The Christmas that was

December 29th, 2015

A friend just asked me what my New Year resolutions are and I told him that I didn’t have any. I think this might be a slight lie. I always set resolutions, well aware that I won’t stick to them. But I need something to work towards and challenge myself with. I’m not entirely sure what they are yet (although reducing my sugar intake from its current excessive heights is definitely up there) but I know I want to return to writing more on my blog. I have been neglecting it lately and now that I have two large essays to write I find myself drawn back to the safety of my own personal writing. So much easier than scary academia.

December has been a crazy month – I spent a lot of it laughing/crying hysterically and pulling on my hair whenever someone asked me how I was. A lot of people had to put up with a manic Jess as I went a little bit nuts working on a group exhibition for uni. Thirty five people attempting to organise one exhibition does not make for relaxed times but the end result was surprisingly great. I will write about this in a separate post a little later.

exhibition

Proof that I am learning stuff.

I also had a written group assignment to put together, plus two other large essays looming. They’re still looming. Really. Need. To. Write. Them.

Plus paid writing work has been flowing in steadily which has kept me fed and housed. It has been lovely that so many of my clients have been willing to stick with me as I country hopped over the last few months. Being able to juggle university and paid writing work has been life saving. I don’t think I could handle a ‘real job’ at the moment.

And then there was Christmas. Once again, Jess McScrooge came out and I managed to avoid the Christmas markets until the final day when I stocked up on my favourite dutch almond slice. I am exceptionally lucky to have some exceptionally welcoming family members in this country and was invited to spend Christmas with them. It was a small and relaxed gathering (well, relaxed for me because I didn’t have to do anything!) with plenty of delicious food and a mulled wine or two.

On Boxing Day we went for a windy walk up Bosley Cloud, somehow managing to avoid the rain. We ate fruit mince pies at the top, a feat that required two hands in order to stop the wind from steal our pastry crumbs.

mince pie at Bosley Cloud

Pie and a view.

I had another large family gathering yesterday at another cousin’s house and it has reminded me of how fortunate I am to have such a great family around. Sure, they may all be a bunch of oddballs, but who isn’t? Much laughter was had. They’re a good bunch.

Now New Years approaches. I’m quite excited to see what 2016 brings – I already know it will be challenging as a dissertation awaits. If anyone has any thoughts on what I should write about, please let me know because I currently have no idea. Thanks.

Oops.

December 4th, 2015

So another month has passed and I am now three months into My Life in Manchester Part II. Every day I think “I should write a blog post” and then I do the copious amounts of uni work and work-work instead. I have decided to take a little time out to write about little old me again. I miss writing my blog posts and I’m certain you miss reading them. Ha!

Uni is seriously great. Never before have I been so excited about the fact that I have to write a 6000 word essay. It would appear that studying something that you actually love is really rewarding and inspiring – even if it does involve group work. My poor group members have had to deal with “grumpy old Jess” as their team leader and have had to learn what my frowning face means. Next Saturday, however, the class pop-up exhibition that we have been working on for the last semester is going to happen. I’m terrified – there is huge potential it is going to be dreadful. However, I am lowering my expectations so that I will be pleasantly surprised, and anyone who is planning on visiting the exhibition should do the same.

rain

Rainy day blues

Winter has been trying to arrive over the last couple of week. It has been raining a lot which doesn’t do much for moral – lucky the Christmas markets are on! Not. I have managed to escape them this year as I no longer live in the centre of town. Saying that, I did manage to find some festive cheer the other Saturday and I bought myself a hot, giant stroopwafel. It made me love Christmas just a little bit.

I really shouldn’t leave this blog writing for so long because I have lots of things to talk about but my inner professional writing nerd knows that no one really wants to read long blog posts. So I’m going to go now. I promise to write again soon.

Two-month-iversary

November 4th, 2015

Today I have been back in Manchester for two months which currently seems like the longest two months in the history of time. So much has happened in those 60-something days that it feels like I have really been here for at least a year.

Things are settling down nicely now – I have steady work, uni is really great, I’ve been going out lots and continuing to have many adventures. Fun times!

University of Manchester

Blue skies at the University of Manchester

Last night my housemate, Alice, and I went to the Royal Exchange to see the latest show, Pomona. It is a dark and gritty tale about an underworld that exists beneath Manchester and an abandoned plot of land called Pomona. This area actually exists and I used to run past it when I went along the canal towpath, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if organ harvesting really was happening underneath there. Anyway, it was a great night of theatre and if you like swear words, sexual references and a bit of blood and gore then this is the show for you!

