Archive for October, 2014

Going Underground in Stockport

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

As part of our active discovery of Manchester and anything within a 30 mile radius of the city, on Sunday Sir Pubert and I decided to explore another level and headed underground. We went to Stockport to the air raid shelters that were set up prior to World War II. Stockport is built on sandstone, therefore allowing for some fairly easy digging and there is an extensive length of tunnels and shelters built underneath the city.

One of the shelters has been turned into a museum and you can walk through the tunnels learning about what life was like underground. The tunnels were used when significant bombings occurred in the area as well as during times of threat. It was difficult to imagine what it must have been like to spend time in these underground shelters, hoping you would come back out alive and with your house intact. The camaraderie that occurred amongst those who sought shelter was incredible and I wondered if this sort of compassion would happen today if we were all required to seek shelter in a hole in the ground.

Stockport air raid shelter

Underneath Stockport.

The air raid museum was quite well done but the tunnels themselves are just worth seeing. They don’t have the same impact as the catacombs in Paris with the stacks of bones piled high as you walk through limestone underground graves, but the air raid shelters are a very special part of Stockport’s history.

Team Library

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

I have failed to mention that I have been kicked out of The Classroom. I didn’t plagiarise my exams or call the Principal rude names – the agency running The Classroom clearly felt that it wasn’t making the big turnovers it was after and therefore my fellow freelancers and I were asked to leave. The worst part about this wasn’t the loss of the space but the potential of not working around my fellow Classroomers. There was a great bunch of people working there and it would be sad for us to all split up.

We had a month and a bit to find ourselves some new working quarters and so as one big team of hot-desk searchers, we tweeted, Facebooked, and physically visited various office spaces across Manchester. Some were fancy and even offered the potential of comfortable seats, but most were far out of our price range. Then we discovered MadLab, a communal office and workshop space in the Northern Quarter that was undergoing renovations. They have offered us an amazing deal and are looking after us as if we are their children. While the renovations continue, a group of us are working from an office space above Terrace, one of the Northern Quarter’s most hipsterish bars. We are being given this space for free which is just music to the ears of poor freelance writers. Big thumbs up and high fives to the folks at MadLab and Terrace for being so accommodating. Everyone drink beer at Terrace and do tech workshops with MadLab. DO IT.

The only downside to working above a bar is that the space is occasionally used for meetings, classes and other ‘stuff’, plus it doesn’t open until 11am. As a result, some of us have migrated to the Manchester Central Library reading room where silence and the sound of intelligence prevail. My co-workers and I somewhat ruin that vibe with occasional giggling and over zealous ‘shhh!’s but I am particularly enjoying my new leather and wood work surface.

library desk

Smart desks.

I like to imagine that hundreds of very intelligent people have sat at these library desks, studying, learning and becoming generally smarter and that some of that is rubbing off on to me. I can’t say I feel any more intelligent. The domed roof is beautiful, too, and the shape of the room means sounds bounce off walls so I can eavesdrop on what people are talking about on the other side of the room. Fun times.

Reading room

Giant dome.

Surviving the Blackpool Experience

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Many places in the UK and the people who live in them have reputations that precede them. Cambridge is toffy-nosed, Essex is orange, no one cares about you in London and it’s best not to admit to being from anywhere even remotely close to Wales. When I told people that I was going to Blackpool, I received a lot of raised eye brows, “Why are you going there?”s, and a few bemused smiles. I also had people becoming very excited, telling me to go to certain places and saying they wished they were going. These mixed responses meant that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. My excitement levels grew – Blackpool here we come!

