Archive for August, 2013

Birthday Pie

Friday, August 30th, 2013

I wish to officially announce that I am one of the luckiest people in the world and that I am friends with some of the greatest, coolest, best-looking and down right bonza people EVER. Last night I was reminded of this fact when my friend, Pooja, invited me to her house for dinner. Pooja had spent the day saving lives, performing surgery and puncturing people with scalpels and needles and yet still managed to get home and whip me up a SUPER SPECIAL SURPRISE-FILLED BIRTHDAY DINNER!

This three-course menu consisted of home-made beef and mushroom BIRTHDAY PIES served with sweet potato chips and salad.

Birthday pie!

Birthday pie!

This was then followed by TWO dessert courses! I know a friend is a real friend when they feed me two desserts. The first round – a banana BIRTHDAY CAKE adorned with a significant number and cats in candle form.

Birthday cake!

Birthday cake!

The second, two flavours of ice cream, strawberries and meringue. Pooja also bought a bottle of something pink, fizzy and containing indistinguishable ingredients that when combined had created a potentially dangerous drink that just tasted like cordial.

We sat by her window and had views out over the Manchester ship canal while discussing the highs and lows of getting old. We’ve now decided that 38 is the new 28 which was the new 18. So we still have another ten years to go before we have to become serious adults. It was a great night. On top of all of this, Pooja bought me a vintage red Parker Pen from 1964 – the perfect instrument for a writer who is slightly obsessed with red. A major thank you to Pooja for looking after me and being my surrogate sister. I still think we could be identical twins, if only we looked more alike.

The older you get, the more impressive the fire you can create on top of your birthday cake.

The older you get, the more impressive the fire you can create on top of your birthday cake.

Delayed Count Down

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The last few weeks have been full of self reflection as my six months in Manchester came along and my 28th birthday looms. Since moving to Manchester nothing has been happening quite as planned and my life appears to have exploded into a million pieces of “Huh?” Most of these have been exciting and fun and I have found myself doing something that I have never been able to do before – I, Jessica Davies, have gone with the flow. It’s a MIRACLE. Lots of good things have come from this flow taking and many, many odd moments where reflections with wine, ice cream and my friend Pooja have been required. However, usually the final outcomes have been furrowed brows, shrugs of shoulders and, “Well… the world is a strange, strange place.” Let’s see what happens next.

A result of all of these oddities has been my lack of focus on the passage of time. Usually I am very aware of the date and how many days, hours and minutes there are until my favourite day of the year – My Birthday. This year it has snuck up on me, camouflaged behind work, life and fun. On Sunday it will be my 28th birthday and it is finally a year that I share my day with my Dad. I was born on Fathers’ Day and this year my birthday falls on the Australian celebration of the men who gave us their genetics (large thighs and a bulbous nose.) I have been looking forward to this year for many years – the last time it happened was 2002 and stupid leap years and Olympic Games have made me have to wait ten years.

The past month I have slipped into that oh-woe-I’m-getting-old-mode that many people experience as they question how they are possibly turning that age – what happened to the previous years? Where did they go? Do I have wrinkles? Why are my knees hurting so much? I think this has been fuelled by my current job working with young and innocent 19 year olds and my customers asking me why a 27 year old is still travelling and working as a waitress instead of developing a career, getting married and popping out kids. I just smile and bring them a burger with cheese in response.

However, a good friend of mine gave me a virtual slap via email the other day, suggesting that perhaps my late-20s and all of my 30s will be some of the most exciting, most challenging, most creative, and most rewarding years of my life and they will result in the biggest changes and developments for me. As I read her words and felt her “Snap out of it!” slap in the face, I realised she was correct. Considering the last ten years of my life have moved me from being a shy, homebound, unadventurous 18 year old who thought going to bed at 10.30pm was rebellious to a free, single young woman living in foreign countries, learning new languages and talking to random strangers because they might turn into friends (don’t worry Mum), who knows what will happen in the next ten. I am far, far away from a career, a husband and 2.5 children but that was largely through choice and my personal belief that I want more than a mortgage in my life. Sure some sort of understanding of what I want to do with my life would be really, really helpful and would result in a few less panic-fuelled crying sessions, but generally speaking I wouldn’t change anything that I have done in the last ten years.

On Saturday I am getting on a plane and flying to Split where I am going to meet up with my best friend who I haven’t seen in one and a half years. I am going to spend my birthday in 30+ degrees eating good food, swimming in the ocean and enjoying the good things in life. And I’ll celebrate with my Dad via the wonders of Skype.