On the weekend I went for a walk in Delamere Forest in Cheshire with Garden Boy (Jon) to make the most of the autumn colours and to forage for mushrooms. The trees are incredible at the moment although some recent rain has meant the footpaths are now covered in very soggy leaves that are making their way through the soles of my boots (because, of course, yet another pair of my shoes now have holes in the bottom of them. Bah.) It was nice to get out of the city and wander through some woods, although I did keep pointing out to Jon that this supposed “escape from the city” did include seeing lots of other people and hearing the motorway. We also didn’t find any mushrooms which I entirely blame Jon for. Calls himself a Garden Boy…

Delamere forest

All the pretty leaves.

And in other news, I have signed up for the Manchester Marathon in April next year. Oops.

Happy Pumpkinween!

October 31st, 2015

If there is a vegetable in this world that I truly love, it is the humble pumpkin. So orange, so misshapen, so delicious with cheese. So despite my passionate dislike for all over-Americanised holidays, I do enjoy the increased number of pumpkins in supermarkets at the moment thanks to Halloween.

Last night, my housemate, Alice, and I got into the pumpkin carving spirit and made ourselves some jack-o’-lanterns. We combined this with making delicious spiced pumpkin and chickpea soup, using our little jacks’ innards. After long days at work, the soup was our main focus, but after eating, watching some First Dates and fuelled on chocolate, we got our knives out.

Alice went for delicate and detailed while I took out all pent up frustrations and used the hacking approach. This was my first ever pumpkin carving experience and it was surprisingly easy to do. The end results have turned out well and I am very pleased with Herman, the Spooktacular Pumpkin. He may look scary but on the inside he’s just a softie.

Halloween pumpkins

WooOOOOooooOOOooOo!

Inspired

October 25th, 2015

Last week, poet Lemn Sissay was inducted as Chancellor of the University of Manchester. He has become a hot topic (appearing on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs means you’re really made it in the world) as word gets about town about how inspirational this guy really is.

Adopted out as a baby and raised by a family in Bolton who later disowned him, he has had a rough life and yet brings a refreshingly positive and pragmatic outlook to life. Through his poetry and his work, he pushes the ideas of equality and belonging.

On Friday night, I went with my cousin, Les and housemate, Alice to see him perform as part of the Rochdale Literature Festival. I fell in love with him (how could you not with a smile like that) and his ideas, beliefs and his words. I don’t normally go for poetry, but the passion with which he spoke resonated with the entire audience. It was sad, beautiful and uplifting all at the same time.

I recommend listening to his inauguration speech which I think I will bookmark to listen to whenever I am doubting my decision to do this Masters degree.

Also check out his poem Inspire and Be Inspired. 

Ten things that have happened since my last post

October 21st, 2015

Life, hey? Crazy thing. Perhaps it has something to do with the arrival of Marty McFly from the past tomorrow. Or maybe it is just that time flies when you’re having fun or are just really, really busy. Anyway, quick catch up in dot point form. I’ve chosen to do the ‘ten things’ list as I recently had some work published on BuzzFeed (although posted under my client’s name) which truly brought home the fact that I am one of those people who fills the internet with rubbish. I’m sorry. But I’m about to do it again.

