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Monday, 30 May 2011

Gypsies of Bohemia, Last Day at Silver Apples, and an ENORMOUS Kathmandu Curry

There are two sayings which I have absolutely no time for.

The first of these is the nonsensical idea that all good things must come to an end, a notion clearly devised by some killjoy with a very limited capacity for fun, or perhaps just very demanding children. Its replacement should obviously be something along the lines of "all good things must go on forever, or at least until I tire of them and move my attention elsewhere", and by this token I think we can all agree that yesterday, and the closing of the Silver Apples bar on Burton Road in West Didsury, was a sad day.

Silver Apples opened its lovely doors a cruelly short time ago in 2008, and quickly established itself as a mecca for anyone interested in Belgian beer, a slice or two of homemade cake, or a fine tasty pie; indeed, this gorgeous, laid-back bar was one of the main reasons we started walking (yes, walking) across the border into the West on a regular basis last summer. Only fitting, then, that its last day should be something special - and really, we couldn't have asked for more (apart from them staying open, and NEVER CHANGING etc etc, but that seems a little childish.)

And so we spent a very pleasant few hours yesterday afternoon drinking Vedett (well, that was me - Mr Liz seemed to realise he was on borrowed time and consequently appeared to be on a mission to try every single different beer behind the bar) and listening to the pleasingly eccentric sounds of Gypsies of Bohemia - three blokes, two guitars, one double bass and a set list ranging from Fiddler on the Roof to Radiohead via Britney Spears. It is impossible to imagine how any bar that steps into Silver Apples' vacated premises could possibly live up to its predecessor - it certainly has big shoes to fill.

Meanwhile, the team behind Silver Apples will be working on new projects in the area - I am sworn to secrecy for now, but will tell more as soon as I'm allowed. Suffice to say good luck to Rob, Kate and Sarah, albeit said whilst pulling a slightly sulky face at their sheer selfishness in closing such a lovely place.

The second saying that clearly has no place in any sensible person's repertoire is that absence makes the heart grow fonder, a meaningless maxim probably coined by some Gareth Cheeseman-type to justify all those "business trips" to his wife. And yet...maybe there is some truth in it after all. Last night we ate at the Great Kathmandu on Burton Road, which we hadn't visited for ages - mainly due to the hit-and-miss service (oh, and alright, we moved house as well, making its location slightly less convenient) and the fact that I had eaten everything on the menu at least 86 times (and some items many, many more.)

And it was perfect. Firstly, the waiter remembered us (although, admittedly, this is not always a good sign when it comes to restaurants where one may or may not have consumed substantial quantities of wine); secondly, the service was slick, friendly and efficient; thirdly, the food was as good as ever. If there is a finer dish than the Kathmandu's Aloo Chilli on any menu, anywhere, please tell me immediately (and bring a little of it to try, obviously.)

In fact, I have but one complaint. When we walked past Silver Apples, all set to rejoin our friends to dance the night away at the private party, it struck me that I could barely walk for fulled-up-ness, let alone throw the attractive shapes on the dance floor for which I am internationally celebrated. So curse you, Kathmandu, and your generously-portioned, thoroughly gorgeous food; without you, I would probably still be at Silver Apples now, clinging on to one of the pews and staunchly refusing to leave.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

CavFest in West Didsbury Cures Local Girl's Festival Phobia

The first thing I should make clear is that I am NOT, by nature, a festival-goer. Indeed, I must hang my head in shame and admit that I spent the first seventeen years of my life living in Somerset and never once went to Glastonbury; I like to claim I was rebelling in my own way, by going against conventional stereotypes of wild teenage behaviour and staying quietly at home as a protest, but in reality the following factors are far more pertinent:

1. The mud. I pride myself on my shoe collection, and instantly abhor ANYTHING that could threaten its pristine beauty, and as everyone knows it always rains at festivals this pretty much rules them out. Outdoors + rain = mud = shoe sorrow.

