Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Best Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to listen to often extremely interesting content... for free!

If you have an itunes account there is an entire section for podcasts, which will then update automatically when you've subscribed to one.

At the moment I'm addicted to the radio show 'This American Life' - which I believe is the most downloaded podcast in the USA. A cross between journalistic features and autobiography, each show selects a title theme and then tells true-life stories from people who have had fascinating experiences.

Being a wildlife geek I also listen to Radio 4's 'The Best of Natural History', and a gorgeously home-made 'Zoologica' podcast, featuring a guy from the States talking about a different species each week.

Podcasts are great for people with an interest in literature too, with 'The New Yorker' podcast offering contemporary authors reading classic stories previously published in the New Yorker. 'The Moth' is also a brilliant podcast featuring live story telling where participants aren't allowed any notes, giving the events the feel of a stand-up comedy night or poetry reading.

Do you have a never-miss podcast? Please share your recommendations with us.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Earth Hour

The ultimate FREE event is the WWF's Earth Hour - turn off your lights/computers and any other electrical appliances you can bear to part with for one hour, tomorrow Saturday 27th March at 8.30 pm.

Get creative with your dark time - light candles, tell ghost stories, watch the stars or take the excuse to snuggle up in bed, safe in a blanket of self-satisfaction that you are making an environmental stand, along with millions of others world wide.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

How to...bag a souvenir bargain

By Special Guest Blogger Laura Sigsworth

Laura’s Top Tips: Souvenir Hunting

The subtle art of bargaining is an essential skill for travel on the cheap. If you are anything like me, you will have an obsession for acquiring exotic yet useless items while abroad. This is a great time to haul out those bargaining skills, so here are my Top Ten Tips for Souvenir Hunting Abroad:

1.Have patience my pretty. Resist the temptation to nab something as soon as you see it. Most places have a standard selection of tourist fare which ranges vastly in quality. Take your time, scope out the selection, and have a clear idea of what you want when you enter the shopping area so you are not ‘persuaded’ that you really really need that gold plastic camel/ pen holder/snow globe.
2.Location, location, location. Be aware that you are not going to find bargains in hotel and airport shops. Consult your guide book and ask around to find local craft markets where prices are likely to be more flexible.
3. Speak the lingo. If you don’t speak the language, it is useful to learn some key words to use when shopping. Most locals will be delighted that you have made an effort, and this can go a long way to driving the prices down. ‘How much is it’ and ‘too expensive’ are useful, but so are general conversational phrases. If in doubt, ‘I am a student’ is a winner.
4. All the world is a stage. The process of bargaining is much like a charade. Particularly when you do not speak the local language, you will rely on exaggerated facial expressions and maybe some mime. Generally the script is always the same: you ask how much, they name an overblown price. You make a horrified expression and say ‘oh no! Too expensive’. Then you offer a much lower price, generally about 30-40% of the price they named (making sure it is less than you are willing to pay). They look horrified, but name a slightly lower price. At this point it is useful to play the student card. The process continues. If you are still not happy with the price, sometimes pretending to leave will bring it down a bit further.
5. Charm is everything. Confidence, coupled with a winning smile, will get you a long way. The buying process is not one to be rushed over. If you are asked (and if it is safe), stop for a cup of tea and a chat with the vendor. This way you get a bargainous souvenir, and some local insight!
6. Quality, not quantity. Take a good look at what you are buying. Are there any loose threads? Do all the zips work? Is there a ‘Made in China’ sticker on the bottom? If you want locally produced souvenirs, try and make sure that they are locally produced. Tourists are often misled by sales patter which presents plastic as stone and nylon as angora. If you are paying the equivalent of 50p for a cashmere scarf, the chances are that it is not 100% cashmere.
7. Worth not Cost. When bargaining, particularly when you are dealing with a different currency, it is easy to get overly absorbed in reducing the price. This is why it is key to decide what the item is worth to you. In this way, you will not find yourself arguing for hours over 20p. If you really want the item, and you can afford it, pay the asking price. Remember, that 20p is probably worth more to the vendor than it is to you.
8. If you have time... If you are staying in one place for a reasonable length of time, it is often worth having something handmade for you. In Africa, Asia and South America, you can frequently find craftsman and tailors working out of small workshops who are happy to take commissions.
9. Law and order. In many places it is illegal to export items made of coral, shell and other naturally occurring materials, not to mention damaging for the environment. Make sure you are aware of local customs regulations so as not to get in a pickle at the airport.
10. Buy local. Wherever possible, try and buy directly from craftsmen themselves, or from co-operatives or NGO craft organisations. That way you know that the money is not being siphoned off by Big Business.

Most of all.... enjoy!
NB: All of the above is subject to location. I would not suggest that you try these tips in the designer boutiques of St Tropez.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Best sites for...handmade crafts and accessories

I will keep updating this page - so keep your suggestions coming...

But for starters, try for a bit of everything - crafts, homeware, jewellery. I particularly love their selection of gloves and feathered hair decorations

For a vintage-style jewellery fix visit for lust-worthy objects like this peacock ring which I am more than a little in love with.

For hand-made posters try Roll and Tumble Press, who stock the most gorgeous and kitsch prints. These are available at and in fact the entire poppytalk website is pretty damn brilliant.

