Got something lovely, shiny, gorgeous or sparkly to share? Join the twitter feed @ThingsToDoinMcr, or get in touch at

Friday, 25 February 2011

Happy Birthday Mr Benn - A Nation Salutes You

I know what you're thinking: can this really be the third Things To Do in Manchester post within twelve hours? Well, actually I don't know exactly what you're thinking, which could in reality be any of the following:

1. Wow! Post number three! It really is my lucky day
2. I really MUST cancel my RSS feed - I can't think why I subscribed to this pesky shoe-woman's blog in the first place
3. She really is the hardest working woman in Britain
4. She really must have an inordinately large pile of marking that she wishes to put off a little longer
5. Mr Liz must be taking longer to fetch the Frankie's Fish Bar order than she'd anticipated
6. Something very important MUST have happened in Manchester to prompt such unprecedented levels of activity
7. Where's my wine?

Actually, it's only a very short post, and nothing to do with Manchester at all, but today cannot be allowed to pass without remarking that Mr Benn, beloved behatted hero of the seventies, is forty years old today. To anyone under the age of thirty (what are you doing here anyway? It's Friday night!) his charm may be hard to pinpoint; after all, how exciting can it be watching the same man walk into the same shop to be greeted by the same shopkeeper? VERY EXCITING, that's how exciting it was - where would his (often frankly rather sinister) outfit lead him this time?

If you've never seen it, go and watch it on YouTube now this minute; if you were raised on a diet of this mild-mannered gentleman and his outlandish adventures, then reflect for a moment on these two astonishing facts. Firstly, there were only ever thirteen episodes, making it, along with Fawlty Towers, shimmering in its elusive brevity (although that's where the similarity ends - I do not ever recall seeing Mr B thrashing a small red car with a tree branch.) And secondly, Google has apparently not considered this anniversary important enough to mark Mr B's birthday with a natty graphic, although seemingly every other milestone in the history of the world, however minor, has been honoured in this way. I would be very busy campaigning to rectify this miscarriage of justice if my Frankie's Fish Bar order hadn't just finally arrived...

Feeding Frenzy at Appy Feet, Manchester Arndale

Well, I won't pretend I wasn't just a little nervous. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the opening of Appy Feet in the Manchester Arndale, a treatment centre offering pedicures with a difference, where hundreds of tiny Garra Rufa Fish nibble away at your dry skin as if it's the most delicious thing they have ever tasted. The blog post prompted much debate - lots of people said they were keen to try it, whilst others visibly paled at the thought of basically offering themselves up as a tasty snack for our marine friends. Clearly, I had to try it for myself.

The new branch of Appy Feet is on the ground floor of the Arndale, and is a large open space containing three fish tanks with seats arranged round the edge. Each tank is divided into four, so your feet have their own separate compartment, although do bear in mind that the people sitting with you will be casting glances your way the entire time, checking out who exactly has the most fish clustered round their feet and therefore - presumably - the driest skin. There is no standing on ceremony here - you basically roll up your trousers, rinse your feet under a shower, and pop your feet straight into the lion's den/fishy tank.

So what does it feel like? It tickles, and words cannot quite describe the initial sensation as you plonk your hooves in the warm water and are immediately charged down by hoards of hungry fish; indeed, another woman let out an almighty scream as the onslaught began that I tried not to let put me off. Once you get used to it though, it's actually very pleasant - the fish have no teeth and therefore cannot possibly hurt you as they nibble away gently at your extremities; in fact, it's almost soothing.

No greater recommendation can come from the people who actually work there - staff member Angela seems to genuinely enjoy her job, introducing sceptical Mancunians to the delights of the fishy pedicure, and admits that she uses the tanks whenever she can: we can only presume that she may have the softest feet in the North West. She says she's really noticed a difference since she started using it, and I can see why - when I resentfully put my shoes and socks back on at the end of the treatment my feet felt renewed and refreshed; no mean feat (*pause for clever wordplay to register*) considering I have walked about a hundred million miles over the last week in the no-doubt mistaken belief that it will negate the many calories I have consumed recently.

The treatment costs £10 for 15 minutes, or £20 for 35 minutes (presumably for those with plenty of fish fodder on their winter feet) and is well worth trying at least once - my guess though is that many of those who try it will return on a regular basis. The only downside? It's a bit like being in a fish tank yourself, as loads of people came into the shop while I was sitting looking foolish with fish all over my feet (difficult to maintain dignity in such circumstances) and asked me what it was like - perhaps this whole craze is simply an elaborate ruse by the fish to show us how they feel...

- Appy Feet (and surprisingly happy fish) can be found in the Manchester Arndale, M4 3AQ, and is open until 8pm Monday - Saturday and 6pm on Sundays; I promise you will emerge with ALL your limbs intact.