A good year.

A good year.

Six Months as a Mancunian

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

By now you should know how much I love significant dates. A birthday, an anniversary. I will even celebrate the monthly progression of something if it means I can go out for dinner, drink a glass of wine or (of course) eat a piece of cake. So imagine my shock when my six-month-iversary of living in Manchester almost passed me by due to excess work and general busyness? Shocked to the core, I was. But once I remembered I grabbed a pear cider from my fridge and sat with a box of peanuts and a book by the side of the canal. My only companions were some threatening Canadian geese and mangey pigeons but as the sun set behind the old mill buildings and people walked past me on their way home from work, I was a happy lassie.

Cheers! Here's to another 1.5 years in the UK!

Cheers! Here’s to another 1.5 years in the UK!

So I think you know what time it is – Six Month Reflection Time!!!

What has happened in the last six months? What has been good? What has been ok? What has been less than ok? Ready? GO!

  • I moved to a new country, city, language, way of being, dinner time, general outlook on life. Manchester is NOT Paris. This is a fact.
  • I found myself an apartment in one of the coolest and most convenient locations in Manchester. From here I have explored the city and seen most of my neighbours in the apartments across the road in their underwear.
  • I got a job as a waitress at Artisan. This has resulted in me realising that I do not want to be a waitress for the rest of my life and that I should hurry up and finish this book.
  • I finished the third draft of my book about Paris. It hasn’t progressed much further than this.
  • I went to Wales.
  • I ran a marathon in Paris. Whoa. Cool!
  • I made lots of friends in a remarkably short period of time.
  • I experienced Manchester in snow, rain, sunshine, hail and general grey.
  • I attempted to complete 108 challenges, thought of 76 and completed 34.
  • I climbed numerous hills.
  • I completed a fantastic jigsaw puzzle of the Queen.
  • I served tap water to a famous footballer (Apparently. I didn’t know who he was but everyone at work informed me that it was Marouane Fellaini.)
  • I had a photograph published in a Chronicle Books book. Neat!
  • I rented an office space in the Northern Quarter.
  • I volunteered for the Manchester International Festival.
  • I met even more of my very extended British family members. There are a lot of Davieses in the world.
  • I learnt how to ‘network’ and have even started to enjoy it.
  • I ate a lot of excellent, good, average and terrible food.
  • I outplayed the supermarkets and learnt to buy loose bananas rather than the pre-packs as the loose bananas cost half as much.
  • I started calling everyone “Love”.

So that is a general summary of my last six months and I have to say they have been highly enjoyable. There have been moments of panic, moments of woe and moments of What Am I Doing Here? However, overall I am really liking life in this grungy, rainy, slightly depressed city. I might even get myself a tattoo and a fake tan just so I can really fit in with the locals.

Manchester, I love you.

Manchester, I love you.


Apartment Living

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The freakish time-warp that appears to have descended over Manchester and that has made time zoom past at never-before-seen speeds has caused it to already be almost the end of August. WHERE DID AUGUST GO? Where did July and the entire first half of this year go for that matter? In six days, I will be celebrating six months in Manchester and then four days after that it’s my birthday. See? Time has gone so fast that I didn’t even notice the approach of my birthday, the most important date in my year. I haven’t been counting down to it and that is just WRONG.

As my six months in Manchester rolls in, this means my apartment lease is coming up for renewal and I have been in negotiations with my landlord as well as looking for new places to live for the past few weeks. The idea of moving isn’t high on my “I Really Want to do This” list as who actually enjoys packing all of their belongings in boxes, carting them to a new location and then unpacking it all again? No one. Plus I really like my apartment – it is significantly larger than my Parisian abode, it has multiple doors (for someone who lived without doors for two years, this is exciting) and amazing views into the lives of my neighbours across the road. I thought I should introduce you to some of the characters I have been spying on for the past six months and the extreme conclusions that I have jumped to about their lives, who they are and what they do.

The Goodlooking Couple

When I first moved in and saw the blonde female and her athletic male companion, I thought they were about my age. It wasn’t until I was  eating breakfast one morning and they were out on their balcony that I realised they are about 10 years older than I had first thought. These two are FIT and are one of those couples that look like they should be together. She plays the violin and he smokes. Occasionally he will wave to me through his window and I will wave back through mine.