Honestly, I knew I was going to hate it. I am ultimately a snob and love white table cloths and multiple wine glasses on tables. I don’t like theme parks, I hate going on rides (except for bumper cars) and I really, really can’t stand overpriced novelty items that glow. So keeping that in mind, imagine my joy when I got to Blackpool and found a mile long road lined with rides, theme parks, and shops selling novelty gifts, many of which involved lights. Welcome to Blackpool.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Sir Pubert Gladstone and I had booked ourselves into one of Blackpool’s many el-cheapo B&Bs. It was difficult to differentiate between the very similar looking hotel options, but we ended up going for cheap, clean, decent reviews and with breakfast and parking included. At first I thought it was silly of us to pay an extra £2 for breakfast to be included, but having now visited Blackpool and seen the restaurant/cafe options in town, I am quite pleased with our decision. £1 each for some toast, orange juice and Kellogg’s cereal was definitely a good call.

Blackpool hotel room


We checked into our hotel and having left our bags in our black and white themed ‘Love’ room, we headed off to see the sites with a mixed sense of trepidation and excitement. What wonders would await us?

Blackpool’s main promenade runs along the beachfront. I think they were going for the Los Angeles Boulevard look with the following features:

  • a wide footpath that just cries out for rollerbladers in hot pants
  • a tram line with various novelty trams carrying people from pier to pier (according to Jon, Blackpool has done some significant work on making their trams energy efficient so big ups to them and thank you, Jon, for that incredible fact.)
  • a very long road, that during the winter months is heavily decorated with company sponsored fairy lights
  • an endless row of fish and chip shops, tourist gifts, casinos, palm readers, whacky mirrors, doughnut carts, Mr Whippy vendors and haunted houses. Madame Tussauds was there, as was Mr Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

As we walked down the main drag, my mood towards the wonder that is Blackpool changed from “Wow!” to “Is this real?” to “More light sabers?” to “Can we go home now?”. I think we both contemplated leaving and returning to Manchester within the first 30 minutes of being there. But we were determined to experience Blackpool and see why thousands of people flock to this seaside village every year for their family holidays and to learn what makes it such a great location for a hen’s/buck’s party.

Blackpool tower

Blackpool tower.

So we bought some fish and chips. And they were good – I even managed to enjoy the mushy peas. Clearly they know how to make not-disgusting green slop in Blackpool. We then decided to join in the party and went to a bar for some drinks. Our original thought of doing a mini-pub crawl turned into us staying in the same bar all night as the entertainment was far good to leave. We watched as themed t-shirted buck’s parties stumbled over to sash bearing hen’s groups to try out their moves.

We managed to stay out until midnight and our walk back to the hotel was quiet with all of the shops closed for the night. We are clearly are more made for the Blackpool party scene than we realised. As we wandered back, I ventured down on to the beach to look at the tide that had gone far out to sea. It was beautiful listening to the sound of the waves and being hit by the warm autumn winds off the sea. Nothing beats fresh ocean air and Blackpool had plenty of it. It is just a shame that the rest of the town is run down, tired and lacking the money to do anything about it.

Blackpool beach

Out to sea.

Blackpool clearly brings enjoyment to many people’s lives and I know that most of the reason why I wouldn’t choose to go back is because it just isn’t my cup of tea. I would never choose to spend my money and time at a theme park and on carnival food but I know these things bring great pleasure to a lot of people. So it just good that everyone is different, isn’t it?

We did have a win at the casinos though. Along the main drag are countless games rooms with slot machines, hand-grabbing-soft-toys machines, and those games where you try and knock hundreds of 2p coins out by inserting your own 2p coin at exactly the right moment. Occasionally, random coins will tip over the edge for no reason other than gravity and what I can only presume is some sort of ‘higher power’. Over our less than 24 hours in Blackpool, we made a total of 38p by walking past all of these machines and finding coins that had fallen out. WINNERS!

So our time in Blackpool wasn’t wasted. We saw the sights, discovered what Blackpool was all about, met some locals, had decent fish and chips and won 38p. I don’t plan on ever going back, but if you like flashing lights, roller coasters and cheap B&Bs, then come to Blackpool. They do a good mushy peas.

