Archive for February, 2014

Hello Sushi.

Friday, February 28th, 2014

I am trying hard to be accepted into a group of elite. This group isn’t about money or social status. No, something far more valuable and important. FOOD. I recently met the dude in charge of Yelp (an online review website for restaurants, bars, shops and services) in Manchester and he has encouraged me to write reviews of places I eat/visit in exchange for potential free food eating opportunities. Basically if I write enough reviews of places in Manchester, I will be invited into the Yelp Elite and be invited to attend amazing food events.  It wasn’t a hard sell.

On Monday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the February Elite event as a taster of good things that could come my way. A small Japanese restaurant, Umezushi, was booked for just the Elite and we were served an amazing meal of small dishes accompanied by a range of sakes. I spent most of Monday thinking about my evening ahead and arrived full of anticipation – I was not disappointed.

The head chef, Terry, talked to us about each dish and each of the sakes we were served, moving from the lowest grade sake to the highest. Each sake had a distinctively different flavour – some far more floral than others. I think most of us voted for the first drink as the most enjoyable – a plum flavoured sake served as a kir-like cocktail with sparkling rosé wine. We all wanted more.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The food was astonishingly good. Tempura vegetables and white bait were followed by tempura seaweed with wasabi fish roe. We had fish wrapped around rice, octopus with seaweed salad, and sushi rolls. I was a little concerned about the sushi factor as a sushi eating experience that I had at primary school in 1994 has completely destroyed my ability to eat and enjoy seaweed wrapped rice. I went to Umezushi with the intention of eating and trying everything and when the sushi was presented I went in with guns blazing and a desire to enjoy what I was eating. IT WAS AMAZING! Such fantastic fresh ingredients and beautifully presented – my taste buds were overwhelmed by the wonderful flavours. I have been officially converted into a sushi eater and I am so happy about this fact. Exciting sushi eating times ahead for me!

 

Who knew that seaweed, fish roe and wasabi could taste SO GOOD?

Who knew that seaweed, fish roe and wasabi could taste SO GOOD?

Mmm.. raw fish...

Mmm.. raw fish…

The octopus was a little chewy for my liking but that seaweed salad was amazing.

The octopus was a little chewy for my liking but that seaweed salad was amazing.

I love sushi.

I love sushi.

The final sake was a rich, plummy flavour and it was served with a wonderfully dark and rich chocolate fondant. You may have learnt by now that I am a chocolate fondant snob – I know what I like and what makes for a chocolate fondant failure. I didn’t have high expectations as we were eating japanese and not in a fine dining French restaurant. So imagine my pure delight when the fondant was crunchy on the outside, soft and gooey in the middle and the perfect balance of richness and sweet. Perhaps it was the large amount of sake that I had consumed but I was a very happy girl.

Chocolate-fondanty-goodness

Chocolate-fondanty-goodness

Our evening ended with a local artist, Naomi, talking us through making origami frogs and rabbits. We all sat with our tongues poking out the sides of our mouths as we tried to work out what folds we were supposed to make next. The end result were some very cute mini-paper-animals that we all proudly took home to show our mums.

It's a rabbit!

It’s a rabbit!

It's a frog!

It’s a frog!

I hope I will be accepted into the Elite club – not just because of the free food but eating and writing about my food experiences is something that I just love doing. Food is something to celebrate and it is so wonderful to find a group of people who feel the same way as I do about experiencing new restaurants and discovering new flavours. Time to get reviewing!

No Boundaries 2014 – York

Friday, February 28th, 2014

I spent the last two days networking, learning, discussing and eating at the No Boundaries conference in York. The conference was to be a discussion and debate about the role and development of the arts sector within the UK. It brought together a wide range of representatives from the arts industry – from important big-wigs to little artists with dreams. One of the unique selling points of the conference was that it was set in two different cities – York and Bristol – and simulcast live between the two venues. While sitting in the Guildhall in York, we watched presentations on wide screen as they were given in Bristol and vice versa. Plus the entire conference was streamed live over the internet for the entire world to watch. There was an active twitter discussion and regular blog updates with the aim to have no boundaries for people to access the discussion.

No Boundaries – York.

No Boundaries – York.

The majority of the talks were interesting and raised relevant points about the important role the arts play in communities, business,  politics and people’s personal lives. I sometimes felt a little on the outside being a non-UK resident and also someone who is still finding their feet within the arts sector. And my concept of ‘arts’ appears to stem beyond the norm as I was expecting more graphic designers, web designers and professional writers to be in attendance, however it seemed that the majority of the people in the room were somehow involved in theatre. I think it was a shame that there weren’t more people representing the graphic and digital industries as they would have been able to provide some significant insight on the direction of digital production.