Underwear Girl

The ownership of the apartment below the goodlooking couple confuses me. At first I thought it was a single male, then he seemed to get a girlfriend and now she has either kicked him out or he’s on holiday because she is ruling the roost. He did come back for a few days but then he went away again. Anyway, for the past two weeks, I have had the daily pleasure (or not so much) of seeing the girl walking around the apartment in her underwear. Morning and night, she pads around her apartment in just her knickers and a tshirt. Once she went and stood by her front window in a black and white lacy bra. I am a believer that one can wear whatever one wishes when in one’s apartment, however I do wonder if she realises that if she can see into our apartments, we can see into hers.

Lonely TV Man

Every night he sits on his couch watching television. Sometimes he has the lights on, sometimes the blue glow of the screen is the only light in the room. Occasionally he mixes some tunes on his DJ mixing desk, pumping dance beats out into the street. One day he covered his apartment with decorations including a “Happy Birthday!” sign and I was excited that he was finally going to have some friends over. But at 10.30pm no one had come to the party. However, in the last few evenings he has been busy entertaining people, including a slightly drunk lady who danced with great passion next to the window. On Tuesday night as I returned home from waitressing, I saw that he had two friends over. That’s when it dawned on me that I had served him a few weeks ago at the restaurant and hadn’t been able to work out why I recognised him. He and his friends had been eating there again on that Tuesday evening. Manchester is a small world.


The window cleaners came to visit one day.

Wednesday Write-In

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Every Wednesday I receive an email from a writers’ group called CAKE with a list of words to use as inspiration for a piece of writing. The idea is to write something (whether it be fiction, non-fiction, poetry or just a ramble) using one or more of the words provided. Then you should share it with the CAKE network for feedback and just to prove to yourself that you have actually done some writing today.

I have been meaning to participate but my lack of direction and efficiency has meant that I have always thought of an excuse not to. Not today. Today’s words were tide : short-sighted : reflective :apocalypse : gloom. I started writing about an old man sitting by a window, looking outside at the gloomy Manchester drizzle. But this then turned into a children’s story about a boy called Sam. Here is my story. *Please remember that this was written in a short period of time with zero editing. It will not be award winning.

Sam’s Glasses


Sam’s mum made him wear glasses. They will help you see things that are far away, she had said.

Sam didn’t like his glasses – they hurt behind his ears and fell down his nose whenever he tied his shoes or looked at ants on the ground.

Children at school teased him. His mum said he should explain that he was short-sighted, but that didn’t help. They just called him “Short-Eyed-Sam.”

Sam liked to take his glasses off and see the world through his own eyes. He would see colourful shapes and blurry forms that no one else could.

Without his glasses, his backyard would turn into an adventure land with green spindles and mumbopikes, flying jiggernots, and the endless cavern where the three-nosed humbert lived.

One day before school, Sam stopped to inspect a beetle outside his classroom and his glasses fell off. As he stood up, he felt the metal frames crunch under his foot – his glasses were broken.

His teacher called everyone inside and Sam sat down at his desk. As he looked around the room, Sam started to smile. Gone were the Times Tables charts, spelling books and school projects. The walls of the classroom stretched and expanded, towering blue, yellow and red poles sprouted high into the air and a big black screen hovered in the air infront.

Rows of robots with flashing lights and buttons churned and whirred as a giant orange flower walked and talked back and forth far off in the distance. From above hung lime green vines filled with exotic three-armed creatures, the more daring of them sneaking a wave at Sam from high above.

The giant walking-talking flower invited Sam to come forward, beckoning him with a floppy petal and a large smile. Sam skipped past the robots, pushing the buttons of a few as he passed and laughing at the yellow bellied shoddies and flapjaws.

When he reached the front, Sam danced and sang with joy – this was the best day at school ever. The robots clapped at the end of his performance and Sam felt like the King of the Schoolroom Jungle.

The giant walking-talking flower held out a set of silver Super Space Goggles which Sam placed on his face. As the world around him became clear again and his teacher’s concerned face peered back at him, Sam found himself back in his classroom.

Sam walked back to his desk, sad that his adventure was over. But as he sat at the back of the classroom Sam lifted his glasses on and off his nose, shifting between a maths lesson and watching a giant walking-talking flower.