Hotel sign

We came as guests but I don’t think we’re friends.

I’m Contemplating Becoming a Monk

Friday, October 17th, 2014

I have visited a few monasteries in my life and life as a monk doesn’t seem so bad. You get to garden a lot, the time for silence and reflection means you don’t have to listen to annoying people, and you get to live in a seriously awesome building. I suspect my gender and my hesitancy to commit to religious practise means my two years living at Les Récollets, an ex-13th century convent, in Paris is most likely the closest I will ever get to my new life goal. That’s a shame. So instead I will simply continue to visit this spectacular buildings and make the most of the tranquility while I am there.

On one of my first days in Manchester, I was catching a train into Piccadilly station with my cousin, Caroline. She pointed out a beautiful old building through the window and said that it was a monastery that had been done up and was now used for concerts and events. The monastery sat in the back of my mind as a place that I should go and visit and when Sir Pubert Gladstone mentioned that there was a beautiful monastery in the middle of one Manchester’s dodgier suburbs, I put two and two together. I had found myself a chauffeur.

So let’s talk about Gorton. I asked my friend, Jon (Garden Boy), to tell me his thoughts on Gorton. I figured an opinion from a local would hold far more value than my outsider thoughts. Here’s what he had to say:

“Gorton is predominantly social housing, burnt out cars and a really minute amount of incredible architecture. There is a unusual phenomenon of people collecting ‘potentially valuable objects’ in their front yard. There are piles of sofas and general junk that they hope might one day be worth something.

It is the one part of Manchester that even the people from the roughest parts of Manchester have an innate fear of visiting.

There are areas of waste land that no one has dared venture into for over 50 years due purely to a deeply imbedded fear.

Jon did one have positive thing to say about Gorton.

Gorton Tub was the one swimming pool in Manchester with slides. The nearest one for a hundred miles. It was probably closed down due to some sort of horrible event.

I think that and these Multiple Deprivation statistics showing Gorton as being ranked 407 out of 32,482 in England, where one is the most deprived and 32,482 the least, highlight that Gorton isn’t high on the ‘must visit’ list. According to Wikipedia, in 2006 it also had the highest number of uninsured cars in the country.

So who would have thought, that nestled amongst the deprivation and bingo centres, there would be a Franciscan monastery? Built between 1863 and 1872, the monastery was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World and received a £6.5million upgrade.

Gorton monastery

A lovely piece of architecture.

Sir Pubert and I visited the monastery on Sunday during its limited public opening hours. It was like someone had stuck the Disney castle in the middle of a war zone. Surreal yet beautiful. Having visited a lot of rejuvenated buildings during my travels, the Gorton Monastery has received some of the best upgrades that I have seen. Thought has been taken to ensure the building is functional but also retains its original essence. There is a central courtyard garden that has that instant calming affect that gardens inside large religious buildings tend to have. You step outside and automatically feel at peace with the world. It was lovely.

Gorton monastery

The courtyard garden

The monastery is now the location for concerts, weddings and courses and is hired out for private functions. I’m not one of those girls who is secretly planning her perfect wedding, but even I have to admit to thinking that it would be a great venue to get hitched in. But I just looked at the prices and I’ve stopped thinking that.

Gorton monastery

They even managed to make pink LEDs look good.

So for anyone planning a trip to Gorton, definitely pop the monastery on the list of things to see. I’d say it is the #1 highlight of the area, now that Gorton Tub has been closed down.

Wrap ‘im Op!

