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What I Did In November

Friday, 30 November 2012

It's been a busy old month, and December is set to be even more hectic.  Fun though!  Here's what I've been up to recently:

- Tried Dining in the Dark

I was invited along to The Living Room in Liverpool earlier in the month for an evening with a difference. We were sampling mini versions of the food and drink from their new menu and playing guess the ingredient, but with our eyes closed. Well, with blindfolds on, to be precise. I learned that my taste buds are Not Very Good - I think I got 14.5/40 or something shocking like that, although weirdly I did guess all the cheeses correctly and I don't even eat cheese.  Anyway, the main discovery to come out of the evening was not my hitherto-unknown cheese-guessing powers, but the fact that The Living Room is really lovely.  I'd always associated the Liverpool one with footballers and gorgeous girls on nights out rather than delicious food, and I was super-impressed with how good everything on the menu was, as well as how nice and chilled out a venue it was.  Shall be heading back there soon!

- Watched American Idiot The Musical

Which was fab!  I had a slight fear that it would be clunky but it all fitted together rather well and the cast were great.  That album is very tied up with memories for me but I blocked that out and enjoyed it anyway.

- Got excited about Christmas at work

We've busted out the Christmas cd collection already.  In our defence, pretty much everyone is finishing on 14th Dec cos we've got so much leave left to take, so we're allowed to start the festivities in November.  That's our excuse and we're sticking to it.  Plus we have a house and a flipping big tree to decorate!  I was teetering on a ledge about 6 inches wide (if I tipped forwards I went into the tree, if I tipped backwards I crashed into a historic painting) and dancing to Jingle Bell Rock whilst making the tree looks fancy.  It looks ace, even if I do say so myself.

- Visited the cinema quite a bit

Seriously, how much good stuff was on this month?  I didn't even get round to seeing Argo, The Master or Rust and Bone.  Sad face.  The four films I did see were all wildly different but very good.  And who knew Bradley Cooper could actually act?

- Went to see Ben Folds Five

What a pair of fitfaces we are.

I'm not very musical. I don't spend a lot on music, or going to gigs, but I am a total Ben Folds fangirl. I went to see him on the (solo) Lonely Avenue tour a couple of years ago and as soon as the announcement went out that the band were reforming and touring in the UK, I pounced on the tickets.  Ffion and I had a bloody marvellous time last night in Manchesterville.

- Got quite a lot of shopping done.

Nothing in there but moths and a Tesco clubcard now.

I know, I know, it's only November. But I have to be super organised with presents for the people from work - I don't see most of them after 9th December - and then various friends are moving mid-month or generally just away, so I have to get started early. And I have two Secret Santa parcels to put together, plus a load of giveaway packages to organise! December is officially the month where I have no spare time. I'm totally calling on Parcelforce to send all my packages safely around the country. They pick them up from you! I can't face Post Office queues at the best of times and the thought of standing in line in December makes me shudder to the core.

- Tried opera. Cosi fan tutte to be precise.
Hark at me!  I think my pal Lee is just trying to convert me into a complete culture vulture.  He's already got me watching ballet (although not modern dance which tends to bore me to sleep) and he persuaded me to try a £5 ticket to the opera.  I rather surprised myself by absolutely loving it.  More please!

- Sorted out a great big pre-Christmas giveaway

Watch this space tomorrow!

The Odd Socks Christmas Gift Guide

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

There are a lot of Christmas gift guides floating around the internet at the moment.  I love them.  I adore buying presents anyway but with gift guides, someone else has done all the hard work and found amazing things and shops for you.  What's not to like?  If I have a slight beef with them (and I do), it's that they tend to be very specific in their categories - "For him" "For her" "For the kids" "For your mum".  That's not my approach to present buying, or to life in general.  Why categorise things and people?  Just buy good stuff! I got my dad the Adventure Series by Enid Blyton for Christmas last year (which he LOVED btw) and I highly doubt that would have appeared on any of these "For Your Dad" lists.

I hereby dub this The Odd Socks Guide to Shiny, Marvellous Things on the Internet.

Catchy, huh?  Basically, these are amazing things I have discovered. Not your obvious things from places like ASOS and Amazon (although I do very strongly recommend the waterproof mp3 player from my last post cos it's brilliant) because you're bound to come across those yourself during the course of your mooches around the internet. These are just things I've found that I like. If they match the taste of someone you need to buy a present for, get them.  Or just buy them for yourself.  I won't judge.