There were a few presenters who touched on issues that I felt a strong connection with. Most of the audience was blown away by young 17 year old Sophie who advocated the role of social media and digital technology in our lives. It was refreshing to hear someone talk about digital media with a purely positive outlook and without any negative “Yes, it’s good, but…” attached. People appear to be afraid of the shift towards digital platforms and the use of phones, tablets and computers in our daily lives as providers of entertainment, information and social interaction. Twitter and YouTube are diseases taking over our systems and if we don’t watch out we might all turn into inferior life forms. Or maybe, as Sophie suggested, they are just new opportunities for growth, knowledge and progress.

There were plenty of success stories surrounding new arts developments such as Cast, an arts centre in Doncaster, that opened up a huge array of opportunities to the local community that they never knew existed. I won’t go into detail about each speaker other than to say that everyone offered a new perspective or story that stimulated ideas and thoughts about the arts sector. And all of that was great. The downside was that the preface for the conference suggested it would be a discussion and debate about the arts but the final event turned into more of a sit-down-and-be-spoken-to. There were plenty of breaks to meet other people and swap business cards, but unless you managed to accidentally stand next to the right person while getting your fifth cup of tea, you had no idea who at the conference of any relevance to you.

A few of the other attendees agreed and commented that they hadn’t been able to make any strong networks as they didn’t know who was attending the conference or what field they worked in. There were no group discussions and there was only one talk that involved questions from the audience. We were invited to go into external rooms and generate our own discussion topics, but once you left the main auditorium you missed out on hearing the speakers. Technology was blamed for the lack of audience participation – apparently the need to cross live between Bristol and York meant that having additional microphones roaming around the audience would cause too many technical difficulties. To be honest, I felt there was far too much emphasis on how ‘groundbreaking’ the technology was when really it wasn’t that inspiring. Yes, for a small conference it was perhaps a little bit different, but I don’t think television companies would have been all that amazed.

Amazing vegetarian curry from Manjit's Kitchen.

Amazing vegetarian curry from Manjit’s Kitchen.

I met some very interesting people, listened to some fascinating talks and ate some great food (the catering was fantastic!). My mind wasn’t blown but it has given me some new things to think about. A highlight for me was a printed book that we were given at the start of the second day that was a record of the talks from the day before. Created through a company called Book Kernel, it was quite remarkable to have a physical copy of the talks in our hands. The quality of the print was quite good, too. As everyone else sat judging the level of detail the poor guy who had been rapidly taking notes all day had managed to record, I just said, “Wow! The GSM in this book is actually decent and the layout doesn’t look too ugly!”

A second highlight was the building the conference was held in. While the folks in Bristol spent the two days stuck in what appeared to be a windowless auditorium, us in York sat on particularly uncomfortable fold-out chairs in a beautiful stain glass windowed building, originally constructed in the 15th century. The Guildhall has seen centuries of civil activity and has been the location for various royal banquettes. The sun was shining outside and spectacular rainbow coloured streams of light were cast across the room. I spent of lot of the time staring at the stained glass detailing and wood panelling on the ceiling. Very awesome.

Sunshine through stained glass windows… and a tiger.

Sunshine through stained glass windows… and a tiger.

When You Wish Upon a Stair

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

According to Pip’s fantastic guide book, somewhere along the ye olde wall of Chester are a set of stairs called the “Wishing Stairs.” According to the book and local myths, if you run up and down these stairs three times while holding your breath, you can make a wish and it will most definitely come true. What sort of adventurers would we be if we didn’t hunt down this stairway to our hopes and dreams and give it a go?

The book’s description of the exact location of these stairs was cryptic to say the least and they definitely were not clearly defined on the map. However, after a fair amount of sleuth work, some judgement calls and a bit of a leap of faith, we decided upon a set of stairs located near the River Dee. There was no signage to suggest that our chosen stairs were definitely the ones and the book’s description of ‘uneven steps’ didn’t really correlate with the fairly even pavement we had chosen. However, there weren’t many other options as far as stairs went and we decided they were slightly wonky.

We also made a judgement call that running all the way up and down the entire staircase three times while holding our breaths would most likely result in our deaths and no wishes would ever come true. So we mutually agreed that it would be a better idea to simply run up and down three levels of the staircase (three steps per level so nine steps in each direction making a total of 27 steps. Go maths!). Pip went first.

As Pip prepared herself for the epic climb, we were struck with our other issue for having all of our wishes come true – tourists. The wall is a popular place, particularly on a relatively sunny day in the middle of school holidays. Two girls running up and down wonky stairs in the middle of tourist traffic can cause issue. So we waited for a break in the flow and BAM! off Pip went! Up, down and back up again. Through sheer agility and physical strength, she managed to complete the challenge and could make a wish.

