No Farmers in this Dell

April 23rd, 2014

The Easter long weekend was surprisingly sunny and people flocked outdoors to spend some time in the rare sun rays. On Good Friday, I headed with my friend, Jon, to Healy Dell – a forested area a 40 minute drive north of Manchester. On Thursday, we had decided to go on an adventure outside of Manchester and a simple Google search for “Day trip from Manchester” saw Healey Dell had pop up. The weather was great, the location not too far away and the website advertised tea rooms. Done.

Healey Dell is an interesting mix of nature and industry. Remains of cotton, wool and corn mills sit along the edge of the River Spodden that winds through a leafy nature reserve. You can also walk along the top of a viaduct that used to be part of the North’s industrial activities. What would have once been a loud and dirty area, it is now a quiet and peaceful area to go for a stroll. There were plenty of locals out and about with their families and dogs, enjoying the good weather and the chance to be outdoors.

Healey Dell

Healey Dell

While walking through the dell, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly a ‘dell’ is and why the farmer is in it. Since returning home, I have looked up a dictionary definition and found “A small valley, usually among trees.” which is certainly what this was. But then why isn’t it a valley? To further complicate matters, apparently the word is closely associated with ‘dale’ which is also another sort of valley. British landscapes are complex things.

After going for a walk along the river, we headed to the tea rooms to enjoy a cup of tea. The Healey Dell Heritage Centre and Tea Rooms are run by volunteers and on Friday they were struggling to keep up with the demand. The tearooms spread over two floors of an old mill building, plus customers were making the most of the outdoor tables. The poor tea ladies were running around like mad, trying to keep up with orders. They did a fantastic job but looked like they could do with a bit of a rest.

The food that was coming out of the kitchen looked rather good and I wished I hadn’t eaten lunch before coming. I made up for this by ordering a creamed tea – a tasty fruit scone served with jam, clotted cream and butter, plus a pot of tea. There’s something wonderful about drinking tea out of a china teacup. Perhaps it is because I feel like the Queen whenever I do it, but it just makes the tea taste better somehow. The scone was a tad crumbly and had what I think were dried cherries in it. I prefer my scones plain but the fruit wasn’t too overpowering. As per usual, the clotted cream made everything taste amazing. That stuff is gold.

Scones, jam and clotted cream.

Scone, jam and clotted cream.

The tea rooms were decorated in an intriguing mix of new and vintage – so much to look at and none of it really matching. But it created that ‘homely’ feeling that English tearooms tend to have. Definitely a great day out and so remarkably close to the not so nice suburbs of northern Manchester.

Getting Down With Corrie Street

April 16th, 2014

When I moved into my first apartment in Manchester, I discovered I was located down the road from Granada Studios, home to England’s version of Neighbours, Coronation Street. It took me some time to work this out and I would often wonder why large groups of teenage girls were hanging around outside a gate every day. Turns out they were Corrie-Spotting.

Practically Warner Brother Studios

Practically Warner Brother Studios

My next cross with Coronation Street happened while working at Artisan. Frequently stars of the show would come in for a meal and be served by an Australian who was completely oblivious of their fame and possible fortune. It wasn’t until a manager or fellow staff member would say, “Jess! You have the Corrie table!” and they had explained to me what exactly they meant that I discovered I was delivering food to someone of GCI (Great Cultural Importance.)

I have since shifted to the other side of Granada Studios and Coronation Street has packed up shop and moved to the shiny new ITV studios in Media City. However, for the next few months, ultra fans can go on a tour of the original set and see where Harry met Sally and Sally met Ryan and they had an affair before discovering that Ryan is actually Harry’s long-lost brother (I made that up.) For people like me who just want to see the really cool warehouse building located inside the Granada studios, there are artisan markets being held over the next few weekends inside the studio grounds. I ventured to the markets on both Saturday and Sunday of this last weekend and checked out the wares on sale. It was the usual mix of handmade jewellery, over-exposed photographs of Manchester and homemade cakes. The stall holders were holding on to their tents for dear life as the wind picked up – hopefully the weather improves over the next few weeks.

Great building!

Great building!