Spring is in the Air at Pinchjo's Tasting Evening

Yesterday was simply the most gorgeous day in Manchester. In fact, it was dangerously gorgeous, the sort of day that makes you forget that it is actually still February, in a normally cold and rainy corner of the UK, and that it is probably not appropriate to start getting out all your summer dresses and flinging them excitedly all over your bed (not that anyone, ahem, would do such a thing *quickly hides sandals and straw boater under pile of dark woollen items*)

Anyway, yesterday I ventured forth WITHOUT A COAT, as I conducted my urgent business about town. First stop was Burton Road in West Didsbury, to collect a sampler box of cakes from And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon, the cake-shop-cum-cafe that's taken Didsbury by storm since it opened last year. The Didsbury Cake War really seems to be hotting up nicely, with ever more exciting flavours being created to keep us interested - my box contained Lemon Meringue, Lemon & Raspberry Cheesecake, and Tiramisu cupcakes, and I'm not going to pretend that the first two weren't more or less gone by the time I'd driven the mile or so back to my house.

The verdict? The first two were just delicious, and probably very good for me as well, what with their high fruit content; cupcakes also look quite impossibly cute wearing a jaunty hat of meringue atop their cakey torso. I'm afraid that as I don't like coffee we have to rely on Mr Liz for a detailed and insightful review of the Tiramisu; after much thought, his considered opinion was "om nom nom nom, nom, nom nom nom." Hope this kind of feedback is helpful to you Anna. Worrying news elsewhere for my waistline is the confirmation that the lovely Airy Fairies are moving into their new shop on School Lane sometime in March; soon, I fear I may subsist entirely on a diet of cake.

Oh, and tapas. Last night was the preview evening for the new menu at Pinchjo's, also on Burton Road, and frankly what could be nicer at the end of such a beautiful day than sitting in a Tapas Bar and pretending you are a terribly chic Spanish lady somewhere in sunny Barcelona? Joe has done an amazing job with this tiny bar and restaurant, transforming it into a welcoming haven serving - I think - pretty much the best tapas in Manchester, and the place was packed out last night with cheerful people having an extraordinarily good time (some of them perhaps too good - I shall say nothing about the party who spent the latter part of the evening smearing chocolate ganache on each other's faces...)

We missed the opening round of pinchos ("tasty things on sticks" is, I believe, their exact English translation) but then spent a very pleasant three hours chatting and drinking wine with the ever-lovely Didsbury Life, while a selection of tempting goodies was brought to our hungry mouths; indeed, the waiting staff coped admirably with what must have looked like a nest of baby birds with their beaks open ready for more food. Amongst other tasty morsels, we enjoyed Lamb Koftas with cucumber dip, a Feta Salad made truly remarkable by the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, Chickpeas with Chorizo and Onion, and - best of all - a chicken thing on a stick that I can't tell you the name of as Joe forgot to put it on the menu.

We ate every scrap and - this is a mark of how good it was - Mr Liz devoured all the vegetarian courses, normally eyed with such suspicion, with great and unwavering enthusiasm, seeming particularly taken with the halloumi, green bean and tomato dish. So hats off to you Joe, and might I suggest that your new slogan is born - "Food so good that even normally ill-behaved carnivorous boys hoover up every last morsel, even the veggie stuff". True, it needs a little work, but you're welcome to use it - it's the least I can do after such a great night.

- Pinchjo's is at 192 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 1LH; go now, and make the sunshine come back...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Half Term Gluttony at The Didsbury and The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening

Yesterday, I learnt several valuable lessons; well, at least I would have done, were I the sort of person who actually heeds valuable lessons rather than forgetting them instantly and making very similar mistakes all over again. These are the important life lessons I have gleaned from just one day of foolish and inappropriate behaviour:

1. It is never a good look to be hanging around outside a pub, in the rain, waiting for it to open. This may be acceptable when you are a student, but less so when you are two sophisticated ladies of the highest order, one of whom even has children named after literary heroines rather than something really classy like the place they were conceived. So do be warned that if you plan to meet a friend at The Didsbury for an early lunch, don't arrive even microscopically early, as you will be forced to beat hopefully on the door like a raging alkie.

2. If you know that it's the last Wednesday of the month, and that you will therefore be attending Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy later on that evening, you should not be going out for lunch in the first place. Nor should you eat those two slices of bread at about six o'clock: it DOESN'T MATTER that the bread came free with your Abel and Cole box that morning, and that it is the nicest bread known to mankind, milled by tiny pixies in their fairy workshop. Appparently - apparently - organic bread is actually just as fattening as normal bread, although I am still reluctant to believe this.

3. Yes, the Chloe jeans look good NOW. But will you still be quite such a slink-pot after eating six courses of Robert Owen Brown's finest? No, you will not - you will be complaining lavishly, and trying to surreptitiously undo your top button in the car on the way home.

4. Just because you run into Ben Cahoona in The Mark Addy doesn't mean that he will have pockets full of spare Manchester Eggs - the hunt for these elusive creatures goes on, much to Mr Liz's chagrin.

