27 May, 2014

The Importance of Awesome Customer Service - Sweatshop Manchester

Since the age of 14 I have had a job in some shape or form. My mum came home one day and announced to the household that she had gotten me a Saturday job, working in a local garden shop. Someone she knew was looking for someone and she suggested me. No job application, no interview - I was hired on the word of my mother.

For the princely sum of £15 a day (15 Irish pounds and before the euro was introduced) I turned up and sold flowers to budding gardeners. I did it for two summers and I liked it. I got to meet lots of locals from my hometown and learned the art of conversation and good customer service. I learned that people appreciate it when you count their change into their hand, assist in bagging their purchases and take a genuine interest in them and their day. I also learned when a customer wasn't interesting in engaging in conversation and were happy to just browse the shop floor without much assistance. It's not a skill you can learn on a course but a skill you gain with experience, a skill you learn when working with a variety of people. 

Since that summer, I continued to have a job every single summer and I was the only person in my group of close friends to have a part time job the entire time I was in university. I worked, I worked and I worked. My range of jobs included working in McDonalds and Pizza Hut where I was offered management positions. Selling cards and stationary in the well known store Birthdays and a short stint working in the homewares department of a well known, large store. I turned up for all of these positions, rarely missing a day and I helped thousands of customers. I made and served them fast food when they were hungover, with family, with friends, flying solo or having a bad day. I assisted in picking the perfect Valentines cards for men unsure about what their girlfriend wanted and knew the difference between a fitted and a valance sheet. Whatever the position, I liked learning everything about it because I like helping the customer, I like being a source of correct information.

I write this post due to a recent and might I add fabulous customer service experience.In this instance, I was the customer. After crossing the 10K finish line last week (Oh yea, I ran the Manchester 10K in 22 degree heat!), I met my boyfriend at the finish line and proclaimed "I know what I want for my birthday, new trainers!". My feet were hurting, they lacked support and I just knew blisters had formed. In short, they hurt, alot. 

On the following Friday we headed over the Sweatshop Running Store located in the Manchester Arndale Centre. I had spotted their shop before. Bright and colourful, I never stepped before as I don't consider myself a 'real' runner. I'm more of a jogger if I'm honest. 

In my mind I wanted those new fancy colourful Nike runners I'd seen so many people sport. As an art graduate I'm a magpie to colourful clothing and shoes are no exception. The boy and I stalled in this area for a bit and I picked up runners and checked out the price tags. As they boy was buying, I was conscious of the price but I still wanted to ensure I got the right purchase. A short time later we met a member of staff who asked if we needed any help. At the time he was dealing with a rather awkward customer who was trying to haggle a discount. It was hilarious listening to the customer trying to barter, but the staff member handled him brilliantly.

He then came back to us and I explained what I was looking for. A new pair of runners which I could use for outdoor running and the gym. We chatted briefly about the runners on display and then he asked me would I be interested in having my feet measured and photographed, all of which would assist in buying the perfect pair. Now, I'll be honest and say, at the time I wasn't in the best of moods and was feeling more than grumpy, but knowing that it would help towards picking the best pair of runners, I decided to give it a go. The staff member explained it would take about 20 - 25 minutes and seeing as we weren't in a rush to go anywhere, we gave it a whirl.

We were seated near the top of the shop and I was asked to remove my shoes and socks. (Thankfully, my feet were in a decent state!) This was so that I could stand on a special machine that would outline where I was applying pressure on my feet. It was quite interesting to see it on screen and the store assistant who we later found out was called Rick and was the store manager, explained very clearly how I was applying pressure on my feet and how he would then proceed in asking me to stand on some custom inserts for my shoes. Standing on them, moving my feet back and forth, with help from Rick ,would allow them to mould to me feet so that when inserted into my new shoes, I would be fully supported and fully comfortable. I really enjoyed and appreciated how attentive Rick was. He was friendly, knowledgeable and we exchanged running stories. Me telling him about my pathetic running race attempts and him impressing me with the fact that he has run a marathon and in my home country capital of Ireland. We continued to chat about running and his love of Ireland and my mood started to lift.

