Monday, November 30, 2009

The recession has been hitting retailers hard. While the shops are often full of browsing ladies like me who have more time than money, the reality is that footfall doesn't necessarily equal profit. Not surprisingly, more of us have been flocking North to shop and with Christmas on the way that number is set to surge higher.

Recent figures show that the number of households heading up the North has increased by 25% and while some may argue that it is disloyal to our local retailers, unfortunately many people simply don't have a choice - the lure of cheaper goods is too attractive for struggling families. While I do think that we should support locally when we can, and I do, I have no qualms with crossing the border in order to save big money.

I headed up there myself last Thursday, availing of Iarnrod Eireann's €10euro mid week special.

For me it is the cheapest option of all - with my dad working there, I get accommodation in his apartment, a lift back to Dublin on Saturday as well as taking advantage of some quality father/daughter time, which sometimes leads to free clothes if I'm lucky.

My dad isn't one for wasting money, and since we were old enough to work, we paid our own way. He seems to have softened with age though, along with developing a love for shopping! He has been seduced by the Belfast high street and often picks up little bargains for myself and my mam.

For example, a while back I spotted my perfect winter coat, but with a €40 difference from the UK price mocking me from the tag, I emailed the details to my dad to be met with point blank refusal. I wasn't surprised; sure he hadn't bought me a coat since I was forced into my school gabardine. However a few days later, while caught in a shower, he took shelter in the very shop in Belfast. Seeing the coat with his own eyes, and having been charmed by the lovely shop assistant, he agreed to buy it as an actual gift, a once off for his struggling recessionista!

Of course I’d visit him wherever he worked, the Belfast bargains are just a bonus to my trips. Last week I arrived with my mother’s long list of goods needed for the festive season and with me helping him beat the Southern crowds and get all the Christmas shopping done in one weekend – I reckon he got the biggest bargain of

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

With all my free time this year, I've become an increasingly avid telly addict. For years I worked nights and missed out on discussions about big shows that were airing at the time. I don't think I caught as much of a glimpse of a Saturday night show for months on end – if I wasn't working a Saturday, I was making the most of having the night off.

That changed two years ago, when I began the Monday to Friday routine and then last year, like the rest of the country, I became addicted to the X Factor.

This year it's worse, I am X Factor manic, and not ashamed to admit it. Every Saturday myself and one of my equally obsessed friends take turns in providing nibbles and drinks to watch the show. Sometimes we are all dressed up and join the lads in town afterwards, sometimes we are happy to slob in tracksuits with a take-away, the show providing us with all the entertainment we could possibly need.

Other friends consistently text throughout the show, no need to ask if I'm watching, the texts start to flow from the same people each week. It has been the perfect excuse to happily stay in on a Saturday to save a few pre-Christmas pennies, more so this year during the current credit crunch.

People complain that it's a pantomime, a money-making machine, a karaoke contest, lacking in talent. Most of them watch it regardless, perhaps just less obsessed. On trips home for Sunday dinner, my dad has balked at my ritual of turning on the TV and ignoring my family while the results are revealed each week. He's stopped moaning about it though, having realised that several of his colleagues, people who usually prefer to watch Newsnight, are equally enthralled by such frivolities as Danni Minogue's hair, Cheryl's dress and Simon Cowell's controversial comments.

It's pure shiny happy fun, there's no doom and gloom in the X Factor studio, everything about it is feel-good, from the bellowing balladeers to the blinding smiles of their newly-whitened teeth.

Even men of the moment, Irish twins John and Edward, have fans squirming in their seat each weekend for a few hours of fantasy land fun as they navigate the way clumsily through their dance routines.

The figures for this year’s show have surged as people continue to get drawn in by its magic and the surrounding publicity wheel.

Who cares if it's not the real world. Isn't that the whole point?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So I just thought I might do a little post on my trip to Amsterdam last weekend..I am literally the luckiest girl ever to be brought away like that despite being a part time employed recessionista..

I have to say it was the most beautiful city, I was totally surprised as I had no expectations of it whatsoever - I was expecting vomiting stag parties and seedy bars, but that was confined to a small area and still wasn't as bad as Temple Bar!

The whole city had such a relaxed, laid back vibe, mellow and chilled with the sound of the canal water lapping and the bicycle bells ringing across the bridges.

We walked and walked and ate and ate, soaking up the pre-Christmas atmosphere, wandering through the Christmas market, admiring the twinkling street lights and festive outdoor ice-skating rink.

Style wise the fashion seems to be a mix of trendy and practical - you won't see too many women in heels considering the main mode of transport is cycling. It was cold and I spent most of the weekend in brogues and a woolly hat I bought there in H and M. Something I noticed which I also thought about people in Paris and Milan, is that they really embrace the winter. The cold didn't have a biting breeze like Ireland but still it was frosty - yet everyone continues to socialise outside, sitting under heatlamps in front of cafes and bars, walking the streets, cycling, shopping and people spotting, all cosily clad in on-trend coats, chunky knitwear and fashionable yet durable boots, all accessorised with stylish shades for the winter glare.

