4 weekends till Christmas … your lights up yet?

0599-christmas-1100026406-10232013Only four more weekends till Christmas (or five if you’re into Hogmanay)! Time to arrange for the holidays is rapidly slipping away. By now you would expect all the pubs and restaurants to have finalised their festive menus and some may already be fully booked for the ‘Big Feast’ whether it be on Christmas Eve or even on Christmas Day. Decorations have been popping up on lampposts and over mantels all over the country and the music mix you hear in malls and shops has changed and the next number one on the Official Singles Charts are all being punted, depending on the preferences and taste of whoever happens to be managing the playlists.

And ‘Taste’ is such an individual thing – what appeals to some will be offensive to others. Like the photo taken of Roy Loxton. He was minding his own business, doing his work and someone asked him if they could take his picture. He said yes and the snap appeared in the local newspaper. Someone complained that a pic of Mr Loxton at work, as a gravedigger, in a hole, smiling, was in ‘bad taste’ so his work from the one funeral home has been slashed. 

But nothing can beat the Aussies when it comes to ‘tasteful’ Christmas decorations this year. David Richards and his family made a comeback from his defeat to the USA last year to regain the Guinness World Record with his 330 000+ Christmas light display on his house. His array of twinkling lights costs him £1,400.00 a month to run – but at least he doesn’t have any heating bills as the average temperature in Canberra at this time of the year is 25° (still a lot cooler than the temperature the England team are facing on the cricket field though). Part of the fallout for his success and notoriety however is that some of his neighbours haven’t spoken to him since 2011 when he won the last time. Wonder why?

It’s probably just as well that clubs, pubs and restaurants don’t go too over the top on the decorations seeing as there are more stringent rules and regs. than in Oz. Can you imagine the nightmare the poor stocktakers would have to go through if they had to account for extra fairy-lights and a bumped up electric bill? And how many people REALLY successfully keep last year’s lights for this year – I wonder how many stocktakers have become adept at untangling green wire while trying hard not to break the delicate bulbs for their customers?

Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers have been working hard to make sure that pubs and clubs are all stocked up in time for next week’s second Ashes Test so that keen cricket followers can sit back and enjoy the game, although how they’re going to deal with the 11 hour time difference is not clear. And Australia has 5 different time zones to make it even more confusing.

So when they bowl the first ball at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday it will be 11:00pm on Wednesday night in London. Extra stamina for the second and third sessions between lunch and stumps is required.

Free seeds (worth £16/kg) with every pumpkin!

Image: Rob Harris

Image: Rob Harris

With the “holiday season” nearly upon us, trust the prices to go up! It seems that year after year the headlines are the same and the shoppers are disappointed, again, at how far their £ doesn’t stretch. The thing is, this doesn’t refer to all the toys and specials that are touted as gifts. This refers to the stuff people like to buy to celebrate their holiday preference with family and friends – food!

It appears that many stores try to cash in on Christmas (or Hannukah or Hogmanay) as the cost of some foods rise by up to 20%. Even Brussels sprouts have been reported to have soared 17% in price (Why?) and other items by similar increases. You might even find that some stocktakers dealing with the supermarkets have “Holiday Inventory Spreadsheets” to deal with the requests their clients make on them at this time of the year. It begs the question though, how many people will promise this year, that they won’t be caught next year?

Isn’t the logical thing to do is wait until the prices drop to reasonable levels again, then buy what you want for next year and keep it in the freezer? That would be fine if you have the ready cash when you see the turkey, the smoked salmon or the Stilton you want and if you have the space to store the purchases. And don’t forget the self-discipline to not partake of the treats in July when they are earmarked for December!

I’d watch out for storing some of the fish products, though. According to some investigations the ‘fresh fish’ isn’t quite that fresh. It appears that it might just be ‘freshly defrosted.’ So when using ‘fresh’ it might be appropriate to use your fingers to make inverted commas around the term unless you know for sure.

Image: Adrian van Leen

Image: Adrian van Leen

On top of the stress of the suddenly increased prices greeting you when you get to the supermarkets, for those who celebrate Thanksgiving (and there seems to be growing support for this American holiday) and you’re into making pumpkin pie, be careful how you ditch the pips. Especially if you’re in Cheshire East. The council have ruled that this is not garden waste and cannot be put in the green bin. Well, here’s something that can be done to thwart the clipboard-and-rules brigade – roast the pumpkin seeds and eat them!

Any reputable restaurant and chef will always seek to use whatever they can to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum, thereby making profitability easier, and also keep things on the menu new and exciting that will make people want to return. Professional stocktakers like Jon Rutter and his team do whatever they can to help their clients achieve this. I wonder whether they have a stock of recipes and ideas on how to use things like pumpkin seeds stored somewhere on their tablets that they share. And, by the way, roasted pumpkin seeds taste great, have nutritional value and are cheap if you prepare them yourself. But Jon will tell you, don’t buy them at the store (yes, they sell them) because it’s more economical to prepare them yourself. Why pay £16.00 per kg when they come free with your pumpkin?