Discovering Hills with the Dutch

Monday, August 19th, 2013

I have just spent a few days hanging out with more ‘extended cousins’, this time from my Mum’s side of the family. Marthein (my mum’s cousin) and his wife Gerda drove from Gouda to Sheffield on Thursday and I met them at my brother’s bakery just in time for lunch. That afternoon we visited Kelham Island, a museum about industry and steel production in Sheffield. My favourite room was the Hawley Collection – full of saws, knives, screw drivers and surgical instruments, it was tool heaven.

The sunshine came out on Friday as the three of us headed into the Peak District. We didn’t have a plan of where to go and what to see so it was a day of spontaneous exploration and adventure. First stop was Derwent Reservoir, a popular spot for walkers and bike riders.

Whoever designed this dam wall wished he was building a castle.

Whoever designed this dam wall wished he was building a castle.

It almost reminded me of Mundaring Weir except with more water.

It almost reminded me of Mundaring Weir except with more water.

Neither The Netherlands nor Australia is known for  mountainous terrain so we were all very impressed by the lumpy landscape of the Peaks. We took the opportunity to climb these natural wonders and enjoy the views from raised ground. Our first climb was Mam Tor, a 517m hill with remarkable views across the countryside. While the sun was shining, it was a windy day and it became increasingly more breezy the higher we got. At the top of the hill you had to hold on with your toes to stop yourself from flying off the side. I did contemplate base jumping but decided my mum wouldn’t approve.

Gerda making her way up the hill.

Gerda making her way up the hill.

View from the top of Mam Tor.

View from the top of Mam Tor.

After we had descended and climbed back into the safety and warmth of the car, we headed to the nearby market village of Castleton in search of a castle. And a castle we did find – again on top of a hill. Peveril Castle was first built in 1080 and now all that remains are some ruins. There is, however, a tower that you can climb and you get a wonderful view back towards Mam Tor.

Castle ruins, green grass and nice views.

Castle ruins, lazing grass and nice views.

View from the castle.

View from the castle.

It's Mam Tor!

It’s Mam Tor!

After all of this climbing we needed a cup of tea so dropped into a pub advertising tea and scones. We didn’t, however, notice the other sign that announced no food was being served between 3–5pm, and so our 4.25pm arrival meant that no scones could be served. This was also following our less than wonderful lunch at a pub in the historic precinct of Chapel-en-le-Frith. All of the menu items arrived in a truck and were then heated and plated by a man in a chef’s uniform. It wasn’t a top food day but the views were great.



Chorlton Crack and Pure Origins

Monday, August 12th, 2013

During the Manchester International Festival, I discovered Ginger’s Comfort Emporium – an ice cream van that releases your inner child. The pink and maroon van was parked in Festival Square and I once made an out-of-my-way beeline for it in order to soothe my life-is-hard woes. It worked – this ice cream is good. The flavours are not your average chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. They vary daily from salted caramel with peanut butter (aka Chorlton Crack), dark chocolate, strawberry with mint, and rhubarb and pink peppercorn sorbet.

Since the festival, I have spotted the van at various points over town and am usually unable to stop myself from buying ice cream. Life is too short, I say. Buy the ice cream, I say. So within minutes I am holding a cone filled with glorious melting goodness. On my first two visits I just chose my staple option, pure origins dark chocolate, unable to bend from my usual ways. But the other Sunday I was feeling emotional, hormonal and depressed (a dangerous combination that can only be fixed with sugar and fat) and Pooja and I went in search of THE VAN. I decided to take them up on their great double scoop deal (£2.50 for one, £3.50 for two) and chose dark chocolate and Chorlton Crack. Oh the joy! My grumpy face was instantly replaced by jubilant smiles and then “I ate too much ice cream and I think I might vomit…” contentedness.

Mmmm... Pure Origins and Chorlton Crack...

Mmmm… Pure Origins and Chorlton Crack…

I have now had this double-banger ice cream twice and I am shocked to discover that the folk in charge of Ginger’s Comfort Emporium do not agree with my flavour combination. On their website they have an article stating they advise their customers against joining chocolate and crack as they both have deep flavours that should be savoured on their own. I can understand this and as someone who appreciates the joy of simple and pure food, I accept their call. However, the pure joy that I received from having these two flavours together can’t be denied. Perhaps it is because I am a particularly skilled ice cream eater and I never actually eat the two flavours together. All I know is that the ice cream is good, the van is awesome and I love Ginger’s Comfort Emporium. The end.

Published Again!

