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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas, New Year, and the Lovely Bit in Between

Every year, a distressing number of people trot out the line that whilst Christmas is all well and good, and New Year's Eve is a shiny sparkling vision of loveliness, the bit in between these two shimmering beacons is dull and boring. They are wrong. The week between Christmas and New Year is actually the best week of all, for the following incontrovertible reasons:

1. Residual festiveness, without the actual hard work of continual jollity. The Christmas lights are still up, there is still a chance of hearing Fairytale of New York on the radio, and yet all the relatives have gone home and you don't actually have to get dressed if you don't want to.

2. New stuff to play with. I know that some people get rubbish presents for Christmas, and I am sorry for this. But my friends and family know me pretty well, and always give me a splendid mix of the ridiculously glamorous and items that any grandma (and me) would be glad to receive. Thus I have been out today bedecked in gaudy finery, and yet am writing this with a lovely new blanket over my knees. Perfect. The cat agrees.

3. Shopping in the sales to buy more stuff. I am not one of those crazy people you see every year on the news, queueing up in sub-zero temperatures at four in the morning in the hope of snagging a bargain, but equally I do embrace the concept of buying more stuff for less money. True, the leftover Christmas gifts do look a little forlorn on their ravished shelves, but I care little for this as I skip off triumphantly in my new £15 Oasis dress.

4. Bars and restaurants falling over themselves to lure you in. I am something of a restaurant tart (yes, yes, I know - I do hide it well), willing to have my head turned by any offer that looks worth my while. And at this time of year, my email account is overflowing with choice deals that aim to break my resolve and get me to part with my cash (yes, how little they know me.) Take today's deal, for example, a voucher for All Bar One - the best chain bar none *smirks at own wit* - that entitled us to have a bottle of (decent) wine, a plate of astonishingly good calamari, a dish of meatballs and a whole baked camembert for fifteen quid. Although, a word of warning - if you do break off in the middle of a day's shopping to consume a whole bottle of wine, you are liable to become emotional in TopShop and then fall asleep on the train home with your mouth open in an unattractive manner.

5. No work. Apologies for this one if you are one of the millions who actually DO have to work between Christmas and New Year. I, however, do not, and as a jammy teacher I naturally expect my two weeks off as my just entitlement. The difference is that this is the one time of year when my husband is off work at the same time as me, meaning that there is someone there in the mornings to bring me a cup of tea in bed. Oh, and spend lots of quality time with, etc etc.

6. Turkey leftovers. I love turkey. In fact, I love everything about Christmas dinner, but particularly the turkey, and I positively welcome the leftovers that it inevitably brings. What do you mean, you're bored with it? You have it ONCE A YEAR! Now, go and rustle me up a nice turkey sandwich with extra mayonnaise this instant.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Mighty James at Manchester MEN 2010

As has been exhaustively documented on this increasingly self-indulgent blog, I am somewhat partial to going out. The things I like doing, however, exist within pretty narrow parameters, generally falling into one of two spheres of activity: I enjoy putting on good shoes and going to friends' houses to drink wine and eat food, and I also enjoy putting on good shoes and going to bars and restaurants to drink wine and eat food. I am also far more of a going-out-in-summer person than a going-out-in-winter person, much more likely in the colder months to simply turn the heating on and seek out a warmer pair of pyjamas than throw myself into the arctic conditions outside.

Thus last night heralded exciting times, for James were on at the MEN, and I was going. A kindly friend pointed out via the very public medium of Facebook that she and I last went to see James when we were 17, approximately one million years ago, and I can't pretend I wasn't a little trepidatious at the thought of being thrown into a seething moshpit full of rampantly thrashing young folk. Surely a quiet night in with the Strictly final would be more sensible?

Of course, I needn't have worried. Not only are all of James' fans safely into their thirties and forties, but chief ticket-procurer extraordinaire Julia had come up trumps - seats in the front row, just at the side of the stage, a far cry from my aforementioned last visit to see James, where I seem to recall one of us (not me) ended up with a broken foot. Instead, we sat serenely in our special-lady seats, and watched as the MEN - unbelievably considering the "snow chaos" claimed by the media - filled itself up to bursting point with brave Mancunians clearly not held back by a little precipitation.

So, onto the support acts. The first of these, Frazer King, were mighty entertaining on stage but even better off stage, as we had the pleasure of lead singer Nathan's company throughout the rest of the gig. He had perhaps partaken of one or two shandies over the course of the evening, to the point where his mum, sat behind us, was forced to keep hissing "Nathan! Leave those ladies alone!"

Meanwhile, the next support act was on: Pigeon Detectives, one of those bands who helpfully produce lots of quite good songs that all sound the same, so if you are familiar with a couple of them you can pretty much sing along to the whole set. And then, it was time. One might uncharitably remark that Tim Booth is looking increasingly like Ming the Merciless, but this matters not: any man who can complete a two hour set, replete with his own particular brand of crazy dad-dancing, whilst dressed in coat and beanie hat, is one to be admired.

In fact, James were brilliant in every way. Even the new songs, traditionally a chance to nip to the bar and be relieved of £4 for a pint of lager in a plastic pot, sounded good, although it was of course the old favourites which brought the crowd to life. The encore was the best I have ever seen, featuring four songs - including the mighty Laid - and a cast of thousands, as actual muggles were invited up on stage to dance along (we weren't quite quick or pushy enough); we also enjoyed Sit Down, a much safer proposition when seated comfortably on a plush seat rather than gingerly eyeing the sticky dancefloor at Manchester Academy and wondering if it would be advisable to allow your bottom to make contact with it.

Flushed and triumphant, we were brought down to earth quite quickly by the disappointing reality of the after-show party - lots of sweaty people crammed in a marquee, queueing ten deep at the world's smallest bar; surely the band wouldn't be seen dead here, so we elected to drink up and leave. That's when we noticed the man in the beanie hat standing, ooh, six inches to our left; our conversation dried up as we - two grown women old enough to know better - stood and gazed, open-mouthed, at King Booth. The fact he moved away to the other side of the giant tent soon after is probably not unrelated to this.

A perfect night was capped off with a wander around the snowy streets of Manchester as we waited for the Husband Taxi Firm to arrive, admiring the pretty lights and fighting the desire to make snow angels. A little worrying perhaps that we both remarked on the lack of cold, before getting in the car to find the temperature reading minus five; hurrah for the insulating properties of the beer jacket.

So thank you Julia, for the tickets; thank you, drunken Nathan, for entertaining us; and thank you James, for being all conquering. Oh, and Tim, I was meant to ask you to switch on the West Didsbury Christmas lights next year but was too frightened - if you fancy it, please give Didsbury Life a would get me out of a lot of trouble, thanks.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Xmas WestFest 2010 - Snow on the Way

As I write this, the country is once again going snow-crazy and once again - so far - Manchester has not been invited to play along. Obviously, the sensible part of me, the part that wears cardigans and chooses a car based on comfort rather than speed, knows that this is a very good thing, as snow brings chaos, causing accidents and delays and making pussy cats' feet cold and small birds hungry.

And yet. The other, sadly more dominant part of me - the part that drinks too much wine and buys too much sparkly nail varnish - is stamping its feet and shaking its fists and shouting "snow, god damn you" to a largely indifferent sky. For tonight, I want snow. It is Christmas in just one week, and more to the point, this weekend is Xmas WestFest, the festive sister to September's annual celebration of all that is good amongst the independent businesses on Burton Road in West Didsbury.

Quite frankly, I wish to wear my cute woolly Top Shop scarf and some kind of fetching hat, and stomp through the snow, pausing only to exchange pleasantries with friends and sample mince pies and mulled wine from beaming shopkeepers, many of whom will hopefully have pieces of decorative holly attached to their persons. As ever, check out the omniscient Didsbury Life ( for latest news on the Festival; Helen is confident that there will be snow, and as she knows simply EVERYTHING, I'm off to find my wellies.

A Warming Winter's Tale, Starring Some Misplaced Ribs and a Greedy-Faced Girl

Here's a lovely festive tale to warm your cockles and bring joy to your heart. Last night, I was weary. A tough day at college spent trying to impart meaningful knowledge to classes whose only desire was to play quizzes and eat sweets had left me drained, and an obliging husband was dispatched to D & F Kitchen in East Didsbury to fetch takeaway. Being a school night, we were modest in our desires, and ordered only a main course and rice each (moderation is my actual middle name) so as not to be greedy.

So, we eagerly unpacked our goodies, spreading out our meagre picnic across the living room floor. And that was when we saw it. Nestled in the bottom of the carrier bag was an extra box. A big one. Not asked for, and - gasp - not paid for. With trembling hands, I lifted the lid, fully expecting Lady Luck to fart in my face and present me with a box of steamed mung beans or similar. But no - what we actually got were the biggest, stickiest, most fally-off-the-bone ribs I have ever had in my life, glistening seductively in their unctiously artery-clogging barbecue sauce, and far, far nicer than anything we had chosen from the menu.

Well, obviously we were choked with guilt; honestly, I could hardly force every single last one down. We salute you, D & F Kitchen, and we promise we will pay you for our illicit goods next time we come in - oh, as well as the massive portion of ribs we'll be ordering at the time...

Monday, 13 December 2010

Happy Belated Birthday Things To Do in Manchester....

By and large, birthdays are a fine tradition. People have to buy you stuff, for one thing, and there is often cake, and champagne, and badges that say "It's My Birthday!" which allow you to flaunt your special status for one magical day only.

And yet, as time goes on, a problem begins to rear its ugly head. Birthdays are all well and good when you're 18, or 22, or even - gasp - 25. There comes a point, however, when one wishes to celebrate, and take advantage of birthday perks, without actually having to accept the addition of another year on top of your already quite frightening total. If you work in a college, where all the gamine young students are positively OBSESSED with how old their teachers are, the situation is even worse (I tell them I'm 45; or 55; or sometimes even 95 - worryingly, there is always at least one student who believes me.)

Thus I have decided to start living vicariously through my blog, which turned three years old yesterday. You can tell I am old, and stupid, and befuddled, because I actually thought the anniversary was today, and am therefore posting a day late for my own celebration. Still, never too late - gifts, wine, dinner invitations, birthday cake etc. will be most gratefully accepted, and I promise to pass every last donation on to the blog (after a small cut, you understand, only fair for my trouble.)

And don't even THINK about saying it's too close to Christmas and that you'll simply give TTDIM a joint birthday/Christmas present; although, actually, if you're offering....