The beauty of craft kits is that you have a choice: either give a crafty person the kit as a present or buy it, make it yourself and give the finished item to a non-crafty person instead.  I came across Gift Horse Kits on Twitter earlier this year and tackled Project Bunny as one of my summer things to do.  The kit was absolutely wonderful - very nicely packaged up, contained absolutely everything and had some brilliant, clear instructions.  I'd definitely recommend buying or making the Little Red Ted, Love Cats and amazingly cute Robins.

I went on holiday with Heather, the lovely and very creative person behind Custard Bean, earlier in the year.  Look, you can see her larking around in this post! She makes the most beautiful quilts and bunting, some of which decorated our holiday cottage in fine style.  Her etsy store is stocked up with fab handmade festive goodies at the moment, including this tweed stocking and a range of handmade tree decorations.  Or if you know someone with a Kindle, I'm sure they could do with a good Kindle cover.

Book lovers may drool at this one.  It's the Delightful Reading Spa at Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath.  If you live in that part of the world then frankly I don't know why you haven't bought this already.  For the rest of us, it's worth going all the way there just for this.  It's got to be worth every single penny of the £55 it costs.  Book heaven.

Cat fans, feast your eyes upon The Cat Gallery.  One of the volunteers at work introduced me to this website after I went a bit mad at the sight of her brilliant cat earrings one day.  She'd been to the actual shop in York but the website is just as much fun.  They sell pretty much everything cat related that you might ever need.  I'm sure you know a person (or cat) who'd appreciate the Crazy Cat Lady mug, glow in the dark collar, LED miaowing keyring or black cat roll holder.

I like a good papercut.  No, not the incredible painful yet minor injury, the craft!  Rob Ryan stuff is beautiful and readily available but it's worth seeking out some of the other online alternatives, such as Folk Art Papercuts on Etsy.  It's full of stunningly intricate designs available as prints or cards - the above picks are the Folk Art House, Long Necked Cat with Birds, Hillside Village and Horse prints.

My main beef with buying things from the USA is that, unless the total cost is very cheap, you get clobbered with customs and handling charges before the Royal Mail deigns to let you have your parcel. Threadless were awesome anyway but now they are straight at the top of my Hurrah List (yes, there is such a thing) for giving you a postage price which includes pre-paid customs so you know exactly how much you're spending. Also, their sale has been extended until this evening (28th Nov) so you can get loads of their tshirts for $9.99 (about £6ish) each. BUY BUY BUY!

I recommend Toile About You (aka my favourite print in the history of the world EVER), Bunnythmetic and Paper Zoo totes, the Runnin' Rhino iPhone case, and Oscar's Hideout and Captain Obvious tshirts.  But the beauty of the site is that you can pretty much pick your favourite design and you've got a whole array of tshirt sizes and styles to choose from, plus quite often there are other products (phone cases, bags, socks etc) in that design as well.

Sweets!  None of your cynical "oh aren't we retro, lol" packaging here.  This is proper stuff, sold by people who know what they're talking about.  A Quarter Of is my go-to website when I want something delicious and sweet.  Candy necklaces, Christmas Pud sweets, Iron Brew humbugs (zomg, they are truly amazing), vampire teeth... if they don't sell them, they probably aren't worth buying.

The Literary Gift Company is a truly glorious website.  I can browse through it with quite a number of friends in mind and immediately find about 96 things they'd love.  It's that good and that full of fab, quirky items.  I know exactly which people would like the procrastination pen, I Capture The Castle earrings, Go Away I'm Blogging mug, Penguin cufflinks and Shhh mug.

If you're buying for people who are a bit more academic than literary, check out their sister site Present Indicative. We all need a Votes for Women teatowel...

Jezebel Charms is one of my very favourite Etsy shops.  Some Etsy jewellery shops can be a bit samey but this really isn't.  It's full of wonderfully designed and unusual items that span the genres from Austen to Shakespeare to music and steampunk.  The Jane Austen quote necklace, Sherlock Holmes cuff, Regency dancing earrings and antique London map cuff are all fabulous.