With that, Rick brought out three pairs of runners for me to try on. Each time I tried on a pair, I had to run for about 20 seconds on a treadmill and it was filmed from behind. I got to view the footage each time and it was amazing to see the difference each running shoe made on my running and how my feet landed. My right foot in particular looked different and better when I wore and ran in the New Balance shoes Rick had brought out. My right knee is slightly turned in and as a result, it impacts on how I run. Because the New Balance shoes clearly helped this, I decided on these as my birthday present.

During this I asked Rick about the Sweatshop Running Club. I had discovered it online and wanted to learn more. His eyes lit up as he told me that it was free to join and that all levels were welcome. I explained that I'm very slow, not particularly fit and would be conscious that I would slow people down. Despite my concerns Rick assured me that I should come along, that they are a group of 120 strong and a real community who help each other out. There is a person at the back who ensures no one is left behind and in no time, I'd be feeling better and fitter. I could tell how passionate he was about the group and it made me want to join even more. He told me stories of how some joined to lose weight, get fitter or meet new people and how many of them have progressed to run longer distances and record great times. 

Rick had me hooked and excited and with that I grabbed a flyer and promised to turn up next Tuesday. I profusely apologized in advance for my running slowness and he laughed it off and joked that I'll probably be running past him. The boy purchased my new runners and inserts and I thanked Rick for his help. I left the store on a high. No joke, the man who spent 25 minutes with us ensuring I got the best pair of runners, turned my mood around and assisted in motivating me to keep up the running.

It's a rare occurrence that you experience such excellent customer service like that. Often staff members are under pressure to obtain sale after sale after sale and are in a rush to hurry you in your purchase. They think little of giving you a smile or about taking an interest in what you are looking for or buying. When we receive bad customer service, we love, just love to rant and complain, tweet the company directly, send an email and even twist the truth a little. Its a rare occurrence that we do the same when the opposite occurs and so with that, I'll be sending my positive thoughts to the good folk at Sweatshop Manchester and to the powers that be at Sweatshop HQ.

Thank you Rick for your assistance that rainy Friday evening. Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge, your running stories and enthusiasm for the running club and thank you, for cheering me up - even though you probably didn't realise it. 

26 May, 2014

Stocking up on Beauty Essentials

Do you find that you always seem to run out of your beauty basics at the time same? I certainly do. This week was one such day. I need to buy a lot of basics and had even resorted to using my boyfriends smelly 'man' deodorant. Nice, eh? With that, I found myself in Primark and seeing as Manchester is home to the worlds largest Primark (yes, really!), I always find myself wandering around the beauty section upstairs on the hunt for a few bargains.

With the sun making an odd appearance every now and then, more flesh is on show. Not much mind you, but I have found myself slipping out of boots and into colourful sandals. Personally, I'm not a lover of feet, especially my own so in order to show them off to the world, they need to be looking their best. For a steal, I picked up one of those foot exfoliator thingy's for £1. I have a bit of a fear of using them. I know that sounds completely weird, but they freak me out a little, especially those ads on TV where it shows people people filing their hard skin and collecting it afterwards. Shudder! - However mine need sprucing up so I need to get over my freaky fear.

To compliment my new gorgeous soft feet, I also picked up some exfoliating gloves, again for the bargain price of £1, they are my new shower staple. I can get dry skin on certain parts of my body (ankles and elbows!) so I'm making more of an effort to tackle it through beauty treatments, items and of course diet. Funnily enough the thought of using the gloves don't scare me as much as the other item!

As a little treat I picked up two face masks. I've had a bit of a bad breakout over the last few days and while it has mostly cleared now I think it may be down to a new primer I was trying. If my skin can't breathe it results in lots of teeny-tiny spots which take an age to clear. These masks were £1 each and I'm hoping they smell as good as they look. Lemon Sherbet and Raspberry Ripple, I may have to stop myself from eating them!

While browsing I was delighted to find some cuticle sticks. Again, Primark didn't disappoint. £1 for a pack of 20. I actually had been needing these for a while and forgotten all about it so was delighted when I came across them. 

