Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The Christmas that was

Tuesday, 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.

Friday, 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.

No Longer Dreaming of a White Christmas

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

The drive home from the Yorkshire Dales on Boxing Day was a tad hairy as the sky let loose a decent downpour of rain. Sir Pubert made us tune the radio to the Boxing Day football commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and continues to assure me that he was listening to it despite his closed eyes, dropped head and occasional snore.

As the commentary skipped from one football ground to the next, we were informed of the weather conditions throughout the country. Most games were being played in very wet conditions, however Manchester City was playing West Brom in the Midlands where it had started snowing.

As we arrived home and sat in comfort and warmth by the fire, I looked out of the lounge room windows and saw that the usual Manchester drizzle was no longer just heavy rain but had turned into big, floaty snow flakes. It was snowing on Boxing Day – I was counting this as a white Christmas! Sure, the snow melted on impact and it was mostly just sludge, but they were definitely snow flakes and it was definitely still the “Christmas season”.

snow

Eat your heart out, Bing Crosby.

 

As far as white Christmases go, it was a bit disappointing and I will continue to seek a better example of it in the future. However, having spent five winters in Europe, it was about time that snow fell on Christmas. What happens in movies, happens in Manchester.

One Stoat, Two Stoat, Three Stoat, More.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

In an attempt to work off our Christmas bellies, Sir Pubert, Katy, Ken and I headed to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales on Boxing Day for a walk in the hills. Ken, local Yorkshireman, avid explorer and map reader, was our guide and had planned the walking route. Having parked our car in Malham, we wrapped ourselves in multiple layers, grabbed our picnic lunches and headed off. Adventure awaited!

Malham

Off we go!

Ken and Katy sprinted off in front of wheezy–Sir–Pubert and “I’ll catch up in a second, I just want to take a photo”–tourist–me. Every minute or so I needed to stop and say, “Wow.” as the scenery expanded and the Yorkshire Dales showed us what they are made of.

We were in limestone country and our first stop was Malham Cove, an impressive and formidable limestone amphitheatre. We climbed up to the top (via some easy-access steps) and then had a view over the rolling hills of the Dales.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

The landscape shifted from green hills to rocky outcrops with waterfalls and streams winding through the valleys. It was beautiful. I have generally considered myself a city girl, but having the opportunity to stomp through mud, water streams and climb over rocks was very stimulating. This was helped by the fact that the weather held out and we managed to complete the walk sans pluie.

View from Malham Cove

View from Malham Cove

We stopped for lunch (I don’t think many walkers have stilton and walnut sandwiches, but we picnic in style.) sitting on a small rocky amphitheatre. Enjoying the quiet and the expansive view, I spotted a white object tumbling down the small road in front of us.The pure white stood out clearly against the black bitumen and it soon became clear that it wasn’t just a polystyrene cup blowing in the wind. I nudged Ken and asked him what it was. As they say in the north, Ken got dead excited.

sandwiches

Sir Pubert makes some seriously good sandwiches.

The tumbling white thing was a stoat in ermine – a weasel-like creature whose fur coat changes from brown to pure white during winter months. Apparently it was quite rare to spot one of these little guys and I had just spotted something rather special. Ken whipped out his binoculars and we all had a close look at him as he jumped and tumbled his way over rocks and through shrubs looking for food for his own lunch.

stoat

This isn’t the stoat that I saw but look at him! SO CUTE! www.telegraph.co.uk

His tumbling running action (these guys don’t really run – they look like they are having the BEST TIME EVER jumping and skipping and leaping about like 4 year old girls who have just consumed excessive amounts of sugar at a birthday party) and his adorably cute face fooled me into thinking he was an innocent little thing. Apparently not. These guys are vicious killers who bite and snap the spinal cords of rabbits. Coming from a country where everything kills you, I’m not entirely surprised.

Here is a BBC documentary showing the leaping cuteness. It also shows the less-cute rabbit killing. You’ve been warned.

The stoat eventually disappeared into the rocky landscape and we continued on our walk. We hadn’t walked far when Sir Pubert called for the binoculars and looked down into the valley at a dry stone wall that had some remarkably white stones near the base. Then the stones moved. He had spotted two more stoats living in the stone wall, potentially waiting the lunch that was being collected by the stoat I had spotted earlier.

While it would have been great to stand and watch our new furry friends all day, our fingers and toes were turning numb and the idea of warming cups of tea was too exciting. We walked on, heading back to Malham and to the Buck Inn where we re-heated ourselves by the fire.

As we drove out of Malham the rain started and we drove home in a constant downpour. Perfect timing with the weather, rare animal spotting, fantastic views and delicious blue-cheese sandwiches. It had been a great day.