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Best Fish and Chips in Manchester - Pyjamas Optional

Last night my husband went out on his work Christmas do, leaving me completely unsupervised for an entire evening. With the world being my oyster, I clearly took the opportunity for a wild night of debauchery: I had a bath, put my pyjamas on, and watched three episodes of Downton Abbey (only one left to watch - does the deliciously arch and amusingly debased Lady Mary marry cousin Matthew? Will the girl who used to be in Corrie finally get to kiss the man with the dodgy leg?)

So anyway, I clearly required some form of sustenance to get me through my night of excess, and found the wherewithal in the freezer to rustle up some fish and chips. And very nice it was too. Yet I couldn't help sadly reflecting that if I were not so lazy, and not clad in Paddington Bear pyjamas, I could have had proper fish and chips from a chip shop. Here are the places I wish I could have called upon, my current favourite chippies in Manchester:

5. Harry Ramsdens. They do takeout, so I am allowed to include it here (and anyway, it's my blog - take your mutterings elsewhere). When I first moved to Manchester, back in the late 1920s, this is the place my parents used to take me whenever they were visiting their errant daughter in her new hometown. The one that we used to go to, in Salford, has gone now, but my memories live on: having a pint of beer with my dad in the bar before lunch; the long-since-binned ex-boyfriend who completed the Harry Ramsdens challenge (seemingly to consume a piece of fish the size of a sideboard without throwing it back up, or actually suffering a stomach rupture) and was photographed afterwards, holding up his certificate and looking slightly queasy.

4. Didsbury Fish Bar. This has been on School Lane for as long as anyone can remember, a particularly cruel location for me, as I have to walk past it whenever I go into or out of Didsbury. And it always smells great. Luckily, if you consume fish and chips whilst walking briskly home, you may get indigestion but you actually won't imbibe a single calorie - FACT. (I think.)

3. Frankie's Fish Bar. A relative newcomer, this glamorous little eatery in West Didsbury is actually the favourite of both my husband and my cat, who have been known to share a fish supper from there when I have abandoned them for the night (but again, MY blog, so back-off cat-face). They do both take-out and eat-in, but as one of the two customers is a cat, my husband has never been allowed the eat-in option for obvious reasons.

2. The Battered Cod. A shock second place for this long-time favourite, with local branches in Fallowfield and Withington. These are cunning locations, as anyone who has been a student in Manchester will have spent three years of their life alternating between fish & chips from the Battered Cod and a chicken kebab from Abdul's (a varied diet is SO important), and will never quite be able to wean themselves off it - me being a case in point.

1. Fosters Fish and Chips. With branches in Alderley Edge and Didsbury, Fosters have brazenly snatched the top spot based largely on the following evidence:
- the fish and chips are great and come in portion sizes that would fell a hungry bear
- their website uses heading such as "Our Plaices" and "For the Halibut"; no further justification needed for this point surely
- and perhaps most importantly, Kath has confirmed - I have it in black and white on Twitter - that she will give me a discount if I turn up in my pyjamas. No mention as of yet whether there are free mushy peas available for those sporting furry slippers and wildly unkempt hair, but here's hoping....

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Stroke of Luck at Felicini's, Didsbury

Anyone who knows me in actual real-life land rather than pretend virtual-world land will know that I've had a pretty significant run of bad luck recently. This has ranged from the seriously life-changing, to the just-plain-annoying sort; setting off early for work to catch up on a backlog only to get caught in traffic, for example, and then returning home to find that yet another parcel has been brought to my door only to be whisked back to the depot by the evil postman, who I'm pretty sure actually waits around the corner for me to go out before knocking on.

Today was looking like a case in point; having decided that we would go for an early tea after work, I spent the day dreaming of the moules frites at Felicini's in Didsbury (no doubt they have an Italian name for it rather than a French, sorry), and my husband whiled away his time thinking of the Diavolo pizza he would order before 6pm for the knock-down bargain price of just £5.95. And then I got stuck in more stinky, lousy traffic. And then a horrible man flicked us the Vs when we were parking in Didsbury. Pah.

Luckily, Felicini's couldn't have been more welcoming. As the lovely waitress showed us to one of the best tables, right in the window, I muttered in my very most sulky and childish voice about having missed the pizza offer; "oh no," she said, "we've extended that until 7pm." Following my cart-wheeling husband to table, another stroke of luck awaited: a bargaintastic set lunch offer, two courses for £8.95, and also bizarrely available until 7pm. The mussels normally cost £10.95. For eight hundred and ninety five of your English pence, I got my moules AND was forced to manage a portion of stuffed vine leaves for minus two pounds. "Oh," adds the waitress, who clearly has our card marked by now, "it's Happy Hour as well - can I get you a half carafe of wine for eight quid?" *leaves space for reader to imagine own response - you have two guesses, and the first doesn't count*

So, we consumed a portion of anchovies, some stuffed vine leaves, a pizza, mussels served in a cream and shallot sauce with fries and garlic aioli, and a generous carafe of wine for a few pence over £25 quid; amezzing. The icing on the cake? Another, equally charming waitress gave us not one but FIFTEEN money-off vouchers, seemingly just because her and I share the same favourite dish. Hoorah. Add to that the fact that it's a heady 7 degrees outside, meaning that I won't have to be up at 2.15 am (approx) to defrost my car, and it's been a pretty good day.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sad Farewell to In All Her Finery and its Cava and Cakes

Regular readers of this blog will know that on many occasions in the past I have extolled the virtues of a charming independent boutique on School Lane in Didsbury. For the last three years, the beautiful Fiona has solved my every gift dilemma with her handmade jewellery and impeccably chosen trinkets and baubles; even better, on selected Thursdays she has run "Cava and Cake" nights, generously plying her customers with fizz and cupcakes while they browse (she's clearly not stupid - I always buy far, far nore after a glass of cava, and suspect I'm not alone in this).

So it is with some sorrow that I report that next Thursday 9th December will be the final Cava and Cakes outing, as In All Her Finery will cease to run its shop premises from next year. And whilst Fiona will continue to sell her gorgeous goodies from her website and at craft fairs, School Lane will definitely miss her stylish presence. So pop along on Thursday to send her off in style; I'll be the one knocking back the cava and frantically trying to get ALL my Christmas shopping done.

- In All Her Finery is (for now) at 56 School Lane, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6RT, tel. 0161 445 5225;

Friday, 3 December 2010

Ode on an Airy Fairy Christmas Tree Cake

'Tis that festive time of year,
When all the world doth make good cheer.
United in their peace and love,
To honour Him from up above,
When children try to stay awake...
And I indulge in too much cake.

But who can blame me for my greed?
I am but weak, so I must feed
On chocolate, nuts and biscuits too,
Turkey, sprouts, potatoes new.
But now a new thing comes along,
And I must pen this hasty song.

I saw it on a Facebook page,
Posted by a lady, sage
In bakery, that precious art,
The way to win my festive heart.
This Christmas, if you do love me,
Buy me a cake by an Airy Fairy.

Not just any cake, mind you,
For only one design will do...
The stunning, gorgeous, lovely
Cake that's like a Christmas tree.
See it now this very day

And yes I know that doesn't scan
But honestly, just don't split hairs man.
Go and get your credit card
And make my day: it isn't hard.
Just tell Laura whence you were sent
And have a magical Advent.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Best Real Fire Pubs in Manchester, But NO SNOW - Gah

While I write this post, the whole of the UK is enjoying the earliest proper snow for, ooh, donkey's years. Children are rushing, rosy cheeked, to the tops of nearby hills in order that they might sled down the other side; bescarfed adults are cupping their frost-bitten hands around convenient glasses of warming mulled wine; cats are stretching lazily in front of the fire while outside a muffled carpet of white perfection wipes away the harsh modernity of everyday living. And throughout all pervades the calmness that only the knowledge that your school/college/workplace will be shut on Monday can bring.

Oh, wait. All except Manchester. We have no snow. At all. I have spent a fretful day keeping one eye on the sky, which has remained a stubborn shade of bright blue, and one eye on Twitter, where friends in other parts of the country have been merrily posting pictures of themselves larking about in attractive knitwear. This is most unfair, for I would like nothing more than to wrap up warm, trudge through the snow, and take refuge in a welcoming hostelry where I will be plied with warming hot toddies. So to that end, I am going to PRETEND there is a winter wonderland outside rather than a row of wheelie bins, and post my favourite real fire pubs anyway.

1. The Didsbury, Didsbury. Obviously this is a great pub at any time of year, but becomes a particularly attractive prospect when the weather is cold - be prepared to push, shove and generally play dirty in order to bag the seats by the fire.

2. The Metropolitan, West Didsbury. A couple of provisos with this one: drinks are dear, and although the fire IS glorious, it is quite phenomenally, ridiculously hot - hapless young women have been known to singe their eyebrows by venturing too close to its flamy charms.

3. Horse and Jockey, Chorlton. A local favourite that has survived a recent overhaul to retain its traditional charms: open fires and the kind of low beams that anyone over four feet tall has trouble avoiding *rubs head*

4. The Crown Inn, Stockport. I'm not always in a hurry to recommend a night out in Stockers, but if you have boys in tow this is an excellent choice - CAMRA Greater Manchester Regional Pub of the Year 2008, no less.

5. The Britons Protection, Manchester. On a balmy summer evening you may find yourself queueing up amongst an impatient crowd of impeccably shod stick creatures to pay a tenner for a cocktail at Cloud 23; in the winter you'd be far better cosying up in this charming boozer just across the road.

So surely a light dusting isn't too much to ask? Frankly, if it doesn't snow tonight I'm simply going to don my mittens and my overpriced sheepskin boots and go and sit by a fire somewhere anyway. Woe betide ANYONE who gets in my way...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Things to do in Manchester this Christmas

It was actually one of my students who alerted me to the fact. Do you realise, they said, that after this week there are only three more weeks in college before Christmas? Don't be silly, I admonished, making a mental note to correct said student at every future opportunity. But it turns out they were right - Christmas is indeed a-coming. If you too have yet to acquire the festive spirit, here are a few things you could do to get you in the mood:

You can't beat a Christmas lights switch-on for instilling a twinkly, sparkly feeling in the soul. The lights are going on in Didsbury next Wednesday 1st December, at 7.00pm outside Didsbury Library. Angelic, rosy-faced children from the Beaver Road School Choir will sing Christmas Carols (not sure if they're taking requests or not), prompting feelings of warmth and happiness as we stamp our feet and watch our breath swirl out in dragon-smoke clouds.

And if that isn't enough jollity, then pop along to The Flower Lounge on Barlow Moor Road afterwards to enjoy its Christmas Open Evening. The lovely Sian promises to teach us how to create gorgeous arrangements whilst we drink wine and eat cake between 6 and 9pm (I'll be the one still wiping away a surreptitious tear from the small warbling children.)