On the way home, I swung buy Boots to get my favourite shampoo. I just love the Aussie range, I mean its like a party in the shower and it smells so good too! Their shampoo always leave my hair feeling silky soft and as I have such fine hair it can get tangled, dry and damaged quite easily. It's in dire need of a hair cut at the moment, but that will have to wait for another month or two for that. My go to shampoo is the Miracle Shine and as outlined on the bottle, its for 'dull, tired hair begging to shine.' It doesn't disappoint folks!

I also picked up the Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water. I've seen a few beauty bloggers rave about this product and as it claims to remove make up, I thought it was worth a try. As someone who wears make up pretty much every day, I'm always on the look out for products which remove make up quickly but without damage to my sensitive skin. 

To help with my 'tackle all the spots' problem, I checked out the section of teetree products. Teetree is often used in the treatment of blemishes and I like that this witch hazel spot wand had a 'day and night' option. I will admit that since using it, I noticed a difference in 24 hours. I'm not sure if this was just the natural progression of the spots dying away, but the morning after first use, there was a noticeable difference. 

What are your go to beauty basic items? I'm always hungry to learn about other peoples beauty regimes and favourite products are. Do share!

25 May, 2014

Easy Healthy Berry Smoothies

Smoothies are the business! If you're not making them you should be making them. A big statement I realise, but when you can jam pack a heap of vitamins and goodness into one glass, why wouldn't you give it a go. I've been on a bit of a health kick in 2014. In the last few days, I've upped it up a notch. (No, it has nothing to do with the fact I have a wedding to attend in a months time....I swear!)

Nine times out of ten, I will make time for breakfast in the morning. It's usually eggs, porridge or a smoothie and today I'm sharing with you my favourite healthy smoothie which I love to make about three times a week. You can experiment with lots of different types of fruit and provided you have a half decent blender, you're good to go. 

For this smoothie, you will need the following:

- 1 Banana
- Unsweetned Almond Milk 
- Natural yoghurt
- A scoop of frozen berries / summer fruits
- Manuka / raw honey
- Mixed / flax seeds
- Dessicated coconut

Unpeel and chop up the banana and when done pop it into the blender. Insert a few scoops of frozen berries. The ones pictured above, I purchased in Aldi, but you can get them in any supermarket or if you're really organised, you can chop up and freeze fruit in advance. Adding frozen fruit aids in bulking up your smoothie and as its cold, it makes it extra refreshing.

Pour in some almond milk and add a dollop of natural yoghurt. I don't always use natural yoghurt as I like to keep the smoothie as 'clean' as possible and free from added sugar. Following this, add a small spoon of Manuka honey, again I purchased mine in Aldi. A little heads up, Manuka honey can be really expensive, especially in health food shops, so Aldi is a good place to buy it (alot) cheaper. Top it off by adding some mixed seeds for some extra goodness.

Once you've added everything, pop the blender lid on and blend! See, I told you it was easy. If you wish to make more than one, just double up the ingredients. For some extra vitamins, I sometimes add orange segments, kiwis or even spinach! Serve your delicious smoothie with some dessicated coconut and enjoy!

24 May, 2014

Thoughts on turning 32

This week I turned 32. It was also the first year that I wasn't insisting on some sort of a hull-a-balloo around celebrations. Normally, I'm pro-birthdays. I want you to know its my birthday, that it's my day of fun and presents and I like receiving "Happy Birthday!" sentiments from all around me.

This year was a little different. I wasn't pushed on celebrating or marking the day in any way shape or form. By midday on May 19th, my mum had flown home to Ireland and the boy was still in work. I was on my own, in our lovely little flat and I was ok with that. My celebration of choice was to sit on our balcony and enjoy the sunshine that the city was basking in. I grabbed a book I head been meaning to finish and threw a pizza in the oven. And so, my 32nd birthday was marked by being quiet, listening to the chirping of the birds around me and the chatter of builders as they worked on another apartment near by. It was nice and it was still.

