Archive for May, 2014

From Small Seeds Lettuce Grows

Friday, May 30th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jon gave me a present. Jon runs an organisation called Sow the City and organises community garden projects throughout Greater Manchester. He’s the garden man of The Classroom which explains why he gave me compost. Not just any old compost – compressed compost tablets in a mini-plastic-greenhouse. He also gave me a packet of cos lettuce seeds and a set of instructions. He also wished me luck.

Thanks, Jon.

Thanks, Jon.

I waited until my return from Paris before taking on this green-finger challenge. I have a tendency to kill most plants, usually through over watering. I remarkably still have four healthy plants living in my bedroom, all of these having survived an entire year in my care. IT’S A MIRACLE.

On Sunday I followed the reasonably simple instructions.

  • Soak compost tablets in warm water for 10 minutes or until expanded.

How warm is warm water?! I am like my father when it comes to instructions and start panicking about the details. So I decided to just guess the appropriate water temperature and placed the 12 tablets in a small bowl with warmish water straight from my kitchen tap. I immediately wished I had chosen a larger bowl as the compost tablets began to swell and were soon about the size of the plastic eggs you find inside Kinder Surprise chocolates. It was brilliant! I stood staring at the expanding compost and even said “Oh cool!” out loud. That’s how neat it was.

Watching compost grow

Watching compost grow

  • Place expanded tablets in plastic container.

Not much explanation needed. I did that. It was easy.

  • Insert one seed into each tablet, replace lid and leave in warm, sunny place.

Surely one seed wouldn’t be enough? I like to increase my chances of success and decided to place two seeds in each tablet. I have so many seeds anyway – surely it is unlikely that both seeds will germinate?

Grow, my pretties!

Grow, my pretties!

Apparently I was wrong. After putting the lid on the container and leaving my little seed babies on my sunny windowsill, I checked their progress on Tuesday morning to discover that two seeds will definitely both germinate. I HAVE BABY LETTUCE! Every day the little sprouts get bigger and more impressive and soon I will be eating cos lettuce for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I just need to find a way of replanting them into a larger pot so that they can turn from baby lettuces into fully mature and utterly delicious lettuces.

Hello little green thing!

Hello little green thing!

Parson’s Nose, 1940s Porn, and England’s Most Forgettable Town Names

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Yesterday was yet another Bank Holiday in England – May is full of them. The sun was shining so Sir Pubert Gladstone and I headed out to an antiques market in Nantwich. We were welcomed with open arms, a “It’s nice to have some young people here” and free chocolate eclairs to suck on as we wandered around the 40 or so stalls selling gems from yesteryear. There was an interesting mix of items on sale ranging from postcards, jewellery, decorative vases and enough ceramic dogs/cats/horses/birds/etc to fill a zoo. A highlight was a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Managementan in-depth guide to how to run a successful household, originally written in the 1860s. Offering recipe suggestions for a shooting party and cures for stammering, it contains every piece of useful information a woman or housemaid could ever need. Plus more.

There were also multiple stalls selling vintage Playboy magazines and I had a lengthy conversation with two older gentlemen about the quality of the hand drawn images in 1940s porn. Apparently we HAD to see Batgirl – such great drawing skills and particularly conical breasts. I had won their confidence by spotting a missing book of locomotive postcards, which led to me being allowed to “slip into my pocket” a set of Lyons Tea cards about Australia. According to Card #4, Perth has a population of 376,000.

Perth has changed a bit.

Perth has changed a bit.

After learning about naked ladies, we went for a walk around Nantwich, making a beeline for the city’s church, St Mary’s. We were again warmly welcomed (although no eclairs or pornography this time) and encouraged to explore the impressive 14th century construction. A very friendly volunteer told us about the intricate carvings within the chancel and pointed out a specific detail highlighting the craftsman’s clear dislike for the vicar. Subtly carved into one of the choir stalls is a dodo with the face of the vicar protruding from its rear-end. Apparently this was a play on the derogatory saying of “Parson’s nose.” Very amusing.

Our Bank Holiday adventure continued with a random drive following road signs in the hope of discovering something interesting and exciting. The car went into autopilot when we spotted a sign for a “Microbrewery,” however the signs quickly disappeared and we never found it. All wasn’t lost, however, as we managed to stumble across a town whose name we managed to forget every time we wanted to remember where we were. Even as I write this I need to go to Google maps and find the town to tell you it was called Audlem. This small Cheshire town was going off; bars, sports grounds and local cafés were surrounded by stalls and stages celebrating the Audlem Music Festival and the Union Jack was flying proudly down the streets of the town. Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine and supporting local bands. We went for a wander and managed to spot two men with mullet hair cuts in less than 30 minutes. WIN. We sat and had a beer while listening to groups of teenage boys perform on stage and tried hard to memorise and pronounce the name of the town we were in – Ord-Lem? Owd-lem?