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Every day I receive copious amounts of emails offering me bargains, reductions and amazing deals on all sorts of things that I may or may not want. Most of these emails receive the automatic ‘delete’ as no matter how cheap those photo canvases, horse riding lessons or entry to Blackpool Pleasure Park for a family of four are,  I really don’t want or need them. However, on the odd occasion I find something worth purchasing and when I received an email saying I could get £10 tickets to see the Rugby Super League final at Old Trafford I forwarded it to Sir Pubert for his thoughts. I had been wanting to go to Old Trafford since moving to Manchester and £10 entry seemed like a bargain. My only questions were:

  1. Is this really worth £10?
  2. What is Rugby Super League?

Sir Pubert was very pleased with my discovery as apparently he likes rugby league and his team was going to be playing in the finals. For some unknown reason, he supports Wigan and so, on Saturday night, we joined the swarm of 70,000 spectators to watch the Wigan Warriors vs St Helens Saints. Sir Pubert had given me a 15 minute “These are the rules of the game” session and so I entered Old Trafford with conviction and confidence. It didn’t last long.

Old Trafford

Blue skies over Old Trafford

I have never been to any large sporting events – I went to watch the Wildcats at Perry Lakes once, that’s about it. The Super League final at Old Trafford was slightly more impressive than under-attended basketball. Our cheap seats meant we had to climb numerous stairs to get to our spots near the back, however considering the bargain price, we had a fantastic view over the stadium. I had one of those “Wow!” moments as we entered the main arena and I saw the rugby pitch (is it called a pitch? Field? Ground? Lawned space?). The size of the ground and the buzz from the excited crowd built a really powerful atmosphere. I was actually quite excited to watch grown men throw themselves on top of each other over and over again.

Old Trafford

View from our seats

We were seated in an area that had a mix of Wigan and St Helens supporters and as the game was about to start, three Wigan fans came in to sit next to us. Already somewhat under the influence, John, introduced himself to us before running off to buy some beers from the bar. He returned shortly after to tell his mates that he couldn’t bring the drinks to the seats so they would have to go down to the bar. The umpire had just blown his whistle for the start of the game as the three of them headed off to consume their pints. Two minutes later, they were back and ready to watch the match. Now that’s how you separate the men from the boys.

John was pleased to discover we were fellow Wigan supporters and after a few pertinent questions, he had decided that Sir Pubert was a good guy, that he has nice eyes and that I should be good to him. This came with a few high fives, some leg slapping and lots of laughter. He was a good bloke, was John. He and his mates bantered with the St Helens supporters in front of them, paying more attention to slapping the backs of their heads than to the actual game.

Thanks to John, I learnt a lot about the rugby and life in general. Mostly that the Wigan players should “Wrap ‘im op like Christmas!” and that a fairly buxom lady could “feed a whole crèche, she could.” A bit of good old Northern banter, as they like to say in these parts. It was very entertaining and all done with the light-hearted nature that the friendly folk of the north have.

So the game. It was surprisingly better than I expected and by the second half I could follow most of what was happening. Unfortunately, one of Wigan’s players decided to punch one of the St Helens’s players in the face in the first few minutes, therefore leaving Wigan with one less player on the field. While Wigan made more aggressive attacks, St Helens was the stronger team and they won the game. What a shame.

Other highlights of the evening included a live performance by James who is apparently quite well known. He’s one of the many musicians from Manchester that this city is very proud of but I have no idea who they are. Anyway, the crowd seemed to like him so that’s good. There were many dancing girls wearing black hot pants and carrying silver pompoms who tried really hard to entertain the crowd. Unfortunately timing, spacing and organisation weren’t their strong points so there were moments when they just looked like little lost sheep on the field. They sure could wiggle their bottoms though so well done to them.

Overall it was one of the best £10 that Sir Pubert has ever spent on me (Thank you!) – a night’s entertainment with sport, potentially good looking men in shorts (it was hard to determine this from our great height), dancing girls and James. Plus I increased my northern vocabulary which is ultimately priceless.

A Two Hour Drive for Lemon Ice Cream

Friday, October 10th, 2014

*Warning: The following blog post contains discussions of food regurgitation (aka vomiting.) If you don’t want to hear about it, don’t read further.