Many Irish tend to still shiver their way through the winter months in less than warm coats and hoodies, the boys especially. But I'm really feeling that winter can be the most romantic time and Amsterdam confirmed that for's made me want to invest in more coats and boots for my wardrobe at home, considering I spend a lot of time either walking around town or braving the elements with my smoking friends, if you dress for the cold there's no reason it should be a bad thing!

The hight street in Amsterdam was impressive too, usually in other European cities I have found a lot of the fashion is confined to boutiques and markets. Amsterdam offered great vintage and boutiques as well and we found some lovely trinket and book shops in the Jordaan district. Our hotel was also located right next to the designer district, similar to Rodeo drive it was a mile long of the ultimate designer offerings from Prada to Mulberry, Burberry, Gucci, Vuitton with slightly cheaper shops such as Karen Millen and Tods nestled in between. The high street was a long cobbled meander of shops including River Island, Zara, Warehouse, H and M, Vero Moda along with a huge variety of shoe shops, particulary local shoe boutiques offering a massive array of boots. Boots are everywhere, more so then here!

Of course I had to settle with browsing but I did buy a few Christmas decorations along with a new hat and gloves! all in all a wonderful city and definitely worth a visit.....It's got me thinking abou the cities I've been to thoughout my life. I still reckon San Francisco is my favourite but because I spent four months there I got to see it in a different light. I loved Sydney and of course New York, London and Paris are unique. But I definitely put Amsterdam ahead of Milan, Barcelona and Melbourne. I'm smitten.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Something positive has been happening lately, a kind of autumnal optimism that seems to be spreading infectiously despite the recession.

Two friends - whose career brakes had been slammed on a year ago - have both finally found good jobs, after a difficult 12 months of searching.

And while another friend has lost his job, he seems to be attracting lots of freelance work - catering to the growing demand for cheaper services from professionals with no overheads. Ironically, his job loss came just as his office extension at home was completed, a good sign!

Three former colleagues have also landed exciting new positions; one is even heading for London. It's worth mentioning that many of these jobs were not publicly advertised, but rather are a result of contacting companies directly, something that has also paid off for me in the past.

I myself have had a busy few weeks filling in at a radio station and was delighted to hear in the midst of my peer's good news, a slot on the radio where a recruitment specialist argued that the recession was being overhyped by many. Now, granted you can't deny the facts, but he simply wanted to remind people to look for the positives and try to remain upbeat and hold off becoming despondent.

My little brother, as regular readers to this column will know, has spent the last year on a recession roller-coaster - swaying between frantic job searching and ignoring his CV for weeks on end. Now after a fast year, his dole has finally been stopped. While living at home means the welfare are totally justified in stopping his payments, I can't help feeling a bit sorry for him. There's nothing more disheartening than relying solely on your parents for financial hand-holding.

I've been telling him to hang in there, things will get better for him.

Just take my friend who lost her job in the spring. Now a full-time fashion blogger she has been hitting the style headlines in recent weeks with her rising profile. While being interviewed for a monthly fashion magazine last week, I'm pretty sure she is starting to see the silver lining on her own job loss, just as the London bound lady must also be. Casting my mind back to the day we lost our jobs together, I'm sure she is now, too, realising my favourite saying holds some truth - everything happens for a reason.

Sometimes we just may not know the reason at the time.

A friend is currently experiencing a stress overload - juggling a demanding full-time job in the music industry with two part-time 'gigs', leaving little room for precious 'me time'.

Luckily she had time last Friday night for a quick catch up. I found my friend slumped on the couch in her pyjamas, surrounded by tissues, Berocca and her Blackberry, hoping that an hour of downtime between appointments would ward off her heavy cold.

We both expressed some envy about each other's current work loads. Hers seems gloriously rewarding at the moment while I have so much free time between freelancing that it's hard to remember what a full week's work is like.

Considering I spent my life to date with several jobs and college courses at the same time, this more relaxed timetable has taken some adjusting to. No alarm clock, no commuting, no rushing, alas no big wages - but any work that comes my way is from the comfort of my own couch and, if I'm honest I’m enjoying my new work, life balance, for now.

My friend was in a similar situation last year but work-free weekends and lazy evenings are now a distant memory for this rising star.

I've been catching up with overdue friends, had more time for my family and ultimately have loved working for myself, from touting for potential PR clients to freelance writing. My departure from full-time work coincided with my relocation to the city, meaning endless hours of either power walking, strolling or browsing the city's streets, from Donnybrook to Dun Laoghaire - each and every shopping centre, market and boutique in between.

All the while I'm earning more then enough money to fund my city lifestyle - albeit less lavish. Don’t get me wrong – I would like to get back in the fast lane at some stage – I just believe in making the most of things right now.

I'm savouring this time, - that I really am young and free - because it’s likely at some stage I will be, once again, like my friend, complaining about commuting in bad weather and cancelling dates due to exhaustion.

Some morning in the future when I’m rushing through town with wet feet before 9am, I want to look back on this time and know that I made the most of every second of the slower paced year.

The year I learnt how to live on less money but, with more time, managed to have more fun.