Archive for April, 2014

Seaweed Men and the Elusive Red Squirrels

Monday, April 28th, 2014

On Sunday Sir Pubert Gladstone (see Who is She? blog post) took me on a secret mystery tour. He was slightly disappointed when my first response to his question of “Where have you been near Southport?” was exactly where he was planning on taking me. Not to matter – the sun was shining, the rapeseed fields were out in full yellow bloom, and we were off to the beach. Our destination – Formby beach with an additional side trip to see Antony Gormley’s installation, Another Place, at Crosby. I had done this day trip with my cousin Caroline and her son, Meryan, but we had spent most of our day climbing up and down sand dunes and I was very keen to go back to Crosby to see the sculptures up close and personal.

Our first stop was Formby where we entered the National Trust forest reserve that is one of the few places in the UK where you can find red squirrels. The supposedly evil grey squirrels have taken over and spotting a native red is a rare occurrence. After a picnic in the sunshine on beach and a very disappointing game of frisbee (turns out I throw like a girl), we headed into the forest to look for the squirrels. We had been told it was highly unlikely we would spot any and after wandering around staring at tree tops for 20 minutes we gave up. No squirrels here. As we headed back to the car, I took the opportunity to visit the loo and there, near the toilet blocks, most likely having just stolen some food from one of the bins, was a red squirrel. Tick.

Crosby beach

Crosby beach

Our next stop was Crosby where the tide had gone out far enough for us to be able to walk across the seabed and visit some of the statues. I have such amazing memories of seeing Antony Gormley’s installation at Lake Ballard and had been wanting to see the statues at Crosby and compare the works. These statues are cast from Antony’s body and are spread across along the coast spaced 500 metres apart. As the tide comes in, they are submerged in water and are covered in seaweed, salt and other crusty textures.

Antony Gormley statue

Antony Gormley statue

I found the experience at Lake Ballard more spectacular but the isolation of the salt lake is hard to beat. At Crosby it was interesting to see the different textures that have built up on the various statues depending on their position in the seabed. Some had almost completely transformed into salty sea creatures while others remained relatively clean. They all looked quite content to be standing in the sunshine staring out to sea.

Crusty.

Crusty.

Searching for ANZACs

Monday, April 28th, 2014

April is great. It is one of the months of the year that brings GFE (Great Food Eating) opportunities – something I greatly appreciate. Last week I was gorging myself on hot cross buns of both the fruit and chocolate variety. These were backed up by Easter eggs that, while over priced for the cost-to-grams-of-chocolate-ratio, offer such a good excuse for chocolate eating. It would be inappropriate not to eat another Cadbury’s Creme egg – it would hurt the Easter Bunny’s feelings.

Then came ANZAC Day on the 25th April. This year marks the start of the centenary of World War I, an event that has increased in significance for me since moving to England and learning more about my great grandfather. Having a personal connection with the war offers a new level of meaning and it has been quite an emotional discovery for me. So I felt it gravely important to bake Australia’s most significant biscuit in honour of the ANZACs and my great grandfather.

I have now baked ANZACs in three different countries – Australia, France and England. For obvious reasons, sourcing the required ingredients in Australia is a breeze. Every supermarket stocks the required products just in case someone is feeling the urge to bake buttery balls of oaty goodness. No problemo.

France was a challenge; golden syrup is not an ingredient that is frequently used in French cuisine and sourcing a jar of the sticky, sweet syrup was difficult. While it was frustrating, I could understand the lack of golden syrup and I did eventually find it in a supermarket frequented by Anglosaxon expats. Moving to England, I saw golden syrup of the shelves of almost every supermarket and felt great relief that my ANZAC biscuit baking undertakings would be not be hindered by the lack of syrup. But then I tried to find desiccated coconut.

I will start this by stating that most of the supermarkets in Manchester city centre are small and generally useless. There numerous Tesco Expresses and Sainsbury’s Locals that stock your basic necessities at slightly inflated prices. Depending on which supermarket you go to, you can find different items depending on the people who live or work nearby so you can generally find everything you need by visiting one or two stores. HOWEVER, it would appear that no one needs desiccated coconut. I went to five supermarkets looking for the fairly ordinary item but came out empty handed. Where was the coconut? As ANZAC day drew closer, I became increasingly anxious and even contemplated making them without coconut. The horror.

I desperately asked a friend where on earth he thought I would find this ingredient and after looking frazzled and perplexed he suggested I look in China Town. YES. The chinese supermarkets somehow manage to pack everything you could possibly imagine onto their shelves. And sure enough, there it was, next to dried mushrooms and chillies, a bag of mysterious dry white shavings.

I made my ANZACs a day late but I don’t think it matters. They were perfect – crunchy outside and chewy innards. I have now fed them to four Brits experiencing ANZAC biscuits for the first time. And all of them said, “Is there coconut in this?” Yes. Yes there is.

Yum.

Yum.

Who is She?

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

This week I went to the Bay Horse pub in the Northern Quarter. I was with Sir Pubert Gladstone (He requested a pseudonym, so he got one.) who informed me of a ‘lady in a glass box’ located downstairs in the basement. I went to investigate and sure enough, there she was. A blonde, sunglasses-wearing lady staring at a bird in a cage. Who is she? And what was she doing in the basement of a fairly average pub? This lovely lady and a bit of Nick Cave and the Black Seeds have prompted the following story.

Lucy and the Bird

Lucy’s limbs flail as she dances in the corner of the Bay Horse basement to the music that only she can hear. She dances alone in an almost empty room, everyone else settled in booths sipping whisky and beer, conversation underway. She has been here before. Every night, in fact, for what feels like forever. Next to her a bird sits silently and motionless in a silver cage, watching the scene unfold. Only its eyes flick back and forth, back and forth as the clientele pass. Few people notice the bird and those who do are disappointed by it. A dry martini sits untasted on a small mantle next to a half-melted candle and a stack of Jim Beam coasters. Lucy has the same drink every night but never takes a sip. The owners don’t ask what she would like; they simply nod at her and pour. Her blank face shows no response, she simply treats the small glass as a fee for being there.

Lucy is given a wide berth as she dances, her eyes covered in dark, rounded sunglasses. Her peroxide blonde wig is dry and frizzy; fibrous strands pickup static charge as her hands brush past it. Her legs are encased in criss-cross stockings; shoeless, she dances unflinching as her feet stick to years of sticky alcohol accretion.

Upstairs the bell rings for last drinks and the small crowd finish the last drops of precious liquid, pull on jackets and leave. Lucy continues to dance in her corner, bar staff collecting empties and placing chairs on tables around her. A quick mop just for the sake of it, the final glasses washed and put away for tomorrow. The doors are locked and the lights turned off, leaving Lucy and the bird together in the darkness of the Bay Horse basement.

Lady at the Bay Horse

Lady at the Bay Horse

No Farmers in this Dell

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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!

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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

Friday, 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!