I managed to stand next to what I believe is an important Corrie location, although to be honest I have no idea. My new housemate has been trying to introduce me to Coronation Street but my extreme dislike for really bad television/acting means she has a lot of convincing to do.

The local Coronation Street pub

The local Coronation Street pub

FOOD FIGHT!

April 16th, 2014

For the past few weeks, every Friday night the old Campfield Markets in central Manchester have come alive with food and drink stalls and general eating shenanigans. I had been watching the interest and excitement build up around the Friday Food Fight on Twitter – everyone who was ‘down with it’ in Manchester was talking it up. It is hip. It is cool. It is the place to be. So I wanted to go. I finally managed to venture here last Friday, taking my friend Jon as back up in the case of propelled edible goods.

EAT! EAT! EAT! EAT!

EAT! EAT! EAT! EAT!

The Campfield Market building is a beautiful space with high ceilings and a markety-vibe. We arrived at 7.15pm and had to queue for about five minutes before being let in. I was anxious to get inside – I didn’t want to miss the FOOD. Imagine that… the horror. Thankfully there was plenty left by the time we made our way through the doors. The place was buzzing with a lot of happy hipsters and foodies who were wandering around being seen.

We went and bought ourselves a drink first and were somewhat gobsmacked by the prices – £5 for a pint of beer. I felt like I was back in Perth. I guess the lack of competition meant that everything would be over priced – most of the stalls followed suit. As we wandered around looking at the eight or so options available, everything seemed bit… well… expensive. Perhaps the real fight was happening between the stall owners and the amount of profit they could make on their food.

There was an interesting mix of food with most stalls being run by some of Manchester’s most popular restaurants and pop up stalls. Red’s BBQ and Lucha Libre were consistently popular while Mumma Schnitzel‘s deep-fried halloumi created a long queue through the centre of the room. From looking around, the most popular items were probably Manchester’s latest food crazes – hot dogs. Fat, flavoured sausages in plastic bread buns coated in all sorts of sauces are what the hipster-kids are digging these days with places like Dogs ‘n’ DoughDiamond Dogs and now The Splendid Sausage Co popping up around town. It amazed me how many skinny, make-up encrusted, fancy females in stilettos I saw gnawing down on sausages. They were big hot dogs – perhaps the good value was what attracted them.

I went for a middle-eastern seven-spice lamb with pita and salad from Shake, Maroc & Roll. I asked for smokey aubergine sauce to go with it. It wasn’t there. I also spent a lot of time trying to find the seven spices – I’m not sure there were any spices at all, let alone seven. The pita was cold and soggy from diced tomatoes and the lamb was chewy. It wasn’t THAT bad and I somewhat enjoyed it but for £6 it was disappointing. That said, these guys were under pressure to produce a lot of food in a short space of time. I think they might need a bit more practise.

Lamb wrap

Lamb wrap

The lamb wrap was really small and I was still hungry so Jon went off in search of more food to fill our bellies – this time heading to the Lucha Libre stall. He returned with three pulled pork tacos for himself, cheese, mushroom and spinach quesadilla for me, and some guacamole to share. Now this was tasty – my quesadilla oozed cheese and the guacamole was tangy. We came away feeling far more satisfied with our food adventures but slightly ripped off.

Lucha Libre goodness

Lucha Libre goodness

As for the fight – we witnessed a very lacklustre hot dog eating competition with no cheering, no applause and no real effort from the competitors. There was no food being shovelled into mouths or any gagging. Again, a little disappointing. So overall I left the Friday Food Fight with a general air of dismay. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t the food-frenzy-fantasy that I had imagined it to be. I can’t decide if I will go back and try it again or just host a hot dog eating competition in my own house.

DJ Jessso in da House, Y’all

April 8th, 2014

I have to learn to think before I tweet. Last week I saw a tweet from BBC Radio 6 for songs that make you think, cry and dance. I was in my office avoiding doing work at the time and this was a great way to procrastinate. I thought it was just a general Twitter discussion and maybe it would get briefly mentioned on the radio. I wasn’t expecting to be emailed, questioned further about my music selections and then asked to be interviewed by Lauren Lavern for the Biorhythms session on Tuesday morning. I would have put more thought into my music selection.