You could also do worse than visit the Christmas Markets in central Manchester. I have written about these every single year, and frankly they don't change very much so we can all save some time here by simply reading a post from a previous year and pretending it's fresh, modern and up-to-the-minute. Suffice to say that if you would like to drink mulled wine and eat a jolly big sausage under the watchful eye of a giant Santa who looks a bit like Zippy from Rainbow, then this is for you.

Finally, there's plenty going on at The Triangle Shopping Centre. Father Christmas certainly seems to be getting about a bit this year, and will be at The Triangle every Saturday (I fear that my days of sitting on his knee are LONG gone); hopefully he won't mind sharing the limelight with the rather lovely-sounding Winter Vintage Fair that is taking place next weekend on the 4th and 5th of December (perhaps he could pick up a few gifts - save the elves some work.)

So wrap up warm, don your boots and mittens, and launch yourself into the festivities taking place all around you. Oh, although obviously wait until I'm a Celebrity has finished - wouldn't want to miss more revelations about the contents of Gillian's knickers...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Jameson Cult Film Brings (not actual) Aliens to Manchester

Now, by and large I am not very good with films. I have an extremely short attention span, meaning that most films that are longer than 89 minutes (so pretty much anything other than Finding Nemo and productions of similar ilk) tend to lose me part-way through; I am also very lazy and like to be spoon-fed the plot in the most obvious of terms - any kind of subtlety and I'm the annoying one going "so who's that? why is he going there? what did she mean by that? and get off my Maltesers!"

This means that I very rarely commit to see films at the cinema; instead, I watch them at home on Sky so that I can "multitask" while they're on, or I rely on watching a handful of old favourites over and over again. During one summer holiday in my childhood, I watched the video of Bugsy Malone EVERY DAY; I am still word perfect, particularly with regard to the coveted part of Tallulah (you see? Ideas above my station, even then.)

Thus for me, the idea of showing cult films that I already know and understand, has got to be the way forward. I am very fond of the first two Alien films - despite the fact that I still jump at the same bits in each of them, no matter how many times I've seen them - so I welcome the news that Jameson Cult Film is bringing Aliens (the second Alien film *puts serious and knowledgeable film face on*) to Manchester on Thursday night. My husband is also extremely excited, as 1. Aliens is one of his favourite films, and 2. Jameson make whiskey.

All you have to do is register at their website - - tickets are free. The screening is at the Great Northern - doors open at seven, with the film starting between 8 and half past. They recommend you get there early, and frankly, as you get two free drinks tokens on entry, why wouldn't you? (*explains patiently to champing-at-bit husband that no, it's not time to go YET*)

My only reservation? The website promises that The Great Northern "will be transformed from a disused warehouse into the alien planet LV-426 – there will be no way of knowing what’s hiding in the dark, or waiting around the corner." Being a jittery girl at the best of times, please accept my apologies in advance if you're standing near me when it happens - I'll bring a cloth for wiping up all the spilled whiskey.

- full details at

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bop Local at The Albert Club: The Verdict

So, last night Bop Local came to Didsbury. The tense pre-match build-up has already been documented in Friday's post; now, sitting here quiet and sober the next day, I can offer the following observations:

1. It is indeed possible to watch all of Strictly, whilst drinking a bottle of Prosecco and eating a range of party nibbles, before attending. This is a far cry from my student days, when we would sit in a flat populated by both mice and an array of luxuriant mould colonies, and watch Gladiators. Our drink of choice back then was something that called itself Chardonnay and cost £1.25 from Cellar Five (or, la cave cinq, as we so wittily referred to it), and was so revolting we somethimes had to hold our noses to swallow the last little bit.

2. After much deliberation, I chose to wear a little black jersey dress, mostly because this particular item reminds me of my favourite dress at university. The dress in question was a Miss Selfridge number owned by both myself and my best friend, necessitating constant planning over whose turn it was to wear it next. I feel its successor honoured its memory most fittingly last night, particularly in the classy detail of accessorising itself with sequined shoes.

3. The Albert Club is a lovely place for a bop, a little like having a disco in your living room (albeit a very big living room). When we weren't dancing, we sat in leather armchairs that had thoughtfully been positioned on the edge of the dance floor; more clubs should adopt this, I feel, for people who enjoy dancing but also appreciate a nice sit down.

4. Just like the old days, we were the first on the dance floor. The song was The Cure's In Between Days, in case you're interested.

5. Some, but not all, of our song requests were played. The ones that were played: True Faith by New Order, and Panic by The Smiths. The ones that were rejected: I prefer not to say, in a lame attempt to preserve some modicum of credibility.

6. We left just before twelve because the music had gone a bit rubbish. Address this in future please: some 90s dance records were appalling at the time, and sound no better for being played at ear-splitting volume in 2010 to a bunch of people in their thirties and forties.

7. I am tired today, and have been somewhat slovenly; I believe this to be the fault of Bop Local.

8. And finally, despite the fact that I honestly truly have bathed today, I see I still have a stamp on the back of my hand. Some things never change; if I scrunch my eyes up and squint at it slightly it could almost be 1995.

- The next Bop Local is at Chorlton Irish Club on Sat 27th November, with guest legend Clint Boon. Full details at

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bop Local Comes to Didsbury, Posing Problems for Local Girl

Once upon a time, many years ago, when the unicorns still roamed the forests and David Cameron's face was even smoother and pinker than it is now, I was a hip young person. And as a hip young person, I went out dancing almost every night.

Now, unfortunately for me, I was a hip young person in the 1990s, which means that whilst I may have thought I was sultry, enigmatic and alluring (I'm fairly sure I DID think I was all of these), I was actually just a misguided soul wearing one or more of the following items:

1. Leggings. The widespread popularity of these items in the 1990s is still something of a mystery to me. Yes, they were comfy, but I am very tall and was a size 8 for much of the 90s, and they STILL looked bad. Admittedly, I would not have helped myself by choosing to accessorise green leggings with ox-blood Doc Martens and an over-sized shirt, but really someone should have taken me in hand. I have seen photographic evidence that suggests I spent most of my youth looking like a frog with big shoes on.

2. Bodies. These were basically skin-tight leotards that did up at the bottom with poppers; poppers which, I might add, were hard enough to do up in the comfort of one's own room whilst completely sober. Transfer the item and the person, now full of beer purchased at 99p a pint, to one of the toilets in Squirrels nightclub anytime after 10pm and an age-old question can finally be answered: girls go to the toilet together so that one may help the other with her fastenings.

3. Slogan t-shirts. I still find it hard to picture a particular friend in anything other than his "Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine" t-shirt; I believe there came a point when we suspected it was surgically attached to his body. Likewise, a dear female friend will forever be linked with her Suede t-shirt; my favourite, for some reason, had a large yellow duck uttering "quack" on it - perhaps I thought it looked nice with the green leggings. (It didn't.)

So anyway, the point of all this is that whilst I am beyond excitement that tomorrow night is Bop Local at The Albert Club in West Didsbury, I am at a loss what to wear. It appears fashion may have moved on a little since I last hogged a podium and waved my arms wildly to the Urban Cookie Collective, and frankly these days I am too fond of cake to qualify as a person who looks good in leggings. As the DJ at the Bop is Mike Joyce of The Smiths, I did briefly consider sporting an old "Meat is Murder" t-shirt as a tribute, but then I remembered that it's not 1989 anymore and that it's many moons since I fell off the vegetarian wagon, lured back by the salty charms of a bacon butty.

Any help on this sartorial conundrum will be gratefully received. Last time I went to a Bop it was at Jabez Clegg and quite possibly in the last millenium; I won't even speak of the fashion disasters I would have innocently exhibited at the weekly Owen's Park Bop (do they still have those?), but it's clear that I can't be trusted to make my own choices on this matter. Although, to be fair, last time I went to a Bop I'm fairly sure that I wouldn't have said anything along the lines of, "brilliant - looking at the start time I'm fairly sure we'll get to see all of Strictly before we go." Maybe I'm just too old to go at all...

- Bop Local will be at The Albert Club in West Didsbury tomorrow night; I think all tickets are now gone, so you might just have to make do with laughing at the thought of my outfit rather than actually seeing it.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Manchester Mondays Looking Up

OK, so hands up if you like Mondays.

*VERY brief pause for counting show of hands*

Thought as much. Unless you work silly shifts and somehow get Monday off, there is surely no worse feeling than knowing you now have to get up early for the next five days in a row, AND when you get to work the detritus left over from when you couldn't be bothered to do anything because it was Friday will still be all over your desk. Sigh.

And yet...if you can actually get through Monday itself, a number of options for celebrating this fact are now available. I have spoken many times before about Love2Eat Deli and its Monday Night Supper Club, and will continue to extol its virtues despite the recent £3 price hike: you now get main course, dessert and a glass of wine for a still reasonable £10 a head. We went last Monday, when I had the most delicious meatballs I have ever tasted, and my husband had a steak and peppercorn pie that caused him not to utter a single word during the time he took to eat it. One criticism - the dinky casserole dishes that the meatballs and stews are served in? Can't get the last bit of dinner out of them - impossible using either cutlery or direct application of face (have tried both).

And now, for November only, another possibility unfolds for the hitherto redundant Monday night. Esteemed Didsbury curryhouse Khandoker is celebrating its 27th birthday this month (same as me, ahem), and although this does seem a massively random birthday to make a fuss of - I've never seen a card congratulating anyone on the big two seven - it would be churlish not to support what they are doing for it. For they are inviting us to step back in time to 1983 and enjoy a meal with them on any Monday or Tuesday in November at 1983 prices (I'll have to take their word for this - I only really deigned to eat butterscotch flavoured Angel Delight back in the early eighties), and this means starters at £1.95, mains at £4.95 and sundries such as chapattis for 15 pence.

There is no mention of whether Mr Khandoker would like his guests to dress up in appropriately 1980s garb, but I like to think that people will make an effort and at least backcomb their hair a little before venturing out to eat. The offer is running at both the Didsbury and the Bramhall restaurants; come on good folk of Didsbury, dig out those batwing jumpers and lets show the Cheshire lot how it's done...

