Spring Forward, Falling Back

Blog Autumn

Well, that’s it guys. Summer is over. The most joyous warm weather has departed, leaving us with unnecessary amounts of rain and gradually darkening evenings. No more late nights in the garden with a good book and a beer. No more lying on the floor in patches of golden sunlight like a giant cat. No more light summer dresses, Primark sunglasses and suncream sticky skin. Cue much sighing. Now as I’m sure you’re aware, I am a tad bitter, it can’t be denied. To be quite frank, I’m generally furious with the whole damn situation, but I’m trying to be a grown-up about it (honest). Summer finishes every year and I really am going to have to get over it. It’s not like it’s a surprise.

As such, it appears that I have decided to embrace Autumn. Hard. I’ve weirdly gone into full Kirsty Alsop mode “welcoming autumn into my home” with kitschy style, but combined with my own special branch of sarcasm and swearing.

I think TMM managed to distract me from my post-summer slump early on by colluding with me on a most successful Primark haul. Primark, like Ikea, inhabits two opposing states. It either has everything you could ever possibly want (when you went in with nothing particular in mind and no money in your pockets), or it’s completely bereft of anything decent at all (especially when you go purposely looking to binge). I suggested a visit purely to stock up on some more false nails, because Primark false nails are the actual shiz, and for a £1 its stupid to not embrace them. (Seriously, they are bright, long lasting and the glue could be used to hold NASA’s rockets together – everything a girl who wants nice hands but doesn’t want to commit to full-time real lady nails could need). Anyway, I promised I would just pick up a couple of packets, and maybe a new bra, and we’d be in and out in no time. It’s important to note that TMM really is the perfect shopping companion (which is mostly wasted on me because unless it’s Primark, Ikea or a bookshop, I don’t want to be there) and he simply nodded at my bold statement, offered no argument and fired up the chariot.

It’s at this juncture that I should point out that by the time we actually made to the false nail section, we’d already had to go back for a basket and I’d picked up two jumpers, one skirt, some pumps and a fabulous pair of rust coloured cord trousers. I was wild and untamed and each floor only brought forth new delights for to get my grubby little mitts on. You’ll be glad to know I also treated TMM to a new shirt, but it really paled into insignificance by the time we finally made it to the till. You might be questioning my logic by this point (you weren’t the only one by the time it came to total up the cost) but you have to think of the bigger picture. New jumpers require colder weather, cute skirts can be beautifully paired with thick tights and some little boots and fabulous rust coloured cord trousers really are the style of the autumn season.

Please enjoy this shot of my fabulous nails (which although a little hard to see here, were a glorious combination of metallic red and orange) paired with one of my perfectly coordinating with one of the aforementioned Primark jumpers.

Side note – it is important to note that fabulous though they may be (also completely perfect for a Shaggy from Scooby Doo fancy dress outfit – just saying) cord trousers should probably not be worn in a torrential downpour. On a team outing to see the Weeping Window Poppies at Middleport, I did have to hike them up like a posh lady to make it over puddles without soaking everything up like a sponge.

My outfit choice hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been pimping up in time for the autumn season though. As you may remember from blog posts long past, I have been deeply taken with the idea of year-round wreaths as a constant decoration for ones front door. TMMs sister treated me to my own wreath base for my birthday and its been sitting quietly, patiently waiting for its turn ever since. Well, after a particularly eventful trip to Wilkos (i swear, it’s like I think I’m a Rockefeller or something) which resulted in a new kitchen mop (with fancy inbuilt sprayer) and a surprising amount of cleaning products considering who I am, I thought it time to update my flower collection. Gone is the time for pale pinks and creams, here come the russet reds, butter yellows and …orangey oranges. I brought in the summer wreath, which had done its job rather splendidly and is waiting to be stored away carefully for next year, and settled down in the cwtch with my flowers, some wire cutters and a whole lot of willing. Whilst it became abundantly clear halfway through that I still have some kind of blindness when it comes to flower arranging, I gave it a good go and both TMM and Bucky passed on their approval.

I do think I might add some purple flowers and maybe a little skull or two closer to Halloween, but it looks just as pretty as a peach at the moment.