But now I have been on British radio! And BBC Radio 6 for that matter – I’ve gone national, none of this local radio business for me. I have recently been contemplating reviving my 108 challenges and “Be interviewed on the radio” would be a great addition. Plus I can tick it off straight away! That’s always a win.

For those of you who care, my song choices were:

  1. A song that makes me dance – Super Stylin’ by Groove Armada. This song makes me think back to when I was a teenager getting up early on a Sunday morning to watch Video Hits with my brother. Always makes me want to dance.)
  2. A song that makes me cry – The Ship Song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This song reminds me of my Dad and singing along in his car on the way to Bunnings. It makes me a little home sick. Plus it is such a nice love song – I want a handsome man to sing this to me one day.
  3. A song that makes me think – Deconstruction by Fanfarlo. A song about pulling the craziness of life apart and then watching it all magically fall into place again – this resonates with me and my less-than-stable lifestyle. It’s all going to be ok.

So that was a fun (nerve wracking) way to spend a Tuesday morning. I sounded like a man, as per usual, with my croaky voice. Luckily no one knows who I am in England. Although I received a messages from friends saying, “Ummm… are you on the radio?!” FAME.

Done and Done.

April 8th, 2014

I can now officially tell people that I run marathons. I haven’t just flukishly completed one marathon through pure luck and chance – I have now run the entire 42 point something kilometre distance TWICE. Woohoo! And I have managed to do it in a surprisingly great time of 4 hours and 26 minutes. I finished 4228th out of 8030 entrants. GO ME. Ok, bragging over. Ego deflating.

If you read my previous post, you may remember that I wasn’t feeling all that great about my decision to run the Greater Manchester Marathon this year. However as my running buddy, Becky, and I stepped over the starting line on Sunday morning, looked at each other and started laughing at our stupidity, it was all good. We were running a marathon. What idiots.

The weather forecast had becoming increasingly worse as Sunday drew nearer and I went to bed on Saturday night expecting to wake up to gale force winds and strong rain. I was overwhelmingly relieved to see overcast but rainless skies and just a slight breeze. It was also relatively warm at around 14 degrees. Essentially the weather was perfect for running long distances in. The rain held off for the entire race and we didn’t have any strong head winds to contend with.

The manchester marathon sold itself to me as being the UK’s flattest marathon and that it certainly was. In fact, a lot of the time we appeared to be going downhill. It was great. It certainly cuts a few mental barriers when you don’t have large inclines looming up ahead of you. Lots of people came out and cheered us on, handing out jelly babies to us as we passed by. I high-fived multiple children and danced along to boy band 5ive as one of their tunes was pumped out over loud speakers. That definitely lifted my spirits.

It was great to be able to run with Becky and I don’t think I would have been able to maintain a good speed if it hadn’t been for her. Unfortunately she was struck with a troublesome belly and had to slow down. I was a terrible friend and ran on ahead at the 28 kilometre mark, but she still managed to complete the race in great time. Bad stomach, a persistent cough and a year ago she was pregnant – she is the true athlete.

Once again as I entered the home stretch, heard the cheers of the crowd and the realisation that it was almost over hit me, I felt a kick of adrenaline and picked up my speed. As I rounded the final corner, I started sprinting towards the finishing line, my goal in my sights. Then my legs turned to jelly and said, “Nar.” So I stopped being a show-off and slowed down, crossing the line at a decent pace.

And then that same evil thought that entered my brain at the end of the Paris marathon came back to me – “Let’s do that again!” I spent part of this afternoon googling races in Paris in May for when I go back to visit my friends. There happens to be a half-marathon that weekend. Becky and I are thinking about it.

That red line was me.

That red line was me.

M-Day Approaches

April 4th, 2014

Twelve weeks ago, I received an email asking me how my training for the Manchester marathon was going. It was a very handy email as I had pushed all thoughts of marathons to the back of my mind and was hoping that I would never need to remember my stupid decision. Alas, alak, and alay, twelve weeks have flown past thanks to moving apartments, losing jobs, attending weddings, and general ‘life’ and all of a sudden I am two days away from running 42 point something kilometres.