5. And finally, the most important lesson of all - and one that I shall definitely continue to heed, Gourmet Evening at The Addy remains the single most exciting thing that ever happened on a Wednesday. This is what I ate last night:

- Warm Goose Liver Cream Shooter: this first dish really tells you all you need to know about last night's menu. As it was chef Robert Owen Brown's birthday, he had made things he himself would like to eat; in other words, the kind of food that causes your arteries to fur over before you've even finished reading the menu.

- Wild Mushroom Bun: a pastry case filled with mushrooms (healthy) and - yep - cream (less healthy). There certainly wasn't "mushroom" in the pastry case for anything else! *smirks at own wit whilst ignoring piece of tumbleweed blowing across room*

- Lancashire Coast Rag Pudding: I had never heard of rag pudding, despite it apparently hailing from Oldham. As the third course is always the fish course, ROB had replaced the traditional meat filling in this suet pastry with fish and served it with *checks heartbeat for any suspicious irregularities* a cream sauce.

- Lavender and Hay Baked Mutton: a ROB special, wheeled out and carved in front of our eager eyes, and then served with roasted artichokes. I am only exaggerating very slightly when I say that I had FIFTY EIGHT helpings of this, and am not exaggerating at all (sadly) when I say that Mr Liz had three (small) pieces of artichoke and I had all the rest. Jeans too tight by this point.

- Vanilla Cream with Poached Forced Rhubarb: you will notice the presence of cream once more, and for anyone who is worried about the lack of pastry in this course, I can reassure you that ROB is thankfully the sort of man who serves his vanilla cream in a pastry case in the interests of providing a full range of nutrients and food groups. I did have to explain to Mr Liz that "forced" rhubarb is simply rhubarb that has been grown indoors, rather than a cruel practice involving the exploitation of helpless, weeping rhubarb sticks crying "no! I don't want to! Please don't make me!" *quickly eats noisy whiny rhubarb*

- A Selection of Regional Cheeses: I have a confession to make. A combination of the 6pm bread error and the frankly out-of-control greed prompted by the mutton course left me unable to eat the cheese. This has never happened to me before, and I know that I've let you down. Fear not, however - said cheese is currently reposing comfortably in a foil doggy bag in the kitchen, and will be consumed for lunch in a bid to make all right again.

The next Gourmet Evening is on Wednesday 30th March; if you've learned any kind of lesson at all from my wise words, clearly you should ensure you are there.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cask Ale Festival and St Patrick's Day Celebrations at The Didsbury

On the table in our living room lies a small brochure, a seemingly unassuming, unprepossessing little affair which we picked up in The Didsbury last week. Yet do not be fooled by its modest exterior; indeed, so momentous are its contents that every so often Mr Liz is forced to pick it up, caress the cover, and check that the words inside still send the same, joyous message. For the Chef & Brewer "This Season" booklet contains the following boy-friendly information:

1. This year's Cask Festival runs until Tuesday 29th March, offering thirsty punters the chance to try a selection of ales from around the country. The line-up changes every week; this is week two, so while the bad news is that some of you will have irretrievably missed out on week one, the good news is that you may be able to get your hands on Black Sheep Best Bitter (not specified in the brochure but undoubtedly made from real sheep), Everards Tiger Best Bitter (brewed from actual Tiggers - not bouncing now, eh?) or Caledonian Over the Bar (made from, oh, er, Scottish things.)

This is obviously a stellar array of beery talent, and I can identify only two possible flies in the ointment (Flies in the Ointment Best there's a thought...) Firstly, a tearful Mr Liz has already discovered that not all the beers are on when they should be, and secondly - and more importantly - I don't really like cask ale. However, as The Didsbury will provide gallant ladies with a large glass of very nice house red for £3.75 I will kindly agree to tag along.

2. After the success of the Burns' Night Supper, we're off to fly the flag for St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, yes, but more famously the patron saint of Guinness and frankly drinking more than is good for you and running about Didsbury in a giant leprechaun-style felt hat. The St Patrick's Day taster evening is available between Sunday 13th and Tuesday 15th March, and promises the following for just £17.99 per person:

- Oven baked salmon with whiskey cream sauce
- Seared scallops with pan-fried white pudding and garden pea puree
- Irish Beef & Stout Pie (I assume the latter refers to its alcohol content rather than the pie's portly frame) served with colcannon
- Lime meringue pie
- Irish Coffee

You can even pretend it's not a school night and add a bottle of wine for just eight quid if you're not convinced that there's quite enough alcohol in the menu already.

Full details of both events can be found on The Didsbury's website; or, you could pop in and pick up a copy of the brochure for yourself - I'm trying to convince Mr Liz that looking at the pictures of beer in the booklet is almost as good as going out and actually drinking them...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Things To Do in Altrincham: Top Night at Le Trappiste and Dilli

I am by nature a most adventurous soul; I am perfectly willing, for example, to try my hand at either red wine or white wine, and sometimes during the week I stay up as late as 10.30 (although, admittedly, this does not happen that often.) So it should come as no surprise to anyone that rather than do the usual and go out in Didsbury last night, we threw caution to the wind and travelled several miles to Altrincham - which is, after all, in an entirely different county, although luckily it transpired that no passports were required.

