Search for the Perfect Christmas Card

22 Dec e51689ee445911e283fe22000a1faeaf_7

Nope. Too big.

Nope. Too Religious.

Nope. Too generic.

Nope. HOW MUCH?!

It’s that time of year again, where we all send our family, friends, acquaintances and followers  a piece of folded card to wish them a merry Christmas and a happy new year. The shops are full of them, and have been since early September in all shapes and sizes, colours and cut, some full of embellishments, some sparkly and some just plain ugly. I trawled through loads of shops looking for that “perfect” Christmas card to send to a select few family and friends (gone are the days where I would buy a bumper pack of 50 and write one out for every soul I knew) – but with no avail. I wanted something simple, elegant, cost effective and different. – all the shops could offer me was generic and expensive! One design I really liked was £8 for 5 – YES 5 cards!! Although its not going to break the bank, my Scottish frugalism kicked in, and I put them back, deciding to make my own – @KirstieMAllsopp style!

acraig

I marched into a craft store, looking for blank cards. after wading through the acrylics and canvases, found them at the back – a pack of ten blank cards and envelopes for less than half the price of the 5 pack I saw an hour earlier! Bargain! I paid for the blank cards and stood outside the craft store. Shit. What was I going to put on the front of them? I can’t really draw, and I wasn’t wanting to spend much more on materials to decorate them – so I wandered to the local Starbucks to mull-over what festive design would adorn my DIY xmas cards.

I wanted something easy, simple, but effective. I ruled out paint or drawing something - which left me with sticking and cutting – but what? A star? a Christmas tree? AAAH! A Christmas tree! I could cut that out easily enough – but what from? I didn’t want to go back to the craft store and buy anything else, not only to the fact it was horrendously busy with people buying glitter pens and metallic markers, but also I wanted to “re-use” something, making the festive card not only unique, but a (tad) eco-friendly.. I nursed my steaming hot americano and pondered what material I could use.. card? yes.. card. but where from. I stared at my coffee cup – it was pretty, Starbucks, red cups are very festive – but I couldn’t use that – It was used and the shape wasn’t exactly great for sticking down flat.. but what about the “coffee sleeve” – the cardboard slip on sleeve that stops your hands getting too hot? EUREKA! I was onto something here – but I only had one – So I cheekily asked the baristas if i could take a few – after a bemused look, they handed me four more. My cards were coming to life!

I got home, and lay my materials out – some plain cards, some coffee cup sleeves, and some double sided sticky pads that had been lying in the “stationery” drawer for years. I started snipping, measuring and sticking . I went through three designs – but the final one, the one I was please with was this design:

Image

Three Starbucks Xmas trees, all with a small pot! Hurray! I made 9 more (and then a further 8!) and sent them to family and friends! I uploaded my picture to instagram and – by my surprise, actual @Starbucks seen them and commented on them!

Image

So I feel my mission was complete, and the recipients have loved them! totally unique, and crafted with care!

Merry Christmas!

Will You Miss MSN?

6 Nov

RIP MSN Messenger (or as its supposedly called now, Windows Live Messenger.)

I’m sure a lot of  us can remember using MSN during the early 2000′s – Logging on and chatting to your friends through your dial-up connection, the tinny sound of the messages coming through – but now, or at least soon, It will be no more – as Windows have just announced that they are “retiring” Messenger and it will be “turned off” in March 2013.

MSN messenger changed the way we communicated over the years, and I’m sure in years to come it will be fondly remembered. Before it came about in 1999, chatting online was limited to emails, chatrooms, or using primitive IM programmes like AiM, ICQ, or Yahoo Messenger (which is what I had before MSN was around!) This was a time before webcams and chatting face to face was a reality, and most peoples dial up connections couldn’t load webpages fast – let alone stream a live cam to cam video chat!! When I started using MSN (I checked, it was 1999!!!) it was soleley a text based tool – and slowly, as computers and connections got faster, they added picture options, video calling and games. (We all knew some PeOple ALsO tYpED lKE tHIs on THeRE foR sOMe (inexplicable) ReAsoN  too!)

Old MSN (1999) on the left, and Windows Live Messenger (2011) on the right

 

But, fear not MSNers, your username (Hotmail, live account) will be able to use on SKYPE – which was acquired by Microsoft in 2010, and all your details can be ported over to Skype, the younger, better looking and more intelligent younger brother of MSN messenger. Windows paid ot of money for Skype – £5.3 BILLION to be precise -so I think they are looking for their moneys worth.