I am gently reminding myself that I volunteered to do this and at some point I actually wanted to run an extended distance. But despite this I am really quite nervous about the whole thing. I’m not entirely sure what I am nervous about; I know I can complete that distance and, even if I don’t finish the race, who really cares?

I do. Good old Jess and her high expectations. Thankfully there is currently rain forecast so I will at least have something to blame if I don’t make it over the finish line or my time is slower than when I ran the Paris marathon. Got to love excuses. But perhaps if everyone crosses their fingers and toes and sends me good vibes all will be ok.

Everyone living in or near Manchester should come down and cheer for the marathon runners. There is so much advertising and hype around the Bupa 10 kilometre run and yet no one seems to know about the marathon. Well done to the 10k-ers but I’m sorry, a marathon is WAY HARDER. And everyone who lives too far away from the action can follow my progress on this nifty little website. Just enter my number 2615 and you can stalk me.

COME ON, NUMBER 2615!

COME ON, NUMBER 2615!

Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Food

March 26th, 2014

I have great news, boys and girls. Last week my dedication to writing restaurant and bar reviews on Yelp was rewarded. I, Jessica Davies, have officially become a member of the Yelp Elite Team, making me one of Manchester’s most Important People. Ok, that last bit is an exaggeration but I now have a little “Elite ’14″ badge on my Yelp profile and I get to feel special. Coinciding with this promotion in Yelp status, I was lucky enough to be invited to my second Yelp Elite Event. Last month’s japanese saké and food extravaganza continues to sit fondly in my memory, occasionally bringing back taste-bud-memory hits of wasabi and soy, and so I was a wee bit excited when I received my invitation to March’s Magical Mystery Tour. Where we would go and what we would eat was kept a big secret from us all. Nobody knew. Let the tour begin.

Meet at Apotheca at 6.30pm

This was our only clue as to what the night would entail. Apotheca is one of the Northern Quarter’s hip and cool cocktail bars and somewhere I had been wanting to try. I once danced the night away there on a make-shift dance floor that my friend and I created but I had never sampled their cocktails. The Yelp Elite Team had the downstairs bar area to ourselves where we were greeted by our always-cheery host, Jonny, and a mojito. After standing around and meeting and greeting fellow Elite members, we were then treated to a variety of pizzas from Dough, the adjoining pizzeria. I had eaten at Dough once previously and while I enjoyed the slightly adventurous toppings, the bases were a little disappointing. Why can’t anywhere in Manchester make a decent pizza base? Once again I found the toppings delicious (the lamb with spices and sultanas was particularly tasty) but the bases were thin, cracking and far too perfectly shaped. They collapsed in our hands and had soggy bottoms.

While we were eating, we were invited to get behind the bar and have a cocktail making session with the mixologists. We could choose our drink of choice from their great range of drinks and then make them ourselves with the guidance of experts. I chose to make a cocktail called Just Beet It which contained vodka, beetroot juice, balsamic vinegar liqueur and basil. After adding all of the ingredients and giving it a good old shake, I was then allowed to drink my concoction. Amazingly good! I think my inner mixologist is bursting to come out.

Just Beet It

Just Beet It

I had to drink it fairly quickly though as our next destination awaited and it was time to move on.

Venue #2 – Pie & Ale

I had managed to get my friend and office-buddy, Hannah, to be invited to the Elite event so we were both a little concerned when we found ourselves walking back to the office. Pie & Ale is located next door to the office space we rent and we often get to enjoy the enticing smells of baking pies. Thankfully this time we were actually going to get to eat the pies – sixteen of them, to be precise. We were guided upstairs to a lofted seating area where we met the manager of Pie & Ale who explained what our next food and drink experience was going to involve. The chefs had prepared sixteen different pies for us to stick our forks into and sample and we would have three different beers to wash them down with. I tried to sample as many of the pies as I could – rabbit, wild bore, chickpea and, one of the highlights, crocodile. They were all very tasty although I think they could refine their pastry – it is very doughy and a bit excessive. And this is coming from someone who loves pastry and believes more is more.