Why I Don't Run...And What I Do Instead

Monday, 26 November 2012

It sometimes seems as if the whole world wants me to go running. Sweeping generalisation ahoy, but runners are mad keen on converting other people into joggers.  "You should try it Alex.  You'll love it!"  Err no, I shouldn't and I won't.  There are times when all I can see is people merrily comparing trainers, talking about carb loading, incessantly tweeting about how many miles they've done this day/week/month and how everyone should join them because you don't understand life until you've run a marathon.

Well here's the thing, world: I don't want to go running. You can tell me as much as you want that it feels amazing to go out and pound the pavement for hours but I've got no interest in it. I might be related to a keen marathon runner but I'm the one standing on the sidelines cheering and handing out the sweets. I'm not ever going to be the one running the race.

That would be my brother...

Also (and I know this doesn't apply to everyone, but it annoys the shit out of me), it is extremely boring when people take up a hobby and all you ever hear from them is a constant refrain of "sponsor me!" Yes, it's impressive that you can run a long way. Now go and run your 10k because you like running. Stop asking me to give you money for it.

So I don't run.

I do stuff on the Wii Fit in fits and starts (shoving the Free Step programme on when watching tv definitely helped with all my weight loss).  I'm often to be found leaping round the living room cursing Jillian Michaels whilst I do the 30 Day Shred dvd.  Mostly though, I swim.  I am a firm believer in sticking with the form of exercise that you like and I like to swim, so that's what I do. It's very soothing to hop in the water and chug up and down the pool two or three nights a week.  I don't get sweaty, it doesn't hurt my knees and it gives me lots of time to think.  I get good ideas when I'm in the water.  No idea why, but it helps with blogging block!

And it's cheap.  My swimming membership costs me the princely sum of £12 a month and other than a new cossie every year or so, that's all I ever spent on it.  That is, until earlier this year when I had a bit of spare cash and bought myself two things that have made swimming much better.

First up, I bought these prescription goggles .  There are loads of different styles on that website but I chose that pair cos you can have different strength lenses.  Very handy if you have stupid, wonky eyesight like mine.  I genuinely had no idea they were so cheap - I was under the impression they'd be nearly as pricey as proper glasses, otherwise I'd have bought them years ago!  My eyesight without glasses is not good and I don't wear contacts, so I basically used to leave my specs in the locker, squint a lot and hope nobody swam too close to me.  Now I can actually see!  It's a revelation.

I also bought myself a sports mp3 player which has the very handy bonus that it's waterproof.

XSories Aqua Note 4GB in black

Yup, waterproof.  The pool I swim at doesn't play music, so it's now about 47 times more fun to go swimming and be entertained by this. It is BRILLIANT. Not only is it the easiest gadget I've ever owned to get set up and working, it comes with about 12 types of earbuds so you can pick the ones that suit you best, plus it is super comfy. You barely know it's there. Well, except for the fact that old biddies stop you in the pool and ask why your ear is glowing green. I'm more surprised that they didn't ask me why I was chortling as I swam (answer: I was listening to a Wittertainment podcast )

Next exercise investment: swimming lessons.  It's one of the very few sports that you learn to do about age 8 and are then left entirely to your own devices for the rest of your life.  I never got taught to do front crawl, or proper breaststroke breathing and I want to learn how.  I know I'm going to feel like a right idiot but I can overcome that.  I hope.

Let the Clothes Do the Talking

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sometimes there really isn't very much to say about an outfit. Sometimes I like to natter on for many paragraphs and go off on wild tangents.  Not today.  Today I am knackered and soaked (weather: I hate you).  This post can therefore be neatly summed up in one sentence: here is a cherry print frock, here are some red shoes, here is my hair in a scraggy topknot because I went swimming at 7am before work and couldn't be faffed washing it.

But when the frock is this bold, you don't really need to talk much about it.  You just wear it and enjoy it.

Didn't quite manage to avoid the rain when taking the photos, grrrr.

Dress - vintage
Shoes - Dorothy Perkins sale
Rings - vintage (green) and Dorothy Perkins sale (elephant)

My Life...In Phones

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Warning: this blog post will date me. Horribly.

I can remember life before mobile phones. Quite clearly actually. They weren't really common until I was well into my teens. Dad had a hilarious businessman type car phone but the only time I'd ever seen a proper mobile was on Saved By The Bell. And how funny was that? Ringing for pizza at your desk. Oh Zack, you scamp.