So if you want a nostalgia hit of some retro (can we call it retro yet?!) MSNing – log on before March 2013 when MSN will be DOA.

 

An Instagrammed Wonder Around Glasgow

2 Nov

I really like wondering around Glasgow – A lot. I find something different every time I’m there to do or see, whether it be a building or going into a new exhibition in and art gallery. Its such a diverse city, with SO much history, its unreal. these are some of my favourite pictures I have taken over the past 6 months in and around Glasgow. Click any of the images to get a bigger view.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – the most visited art gallery in the UK outside of London

Central Station Glass panelled roof is the largest in the world

The Merkat Building @ Glasgow Cross

The Wellington Statue, with a traffic cone on its head, at Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow is one of the city’s most iconic images.

Panoramic view of Glasgow from atop of Charles Rennie Mcintosh’s “lighthouse” building.

 

If you want to see more of my pictures – follow me on Instagram @Craigrossmartin – or on Twitter – @Craigyboi

 

 

Coffee Shop Loyalty Cards – which is best?

7 Aug
coffee shop loyalty cards

my many coffee loyalty cards….

We all get to that point a few times a year, where your wallet is full of  receipts, cards, tickets and general.. crap. I opened my wallet recently, as it was looking mega full, and out poured numerous loyalty cards from different coffee shops and cafes – some I attend regularly  some I very rarely go to.. Some were shiny, swipe cards, some were paper, frayed at the edges that the baristas just stamps every time you go in. So which coffee shop, out of the big three – Starbucks, Costa and Nero is the best for giving their valued customers a free cup of coffee?

STARBUCKS

The Starbucks rewards card is a two-in-one card. Not only is it their loyalty card, it is a card you can top up and pay with drinks (which is cool, means you can always have your Starbucks reward card topped up and never be without cash for your coffee!) The rewards side of it, is slightly less impressive. every time you use it, you gain one “star”. every 15 stars, you earn a “tall” (Starbucks lingo for small..) hot drink. It then gets more complicated. earn 50 stars in a year, you then get granted “gold” level – which means that you get free extras, like soy milk, whipped cream, shots of syrup – but you still have to go fifteen times to earn your free small beverage. http://starbucks.co.uk/card/rewards/

 

COSTA

Costa coffee club works on a “5 points for every £1″ spent system, and each point is worth one penny, so 400 points would be £4.00. now the good point to this, is you could spend your points on anything on offer in the store, coffee, biscuits, cakes. The downfall on this, is it would take a horrendously long time to get a free drink, lets say, you drink (like me) a Medio (Costa lingo for medium) Americano at £2.05 – that would mean I would have to go twenty times to get a free medio americano. Also, they only give points for whole pounds spent – so if you spent 2.95, you would only get a ten point return, instead of 14. Cheeky Costa! https://www.costa.co.uk/coffee-club/

 

CAFFE NERO

Caffe Nero do things a lot simpler, and the return seems to be better. for every 9 drinks you buy, you get  free MEDIUM drink. The barista just stamps the card with a simple rubber stamp, no swipe card, no points or stars. http://www.caffenero.com

 

CAFFE RITAZZA/MCDONALDS

Both of these offer the same type of offer, not different to Caffe Nero’s stamp card system, but they offer a free medium hot beverage for every SIX drinks you buy. bargain! http://www.cafferitazza.com /http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ukhome/Restaurants/Coffee-loyalty-card.html

 

It looks like the more smaller the coffee shop, the higher the reward. The Costa coffee club is by far the worst, but has the option to save up the points and purchase/treat yourself to a cheeky cake. The best out of the three main high street coffee shops is Nero, with one free drink in every ten, but Nero also offers better value in general, with their small take-away cappuccino costing a whopping 16% more from Starbucks than from Nero!

 

 

The Sharp secret that will Cut the Cost of Shaving

16 Jul

To put it bluntly (get it, bluntly!) I HATE shaving. If i had it my way, i’d be walking around with a ginger beard, but with all my jobs I’ve had required me to be “clean shaven” – I’ve had no choice but to shave reguarly. I’m luck enough that I dont have to shave every day, as it isnt that dark, but when it comes to it I hate having to hack off what is there, weather its 2 days growth, or 2 weeks worth of beard.

