Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Facts and Fallacies about Cambridge

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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!

Back in the Manchester Groove

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Guess where I am, kids! Row M, position 1 of the reading room spiral at Manchester Central Library. My favourite room in the city has welcomed me back, providing me with ergonomically inferior seating in a deliciously silent setting.

Central library

I took this photo the other day. I have since moved.

Currently in my direct line of sight is the arse crack of a man who looks weirdly like Sir Pubert Gladstone (oh good, he just changed positions so my eye balls aren’t hurting quite so much), and earlier I was sitting opposite a guy who was eating away at the skin of all of his fingers. He had to occasionally mop up the blood he was discharging with a dirty tissue. The library attracts all sorts.

I have been in Manchester for over a week now and I am feeling surprisingly settled. It is much, much, much easier to move to a city that you are already familiar with and that is home to people you have already met. I don’t have to start from scratch this time and I know where to go to buy the best value avocados. I have been able to catch up with some of my friends and I am no longer having to whinge to Sir Pubert via text messages. Now he is just a £1 bus ride away and I can nag him in person.

I am living in an area called Victoria Park which sounds fancy and once was. It used to be home to some well known and well to do folk – Mr Charles Dickens used to come and visit on occasion. Of course, that was then and it definitely isn’t now. It is now home to a largely student population and people whose incomes will only let them afford to live in student-like housing. Loads of character and plenty of potential. The apartment that I am sharing is in a building called The Gables which I am certain must have some sort of interesting history. It is next to a pub called The Rampant Lion which has recently reopened as a hotel/pub/trying to be fancy Halal Italian restaurant/beer garden/coffee shop/downstairs Middle Eastern restaurant/take away food outlet. The building is nice, the garden is nice, the beer menu is terrible.

Rampant Lion

View from my apartment window looking at the back of the Rampant Lion

The last week has mostly involved attempting to register for university but discovering that it is harder than it looks, and so doing some writing work in the library instead. On the weekend, I made use of the Heritage Open Days and visited a few historically and culturally significant buildings that were open to the public for free. This included a trip to Halifax with Sir Pubert, continuing our tradition of weekend outings involving a picnic lunch.

England countryside

England sure knows how to do ‘countryside’

Halifax wasn’t great, but the blue cheese, walnut, tomato and onion chutney sandwich that Sir Pubert made me certainly was.

Sandwich in Halifax

Yum.

Look out, England

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

The final piece of the ‘Get Jess back to England’ puzzle has been set – today I collected a package from the post office, walked to my car, opened it and felt a surge of utter relief (that appeared in the form of hyperventilation and a flood of tears). I have been granted my student visa and I can officially enter the UK without being arrested.

I realised I have been holding my breath for the past six months, not knowing whether or not this ridiculous plan would actually work. But somehow I now have a university placement, a visa, a plane ticket and a room to sleep in. And in 21 days I will start my next adventure. Holy mongolia.

AARRRGGGGGG!!!

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

I am currently faced with two options.

  1. Retreat to a corner of the room, curl into a ball and consume all of the chocolate that I have in my house.
  2. Vent in a public arena (eg. my blog) while drinking a soothing cup of tea and eating an almond biscuit. And chocolate.

While you may not want to hear about my woes, I feel I am making a wise decision and that by the time I have finished writing this soliloquy I will be less stressed, less frantic and able to move on with my life. Good plan.

Today is Monday. On Friday I leave England. That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to pack my life into small boxes, throw away half of what I own and repeatedly ask myself, “Do I really need this?” This morning I booked a courier, Parcel Hero, to collect two boxes that I am sending to Australia. This involved much swearing as the website continually sent me to the wrong page, a trip to the bank to cancel three payments that I hadn’t agreed to, and a terrible online chat service. While Parcel Hero was about £30 cheaper than any other courier company, part of me was thinking that maybe paying the extra for use of a website that wasn’t put together by monkeys would be a better option.

The courier man was then supposed to collect the boxes between 4-6pm this evening. At 3.15pm as I walked into my apartment, I received a call saying he was coming at 3.30pm. Good service except neither of my two boxes were sealed so the lucky guy got to stand around and watch me handle a frustrating roll of sticky tape.

And so half of my belongings have been rolled out the door and now I have to deal with everything else that I am either storing in Manchester or throwing away/donating to charity. Hence why I am now writing this and not doing that.