  1. I went to Oxford with uni and visited the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean. Two incredible museums; two very different spaces. Pitt Rivers was my favourite – an intense, ‘here is everything you could ever possibly imagine shoved into one space’ kind of a place. A feast for the eyes.
  2. I went to Liverpool with uni and visited the Worlds museum. Another fantastic experience – this time we got to go behind the scenes and look at the process of setting up an exhibition. My favourite part was seeing the workshops for the mount makers and set builders. I wanted to live there forever.
  3. I went to my first ParkRun. Every Saturday at 9am in parks across the world, thousands of people run 5 kilometres. I went to the run at Platt Fields Park and ran with about 250 people. I was the 21st girl which I was happy with.
  4. I am in the midst of organising a pop-up exhibition with uni. We have been put into groups and have been given objects from the Museum of Medicine and Health, which is located within the university. We have to create a pop up exhibition with these objects and it will be displayed at Chethams school of music in December. It’s a slightly onerous and scary task considering we have no equipment and limited budget but hey… how bad could it be?
  5. I LOVE MY DEGREE.
  6. It hasn’t rained for two whole weeks.
  7. I’ve had some family time with my Aunty Kaye visiting from Australia. That involved a crazy-cousin-catchup which is always entertaining.
  8. I have been working in Central Library again and last week it was a Classroom/library buddy reunion session as four of us happened to cross paths in the reading room. It was one of the greatest moments of my week, seeing my work friends again and feeling that sense of camaraderie and nerdishness. Oh so squishy!
  9. I got a new mattress! This might not sound like news worth writing about, but try lying on a pile of springs for a month and see how you feel when someone says, “Yes, you can have a new bed and mattress.” Glorious!
  10. I have been watching an unusually large amount of rugby and gaining an unusually large amount of pleasure from doing so. Mr Pubert, as he will now officially be called, and I went to watch the Rugby League final at Old Trafford again. Last year’s match was highly entertaining thanks to our Wigan supporting neighbours, and Wigan were in the final once again. However, sadly Leeds were the better team this year and the crowd was far less entertaining. We did then go and have delicious korean food afterwards so that added a win to the evening.

So that’s my life for the last 20 or so days in 10 dot points. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Now I’m off to bed.

Sloe going

October 2nd, 2015

The weather in the UK has been remarkably awesome over the last few weeks. England has been basking in glorious sunshine and I have been able to wear skirts and have my legs out a few times. Yesterday delivered once again with sunshine and 17 degrees – perfect weather for my friend Jon and I to go foraging for sloes.

You might remember Jon from previous environmentally-related activities such as worm charming and chicken racing. He’s back, this time encouraging me to dive into bramble/nettled filled hedges along the banks of the Mersey river in order to collect sloes.

For the Australians reading this, a sloe is a mini-plum that looks like a potentially deadly berry. Turns out they don’t kill you, they’re just extremely tart and don’t make good eating. But when left to ferment in a bottle of gin with a heap of added sugar, they make an excellent alcoholic beverage. They also make you tell terrible jokes such as, “Geez, Jon, why are you working so sloely?”

At 5pm, Jon and I headed to Chorlton water park (that’s British for ‘park with lake’) and threw ourselves into the prickly growth along the river. There weren’t that many sloes which meant we really had to dig/get scratched to reach them. I received my first ever nettle sting which was as unpleasant as one would expect it to be.

How sloe can you go?

How sloe can you go?

Once we had collected a sufficient number, we searched for wild horseradish and rose hips but both were either difficult to obtain or underripe. So with our sloes, we headed to Morrisons to find the cheapest gin available.

Back at Jon’s place we began the sloe gin making process which essentially involved putting sugar, sloes and gin in a bottle and then shaking it. The hardest part is the waiting time – I can’t drink it for at least 2 months. So sloe… Stay tuned for more sloe jokes in December.

The beginnings of sloe gin

The beginnings of sloe gin

Starting School

October 1st, 2015

On Monday of this week, I attended my first class of my Masters degree. It has officially begun and there’s definitely no going back now. It has been an emotionally tumultuous week for me for various reasons which need not be discussed in a public forum, so the stability of going to uni, being given course handbooks and discovering just how much work I have in store has been a weirdly stabilising.

There are more people in the course than I expected – there are 35 students, most of whom appear to be at least 5 years younger than me. This has surprised me a little as I didn’t expect so many kiddies to be interested in museums. It’s a good sign for museums everywhere.

The units look interesting, there will be lots of opportunity for hands on experience and I will do a placement later this year. Exciting times ahead! Except I have already had to start on a group project which is something I greatly despise… group work. A dangerous, stressful thing that will only ever end in tears.

Fancy uni

Fancy uni

Facts and Fallacies about Cambridge

September 24th, 2015

This somewhat ignorant Australian went to Cambridge on the weekend and discovered the truths and not-so-truths about her preconceived notions on the city.