The main reason for our trip to Alty was to try Le Trappiste, a bar offering the largest selection of Belgian beers in the North West. Mr Liz has been campaigning for a visit ever since he spotted it during the Altrincham Food Festival but was denied entry by his cruel wife, who wished instead to go the crepe van, and as girls were outnumbered three to two in our party last night it seemed the time was right to finally grant his wish.

And actually, it was perfect. We had rung ahead and booked a table, and were given a prime spot in the front room of the bar - a small but perfectly formed beer haven, with sultry red walls and a bar gleaming with tempting bottles. The venue extends over two floors, but as the charming staff offer full table service, there is frankly no need to ever leave your seat; despite its tardis-like proportions, however, I would suggest it is worth booking at the weekend if there are a few of you. Also make sure you take an expert boy with you if you are a Belgian beer virgin, as the drinks menu is roughly the size and thickness of a sturdy doorstop, and contains more beer than any boy could have ever dreamed of. We stayed for a couple - I was comparatively unadventurous and chose a De Koninck and a Maredsous (persuasively listed as a "good quaffer", like myself), but the most popular choice was the Kwak beer, served in what appeared to be a giant specimen jar (EVERY boy wished to try this one, unsurprisingly.)

In an even more exciting example of a plan coming together, Le Trappiste offers its customers a discount voucher for nearby Indian restaurant Dilli, which by happy coincidence was our next destination. Mr Liz and I had enjoyed a meal there before, on a quiet midweek evening, but last night's dinner was nothing short of breath-taking. Firstly, the place was packed - a good sign on what appeared to be a quiet night elsewhere in Altrincham; indeed, a spectactularly rude party refused to wait five minutes for their table and walked out. Still, their loss - this is what we ate, and they didn't:

- 1 x Papad Basket (poppadoms helpfully broken into bite-sized pieces for exceptionally lazy diners like ourselves)
- 1 x Kebab platter for two
- 1 x Parsi fried fish
- 1 x Lamb Chop Adraki
- 1 x Tangari Kebabs

And for mains...
- 1 x Kashmeri Roganjosh
- 1 x Hyderabadi Bhuna Gosht
- 1 x Kozi Chettinad
- 2 x Specials...and I can't tell you the names as - my ONLY complaint about the entire evening - the menus were too faded to read them. Mine contained spinach and chicken, if that helps.

We also had the best bread any of us have ever had in an Indian restaurant - we had to keep ordering more and more of the Pudhina parantha, crispy layered bread flavoured with mint. The bill for five of us, including two bottles of wine, came to £108 - this does include our 15% discount from Le Trappiste, but we all agreed it would still have been excellent value even without it.

So, Altrincham gave us the best night we've had for ages, a just reward for our brave intrepidness in crossing the Cheshire border. Now, if the whole town could just be picked up and moved a little nearer to my house, it really WOULD be perfect.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Curry Night at The Didsbury

Obviously, a CPD - Continuing Professional Development - day provides the chance for the sharing of ideas and good practice, and the discussion of effective strategies for future improvement. It also provides a day off timetable, thereby opening up a hitherto unavailable treat: Thursday Curry Night at The Didsbury. As you no doubt already know, I am a principled soul, and one of my unwavering tenets is not to eat curry on a school night, on the basis that I am partial to garlic naan and it's simply not fair to inflict that upon any student who may rashly summon me over to check their work the following morning.

Mr Liz has for some time been looking sorrowfully at the menu for Curry Night, with the air of a man who has undergone great hardship and suffering in a cruel, unfeeling world. So he was most keen to exploit the chance to finally give it a try; indeed, the speed with which he selected his chosen dishes from the aforementioned menu suggested that he had already mentally pre-ordered, many times, just in case the opportunity should ever arise. The way it works is this: for £9.99 each, you may choose two small curries from the menu, which are then served with rice, naan and two onion bhaji, as well as a drink (wine, Cobra or - Mr Liz scoffed at this - a soft drink.)

I chose Butternut Squash Dhansak and Achari Chicken for my two dishes, while my husband went for Beef Curry and - he can't help copying me - Achari Chicken. All the curries were good, and although the dishes looked small when they arrived we found that they were actually very filling - I was forced to leave most of my naan, and this fact, in conjunction with one of my curries being made of actual vegetables, probably means I actually lost a little weight over the course of the evening (what with the walk to and from the car and everything.)