Audlem town centre

Audlem town centre

The unpronounceable and easily-forgettable town names continued as we headed back to Manchester and drove through a place called Wybunbury. Even the Brit driving the car couldn’t say this easily. Why-Bun-bury? Wib-unbry? Who knows. We considered asking a local but didn’t want to offend.

Returning to Paris

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

My life in Paris seems so long ago now. A lot has happened and changed in the year and a bit that I have been living in Manchester. Now all that I used to call home seems like some sort of false memory. Occasionally it dawns on me that I used to live in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. I learnt how to walk around the entire city without the use of a map, I became friends with my local boulanger, and I hung out with the BoBos. I was never Parisian but I wasn’t just an expat.

Returning to Paris for a long weekend was surprisingly challenging. While I really wanted to see my favourite city again, there was a part of me that knew it just wouldn’t be the same. Paris is no longer my home. I no longer have an apartment that I can return to to escape the car horns and throngs of tourists. I knew things would have changed and people would have moved on with their lives. That’s what happens.

However as I stepped off the plane and went to collect my luggage, I smiled to myself as I watched all of my French co-passengers rush to stand as close to the carousel as possible, blocking the view and access of everyone else wishing to collect their bags. Clearly some things will never change.

I only had three full days in Paris, one of those being dominated by the half-marathon. On the Friday I managed to cover 60 per cent of my favourite areas of Paris. My highlight: hiring a Velib city bike and zooming through Paris with the wind in my hair. There is something about this sensation that makes me feel so alive. I used to love riding a bike through the city and being able to head back to my old canal-side haunts in the 10éme instantly reminded me of why I love this city so much.

Canal St Martin

Canal St Martin

It was nice to see Canal St Martin and visit Les Récollets again. I caught up with some of my old friends but others I will need to go back again to see. The weather turned on the sunshine for me and my black jeans and long sleeved tops turned out to be poor choices. I had picnics, ate great food, sat in the sunshine, went for long walks along the Seine and discussed new romances. What else would you do in Paris?

It was great to be back and the intoxicating buzz and electrification of my senses that smacks you in the face and makes you feel so alive hit me once again. But I was happy to come back to Manchester, the city where I have created a new life and a new identity for myself. Perhaps this was because I had contracted gastro and just wanted my own bed. But ultimately I think it is more that inbuilt need to be in a place that understands you and offers you the comforts and opportunities that you are seeking at that point in your life. Paris was my crazy world one and a half years ago. Now I have something new and I like it.

The obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower

The obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower

Happy Birthday, You Delicious Nutty-Chocolate Delight

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

A very big congratulations and happy birthday to my good friend, Nutella who turned 50 years old this week. We have spent a lot of time getting to know one another and I feel our friendship has grown from strength to strength. I have consumed this wondrous, gooey hazelnut and chocolate spread in Australia, France, England, Germany and various other European countries, with each country offering a slightly different flavour sensation. No two countries deliver the same product – the ratio of chocolate to nut and the consistency can vary significantly. It is smoother in France than it is in the UK, and a lot more chocolatey in Australia. Despite it being an Italian invention, I give the award for “Best Use of Nutella” to the French who spread copious amounts in hot crêpes creating chocolate volcanoes that ooze down your chin. Simple culinary brilliance. I will, however, give the Italians the “Invention Prize” for the Nutella flavoured gelato that I had in Bologna. WOW. Just wow.

Mmm… nutella gelato...

Mmm… nutella gelato…

I have consumed Nutella on bread, in crêpes, as ice cream, in cakes, in little plastic tubs that are designed for kids but loved by adults, in a calzone and, I am willing to admit, licked off the end of a knife. The excitement levels that I am experiencing while writing this post almost scare me and I am currently envisioning swimming in a vat of Nutella. Clearly my love for this product and dedication to the consumption of it, despite its affect on my health and waist line, means that Mr Ferrero should definitely make it happen. Or at least give me a free jar.

The most Nutella-ful crêpe that I have ever consumed. It was freaking awesome.

The most Nutella-ful crêpe that I have ever consumed. It was freaking awesome.