Also coming free, but not anticipated with as much joy, was the python belonging to Karen Jackson’s pal. The second-hand cooker from their friend was delivered to their home and they used it for a while not realising that hiding somewhere in the back was the friend’s escaped pet snake! When it made its appearance it caused quite a stir.

It was slightly warmed, still fresh but a bit niggly.

Smartphones. Just the thing for smart shoppers

Mobile phoneHow things have changed. It wasn’t that long ago when mobile phones were just that – phones. Nowadays using that mobile gadget to make a phone call is becoming increasingly rare. It’s like an add-on extra to the hand-held computer that keeps the user in touch with their world by email, social media, Skype and so on. You can even see where you are in a town, and also where you need to be, by launching the maps application. It also helps you find the shortest way of getting from A to B.

It didn’t take long for big business to latch on to the power of the internet some years ago by launching their online shopping services. And while some have worked really well there have been some horror stories of hidden costs, wrong items delivered and even cases of virtually nothing delivered as “the warehouse didn’t have stock” leading to the hapless shopper having to nip out anyway, to do what they were hoping not to have to do in the first place – go shopping.

But with all the problems that might have been associated with the big guys online shopping, there is a new move afoot that may just help the High Street businesses. The concept is the same. Shop online, but shop using local suppliers. The idea is to get local business who wish to participate to register with Hubbub and then residents in an area can see who’s available that they can buy from. Fishmongers, delis, butchers and others ply their wares via this website. All that has to happen now, is that all the local shops participate – otherwise you’ll be using that maps app on your smartphone to find a shop that sells what you need instead of having it delivered!

Image: John Nyberg

Image: John Nyberg rgbphotostock.com

Another great use for smartphones is seen almost daily in supermarkets and stores around the country. People are using the “calculator” function more and more. Even those folk who grew up as the generation that learned their multiplication tables by rote are using this function. Simple calculations have been taken away from the public by clever merchandisers. Gone are the days when it was easy to work out which cheese was cheaper by checking the price per kilo. Now there are all types of packaged goods in differing quantities. Like £2.80 for 190g … so how much is that compared to the brand advertised at £4.49 for 350g? Out comes the smartphone to see which is the best deal.

The poor stocktakers! How do they stay in touch without things like computers and complex formulae to keep the playing fields level? Jon Rutter and his team probably don’t have much use anymore for pieces of “arithmetic paper.” They must love that Σ symbol on their spreadsheets that works out the formula automatically. And it’s not only cheese that’s been causing a fuss! There has been a bit of a hoo-haa recently with supermarkets advertising “half-price” wine, when in fact that appears to be just marketing lingo.

Yep, things have changed! Get out the smartphones, and start comparing prices!

(Eels) To eat or be eaten, that is the question!

If you were to wander along the High Street in Walthamstow you’d see the latest building to have been awarded Grade II status by Heritage England. It is the “L. Manze Eel, Pie & Mash Shop” and has been perfectly preserved. Stepping through the doors will transport the visitor back to the style of the 1920’s when the shop first opened, serving the same type of fare of the day too. A selection of pies, mash and gravy. Also eels.

Image: Michal Zacharzewski

Image: Michal Zacharzewski

Happily for current owner, Mrs Cooper, she’s not likely to have some bloke in a white coat carrying a clipboard arrive and tell her to repaint with fire-retardant paint in the interests of “health-and-safety,” because all the walls are tiled from floor to ceiling in keeping with the décor of the day. The shop looks like it is worth a visit and is proving to be popular with tourists. But any tourist who hopes to go there to get “the eel treatment” while they eat their pies, is going to be disappointed. And even though eels are on the menu, they are for consumption.

The “eel treatment” is the latest beauty trend imported from China. Interested folk sit around with their feet in buckets while the eels nibble away at their skin. This treatment is designed to exfoliate and leave the skin lovely and smooth. Apparently there are health concerns over this treatment as well as questions being raised about the qualifications of those who administer the treatments. It seems that one needs to have a “level-two pedicure” national occupational standard in order to put someone’s feet in a bucket. It would also be a stocktakers nightmare trying to distinguish the edible eels from the working ones on a spreadsheet.

The challenges of any stocktaker never cease to amaze – Jon Rutter and his team of professionals need to look at every angle in helping their customers operate efficiently and stay in profit but at the same time give the paying public the value for money they deserve and look out for. With this in mind, one wonders how supermarkets are going to follow the politician’s suggestion to give their staff a pay riseto help them deal with the cost of living” when their margins are so tight? This could develop into a vicious circle of increasing expenses (salaries) which leads to increasing the price of product the consumers have to pay which leads to the consumers able to afford less so they need an increase in order to “deal with the cost of living” etc etc. In the end, someone has to pay or something’s got to give – cutting the coat according to the size of the cloth. A concept professional stocktakers work with all the time.

This could be the reason there has been a recent boom on folk seeking and using allotments. People have been viewing their respective “cloths” and deciding that the principle followed by Tom and Barbara in The Goodlife might work for them. Many have also put some fun into their hard work by entering some of their produce into competitions and exhibitions. Whether one wins or loses, the main prize is being able to consume what was entered.

Perhaps there’s a modern day Goodlife-style reality show on the cards? – “I have an allotment, get me out of the supermarket!