- Love2Eat is at 190a Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 1LH; you should book for Supper Club on 0161 434 7077 (but not until after I've reserved my table, please)

- Khandoker is at 812 Kingsway, Manchester M20 5WY; tel. 0161 434 3596.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Bribery and Beer at the Didsbury Beer Festival 2010

It has not escaped my husband's notice that there is quite literally a beer festival happening right now, just feet away from his own front door. The third annual Didsbury Beer Festival actually started last night at 7pm, just down the road from us at St. Catherine's Social Club on School Lane, and his excitement was almost palpable. Is he home from work in time? Yes. Does he know where the festival is? Yes. Does he have the £2 entry fee? *quick counting out of coppers* Yes. Does he like beer? Hell yes. Has his wife invited friends over for dinner, who are due to arrive at seven, exactly the same time the ribbon is cut and the thirsty masses surge into the marquee? Oh. Yes, she has.

Still, there's always tonight. Unless you've already made plans. Or tomorrow, unless your wife is forcing you to attend a Vintage Fair at The Whitworth Art Gallery (I suspect many a glum-faced boy will be in evidence at the fair, dragging their feet like a truculent child, being nagged into admiring various bits of shiny tat while wife or girlfriend says "ooh, see how it sparkles" at regular intervals.)

But wait! All is not lost, for tomorrow (Saturday) the beer festival goes on all day, from 12 noon until 11pm. The line-up promises to be better than ever, with over 100 different beers and ciders, as well as food and live music (CheesyWeasel play tonight, but I fear they could never live up to their magnificent name, which makes me imagine a small smug rodent-type creature sitting down to an enormous cheeseboard with a selection of pickles). Girly lightweights like myself will also be pleased to know that the beers are available in pints, half pints and thirds-of-pints; I shall be going for the latter, so that I can sample more than a couple without falling over and taking the whole marquee with me.

So tomorrow is what is officially known as "compromise" but is in reality good old-fashioned bribery: Vintage Fair followed by the Didsbury Beer Festival. Husband doesn't know it yet, but the deal involves being home in time for Strictly - I will save this as a lovely surprise/wait until he's too beered-up to care.

- for more details about the beer festival, visit
- for more details about the lovely shiny Vintage Fair, see

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mark Addy Gourmet Evening: October 2010

Well, it's been a busy old week. So far, I have spent three days in Edinburgh, shown exceptional bravery at the dentist, and finally got round to watching the Sky 1 adaptation of Thorne, a series so sexy that it has forced me to completely re-evaluate BBC1's Sherlock; there was I thinking that Benedict Cumberbatch running around a museum in a long coat pretty much set the bar as high as it it could get, until a period of protracted man-angst between David Morrissey and Aidan Gillen in a disused yard (with Aidan sitting down, obviously, to conceal height issues) raised it quite out of sight.

But all that pales into insignificance compared to the fact that today, for the very first time, I have had tripe. I have had a deep-rooted fear of this item ever since I witnessed a colleague purchase a quivering bagful at Bury Market, where it wibbled and wobbled all the way back to work before draping itself obscenely over a shelf in the communal fridge. Robert Owen Brown, the masterly chef at The Mark Addy, clearly suspects that many of us have had similarly traumatic experiences, for the first course - a bonus, gratis, for-nothing course - at tonight's Gourmet Dinner was a little dish full of tripe. He exhorted us to try it, and I did; I wish to say no more about it.

So, back on track with the six proper courses, and this is what we had:

1. Sweet Chestnut Stuffed Quail with Crab Apple Jelly
2. Anglesey Oyster and Morecambe Bay Shrimp Soup
3. Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese and Dandelion Rarebit
4. Rare Breed Pork Belly, Loin of Beef and Lamb Chop
5. Crispy Rice Pudding
6. Garstang Blue and Old York Sheep's Cheese

I have the following comments to make about the meal in general:

- my husband's favourite course was the rarebit, a deliciously crisp square of cheesy perfection. Yet, when I offered to pull up a few dandelions from the garden next summer and whip up a similar gastronomic treat he paled slightly and seemed most ungrateful.

- it is little wonder that Robert Owen Brown is Manchester's favourite chef, based on the following evidence: he couldn't decide which meat dish he wanted to give us for main course, so he gave us all three. Case closed.

- an interesting ethical dilemma: if your waitress accidentally gives you a plate of cheese each rather than one to share, and you don't realise the breach of etiquette until you have started eating, do you stop and return one of the plates? No, thought not.

- rice pudding has no need of enclosure in a giant crispy ball. It just means that people who are on their fifth course and who are wearing a slinky dress have to patiently scrape the rice pudding out of the hamster ball you have spent so long carefully putting it in.

Crispy rice pudding aside, the meal was faultless, and as usual we have already booked for next month. I have promised my husband that I will finish this post with his punchline, even though it would make more sense if the meal had been rubbish, but here goes. The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner: what a load of tripe.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Great Manchester Egg Treasure Hunt, Part One: The Tease

It all began a few months ago, when I observed I had a new Twitter follower who rejoiced in the unusual moniker of @manchesteregg. Now, those who know me will be aware that my thoughts are never far away from food; specifically, what I will eat next and how long I can reasonably be expected to wait for it, but I clearly have a much classier side (I always knew it was there somewhere), as my immediate thought was that a Manchester Egg might be a little like a Faberge egg, only local in some way that I had yet to fathom.

Turned out I was wrong. The Manchester Egg is the creation of Ben Holden, a man my husband is keen to meet and shake by the hand, for he has had the brainwave of taking a pickled egg, wrapping it in a jaunty black pudding and sausage jerkin, and then adding a final crisp little capelet of breadcrumbs. However, an unfortunate logistical problem has occurred, thus far depriving poor Mr Liz of his wholesome snack: said eggs only appear to be available in two locations, neither of which I have ever been to.

So here's the issue. I am lazy, and ideally prefer to visit venues in South Manchester that are either a short walk or taxi ride away. If I am ever lured into the centre of Manchester, it tends to be by the promise of somewhere that has the words "bar", "champagne" or "wine" somewhere in its name. Ben's egg is seemingly only available at Soup Kitchen on Spear Street, or the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street; and indeed, a brief Twitter conversation with Mr Holden suggests that it will be a few weeks before these tasty golden nuggets are even in residence at the latter.

Entrepreneurs like Ben must understand that by inventing such items, they have a responsibility to their potential patrons: the thousands of tearful, angry and confused boys across South Manchester who have evil wives and want nothing more than to enjoy a Manchester Egg in a convenient venue. Mr Liz has even seen you in his wife's Olive magazine, leaning nonchalently towards the camera whilst brandishing the elusive prize, the slippery treasure cruelly not available to those in the suburbs.

So we promise to visit the Castle Hotel as soon as you give us the go-ahead; Mr Liz will probably even ensure that he has had nothing to eat all day, and will wear a coat with extra-large egg-bearing pockets. Just one thing though; according to the egg's own website, it is "a hearty commodity worthy of a gentleman without need of garnish", and frankly this raises more questions than it answers. Am I, as a girl, not allowed one? Will my husband have to pass some kind of test to prove that he is a gentleman, such as tossing his gloves into his top hat from thirty paces? Worse still, what if he is judged a gentleman who DOES have need of garnish?

I will endeavour to clear up these and other mysteries when I move on to The Great Manchester Egg Hunt, Part Two: The Chase....

- you can look at pictures of the local lovely at, or if you've actually got your hands on one you could perhaps review it for us below:

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dinner at Green Tea, Val McDermid at The Whitworth, and a Chocolate Lollipop....

Such are the vagaries of life: one minute you're (ahem, hypothetically speaking) sitting in your pyjamas, half-watching Countryfile and marking a pile of essays on Bronte's presentation of Heathcliff in chapters 1-7 of Wuthering Heights; the next you're having to juggle two impossibly desirable events in one evening.

Event number one: official party to celebrate the re-opening of the Green Tea restaurant on Burton Road in West Didsbury. This pocket-sized eatery has undergone a full refurbishment in recent months, and has transformed into a sophisticated grotto serving high-class Chinese food; indeed, we hardly recognised the place (although the red carpet outside was a bit of a giveaway - nice touch).

We'd never eaten here before, but had heard very good things since the reopening. The menu has seen a radical overhaul, pared down to a small but perfectly formed selection of specials, including the belly pork stew - meltingly tender and just the job for a wet Manchester evening. Other dishes attracting murmurs of approval included the beef with coriander and the Fire Cracking Chilli Chicken - a small group of excited boys was clustered around this particular dish for most of the evening - but to be honest EVERYTHING was good. I ate some tofu by mistake and even that was nice.

The Green Tea girls - impossibly beautiful in gloriously good evening dresses (WITHOUT food down the front - note to self, must emulate) - were on hand all evening with drinks and goody bags, clearly proud of their gorgeous restaurant and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to their food. A tier of dinky green tea flavoured fairy cakes courtesy of Airy Fairy Cupcakes was the crowning touch, particularly when it appeared that a small firework had been attached to the top (rocket-powered cakes; now I've seen everything.)

Unfortunately, we had to leave early. There was just time for me to be interviewed by a nice girl who was clearly too polite to point out that I no doubt had small filaments of spare rib between my teeth, and we were whisked off by a waiting boy to see Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah as part of the Manchester Literature Festival. We were late for this, and had to be marched into the Whitworth Gallery in disgrace, shoved unceremoniously into chairs right at the back where we couldn't see a thing.

Things worked out for us, however, as they always do; the people in the naughty seats at the back are the first to get to the book-signing table, where they can confidently hobnob with famous novelists in the carefree manner that only several glasses of free wine can bring. Both ladies tolerated us with great magnanimity, answering our childish questions with much patience; I can exclusively reveal that Val McDermid "doesn't yet know" if Charlie, the star of her latest novel, will become a regular character. So I think you'll agree, my work here is done: dinner, a literary scoop, AND a goody bag that included a chocolate lollipop with "Green Tea" printed on it. My husband has already eaten his, so if you'll excuse me, I'm off to guard mine with my life *growls*

- Green Tea restaurant is at 222 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LW; tel. 0161 445 5395;

Monday, 18 October 2010

North West Young Designer of the Year 2010, Manchester

Now, I have nothing but admiration for people who are able to fully commit themselves to the dedicated following of fashion. I myself am full of good intentions; I subscribe to Vogue, for goodness sake, and sometimes I even read some of the words as well as look at the lovely shiny pictures. Ultimately though, I fall down in the following areas:

1. Lack of model proportions. I am fully versed in this area of the fashion world, having watched every series of America's Next Top Model, where every so often a poor, overweight girl of ooh, a size 12 or 14 say, pops her head over the parapet to be shot at by all and sundry before being labelled a "plus size model" and voted off around week five. I am five feet eleven inches tall. Hurrah. I am not, however, a size 6, and I have not seen my cheekbones since I was seven.