Later in the day, the boy brought home a Victoria sponge cake and I coaxed him into singing 'Happy Birthday' to me. He made me a cup of tea (a rare occurrence in our apartment) and presented me with a slice of cake. No candles to blow out, no cheers from anyone afterwards. It was simple, it was fine and it tasted good. Increasingly, I'm finding that as I get older I want less fuss, less chat even. Sometimes, I'm happiest just sitting in nice spaces or places and watching the world go by and more often than not I prefer my own company, answering to no one other than myself.

Perhaps this is what they mean when they say you get grumpier with age. Perhaps I'm moving in that direction? I'm still sociable of course, I still want to get to know other people I'm just more selective about who that is. It's a growing confidence that I certainly lacked in my forming years. I was concerned for many a time about the thoughts and opinions of others. How they viewed me was somehow important. Did they like me? Did I fit in with them?  Age has proved to me, thankfully, it's not in the slightest bit important and as Dr.Seuss has told us time and time again 'Those that matter, don't mind and those that mind, don't matter.'

At 32, I look back at being 22 and think "WTF were you thinking when you decided or thought X,Y,Z??". So many of my decisions were based on what I thought other people wanted or what I thought was the so called 'right' or 'sensible' thing to do. After my degree, I literally packed up my degree show and took up another summer job at home like I did every summer. I never once travelled during those summers, I never experienced a J1 or inter railing. It was all college, work, eat and sleep with no time for some travelling or fun in between. Shortly after, I remember applying and getting a position on a highly sought after Art teacher training course because it was the 'sensible thing' to do. I completed the course. 10 years on, I'm not an Art teacher. 

I wanted to travel to South Korea after teaching training with a friend I made on the course. I was offered the interview and didn't go, because I was told by another person it was "crazy to just leave and up sticks!". Looking back, they hadn't my best interests at heart. A nice, supportive person would have encouraged me to go. The friend on the other hand, she went, stayed for three years and I vicariously lived my life through her Facebook images. I still regret that decision. I regret that decision a lot. Instead, I got a job. I did the sensible thing. I worked and I got promoted a few times and got paid accordingly. But...but I was miserable. 

On turning 32, I look back and think I could have made a heap of better decisions if only I had that Dr.Seuss quote down to a T. Had I the ability to harness that confidence, perhaps things would have turned out differently and a different story could have been told and written. Inevitably it would have meant not meeting certain people currently in my life, the boy for one - but still, that one or two year long trip around South Korea would have been pretty amazeballs, no?

Here's to being 32. Here's to being alive, well and having enough money to pay the rent and bills but not necessarily enough to book a holiday or the Urban Decay Naked 3 Palette I really want!

How do you feel about getting older?

....and P.S if you're 22, go travel!

23 May, 2014

Moose Coffee - Manchester Eats #3

In the early days, the boy and I took a lot of strolls around Manchester in order to get our bearings and figure out the geography of the city. It literally takes him one trip and he has the city mapped into his head. As for me, I have to scoop out streets and remember the layout by favourite shops, quirky spaces and tasty cafes.

On one such day, I pointed out Moose Coffee and said "That place looks interesting!". At the time, we couldn't pay the place a visit, but a few short weeks later we returned and it has become our favourite breakfast weekend treat. You have to get there early on the weekend, otherwise the queues are out the door. I will admit though, the food is worth queuing for. Situated amongst tall buildings, Moose Coffee prides itself in being an 'authentic American Canadian' coffee house. When standing or sitting outside, I always feel like I have been briefly transported to New York City, one of my favourite spots on the planet.

Last weekend, my mum came over for the visit and I took her there for Friday breakfast. A tradition is starting to form, we seem to bringing all our visitors there for brekkie. (Family, friends from home and the boys brother.) The weather was warm so we took full advantage of sitting outside. A rare treat in Manchester these days. Their staff were quick to greet us and give us menus. I have to say, every single time I visit Moose, their service is impeccable. Service is quick, staff are friendly and the supervisor there is highly efficient. 