I will travel great distances for good food and when my cousin, Les, told me about a lemon ice cream that could only be described as “orgasmic,” I decided I needed to try it. I have never heard anyone describe a food as orgasmic as repeatedly as Les did about this ice cream. Clearly it was good and clearly I needed some.

The fact that the ice cream was located a two-or-so hour drive at the Inn at Brough in the Lake District didn’t really bother me. Thankfully Les was so keen on this ice cream that she was willing to drive me there as a “Birthday Adventure Treat.” So yesterday my birthday continued in the form of a drive through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District and an amazing lunch at the Inn at Brough. I’m a lucky girl.

We arrived at the Inn for our booked time slot of 1pm and were greeted by the very friendly staff members who knew that Les was ‘that woman who keeps calling to check they will have the ice cream.’ The restaurant was empty, but it was a rainy Thursday and apparently the place is booked out on weekends. I could see why – Brough is a small village and the Inn sits proudly in the centre, offering a comfortable place to come and sit, drink and eat. We were looked after by a delightful lady who was friendly, welcoming and very, very polite. The Inn is attempting to be a little bit fancy and the service reflected this. I preferred when she kept looking out of the window and across the road to her house where a man was pruning her trees.

View from window

Our rainy view

We ordered some wine and then our food, our grumbling stomaches dictating that we should both splurge and try the lamb and redcurrant pies seeing as the lamb would be local and therefore delicious. This was Error #1. Our menu reading eyes and greedy stomaches were far too hungry for their own good. We were told the pies would take 25 minutes to cook during which time we just salivated more and more for tender baby sheep.

When our food arrived we both recoiled at the size of the serving and made “Gosh, I’ll never finish this” noises. But as we tucked in and tasted the tender lamb, buttery pastry, crisp potatoes, sweet carrots and some heavily buttered snow peas, we couldn’t stop. Soon we had both devoured the majority of our food, not quite finishing simply to ‘leave room for the ice cream.’ This was Error #2. Hindsight suggests I should have chosen a cheese and pickle sandwich but I know it wouldn’t have been as delicious as the pie.

Lamb pie and vegetables

Mmm… pie.

It was really good – the meat wasn’t fatty and the flavours were fantastic although I didn’t taste much redcurrant. The chips were seriously crispy – these giant potato chunks had obviously been doused in some sort of animal’s fat and deep fried. Too good to stop eating. The vegetables were alright but nothing special. The snow peas were limp and dripping butter and the ratatouille looked and tasted like it had been made a few days ago and reheated. But overall it was a top plate o’ food.

The lovely server knew we were wanting the lemon ice cream for dessert and said she would give us ten minutes to digest before bringing it out. Such a wise lady. She would have been even wiser to suggest that we have a cup of tea instead. But no, we were there for the ice cream and so we should have it. Error #3.

Three balls of soft yellow ice cream were served rolling around on a plate with a chocolate swirl biscuit as garnish. It didn’t look beautiful but who cares? If this ice cream is really orgasmic then does presentation really matter?

Lemon ice cream

It ain’t pretty but it sure tastes good.

Les dived in first as I took the necessary photographs and there was that silence that you only get when people are sitting enjoying food on the other side of the table. She was a happy lady. The ice cream was creamy but not overly sweet with the lemon tang biting through. It was really, really good, although I kept getting strong hints of egg which kind of put me off. After one and a half balls I was reaching my cream/fat/excess food limit but I struggled on for the sake of having driven two hours to eat this dessert.

Was it orgasmic? I’m not quite sure but I am not a citrus lover. I also have difficulty eating large amounts of cream-based items and would never normally have three scoops of ice cream. But the flavours were definitely delicious and it was very good homemade ice cream. Compliments to the chef.

Reclining back in our seats, our over stuffed bellies were now grumbling in disgust at our greed. I had a cup of peppermint tea to aid my digestive system and Les had a cup of coffee. Both were served with shortbread biscuits on the saucer. Perhaps these were the ‘waffer thin’ mints that broke Mr Creosote in the infamous Monty Python scene. We were both feeling a little unwell.