2. The perils of my profession. I have a wardrobe full of beautiful items, none of which ever gets worn because I am a teacher and therefore need to incorporate a sensible cardigan into every outfit. The other thing I do a lot of is write, a profession taken up for the sole reason that I am do it in my pyjamas.

3. Mobility. I have a weakness for toweringly beautiful shoes, a whole army of which keeps imperious guard over my spare bedroom. Can I walk in any of them? No. Thus they remain marshalled in intimidating ranks, waiting for the day they are called upon to break an ankle or two.

Having said all of this, I was most excited to be invited to the final of The North West Young Designer of the Year 2010, to be held at Manchester's Triangle Shopping Centre tomorrow night. Many of the shoes also got wind of the occasion, and began jostling amongst themselves for the right to take me from front door to cab to venue (via the pavement at some point, no doubt).

And then I looked at the time. The event starts at 6pm, in central Manchester. My last class of the day finishes at 5pm, in North Manchester, and that's without including time for faffing about and checking that one's cardigan is looking just-so. I fear that this is conclusive proof, once and for all: teaching and fashion simply don't mix.

- If you are a glamorous non-teacher then get yourself down to The Triangle, Manchester tomorrow, Tuesday 19th October, at 6pm. This is the fourth year of these prestigious awards featuring horribly talented young people, all under 25 (I was just too old to enter this year, by a month or two or three), and the event is free. Then please send me some kind of precis of the event, telling me what colours my cardigans should be this year. Thanks.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gorgeous Mosaics, Wine and Beautiful People: Just Another Friday Night at Didsbury Life

There are often nice things happening in the offices of Didsbury Life: that unassuming facade on Burton Road actually conceals a tardis-like haven of art, wine and loveliness on a regular basis. But I was particularly looking forward to Friday's event, the preview night of the latest exhibition, because until January Didsbury Life are playing host to Amanda McCrann and her gorgeous mosaics.

This was always going to be a dangerous combination - me, wine and beautiful art pieces all in one place. You'll obviously have to read on till the end of the blog to see if I actually bought anything... *tries feebly to create tension*

We arrived at about 7, not in the best of spirits. Shortly after setting out on the epic walk from the East of Didsbury to the West (please Helen, just relocate the office) we were caught in a frankly enormous rain shower that we were not really equipped to deal with. We had one small umbrella between us, and as my husband flatly refused to be seen sheltering under a pink brolly decorated with small dogs, he arrived looking less than glamorous at the lovely sparkly party.

Our luck soon improved - for the first time ever, we had arrived in time to drink from proper wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Amanda had clearly bought in quantity, perhaps suspecting the identity of those likely to attend, and as our damp clothes steamed lightly in the warmth of the office we felt our moods restored. Food was provided by Folk Bar, across the road; apologies to anyone who hoped to have some of the stuffed vine leaves as it's entirely possible I may have eaten all of these.

(Note to self; it's no good being in bed by ten - if all you've consumed is vine leaves and red wine you will still not feel tip-tip in the morning.)

So, back to the mosaics. Amanda is that rare creature - immensely talented, ridiculously beautiful, and yet still delightful: on this, her big night, she kept apologising for forgetting to bring a book she'd promised to lend me, such is her thoughtfulness. She is deservedly becoming well-known under the name of Manchester Mosaics for her stunning pieces, many of which are included in the display - pop along to Didsbury Life to have a look, and you may even be lucky enough to see her at work, as she plans to be there from time to time over the next few months.

Amanda was well supported by friends and family - hello to Aunty Barbara from America - and as usual at these events a few more Twitter acquaintances formed themselves into actual living, breathing real people (one of whom - Rowena - turns out to have the most lovely coat). Mike Garry was prevailed upon to perform a couple of poems (in exchange for a pint of Guinness - if only all poets were so amenable), and it was nice to chat to Dave Haslam about his recent triumphant interview with Jonathan Franzen (husband made the hideous confession that he'd stood next to the novelist so recently proclaimed by Time Magazine as the latest exponent of the Great American Novel and NOT RECOGNISED HIM - gah).

So now, the moment you've all been waiting for...did I buy anything? Well, thanks if you're still here - the pitifully easy answer is YES. And even better, the creation of my mosaic will apparently requires LOTS of meetings over more wine with Amanda, just to make sure that everything is absolutely right...

- You can see Amanda's stunning designs at Didsbury Life, 212 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester until the end of the year.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Social Network AND Dinner at The Didsbury: Unfeasibly Good Tuesday Night Out

I have found a definite advantage to being a greedy-faced glutton who will eat pretty much anything: it allows you to take advantage of excellent-value set menus across Manchester, in places who will fall over themselves to bring you a succession of seasonal dishes for a ridiculously low price. As the only things - in the world - I dislike are coffee, celery and desiccated coconut, I am fairly safe as far as set menus are concerned: even a coffee dessert sent by the devil himself can be safely dealt with by accompanying friends or husbands.

After the recent triumphs of The Mark Addy's Gourmet Evening, the latest local venue to offer an exotic taster menu is The Didsbury, always a favourite location but even more alluring when it's Game Taster Night (please insert own joke about being game for anything here, if you really must sink so low.) For a measly £18.99 per head, we scoffed the following:

1. Mini Wild Boar Burger, served with fried egg and chips. Absolutely delicious, although I was rather put off by the drawing of wild boar in the accompanying menu, who smiled sadly at me throughout my consumption of what was presumably him or a close relative.

2. Grilled Breast of Guinea Fowl, served with chorizo, chilli jam and sweet potato mash. I would like to point out that this course clearly contains one of my five-a-day, thereby negating any potential downside of eating such a large meal.

3. Roasted Pheasant Breast, stuffed with apple, pork and honey, wrapped in bacon and served with coq au vin sauce. This was my husband's favourite course: he went a bit like Homer Simpson does when he goes "aaaggggghhhhuuuugggggg" and starts drooling.

4. Wild Venison Medallions, served with braised red cabbage and a cherry and red wine sauce (red food = healthy, I know this for an actual fact). This was MY favourite course.

5. Apple, Cinnamon and Sultana Crumble. I confidently said I didn't want this. I ate every last scrap and then complained all the way home about having eaten too much (humour me - at least TRY to look surprised.)

The menu also includes a glass of wine, which I sipped very slowly and made last for five whole courses in a bid to prove that I can be restrained if necessary on a school night. The menu is available again on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October, and if I weren't in Edinburgh I would definitely go again. You can book by ringing The Didsbury on 0161 445 5389.

Many thanks to Paul, the lovely gaffer at The Didsbury for letting us sneak in pretty late on in the evening for our repast, for in an unprecedented double bill of Tuesday night action we had snaffled some free tickets for The Social Network at Cineworld. I did some predictable chuntering about how I was expecting a dreary couple of hours watching a bunch of IT geeks doing dull things with computers, but I take it all back. This film is brilliant - superbly acted, full of fantastic pantomime villain-type characters and with a sparkling script from the mighty Aaron Sorkin. I got home and posted a facebook status about the film about facebook I'd just watched, and fell blissfully asleep full of game and my own cleverness.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Forthcoming Niceties at Pinchjo's and The Didsbury

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, and a distressing number of those are spent at work, so some prioritising may be in order. As well as the flurry of festivals previously discussed, I also need to contend with the following:

1. Pinchjo's tapas restaurant on Burton Road in West Didsbury is offering something called Sound Scape every Sunday evening from 5pm, where £10 buys you all you can eat. This seems all well and good, until you realise exactly how much marking and general boringness must be completed before Monday morning comes. Will those essays go into work with a few Prosecco smears on them? Will the husband find himself without clean pants? Until I've tried it, it's difficult to be certain how far-reaching the effects of Sundays at Pinchjo's could be.

2. Game Taster Menu at The Didsbury. Five courses of gamey goodness including a glass of wine for £18.99 a head? Yes please. Only on Mon 11th, Tues 12th, Mon 25th and Tue 26th October? Gah. That'll be a ridiculously late table for two then please.

3. Autumn TV. Hurrah for the new season schedules! Hurroo to it all being on at the same time - David Tennant vs Downton Abbey vs Crime Thing with Aidan Gillen - all at 9pm tomorrow! Whitechapel vs doublebill of all new America's Next Top Model at 9pm on Monday! How one is supposed to fit one's work and social commitments round all of this is a mystery - it's all well and good Sky-Plussing everything, but you try facing down an angry boy when the hard drive has crashed because it's got nine hours of Tyra Banks on it...

Manchester Festival Frenzy

I am starting to think it may be physically possible to attend a different festival every weekend. This is exciting news, and whilst my hypothesis needs further testing, my evidence so far is compelling, and I invite any passing universities to consider funding further research into what is, after all, a very important possibility.

Evidence item one: Taste of Trafford lures me to Altrincham on Sunday 26th September. If research goes according to plan, this date will hereafter be known as "Weekend no. 1", or perhaps "D-Day".

Evidence item two: The Manchester Whisky Festival, last Saturday. True, I sent representatives rather than actually attend myself, but for funding purposes this still counts.

Evidence item three: Manchester Food and Drink Festival. This has been on all week, and The Whisky Festival may have technically been part of it, but I only went today so it counts as a new one. We started in St Ann's Square, where a number of tempting foodie stalls jostled enticingly for our custom; obviously we succumbed, and purchased cheese, chutney, pork pies (well, the male half of the family bought those), salami, and cakes. I planned to post a photo of my gorgeous AiryFairy Cupcakes, but as the box turned itself upside down in my bag and I had to lick most of the icing off the lid, I decided Laura would probably not welcome this type of publicity. They did taste delicious though.

We then went up to Albert Square, where we sat at cheery communal tables in the sunshine, listening to Elbow playing over the speaker system, eating tapas from Grado and drinking beer from the Robinsons tent. Perfect: this was the sort of day that made me feel proud to live in Manchester. And how often can one combine feelings of civic pride with the purchase of a large bag of German sausage?

Evidence item four: I will be attending two events at The Manchester Literature Festival next Saturday - the Pages Ago historical fiction day and then the Boho Literary Pub Walk. I have the honour of blogging about both for the festival, although I am still puzzled as to why I had to request the Pages Ago event whilst they actively offered me the pub one. Surely I am cruelly misunderstood? *is clever and literary, and doesn't really like wine or beer at all*

Evidence item five: the third Didsbury Beer Festival takes place across the weekend of 28th - 30th October. It goes without saying that as this is conveniently held a two minute walk from my house, I shall probably show my face.