I am still generally sceptical about the whole concept of eating curry in a pub, particularly in an area that is so well served with amazingly good curry houses. Yet Curry Night does offer very good value for money in nicely convivial surroundings, and the number of people partaking of the offer (on a school night! a school night!) suggests that many others agree. More details on The Didsbury's website; you won't see me there on a Thursday for a while, but I do suspect Mr Liz is already checking my diary for my next CPD day...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Theatre Review: Of Mice and Men at Contact, Manchester

One of my long-acknowledged weaknesses is signing up for theatre trips mid-week. As a pseudo intellectual who fools no-one except herself, I tell myself that it is perfectly likely that I shall wish to teach all day and then, rather than don pyjamas and lie on the sofa eating crisps, I shall want to go out again and watch something mentally stimulating that requires me to stay awake until past eleven o'clock. For reasons unknown, I am particularly prone to booking the types of plays that appear on the National Curriculum, as if perhaps I didn't get quite enough of that sort of thing during the day.

Hence I found myself at Contact Theatre last night for the opening night of Mind the Gap's production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, a novel that surely every school child since the beginning of time has studied. Apart from my basic laziness, another thing I forget when I book tickets for plays on the National Curriculum is that just because I'm not taking my students doesn't mean that other teachers aren't taking theirs; I tell no lie when I say that Contact appeared to be filled with ten thousand school children last night, each of whom seemed wildly excited to be doing something so cultural on a wet Wednesday night.

The biggest compliment I can pay Mind the Gap is that this seething mass of adolescent humanity was perfectly hushed and quiet during the performance, except for the one occasion where someone kindly explained in a very loud voice to the person next to them the explicit meaning behind a comment about small men. This aside, the youth of today, so recently seen in the foyer throwing sweets at each other, seemed much impressed by this sensitive portrayal of Steinbeck's classic tale, performed by a theatre company who believe that learning disabled and non-disabled artists should perform alongside each other as equals. The cast of three - Jez Colborne as George, Robert Ewens as Lennie and Jessica May Buxton as Suzy - was uniformly excellent, with particular credit to Jessica, who was required to play three male roles as well as two female. Good as she was, the real heart of the play is the relationship between George and Lennie, and Colborne and Ewens were never less that convincing as the mismatched but inseparable friends.

Criticisms? Well, the performance was only 65 minutes long, with no interval. Aside from the obvious downfall (no interval, no wine), this resulted in the play feeling rather one-paced - the whole point of an interval is that it allows a play to build to a mid-point climax before everyone is allowed a gin and tonic to calm down for the second part. Nor did the play quite achieve the intensity that such a pared-down performance should have allowed. Still, it is clear to see why this production has received so much praise on its previous tours, and is certainly worth seeing, even if you don't have a hundred teenagers in tow. Of Mice and Men runs at Contact until Sat 19th Feb, and is back in Manchester on May 26th at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale - full details on the website.

Oh, and much as I hate to say it, a 65 minute running time has another advantage: I would certainly go to the theatre more often if I could guarantee being in bed by 9.43pm every time...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Hungry Girl in Gusto Pizza Disappointment

Over the last couple of years I have been quick to extol the benefits of the magnificent Monday and Tuesday night collection deal at Gusto Didsbury, which allowed hungry girls and boys to snaffle pizza at a bargain price. It was almost as if they knew that on a Tuesday I teach from nine till five with only the slenderest of breaks, and often come home in a toweringly bad mood, needing to lie on the sofa and have highly calorific food prepared and fetched by someone else and liberally applied to my face.

As well as the 40% discount applied to all food on a Monday and Tuesday, a further 10% discount was generously heaped on top for simply being able to turn one's laptop on and press keys randomly until the right food was procured. Food safely ordered, one simply dispatched one's husband into Didsbury to collect the dinner - a system, by the way, that suited us both, as I could sneak in last night's America's Next Top Model while Mr Liz constructed elaborate stories about "bad traffic in Didsbury" that would require him to set off very early and take refuge in, say, The Royal Oak, until the danger had passed.

Things have changed, however. Firstly, I was unable to order online. When I rang up to query I was told that they no longer take internet orders, although the 40% discount still applied to collections on Mondays and Tuesdays. No problem, I thought - I may have lost my extra 10%, but the deal was frankly embarrassingly good to start with. The food was ordered for 7.30, and Mr Liz sensibly set off to collect it at 6.45, just in case the traffic was bad - so far, so good.

The problem was this: if you are going to insist on phone orders, you have to get the order right. Despite having had my order read back to me correctly, the food Mr Liz brought back was just not quite right - the wrong dip with the potato wedges, and the wrong size of pizza for me. I had ordered 9" and got 12", problematic for two reasons: if the food is there I will eat it, even if all my buttons have popped off, and more importantly, they charged us for the 12" even though we hadn't asked for it (husband too embarrassed to point this out).

The quality seems to have slipped a little as well. Mr Liz's pizza disappeared too quickly for anyone to pass judgement, but mine was disappointing. The Gusto capricciosa is normally a thing of immense joy, the kind of thing you would not be permitted to eat as a child but take great delight in as a grown-up - anchovies, capers, olives, red peppers, ham and egg melding to generously provide your whole week's salt needs in one handy package. Yet today, the egg was not quite cooked and my bottom - never, ever repeat this - was a little soggy. Even worse, something seemed to have spilled into the box, as one half of my pizza was unpleasantly coated with something that had the consistency of molten ear wax (although we can only presume that this is not high on the list of Gusto's preferred ingredients and must in fact be something else).