I would like to point out, highlight and emphasise the fact that neither Les nor I believe the Inn at Brough was to blame for the events that followed. The food was perfect, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever and I think you should definitely eat at the Inn. It was our own personal greed and in ability to handle rich food that led to us both experiencing moments of nausea that may or may not have resulted in one of us revisiting her lunch near the roman ruins of Brough Castle. Let’s just say, I will do anything to avoid vomiting so you can add up the clues by yourself to work out who it was.

Brough Castle

Scene of many battles and at least one upset stomach.

And so, with our disgruntled bellies and our acceptance that it just served us right for being greedy pigs, we headed off on an exploratory journey of the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales. Apart from intestinal explosions and the fairly insistent rain, it was a great day out and the meal at the Inn was definitely worth the drive. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of us are in a huge rush to go back for more lemon ice cream, no matter how orgasmic it may be.

Trough of Bowland

A yellow beetle is the only way to roll on the Trough of Bowland

Walk on Fire… Tick.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Good news, everybody! I have walked on fire! Twice. And my lack of blisters means that I am a Bulgarian virgin. Just goes to show what you learn when you do fire walking.

Last night was the Massive Manchester Firewalk which I had ridiculously signed up for during a lapse of concentration and a moment of “What am I doing with my life?” Walking on burning coals seemed like a great challenge and all I needed to do was raise £50 for the charity, Retrak. Not only would I be helping African children, I would also be doing something that not many people do, much like going to worm charming competitions and running marathons.

Raising the money proved far too easy. Thanks to the generous donations from Hazel, Les, Sir Pubert, Ross, Brett, Nat, Jonny, Andy and Penny, I raised over £80 and was suddenly morally obliged to walk across foot-burning coals. Brilliant.

Authorised to walk on fire.

Authorised to walk on fire.

My friend Pooja had decided to join me in these fire walking shenanigans as part of her requirements to have ‘extra curricula achievements’ on her CV when she next applies to be the UK’s best doctor. So on Sunday evening, Pooja and I prepared our senses with a pre-walk glass of wine and then headed to Albert’s Chop House for the training. We spent an hour with a man named Scott who has set two world records for walking the longest distance on burning surfaces. He also enjoys walking on glass.

Most of the hour involved learning about various types of fire walking that happen around the world and the differing views on the best way to go about it. Apparently mind over matter does nothing apart from make you forget that you’re walking on fire. Sir Pubert had been training me to think ‘cool wet grass’ while walking over the coals for the past few weeks but Scott didn’t believe in this idea. Not because it doesn’t help, but because you then reach the end of the coals thinking you’ve been walking over soggy turf. Anyone can do that – not everyone walks over fire.

Yep. That's fire alright.

Yep. That’s fire alright.

After an hour of chit-chat I was hungry and eager to walk on hot charcoal and we finally headed out to the fire. Over the hour, blocks of wood had been burnt down to cinders. The walk track was made up of a stretch of wet glass followed by approximately three metres of black charcoal and another few metres of wet grass. The charcoal was smoking and covered in balls of glowing red embers. It looked HOT. Not just warm, but “Touch me and you will melt into a big blob of molten puss” hot. I was a tad nervous.

After a brief introduction from Scott, he then proceeded to show us how it was done and he walked like the professional fire walker that he is over the burning coals. And then it was our turn. We all stood in a line, awaiting our fates, Pooja and I staying towards the back. But that line was one of the fasted moving lines I have ever seen. I wish the queue at Aldi would move that fast – everyone was apparently eager to burn their feet off and before I knew it, I was standing on the wet grass with a stretch of smoking hot coals waiting for my precious sensitive tootsies.

I didn’t have much time to think but what was whizzing through my head consisted mostly of the following: You idiot, Jessica Davies. Look what you have gotten yourself into now. Why didn’t you listen to your mother and father who said that this was a very bad idea? Fire + feet = ow.