So, the only gap in this promising schedule is the weekend of 23rd October, when I shall be travelling to Edinburgh for the beginning of "birthday month" festivities. Now, if only they had some kind of festival that I wasn't two months late for....

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Manchester Whisky Festival 2010 AND Curry? Boys' Dreams Really Can Come True....

Saturday morning, and across Manchester men are jumping from their beds, rubbing their sleepy little faces, and crying, "Is it time? Is it really time?"

Bless, them, with their tousled hair and hopeful expressions; yes, it really IS time, little ones, for the annual Manchester Whisky Festival. I did not myself attend the event, as I would honestly rather swill with a glass of TCP than spend the day tasting whisky, but here is a brief itinary of the day as it unfolded:

1. First boy (apart from the one already in residence) arrives on doorstep at 11.30. Dangerously excited look in eyes. Gives me perfunctory kiss on cheek (seems distracted) and hands me some wine, "for later". Admire boy's optimism.

2. Drive boys to friend's house to collect next boy. Friend has thoughtfully prepared carbohydrate and protein fest to line stomachs - egg and bacon butties. All boys eat at least two each.

3. Friend drives boys to Whisky Festival at Dukes 92 in Castlefield. I spend a serene afternoon shopping and doing The Times crossword.

4. Boys arrive back, still wildly over-excited, and talking very loudly and slowly in feeble bid to prove not drunk. Charade exposed when each admits to tasting 15 whiskies. That they remember.

5. Each boy becomes tired and naughty and is put to bed for an hour. I end up sitting downstairs, showered and Jo Malone'd, wearing ace new dress, drinking the first boy's wine, and watching Strictly alone. Please insert your own comments about Ann Widdecombe here.

6. Normal service finally resumed with arrival of classy, sober friends, who make appropriately admiring comments about new dress, and reappearance of now-pleasant boys. Dinner eaten at The Third Eye in Didsbury, and much enjoyed by all.

7. Husband starts counting down days to next Whisky Festival, and goes to bed to dream sweet visions of enormous dancing whisky glasses.*

* Or he would, if his wife had permitted.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening September 2010

Further proof this week - as if any were needed - that I am now officially the greediest woman in Britain. I realised this incontrovertible truth as I sat down to dinner last night at The Mark Addy, in readiness for the arrival of this month's Gourmet Evening menu.

I finally understood that I had not been looking forward to a nice night out in the manner that any normal person would, but that I had actually been excited for a whole month. About what I might eat. And when we weren't told until 7.45 what the menu was, rather than the advertised 7.30 start, I was actually tutting. And tapping my fingers on the table. And jigging one leg up and down.

For the uninitiated, The Mark Addy is a splendid pub on the banks of the Irwell that offers all sorts of exciting foodie events, quite rightfully making the most of its excellent chef Robert Owen Brown. The last Wednesday of every month is Gourmet Evening, where people who no longer bother going to WeightWatchers (well, OK, I speak only for myself here) can stuff themselves silly with seasonal produce (seasonal = very healthy with no calories at all. I think.)

Last night, we had the following:

1. Wild mushroom soup with Madeira. This may sound straightforward, but it was a/ delicious, and b/ (more importantly) served how I've always wanted to serve soup but never been brave enough to - inside a hollowed out bread roll.

2. Potted rabbit, wild duck and pigeon with elderberry. This was quite possibly the nicest thing I have ever eaten. And whoever had the bright idea to serve a little greenery on the side in an empty shell cartridge (presumably the one used to despatch Flopsy et al) is an evil genius.

3. Loin of beef with dripping pudding. I honestly thought my husband might fall over with excitement when this was brought out - an enormous slab of meaty goodness, carved before our very eyes and brought to each table on our own individual boards. The accompanying dripping pudding was a bit like a flat Yorkshire pudding; I cannot be more precise on this as I managed approximately one mouthful before it was rapidly consumed by a ruthless husband.

4. Wild blackberry jelly with Dowsons double cream. What more do I say about this? Everyone loves jelly, and it's not too filling for anyone who happens to have recently consumed half a cow.

5. Local cheese and tracklements. Full marks for the use of the pleasingly archaic "tracklements", but slightly misleading; this was actually just some (nice) cheese with some crackers. Not blue though. And also really quite full up by now.

We have already booked for next month, and we would be grateful if The Mark Addy could provide us with some or all of the following:
- some blue cheese
- some kind of expandably waisted trouser item, and
- an explanation of where the bread from inside the rolls for the soup went (my husband has been wondering about this.)

All will be revealed (hopefully) at the next Gourmet Evening on Wednesday 27th October; I'm the one looking impatient with her plate ready at the front. Contact The Mark Addy on 0161 832 4080 if you want to be there to watch ANOTHER button pop off my coat...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Taste of Trafford: Altrincham Food and Drink Festival

Anyone who has chanced across this blog before may be aware that I am partial to the following things:

1. Food, in any guise, but ideally including cheese, cupcakes, olives and other essential food groups

2. Drink, again in any guise, but generally wine-based beverages due to their natural affinity with the food groups mentioned above

3. Shopping, particularly if I can put my purchases in a cloth bag and walk around radiating smug "environmentally friendly" vibes

4. Going out in the car, preferably to places that are near enough that my husband is happy to drive, and doesn't start spouting nonsense about wanting a "drive credit" to spend on some future (always inconvenient) occasion

5. Any kind of Sunday activity that displaces thoughts of the giant pile of marking and prep work lurking threateningly on the kitchen worktop - it won't do itself, you know, and yet there's ALWAYS hope...

So imagine the joy of discovering something that combines all of these wholesome interests in one easily attainable package: such is the annual "Taste of Trafford" Festival, a celebration of local restaurants and food producers held today in Altrincham, which does incidentally satisfy point number 4 as listed above. They'd even thoughtfully arranged for the sun to be shining.

On arrival we dutifully purchased our "Tesetas", the festival currency. By a huge stroke of fortune, the conversion rate turned out to be one Teseta to the pound, meaning that even people who had sampled heartily at the Oddbins table could shop with confidence. With our Tesetas, we bought the following:

1 x hog roast barm from The Fat Loaf stall (minus some crackling, stolen by passing husband)

2 x glasses of wine - one Malbec, one Sauvignon Blanc - from Oddbins, who were selling 125ml measures at the frankly ludicrous prices of between 1 and 2 Tesetas per glass. I can recommend both the wines I tried, so I will: Dona Paula Malbec (£10.99 a bottle) and Baile Out Sauvignon (£9.99)

6 x cupcakes from Teacups and Fairycakes (I do actually feel slightly disloyal to lovely Airy Fairy Cupcakes, as if I have been physically unfaithful, but what can I say? I was weak)

1 x pack lovely fat sausages from Cheadle Farm, who can more or less tell you the name and trotter size of the pig(s) who nobly gave of their flesh

1 x pack chilli chocolate from Cacao & Co (although this has gone into husband's coat pocket and not been seen since)

1 x chocolate and banana crepe from Pitta Crepe

1 x potato pasty from Taste of Anatolia (you can take the boy out of Wigan, etc etc)

By now, the stalls were starting to look distinctly picked-clean, despite it only being just after 1pm; apologies if you turned up later and found the cupboard was bare due to the greed of previous shoppers. Luckily, I was wearing my new FitFlop boots for the walk around the festival, so I'm pretty sure this will negate the items listed above. An ideal Sunday? Yes. Although, now home, I see the cat has failed to make a start on the marking. Once again.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Crazy Wendy = Crazy Late Night for Brave but Powerless Girl

Oh. It was meant to be such a low-key evening. After a hard week's work, what could be nicer than a drink at Silver Apples in West Didsbury, followed by a quick browse of Didsbury's Life's current art exhibition, then a simple dinner somewhere in Didsbury, before retiring to bed at a respectable hour - clean bedsheets and everything.

Things did indeed go according to plan. At first. After a swift pint of Oktoberfest Paulaner at Silver Apples (I really, really want this beer to have been named after Paulie Walnuts, but I fear it is not so), we donned our cultural hats and hied to Didsbury Life for the preview of the art exhibition they are hosting as part of Didsbury Arts Festival.

Cultural hats must sadly have fallen off on the way however, to be replaced with drinking-lots-of-wine-while-eating-nothing-but-a-breadstick-or-two hats. The artwork - by Anita Farkas, Hannah Wiles and Pam Smith - is well worth a look, but I fear I only looked very briefly, mostly on the way to the food table to commandeer another breadstick (clearly clinging to the belief that the odd nibble could take on Helen's generous wine measures and win). I absolutely promise to go back and look properly another day; you should too, but if you buy some raffle tickets for the WestFest Christmas lights while you're there and you win the wooden owl, you have to give it to me.

So, the point is, the fact that I ended up in Crazy Wendy's performing Shirley Bassey songs rather than enjoying a quiet dinner somewhere is everyone's fault but my own. Wendy's legendary Thai restaurant is right next door to the Didsbury Life office, and although busy last night was not actually full - unheard of for a Friday night - so it should be clear by now that the cards were stacked against me at every turn.

Ever the trooper, I gamely made the best of it. We chose the set menu for two, and very nice it was too - the garlic chicken is a particular joy, and may explain why people have run away screaming when I've tried to talk to them today. To be honest though, the food is not the real draw here, and at 10.30 the beautiful Wendy appeared, resplendent in pink feather boa and astonishingly high platform shoes, ready to sing Elvis to her adoring diners. I'm sure that the stunning duet of Hey Big Spender performed by myself and Wendy brought a tear to many an eye and is still being talked about in glowing tones across Manchester as we speak.

I was in bed by midnight. Just. Tonight I am having a night in. Unless, of course, the whole world conspires against me once more.

- Silver Apples is at 200 Burton Road, Didsbury Life is at number 212, and Crazy Wendy's is at 210. Avoid this entire road like the plague if you want to go to bed early.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wednesday Night Wine Night

Occasionally, I attempt to post some kind of meaningful comment on Twitter or Facebook. This is always soundly ignored by the general public, who rightly turn their backs on such pseudo-intellectual posturing. Yet I have noticed that whenever I post some nonsense about wine or other such frippery, the response is nothing short of overwhelming.

Take tonight, for example. Coming home weary and disgruntled from work, I commented that I felt the need to establish an emergency new tradition: Wednesday Night Wine Night. Within a few minutes I'd had a number of enthusiastic responses, including a suggestion on Facebook that we throw caution to the wind and simply go for the equally alliterative Weekday Night Wine Night.