Shell, my best friend, had a pager. I don't think we ever quite got to grips with that, but we both poured absolute scorn on our friends Ruth and Claire when they got mobile phones one summer. They only ever rang each other! We couldn't understand it at all. I think their logic was something to do with going horse riding and potentially falling in a ditch. Well, we did that too, but we didn't see the need for phones.

You can see how this one goes, can't you? About six months later Ruth and Claire could be totally smug in their status of trendsetters because we ALL had phones. Brick-like Nokia 5110s which had the amazing technological capacity to phone, text and play Snake. That's it. We were very easily pleased back then. My mum had a super slimline Motorola (honestly, it was thinner than the phone I have now - way ahead of its time) which was considered *very* cool.  And phone shopping was really fun and even a bit exotic!  I remember wandering into Carphone Warehouse and being faintly awestruck by all the technology on offer.  When you've only ever been able to do three things on your phone, any new development seemed rather magical.  If you'd have told me then that less then a decade later I'd be able to watch live tv on an app on my phone whilst sailing down a river on a boat, I would have laughed in your face.

I've been very loyal. Since that first venture into mobile phone ownership, I've had two Nokias, one Motorola clam phone, one LG Chocolate (which I adored. Beautiful, beautiful thing) and then an iPhone. I haven't lost a single one or dropped one down the loo or left it in a bar on a night out. They either died or needed replacing because, well, they're not made to last, are they? That's modern technology for you.

I got my iPhone nearly 3 years ago and I've been kind to it - it's always had a nice green cover and a Phone Devil screen protector (which I buy mainly cos they send you sweets as well but also cos they really do last well). It's out of contract now and on a SIM only deal (much cheaper, hurrah!) because my thrifty radar informed me that a new model was due this year and that would push the price of other handsets down, so I held off on upgrading. See, I'm canny! I was trying to be canny enough to spin it out for a little while longer but I had to upgrade the iOS in order to make an app work and now it's all "woe is me, I am so very, very old and slow" and keeps turning itself off. So now I'm all "woe is me, I will have to buy a new phone."  And it has to be an iPhone because I am completely smitten with this one and can't imagine life with a Samsung in my hand.

What I really want to know is, is it worth paying more for the iPhone 5 or should I stick with my initial inclinations and get the 4S?  Are they that different from each other? I can't read techy website comparisons: they baffle me.  I'd much rather have proper opinions and I know lots of you are fellow iPhone fangirls!

Cats, Cats, Cats

Monday, 19 November 2012

I seem to have been the subject of some appalling customer service this year.  I don't take it well.  Shop assistants have been told off, shops have been walked out of, moany tweets have been written, ranty emails have been fired off... I might be turning into a narky old woman but frankly I feel it's justified.

I won't dwell on the negative stuff.  Well maybe just for a moment ... Merseyrail is an appalling excuse for a company and I would hate them even if they didn't take three weeks to reply to emails.  And Sports Direct are still on my miffed list for telling me that I should buy pink trainers. 

Positive stuff ahoy!

I was perusing the Dorothy Perkins sale a few weeks ago when I saw something that made me go "FJHMN<HKJDBNM GREENCATS!!!"  Unfortunately, as is often the case with the Dotty P sales, I clicked on the item and it turned out to be out of stock in all sizes, causing my hopes to be utterly crushed. CRUSHED, I tell thee. But this wasn't a Dotty P item, it was from Ruby Rocks, so I hopped onto their website and emailed them to ask if they had any lurking in a store room somewhere.

Hopes were duly restored because I got a very nice email back from Jen at Ruby Rocks asking me what size I wanted and passing me onto someone else who might be able to help.  Then into my inbox pinged another very nice email from Gemma at Madam Rage telling me that they'd found one, in my size and it was on sale on their website. Triple hurrah!  So I bought it, it arrived very speedily and I am a happy Alex, spreading the word about good customer service.

It's just such a nice length and colour, oh and did I mention it's all #wardrobezoo-tastic?  Straight to the top of my favourite tops list!

Not just cats but green starry cats!

Blouse - Ruby Rocks, via Madam Rage
Skirt - H&M
Blazer - Warehouse via Oxfam
Shoes - Office via ebay
Ring - Dorothy Perkins sale
Scarf - can't remember! I think a present from a blogging chum?