I have just said goodbye to three of my workmates who have become good friends over the last couple of years and tonight I am having a little farewell shindig. While I know I am coming back, I absolutely hate goodbyes and despise this part of my chosen flighty-lifestyle where every couple of years I pack up and leave the life I have built and the friends I have made. Things will change in the next few months and when I return people will be working in different places, they’ll have different friends, they may even be living in Australia. So my goodbyes this time are “I might see you in a few months”s. Or I might not.

My almond biscuit is no more and I have finished my cup of tea, so I had better get back to reality and do some more packing.

We are Italiano

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

For Christmas, I bought Sir Pubert Gladstone a pasta maker. He eats an unusually large amount of the stuff and had mentioned his desire to own a machine so he could make his own. It was an obvious choice for a christmas present but his constant mentioning of this being on his ‘christmas wish list’ to every family member/friend/bearded man who asked was a little annoying considering I had already purchased one and no one needs multiple pasta machines.

Anyway, the purchase has resulted in our four attempts at ‘filled pasta’ – whether that be ravioli, tortellini or pastaloni as our non-traditional shapes would suggest. And clearly we have italian blood seeping through our bodies as we have managed to create some mighty fine pasta-pockets.

pasta machine

Ready to roll.

Our first attempt was on New Year’s Eve where we went for roast pumpkin, stilton and walnut ravioli with a sage button sauce, accompanied by parmesan roasted fennel. Holy guacamole, it was good eating.

pasta

There’s pumpkin in there. And cheese as well.

Sir Pubert then challenged me to create two different fillings as a ‘surprise’ for him (although I suspect it was just his way of tricking me into cooking for him) and I delivered a seriously good spinach and ricotta filling and one with mushrooms with thyme.

pasta

Dough pillows.

While the idea of making your own pasta seems somewhat time consuming at first, it is remarkably quick and easy to do. I think the Italians would agree that simplicity is key so there aren’t many ingredients to worry about. Plus it is much lighter and far more satisfying than buying the dried stuff from the supermarket – knowing you have kneaded the dough means you’ve already worked off most of the calories. More pasta for you!

Cold Snap and Lunch in Liverpool

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

It’s a wee bit chilly in Manchester. In fact, it’s really bloody cold. Over the weekend Manchester and beyond had a decent amount of snow – enough to be able to say, “It’s snowing!” without looking like an overexcited Australian.

snow

Look at that snow!

On Saturday I headed to Yorkshire with my cousin Les where we took boring motorway routes and extra caution in order to avoid slippery roads and potential death. I really enjoy driving into snow, particularly at night, as the wind and forward movement of the car gives the snow a ‘speed tunnel’ effect and it appears as if you’re driving into some sort of time warp. If the snow was rainbow coloured it would have been particularly swinging 60s-esque.

The last two days have been beautiful – crisp blue skies and sunshine. Of course the lack of cloud coverage means temperatures are hovering around zero and my nose is a constant shade of beetroot. It did present the perfect conditions for a quick visit to Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation at Crosby Beach yesterday.

Antony Gormley statue

Nice view.

Sir Pubert Gladstone’s dad was in town for a weekend visit and the three of us headed to Liverpool for a bit of culture. After a slightly disappointing wander around the Tate (clearly they keep all of the good stuff in London) and a deliciously cheesy lunch at the Docks, we headed to the beach to check out Antony’s Iron Men spread out down the coast. This is one of my favourite places in England and it was nice to be able to visit before I head back to Australia.

Liverpool docks

Liverpool Docks in the sunshine

Getting Dirty with DIY

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Over the past few months I have provided you with updates on my DIY adventures with Sir Pubert, his renovator’s delight townhouse and visits to B&Q. I have really enjoyed being involved in the renovation project – staining floors, installing flat pack kitchens, having arguments with customer service managers at IKEA, and painting more ‘white on white’ than you could possibly imagine.

This week I felt like Dale Kerrigan from The Castle. The pride he felt about digging a hole was on par to my personal delight in my attempt to rebuild a door frame.

Here was the problem – the new door was too small to fit the existing door frame, therefore pieces of timber needed to be cut to size and attached the original frame. Sounds simple enough except my lack of confidence in my measuring, cutting, drilling and screwing abilities meant that it seemed like a big deal. I like to say that I’m highly skilled with power tools, but the truth is closer to me being good at watching other people use them.

Anyway, having declared that it wouldn’t be my fault if I messed it up, I brought my Dad to the forefront of my brain and tried to think about what he would do in this situation. Measure twice, cut once. Achievable. Use the appropriate tool for the job. Not so much. However, through some sort of DIY miracle, I managed to measure, cut and install a new frame without requiring any second measurements, additional cuts OR having to buy an entirely new door frame. And that was even while using an inappropriate cutting tool, a blunt pencil and a drill with a dying battery. The two ‘handymen’ were hogging the good drill.

door frame

That’s a sexy frame.

