Giants in Liverpool

July 29th, 2014

On Sunday Sir Pubert Gladstone picked me up from home in the early hours of the morning and we headed off to Liverpool. Over the weekend, Royal de Luxe, the French street theatre company, brought their giant puppets to the streets of Liverpool. Commemorating World War I, three giant puppets in girl, Grandma and dog form, walked through Liverpool and eventually headed out to sea. Sunday was the last day of the three-part story and the three giant puppets walked down past the docks and were lifted onto a boat. It was incredible to watch these huge mechanical forms move. Powered by acrobatic humans jumping and pulling on ropes, the giants appeared so real and life-like that you wanted them to smile and wave at you.

Girl.

Girl.

Grandma.

Grandma.

Dog.

Dog.

The dog was a crowd favourite and received an extra loud cheer when it urinated on the ground. HOORAY! The whole show was fantastic and I highly recommend going to see Royal de Luxe’s puppets when they’re in a town near you. They are heading to Perth for the Festival – GO AND SEE THEM.

 

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

July 29th, 2014

Some of you may remember my 108 Challenges in 108 Days attempt (I failed miserably but that wasn’t the point.) – one of the challenges was to go and fly a kite. I didn’t do it. But now I have! On Sunday I went to Liverpool with Sir Pubert Gladstone and after a picnic lunch by Otterspool promenade we recreated scenes from Mary Poppins and flew a Beginners Action Kite.

Sir Pubert makes a mean sandwich.

Sir Pubert makes a mean sandwich.

I haven’t flown a kite since I was a kid and even then I don’t think I was ever particularly skilled at it. I think I mostly watched. After a few failed attempts and much disappointed laughter from Pubert, I managed to get a handle on this kite-thing. While Pubert was all about how many times he could make the kite twist around itself, I preferred to let the wind do its thing and watch the kite glide and dive through the air with grace. 

Flying high.

Flying high.

I can see why Jane and Michael Banks were so keen to go and fly a kite – staring up at the clouds and watching the kite dash across the sky, feeling the strength of the wind down into your body is quite incredible. I wanted to attach myself to the sails and float off into the air. I now really want to go hang gliding. Did Mary Poppins do that?

Mad kite flying skillz.

Mad kite flying skillz.

Italiano Feast

July 28th, 2014

I have grown to love and adore Twitter. On multiple occasions it has brought me glorious food-based moments that have added joy and deliciousness to my life. A few weeks ago, I noticed a tweet advertising the Moretti Gran Tour – an italian food festival touring the UK. It was coming to Manchester to the old Granada Studios and after some research I decided I needed to go. So on a sunny Friday evening, Sir Pubert Gladstone and my friends Ellie and Ryan joined me in an italian food extravaganza.

Entry to the Moretti Gran Tour was £10 which gave you a wrist band covered in very useful tokens. One beer, two food, one gelato and one coffee – the night was looking promising as we walked into a warehouse building filled with food stalls, wooden bench tables and Italian flags. It wasn’t overly busy which meant easy access to all of the stalls and after checking out our options we whipped out our tokens and got sampling.

Better than a slap-band.

Better than a slap-band.

I usually avoid token-based food and drink events as you are usually served tiny portions or yesterday’s left overs. Not the case with this italian extravaganza – the generous italian nature was in full swing with our beer tokens getting us pints of Birra Moretti. With drinks in hand we separated and hit the food stalls. Pubert and I got two vegetarian dishes and went halves – an amazingly rich beetroot gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and pumpkin ravioli served in a butter sauce with amaretti biscuit sprinkled on top. Fantastic quality and seriously delicious.

There's pumpkin in there.

There’s pumpkin in there.

My second food token was exchanged for a deep fried pork and beef calzone – slightly spicy and tender meat, the pastry case was crisp and not excessively oily. It was awesome. Just awesome.

There was pink lighting in the room – the calzone wasn't rose coloured.

There was pink lighting in the room – the calzone wasn’t rose coloured.

Pubert had the arancini which were slightly disappointing as they sounded better than they tasted but they were still better than any arancini that have ever been served in Manchester before. Ryan and Ellie both chose the slow roasted pork rolls with Ryan choosing to use both of his tokens in order to get two servings. Clearly a winner.