Autumn Holiday

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I'm back from my holidays.  Again.  You could be forgiven for thinking that I am always away.  I don't get six months off work a year or anything.  Yes, the holiday allowance is quite generous but I take it as lots of smaller holidays throughout the year instead of one big jaunt to somewhere far away.  Plus I like holiday cottages in this country.  I can cope without sun quite easily - give me somewhere cosy with a log fire, lots of beautiful countryside to walk around and some nearby market towns with good charity shops and I am as happy as a pig in muck.

This time I went to stay in one of the lodges at Calke Abbey, just on the border of Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Mum and Char came for the weekend (see above for them getting up to leaf-kicking larks) and then I spent the rest of the week on my glorious lonesome.

The house is closed at this time of year but I've been before so it wasn't a source of great sadness to me.  If you haven't been, GO. It is the most wonderful place inside and very unlike any other National Trust house you'll see.  It's all preserved in a complete state of 1880's decline with jumble and rubbish everywhere and it's got such an atmosphere.  Even the stable yard (which is open all year round cos it houses the shop and restaurant) is very similar.  Nothing has been tidied up.

I'd also recommend a little wander around Ashby de la Zouch one day. It was pissing it down with rain when I went, which wasn't ideal. But it has a castle and loads of great charity shops, so what more do you want?

Books ahoy! That's a Folio Society copy of Cold Comfort Farm at the bottom, yoicks!

Then I spent the rest of the week reading, watching DVDs and doing a spot of beading. It's my autumn/winter craft of choice.

I did stir from the sofa occasionally, honest I did.  Lots of walking also happened.

The parkland there is quite astonishingly beautiful at this time of year.  I'll leave it to a guidebook to explain all the whys and wherefores of it being a site of special scientific interest but I can tell you how gorgeous it was. Better still, I can show you. Look at the colours!

But look at how lovely the cottage was. I think you can probably understand why I didn't need to go out that much.  

Back to normal life for me now though!

Shopping...A Little Differently

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ask Her Friends got in touch with me recently and asked if I'd like to take a look at their website.  I am always up for discovering a shiny, new website so I wandered over for a mosey around and was really impressed at both the idea behind it and the range of products that they feature.  It's always a pleasant experience to browse around a website that makes you go "ooh!" all the time, and this one definitely did.

I am a big believer in investing a bit of effort into finding the perfect present for someone.  I tend to jot down ideas during the year and you may well find me whipping out my phone mid-conversation and writing a note to myself.  I know not everyone is this disgustingly organised though. I'd blame it on my genes but I'm related to someone (who shall not be named) who is hopeless at buying presents so that can't be it.  Anyway, I like to track down interesting and unusual things for people but I know this isn't always easy and anything that helps can only be a good thing.  In my experience, it's not something men are particularly good at unless they're either the thoughtful type or they live with you and can't avoid the hint dropping. 

So I asked my friend Lee if he'd try the site out and see what it suggested.  Over to him!

Lee and me

I was looking for Christmas inspiration for a very dear friend of mine and with us living in different cities an online gift was definitely at the forefront of my mind. This seemed like a good chance to do something a little different than our usual habit of buying each other theatre tickets.

Using Ask Her Friends is a simple process - you fill in a brief questionnaire about your gift respondent and the site suggests a range of gifts within your stipulated price range.  The great thing, and what really stood out about this site, is that you can then contact a number of her friends for their thoughts about the list that has been created (up to ten items).  The website was easy to navigate: it was simple and straightforward to set up my account and start the list.  What really stood out was the ease of entering the data of the friends to consult, with email, Twitter and Facebook all being offered as choices. 

The list that was generated for me was was much more varied in terms of selections than I probably would have considered had I shopped in store.  In this case books, DVDs, stationery, shoes, clothing, jewellery & homeware were all suggested.  As a man there are certain gifts I would consider for a friend, whereas this list expanded these choices and I received positive feedback on almost all of the items, although one thing did stand out as a clear favourite with everyone.

In order to make this list suitable, I would suggest that you do need to know the gift recipient fairly well but because you can check the suggestions with her friends, you're always going to end up with something that is a good choice.  The one thing to mention is to keep an eye on p&p costs as they're not necessarily included within the listed price and it may take you slightly out of your stipulated price range.  Overall though, the experience of using the site left me really satisfied and I was happy that the choices forwarded to her friends were such an eclectic and interesting collection.  The real plus point was that the item I ended up with was something I know she will absolutely LOVE and it was also something I wouldn't have been aware of without this website.