So Long, Christmas!

Monday, December 29th, 2014

My inner Scrooge is pleased to see the end of all that tinsel, mulled wine and festive cheer, although I am willing to admit that Christmas Day turned out to be a lot better than expected. Some forward planning based on the knowledge that I would be spending the day on my own meant I could fill it with all things “Jess”.

1. Get up early and run a half marathon.

I don’t know many other people who would set their alarm for 7am on Christmas morning in order to get out of bed, eat breakfast and digest before heading off for an extended run. I figured if I had all day I may as well make it a decent jog so I set myself the goal of a Christmas Half Marathon. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

My running route.

My running route.

It was a beautiful, crisp, blue-skied morning and by the time I left home the sun was attempting to show itself. Perfect running conditions as I headed off, getting slightly lost along the way and having to re-route due to muddy conditions. My final distance was a comfortable 24 kilometres, the last seven of which were slightly less comfortable. I fed myself chocolate flavoured energy gels and recovery shakes as reward for my long slog. Holy moly, those things are good. I would run excessive distances every day if it meant I could eat chocolate-flavoured protein bars.

Run, rabbit, run.

Run, rabbit, run.

2. A little bit of stollen.

After de-stinking myself, it was time for morning coffee and a slice of Aldi Rich Fruit Marzipan Stollen. While it wasn’t bad for a budget supermarket cake, it certainly couldn’t compete with my brother’s version and there definitely wasn’t enough marzipan. But then again, is there ever enough marzipan? Ooh, deep.

More marzipan, please.

More marzipan, please.

3. Christmas lunch for one

A week or so before Christmas I saw a recipe on the Sweet Paul Magazine website for a beetroot salad that instantly screamed “EAT ME FOR CHRISTMAS LUNCH!”. Unable to find half of the ingredients (Dear British Supermarkets, please sell fennel. Thanks. Jess.), I adapted the recipe to include roasted beetroot, kale, blue cheese and an amazing mixed nuts selection that I had found at Aldi. Served with a glass of elderflower champagne made by my friend, Garden Boy (aka Jon), it was potentially the BEST CHRISTMAS LUNCH EVER.

beetroot salad

Wow. Just wow.

I Skyped my family back home while munching on my lunch and it was lovely to be able to sit and chat with the folks and the bro. Thank you for existing, Skype.

4. Christmas bake-off.

Thinking I would have all of the time in the world on Christmas day, I had decided to bake biscotti as a Christmas gift for Sir Pubert’s mum and her partner. I suddenly became aware of the rapidly decreasing amount of time I had to achieve this, so I bid adieu to my family and then raced around the kitchen creating what ended up being the best biscotti in my baking career. Boom.

biscotti

Crunchy nutty chocolatey goodness.

5. Father Christmas really does love me.

Sir Pubert collected me and my hundreds of bags and we headed to his house for Christmas dinner with his mum, Katy, and her partner, Ken. Over a glass of champagne I was overwhelmed to discover that Father Christmas hadn’t forgotten me and had left a plethora of presents in a PaperChase stocking just for me. Plus additional gifts from Katy, Ken and Pubert – spoilt, I was.

6. Turkey.

A whole turkey for three adults and a vegetarian is a little excessive. Plus parsnips, potatoes, peas, bread sauce, stuffing and red cabbage. Followed up with homemade and hand-fed Christmas pudding with custard makes for many a stuffed belly. There was plenty of moaning and regret following that meal but a content bunch of over-stuffed humans we were.

christmas dinner

Mmm… too much food…

So while I may whinge about Christmas and its ability to make human beings act like piggish idiots, it was the simplicities of the day that made my Christmas very enjoyable. Great weather, wonderful family and friends, delicious food, and a bloody long run.

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Monday, November 24th, 2014

This time last year, my friend Pooja and I noticed a tall(ish) tower being installed in Spinningfields as part of the Manchester Christmas Markets. We were instantly excited by the potential fun that the red and white helter skelter offered us and vowed that we would slide down this tower of joy.

Sadly, despite the helter skelter being in Spinningfields for over four weeks, we never made it down. And so, when we noticed its return for this year’s markets, we were at the front of the line and waiting with our money before any little kids could get in our way. We were so early, in fact, that it wasn’t open yet, and we had to come back the following week.

The moment finally arrived – last Monday at 4pm, Pooja, her husband, Jonathan, and I met to take the most anticipated rides of our lives. There was a slight drizzle, which meant that the guy in charge hadn’t bothered to wax the end of the slide. “You’ll either stop on the way down and have to shuffle yourself to the end, or you’ll come straight off the end or sumfin,” he said. But due to the less than perfect conditions, he was offering us two rides for our £2 entry price. What a champ!