  1. When people say “I went to Cambridge.” you should ask them for more information. There are 31 colleges connected to the University of Cambridge, most of which are located within the main city centre. King’s, Christ’s, Darwin’s colleges are all autonomous colleges within the University. So there you go.
  2. All men in Cambridge have floppy hair parted to the side and they wear chinos, boating shoes and have sweaters tied around the necks. TRUE.
  3. Cambridge is a very pretty city with a ridiculously large number of ye olde buildings where smart people sit around learning. TRUE.
  4. All eating establishments in Cambridge are just plain fancy. Not so true – we ate lunch at a fairly average pub where we’re reasonably certain Sir Pubert obtained food poisoning.
  5. Everyone punts in Cambridge. True, particularly if you’re a tourist or at a hen’s party.

I liked Cambridge but I felt a little bit like a northern intruder. I don’t think my creative thought processes and dislike for structure and hierarchy would fit in well.

King's College chapel

King’s College chapel

Midsummer House

September 24th, 2015

Almost a year ago, Sir Pubert’s mum, Katy, told me about a restaurant that she and and her partner Ken had eaten at. These two occasionally spoil themselves and eat out at fancy restaurants and they highly recommended the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House situated on the riverside in Cambridge.

Not only did they recommend it, in December Katy decided to book a table and the earliest Saturday night they had available was the 19 September. Luckily I had decided to pop over to Australia for eight months so the wait wasn’t an issue.

Last Saturday night, Katy, Ken and I glammed up and forced Sir Pubert into wearing a shirt (which he refused to tuck in). I’ve never been a very girly-girl and I don’t understand makeup in the slightest but I do enjoy having an opportunity to wear slightly dressier dresses. It means they weren’t a complete waste of money, plus it’s nice to look pretty every now and then.

Midsummer House isn’t the location of many murders, extramarital affairs or religious sacrifice, but instead is an understated house that has been transformed into a fancy-pants restaurant on the banks of the river in Cambridge. We were greeted about approximately seven chirpy wait staff who were all exceptionally happy to see us. The overly cheery welcome unnerved me slightly but thankfully it soon calmed down and the staff turned out to be sarcastic, witty and easy-going people. They were extremely good at their jobs and the service throughout the evening was exceptional.

Midsummer House

Midsummer House

And then there was the food. We had the seven course degustation menu with the matching wines. This started with some canapés which continued to arrive from the kitchen and you were never quite sure when it was all going to stop. And then came the main dishes, each plate delivered with a synchronised placement on the table so that everyone was served at exactly the same time. I loved this.

Overall, the food was beautiful. It looked good, tasted good and brought smiles to our faces. Of the savoury dishes, the highlights were a crab, avocado, champagne and pink grapefruit thing (my grandmother would describe it as ‘fluffy’ and I would concur), the roasted beetroot with frozen goat’s cheese and quinoa (all of my favourite things on one plate), and this quail mousse on sourdough. The roasted quail was an extreme disappointment and so was the duck. If I’ve learnt anything from watching hours of Master Chef it is that duck fat needs to be rendered and the skin should be crispy. This was neither of those.

The ultimate highlights, however, were the two desserts. Yes, two. The first was called the ‘pre-dessert’ which is a plate that I am introducing to my daily life from now on.

This pre-dessert was an aerated lychee and mango dome with crunchy meringue and mango shards. I don’t particularly like mango, or lychee, but WOWZERS! This was light, tangy and refreshing, plus it just looked beautiful.

Pre-dessert

Pre-dessert

However then came my overall favourite dish of the evening – described as “Pickled blackberry, pastis and pear, blackberry ‘Marquise'” the final dish wasn’t at all what I expected because they failed to mention ‘chocolate’. Yes, the holiest of ingredients. The pear sorbet fizzed in your mouth, and the blackberry marquise had a fantastic berry flavour. The little crisp sitting on top had a subtle pastis flavour (highly appropriate as I had played petanque earlier that day) and then there was a small ball of dark chocolate and blackberry ganache that just added a depth and richness to the whole dish. It so good. I ate it as slowly as possible with a big grin on my face. I could have eaten 5 of those.

Dessert #2

Dessert #2

After all of this food we were brought chocolates and doughnuts which none of us really wanted but we all tried anyway. The homemade chocolates were quite interesting – particularly one which was flavoured with bay leaf. I have recently had rosemary and chocolate and bay leaf and chocolate. All winners.

The meal was lovely and the quality of the food, the presentation and the staff was outstanding. It wasn’t the greatest meal that I have ever eaten in my entire life and I’m not necessarily going to rush back, but it was definitely one for the food memory bank. Thanks Katy and Ken for a lovely evening and my first ever Michelin star experience!