What did he choose for me?  I have no idea! I am on tenterhooks and I have strict orders not to be nosy, so I'll just have to wait.  Hope it's something from the book selection, although I wouldn't say no to any of the Rock My Vintage stuff or the War Horse theatre break or, well, any of it. Such lovely things!

Disclaimer: neither of us were paid for this review but Lee's purchase cost was covered.

The Business of Blogging

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sponsored posts.  Paid-for links.  Advertising banners.  Accepting products for review.  Working with brands.  Attending events.

When you start off blogging, you see all these things on other blogs.  Bigger, more established blogs with more followers than you have.  99.9% of us started blogging for the love of it, because we wanted our own little corner of the internet to talk about clothes/makeup/crafts/food/books with people who loved them as much as we did.  If you blog as a hobby rather than as a business, you don't start off expecting these opportunities to come your way and it can be a bit scary when they do.  You're essentially selling you - your opinions, your sense of style, your photography skills, your writing voice.  How on earth do you put a price on that?  What are the rules?

I don't pretend to know any definitive answers - I don't think there are any hard and fast rules.  Equally I wouldn't want anyone to read this and think "who the hell does she think she is?"  I'm never keen when people set themselves up as some sort of expert and that's not what this is meant to be.  It's just my thoughts on a topic that often seems quite mysterious.  Most of what I've learned has happened via trial and error.

I'm under no illusion.  This is not intended to come across as Alex pretending she's a super successful blogger who knows it all.  I'm not the stereotypical tall, skinny, teenage fashion blogger who raves about all the latest trends and adores catwalk stuff and fashion magazines.  I don't live in London.  I don't get invited to loads of press events, and even if I did, it's unlikely I'd be able to take the time off work to trek 200 miles to attend them.  I'm just me.  I have a small to medium sized blog that isn't a particular standout in any genre and I was as surprised as anyone else when companies started to contact me.  I have lots of amazing readers who leave chatty comments, I like to think the blog is vaguely amusing and I hope that my writing is halfway decent so perhaps that's it?  I struggle to get my head around Alexa rankings and the complexities of Google Analytics and stuff that supposedly tells you what a successful blog is.  I just like what I do and I hope that that shows and is appealing to someone.

So here's what I'd suggest if it's something you're considering doing or are curious about.  I hope it's helpful. 

- Don't expect anything.  Companies don't approach you because you think you're great, they approach you because the style of your blog matches what they're trying to sell.  They make that decision.  You don't.  If you've started blogging for free stuff or money rather than for the love of it then that lack of passion is likely to show.  I quite happily blogged for ages without ever getting a sniff of a product review or a sponsored post and I'd quite happily continue if they dried up.

- Work out what approach is right for you.  I took a fairly hardcore no-sponsored-posts, no-direct advertising stance for a long time and no-one ever shouted at me for turning down opportunities.  Equally, when I did start doing sponsored posts, no-one told me how disappointed they were at me for selling out.  I still don't put advertising banners on my blog and that's meant having to refuse one or two things, but that's fine by me.  If you're happy to feature lots of different types of advertising opportunities, smashing.

- Try and maintain your blog ethos.  God, doesn't that sound pretentious?  All I mean is that it's not a great idea to accept products or sponsorship opportunities for things that you wouldn't dream of writing about otherwise.  We've all seen those posts, we've all moaned about them.  A blogger shoves up a copied and pasted press release raving about a product or brand that you're 99% certain they wouldn't give a crap about if money wasn't involved.  It doesn't engage readers and it's far more likely to leave you thinking negatively of the blogger than positively of the brand.

- Work out what your rates are.  This might happen completely by accident.  If you're offered a figure during an email exchange and you're happy with that (based on some of the stuff I mention later on), then go for it.  That's what I did.  Try not to stare at your computer going "Holy shit, you want to give me money?"  If you're struggling on this or you want to check that what's being asked/offered is reasonable, then:

- Talk to other bloggers.  Revealing rates for sponsored posts and links within posts is one of those things that just doesn't seem quite done.  Ditto page views per month and other related stats.  Often the only thing you'll be able to judge is how many GFC followers a blog has.  But every blogger I've ever met in person has been happy to talk about these.  Seriously.  Maybe we're all bashful of writing down numbers in a public space but we have no problem talking about it in person or via email or DM on Twitter.  Don't be afraid to ask.