I’ve been generally crafting all over the place, as one can tell by viewing the complete devastation that is currently our dining table. I’ve been working on a little commission for a school friend for the longest time (apologies to her for my truly awful time management) but there is always vaguely reminiscent feeling of Christmas when the table looks like this. Bucky finds great pleasure in sitting right in the middle on top of the most uncomfortable pile of paints, pencils and or pads he can find whilst trying to drink dirty paint water, so at least he’s embracing it all too.

TMM once again managing to make my chaos look artistic. He’s got a talent.

Finally, I’ve brought autumn quite soundly into our diets as well, soundly rounding out the whole emersiom therapy vibe I’ve got going on. Sourdough has made a welcome return into our lives, as it is the tastiest and most comforting of all the breads. Hearty soups full of goodness and flavour have been mightily enjoyed in very Instagram worthy ways. Cups of tea have been imbibed in a possibly alarming amount whilst cuddled under blankets with books. Most excitingly though, I have been researching pumpkins.

I mean, come on. That could be in a magazine.

No matter what anyone says, pumpkins are one of the mightiest gourds around, and over here in good old Blighty I definitely don’t think we use them to the extent that they deserve. They provide a pleather of possibility and I’ll be damned if I don’t try every bloody one of them. Now most of you will have, at some point, been involved the joys of pumpkin carving – a sport so messy it really should only be attempted by people in crime scene suits, but hardly anyone I talk to ever thinks of doing anything else with them. For shame, I say to those people. The taste sensations that await them if only they were to try strikes me as a sad waste of potential.

Now its true that I might be slightly over-egging this whole mini autumn harvest festival – there aren’t actually even pumpkins in the shops yet, but I’ve decided I’ve either got to go big or go home, and guess what? I’m already at home, so big is the only option left. If the pumpkins won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed will just have to go to the world food aisle of Sainsbury’s and stack up on suspiciously battered tins of “Pumpkin Puree” shipped from Canada. I’ve been meaning to try this stuff for ages (one of my biggest regrets was not trying pumpkin pie when I went over to America – though boy was the peach pie tasty) and what better time is there than now? After spending a good 7 minutes watching a Buzzfeed Food video on all the possible ways I could make pumpkin based pastries for myself, I decided to give it a go. So this weekend, armed with hormonal rage, wild hair and a hankering for some tasty treats, I went at it. I have to say as well, it went pretty damn well. The recipe was surprisingly simple and easy to make (though I do think the measurements might possibly have been off, as we’ve now made 14 mini pies and I still have about the same amount of mixture again sat chilling in the freezer). A tin of puree, a can of evaporated milk (god I could drink that stuff), 2 eggs, a spoonful of ginger, a pinch or cinnamon, a sprinkling of salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of TMM’s finest ground cloves (not a euphemism, just cloves he pestle and mortared by hand) and bobs your uncle, you got your pie mixture. Eating it raw was pretty great (only a little bit though, I’m not a mad salmonella tempting bastard) and the smell was divine. We were mildly concerned about the texture it must be said, but the video promised us we were looking alright. Some banging, rolling and swearing later (TMM wisely left me alone for this section) I had some little doughy bases and I poured in my mixture with all the love and attention of a new mother. 30 minutes later (gas mark 5 for those of you who are interested) and our little pumpkin babies were ready. And let me tell you, those treats are tasty. I don’t really know quite what I was expecting if I’m honest, but I was happily impressed by the results, and can see why they’re such a smash over in the States. I plan to try at least two more of the pumpkin based suggestions before the season is out, and I expect you all to at least attempt the same. You don’t even know what world of culinary wonders awaits you.

Not to toot my own trumpet, but hat is how you make a petite pumpkin pie

And so, with great aplomb, I bring this glorious celebration of autumn to a close. I’m not ready for the rain, or the dark nights or the fast approaching build up to Christmas, but I’m accepting my fate and doing my best to welcome the fall with open arms. Come at me, bro.