Hopefully this was just a one-off, and normal service can be resumed with immediate effect. Oh, and one last thing - I now have a blob of tomato sauce on my favourite red dress, although Mr Liz points out that this may be one thing I can't pin on the restaurant. Excuse me while I look for someone else to blame...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

New Farmers' Market for West Didsbury

Last night, in a fit of intellectual fervour, I watched a highbrow, arty film entitled "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (look, it WAS Friday night) and came to the conclusion that my own shopping habits are entirely under control. In fact, I started to wonder if I am not a little too virtuous, and should perhaps try to spend more money in the noble pursuit of rampant consumerism.

To that end, I am delighted to note that West Didsbury has been added to the list of locations hosting a monthly Manchester Street Market, thereby providing an excellent opportunity to purchase fresh, wholesome goods from cheery-faced independent retailers. Of course, what this actually means in practice is that I shall continue to do my weekly shop at evil food giant Sainsbury's, AND flirt with boxes from both Riverford and Abel and Cole, AND then shop at the Food Market as well, doubling my comestibles expenditure but having a fridge full of unnecessary but very lovely items as consolation. And this matters not a jot, for I have seen the Shopaholic film, and know that I am all that is good and restrained in this world.

The West Didsbury Market will take place on the last Saturday of every month on Nell Lane, in front of the Withington Community Hospital, and promises to sell the same enticing mix of foods and crafts as the existing fleet of Street Markets. The full line-up now allows lucky South Manchester-ites to trough virtually round the clock, and is as follows:
Northenden 1st Saturday Palatine Road, M22 4DH
Withington 2nd Saturday Copson Street, M20 3BG
Chorlton 3rd Saturday Manchester Road, M21 9PN
Levenshulme 4th Friday Stockport Road, M19 3AD
West Didsbury 4th Saturday Nell Lane, M20 2RL

If you're out and about in central Manchester, don't forget the original Manchester Markets' Real Food Market, which takes place in Piccadilly Gardens on the second and fourth Fridays and Saturdays of every month. A word of warning though - plan your shopping visit very carefully. I once left a bag of exceedingly stinky cheese in the changing rooms at TopShop after a visit to the market; just try handling the embarrassment of having to go back and explain that, yes, the bag that smells of feet does belong to you...

More details about Manchester's Markets can be found on the website (any panicky, disorganised men should go there immediately and take note of the Valentine's Market taking place today), and for all the latest on the new West Didsbury Market - which begins next month - check out the wise folk at Didsbury Life.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Appyfeet, Mardyfish...New Foot Spa Opens at Manchester Arndale

Take a good, long look at your feet. Yes, I know you may have to remove your nice thick woolly tights or big fluffy slippers for this, but go on. Now, are they a pretty sight? Thought not. The winter months play havoc with one's nether regions, rendering those pretty tanned tootsies of summer a dim and distant memory. Dry skin? Check. Chipped nail polish in an inadvisably floozy colour left over from Christmas? Check. What you need is a fleet of eager young fish, ready and waiting to eat away at all those weeks of neglect and transform your horny hoofers into sleek, beautiful dancing implements.

As luck would have it, Appyfeet has now opened a branch in the Manchester Arndale to add to the existing Trafford Centre branch, and thousands of hungry fish would like nothing more than to get nibbling. I have not yet tried the fishy treat - soon, soon - and I have the following questions/concerns:

- does it tickle? And will the fish mock and point if I start laughing?

- would the fish like me to go for a pedicure first? Or are they not bothered? Have visions of fleet of snooty fish turning up noses (do fish have noses?) at feet in manner of silly shop assistant refusing to serve Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and me having to tell them they've made a big mistake, HUGE

- is nail varnish poisonous to fish? As I am very partial to a certain brand that costs but £1.50 per pot, I cannot help fearing that it must contain a range of nasties that might prove fatal to the little Garra Rufa fish chowing down on the remnants of Golden Goddess, and it would be most embarrassing to have to explain this whilst trying to sneak out the back entrance and lose oneself in the Arndale.

- are the fish ALWAYS hungry? Is there not a danger your turn will come and they will be full of other people's dead skin already? I would hate to get there to find a load of bloaty fish lying about belching and settling down to watch a bit of telly after a particularly bounteous feast, and showing absolutely no interest in my own tasty extremities whatsoever.

Hopefully all these questions - and more, like who on earth thought of this? - will be answered when I visit the new branch later this month. In the meantime, feel free to visit for yourself and let me know exactly what I'm letting myself in getting those fish too full though.