Moose have a long and extensive menu full to brim of mouth watering breakfast, brunch and lunch choices. Now that I'm a regular, I know what I enjoy and I know what I like, but in a strange move. I opted for something a little different. On this occasion I chose the New York Moose. Mum and I had a day of shopping planned so my thinking was to fill the tummy. The New York Moose is advertised as the classic Eggs Benedict. Served with free range eggs on a toasted bagel with delicious grilled parma ham. To compliment my breakfast, I choose a mocha with cream. I am head over heels in love with the coffee in Moose, particularly the mochas. The cream is the sweetest I have ever tasted and I find it difficult not to order it. Dieters beware, I'm pretty sure it's not calorie friendly!

Mum opted for the stack of pancakes with apple and caramel syrup. I warned her in advance that eating pancakes here is a task in itself. The portions are generous (a good thing of course) and the pancakes are thick but taste delicious. Certainly too much food for me, but it didn't stop me trying to grab a quick taste of them. The stack arrived, piled high and with sweet apples placed on top and lashings of syrup. They tasted amazing and I was quite impressed that mum was able to devour it all.

My eggs arrived and I could not wait to get stuck in. If there is one thing Moose do well, its eggs. I'm the kinda gal that believes eggs are the perfect food. So versatile and quick to whip up when hungry. I cannot imagine my weekend breakfasts without a boiled, scrambled or fried egg. My portion were large as always with plenty of sauce and flavour. The grilled parma ham was a welcome addition and complemented the eggs and bagel perfectly. I think this is my new Moose breakfast of choice. As we sat eating, we took in the scenery of fancy buildings, people watched and overheard some business conversations. I'm a bit nosey like that!

We left with full tummies and a happy face and continued our journey onto the Northern Quarter for a smooch in some of the vintage shops.

If you find yourself in Manchester, Moose Coffee can be found on York Street. A short stroll from Picadilly Gardens.

15 May, 2014

Superdrug Mini beauty haul

On a rainy, gloomy evening, there is nothing better than stepping off the bus from work and popping into Superdrug, 'just for a look'. Thirty minutes later you exit with a mini plastic bag containing one or two essentials and one or two beauty treats. I've cut right back on my make-up / beauty spending and so when I do get the opportunity to purchase a few things, I purchase wisely. 

Entering Superdrug, I knew I needed cleanser / make-up remover. I was pretty much all out and staring right at me was a Garnier stand. Lucky me, my favourite cleanser was on special offer at £2.10. Nabbed that bay straight away. I've also loved Garnier products, especially their skincare range. I've super sensitive and often dry skin and its gentle and thoroughly removes my make-up at the end of the day.

I then casually strolled over to the make-up section. My favourite place. The isles were not packed so I had time to stroll at my leisure. After umming and awing over a range of items, I picked up the Revlon Highlighting Palette in the shade 020 Rose Glow. I've become a big fan of highlighters lately and have been an avid user of one of the Soap and Glory highlighters for the last 6 months. With my pale Irish skin, pink highlighters or blushes suit me the best. They almost appear to plump up the skin a little and make the whiteness not so white.

I then went in search of an undereye concealer. Before everyone and anyone was raving about the collection concealer I had it and I loved it. Like every well used product, I ran out and went in search of more. I have tried on five separate occasions to buy and each time it's sold out. I tried to be clever and popped into Boots or Superdrug at different times of the day, but no, other people had me sussed out! No concealer for me. 

Instead I opted for the Maybelline Instant Anti-Age 'The Eraser Eye' in the shade light. I tested it out on my hand before I purchased it and thought perhaps it was a little on the dark side but decided to give it a whirl. I had read and heard so many great reviews about it, that I wanted to try it out. When I home, I tested it out and was impressed from the get go. Man this product does not disappoint. I'm excited to try it incorporate it into my daily routine.

With my mini haul gathered, I headed off to the tills. The lovely girl working there told me it was '3 for 2' on make-up and I could get something else. Delighted with this I ran over and grabbed the Max Factor Facefinity All Day Primer. I have the foundation and have been suitably impressed so I'm intrigued to see how the primer will work underneath. I'm not usually a primer kinda gal, but again, I've heard positive reviews.

A mini haul on a Thursday evening. A nice little treat totalling just over £22. Yay for the small things. 