2. Tents. Although I was taken camping as a child, as an adult I appear to lack the mysterious camping gene - that strange strand of DNA that exists in certain people and persuades them that it is a good idea to sleep in a tent rather than in a nearby hotel, at risk of attack by midges, or drunk teenagers, or bears, and walk across sheep-poo-laden fields at two in the morning to use a public toilet. My husband possesses this gene, but luckily the force is stronger with me, and he has long since stopped asking to go camping.

3. Facilities. As well as a toilet that is not several miles away and shared with 300 others, I also claim as my right some kind of bath/shower arrangement, preferably equipped with small, stealable Molton Brown goodies, and a selection of towels. Find me a festival that offers this, and I will consider it. NB the toilet must not, repeat not, be a chemical one.

4. Competitiveness of other festival-goers. I am the least competitive person in the world; my friend, a doctor, has banned me from playing any kind of game against the clock due to the dangerous levels to which my heart rate is raised during such exchanges - I once had to busy myself during a fierce round of Buzz by hiding in the kitchen and rustling up a few canapes. I cannot push and shove, and therefore go to the January sales some time around early February, when only sizes 6 and 22 are left. I certainly could not jostle to get to the front of the stage, and envisage myself lost and frightened at the back somewhere while everyone else has a really great time without me, down the front, with their expert pointy elbows.

5. Basic lack of credibility. Ultimately, I lack the credibility to attend a cutting edge festival; the only one I have been to in recent years was the, erm, Here and Now tour (a misnomer if ever there was one, full of acts with absolutely no relevance to modern music) in the subversive venue of, ahem, Henley-on Thames. Here I danced at the back to Rick Astley and Bananarama before catching the train back to Reading and the comfort of a friend's spare bedroom.

And yet...what if someone thoughtfully brought a lovely, shiny, non-threatening festival to Didsbury? I have already bought my tickets for CavFest - West Didsbury's very own festival - and am beyond excited for the following reasons:

- it is on Sat 17th September. I will have gone back to work by this time; ergo, I can personally guarantee the weather will be hot.

- it is to be held at Cavendish Primary School; never in the history of the world has a festival venue sounded more non-threatening. This venue is also a short taxi-ride from my home, which is probably why they chose to hold it here.

- CavFest runs from noon until 10pm; this is perfect, as it clearly sanctions the drinking of beer before lunch, and yet also allows for people to be tucked up in bed by a sensible hour (note "bed", not "tent" - another positive.)

- the festival is raising money for the local school. That means that if I don't go, small children are GOING WITHOUT - I am looking upon it as a duty befitting the responsible citizen that I am.

- tickets are just £15 for adults - £12.50 if you're quick and snap up the early bird tickets.

- the line-up is being revealed bit-by-bit but is already amazing. Badly Drawn Boy, James (well, some of them at least), Tom Hingley and The Lovers...keep an eye on the website to see who pops up next.

In short, I am ready to throw aside my festival phobia and embrace CavFest with open arms; although, if it's raining on the big day I might just change my mind again...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Greedy Girl Reaches New Heights of Gluttony at Mark Addy Gourmet Evening

Something most worrying has occurred, with potentially serious implications for my waistline, my arteries, and my self-esteem in general.

Regular readers will know that I am an enthusiastic champion of Salford's Mark Addy pub and its glorious Gourmet Evenings. These take place on the last Wednesday of every month, offering six courses of whatever takes Robert Owen Brown's fancy for just thirty of your English pounds, and are a joy in every way.

Until now.

For on Wednesday, I ate everything that was brought. Everything. Usually I am able to leave a little something here and there in order to (falsely) claim the status of just having picked like a little bird - a cracker perhaps, or a potato that lacks glamour. I can then say, in all truth, that I have not consumed six full courses; just imagine the greed of someone who could possibly do that!

Well, imagine no more. Here is the whole sorry truth:

1. Braised squirrel legs with squirrel consomme. This one was always going to divide public opinion, and indeed prompted reactions ranging from jealousy to out-and-out horror when I reported the menu on Twitter later the same evening. The same menu discussed at work the next day brought responses including "oh, I've always wanted to try that"; "well, it's up to you if you want to eat a rat with a tail"; and - my favourite of all - "but! but....!" accompanied by a truly flabbergasted face. All I can say is, it was delicious - tender and tasty, Mr Squirrel Nutkin had better watch his step next time he ventures into my garden.