- Check out how other people do it.  There are many, many different approaches and I'm sure people have different ideas of what constitutes a good and bad sponsored post or product review.  As a basic rule, if I don't notice any difference from the blogger's normal tone of voice then they've done a good job with it.  For example, I like the way that both Sarah and Helen make their posts personal to them and include the sponsored content in a very natural fashion.  I like how Claire does product reviews and actually talks about the clothes rather than just whacking a link in the outfit details.  I don't think I've ever seen a bad post from Jen or A Thrifty Mrs - you can learn a hell of a lot about good blogging from those two.

- Be polite.  If someone emails you, even if it's something to which your immediate reaction is "hell no!" or "WTF does that have to do with my blog?", it takes all of thirty seconds to send them a quick reply back declining their offer.  They may well contact you again with something that's perfect for you.

- On a related note, be professional.  I can't say I've really suffered with it myself but you do hear exasperated bloggers sharing stories about rude PRs who either can't understand what they're being told in an email or take a massively patronising tone.  I try and apply the same standards to blog emails as I do to work emails (although using a chattier tone) - you wouldn't tell a customer or client to eff off, so it's not a great idea to do it to a PR, even if they are getting on your last nerve.

- Don't be afraid to say no.  Despite the above mention of rudeness, you're unlikely to get shouted at.  If it's, for example, a clothing brand which sells nothing that you'd like to wear, what's the point in saying yes just for the sake of free stuff?  It's always nice to suggest another blogger who might be appropriate for an opportunity if it's not right for you for whatever reason.

- Put the effort in.  I probably spend longer and work harder on my sponsored posts than on normal posts as I want them to be really good.  Partly because I'm representing a brand, partly because I want to look professional and partly because I don't want my readers to roll their eyes when reading it and think "God, she's crowbarred that reference in, hasn't she?"  Hopefully I succeed and people read and reply to them the same way that they do with a normal post.

- Value your time.  This bit is hard.  Easier for freelancers who have an hourly rate, I imagine.  It was a comment from one of them on a different blog that really brought this home to me.  Yes, blogging is a hobby for most people, but that doesn't mean your time isn't precious.  If someone asks you to write a post for them and you spend, say, two hours writing the post and an hour taking photos, sorting through them and editing them, then what do you think is a reasonable amount to be paid for it?  £75? £50? £25?  Is nothing a reasonable amount?  Is the chance to enter a competition to potentially win an item a reasonable amount?  Make your own mind up on this one.

And value your blog space as well.  If you do sponsored posts or product reviews then the general wisdom is to try and schedule them evenly through the month and intersperse them with normal posts*.  If you've only got one or two spaces per month and accept a sponsored post that pays a piddling amount, you're blocking off the potential to accept something more lucrative down the line.

- Be flexible if the opportunity is interesting enough.  Your rates aren't set in stone and neither is the approach you take.  I know that some bloggers (mainly the few who can earn a living just from blogging) get very cross at "hobby bloggers" doing things for free.  I can see their point to a certain extent - giving brands coverage on your blog is essentially giving them free advertising space, and they're less likely to pay if loads of people are happy to give it to them for free.  But the vast majority of us blog for fun and any chance to work with brands is really flattering, so I'm not morally opposed to doing things for free sometimes.  You don't know what opportunities it might lead to.  And not every mention has to be paid for.  Plenty of us are happy to feature small brands that we really love, just because we love them. 

- Finally, and very importantly, be upfront.  Shove a disclaimer page on your blog and explain how you label sponsored posts/paid-for links/product reviews etc.  Label your posts accordingly.  Unlike the US, there are no laws in the UK about this but I think it's just decent blogging behaviour.  Not labelling an obviously sponsored post is enough to make some people stop following you.

So, those are my thoughts.  Have I missed anything important?  Speak now or forever hold your peace. 

* I must admit that I'm about to bend my rules on this one.  It's November, a few different opportunities have arrived in my inbox and I'm not really in a position to say no to them right now.  So you may see a few sponsored posts in a row but please don't let that put you off.  As I've mentioned above, I wouldn't accept them if I didn't think they fitted the tone of the blog, and I've worked hard on writing them!  Roll on December and the blog will be filled with great big glorious giveaways for you lovely lot.