Another beautiful site for hand-made jewellery is the Sugar Mouse Shop
I can't stop thinking about this beluga whale necklace.....

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

How to... Watch Seals

Top UK Seal Watching Spots

Seals are some of the UK’s most charismatic mammals, populating much of our coastline. A joy to watch, they will often curiously bob up in the water around a boat of delighted seal-watchers.

Britain is home to two species of seal: Grey and Common.


The main difference can be seen in their facial shapes, as Common Seals have short muzzles and V-shaped nostrils while Greys have a longer muzzle and parallel nostrils.

Blakeney, Norfolk

From Blakeney Quay numerous boats set out to National Trust site at Blakeney Point (my personal tour of choice is run by Bean's Boats.) Passengers are ferried past sandbanks covered in basking seals throughout the peak seal-watching season (April-October). Both Common and Grey seals make up a colony of around 500 individuals, and boat companies guarantee passengers will see seals on every journey.
The two species raise young at different points in the year, so it is likely that visitors will see pups. Curious seals often swim around the boats, popping their faces out of the water to have a look.
More about seal watching in Blakeney
Orkney Islands

Orkney has resident populations of both indigenous seal species, the tourist board claims that they can be seen on almost any piece of shoreline. Some seals will often follow you along as you walk, particularly if you whistle.
The waters around the Orkneys are estimated to be home to 25,000 Grey seals, and 7,000 Common seals. Another advantage of keeping an eye on the Orkney coast is that there have previously been sightings of Common dolphins, porpoises, Minke whales, Humpback whales and Orcas.
More about the Orkney Islands

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

West Wales is home to approximately 5,000 Grey seals. At Skomer Island they can be seen year round along with puffins, Manx shearwaters and other coastal birds.
The advantage of Skomer as a seal-watching spot is that the spread of pupping dates here is wider than in any other breeding colony, although scientists are unsure why. Pups can be seen here from September to December.
More about the wildlife of Skomer Island

Monday, 22 March 2010

Thrifty Easter Gifts

Are holidays just too commercial? Fed up of your kids whinging in the supermarket aisles?

This Spring make your own Easter gifts, free of branding and to your own taste - you can even get the kids to help out (or at least lick the spoon.)

Home-made Chocolate Eggs

• Save the plastic casing from a shop-bought egg to use as a mould
• Melt your chosen chocolate in a bowl above a pan of boiling water
• Pour the melted chocolate into both moulds, and tip to cover the whole shape, making sure to keep the texture even and not to leave a thick puddle at the bottom
• Allow the eggs to set, and repeat the process two more times, until the halves are as thick and delicious as you want
• When both halves are cool, use a small amount of melted chocolate around the edges to glue into a whole egg

If you’re feeling creative, use white or dark chocolate as well to create a marbled egg, or fill your eggs with sweets. Try to use Fairtrade chocolate where possible.

Dyed Eggs

To liven up your kids’ Easter breakfasts, colour hard boiled eggs:

• Soak a paper towel in water and vinegar, before dropping on food colouring of your choice
• Place the paper around your egg, and wrap the whole thing in clingfilm
• Leave for half-an-hour, then enjoy

Cress-Head Eggs

Let your kids enjoy their colourful egg– then tell them you can bring the shell to life!

• Put the empty egg shell into an egg cup, and draw on facial features with a marker pen
• Wet a small piece of cotton wool, and place it in the bottom of the shell
• Sprinkle cress seeds onto the cotton wool
• Protect your egg with a piece of paper until the seeds begin to sprout
• Move it next to a window
• Gently water every day until Mr or Mrs Egg has a lovely green head of hair
• Give it a ‘hair cut’ and have some delicious cress sandwiches – eating their greens has never been so fun!

How to... get on TV for free

Fancy a free night out, and getting your mug on the telly? Why not join the audience for your favourite show?

Visit for FREE tickets to get behind the scenes of shows like Britain's got Talent, QI, X-Factor, Over the Rainbow or Big Brother. (Although why anyone would want to be involved in Big Brother in any capacity is beyond me) These tickets are available to anyone, but sometimes there are age restrictions.

Even better than being in the audience, is getting paid for your time by being an extra.

There are numerous websites advertising for extras on soaps or dramas. The site Universal Extras has pages for students ( and non-students ( and features some intriguing casting auditions. My particular favourite being, "We are looking for men of all ages with big beards. The bigger the better- for a feature film with Uma Thurman"

We'd love to hear from anyone who has been an extra or audience member for a show - tell us how it went on our message boards. Also let us know of any reliable websites for finding extras work.

Shoestring x

Shoestring online magazine - the beginning

Welcome to the first page of Shoestring - a magazine blog with a simple ethos:

Do what you love...for less.

We are all about sharing ideas that cost little (or even better- nothing) to make your life that bit more enjoyable.

So in future you can expect articles on a wide range of activities - crafts, cheap days out, freecycling, cheap ways to travel, growing your own vegetables, volunteering, clothes swapping, guerrilla gardening, recipes and heaps of ways to save money without massively changing your lifestyle.

We are very keen to hear from you, so make sure you use our message boards to share your own tips and secrets.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Love Shoestring