Another thing I hate about shaving is the price of razors. Have you seem the price these days??! a quick check on mysupermarket.co.uk and the cheapest for a 4-pack of Gillette Pro Glide, is £9.90, which isn’t cheap. I grudge giving money to something that is not a choice, I NEED to shave for work. Alas, I had no choice to buy a new set of razors every so often – Until I discovered a product that is amazing. The RazorPit.

Now, this is going to look like a total advertisement for the Razorpit (it sort of is) but this thing has totally slashed how much I spend on razors. I haven’t bought a pack since… April, but I’m still getting smooth, clean shaves every time. The RazorPit doesn’t so much sharpen your blades, but cleans it. What happens is that over time, the blades themselves collect debris such as dead skin, bits of hair, and dust. The Razorpit cleans the blades so well that the result feels like a new blade – honestly!!

When you first get it, its a bit disappointing, its literally a bit of rubber. You get your shaving foam (or gel, I tried both) and push your old razor across it about 6 times, the opposite direction to how you normally shave and voila! a nice cleaned, sharp blade! not only s(h)aving you money, but also saving the environment.

you can get them in quite a few online stores, Amazon, Firebox and direct from Razorpit.com – and expect it to cost between £10-20.

[UPDATED] How “Go Compare” have had the last Laugh…

28 Jun

We are all familiar with the ANNOYING go compare adverts, with the annoying fat opera guy singing the annoying tune “GO COMPARE, GO COMPARE” with his annoying moustache – if you aren’t, Go Compare is a British online service for helping you find insurance for your house/car/wife. here’s a clip.

Anyway, The advert has been voted the most annoying advert all time, but  also, came second on the catchiest jingle on an advert of all time, just trailing behind Wall’s “Just one Cornetto” campaign, many years ago.

Now, Go Compare have cleverly tapped into the fact that 99.9% of the British public now HATE the campaign, and have done something ultra clever. They have erected billboards all around the country with the big, obnoxious Go Compare man on (does he have a name?!?  EDIT: Yes, he does! its Gio Comaprio!!!) ,and it looks like someone has DEFACED them..

Go compare

Go compare and the very clever advertising campaign

Now, you might think that it is the work of some graffiti vandal in your local area, but if you look on Tumblr (A tumble blog website) there are now pictures of the same defacing in different places around the country, so it cannot be a coincidence, but a very clever campaign from go compare, getting  us to talk  about it! GENIUS!

There are variations of the poster too, my favourite is “go get another job”, with the GC guy holding a pizza box:

go get another job!

more can be seen here, including “GO AWAY, and “GO GET SOME SINGING LESSONS”  http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/go+compare

 

 

 

UPDATE!!

Want to see the fate of Gio Compario? WATCH THIS!:

Jubilee Overkill: Food Edition.

4 Jun

If you didn’t notice, this past few days have been all about the Jubilee!

The 60th year of Queen Elizabeth the seconds reign, her Diamond Jubilee, is being celebrated all over the UK, and will probably have been watched by millions around the globe. Now, I have no issue with all this jubilation. Infact, it makes me proud to be British, and If I lived in London, I’m sure I’d have been amongst the thousands lining the Thames waving a Union Jack in the rain and trying to get a decent picture of the flotilla to post on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.

The thing I find funny is the unnecessary cashing in on the diamond Jubilee – especially with foodstuffs. the shops are full of products slapped with a union jack or the words “Diamond Jubilee”. Will people buy a banana more if it had a union jack sticker on?? The supermarkets seem to think so.

One item that I think have it bang on, and deserve to be applauded for their jubilee efforts, is Marmite. They, very cleverly re-branded the jars as “Ma’amite” – and instead of the iconic yellow lids, changed then to red. Marmite is a British product through and through, and seems apt to celebrate a very British event.

But one  foodstuffs I was very confused about seeing as branded “Limited Edition Diamond Jubilee” was a bottle of – Tabasco! What is British about tabasco? Hot sauce is a very American thing, and even on the bottle, it says it was made in the U.S.A!!

I love Tabasco, and add it to near enough everything (its AMAZING in baked beans) and I genuinely needed a bottle – but do the makers of Tabasco think their product would sell more being branded to celebrate the jubilee? who knows!!