But then I remembered that Scott had said I’d be fine and that all of these other brave fire walkers had done it before me. So I did the only thing that I could do – I took a deep breath, laughed at my own stupidity and started walking. And I made it to the other side without dissolving into the coals. YAY!

I then rejoined the line and waited for my turn to do it again. Pooja had also made it safely across, her dainty little feet hadn’t been singed either. GO US.

It turns out fire walking isn’t all that painful if you do it correctly. The pain scale was about similar to acupuncture – the only pain came from small lumps of burnt wood sticking to my skin but then immediately falling off. It was like being stuck with hot needles and it was only painful if they hit particularly soft and sensitive parts of my feet. And I wouldn’t say it felt ‘hot’ at all. Walking on beach sand at 3pm on a 40 degree day in Perth feels far, far hotter than this. I didn’t receive any burns and my feet didn’t feel any huge difference. In fact, my feet getting cold walking on the cobble stones of Albert Square was more painful.

It was a good feeling to make it to the other side but finishing a marathon is three hundred times better. Fire walking was a great challenge and I am very pleased with myself for doing it, but I am secretly a little disappointed that it was so easy. I did come away with an amazing certificate that I am going to frame and hang next to my jigsaw puzzle of the Queen. I wonder if Liz has walked on fire – she should give it a go.

Officially certified – I have walked on fire.

Officially certified – I have walked on fire.

A Parcel in the Post

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

This morning a mixture of disrupted sleep, general grumpiness, a touch of homesickness, and an extreme lack of desire to go to work meant that I was sitting on my couch at 10.45am hoping coffee and a dark chocolate digestive would bring me out of my funk. It wasn’t working. Then out of nowhere, completely unexpectedly, catching me off guard and unaware, came the piercing shriek of the door buzzer and the postman announcing he had a package for me that was too big to fit in my letter box. But my recent stingy spending habits have meant that I haven’t ordered anything online for months. This could only mean one thing – SURPRISE PARCEL ALERT!

I ran downstairs, made small chat with the friendly postman (he didn’t look anything like Postman Pat weirdly) and then dashed back to my apartment and coffee. The handwriting was clearly that of my best friend, Gill, and her request for my address around the time of my birthday meant only one thing – SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PRESENT!

Birthday present

It’s a present!

And wow. What a present. Inside was a card with tear-inducing words and two pieces of Dinosaur Designs brilliance. Not only were they beautiful and from my favourite Australian jewellery designers, they fit my hand and wrist perfectly and they complimented the jewellery and outfit that I was already wearing that day. Gillian is a GENIUS. Or she just knows me well.

Dinosaur design jewellery

Oh it’s lovely.

Perhaps it is bad that I need to receive amazing gifts in the mail to be reminded of this, but every now and then I become aware of how lucky I am to have friends and family members all over the world who continue to think and care about me despite my nomadic lifestyle. Sometimes the distances seem immeasurably far and I dream of the day when teleporters become available and I can simply transport myself to the other side of the world for a hug. But that’s not how life works and they are still working on that technology. But it has reminded me of how important it is to make small gestures to tell people that you love them and are thinking about them. So on that soppy note – thank you, Gill, for knowing me so well, and for bringing me out of today’s funk. I am wearing my new bangle and ring with the necklace my mum surprised me with when I was living in Paris. Three items of “I am thinking about you.” I’m smiling now.