Crocodile pie

Crocodile pie

The beers we tried were the Golden Arrow, Yippee Pie Ale and the 10 Storey Malt Bomb – basically golden, pale and dark. All very delicious with the dark ale coming out as my favourite. But who doesn’t like liquid caramel?

Our tour didn’t stop here – oh no. Why only go to two venues when you could go to three? Time to move on.

Venue #3 – Bakerie

We didn’t have far to walk to get to our next location. Bakerie is located next door to Pie & Ale and owned by the same company. Despite these connections, Bakerie is a bit more ooh-la-la and focuses on its wine. And cheese. You can imagine the delighted faces of us already happy Yelpers when we discovered we had free access to the “Wine Jukebox” – a glass fronted box containing approximately 12 wine bottles. Inserted into each wine bottle was a plastic tube. Above each bottle was a button. Push the button and wine is sucked up the tube and into your glass, giving you a taster-sized serving to enjoy. Glorious. Paris and all that I learnt about wine flooded back to me as I made a strategic decision about which wines I would try. My choices ended up being two of three most expensive wines in the jukebox – an Argentinian Malbec and the French Bourgogne. They were both amazing and the sort of wine I will drink when I am a world famous author. They were made even better by the cheese platters placed in front of us. Blue, smoked, goat, soft and squeaky (halloumi) – the cheese and wine combo made Jess a very happy girl.

This was the end of our mystery food tour and we all sat around rubbing our bellies, unable to believe just how much we had consumed and how wonderful the experience had been. The Yelp Elite are a great bunch of food-loving people and it was a really fun night out. It is nice to meet people who appreciate good food as much as I do and a huge treat to be able to be invited to such a gluttonous event. Bring on April!

Library Lady

March 26th, 2014

This weekend I intentionally went to TWO libraries. Not just one. Two. Nerd alert.

Library #1 – Manchester Central Library

Since moving to Manchester I have watched with great interest the redevelopment of the Manchester Central library. A large and commanding building situated behind the Town Hall, it has been surrounded by partitions and scaffolding and I have been eager to get inside and take a look. On Saturday it finally reopened and the public was able to visit the new and improved building. Being the eager book-beaver that I am, I was there with the rest of the nerds keen to see what sort of books I could get out on my library card. (Not that I have one yet. I signed up on Saturday.)

The building is circular and features a large dome in the centre. This is where the main reading room is located and is most definitely the high light of the building. The previous week, a friend had mentioned the whispering wall effect that he remembered being prevalent in this room when he used to go there to study. I was excited to see if this still existed or if the architects had ruined it with soundproofing. I believe it may have been reduced slightly, however as I stood in the middle of the room taking a photograph of the inside of the domed roof, I clearly heard the voice of a man who appeared to be standing right next to me and speaking directly into my ear. But there was no man! In fact, a large pillar in the centre of the room blocked my view of the person speaking as he was located directly across from me. It was fantastic! I spent about ten minutes walking around eaves dropping on conversations that were happening at the opposite end of the room from me. I plan on spending a lot of time here feeding my need to listen to other people’s conversations.

Inside the dome.

Inside the dome.

Family history plays a prominent role in the new development. There is a section dedicated to helping people research their family history and discovering more about Manchester. I plan on using these services to find out more about my own family history and trying to discover why exactly my great grandfather decided to move to Australia. Obviously he was just a wise man, but perhaps there’s more to the story.

I haven’t been a member of a library since I was a kid but wandering around the Central library on Saturday made me realise how useful it will be to me as a wandering traveller. Borrowing books from a library is a much cheaper and lighter way of reading books – I don’t need to pack them into boxes and send them on to my next destination! Yes, this is a bit of a blonde realisation and I’m sure many of you are currently shaking your heads at my ignorance. But it’s the truth. So there you go. So I joined the library on the weekend and hope to get a library card. Then I’ll be a real nerd.

Library #2 – Chetham’s Library

Located in the centre of Manchester next to the Football Museum is Chetham’s School of Music. This prestigious school is hidden quite mysteriously behind gates and a lone security guard and is difficult to infiltrate. However, the Manchester Histories Festival is currently happening throughout the city and a few buildings have been opened to the public. So I took the opportunity to go and visit Chetham’s library that I had seen photographs of and read about on various websites.