Monday, 7 February 2011

More Things to Do in Manchester for Valentine's 2011

I wrote last month of the approaching joy/impending doom that is Valentine's Day, the one day of the year that men across Britain can legitimately bring flowers home without prompting suspicious looks and muttered comments of "flowers, eh? Why, hmmm? What exactly have you done that's SO BAD that you've brought me FLOWERS, eh? Eh?" (although less charitable wives/girlfriends may instead take the line of how it would be nice to receive flowers spontaneously at other times across the year...)

Anyway, if you're still looking for ideas, here are a few more.

For the Gentleman with Ample Wallet

As a man of means, you KNOW that any old flowers from the service station are simply not going to cut it. Since I suggested a bouquet from The Flower Lounge last month, an exciting development Has taken place - a little bit of local enterprise means that the lazy man-about-town can now order his Valentine's flowers AND cakes from the same place thanks to a collaboration between Flower Lounge and Airy Fairy Cupcakes. Eighty five of your English pounds will purchase a dozen beautiful roses and a dozen gift-wrapped cupcakes, a truly covetable gift. My only worry with this one is that some roving-eyed gentlemen may decide that no woman in the world can eat twelve cupcakes (although my husband might re-word this - he knows a women who would have a go but would then moan intolerably about feeling sick and it being everyone's fault except her own) and decide to sub-divide the gift between various ladyfolk. So if you get, say, three roses and three cupcakes, I suggest you question your other half VERY CAREFULLY.

For the Honest Man of Humble Means

A number of pubs and mid-price restaurants are offering sensible, good value menus this Valentine's. For example, The Fat Loaf, with restaurants in Didsbury and Ashton, is offering three courses for £25 per person (which I assume will generally be two, unless those in more progressive and open-minded relationships are thinking of booking.) Even better is the Sharing Menu at £35 per head - champagne cocktail, taster plate, chateaubriand, and a choice between an assiette of desserts or cheese. Delicious as this sounds, I see two potential flaws. Firstly, boys are greedy. And so am I. My husband is quick with a knife and fork and I have no wish to share my fillet steak with him. Secondly, I worry that a number of couples will argue over their final course - in my experience, boys like pudding and girls like cheese. Will The Fat Loaf take responsibility and offer compensation for any couples who physically come to blows over this? More details on their website (of the menu, not the compensation policy) if you're feeling brave.

For the Downright Tight or Just Plain Foolhardy

If you care little for your own personal health and safety, I would suggest that you refuse to take her out on Monday 14th, citing an aversion to over-priced commercialism as your reason, and instead take her to Giraffe the following day. Every Tuesday from 5pm all burgers are only a fiver; make her drink tap water and then walk home, and you're on to a winner - and think of all the money you'll save next year when you're single on Valentine's Day.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Things To Do in Manchester on a (Very) Wet Saturday

Now, truth be told I don't really mind how bad the weather is if I'm not out in it. Indeed, a certain pleasure can be gained by snuggling ever deeper under the duvet as the rain lashes the window panes and your wheelie bins blow merrily across the garden (although I am far too embarrassed to admit that when I got up this morning, the only bin that hadn't blown over was the glass recycling one - perhaps this one was, ahem, slightly better weighted down than the others...)

But it's a whole different matter when your hard-won Saturday dawns and the weather is no better. A single glance out the window - paperboy struggling manfully against sheets of horizontal rain, army of carrier bags performing intricate dance along the street, duck across the road peering out its front door before shaking its head, saying "nah" and going back inside - was enough to suggest that emergency wet weather plans needed to be hatched if the day was not to be a complete write-off. So here are my suggestions for a wet Saturday:

1. Watch cookery shows whilst wearing pyjamas and eating toast. To be honest, this one takes place most Saturdays, the only variable in the equation being the identity of the programme in the much-coveted 11.30 post-Saturday Kitchen slot. This morning I watched an improbably attractive woman rustling up giant breadsticks and other assorted goodies, and to whom I offer the following observations:

- I would advise against cooking in a pristine white shirt; you may have got away with it this time, but I feel you're asking for trouble.
- If you want to eat your food in a sexy, Nigella-esque manner, a large prawn atop a chunk of bread is an unwise choice, requiring a substantial and undignified bite, and absolutely no languid fingerlicking whatsoever.
- Your food looks very good though, and I hope that if I eat more of it I will end up as enviably slim as you.

2. Have breakfast at Wetherspoons. This is apparently what you do if you do not wish to watch cookery shows with your wife, involving elaborate charades about having "urgent business in Didsbury"; this morning, for example, a simple visit to the Post Office took over an hour. The bacon butties are £1.19, coffee is 70p, and if you buy this combination five times then the coffee is free on the sixth visit. Mr Liz is quite ridiculously excited by this massive saving, and completely oblivious to the fact that if you tweet about your free coffee you blow your shambolic "Post Office" story sky high.