It is the most beautiful door frame in the house and it now has a freshly painted door hanging from it. I’m very pleased with my efforts and feel I have learnt valuable skills. I have also recently learnt how to use calk and window sealant and how to force open a PVC window if the lock is broken. I also know that painting white walls/doors/skirting boards/door frames with more white paint is one of the most mind numbing jobs available. That must be why I always have to do it.

Falling Ice Balls

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

It has become a regular occurrence that on my morning runs to Media City in Salford Quays, as I make my loop back towards the city I will notice a large black cloud looming overhead. In these moments, the sky towards Manchester is surprisingly clear but rapidly approaching is an ominous mass of impending rain.

No matter how fast I make my little legs go, there is no hope of beating the natural speed of approaching weather. And so I await the sensation of sharp bullets of water hitting the back of my legs and quickly accept that I’m about to get drenched. The good thing about this reoccurring phenomenon is that the wind is behind me, pushing me towards home.

This morning the rain came in the form of hail – small micro-balls of ice bouncing off my jacket, head and the ground beneath my feet. I had the canal towpath to myself as no other runners were stupid enough to head out this early on a freezing Friday morning. So it was just me and the swans enjoying the calm canal water being attacked by icy rocks. As I turned a corner and ran under a street lamp, the light bounced off their shiny surfaces as they managed to stab their way into my eyes.

And despite this discomfort, I smiled, enjoying the freedom of not caring and it not mattering. It was one of those moments where I realised how small I am in this world and how no matter what decisions I make or what routes I take in life, the world continues to evolve and hail will continue to fall.

The Socially Irresponsible Adventures of Jess Continue

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Did you know that one in every 50 to 100 million lobsters are born with ‘split cells’ – the cell in the egg splits in two and one half of the body is formed from one cell and the other half from the other. This means that half of the lobster can be bright orange and female while the other side is black and male. Pretty cool.

This is Sir Pubert Gladstone’s current ‘Favourite Fact’ and each time he tells his slightly exaggerated version I can’t help but feel somewhat connected with how these lobsters must feel. The left half wants to build a home, settle down, have friends over for dinner and make lots of lobster babies, while their crazy right side wants to explore the seabed, try new algae and see what’s happening on the other side of the ocean.

I have spent the last four years letting my ‘Crazy Right’ take control – moving to Paris, refusing to leave, and then deciding that a sojourn in Manchester was a better option than going home. My left side has accepted this right sided dominance by simply insisting on having a nice apartment to come back to and, lately, a form of employment (sort of). While I love the adventure and excitement of discovering new places, I don’t particularly enjoy change, I hate the unknown and I would really, really like to know what I am doing with my life. Ha.

A year or so ago, I was quite sure that my country hopping was coming to an end and that the sunshine and warmth of the great southern land was calling me home. Around this time I recall telling my friends that I thought I would be heading back to Australia but if they asked me again in six months time I would most likely be working out how to stay. How correct I was! As the end of my time in England drew dramatically closer and the more I thought about leaving, the more I wanted to chain myself to a lamp post outside the Manchester Town Hall.

And so I have spent the last few months working out how to stay or at least return in the near future. My only feasible option, that doesn’t involve breaking the law, is to become a student. Luckily, my extreme dissatisfaction with my current lack of career path and the fact that I don’t actually want to be a copywriter for the rest of my life (ooh, controversial) has meant that I have been contemplating a change of direction for some time (since about 2009 to be specific.). What appropriate timing! So I sent in an application to study at the University of Manchester and then sat back and waited to hear if I had been accepted.

And yesterday, I heard back.

Good news, kids – I, Jessica Davies, will be returning to Manchester in September to study a Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. This is, of course, unless the UK Home Office comes up with some ridiculous new visa law preventing Australians from completing educations in England and paying exorbitant amounts of money to do so.

So the Socially Irresponsible Adventures of Jess continue. In this episode we will watch as Jess, having turned the ripe old age of 30, returns to university to start an entirely new line of career. Not only will she not have any money, she will also be even further away from the more acceptable life path of ‘husband/children/white picket fence/promotion to senior management’ that one would expect of a 30 year old. Her most valuable possession will be her suitcase and even that was given to her by her parents.

Now all I have to do is go back to Australia, wait for a few months, and come back to hang out with people half my age. I’m somewhat disappointed that I will not be allowed to complain about the influx of students in Manchester in September as I will be one of them. I will try and be less annoying though.