(Photos were taken by me – add me on instagram – user ID: craigrossmartin)

Going to the Opera: Proving Britain HAS got Talent

11 May

A few days ago, me and a good friend, went to see Puccini’s Tosca. For anyone not cultured (jokes, innit) Tosca is an Opera, and operas are usually in a different language, Italian being the favourite.

Now, I don’t  frequent the opera – in fact, this was my first time at an opera – most times when I’ve been in a theatre, it’s to see a musical. I was quite nervous about the whole experience actually, not knowing what to expect, would it be over my head? would I understand the plot? would I be able to sit through three acts? After getting in the theatre, pushing past the blue rinse brigade, we took our (very good) seats. Looking down there was a full size pit orchestra  (no backing tracks here!) I was secretly very excited, this was a first time experience, and I didn’t know how I would react…

The curtain raised.. the orchestra plunged into action, the sound of  live music filled the full auditorium and the actors started to sing. I was just secretly hoping I would be able to keep up with the storyline, as it was being sung in Italian – but then – at the the top of the stage – an LED board sprang into life translating the Italian into English! This delighted me  to no doubt, as I knew I would now know what was (roughly) going on!!!

*SPOILER* So for anyone who doesn’t know the story of Tosca, all you need to know, is she is a fierce bitch *snap snap snap*. The storyline (I’ll try not toi spoil it, as it is a genuinely exciting story) Centres around the main lead, Tosca – a jealous so and so and she accuses her husband of cheating on her, and gets involved in this sort of but not really love triangle, which leads to the demise of many of the characters of the show, and a very dramatic ending! *SPOILER*

I came away from the theatre genuinely enjoying my first opera experience – the show was accessible in the fact that the storyline was relatable to stuff we watch today – very Eastendersesque – killing, depict, lies, and a wee bit of humour. The talents of the people on the stage was beyond astonishing, and they deserved every minute of their very long applause. (no whooping or whistling at the opera, don’t you know..)

I have a gripe, and its not about opera, its about the perceptions and peoples attitude to it, and live performances in general. I find it somewhat hypocritical that people will sit and watch shows like Britain’s Got Talent, and then say how good certain acts are (This year, Jonathan and Charlotte, who sung all in Italian) but If I was to say to the majority of people who voted for sed act “C’mon, let go to the Opera and see it live!!!” – they would probably look at me in utter disgust, returning their gaze to their tellybox, laughing at the idea of going to an opera – but have just sat and watched it?!?!

There is nothing like LIVE performances, wether it be  going to the opera, or going to a local bar to see a band play, there is just something about being in the same room that cannot be replicated, however flashy the stage or amazing the sound, live always wins. Also, there is no shame in going to the opera or theatre. Yes – a lot of the people there were older ( the guy next to me had some binoculars, how sterotypical!) but the crowd was  a genuinely mixed crowd of ages.

So if you ever get the chance to go to the opera, GO! You might love it, you might hate it, but how can you know unless you give it a go?!

(For anyone under the age of 26, any ticket at any SCOTTISH OPERA is only £10! any seat, not the ones up in the gods! go to www.scottishopera.org.uk  for more information.)

Why that ‘useless’ skill you have might be more useful than you think…

18 Apr

Looking for a job, you always try and make yourself look good – putting your most recent  jobs, whatever you have done at school/college/uni, your grades and any other work experience onto your C.V, or mention at an interview. This is vital, and shows what you have done, but does it show your personality? Remember, that when a future employer looks at your C.V, you have got to make a good impression, sell yourself, but make yourself (and your personality) stand out.

Take for instance, what happened to me at a recent (and very successful) interview. I dressed to impress, smiled as I walked into the room and made idle chit chat with the other hopefuls with whom I was waiting with. After the company’s HR team who were interviewing us introduced themselves, they then asked us to introduce ourselves to the room, and say something interesting about ourself. I had not planned for this. Do I say about my travelling? Do I mention a previous job? My mind was going overdrive, then it was my turn to introduce myself:

Hi, my names Craig, I’m 25, and I can solve a Rubik’s cube in under three mintues…

The room burst into a round of applause – with lots of “WOWS” and “THAT IS SO COOL“. This was the last thing I expected! The company managers then asked If I had one with me (I hadn’t, I planned to, but I forgot it) and that it was seriously impressive.