2. Chilli Spiked Crispy Eel with Elderflower. This was essentially a big, fat, McEel-Nugget; fishy goodness encased in spicy breadcrumbs and fried to a golden crisp. Although posh, obviously.

3. Pan Fried Wild Sea Trout with Asparagus. I have eaten very many nice things at The Addy, but this is my favourite dish so far. Only 200 of these imperious fish can be caught every year, and ROB had snaffled three of them; I will be spending the rest of the year tracking down the remaining 197. It is also the only time I have ever willingly eaten fish skin - it appears that done properly crispy, with a coating of a good pound of salt, the skin is utterly divine; who knew? I fear the cat will not dine so well from now on.

4. Roast Pork Fillet with Wild Mushrooms. A little safe, perhaps, and could have done with a little more gravy to moisten the pork, but the potato rosti just melted in the mouth and prevented me from my normal easy get-out clause - leave a potato; keep full dignity.

5. Baked Berry Cake, Double Cream & Berry Pearls. This dish summed up what ROB is all about - lovely, fancy-dan fruity globules (a little like berry caviar - he has clearly been practising his gastronomy), served atop a great sturdy hunk of superior school-days sponge.

6. Cropwell Bishop Stilton Cheese & Biscuits. This is what really caused the worry - obviously I normally polish off every scrap of whatever stink-cheese is provided, but leave a token biscuit so that I may regretfully push my plate away with a resigned "sorry - just couldn't manage it all." Not this time; all of them gone.

There appears to be two possible explanations for all this: either my stomach has adjusted to such regular gluttony and obligingly stretched itself in order to fully accommodate whatever might come its way, or ROB has scaled down the portion sizes. In no doubt whatsoever that it must be the latter, I have already booked for next month - purely to test my theory further, you understand....

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Opera's North's Carmen at The Lowry - Bloggers, Bums but Absolutely No Boobs

Many missives arrive in the Things To Do in Manchester inbox every day, some more welcome than others. Many foreign dignitaries, each of whom seems to have got themselves into some kind of unfortunate and unspecified trouble, write to me with the kind offer of depositing several million pounds into my bank account if I will only give them the number; an equal amount of messages offer me products that will enlarge parts of my anatomy I wasn't even aware I had.

And yet, amongst all this nonsense, a number of shiny, gorgeous events jostle for attention, none more enticingly than the recent email from Opera North. Would I like to go along and see their controversial production of Carmen at The Lowry? Well, yes, obviously. Would I like wine and food first, followed by a backstage tour and a chat with the cast? Well, durrrrr, of course. And would I like special permission to tweet my opinions of the production throughout? Well, um, *guilty face* YES...but is that allowed?

(And in case you are wondering, yes, it was - but only by the invited tweeters/bloggers. We were safely stowed in one of the boxes for our own protection, although the glares and tuts from fellow audience members were still both visible and audible from our holding pen as we merrily tweeted away - no mean feat whilst simultaneously trying to listen to French singing and follow English subtitles on a small screen.)

To be honest, Opera North are pretty forward-thinking in just about every way - if the thought of opera conjures up a vision of fusty old men with monocles and elderly ladies with rock-hard helmets of slightly blue permed hair then Opera North might just be for you (unless of course, you enjoyed this vision, or feature in it yourself, in which case they probably aren't.)

Let me give you an example. Opera North have already been in trouble with this current touring production of Carmen, because it contained *lowers voice* bare breasts and buttocks. The buttocks remain, but in a splendid example of selective British horror over body parts, the boobs are now covered, thanks to the balanced, mature approach taken by papers such as (yup, you guessed it) The Daily Mail, which thoughtfully branded it "lewd" in February after "shocked" audiences in Leeds "deemed it too raunchy". Opera North have now added a 12+ age recommendation to their marketing, so that any parents who fear that their offspring will enjoy a night of sex, passion, violence and death but might be upset at seeing a quick flash of boob will now be fore-warned.