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Just a Smoothie Operator

Smmothie

The idea for this week’s blog struck me whilst I was lying prostrate and sweaty on the couch after our weekly kettle bell session (more on this below). Recently, TMM and I have been doing our best to act more like bright young things and less like 90 year olds trapped in the bodies of hipsters, and have made certain life choices to try and help. We’ve changed from Radio 4 to Radio 1 (TMM thought the youth music might liven us up a little), agreed to wake up/go to bed respectively at more appropriate times to “make the most of the day” and do some kind of exercise to loosen up our seizing joints. (Seriously, I have never been bothered about getting old, in fact I can’t wait to be a crotchety old lady with crazy hair, giant rouge patches on my cheeks and bags full of cats and knitting, but god when did it get so hard to get out of a chair?!) To this end, we now have a set exercise schedule that has actually lasted more than 2 weeks. (Let’s just ignore all the previous posts I’ve done about aborted exercise routines I have tried, alright?)

Indeed, it’s not the first time we’ve gone on what I would (very loosely) describe as a health kick, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. TMM and I have often had somewhat misplaced fantasies of getting memberships and meeting at the local gym after work for an hour or two of hard cardio. Let me tell you right now, in case you were under any kind of misapprehension about what kind of people we are, this has never and will categorically never happen. There was once even a mention of going to the swimming pool, but seeing as I can’t even float, never mind coordinate myself enough to do laps, and the smell of the chlorine brings TMM out in panicked hives, we shelved that idea pretty sharpish. Sometimes, even as we talk our way through the possibility of it becoming a reality we get a bit disgusted with ourselves and have to change the topic. Now this is not to say we have some deep mistrust or hatred for regular gym bunnies, indeed they are just doing them and it’s great, but it is definitely something we are just not about. We don’t like people, or after school clubs, or enforced fun (mainly I am the one who doesn’t like these things, but TMM defo enjoys his sports outside where he can be free and untamed. He’s like a wild stallion).

I was actually once a gym member (weird right?) and used to go on a semi-regular basis with a lady I worked with for a while whilst at uni . We agreed it was better to go together (safety in numbers) as at least that way we’ve had someone to talk to and provide sorely needed motivation. I think the whole things lasted about 3 months at the most, and mainly I discovered that I enjoyed the rowing machine, hated the treadmill with a passion an just generally wasn’t about having to leave my house to have other people watch me get sweaty. Turns out I am very easily bored as well as tired and running on the spot staring out at a sports field is not my idea of a fun time. Still, I look back fondly at the memories, especially the fact I purchased a specialised sports top (from a specialised sports wear shop) as somewhat of a personal learning curve. I know now that no matter what job I get (or when I win the lottery) I will never have enough money to spend on a gym membership when I could be buying cake.

However, stagnation is not allowed, and TMM has been very encouraging of me actually getting off my butt and moving a little. (Don’t get me wrong, he is also incredibly supportive of my lying in bed all day and eating cereal, but I think he genuinely cares for my health too. He’s a good egg). He enjoys outdoor running, walking, hiking, climbing and pretty much anything that gets him out under the wide open skies. I enjoy indoor sitting, eating, napping and anything that involves me moving as little as humanly possible. Together, we can just about commit to minimal exercise to ensure I don’t die of stroke at 45 and the agreement to do occasional outside walks so TMM get’s to see nature and I get some fresh air.

So over the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing 15 minute kettle bell routines every Tuesday (and the occasional Thursday. Very occasional. Okay, we did it one extra Thursday, but we’re trying!) TMM found the YouTube tutorial a few months ago (done by Joe Wicks, over-excitable health guru extraordinaire) and was doing them on his own, but has since lured me in with the promise of better stamina and arms more like arms instead of wet noodles. I can’t say I’m particularly enjoying it and I have been known to hurl abuse at poor Joe, with his beautiful curly hair, perfectly defined muscles and in my opinion, unnecessarily preppy attitude towards kettlebells (“it’s a great little workout” is it? Is it really Joe!?), but I have stuck with it. We’re about five weeks down the line and I can now lift the kettle bell over my head (hurrah) but still can’t do a burpee (what the ever loving eff are they even about?) so I’m calling it an even draw.