Now everyone thinks that the Rubik’s cube is something that (supposedly) involves a level of intelligence that most people do not have, so already, I looked competent and clever, and fellow interviewee Mary’s “interesting” fact of having two dogs looked pitiful. Poor Mary.

Now, I have many useless talents like being able to solve a Rubik’s cube, and, although I’m not going to list on my C.V that I can fold a tshirt in less than 5 seconds(there’s a knack),  and I can globe walk (stand on a large ball and walk, like a circus freak) I have a new found admiration for all these minor skills I have. They are part of me, my personality, my past and my future, so DO NOT be afraid to embrace that hidden skill you have -however minor it may be. Who knows where it will get you!

(Below is me solving a Rubik’s in 2.30 – I hope to have this down to two minutes by August!)

Why The Voice & The Hunger Games are more similar than you think….

4 Apr

For anyone who hasn’t  been hidden under a rock for the past few weeks, you will know all about the two aforementioned things in the title. — The Voice, and The Hunger Games.

The Voice Vs. The Hunger Games

The Voice Vs. The Hunger Games

 

If you dont know what either are, here is a brief  summary. The Voice is a new, X factor, talent type show on the BBC, with Jessie J, Will.I.Am, Sir Tom Jones and some guy from the script (Danny) as head judges picking the people from only hearing their voice, and the Hunger Games – A blockbuster movie based on the books by Suzanne Collins, which follow its  teenage female protagontist in a battle to the death in a futuristic world, where kids can kill kids and everyone watches. Think Battle Royale for the masses, with a love element of Twilight thrown in.

On the surface, they are totally different. Ones a singing talent show, and one is a Movie about kids killing kids. But on closer inspection – they are a lot more similar than you think….

BOTH ARE WATCHED BY MILLIONS

In PanEm, the futuristic vision of the U.S.A in the Hunger Games, it is compulsory to watch the Hunger Games, where ever you from – whatever district you live in, or if you live in the Capitol, its must-see viewing, and is seen as entertainment. Meanwhile, in the UK, 9 million viewers tuned in to see the second episode of the “blind” auditions on The Voice – Thats 34% of the audicence share of the whole of the UK. A LOT.

THEY HAVE BATTLES AND BATTLE ADVISORS

In the Hunger games, once two contestants have been picked at the reaping, they get battle advisors – in the book and film, Katniss and Peeta get Haymitch, a former winner of the 50th Hunger Games, and to and extent – Effie – straight from the Capitol, who is there to guide the unlucky pair right through to the actual Hunger Games. Simarly, on the Voice – they also too get “Battle Advisors” for once the blind audition round is over, they then have to “Battle” Each other, (confusing, right?!) with each judge loosing five of their ten acts. The Advisors are Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame) for Sir Tom, Ana Matronic (of Scissor Sisters fame) for Jessie J, Paloma Faith for Danny, and Dante Santiago (WHO!?!?) for Will.I.Am, and- as @BBCthevoiceuk have tweeted “they’re the music super-brains helping our artists prepare for the battles.”

THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE WINNER

Technically, in Hunger Games, there was two winners, but up untill that point, there had only ever been one winner of the Hunger Games, every year for 73 years, the rest of the tributes being killed in the arena. The winner is showered with gifts, taken to each of the districts, showing off their tour de force, and given a victors house in their district. In The Voice, although minus the actual killing, will also only have one victor, who will no doubt be toured around the UK shamelessly promoting their song/album/book/tea towel, given  £100,000 in cash, and a record deal with Universal Records.

THE WINNER NEVER “WINS”

In PanEm, the Hunger games was set up as a reminder to the inhabitants of the 12 districts that they are nothing, and can be culled any time if they step out of line, only being conratulated if the winner comes from their district. The victor is paraded around the other districts, acting like a puppet of the people of The Capitol. The winner of The Voice, It will likely be the same – being paraded around the UK, proving to the masses that a small town, normal guy/girl has won, and will be the puppet of the record company whos pockets they will be lining.

So – there we go – The Voice, a TV show, watched by millions, with the chosen few getting battle advisors, and and battling it out till  the bloody end where there is only one worthy winner… or, hang on…. is that the Hunger Games?

 

 

 

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