I Ain’t Got Beef Wiv Dat

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014


Another week, another Yelp event with more food than even my endless stomach could handle. Last night I headed to Handmade Burger Co on Deansgate with my fellow Yelp buddies for food and frivolity. It was part of the Carnivorous Maximus series of food events being run by Yelp where a group of us go to a meat-tastic restaurant and gorge on cow/pig/chicken/whatever. My current cooking habits and the regularity of my friends saying, “But I thought you were vegetarian, Jess?” would suggest that I am more of a vegetable than meat lover. I would always choose a spinach and feta filo tart over a plate of ribs. Broccoli excites me and pumpkin… wow. Don’t let me start talking about pumpkin. But every now and then my inner beast craves a big chunk o’ meat. A nice rare filet steak with peppercorn sauce, my mum’s various one-pot chicken dishes, or a juicy burger are always welcomed by these taste buds.

I purposefully avoided over eating in the lead up to this event. Burgers are filling things and I wanted to ensure I had enough space in my belly to fit it all in. Plus there would undoubtedly be chips. Mmm… chips.

On arrival we were offered a drink and I was a little disappointed by the beer options as they were your fairly standard Peroni and Coronas. I had come picturing myself with a pint of ale in one hand and a dripping burger in the other. But some clever reflection on the situation made me realise that a glass of wine is far less stomach-swelling than beer and their New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was a much better choice anyway.

After a bit of mingling, we sat down and ordered our food at which point my thoughts on Handmade Burger and Co skyrocketed. I had spotted the “Specialist Cheese” burger – beef patty, salad, tomato and onion with a choice of ‘fancy’ cheese. One of the cheese options was “blue cheese mayonnaise” which sounded both fantastic and disgusting at the same time. Why ruin a perfectly wonderful cheese by adding mayonnaise? The particularly friendly and organised host serving us delivered the best news of the evening when I questioned how ‘mayonnaisy’ the cheese would be. She simply asked the chefs if I could have plain blue cheese added to my burger and my request was made! No hassle, no rolling of the eyes and I’m fairly certain they didn’t spit in my burger. Wonderful. Now that is customer service.

Handmade Burger Co burger

Look at that Stilton.

The burger arrived and I was thrilled to see a sourdough bun instead of the sickly sweet brioche buns most other burger companies insist on using. It wasn’t the greatest bread but at least I didn’t feel like I was eating a very expensive Big Mac. The beef patty was well cooked and still juicy in the middle and the blue cheese was fabulous. Normally I feel slightly ill after eating a burger and regret the decision – not this time.

I did, however, regret the plain potato chips that I ordered as my side dish. While they may be hand-cut, they lacked any flavour and were just a bit stodgy. You certainly get a lot of them though – I was served at least five potatoes worth. Fellow Yelper, Becs, made an excellent comment saying they should recommend sharing a bowl of chips between three people. There were a lot of wasted potatoes on the table last night.

After stuffing ourselves silly on cow and carbohydrates, a selection of what I can only describe as novelty-sized sundaes were placed down the table for us to share. These beasts were massive heart attacks and we were all a bit overwhelmed by the sugar overload. Sure – they were tasty but I would never, ever order one. Once you start piling cream, brownie pieces, ice cream and sauce, into a giant glass, you lose all concept of flavour. I prefer more refined and less sickly desserts but I have a certain housemate who would make that thing disappear in record time.

Handmade Burger Co sundae

What a whopper.

I was quite impressed by Handmade Burger Co and would put it as one of my better burger experiences since moving to the UK. Nothing beats my favourite Jus Burgers back in Perth, but it is nice to see a burger company offering an interesting range of burgers that stems beyond added copious amounts of bacon.

Not So Homemade

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The other day while walking home through the Northern Quarter, I spotted this item through the kitchen window of one of the Northern Quarter’s hippest, grooviest and most pricey restaurants.

Wellocks Luxury Mayonnaise

For the most luxurious mayonnaise experience, try Wellocks.

While I know restaurants don’t make everything from scratch, it was just slightly scary to see that a key ingredient in this largely ‘sandwich focused’ establishment came out of a plastic tub that was a similar shape and size of a pot of paint or glue.

Perhaps they should consider hiding this little secret slightly better, or at least keeping it away from their very large windows for passing customers to see.