Rotating pig.

Rotating pig.

Next came dessert with Gelupo gelato and sorbet. Their great range of flavours included sour cherry and yoghurt, chocolate, pistachio and blood orange and the best part was that you could get half and half. That always makes me happy. So chocolate and pistachio it was, and as the guy in the stall forgot to take my token, I was naughty enough to make Pubert go back for seconds. I will break the rules for food.

Half 'n' half gelato.

Half ‘n’ half gelato.

Ellie was the only one of us to use the coffee token but she let us try hers. So generous.

We all came away from the Moretti Gran Tour with full bellies and an overall feeling of satisfaction. It was one of the best £10 I have ever spent and certainly one of the best food events I have ever been to. Please come back, my Italian food friends. I miss you already.

Neighbours.

July 28th, 2014

Since moving apartments I have missed watching the daily activities of my neighbours across the road. I no longer look straight into other apartments so I can’t spy on people as easily. My balcony does allow for a bit of snooping if you lean over the edge and look across courtyards. Night time allows for easier viewing when lights turn highlighting what is going on inside. The other night, Sir Pubert Gladstone and I were chillin’ on my balcony when we spotted an unusual sight in an office on the ground floor of another apartment block. From a distance it appeared that someone had fallen asleep or potentially died while typing away at their desk. We were slightly concerned for this person’s health and thanks to the impressive digital zoom on my camera we were able to make a closer inspection. 

Hard worker.

Hard worker.

Turns out, they weren’t dead or asleep. It was a blow-up doll with impressive assets. She is still working away in the office and I suspect is a valued employee. I might get a blow-up co-worker for my work – every office needs one.

Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Muesli Lining

July 28th, 2014

I am taking the “Why haven’t your written on your blog? Are you lazy or useless or something?” comments that I have received lately as positive signs that people are actually reading my words. So FEAR NOT, dear friends, I am back in action. Life decided to take a bit of a dive and throw multiple large spanners in the works, along with a large pile of P-O-O-P. But with this came some big bonuses – I was able to hug my Dad after almost two years of separation. It is amazing how much you can miss this basic physical support and my various exploits on the other side of the world have meant that I have spent very long periods of time without parental embraces. I may be 28, but my inner child still needs a hug every now and then so it was nice to finally get one.

The even bigger bonus was that after giving me a hug, my dad handed over two bags of AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC HOMEMADE MUESLI. To any onlookers, this exchange of plastic zip-lock bags would have looked like we were dealing in contraband drugs. They would almost be correct – this muesli is as addictive as any hardcore drug. Oats, rye, sultanas, apricots, hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, dates, figs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews – The Davies Family Muesli has been posted to Paris and transported to China. It has now made its way to Manchester where I have been greedily devouring it while also trying to save it for best. This morning I finished Bag #1 and almost cried. I am saving opening Bag #2 until I feel I will be able to cope with it disappearing. I won’t have access to any more for at least six months. I don’t know if I can handle that.

Drool.

Drool.

Walking Up High in Wales

July 10th, 2014

I have said this before, but I love the fact that I can get in a car, drive west-ish for about an hour and find myself in Wales. I can cross a border and be in another country where the people speak a different language, have funny accents and are generally more relaxed than the English. I take any opportunity to pop over the Welsh border and so when Sir Pubert Gladstone’s birthday arrived I decided to organise a Magical Mystery Birthday Tour of Secrets and Surprises. This involved Sir Pubert, his car, my excellent GPS navigation skills and Thomas Telford’s magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (if you can pronounce that, you win ten points and a thumbs up from me.). The day before the mystery tour, I frantically searched Google maps for an interesting ‘thing’ for us to visit. It had to be worth driving to, preferably free, and within a short drive of a good pub with a ploughman’s lunch. As soon as I discovered Tom’s water bridge, read that it is the highest aqueduct in Britain and that people who are scared of heights (aka Sir Pubert) may not enjoy it, I decided I had found a winner. Everyone needs a challenge on their birthday.