Anyway, onto the production itself. Bizet's tale of lust and jealousy in steamy Spain has been shocking audiences ever since its first performance in Paris in 1875; the story, such as it is, revolves around sex-pot Carmen and her romantic entanglements, as two very different men vie for her affections. Director Daniel Kramer has taken a modern approach to the story, setting the action in the deep South of 1980s America: the first act, where, to use a technical operatic term, it "all kicks off" is set outside a factory, with a chorus of sun-worshippers curiously observing the goings-on from their deckchairs; the brilliant second act involves a trailer-trash caravan park, a rocking dolphin and a scary doll hanging in a tree - you'll have to trust me here that words are incapable of describing the effectiveness of this surreal, nightmarish re-imagining; suffice to say the gentleman doing MJ-moves on top of the caravan was a particular hit.

All of this would mean nothing, of course, if the singing wasn't any good; luckily this aspect was flawless, with particular mention of Elizabeth Atherton as Micaela - she has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. Even if you've never seen any kind of opera at all, you would still recognise most of the music from Carmen (I lured Mr Liz along with the promise that this was the one with all the hits, and it really is), although you many find yourself tempted to sing "yum yum yum yum, yum, yum yum yum YUM yum" (not me, obviously - too highbrow.)

Carmen has now finished her Manchester visit and is hitching up her skirts and moving south to seduce Nottingham next, but Opera North promise to be back in November with three new productions, including Madame Butterfly. We can only wait with much anticipation to see what The Mail will get its knickers in a twist about over that one...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Robert Pattinson Makes Respectable Ladies GASP ALOUD in Water for Elephants Shock

Now, those who know me will be aware that whilst not exactly in my dotage, nor am I in the first flush of youth. I have an embarrassing love of early 90s dance music, for example, that dates me horribly, and sometimes I go through recipe magazines, cutting out things that look nice and saving them in a special clippings folder. In the summer I often go to bed while it's still light outside, and I have taken to annoying the students I teach by noisily reminiscing about how I got a full grant and free tuition at university.

So, as a fully-fledged grown-up, I was understandably a little nervous about the film version of Water For Elephants, currently showing at Parrswood in Didsbury. For one thing, I love Sara Gruen's book very much indeed, and as a senior person I am entitled to exclaim crossly about new-fangled TV and film versions of cherished novels never, ever being as good as the book. Secondly, I had become aware that the prize role of Jacob Jankowski had gone to Robert Pattinson, a youth of whom I had only a very vague idea - a passing notion of a twelve-year-old boy who, in my head, looked a little like Jedward, only singular.

It is with some reluctance, then, that I note the following:

- The film is very good indeed. Yes, Reese Witherspoon seems a little old to play Marlena, and her chin - if possible - is pointier than ever; I swear you could get hold of it and snap it right off if you were so-minded. But Christoph Waltz is on mighty form as psycho animal-beater August, sporting the most cruelly seductive smirk yet seen this decade as he veers from charmer to devil in the blink of an eye.

- An elephant would clearly make an excellent pet; I have begun a campaign to be allowed one of my own, to be named Rosie and trained to do tricks, only in English not Polish. Cat and husband both currently ambivalent about potential advantages of this as-yet imaginary pet.

- I have developed an unseemly and inappropriate crush on Robert Pattinson. It turns out he is not a pasty-faced, low-trousered teen at all, but a proper man who can look both vulnerable and as if about to combust with internal hotness whilst wearing a waistcoat. He is simply perfect for the role; indeed, the sight of a recently-beaten, smouldering, glowering Pattinson beginning a vengeful trek down a train track, at night, with emotive music, prompted audible gasps of wonder from an army of thirty-something ladies as their popcorn slipped to the floor, unnoticed.