Then it was my turn. I will admit, I was nervous. I knew I could make the distance, but holding my breath is not one of my strong points. I am one of those people who puffs up their cheeks before diving under water and then returns to the surface gasping and spluttering. But I was determined to take this challenge on – I got ready, I inhaled, I went! I had to duck around some tourists who looked at me like I was a crazy lady but I kept on going and am proud to say that I made it up, down and back again successfully. I could make my wish and I am still waiting for it to come true.

Action shot!

Action shot!

Hanging with the Romans

Monday, February 24th, 2014

My first week of self/un – employment was great. This was largely thanks to my friend, Pip, coming to visit which provided me with a great distraction for my lack of work. You may remember Pip from my first year of adventures in Paris. Pip was my shopping/museum/sanity buddy in that crazy city and a fellow Aussie trying to find her place (and preferably passport) in Europe. She has since lived in Dusseldorf and is now in London and a mere two and a half hour train ride from me! Hoorah!

Pip had picked up a guidebook for northern England – a surprisingly thin book that somehow managed to cut half of Manchester city centre off the map (and it isn’t a big city.). However, this handy book suggested Chester as a good place to visit so we booked some bargain tickets on a very slow train.

According to Chester.com, Chester is one of Europe’s prettiest cities. I would agree, it definitely rates highly on my Prettiness Scale.   It also wins big points for having been established by the Romans over 2000 years ago. It always amazes me how far those Romans managed to get. Very impressive.

Ye olde Chester.

Ye olde Chester.

The main town centre is surrounded by a ye olde wall first built by the Romans and you can walk around the entire city with a fantastic raised view of the river Dee, England’s oldest race course, and into people’s backyards. Then there is the Cathedral which features one of the most peaceful courtyard gardens I have ever stepped foot in. The main city centre features some beautifully preserved medieval half-timbered buildings. There’s something so wonderful about black timber beams criss-crossing over white building exteriors. My camera finger goes snap happy whenever I’m in the presence of such architecture.

Peace and quiet (and a couple of mer-people) in the Cathedral courtyard.

Peace and quiet (and a couple of mer-people) in the Cathedral courtyard.

We somehow managed to score decent weather and the sun shone for most of our day out. It was lovely to be able to wander around outside for an entire day, enjoying new sights, good weather and fun times with friends. I have missed these random adventures and plan on doing it more over the next year. There’s so much to see in this world – this week I am off to another Roman town, York to attend a conference. I don’t think I’ll have much time to explore but it is just nice to get on a train and travel to a new place. I think I would had made a good Roman.

Walking on a wall.

Walking on a wall.

Goodbye, Co-Op.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

The past few weeks have been… interesting, to say the least. If you had asked me to describe how I felt about my world a week and a half ago, ‘interesting’ would not have been the adjective. My grandmother reads my blog so I can’t use the words that were really whirling through my head. I was not a happy bunny. However, fear not, this will not be a whinge, a whine or a whimper. I have now had time to breathe through things and see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s flickering a bit, but it’s there.

Basically, I lost my job. Now many people have lost their jobs at some point in their life and I realise that I am not the first person to have this misfortune. However, I LOST MY JOB! Oh woe, poor me. I was really enjoying life at the Co-Op. It was comfortable, it was easy and my work mates were ace. I would spend the majority of my time talking to nice old people on the phone, guiding them through the confusing world of IT, explaining how to turn their computers off and on again. My customers loved me because I would reset their passwords and they could continue working. It was like having a hundred surrogate grandparents who were proud of me.

But then the Co-Op started experiencing economic issues and had to save a large amount of money. It has been sad watching the Co-Op IT department deal with these cuts backs as it has asked a large number of its employees to leave and started reshuffling staff without thinking of the long term affects. Staff are now concerned about their futures within the company and are uncertain about whether or not they will have a job next month. Up until now I have been very fortunate to have avoided being directly affected by the economic struggles the world has been going through over the past few years. Seeing it up close and feeling its effects has been eye opening.

I was sad to say goodbye to my IT crowd colleagues and I even miss wearing a stupid headset. However it is time to move onwards and upwards and get this writing thing that I say I do into action again. More adventures and opportunities await. Who knows what will happen next in the Crazy Life of Jessica Davies?

Feeling the love.

Feeling the love.

This window wins the Best Window At Work award.

This window wins the Best Window At Work award.

Hello, Snow.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Everyone has been talking about the storms that have swept across the UK and caused terrible flooding in the south of England and Wales. Living conditions have been terrible as people’s houses have filled with water, streets have flooded and farm land has become water logged. For the past few weeks as I listen to BBC4 Radio and hear the news in the morning, the stories have focussed on the latest storms to hit England the night before. Not good.