Une Petite Course à Paris

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

It had been over a year since I was last in Paris. Despite insisting that I would return regularly to see my friends, the ability to travel between Manchester and Paris has turned out to not be as simple as first thought. While the two cities are reasonably close, the cost and travel time between them is surprisingly substantial. Plus life has gotten in the way and my grand return to my favourite city just never eventuated. Until last weekend.

A few months ago, I received a desperate text message from my running buddy, Becky, asking me to come to Paris to participate in a group run. It was a long way to go for a 5 kilometre race, however I was willing to accept any excuse to get me back there. Unfortunately one of our other team members had to pull out and so we never signed up for the group run. Instead, the week after completing the Manchester Marathon, while still feeling the high of running 42 kilometres, I googled “Run Paris 18 19 May” et voila! There was going to be a half marathon starting from the Bois de Bologne and heading out through the banlieue to St Germaine-en-Laye that weekend. I told Becky, we signed up and suddenly a month after completing a marathon we were doing a half. Mon dieu.

Go Number 2931!

Go Number 2931!

The race started at 8am, an hour earlier than both Becky and I thought. We then discovered it would take us 50 minutes to get to the start line. So working backwards, we realised we would need to get up at 5.45am to eat breakfast, get ready and arrive at the race on time. Yay.

Bon matin, Paris.

Bon matin, Paris.

We played ‘spot the runners’ on the metro out to the Bois de Bologne, as more and more people wearing lycra, race numbers and carrying the plastic bags we had been provided to transport our belongings got on the train. The weather was beautiful – clear skies and a nice light breeze. Perfect conditions for the run.

The race was fantastic – described as being 50 per cent urban, 50 per cent vegetation, the route started in one of Paris’s wooded areas before heading towards the suburbs. We passed through small villages, dodging cars, jumping over curbs and turning sharp corners on footpaths. We then headed along the river Seine, running along a sandy path with the water on one side and huge mansions with amazing manicured gardens on the other. It was very beautiful and peaceful. The two hill climbs were less peaceful and my poor legs, which haven’t seen a decent hill in over a year due to Manchester’s ultra flat terrain, were a little bit shocked. However Team Blonde managed to encourage each other up both hills and we made it to the top without stopping. GO TEAM.

There were two issues with the race:

  1. There were no toilets along the route. This is fine for the french men who are able and willing to go to the toilet against any tree, fence, pole or open space they can find. Not so easy for the ladies who either had to drop their dacks in front of hundreds of people or simply hold on.
  2. The water stations served water in paper cups. Have you ever tried running with a cup of water in your hand? Have you then attempted to drink from it? I dare you to try it and if you manage to get more than half of the water into your mouth and not up your nose, all over your hand or on the ground then I will kiss your feet. Perhaps it was therefore a good thing that they were filling the cups with a high pressure water hose so most of the water jumped straight out and you were served a cup that was only a quarter full. Not great. Water is quite important when you’re running 20 kilometres.

The race finished at the Chateau in St Germain-en-Laye which has views over Paris and the surrounding suburbs. It was extremely pleasant to stretch our legs with such an amazing view. Plus we both managed to finish in under two hours (my time was 1 hour 57 minutes) – very pleasing results considering the warm temperatures, the painful hill climbs and the lack of water and toilets. Definitely one of the prettiest races I have ever completed. And I have discovered that a half marathon is less than half as difficult as a marathon. The painful bit of a marathon hits after you have reached the 30 kilometre mark. Becky and I both agreed that 20 kilometres is the optimum race length – not too short and not too long. Now I just need to find another race so that I can add to my ugly medal collection.

Nice view.

Nice view.

Brockholes and Clitheroe Castle

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

On Sunday Sir Pubert Gladstone and I went on an adventure driving north of Manchester to a nature reserve near Preston. A friend working in my office mentioned Brockholes as a place to visit so Pubert and I took a risk and ventured out in potentially rainy weather. Located on a junction just off one of England’s busiest roads (the M6), Brockholes is a newish development featuring some fantastic wood-panelled huts floating on a lake. Last weekend there was a vintage and craft fair with stalls selling handmade products and pre-loved items. Like most craft fairs, most of the stalls were a bit naff. But the buildings were fantastic with some very interesting roof angles, sun lights and paper-machê ceilings. 

Brockholes

Brockholes

Brockholes

Brockholes

We went for a wander around the nature reserve checking out the River Ribble and some small forested areas. Sadly the weather turned on us and we headed back to the car to escape the rain. We had contemplated eating lunch at a wood fired pizza stall but there was a long queue and they weren’t exactly producing pizzas at the speed of light. So we decided to head off on a random drive, seeing where the roads would take us. Hopefully to a nice pub.