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

About six months ago, I responded to a call out from Chronicle Books to submit Instagram photographs for a book they were publishing. I didn’t expect anything from it but decided to take the “Be in it to win it” attitude. I hadn’t received any sort of confirmation from the publishers so presumed I hadn’t been accepted.

At the time of submission, I was about to move from Paris to Manchester and had no fixed address so I gave them my brother’s bakery address. So neither of us were really expecting a parcel addressed to me to arrive at his shop. Inside the mysterious package were two copies of This Is Happening, featuring one of my photographs.

Now I'm a published photographer!

Now I’m a published photographer!

I am particularly thrilled to have my photograph printed in a book produced by one of my favourite publishing companies. Now I wonder if they would like my book about Paris…

Interesting Folk on the Canals of Manchester

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I feel a natural affinity for water sources and always try to live as close to a river, beach or dirty city canal as possible. I had the Canal Saint Martin in Paris and here I have some of Manchester’s canal system around the corner from my apartment. My extensive time spent by these canals has made me realise that there are a lot of odd personalities who hang around these waterways (this potentially includes me but we’ll just move on.) In recent times, I have witnessed two intriguing moments by the Manchester canals that have made my forehead furrow and my mouth squeeze to one side while saying a quiet “Huh?”

Half Naked Man With Stick

The first of these events occurred after collecting my brother from Oxford train station. I decided to take the scenic route, walking back to my apartment along the canal edge. Up ahead we spotted two guys in their early 20s, lacking tshirts and with sporadic tattoos exposed on their northern-white skin. One of the guys was crouching by the edge of the canal, purposefully whacking at the water with a short tree branch. His determined slaps and desperate whimpers were catching the eyes of many passers-by. As we got closer he looked up exasperatingly at his bemused audience and yelped, “What are you looking at? I want my gram of cocaine, not the dead pigeon!” Sure enough, floating just beyond his branch’s reach was a recently deceased pigeon and a small plastic packet a white powdery substance.

We continued on, leaving him to his futile fishing. I never found out if he managed to get his drugs, however there was a canal boat heading his way and they may have been able to help.

Peter Pan Reads Shakespeare in the Dark

My friend, Pooja, has recently moved into an apartment with fourth storey views over the Manchester Ship Canal. We have spent numerous evenings sitting by her large windows with glasses of wine and bowls of ice cream, discussing life and all of its mysteries. On the first night, we discovered a local fox who roams the deserted building sites next door and we christened him Jack.

Then the other evening as I sat staring down at the water below a young man seemed to appear from nowhere, stepping out from under a tree onto the grassed banks of the canal. He looked like he belonged in a fairytale – he was a lanky fellow, maybe 25 years old, and he was wearing a hat. It was a classic black bowler hat with a rigid rim which he would tip in courtesy at the trams that passed by on the other side of the canal. In one hand he held a book that he occasionally seemed to read. Every few minutes he would shift his position – holding the book outstretched as if reciting poetic lyric when he was standing, or majestically lazing on the grass with one leg bent, looking up and around to see if anyone was watching.

As the sun set and the light became low, we presumed he would leave. Not the case – instead he continued to read, soldiering on through the settling darkness, refusing to let the lack of light stop his reading. The sun had  well and truly gone to bed by the time he left, waltzing down the canal, his hat sitting proudly on his head.

Manchester Ship Canal

Manchester Ship Canal

A Visit to Cheshire

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Last Friday I caught a train to a small town in Cheshire to visit some more of my numerous extended cousins. Jan and Bill live in a beautiful cottage home on a tiny lane in a cute little town in the middle of nowhere. While I love cities, I always enjoy escaping them and enjoy the quiet and solitude of country life. We sat in their garden relaxing and enjoying cups of coffee while watching the birds and insects dashing around. Glorious. I now have big plans to move to a small town in country England work in the local pub. Now there’s a book.

On Saturday we visited the ruins of Beeston Castle – built in the 1200s, it sits high on a sandstone hill allowing you to see eight counties (on a clear day.) We had great weather and the walk up the hill was surprisingly warm. I particularly enjoyed the fact that you can see Wales from the top. It isn’t every day that you climb a hill and see another country. We had a picnic lunch with views over Cheshire during which I was in a state of constant amazement that we were eating outside in mid-summer and not being bothered by flies. The British have got some things right.

Approaching Beeston Castle

Approaching Beeston Castle

Hello, Wales.

Hello, Wales.