The whole healthy living business has spread outwards too (unlike our waistlines and chiselled abs as TMM pointed out). We definitely eat more like grown ups than we used to – it’s amazing what a full time salary does to your grocery shop. Sometimes I even actively go out of my way to include salad, I mean, what? In fact, most of our meals now include some kind of leafy green shit, which was something I swore as a child would never happen. I was willing to try anything once, but most vegetables were pretty much the devil to me. Now, we’ve got a fruit and veg basket (two actually – one for holding bits and bobs in the house and a sweet little wicker one for picking up fresh un-bagged produce (literally could we be any cuter?)) and we’ve even been growing our own. Admittedly I say this like we’ve gone full Tom and Barbara Goode and sold the TV for a goat, but that is not quite the case. So far we’ve had 3 small bowls of raspberries, 2 medium potatoes, a handful of adorably small tomatoes and we’ve got high hopes for our rhubarb. It’s not really enough to feed the 5000, but I’m still very proud of us.

Look at this bountiful harvest. Have you even seen anything more beautiful and healthy?

This very adult attitude towards the healthy bounty of nature has led quite nicely into a new recognition of the greatness of smoothies. Mother is a great believer in the homemade smoothie, and whenever we go to visit her she’s come up with something new. As she rightly points out, they are perfect if you’re in a rush, too stressed to think about cooking or just need something quick, easy and hearty in one fell swoop. And for someone like me, who is prone to perishing from scurvy at any given moment, it’s an excellent way of cramming 5 (or more) portions of fruit and veg in. We’ve been creating new and increasingly bizarre combinations, but I have to say they’re proving to be rather tasty.

The TMM and Ebert Smoothie Menu
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Chocolate Nana Ovalteeny; a family classic – banana (2), Ovaltine/hot chocolate powder (some scoops), peanut butter (2 sizable dollops) and milk (enough to make it drinkable rather than chewy).

Lemony Thicket; a silvery summer sensation – banana (2), frozen spinach (1 handful), lemon juice (a dash), kiwi (however many you’ve got lying about), frozen blackberries/blueberries (1 handful) and spirulina powder (which is some kind of green witchy stuff).

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You’ve got to love a drink that comes out the same colour as your counter top.

A Song of Fire and Iceberg Lettuce; our new warming autumn concoction – strawberries (1 punnet), raspberries (1 handful), watermelon (1 wedge), ginger (1 chunk – unpeeled), iceberg lettuce (half a heart) and added optional passionfruit (2).

Turns out that whilst our joints may be aching and our bodies very unwilling, we’re not doing too badly at this staying healthy malarkey.

Czech Us Out

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Alternative Title – Bombs Away!

So before we start, I think it’s very important you know that this week’s post was brought to you by my homemade early 80s rock playlist (inspired by Steve Harrington from Stranger Things – my new life guru), which consists of possibly more Toto and Journey than is ever strictly necessary. However, it’s helped me through some real hard times (mainly the overwhelming holiday blues and god awful early mornings on the bus to work) so I won’t hear a word against it.

The rest of the blog is brought to you by MY HOLIDAY which was most excellent and will now be gifted to you in great detail. You’re welcome.

For those of you that don’t know the background, TMM and I basically invited ourselves along on a trip to Prague that was predominantly for a gathering of various singers from all over the place (a sort of super group of the choir world) that Mother was going on. There was minor dillydallying from both sides, but it was eventually agreed that we would go along to provide Mother moral support (seeing as she’d never been on a plane before) and get a well deserved break at the same time.

Now, as I’m sure is quite clear if you are an avid follower of my work, both myself and TMM are what could be loosely described as “anxious” and it’s not a stretch to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. On the build up to the trip, I received increasingly hysterical messages from Mother in various stages of capslocked panic regarding packing, passport and other preparation. I obviously responded to these in a very soothing and calming fashion, before proceeding to have very similar panics at TMM and Woo. Still, the day of reckoning rolled around swiftly and it found us suitably suit-cased and ready for our adventures.

We managed to successfully navigate a taxi, two trains and airport security (both TMM and I had to be patted down because we obviously just looked massively suspicious – TMM’s dungarees have been retrospectively voted as the worst flying outfit choice) before we even met up with any other members of our party, but before long we were safely ensconced on the plane.