Thankfully the weather was on our side with sunshine, blue skies and a few big fluffy clouds. I don’t think walking across a raised water source in the rain and wind would have been very pleasant. The aqueduct was very impressive – a long raised canal crossing over a river valley. Built between 1785 and 1805, it is remarkable that it continues to function today. I do wonder why it seemed like a good idea to suspend a canal 126 feet in the air, but it has made for a very impressive structure.

It's a canal. In the air. Amazing.

It’s a canal. In the air. Amazing.

Amazing views from the aqueduct

Amazing views from the aqueduct

A fantastic structure.

A fantastic structure.

After we had crossed the aqueduct we headed to Llangollen, a beautiful little town that is clearly a popular spot for visitors on a Saturday afternoon. After spending 30 minutes trying to find parking, we made it to The Corn Mill – a lovely river side pub where we managed to score an outdoor table in the sunshine.

Riverside views at The Corn Mill

Riverside views at The Corn Mill

Sir Pubert had been wanting a ploughman’s platter for sometime so my pub search had involved scouring menus in search of a plate with cheese and bread. Sadly it wasn’t the greatest ploughman’s as it could have done with five times more cheese so we are now on the hunt for the WORLD’S GREATEST PLOUGHMAN’S. If you know where it is, please let me know. 

Ploughman's platter

Ploughman’s platter

A wander back through the town, supposedly Welsh ice-cream and then into the car and home again in time for me to catch a train to Sheffield. I went from Manchester to Wales to Manchester to Sheffield in 8 hours. I saw plenty of green rolling hills and sheep that day and it was the best Magical Mystery Birthday Tour of Secrets and Surprises that I have ever been on. Ever.

 

Le Tour de Sheffield

July 10th, 2014

It’s that time of the year again when super-skinny, lycra-clad men ride around on bikes for the entertainment of us less-skinny, less-lycra-clad folk. The hipsters are excited – Le Tour de France has begun and this year it started in good old Yorkshire, land of puddings. There has been plenty of build up to the big event with an increased interest in bikes and the colour yellow. I was visiting my brother in Sheffield over the weekend, which happened to coincide with the York to Sheffield stage of the Tour. I had hoped to see the bikes in action but the route didn’t pass anywhere near the centre of the city and my lack of transport and inability to plan ahead meant that I didn’t make it. Instead, my brother, Dad and I stood outside the Sheffield town hall and watched the riders do their thing on a very large screen. The atmosphere was charged, we had a great view of all of the action and we could listen to Phil Liggett. The Tour isn’t the Tour without Phil. Oh and we waved to a camera man in a helicopter and appeared somewhere in an aerial shot. FAME.

Bikes on a big screen.

Bikes on a big screen.

Two years standing on the Champs Elysée and this year next to a large screen in Sheffield – that must make me a regular Tour attendee. I should get a tshirt.

 

Charming Worms

July 1st, 2014

A few weeks ago, my friend Jon mentioned he had once competed in a chicken racing competition. This led to further discussions about other animal-related events that happen throughout England. It was this procrastination-driven discussion that eventuated in Jon and I attending one of England’s most prestigious sporting events – The World Worm Charming Championships. Yes. Worm charming. Amazing AND true.

That worm has been charmed.

That worm has been charmed.

Located in Willaston, a small market town and centre of all things worms (apparently), people came from far and wide (Jon and I drove for at least an hour to be there) to compete in and witness the wonder that is worm charming. When I found out about the event, I read the website description and imagined boxes of soil, a maximum of 15 competitors (all of them over the age of 65, male and wearing tartan hats) and a lot of waiting. So I was extremely surprised as we drove into Willaston and found rows of parked cars and hordes of people carry garden implements and heading in the direction of Willaston County Primary School. It would appear worm charming was popular.

The World Worm Charming Championship has been held in Willaston since 1980 and it would appear the organisers know what they are doing. The Primary School’s playground had been carefully divided into 144 plots of 3 x 3 metres. Competitors of all age groups were running around making final preparations for the big event. Jon and I immediately realised that we were unprepared for worm charming and that us entering the competition at the last minute would be a pointless and futile decision and we would simply look like fools. We would watch, learn and gain valuable knowledge for next year’s event. And learn we did.