Despite all of this, though, I am pleased to confirm that I am still old and miserable - I made sure that I rolled my eyes with particular gusto at the lengthy queue of people hoping to see Pirates of the Caribbean 12: Dear God, This Time It's Desperate that we passed on the way out.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Winner of Eco Sat Nav Competition

A big hurrah for Marc Fearns, a long-time reader of this blog who has won the Eco Sat Nav generously donated by Nissan to promote their current LEAF City Tour. It is understood that he is hoping to use it to avoid cows in York city centre, and has therefore perhaps slightly misunderstood the idea behind an eco sat nav, but bravo anyway. Many thanks to all who entered.

A Very Busy Mancunian Weekend...

Sometimes, when you go to work on a Monday morning - some of us no doubt creeping like a snail unwillingly to school - a colleague will brightly and perkily enquire what you've done over the weekend. And much as you would like to say you've been to Barcelona for the weekend, or redecorated your house from top to bottom, the answer is sometimes, well, nothing.

So in the spirit of getting-aheadness, I am preparing my response now; this is what I have done over the weekend.

Friday evening: you may recall that Friday evening in Manchester was a night of frankly apocalyptic weather conditions; indeed, Noah and his ark were clearly seen floating down Market Street, closely followed by a small pig, wearing a knitted pink sweater, at the helm of a honey pot borrowed from an ursine friend. Not only that, but half of Manchester city centre had seemingly already been cordoned off in preparation for the Great Manchester Run, and it was under such conditions that I had booked to test drive the Nissan LEAF electric car on the Manchester leg of its current City Tour.

So, I did what any girl would do, and surrendered the wheel to the husband who was blatently champing at the bit to drive the car and be able to tell all his friends about it. The car is a marvel by the way - completely, unnervingly silent, and so smooth when pulling away from traffic lights that it felt a little like gliding on some kind of magic fairy carpet (although we must assume that it may have been a little less smooth had I been at the helm, perhaps.) If you get a chance to drive one, do; I'm pretty sold on the whole idea, particularly as my tiny Peugeot had cost £72 to fill up that very morning *glares at unfortunate vehicle*

Saturday day
: or, in this household at least, football day. As I live in a house with a Man United fan, the early game was watched with much tense muttering, eventually giving way to whoops of delight; the second with much bitter cursing at the luck of the blues etc etc. I sat quietly and read a book on Victorian history.

Saturday night: Saturday evening brought an embarrassment of riches - dinner at a friend's, with Eurovision on in the background (although I did miss Jedward, thanks to the excellence of the smoked salmon and potato rosti starter that I was scrapping over at the time.) I did initially have some doubts about the whole thing after receiving a 3pm text from the chef, enquiring whether it was bad that she was already drinking the red wine she'd been forced to open for the plum sauce, but I needn't have worried - not only was the whole repast most excellent, but we were all back on the sofa in time to see the UK awarded a frankly unmerited douze points and briefly top the leader board.

Sunday morning - ie now: obviously after last night's greed a day of pure virtue is called for, and so I am working off the 18000 calories consumed by watching the Great Manchester Run on television and typing very quickly on my laptop. Even allowing for the inevitable rain, Manchester looks beautiful, and as I sit here watching people dressed as ducks and superheroes run past the Peveril of the Peak, it strikes me this is a fitting end to a very Mancunian weekend.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Grill on New York Street, Manchester - Perfect Meal, Perfect City

Every so often I am remiss, and allow myself to forget how utterly, breathtakingly amazing Manchester is. There are a number of reasons for this; I am lazy, for example, and too often remain safely ensconced in my own suburban corner, where I know lots of people and can easily walk home. I am also something of a worrywort, and occasionally believe certain sectors of the press when they claim that Manchester is a dangerous place, some kind of ghetto where great gangs roam the street ready to divest you of your beer money.

But it only takes a single night out to remind me how lucky I am to live here. Last night was such an occasion: a properly sultry Manchester evening with thunder in the air and a booking at the new(ish) sister restaurant to my beloved Grill on the Alley - The Grill on New York Street. Now, even the name is exciting, suggesting that if you kept walking long enough you would find yourself in the heart of the Big Apple having some kind of impossibly glamorous Carrie Bradshaw moment; in a slightly less glamorous way it also reminds me of the time I fell out through the fire escape of New York, New York on Canal Street where, according to an unsympathetic friend who was clearly too busy thinking unkind thoughts to actually do anything useful like help me up, I lay there looking not unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, with just my twitching feet on view.