Meanwhile, up in usually-soggy Manchester, it isn’t raining as much. Clearly I was right and everyone who said, ‘Why do you want to live in Manchester?!’ was wrong. Manchester may be wet for the majority of the year, but at least it hasn’t flooded.

We did, however, get a hit of this white stuff.

Yes, sir. I do believe that is snow.

Yes, sir. I do believe that is snow.

It was 5.15pm last Tuesday and I had just left work. From the tenth floor of the Co-Op building I had spotted a very black sky drawing rapidly closer. A snow cloud looks different to a rain cloud – it is a deeper, almost purple black and it looks MEAN. If it had a face it would be smirking, it’s eyes piercing in the corners as it moves confidently towards you, a black cape billowing behind. The wind rapidly increases, picking up girls’ skirts, inverting umbrellas and making people stop and stare at the sky. What is coming? When will it hit? And then it does.

I stood under the eaves of the Next clothing store as the snow started to fall. However, as the wind picked up and blew the snow under the eaves and in through the doors of Next, I hurried inside and watched from the safety of the affordably-priced shop. I watched as a Spanish man insisted on finishing his cigarette, huddled against the outside window, being battered by snow and strong winds before seeking shelter.

I cut through Next and took the back exit that led me into the depths of the Arndale Shopping Centre. Normally a place that I avoid, the Arndale offered me solace from the storm outside. However I had an appointment to make and I had to venture back out into the wild, pushing my umbrella against the overpowering winds, my black jacket becoming speckled with white fluff. I did stop and smile – snow is magical even when it is piercing your eyes with sharp shards of ice. It is so much easier to handle and less annoying than rain, although I have noticed it makes the footpaths particularly slippery. (which, for someone with zero sense of balance such as myself, is not good.)

The storm passed as quickly as it came but patches of white ice were still around the following morning. I am pleased to have seen snow this winter but I won’t be that upset if that was it and Spring now rolls in. I have spotted some crocuses poking theirs heads out of the ground in my local park and there are buds forming on trees. These are good signs but I am keeping my hopes low until it is warm enough for me to get my ridiculously white legs out. So not until I move back to Australia essentially.

Bad Language at the Castle

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Fear not – this blog entry does not include excessive amounts of swearing. You’re safe with me, kids. Bad Language is a monthly spoken word and poetry open mic night held at the Castle Hotel in the Northern Quarter. I had been wanting to go to a spoken word event since discovering them in Paris and two years later I finally achieved this goal.

Last Wednesday I went to Bad Language with Hannah and Damion, two friends who work in The Classroom with me. After purchasing reasonably priced beer from the bar, we made our way past the regular Castle residents and managed to squeeze our way to some seats in the very packed room. An usually large turn out meant that there weren’t enough seats and lots of people were standing at the back or perched on the stage with the performers. The vibe of the room was relaxed and welcoming and a bit of squishing, bumping and finding a seat on the floor didn’t worry anyone.

The performers read with varied degrees of success but everyone who got on stage was supported and appreciated. Getting on stage and reading your words aloud isn’t an easy thing to do. Poetry was the main focus of the night and as I have previously mentioned it is not my preferred style of text. Some of it was good, some just passed over my head and left me pondering what it was all about. It was great to see the passion that some of the writers had for their work. I wish I was currently feeling the same level of passion for my own words.

I want to set myself the challenge of performing something at one of the Bad Language shows but need to write a piece that is worth performing. Any topic suggestions are most welcome.

Characters of The Classroom – Meet Shaan

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Everyone, meet Shaan. Shaan is one of the intriguing folk that I interact with while working in the shared office space, the Classroom. Today Shaan hasn’t been in a working mood and has spent most of the afternoon purposefully distracting other people who are trying to get things done. He has just spent the last 15 minutes asking me to have a photograph with him and he has challenged me to write a blog post about him. So here it is.

Shaan’s work days usually start at 2pm as he wanders into the Classroom with a Caffe Nero coffee in one hand and a lever arch folder under his other arm. His headphones never leave his ears even while he attempts to engage other Classroom members in drawn out conversations that usually involve him telling them that they are wrong at some point. These headphones also come in handy for his loud and over-animated phone calls with clients where he talks about the weather and engages in idle chit-chat.

Shaan drinks protein shakes and some sort of concoction involving raw eggs and milk. Today he announced that he has been photographing the development of his arm muscle growth and that I wouldn’t believe how many selfies he has on his phone. I told him that I was fairly certain I would believe it.

Shaan likes wearing hats and today he is wearing a furry eared number that he offered to give me if I called one of his clients and pretended to be him. I declined the offer and Shaan donned the fur and made the phone call himself, announcing that it wasn’t so bad after all.

Shaan is planning on getting his ear pieced on his birthday and asked for my opinion. I don’t think he liked my answer.

Meet Shaan.

Meet Shaan.