop the challenges but make them have a little more sense of reality perhaps? Do show us those pretty supercars, but how about a serious review (by which I mean don’t turn the review into a piss-take of itself) of a normal car that I might someday be able to afford each week? And for the love of all that is unholy, please not always the fucking Ford Mondeo.

02/10/2012

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 2: The High Street.

Last week I wrote about five basic tips which are universal to both “real-life” forms of clothes shopping. (Online clothes shopping is a different kettle of fish altogether, actually it’s more like a kettle of potentially very badly salted beef, but that’s a post for another day.) Today I want to cover a few points which have, over the past decade of very frugal living, helped me to save quite a bit of money on my clothing budget when I hit the high street. And yes, I know, in Ireland we mostly have “Main Street”‘s not “High Street”‘s, but let’s face it “High Street shopping.” has such a nice ring to it.

Anyway, so you’ve headed out for a day of shopping. Your work wardrobe is falling apart. Your left breast keeps dropping through a hole in your bra. And the dog ate your last pair of non-holey leggings. You’ve put this off for months, for far too long actually, because there’s a recession, and that money was generally needed for unimportant things like heating, and food. But at the end of the day since you don’t live in a nudist colony, (or maybe you do in which case if you’re female pictures please) you have to get some clothes to wear that don’t make you look like you live with an incredibly hungry Mothra.

A very hungry Mothra killed my entire corset wardrobe once. I’ll never forgive him! (image via 15mmp.blogspot.ie)

But how to make sure you get value for money?

1: Spend shoe leather, not cash:

I know how tempting it is to buy something in the first place you see it. It’s cold and wet out there. There’s wolves, and rabid zombies on those streets. And there’s this pretty pencil skirt, just sitting on the rail waiting for you to take it with you. But you see there’s this thing called a fashion trend. What that means when you get down to it is this, every major retail chain will have their own version of most pieces of clothing. The differences between those versions will be very minor. Aside, sometimes, from price.

So yes, you can buy the first version you see. But remember that in most shopping precincts, such as the Henry Street area of Dublin, all the major retail chains are within minutes walk of each other. The quality, unless you pay an exceedingly high price will be much the same. And even though you may only save a Euro or two on each piece, those quickly add up. More savings mean more money to spend on more pieces, and the longer you’ll be able to go between splurges.

2: High Street splurges aren’t a bad thing, if you plan for them:

Money is tight all over right now. But unless you’re in the worst of dire circumstances, you can probably save some small few quid each week. And that saving is the key to thrifty High Street shopping. Clothes shopping, unlike many things in life, is something you can prepare, and plan ahead for. You know your clothes have a finite lifespan. You know when they’re starting to give up the ghost.  And if you watch the websites of the various retail chains you can have a pretty good idea of their prices ranges. And you should always do your best to plan to hit the shops when they have their…

3: SALES! SALES! SALES!:

Sales are where you will make real savings. Do I really need to explain that?

What you should do though is go with a list of what you need. When there are sales everywhere, and all the prettiness that has taunted you for months sits there, arrayed before you. Most of it at prices you can, for once, afford it is often almost too hard to stick to a plan. So that’s why a written list of what you need is your best friend. And remember that if you don’t find something from that list in one sale, there’s another in three months time, as these days most businesses have a sale for each season, and many even have sales for totally nonsensical holidays.

4: Do get a loyalty card:

I know they’re a pain with how they clog up your purse. And that if you had one for every single store you shopped in our bag would weigh the same as a small country. But if you them you can use them to build up points, and then use those points to save even more money int he future. Just make a point of only taking the ones you’ll need for a given day with you.

5: Do use your debit card:

I am a huge fan of debit cards, especially Visa, or MasterCard ones. All the purchasing flexibility of a credit card, but you can ONLY spend what’s actually in your bank account. Now this does need you to be able to keep a running score of what is actually in your bank account in your head. But if you’ve followed the hints from my original post then you already have that skill worked to a finely honed edge.

My usual way to use my debit card is to set a spend limit for a given day, and keep a track of what I have spent within that limit. Also remember that most businesses will have a minimum spend limit on whether you can use your debit card or not.

6: Don’t be tempted by your credit card:

Okay a little confession here. I’m a Vera Wang girl. I honestly, truly believe that no-one else designs such beautiful dresses with tall girls in mind with anything like her panache. The days I feel like seeing something truly beautiful I wander into one of the higher class places which stock her dresses. And I spend an hour drooling over them. Especially her prom dress. I, of course, then take a look at the price tag, have a minor heart attack, and try to make myself feel better by drinking a lot of hot chocolate.

This leads to the evil of credit cards. I don’t have a credit card. I’ve never had one. I point-blank refused to accept one when my old bank tried to force on me. Why? Because of Vera Wang.

If I had access to credit I don’t know if I’d be able to stop myself, especially if she had released something which had that Hellenic Greek look to it. And if that was on special offer? I’d end up owing my soul for that dress.

I know it’s a wedding dress, but I’d dust the damned house wearing that thing! (image via About.com)

Don’t use your credit card. Period. Get rid of it. Freeze it in a block of ice. Store it in a metal box at the bottom of a lava pit. Do what ever you have to do. But don’t use it, because if you’re thrifting hard you simply can not afford to use it.

Not even for *sobs* Vera WAAAAAAAAAAANG! *collapses in a heap*

And with that I will say goodbye, come back next week and we’ll close with my tips for maximizing your value for money while shopping in thrift stores…*wistful sigh* Someday Vera, someday…

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