Please Ring.

Please Ring.

The school features beautiful old stone buildings that make it look like the set from Harry Potter. The library is located upstairs through a wooden doorway and you are instantly welcomed by dark wood shelves and a high half-timbered roof. It is just spectacular – you can’t help but say “WOW!” as you walk into the space. It oozes history and you can just sense the hundreds of brilliant scholars who have spent hours reading books there.

Beautiful books.

Beautiful books.

As part of the festival, there was a gentleman showcasing a wooden letter press and I stood and had a bit of a chat with him about the processes involved. We were then invited to watch a performance of ballads that had been written in Greater Manchester to spread news and stories about what had been happening in the local area. The girl performing the ballads was great and brought a spark to the ballads. I had previously read some of them as they hung on the walls of the Manchester Art Gallery but it was a completely different experience to listen to them being performed.

I was sad to leave Chetham’s library simply because it was such an enjoyable space to be in. If you get the chance to visit make sure you do.

Web Content Overload

March 20th, 2014

For the past few weeks I have been spending a lot of time looking for writing opportunities and exploring the big-bad-world of THE INTERNET. I have become somewhat horrified by the excessive nature of web content and the number of sites that exist purely for people to write “SEO articles” to increase user traffic to their websites. I realise that as a copywriter I should be joining this bandwagon and writing articles about how to avoid procrastination as a freelancer, why SEO is important, or perhaps how to “Smoke a can of tuna with toilet paper.” You know, important stuff. But I just can’t – it hurts too much and there are already enough people writing exactly the same things, quoting exactly the same people and raising exactly the same points. I wouldn’t be bringing anything new to the table.

My search for writing work has taken me down some dark and torturous paths, mostly involving websites advertising freelance writing jobs at ridiculously low prices. There are bidding wars for who will complete the jobs for the lowest price. Write twenty 500-word articles for £20 – at an hour per article, that’s £1 per hour. Who is actually willing to do that and why are they making it hard for all of us to make a decent living?

Perhaps I am lazy for not participating in this battle but I am not willing to accept that my industry and my own professional skills are worth so little. Copywriters are often the first to be taken out of a creative project when budgets are restricted because ‘everyone can write.’ Perhaps, but not everyone can write well. So I am continuing on my search for exciting, positive and creative projects where people are wanting to produce beautifully crafted work. I know there are other people who feel the same way – let’s create our own band wagon. Ours will have streamers and novelty horns.

A Girl, a Man and a Dog

March 18th, 2014

Tuesday 18 March 2014 – 7am

I am running along the River Irwell, wiping away watery tears as my eyes react to the cool morning breeze. Some music is pumping into my ears; it’s Underworld, I think, but I’m not sure. It takes me a while to wake up and become aware of my surroundings. Not that long ago I was comfortably dreaming in my bed. Then my alarm screamed at me to get up and get jogging.

I pass under the bridge next to the Campanile Hotel. Most mornings the cars of business people and budget-travellers are parked out the back, but today the car park is almost empty. Under the bridge arch a man is pacing slowly. He is wearing Adidas sneakers with very white soles. He stops and pretends to tie his shoe laces to let me pass. He’s here every morning with his hood up, avoiding my eye contact. I have never seen his face. I keep running.

As I round the next corner I spot a familiar face pounding towards me and my spirits lift. I have met this dalmatian and his owner before on the corner of Liverpool Road and Deansgate. His spotted fur is tired but his face shows he has lived the good life; sparkling eyes and a slobbery smile, he lifts his head and sneezes a ‘Good morning’ to me as we cross paths. “Would you like a dog?” says the man, a cheeky grin on his face as he recites the line he uses on every lady he passes. Like owner, like dog, he has a generous face and laughing eyes. “He’s lovely,” I say, “but I’m allergic to dogs.”

His eyes widen in dismay as he contemplates life without his friend, but then he smiles and says, “Well, he’s allergic to humans. He has come out in spots.” He laughs to himself as he walks on.