Anyway, The Grill on New York Street. Astonishingly, I like it even better than the original, as The Grill on the Alley was often a little cramped, with hoards of after-work drinkers baying away in the bar area whilst you were trying to eat an entire baked camembert with a bit of quiet dignity. The New York Street restaurant is a much better space, with a large seating area in front of the open kitchen along the back wall, and a smaller raised area along the side; our table for two was in the latter area, and although the tables are still on the small side they are artfully arranged so that you feel you're having a private meal even though when you get up to go to the loo you discover that there are approximately one million other people there as well.

The menu here is broadly the same as the other restaurants in the Blackhouse chain, specialising in seafood and steak cooked to perfection. As is so often the case with steakhouses, you get what you pay for; the food is not cheap here but across the entire meal everything - everything - was faultless. Here is what we had:

Starters: Mr Liz had two beautiful, plump duck spring rolls (well, strictly speaking he had one and a half, the other half mysteriously disappearing when he was engaged in topping up the wine glasses) and I had chicken livers with bacon, shallots and garlic on toast. These were so good that Mr Liz has actually been to Sainsbury's this morning and purchased both liver and bacon, in the devoted assumption that I will be whipping up something similar for his tea next week.

Mains: Obviously, we both had steak. I had the fillet steak cooked rare and served with mashed potato, and Mr Liz had a medium-rare sirloin with chips; both were cooked perfectly to order and shone in their own different ways - my fillet literally did melt in the mouth (well, it might have done if it had remained in my mouth for any length of time) and the sirloin, although chewier in texture, had a sublime char-grilled flavour. The Grill on the Alley always did the BEST mashed potato and I'm pleased to confirm that the standards are maintained in the new restaurant - I suspect it might be the potato to butter ratio (which seems to be roughly 50/50) that does it.

Dessert: For me, puddings are often a disappointment, something I regret having ordered, but not here. Mr Liz had a perky Rum Baba, a squat little gourd that looked imposing amid its sea of fruit soup but which turned out be as light as a puff of air, most unlike my one and only attempt at ever making rum babas, which could comfortably have been used to break windows, or as the foundation tier in a dry-stone wall. I had the cheese, which was pricy at £9 but turned out to be the best, bravest cheese board I have ever had. Six cheesy morsels arranged on a slate slab, and not a duff one amongst them - even the cheddar (which I often deem to be dispensable) was interesting, matured for 12 months only to be snaffled in seconds. The remaining five ranged from stinky to extremely stinky, with the best of them - the Epoisses Hennart - merely a fetid puddle which I was forced to wipe my finger round when no-one was looking. I could happily have eaten the whole lot twice over, and urge The Grill on New York Street to consider a lunchtime special of cheese board with a glass of red wine; I would be in every single day.

After our perfect meal (throughout which, incidentally, we also received perfect service), we walked back through Manchester. The night was still warm, with summer rain in the air, threatening to become heavy; not that this mattered to the cheerful revellers thronging the streets. Canal Street was as colourful as ever, with a proliferation of pink flashing bunny ears much in evidence and the sound of Kylie filtering out from the busy bars; little seems to have changed here since the days when I was obsessed with Queer as Folk, and Stuart and Vince carved their oh-so-attractive swathe through the heart of Manchester. We jumped on the bus and made our way back to Didsbury, full of promises not to leave it so long until our next reminder that Manchester is a truly gorgeous place to be.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Save 20% on Heartbreak Productions Summer 2011

There has been a lot of love for Heartbreak Productions via email and Twitter since Tuesday's blog about their forthcoming visit to Manchester, including several impassioned cries of "I want to buy tickets but there's no link on the website!" Obviously my grim weather warnings have been soundly ignored by the occupants of Greater Manchester, who are made of sterner stuff and are clearly not to be put off by a gallon of rain or two.