The Willaston Rose Queen counted down the start of the competition and as the siren sounded, the relative peace of the primary school field turned into a hub-bub of banging, clanging, yelling, and general eagerness. My eyes bulged and my jaw dropped – never before had I seen so many humans performing such a ridiculous act. A ridiculous yet utterly brilliant act!

It would appear that if you stick a garden fork into lawn and proceed to vibrate and shake it while also stamping your feet and hitting mallets against the ground, the worms will come. Hundreds of competitors were banging drums, shaking garden forks, jumping, tap dancing and hitting coconuts against pieces of wood on the ground in order to simulate the vibrations of rain hitting earth. This is what gets worms really excited and makes them rise to the surface. Once the worms were visible, swift hands snatched them up, placed them into plastic containers and the team with the most worms would be crowned the winners. I have never seen so many worms exiting lawn before, nor did I ever expect to. I couldn’t believe how quickly, easily and regularly worms were coming out of the ground – one a second is what the commentator estimated.

Fork action.

Fork action.

The competition lasted 30 minutes which is a very long time to whack lawn for. There were hundreds of exhausted competitors who had gone out too hard in the first 10 minutes and didn’t have the stamina to last the full duration. There was one man who had sweat pouring off his nose as he pushed himself for the entire length of competition time, while also pushing his 8 year old son out of the way as he clearly wasn’t being useful at all.

Hundreds of worm charmers.

Hundreds of worm charmers.

As the competition came to an end, excitement grew over the record number of worms that were being collected. It had been a good year for worms – warm conditions leading up to some rain just before the big day. The worms were plentiful and it made for an excellent competition. The results have been released and the winners were the Bowden family with 394 worms. According to Crewe News, they were even interviewed by a Russian news crew. Such international exposure.

The sheer ridiculousness of the Worm Charming Championship made it one of those community events that you just hope will continue to exist for generations to come. There was a bouncy castle, a sausage sizzle and more tombola competitions than were really necessary spread out over the school grounds and some excellent dance and singing performances from local children’s groups. The community vibe was plentiful and I loved it. I really hope to be able to participate one year. I might need to come back to the UK just for it. I’m off to practise my fork vibrating.

 

Weekend Hill Climbs

June 26th, 2014

How many times do you have to repeat an activity for it to be classified as a habit? Over the past few weekends Sir Pubert Gladstone and I have started a trend of packing a picnic lunch and driving to a ‘thing on a hill.’ We have visited three ‘things on hills’ now – is that verging on an addiction? At least it isn’t drug related, although large amounts of cheese are involved. 

A friend from my office had told me about the panopticon sculpture series that is dotted throughout Lancashire. There are four sculptures perched on various hills delivering panoramic views (hence panopticon) of the surrounding lumps and bumps of the region. You can’t beat a free panoramic view so we got our picnic lunch together, bought some Maltesers in case we got stuck up the hill and had low blood sugar levels, and headed off in search of The Singing Ringing Tree.

We had looked at the four statues on the internet and decided that The Singing Ringing Tree, designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu, was going to be the most exciting. However, it was also quite mysterious as no websites gave away its exact location and it wasn’t on Google maps. “Above Burnley” was the closest we got, along with some grammatically incorrect driving directions and the instructions to look out for “a brown sign”. Thanks to a random stab at a potential location and a lot of good luck, we found The Singing Ringing Tree. We also found the brown sign which was on the far side of the road and pointing to the carpark next to the statue. Handy.

As we walked along the dirt track to the statue, we both made the observation that it was a lot smaller than we expected. The images on the website suggested a much bigger tree but I guess that’s what online advertising is all about. The statue is made from multiple metal pipes piled on top of one another to form a twister-like shape. The tubes act as musical instruments as wind blows through and past them, hence the singing. Through some sort of miracle, we had managed to come on one of the very few non-windy days and the tree was silent. So it was a silent and slightly smaller than expected metal tube tree.

A very quiet singing tree.

A very quiet singing tree.

It was a nice silent tree though – I really like the fact that it exists as an open-air artwork for people to enjoy. And the view over Burnley was wonderful. We sat at a table next to the statue and had our picnic in the sunshine with views over Lancashire. Lovely.