Pooja and I went up first, leaving photography guru, Jonathan, to record our descents. The climb to the top was cramped and screaming ‘Public Liability’ but we made it to the top and I suggested Pooja went first. I figured it was only fair that she propel herself down a slide first seeing as I had walked on fire before her. Pooja’s super slim figure fit easily onto the very narrow slide and I watched pondering what I would do if I got stuck half way down. Pooja made it safely to the ground so it was my turn and I then realised that wearing a skirt to go on a slide wasn’t the smartest choice.

And off I went, zooming down the surprisingly fast slide, flying off the end to a sudden halting stop. IT WAS AWESOME! I was then particularly pleased that we were allowed two turns, although the second go was slightly less exciting than the first.

Helter skelter

WAAAAAHHHHOOOOOOOOO!!!! Photo credit : Jonathan Pow/jp@jonathanpow.com REF : POW_141117_2346

Pooja and I celebrated – we had finally fulfilled our plan of going down the Christmas helter skelter, even if it was a year later than planned. The three of us then wandered off to the Christmas markets where we drank disappointing glühwein and stole pieces of Jonathan’s not-so-great curry wurst. And that’s where my Christmas spirit ends.

Manchester Update

Friday, November 14th, 2014

I feel that I haven’t written a general “This is life in Manchester” update in sometime. As I am currently at a loose end with a desire to write something but a disinclination for that to be anything work related, Manchester has become my topic for this here post. It is like to turn into a ramble with no clear point or purpose and will therefore also be a clear insight into the nonsensical workings of my brain. Good luck, dear readers.

Date: 13 November 2014
Current time:
3.51pm
Weather: 
Windy and overcast but not raining. And it isn’t that cold, really. These are all very positive things.
Amount of sunlight left remaining in the day:
Not a lot. What is sunlight?

I am currently sitting in a room above one of Manchester’s hippest hipster bars. The same hip hop tunes that have been playing on repeat for the last month are continuing strong from the speakers in the bar below. I’m not sure how many more times I can hear that he is killing her softly with his song without turning to similar violence.

Winter is, thankfully, taking its time to arrive. Talk about town includes, “Gosh, it is unseasonably warm, don’t you think?” with most people not having pulled out their winter jackets yet. It won’t last, of course. Particularly not now that the Christmas markets are opening on Friday and people will be wanting to wander around outside.

The Christmas Markets are apparently going to be bigger and better than ever before, which I take to mean that instead of four over priced fudge stalls owned by the same company there will be five. And it will not be physically possible to walk across Manchester without being forced to walk past stalls selling tacky christmas ornaments and novelty hats. Step outside and you will instantly smell like a german sausage. Yes, I admit that part of me enjoys the sights, smells and fairy lights of the markets, but that’s the same part of me that wanted to go to Blackpool. Give me an hour and I will want to leave.

Santa statue

Mega Santa takes over Manchester.

Every weekend, the city centre seems to be getting busier and busier with the main shopping strip, Market Street, becoming a human wave of shoppers. In September and October it was the sudden influx of students that ruined my commute to and from work when suddenly I was having to dodge hundreds of students carrying pillows and staring at their mobile phones as I tried to walk home. Now everyone is getting into the ‘Christmas Spirit’ and is out shopping for Timmy, Susan and Pedro’s christmas presents. One day I want to walk down Market Street in a very straight line and see how many people I manage to walk into. It would be the ultimate game of Chicken and I think I would score quite highly.

On a more positive note, the warm temperatures have meant that while the sun doesn’t get up until after 7am and has disappeared by 4.30pm, the weather has been remarkably good. My morning runs haven’t turned icy yet although I am having to avoid running along dark canals in order to not be murdered.

With two months and 17 days left on my visa, time is rapidly disappearing. But the closer my imminent departure gets, the keener I am to stick around. Yes, Manchester is dark, dirty and drizzly, but I like this place. It is growing and changing and becoming a seriously cool city. So the plan is to next year become one of those annoying pillow-carrying students and walk up and down Market Street bumping into people. Mostly because students in Manchester get a discount on almost EVERYTHING and I love a bargain.