Tickets for Pride & Prejudice, The Taming of the Shrew and Pinnochio will be available online from this Sunday; however, Heartbreak have been in touch with the following very kind offer...

Hi Heartbreak here, really love this blog and as a treat for Liz’s followers here is the link to purchase tickets at a special 20% discounted rate

The link expires this Saturday so be quick. Thereafter visit the home page of our website and in the top right is a link to the ticket sales area.

This offer is available wherever you are in the country, not just Manchester, so it's worth a look to see if they're coming anywhere near this summer, because they are ACE.

So, absolutely no excuses now - go and get your tickets this minute; you should then probably spend the money you've saved on a nice sturdy brolly and some galoshes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Win an EcoNav as Nissan LEAF Comes to Manchester

Now, I'll be quite honest up front: I do not know a huge amount about cars. My husband despairs of my lack of car-prowess, and criticises me soundly for the following weaknesses:

- I often choose a car based on its looks, meaning that I have historically favoured fancy French fillies which tend to go wrong quite quickly, although always while looking terribly stylish

- I consider that colour DOES matter, as do crucial mechanical factors such as number of cup-holders and size of boot (never accept ANYTHING which cannot accommodate a substantial row of large yellow Selfridges bags)

- I always name my car, and refer to it repeatedly by that moniker whilst expecting others to do likewise.

And yet, even someone as ignorant as my good self has noticed that petrol seems to cost roughly the same amount as gold, or caviar, or Jimmy Choos these days, and as I do a 45 mile round trip to work everyday it is starting to look as if it might simply be cheaper to remain at home, especially with the added advantage of the cricket season now being underway. With this in mind, I am planning to have a sniff around the Nissan LEAF exhibition when it comes to Manchester next week, and perhaps have a test drive while I'm there (I haven't yet broken the news to my current, incessantly-hungry petrol-guzzling car, so please don't say anything.) The Nissan LEAF was voted 2011 World Car of the Year, and has been acknowledged as the first mass-produced, 100% electric family car in the country; it also has no gear-box, thus leaving the driver with an additional hand free for applying lipstick, holding a cup of tea etc etc (I'm only joking, obviously *responsible face*)

The exhibition (part of a European City Tour) is on at Manchester Central Convention between Monday 9th and Saturday 14th May, and you can book your own 30 minute test drive by visiting their Facebook page ( and signing up. Greater Manchester is investing in electric vehicle charging points and aims to have 300 by this October, hence the choice of city for this leg of the tour; it certainly seems worth a look.

To celebrate the City Tour, Nissan have kindly donated a Vexia Econav 380, a Sat Nav that promises fuel efficient driving and seems particularly suitable for girls who find themselves constantly going the long-way-round due to poor navigational skills, or for manly types who wish to impress with their road knowledge whilst claiming to passing ladies that they care deeply about the environment. The Econav retails for £149.99, but you're in with a chance of winning one by answering the following question *puts on wise, knowledgeable-about-cars face*:

- How much road tax is payable on the Nissan Leaf per annum?

Just email your answer to by midnight on Saturday 14th May, when a winner will be picked at random; if you're stuck for the answer then take a look at the Nissan homepage for more details. Best of luck :)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Heartbreak Productions Outdoor Theatre 2011: Mini Ice-Age Predicted for Didsbury

Now listen very carefully; I need your help. At the very least, you should acknowledge the huge effort it has cost me to resist appending the words "I shall say this only varrrrrnce" to my opening statement. Anyway, if it gets to the end of August and I have spent two misery-sodden evenings sitting outside in the cold, the rain and the raging gale, one of you is to take me to one side and read me, slowly and patiently, the following pre-prepared statement:

"You do this every year, and you are a fool. Each April, after an unseasonably warm few weeks during which you have got over-excited and decreed it to be summer, you get a letter from Heartbreak Productions, you know, the people who do the really good outdoor theatre. You forget that in July and August you do not have to go to work, and therefore the weather is always unspeakably foul during these months, offering little but constant drizzle and continually prompting you to wonder whether it would be extravagant to put the heating on. Having forgotten this, you book tickets for whatever lovely productions they are doing - and this year it was two of your favourites, wasn't it, Pride and Prejudice and The Taming of the Shrew. You stood no chance. And yet, shouldn't you have paid that extra two pounds (two pounds!) for covered seating, just in case?. Well, too late now - just make sure you learn a valuable lesson for next year."