Pubert makes a might fine sandwich.

Pubert makes a mighty fine sandwich.

We had some time to burn so we decided to hunt down another of the panopticons. Thanks to an excellent 3G connection “above Burnley” I googled the approximate location of the Halo (again, a distinct lack of location/directions) and we were off. Our search for the Halo took us up a very narrow, winding road “above Haslingden” although there were a few more brown signs pointing us in the correct direction this time.

The Halo is a large satellite dish structure, located on a landfill site, that apparently lights up at night. During the day it is grey and there was a distinct smell of urine. The structure was quite interesting and the views were good but definitely less impressive than the Singing Ringing Tree. The secluded location on the top of a hill and the difficult to access road suggested it would be a great place for teenagers to come and ‘hang’ at night. Plenty of KFC packaging scattered around too. In fact, both locations had a worryingly large amount of fast-food containers and general rubbish floating around. Considering both statues were in relatively remote areas and surrounded by nature it was horrifying to see how much rubbish had been left by visitors. For shame.

The Halo.

The Halo.

So that was one Saturday. The following Saturday we decided to head to a very distinct tower on a hill that we had seen on our previous weekend drives. The tower was reminiscent of a tower on a hill that local Mancunian artist, Lowry, had painted in such artworks as A Landmark. We googled whether or not it was the same tower but it turns out it probably isn’t. But who cares? Let’s drive there anyway! Picnic made, Anzac biscuits packed – we were off to Peel Monument.

Our drive took us to Ramsbottom, a town I have wanted to visit for some time purely because of its name. And there is also a pub with particularly good looking food that I want to eat at. We saw the pub but didn’t go in, and instead walked up a steep and winding path in the warm sunshine to reach the tower on the hill. There were quite a few people who had had similar ideas – Peel Monument is a popular spot for families and sporty-types. There was no signage to explain what Peel Monument was and you couldn’t go inside but once again the view was great and we had a nice picnic in the sunshine. (I have since Wikipedia-ed Peel Monument and it is believed to be a memorial for Sir Robert Peel.)

Tower on a hill.

Tower on a hill.

Where our next ‘thing on a hill’ will be, I’m not sure. But any local suggestions are very welcome.

Food, Friends and Family

June 17th, 2014

I need to become a food and travel writer. What am I saying? I am a food and travel writer – what else have I been doing for the past 3.5 years if it isn’t writing while eating and travelling? I just need to convince someone to pay me to do it because it is currently 11.11pm and instead of going to bed like a good girl should, I can think of nothing but turning on my computer and writing about the glorious food experience that I have just returned home from. And while I may not post this until tomorrow when my sober eyes are able to check it for spelling and grammatical errors and perhaps resize and insert some photographs, I am writing this while still high on my foodie buzz. Life is good.

I have just spent the evening with 20-something fellow food lovers (aka Yelp Elite members) at the Bar and Grill restaurant at the Lowry Hotel. We had been invited for another complimentary meal to thank us for writing about restaurants/bars/cafés on the Yelp website.  I was particularly excited about this Elite event – a five course meal with matching wines. If there’s anything in this world that I truly love it is a multiple course dinner with matching wines served in separate glasses. I am but a snob.

Recently relaunched and situated in one of Manchester’s most hoity-toity hotels, we were welcomed to the restaurant with big smiles and friendly service by the lovely staff. Canapés, prosecco and cocktails were served liberally in the ‘library’ (not much reading was done) but most of us headed out on the balcony where we had great views over the brown Irwell River and a lovely 70s mission brown office block. If you squinted it was actually quite pretty.

View from the balcony.

View from the balcony.

We headed inside to the private dining room which, like most private dining rooms, was a bit of a squishy little box but it seated 24 people perfectly and had doors opening out into the balcony area. I was seated next to the door so I had a nice breeze wafting in. Quite pleasant. There was plenty of excited giggling and we were invited to take as many photos as we wanted on our phones. This was a room of happy people.

My name, my seat, my Yelp sunglasses.

My name, my seat, my Yelp sunglasses.