3. Go to The Cheshire Smokehouse. OK, I know this is in Wilmslow, not Manchester, but it's perfect for a dreary wet Saturday (as long as you can avoid being splashed by a 4 x 4 in the carpark, or trampled by a pair of Hunter wellies inside, obviously.) Today I bought sausages, bacon, pancetta, smoked garlic, hummous, cheese, and a very exciting dip made from butternut squash and harissa *pauses to wipe slaver from keyboard* and all for under £15. I do suspect it would be very easy to accidentally spend several thousand pounds here though, and am therefore most pleased with my bargain-seeking eye.

4. Talking of bargains, where better for a wet day than a bookshop? I have eulogised before about the Bookshop at Oakmere, but today discovered its big sister, the impressively hefty Bookshop Brierlow Bar, which claims to be the largest bargain bookshop in the UK (as well as, bizarrely, the highest). I am really not to be trusted with this kind of shop, always leaving with armfuls of obscure titles, and today was no exception. If you are an eighteenth century lady of slightly dubious reputation there is a fair chance that your biography has a place on my shelves, and if you are a writer of worthy books about the English Language then I may well be single-handedly supporting your career. And yes, this bookshop is near Buxton, and therefore a fair drive out, but I always think that driving across the tops on The Cat and Fiddle in zero visibility adds a certain frisson to any otherwise dull day.

So I sit here now with a certain triumphant smugness that I have had a marvellous day despite the weather. Mind you, tomorrow is meant to be worse, so if anyone has any ideas that involve neither housework nor marking, please send them urgently.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The King's Speech at The Savoy, Heaton Moor

It's a sad fact that the age of the local "fleapit" cinema is almost at an end. I am as much to blame for this as anyone - as soon as the nice new shiny Parrswood complex opened in Didsbury I turned my back on Withington's Cine City, ruthlessly ditching almost a hundred years of history in favour of a big bland monolith with comfy seats and an enticing range of Ben and Jerry's. And then Cine City closed and I felt bad.

But then last night, a chance to make some kind of reparation - and spend an evening with Colin Firth into the bargain. The Savoy in Heaton Moor has been under threat for the last few years, limping defiantly on in the face of its bigger, brasher neighbour, and all the more charming for it. My friend is a regular there, and takes a perverse kind of pleasure in the fact that she is sometimes the only one there, lounging in one of the surprisingly comfortable Honey Monster befurred chairs as the latest blockbuster plays exclusively for her on the medium silver screen.

This is how our conversation went on Wednesday afternoon.

Me: What time shall I pick you up, dear friend? I understand Oscar favourite The King's Speech starts at 8pm.
Misguided friend: Yes. Pick me up at 7.45 please.
Me: Won't there be a queue?
MF: No.
Me: Are you sure? Is this not the most viewed film in recent cinema history?
MF: Well, OK then, 7.40. But you're wrong. Nobody ever goes to The Savoy.

Hmmm, nobody that is except THE WHOLE OF HEATON MOOR. When we finally managed to park, approximately three miles away (MF: I think it is Brownies tonight as well), we pottered up the cinema at about five to eight to find a queue the length of the Great Wall of China, a line of assorted pensioners and well-heeled Heaton Moorites that could actually be seen from space. What could we do? We joined it, convinced that we would arrive at the counter to have the grille pulled down just as we got there (although, to be fair, Mr Liz was rather hoping this would happen - evening watching soppy "girl's" film vs drinking beer at £2.02 a pint in the Moor Top opposite = no contest in boyland.)

Of course it was all fine, although we did end up so near the back that both ladies had to physically lean forward and squint a little when required to read textual information on screen. The film itself probably requires little comment as you've more than likely seen it by now, so I will summarise my thoughts as briefly as I can:

- Colin Firth = marvellous, Oscar perhaps?
- Helena B-C = scarily convincing as Queen Mum, Oscar perhaps?
- Geoffrey Rush = touching, funny, Oscar perhaps?
- Plot = stirring, patriotic, moving (many surreptitious sniffles to be heard as lovely Colin reveals sad childhood) and funny - Colin says bum, tits AND willy *titters*
- Guy Pearce = normally lovely Antipodean in the one piece of bum (see Colin? I can do it too) casting - seriously miscast as rogue elder brother. No Oscar for you, Guy
- Cornetto = unavailable due to large queue

So after a fine night (the very best sort, where you have had a nice time but are in bed by 11) resolutions have been made to support The Savoy in all it does; and with tickets at just £4.80, there's plenty of money left to have a post-cinema drink at somewhere just a little more salubrious than the Moor Top...

Hilton Worldwide Winners Confirmed...

A big thank you to everyone who entered the Hilton competition to win the vouchers - and a round of applause please for Shirley and Adrienne who have snaffled the prizes. Obviously I was hoping that the vouchers would go to a close friend (preferably with no other actual friends except me) so that I could "help" make important decisions re: room bookings, cocktail orders etc, but I am at least pleased to say that both our winners live in Greater Manchester and are therefore worthy recipients.

Enjoy the vouchers, and don't forget that you're both welcome to write a guest post about your Hilton break - just make sure it's clear that you didn't really have that good a time, or we will all be forced to throw our socks at you for being so jammy.