08 May, 2014

Positive Quotes

Considering it's May 8th, Manchester has been hit with a lot of rain this week. It all came to a head for me when on Tuesday evening, I walked outside, focused on my journey home and literally, two seconds later the heavens open. It lashed rain for my entire 30 minute walk home and right up to the point where I had to key in the code to the main gate of my apartment building. To give you some context, there had been blue skies all morning. It had been a clear, bright day and sun had been streaming into my office space. It was just typical that at 5pm, the rain decided to make an unwelcome appearance. Murphy's law if you will.

However, when I did get home and remove my wet, sticky clothing and towel dry my ratty looking hair. I threw on some pyjamas and looked out the window. A portion of sun had returned and so with it a glorious rainbow. With that, my mood lightened. I don't know what it is about rainbows, but in them, I find happiness and a smile. I understand the science behind them, but they still appear to have magical properties of sorts!

07 May, 2014

Jamies Italian, King Street - Manchester Eats #2

The boy and I are slowly but surely eating our way around Manchester. The range of restaurants, cafes, bars and quirky spaces and places to eat and drink blow my mind. Most weekends, or occasionally in the evenings, we take a wander around the city centre and every time we find somewhere new. Somewhere that often doesn't appear to be an establishment selling delicious food, but always surprises our taste buds.

Of course, they are establishments that are more well known, are reputable chains around the UK and are, in my humble opinion worth a visit also. One such place in Manchester is Jamie's Italian and a while back, in between ducking in and out of some busy shops, we swung by for an impromptu lunch. My first visit there, I was immediately in awe of the building itself. A former bank, complete with a underground vault, it is a stunning building. I couldn't stop looking up!

The space where you normally would exchange your money with a bank teller is now where a portion of the cooking and prep takes place and there is an array of meats hung for you to gawk at and drool over. I loved the clever use of the space and was even more intrigued to later read that you can dine in the vault downstairs or in some of the private, more quieter spaces on the balcony. Due to the sheer size of the place and the high ceilings, it can sound a little like a canteen at times, especially during busy periods. 

The boy and I were seated in a little corner. A nice space with other diners, our waiter provided us with excellent service. Very conscientious, he ensured we had everything we needed in speedy time and he was well versed in the specials of the day. Looking back, I wish I had caught his name, I always believe in letting someone know when the customer service is great as sometimes we're often too focused on just complaining!

To start, the boy ordered a beer and I ordered a peach bellini. (Fancy!) Call me wild, but I love having a sneaky tipple on a day off. The bellini was sweet and fizzy and the perfect drink to help me unwind a little after trying to negotiate my way around the Manchester Saturday shopping crowds. I was tempted to order a few more, but I decided to leave a little space for at least some food!

Now before we move onto the delicious food, I will apologise in advance as I've completely forgotten the details surrounding the special that the boy ordered. I do know that it a) tasted delicious and b) contained some aged Italian ham which tasted Uh-ma-zing! He also ordered a portion of tasty fries with Parmesan. (They were so good!) 
As I was feeling full from breakfast, I ordered a light starter of crab meat and decided to stay away from a main meal that might be too heavy and thus need me to be rolled out of the restaurant.

You can tell from the clean plate and board above that we gobbled up our impromptu lunch! It was a lovely meal and treat in an otherwise busy and hectic day. My mum is travelling over for a visit soon and I reckon a return visit may be on the list, even if its just for a quick bellini.

05 May, 2014

Easter in Edinburgh

A few days prior to that lovely long weekend of Easter, the boy decided we needed to go somewhere and have something to look forward. Having moved to the UK September, the lovely thing is that everywhere is new to us and there are so many fab cities that we're dying to visit and experience. Realising that Edinburgh was a simple four hour train journey away, we decided Scotland was our port of call for two days. 

We got lucky, the sun shined and the rain stayed away and rather than document every iota of the experience, (sometimes it's just nice to enjoy the moment rather than think "This will make a great blog post!") I'm sharing with you some of our photos from our little trip. Edinburgh, we will be back as two days was simply too short!

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