Huseyin was the main man for the evening – he was in charge of everything and knew what was going down. He was smooth with the ladies and suave with the gents and made everyone feel right at home. He introduced us to our first wine for the evening and then out came the asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I have never really liked eggs. I think hard boiled eggs should be used as weapons and never consumed. However, I was determined to enjoy this and cracked open that egg sack and watched the yolks flow. And BOY, OH BOY was it good! The asparagus were cooked perfectly with a wonderful chargrilled saltiness and the egg and hollandaise just screamed to be wiped off the plate with a piece of bread. Luckily they gave us bread rolls to do just that. That’s initiative.

Asparagus. poached egg and hollandaise.

Asparagus. poached egg and hollandaise.

We were then served a small amuse bouche of gazpacho served in a small coffee cup. You picked it up and drank it like a coffee and felt the huge kick of cucumber and spice. It was a powerful beast and went down well although I needed to break the code of etiquette and use my mains fork to eat the chunks of cucumber and tomato sitting in the bottom of the cup. Other people were doing it too so I figured it was ok.

Gazpacho.

Gazpacho.

I had been drooling about my main course since I first read the menu about a week ago. My recent realisation that I love eating small birds was elevated further when I discovered I would be adding guinea fowl to my consumption list. To be honest, I wasn’t certain what a guinea fowl looked like or how big it is but clearly it is larger than I imagined. The large breast that I was presented with was significantly meatier and more chickeny than I expected. And geez was it tasty. Crispy skin, a fantastic marsala cream sauce, girolle mushrooms, broad beans and a truffle risotto. It was salty,  creamy, mushroomy and it made me happy. I could have done with more sauce as the guinea fowl was quite a hefty bird and the meat was a little dry. I am horrified to announce that I didn’t manage to eat it all, something I am not proud of. However, for a five course meal, the portion sizes were all quite large. While eating I was reminded so much of the food that I ate while living in Paris, and I couldn’t help but think that the portion sizes were twice those you would get in France. This doesn’t necessarily represent better value for money – instead I felt stuffed and didn’t finish my food which I really dislike doing. But dessert was coming and I couldn’t not eat that.

Hello, guinea fowl.

Hello, guinea fowl.

The guinea fowl was served with a pinot noir from New Zealand, taking me back to an evening I spent with my best friend, Gill in Sydney, at a New Zealand wine tasting event. Oh, we drank some Pinot Noir that night… Anyway, it was a mighty fine wine and I am once again willing to admit that the New Zealanders can make a nice drop. And they should continue to do so.

Dessert was interesting. Clearly not a regular item on their menu, it was a roll of frozen strawberry cream wrapped in a sheet of meringue that had the Yelp logo printed on it in edible ink. Sadly it looked a bit horrible. At each end of the ice cream cigar were clumps of cold cream that didn’t do much for the presentation. A smudge of caramelised meringue that looked a little bit like the guinea fowl had made a mess on the plate was apparently decoration. Then there were some strawberry jellies and tiny strawberries cubes. It tasted quite good – the strawberry cream wasn’t too sweet and the meringue was nice. But overall it was a bit clumsy and far too big but I give them credit for designing something for the Yelp event. Dessert was served with a dessert wine from Chile which wasn’t too perfumed and worked well to cut the sweetness of the cream and meringue in the dessert. Big win.

Yelp-flavoured dessert.

Yelp-flavoured dessert.

Tea and coffee were served with little macarons which appeared to be encasing blackberry jam, a slice of some sort of cheese and a mint leaf. Pure BRILLIANCE. It was fresh, clean and not sweet. The perfect end to the meal.

Crazy macaron.

Crazy macaron.

I spent the evening surrounded by lovely, friendly Yelpers who were chatty, easy to get along with and just generally fun. Who knew a Monday could be so good? I had spent the day visiting family, driving around the English countryside in a yellow Beetle convertible with the roof down, and I had eaten amazing food with wonderful people next to the stinky Irwell River. This was one of those days that have popped up in my life over the past few years that make me want to chain myself to a tree and refuse to leave the country when my visa expires. Maybe these experiences exist in Australia as well but right now Manchester is really delivering. It must be summer.