Please make sure that last bit is read in a really FIRM voice, preferably with a cross face so that I really take notice. I have written before of the sheer brilliance of the Heartbreak team - they are talented beyond belief, and one of them is often very good-looking as well (the cast varies from year to year), but they do not always bring good weather with them. We have in truth often been lucky with the weather, apart from an embarrassingly miserable evening when I took a Spanish friend to see Twelfth Night and it hammered it down - we struggled on until half time, but when the contents of our glasses had reached a ratio of half pink wine, half rainwater, it really was time to go.

Full details of this year's programme are on the Heartbreak website - both P & P (I have already started work on my "I love you, Mr Darcy" banner, in the hope that he will be this year's good-looking one) and The Taming of the Shrew are on at Didsbury's Fletcher Moss Park in August. They are also doing Pinocchio at Wythenshawe Park, but as my friend's nephews, whom we borrow as a pretext for attending such things, are now getting a little too old to be so easily manipulated, we haven't booked for this one. This is worth you knowing, as the weather will be fine and sunny for these performances; if you're alongside me during P & P, ruminating sadly on your soggy quiche, then please accept my apologies. Perhaps next year, you'll learn a valuable lesson and book the covered seating...

Monday, 2 May 2011

Manchester's Moss Nook Restaurant Set To Close; a Girl Mourns

Anyone who read my somewhat effusive Royal Wedding post will know that I enjoyed myself very much on Friday. A bonus day off, spent with the kind of valuable friends who encourage you to start drinking early and make supportive noises about your choice of headwear, enjoying the very best of Didsbury's thriving food and drink scene. It was almost perfect, in fact. ALMOST.

For when I got home on Friday night, I checked my emails (yes, yes, I know - blame the iPhone and its jaunty ease of use, not me) and found there was one from Moss Nook, one of my very favourite restaurants in the whole entire world. And this is what Derek Harrison had to say:

"Pauline and I have been in business at these premises for 50 years, 38 of those years as the Moss Nook Restaurant, which opened its doors in 1973.

It is therefore with great sadness and difficulty that we announce to all of our clientele that we will be closing the restaurant."

Now, I know this is just a place to have dinner, and that there are far more important things in the world to worry about etc etc, but this news has made me incredibly sad. The Harrisons cite economic conditions for the closure, saying they have run at a substantial loss for the last three years, and it is true that every time we have been in the last couple of years there have been fewer and fewer tables occupied. But from a purely selfish point of view, I wish to climb aloft one of those tables with its beautiful linen cloth and shout "you can't close! You are one of the very finest restaurants in Manchester and have been Moss Nook since before I was born! You even bring the main courses out under silver cloches, for goodness sake!"

And yet I know this is selfish, because although I do love Moss Nook, I only go about twice a year, and in my less self-absorbed moments I do fully understand that a business cannot go on operating at a loss just so that I may parade my finery and dine on lobster once every six months. The restaurant is due to close on Saturday 28th May (although obviously this may change) and if you get a chance to go then please do. You will be rewarded with a gem of a restaurant, a charmingly old-fashioned oasis where the staff are unfailingly polite and the food is never less than excellent; you would never know it was just a stone's throw away from Manchester Airport with all its ugly modernity. I attach a link to their website, although when you see the message emblazoned across it you will understand why it saddens me to do so.

So with Moss Nook closing, Paul J leaving The Didsbury, and unconfirmed rumours that Didsbury's Loch Fyne is also closing (although to be fair, it never really felt like it belonged), I reluctantly feel the winds of change beginning to blow my way. Good luck to Derek and Pauline - enjoy your retirement, and please indulge me in my hopeful belief that when you dine at home, you will produce your meal from under one of the Moss Nook's silver cloches.