Christmas in Manchester

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

According to the calendar, there is only one month to go until Christmas. I’m in a slight state of denial about this as I am not entirely sure where the rest of the year has gone and I am avoiding facing the arrival of 2014 and the fact that it is about time I grew up. But I can’t deny the red, green and silver tinsel and Santa overkill in every shop window I walk past. Maybe it’s just a phase…

In the same week as Bonfire night, I attended a second lot of fireworks to mark the turning on of the Christmas Lights. Leading up to this potentially momentous occasion, I had witnessed cherry pickers and electricians attaching strings of lights to lamp posts at various points throughout the city. My expectations were great – soon the city would be covered in glorious oh-so-pretty sparkly things that would bring festive joy and endless happiness to young and old. I went to the light-turning-on ceremony at the Town Hall with my friends Damien and Eli and we pushed our way through a crowd of teenagers and old people to find a good viewing spot to watch ex-winners of X-Factor perform LIVE for our entertainment. We patiently waited through the average singing to finally count down to the pushing of the Lights-Are-Go button by James Arthur (X-Factor winner, 2012). Three… Two… One…

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Not only did lights apparently turn on, but fireworks exploded from the roof of the Town Hall and we witnessed a ten minute display that consisted of the same fireworks over and over again. My favourites were some horizontal flames that spurted out from the side of the clock tower. Once that was over, it was time to go home, and as we walked away, my friends and I asked each other – where were the Christmas lights?

Boom! Bang! Whizz!

Boom! Bang! Hiss!

It would seem that Manchester City Council has spent most of its Christmas money on markets (there are nine market areas across the city) and a giant, fat Santa who sits menacingly in front of the Town Hall. There are some gold winged-star things attached to most lamp posts and some very funky (this is sarcasm), flashing-pixel Christmas tree things down the pedestrianised King Street, but that’s about it. However, since the installation of hundreds of wooden huts for the Christmas markets, things have improved. Now there is definitely a festive Christmas vibe spreading across the city and everyone is loving the hot wine. It now takes me 10 minutes longer to walk home from work as I have to go through at least three Christmas markets, dodging people carrying collector mugs filled with dangerous staining glühwein.

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

I’m not a complete Scrooge – I have been one of these festive revellers and I do enjoy a good cup of warm, spiced wine myself. I also have to give Manchester two thumbs up for their markets – while there is a lot of repetition of stalls, they are of a much higher quality that Paris’s Champs Elysées. Nothing will beat the markets in Germany and eastern France, but Manchester has put in a fine effort. So here’s to more overpriced glühwein and bratwurst – Merry Christmas Month to all!

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

Rewind to Christmas

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I realised I never blogged about Ben and my Amazing-Christmas-Dinner-Feast-For-Two so allow me to do so now, mainly through photographs. Neither of us could be called chefs (Ben is certainly a baker but a whole chicken is a lot different to a ball of dough), but if the help of a National Trust english cookbook, we made one mighty fine roast chicken. To go with it, we had some delicious buttery brussel sprouts, broccolini and asparagus, crunchy roasted potatoes, and it was all followed by gooey chocolate puddings. It was one seriously good Christmas dinner and our night was made even more special by watching the all-time family classic, Hook. RU-FI-OOOO!

Better than KFC.

Better than KFC.

The recipe made six puddings which sounded like a good idea at the time...

The recipe made six puddings which sounded like a good idea at the time…

Mmmm... chocolate pudding...

Merry Not-So-White Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Merry Christmas friends! I hope you are all happy, healthy and having plenty of cake on this festive day. I am currently sitting in my brother’s lounge room in Sheffield, listening to a Hospital Records drum and bass podcast and waiting for my next meal. It isn’t far away – lunch should be in the next half an hour or so. Ben and I have bought a chicken for dinner along with some brussel sprouts and other vege and we’ll have chocolate puddings for dessert. Not bad for a Christmas for two!

I have spent the last few days working in my brother’s bakery and it is nice to sit down and do NOTHING. Ben and Martha have worked so hard over the past five weeks to get their bakery open, functioning and capable of delivering bread for the Christmas period. It was slightly insane over the last few days and I think my lungs are full of icing sugar from dusting 40 stollens three times. It has also been a delicious past few days with plenty of bakery treats being slightly too dark or misshapen and therefore available for bakery staff consumption. Mmm… weird shaped croissants taste just as good as perfectly shaped ones.

And have my dreams come true and is it snowing outside? No. But one of my favourite people, Stephen Fry, informed me last night on the Christmas special of QI that it only snowed in England on about 15 Christmas Days during the 20th century and therefore the likelihood that it would snow today is quite low… But it is raining so at least I know it is England.

I shall leave you with some glimpses of my Christmas. Thanks for reading – love to you all!

Poppyseed stollen

Poppyseed Stollen – so beautifully dusted and wrapped (I did that)

Forge Bakehouse

Christmas bread at Forge Bakehouse

christmas stollen

Mmm… marzipan stollen for Christmas morning tea

christmaswham

Waking up to Christmas with Wham!

bananachristmastree

Ben and my banana Christmas tree