Now, Wednesdays have traditionally been dead space for me, a nothing sort of night without even the prospect of a new episode of America's Next Top Model to brighten it up. True, before my gym membership lapsed I did occasionally jig about the swimming pool with some nice old ladies doing aquacise on a Wednesday, but this hardly counts as living the high life. Indeed, the whole thing was utterly counter-productive, as the gym was part of a hotel with a restaurant, and the walls of the pool were plastered with pictures of burgers and roast dinners; combine this flagrantly cruel advertising with a crazy bunch of endorphins telling you, erroneously, that you have clearly burnt off enough calories for a burger AND a couple of pints of lager, and you tend to come out a little fatter than you went in.

But now, with The Mark Addy's splendid Gourmet Nights on the last Wednesday of every month, and the tender fledgling (to be carefully nurtured) that is Wednesday Night Wine Night, the dullest evening of the week is starting to look a little fancy-pants glamorous. If you know of any other glorious mid-week events on the horizon, please let me know - I'll bring the wine...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Evita at The Lowry, Salford

Before last night my knowledge of Evita could be described, at best, as "sketchy". I think I once saw the last 10 minutes of the Madonna film, possibly through a Christmas Day fug of gin and Quality Street; I know approximately half the words to Don't Cry For Me Argentina; I am aware that The Dark Lord was fond of making the quivering Dorothys/Marias/Nancys/whatever in the bottom two every week sing something about a suitcase in a hall. But that's pretty much it.

I never like to be left out, however, and accordingly found myself at The Lowry in the company of two girls who appear to have been listening to the Evita CD on repeat since the age of six. The plot (look away now if you don't wish to know) seems to be roughly as follows: plucky but poor Eva Duarte sets off for Buenos Aires in the company of mustachioed club singer; plucky but ambitious Eva Duarte dumps mustachioed club singer for string of increasingly important lovers; plucky but manipulative Eva Duarte bags Colonel Juan Peron; Peron becomes President; plucky but self-interested First Lady of Argentina wears a series of impeccable outfits and launches a foundation that prompts a small child with gappy teeth to sing about how she is a saint; plucky but poorly Eva Peron clutches stomach a lot, then dies, to much mourning and some really rather nice floral displays. All, of course, accompanied by lots of singing and twirling.

Now, you're either a fan of the musical genre, or you're not. Evita is not my favourite musical by a long way - it has rather too much of that not-exactly-singing-not-exactly-talking stuff in it for my liking - but the current production at The Lowry is spectacularly impressive (particularly when you're right in the front row, enjoying a view up the cast's nostrils - when will I ever learn to book the right tickets) with seamless set changes and a uniformly excellent cast. Our hearts sank a little when we saw that the lead actress, Abigail Jaye, was best known for Hollyoaks (well, it's always that or The Bill), but she was simply superb, handling The Dark Lord's ludicrously difficult starts-very-high-then-goes-very-low repertoire with aplomb.

But, despite my best efforts to sum up the performance, recreating the highs and lows and communicating every little nuance, I find that I am unable to better the plot summary so decisively announced at the interval by a perceptive fellow theatre-goer in the row behind us: "so, he knew that she was a dirty tart all along..." Next time, I really don't think I'll bother trying to compete.

- Evita finishes at The Lowry tomorrow; visit the website at for more details.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Local Girl Promotes Healthy Lifestyle at Nemaste Nepal

So. After a long and hard-fought campaign, you have deservedly made it through to the finals of Miss World. You have posed winsomely with sick children and injured pets; you have gushed breathlessly about kindness and the importance of helping old people across the road; you have even mastered the art of walking in heels, wearing a bikini, and holding your stomach in for periods upwards of thirty minutes. There is just one more hurdle to clear; a nice chat on camera. "So, my dear, what do you most desire in life?"

Oh, such a tricky one. World peace? A cure for cancer? An end to injustice and inequality?

I fear this may be why I have never won Miss World. For often, what I desire more than anything else, more than anything in the whole world, is a nice dish of Makhan Chara as made by either The Great Kathmandu or its sister restaurant Nemaste Nepal.

These two mighty restaurants are found in Burton Road in West Didsbury, just waiting to prey upon people who have been to Oktoberfest at Silver Apples and have not eaten since 11am, and are therefore weak. I found myself in this helpless position last night; two beers at Oktoberfest, another outside Folk with the estimable Didsbury Life, and my resolve was non-existent. And since my husband flatly refuses to even entertain the idea of Great Kathmandu since a waiter once spilt oil down the back of his shirt and then denied all knowledge of it, Nemaste Nepal it was.

I'm a bit worried that Nemaste Nepal appears to be up for sale; I've always preferred this much larger, calmer restaurant over its rather casual brother just up the road (hey, maybe service will be good tonight; maybe we'll just ignore you...who knows?) but it WAS very quiet, far too quiet for a Friday night. I can only think that most people were at home watching the Ultimate Big Brother final, although it makes me sad to think this.

However, the food was as good as ever. Makhan Chara is a dish I occasionally actually dream about eating; you can buy it at other restaurants but it's always disappointing - the only other place that even comes close to getting it right is The Third Eye on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, and even there it lacks something. This makes me worry that Nemaste Nepal are simply putting some kind of highly addictive ingredient into theirs; I can't think why else I would hanker after a dish that appears to be made entirely from tomatoes and cream - I don't even LIKE cream. Yet there's something about this unctious concoction that makes me forget that every mouthful contains enough calories to support a third-world country for a week, and that this is unlikely to be negated by simply walking home rather than taxiing (still, ever hopeful.)

I hate to admit that I couldn't finish it all last night; and it shames me even more to admit that if I'd brought it home in a doggy-bag, I'd be eating it cold right now. I think the Miss World crown might just elude me for another year at least.

- Nemaste Nepal is at 164-166 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 1LH; tel. 0161 445 9060.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Silver Apples Oktoberfest vs. Lesson Planning

It's exactly the same every year. I loll about aimlessly for the six weeks of summer, dragging myself away from the deadly power-triumvirate of shoe shop, book shop and wine shop only for an occasional whinge about how rubbish the weather is. Then the minute I'm back at work, the sun comes out, and a whole raft of delicious events come along, jostling noisily for my attention.

I'll give you an example. Today was the first day of the academic year, the proverbial fresh start, turning over of new leaf, etc. I have a new notebook, two new pens, and a steely resolve not to go out or drink wine on school nights. Then I discover that cute-as-a-button West Didsbury bar Silver Apples is holding an Oktoberfest, starting tomorrow, which I have a legal and moral duty to attend. My husband already has his shoes on, ready, completely disregarding the fact that I have a four hour class to prep for on Monday, teaching people to be teachers (no sniggering at the back please.)

I have also realised that I have the following events lined up in the next couple of weeks for, you guessed it, school nights:

- Evita at The Lowry (I hear it's some kind of, ahem, intellectual Chekov-type play *secretly practises Don't Cry for me Argentina with hairbrush microphone*)

- Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy on Sept 29th (have learned lesson from last time - will take extra large handbag to stow furtive leftovers)

- Girls' night out (location as yet unknown) with jammy best friend to jealously discuss her recent trip to Italy

- Elizabeth Gaskell lecture at John Rylands Library (oh wait, actually this is probably OK for a school night)

- Cava and Cakes at In All Her Finery on October 7th (still not learned valuable lesson about drinking wine then shopping)

- Faustus at Royal Exchange (if I can get tickets, pfft)

...and no doubt many other things that I have forgotten. So if you see a strange lady at Oktoberfest this weekend, making frantic notes in a lovely new pad with a highly covetable spotty pen (students! keep off!) then you know that's probably me.

- Find Silver Apples at 200 Burton Road (on the corner of Orchard Street), West Didsbury M20 2LW, tel. 0161 4453130. The Oktoberfest is on until all the beer has run out; I promise to keep thirsty husband in check.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Didsbury Double-Header: Dinner, Cake and Fizz

When I applied to go to University, my list of hobbies and interests no doubt mentioned voluntary work, going to high-brow theatrical events, reading classic literature, playing badminton (and perhaps squash as well - who remembers?) and being a general all-round top swot.

Obviously, my real-life CV would be more likely to include the following pursuits:
- going to the pub
- drinking fizzy wine
- reading trashy books
- watching (and discussing with like-minded friends) America's Next Top Model
- attending lovely parties and hob-nobbing with lovely friends
- all forms of food, especially curry, cake and anything from Marks & Spencer

and so on.

So imagine an evening that manages to include not one, but, um, *counts*, at least THREE of my preferred leisure activities! And on a normally non-descript Tuesday night!

It all began with Twitter, obviously. Lovely Laura (it is SO nice when a pleasant word alliterates with your name) from Airy Fairy Cupcakes announced that there was to be a fizz and cupcake evening at the estimable Love2Eat Deli in West Didsbury; ladies only, with a glass of fizz and a cupcake for just £5, it would clearly be ridiculous not to go.

"Oh," says the husband. "Well, have a nice time. I'm just off to mope about with my sad I'm-being-abandoned-again face on. Let me know if you want picking up."

Being a good and dutiful wife, I selflessly suggested we go and have dinner at The Didsbury first, using our BOGOF voucher carefully clipped from The South Manchester Reporter last week. If you've not tried the food at The Didsbury yet you really should; we shared a starter of whitebait (we are both exceptionally poor at sharing, which indicates how generous the portions are) and then went down the path of meaty goodness - my husband had the 9oz rump steak and I chose (what I thought was) a plain burger.

It is of course my own fault for not reading the menu properly, but really I think this particular food item should be renamed "The Hungry Boy's Burger", because it contained everything a hungry boy could ever dream of: onion rings, a fried egg, great thick slabs of bacon, cheese...oh, and a burger. I'm really not complaining - everything was of excellent quality - but it was all just a bit big. The husband's steak was also very good by the way, although I could hardly see it beyond the rolling heights of Burger Mountain.

The lovely waitress offered pudding, but I knew I had a cupcake with my name on it waiting across town. Actually, that's another story. "Do I need to buy my ticket in advance?" I tweeted to Laura; "No," she replied, "just pay on the door and I'll make sure there's a cake with your name on it, so to speak." Well, clearly there's an opportunity here to make a childish joke about stamping my feet and wanting a cupcake with my ACTUAL name on it, and I did not disappoint; the trouble with such adolescent humour is that it makes you feel not-worthy when you turn up and find that Laura has actually gone to the trouble of icing your name onto a cake. Almost too cute to eat. Almost.