We spotted a sign pointing to a town called Clitheroe – difficult to pronounce and sounding like a character’s name in a Jane Austin story it seemed like the perfect location for us to head to. Clitheroe was a pleasant surprise – winding streets leading to a castle on a hill. We found a café to eat some lunch at before we went for a walk to the top of the castle. From here we had a great view over the countryside until it started raining again.

Moody skies at Clitheroe Castle

Moody skies at Clitheroe Castle

View from Clitheroe Castle

View from Clitheroe Castle

It is great to be able to get out and explore England. It continues to amaze me how much there is to see in such a small space. So much history. Saying that, we drove past a sign for Botany Bay which turned out to be a shopping centre. Disappointing.

Winning City

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

It’s impressive how quickly Mancunians can organise a parade. In the past year, I have witnessed two parades seemingly appear out of nowhere. When Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United, a parade was instantly arranged in his honour and a day after the announcement people were lining the streets with Fergie flags cheering as cars carrying Man U players wound through the streets of the city. Yesterday was Parade #2 – this time for Manchester’s other football pride, Manchester City. Having officially won the Premier League on Sunday, City fans lined the blocked off streets wearing their blue scarves and watched as the team went past on a double decker bus. Stopping traffic on the main street of Manchester at 6pm on a work day is no problem for the sake of football.

I was going to a Creative Industry Networking Group meeting at Brewdog, a pub that unfortunately happens to be located on the parade route. As soon as I started making my way to the pub, I became instantly aware that my choice of red scarf (an item of clothing that I wear on a daily occasion) was perhaps not the best idea. I kept my head down and whispered, “I am not a Manchester United fan, I just happen to be wearing red!” under my breath, hoping to avoid being attacked. I survived the push through the City crowd and my friend Hannah and I managed to watch the double decker bus go past with famous football players waving to the adoring fans. We didn’t know who any of them were but they apparently kick balls dead good.

Go team!

Go team!

The highlight of the evening occurred as Hannah and I walked home from the pub past a group of workmen clearing away the barriers along the road. They were lifting metal fences onto a fork lift and one of them called out to the others, “Watch your back!” This inspired a musical performance from another workman who started singing, “Watch your back, watch your back, watch your back for good” in the style of British boy-band sensation, Take That. Pure brilliance.

Happy Classroomiversary to Me!

Friday, May 9th, 2014

You know I love celebrating anniversaries. Any excuse to potentially eat cake. So here’s another one! Today is one year since I started working in The Classroom office space in the Northern Quarter. A lot has happened in that time – I have done some work, spent a lot of time checking email and being distracted by the internet, and I have met some interesting (and weird) people. The atmosphere in the office has changed over the year as different personalities have come and gone and it has grown into a fun, vibrant and friendly place to be. I really enjoy coming to work – it is far more entertaining that checking Facebook at home alone on my couch. I would have brought in cake to celebrate, however it is Friday, which means there’s hardly anyone in here because who does work on a Friday? Ah, the joy of freelance.

Working hard in the classroom

Working hard in the classroom

Imperial War Museum North

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

I have wanted to go to the Imperial War Museum since I first visited Manchester in 2007 and I finally had the opportunity to go on the Monday bank holiday. The building sits proudly on the edge of Salford Quays competing in an “impressive building battle” across the Manchester Ship Canal with the Lowry theatre. While I do love the Lowry, Daniel Libeskind’s angular structure just excites me a little bit more. Libeskind also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin, a building that brought me to tears when I visited it in 2007. The design of the Jewish Museum space with high ceilings, sharp cornered rooms and fantastic use of natural light so cleverly emphasises the horrible story of the holocaust and it made a huge impact on me. This emotional reaction instantly returned as I walked into the Imperial War Museum and saw similar design elements repeated in the building. It’s incredible the affect good architecture and design can have.

Imperial War Museum North

Imperial War Museum North

As you walk around looking at the displays, every 15 minutes or so presentations exploring war-based subjects are projected on every wall within the large exhibition space. The room goes dark and the space becomes a multi-screened movie theatre. The quality of the projects was brilliant – none of the images were out of alignment (a personal hate of mine) and you felt like you were part of the show. It was very clever and very well executed.

Exhibition space

Exhibition space

There is a viewing platform at the top of the building that delivers views over Salford Quays. The lift up to the top sounded like it was in need of repair but the space at the top was great – somewhat open to the elements, those with a fear of heights may not appreciate the view through the slits in the floor down to the ground.

A great view from a cage

A great view from a cage

I will definitely be returning to spend some time in one of the best spaces in Manchester. And so should you. Go there. Now.