Anyway, a fine time was had by all - Penny from Love2Eat kept the wine flowing, the cakes were delicious (obviously), and a lovely lady from DollyBox smilingly presided over a table of cut-price make-up goodies (note to self: step away from the make-up table after quaffing several glasses of wine, STEP AWAY.) Hopefully the fizz and cake evening will become a regular event; in the meantime you can order from the Airy Fairy at her website (, or visit Love2Eat for one of their excellent dining deals - see for more details.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Airy Fairy Cupcakes: Dangerously Good Didsbury Baking

When you're at school, pesky teachers are prone to continually ask what you want to do when you grow up; I make a particular point of doing the same to my own students, just to maintain the continuity of this fine tradition. Cup-cakes hadn't been invented when I was at school (I seem to remember fairy cakes being the 1980s alternative), but if they had been, I'm pretty sure that my teachers would have frowned most disapprovingly had I suggested "cup-cake tester" as a proposed career.

Well ha! In your face teachers! For I am indeed risen to the lofty heights of cup-cake tester, thanks to lovely local baker extraordinaire Laura of Airy Fairy Cupcakes. Some weeks ago, gluttons/connoisseurs were invited to write witty job applications/begging emails to Laura, explaining why they merited such a responsible position; I was among the lucky few who will bravely and selflessly test the Airy Fairy goodness. My husband has been seething with barely concealed jealousy ever since.

The perks of the job became clear on Friday, when I had a rather trying day. I arrived home at about 7pm after attending a funeral, to find a box of cupcakes waiting for me (eyed up by a hopeful husband): a lemon, a vanilla (the most popular flavour, apparently - I understand why) and two gluten free (am hoping this makes them healthy, in the same way that a plate of salad, for example, is gluten free).

After much thought and deliberation, my considered and professional opinions are as follows:
- lemon: yum
- vanilla: yum
- gluten free: yum

Obviously this feedback will be both helpful and ground-breaking for Laura. I bought my husband a box of the peanut butter cupcakes a couple of weeks ago, and he wishes to add that these were also yum. With assistants like us, her business will clearly go far; she is about to open a shop in Didsbury (oh, dangerous), but in the meantime you can contact her at, and if you live locally, you can pay her money to BRING YOU CAKE - what's not to like?

Garlic Therapy at Gusto, Didsbury

It has been remarked upon many, many times over the years how extraordinarily brave I am in the face of illness. And as I always, always get a cold when I go back to work (must be all that sudden exposure to teenagers), I am currently suffering with great fortitude and humility.

*calls feebly to husband for cup of tea and box of tissues*

*oh, and the remote control as well please*

So brave am I, in fact, that I was able to go out for dinner last night. I have acquired some kind of membership card for Gusto, the estimable Italian restaurant in Didsbury Village, and hadn't got round to using it until yesterday. It appears that if you book your table online (, you get 20% off your food bill (even on a weekend), and if I book online only another 247 times (or something) I am also entitled to a bottle of champagne.

Being slightly early for our reservation (timings affected by having to dodge showers on way into Didsbury), we decided to stop off for a drink; my husband wanted to go to The Milson Rhodes, and being really very ill indeed (although I have not really alluded to it, I have a serious cold) I lacked the strength to resist. Being a Saturday night in a Wetherspoons, the drinks were cheap, the pub was noisy, and a man was wearing a pink tutu and a rainbow-coloured wig. We drank up and left.

Gusto was equally busy, and we found ourselves seated at a table between the golden triangle of toilets, open-kitchen with fierce wood-burning oven, and large hen party complete with balloons and devil horns. We didn't mind actually, and the service is always attentive in Gusto no matter how busy it is, so were soon drinking medicinal red wine and eating garlic and tomato pizza bread.

My husband reckons he has found the perfect meal in Gusto, and staunchly refuses to deviate from it; thus, he gave the menu a purely cursory glance before ordering calamari followed by Diavola pizza. This pizza is far too hot for me, so I had spaghetti vongole with white wine butter (although, never one to learn a valuable lesson, I did as always try a piece of the scary pizza. It did, as always, make me cry a little.)

We resisted the dessert menu, paid our reasonably-priced bill (only the wine seemed a bit steep - surely Italian restaurants are meant to sell carafes of cheap and cheerful house red? Perhaps with a grass skirt?) and came home for a cheeky calvados to wash down the bed-time decongestants (did I mention? I am unwell.) Gusto is not the most exciting or traditional of restaurants, but the food is reliably good and the atmosphere is always lively; any other poorly but brave souls out there could do a lot worse.

- Gusto is at 756 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2DW, tel 0161 445 8209.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Greed and Gluttony at The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner

Now, obviously I'm not a greedy person. In any way. It's not as if, for example, I go to sleep at night thinking about what I might eat the next day, and I certainly don't keep a pile of cookbooks by the bed in case I need to look at emergency pictures of food. So when I booked to attend The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner, a six course extravaganza that takes place on the last Wednesday of every month, I did so nonchalently and carelessly; I have not spent the last three weeks checking the date and wondering when, OH WHEN?????, the 25th of August would arrive. Well, not much, anyway.

The Mark Addy has always been a decent pub, thanks to its prime location on the banks of the Irwell, but has recently been renovated and now boasts not only an outdoor seating/barbecue area for making the most of all that lovely Manchester rain, but has also lured top chef Robert Owen Brown on board (please insert own joke about rivers and being on board; I'm a little weary this evening.)

As a result, a number of interesting foodie evenings have started to appear at The Addy, including the Gourmet Dinner. When we arrived, I was excited. By the time our exuberantly hirsute chef had appeared and announced the menu, I was beyond excited. This is what we had to look forward to:

1. Wild mushroom and Madeira soup.
2. Roasted bone marrow and parsley salad with crispy ox tongue and fiery English mustard.
3. Pan-fried flounder with cockles, clams and mussels.
4. Knuckle of lamb with cobnuts and cabbage.
5. Damson stew with sour cream.
6. Regional cheese.

I felt an overwhelming urge to stand on the table and applaud wildly at the sheer deliciousness of what I had been promised, but instead sat quietly and was rewarded with the best meal I have had in a very, very long time. This was no ordinary tasting menu, with modest little morsels and a few delicate fancies; this was a series of proper, hearty, full-size dishes brought by charming staff who were actually interested to know what you thought of each course.

I liked everything except the bone marrow, which just seemed oily and tasteless, and my husband liked everything except the cheese, but that was only because by that point he was starting to go slightly green through over-eating. Clearly this isn't a menu for anyone with picky tastes; I took the menu into work today and many of my colleagues went slightly pale at the thought of the ox tongue, refusing to believe that it was actually the nicest bit of the whole meal. Frankly, when you've spent your childhood watching your father cook an entire tongue every Christmas, few food items hold any terror for you in adulthood, but if you know anyone likely to be frightened off by such innocuous items, simply leave them at home with their ready meal and take someone else with you.

The menu changes every month, based on what is seasonal and local, and is ridiculously good value at £25 per head. We have already booked for next month and I suggest you do the same immediately; shame it's such a stupidly long time till the 29th...
*surreptitiously starts marking off the days in diary*

- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street, Salford M3 5EJ, tel. 0161 8324080, or visit them at Now.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Manchester Whisky Festival 2010

In many ways, October is a nothing kind of a month: there are no bank holidays, everyone is back at school, Christmas is miles off, and I still have a whole four weeks to wait until my birthday. Luckily, in Manchester at least, October has become festival month, providing a glut of literary and gourmet delights to distract us from the fact that it's now dark in the mornings when the alarm goes off. For the male half of this household, the far-and-away highlight of all of this, glimmering on the horizon like a shiny, sparkly beacon of hope and joy, is The Manchester Whisky Festival.

Last year's inaugural festival was met with much approval by my husband, despite the fact that I refused to go with him - paying £18 to drink a selection of drinks that each tastes of TCP to a greater or lesser extent is not my idea of fun. Undaunted, he made merry to such an extent that he rolled in at teatime, fell asleep on the sofa, and missed the WHOLE of Strictly Come Dancing; he says he looks upon this as his perfect day, all things considered. This year is even more of a worry, as he will be in the company of two other reprobates: a beloved but dangerous drinking friend of mine from my university days, and a man who likes whisky so much he began negotiations with his wife to attend this event shortly after the last one ended.

Even more terrifyingly, this year's event begins at 11am, meaning the serious possibility of liver failure by lunchtime, and goes on until 4pm. This means that by teatime I will have a house full of drunken boys who would like nothing more than to go out for a curry and drink even more, before passing out in various inconvenient locations. Their £18 buys them a glass, a bottle of water, and access to around 150 tasting whiskies; if anyone would like to put me up at their house on the night of Saturday 2nd October then I would be most grateful.

- full details and tickets from

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Heartbreak Productions at Wythenshawe Park; Or, the Power of Pink Wine

As discussed in a previous post, if you want to guarantee a wet summer, simply book tickets for a selection of open-air theatre productions. I'm sure it's no coincidence that my interest in such events has corresponded with a series of utterly rubbish summers; I hold my hands up and accept the blame. So none of our party was remotely surprised yesterday evening to find ourselves glumly trudging to Wythenshawe Park in the rain, grimly clutching our folding chairs and our optimistically exuberant picnic (you see - English to the core; still intending on picnicking despite the monsoon.)

And then a funny thing happened. As we took our seats for Heartbreak Productions' "Love in Shakespeare" and popped the cork on the pink fizz, the heavens cleared. Blue sky arched overhead and the sun smiled down on us through the trees. A hush descended and we took a quiet moment to appreciate the power of the pink wine, the cup-cake, and the M & S pork pie.

After such an auspicious start, the play was bound to be good; and it was. I had initially been a little suspicious - Heartbreak always put on a mighty Shakespeare performance, with previous years including The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Romeo and Juliet, so why mess about with something calling itself "a comedic and at times, irreverent love story intertwined with some of the Bard’s best bits"? Why would you want to chop Shakespeare up into little pieces? I want it ALL, not a Big Brother-style highlights package!

Of course, it was all fine. The play was written especially for Heartbreak, and featured a talent night in a modern-day pub called The Shakespeare where each of the acts found themselves mysteriously transformed into Bard-spouting poets. The plot is so hopelessly contrived that one of the cast cheerfully admits as much right at the beginning of proceedings, but it IS funny - even a stray husband who'd been forced to attend due to a last-minute spare ticket enjoyed it. The cast switch effortlessly between roles, with all the characters played by just five performers, and as usual they can all sing and play instruments as well as act. The boys are cute this year as well, after a slight dip in quality in recent years.

The summer season for Heartbreak is nearly at an end but there is still time (just) to catch them - check out their website at to find out where they'll be. I've even got some leftover party sausages in the fridge if you're willing to collect - no pink wine though, so you'll need to get your own if you want to stay dry.