Side note – it is important here to point out that Mother, a fan of the Film4 channel, has recently been finding particular joy in the Action Month advert. It apparently consists of clips from various adrenalin fuelled men shouting “bomb” set to the Ride of the Valkyries. Now, I wonder if you can see where this might be going…if you thought it might be somewhere along the lines of both her and TMM, whilst simultaneously being the nerviest of beans, finding every opportunity to mumble “bomb de bomb bomb, bomb de bomb bomb, boMB ON THIS (insert any of the countless modes of public transport we experienced here)” hysterically, you would be dead right.

Unfortunately we were all spread about on the flight itself (I was a bit gutted to miss Mother’s first ever trip in a plane but it probably limited her excuse to sing the bomb song which can only be a good thing), but I had a pretty good journey. I was sat just in front of a very cute little girl who had a great attitude to flying and her parents but the arse of the devil and apparently uncontrollable gastric upset. I was nearly forced to kill her when I realised I had no money for snacks either and she proceeded to happily munch on her Pringles with infuriating enjoyment. (Guess what, I did not learn my lesson on the way home and was nearly resorted to sucking olive juice out of my jacket to sate my hunger after there was an incident with the guy next to me and the air hostess both reaching for the packet at the same time and proceeding on getting that stuff everywhere). I do really enjoy flying though, especially at night, and it was rather stunning to be able to watch the sunset and the lights of Prague start to twinkle on our arrival. I always find looking over a scene like puts me in mind of a flickering map of golden neural pathways; a living city.

We lucked out pretty well whilst exiting the plane as well; due to a bit of faff with our carry ons, we ended up being the last passengers and Mother stopped to say thank you to the cabin crew. After they found out that it was her first ever flight, there was much kerfuffle and we got invited into the cock pit for a photo.

Let me tell you, I have never had to fight the urge to touch buttons like that before; the urge to try my hand at plane theft was pretty strong (it was like the hot air balloon festival all over again).

cockpit

Apparently my innate desire is to be some kind of aero-pirate; like Fast and Furious but with hot air balloons and airplanes. (Woo rightly pointed out here that I have the best ideas but am so entirely unequipped to carry them out)

Once it became clear that I wasn’t allowed to hijack the plane (TMM gave me some serious “don’t touch it” eyebrows), we regrouped with our party and were shepherded onto the coach and to the hotel by our lovely (and longsuffering) guide Helena.

The first morning found us all up bright and early (half 7 – good god) for breakfast before the choir disappeared off for their first rehearsal as a group. TMM and I took the opportunity to have a little nap (because we might be young but by god we’re not energetic) before braving out to tackle the public transport system – which I have to say is excellent. We could definitely learn a thing or two, just sayin’. We made it on and off the underground with minimal stress (the hardest thing was 100% the escalators, which all appeared to move at warp speed) and then bumbled around the centre for a while. We inexplicably managed to entirely miss Old Town though, and spent most of the morning skirting round the New Town section looking for Charles Bridge – spoiler: it’s freaking massive and should really not have been that hard to find.

Giving it up as a lost cause for the moment, we returned to the hotel to merge with the rest of the party and spent a good hour or so watching with thinly veiled hilarity at the ensuing stress caused by the underground ticket machines. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, generational thing or just the fact a lot of people really have no idea how to navigate ticket machines after having had their own car for so long, but TMM and I have never felt so accomplished at being able to just hustle my mum to the front of the queue and be ready to go within a few minutes. After eventually making it into town, we split into smaller groups for lunch. We were treated to the wonderful scene of Mother accidentally chatting up one of the waiters – she insisted she was just trying to ask how large the plates of food where, but mainly she got as far as saying “how big” and gesturing somewhat crudely in front of his crotch. Either way, we all had a great laugh and I’m pretty sure we made his day. The afternoon was frittered away with casual wanderings and we finally made it to Charles Bridge (only to have to survive a completely unexpected deluge) before we met up with a couple more of the group for a guided coach tour and a absolutely bloody lovely river cruise.  Between eating a buffet tea and chattering, we were treated to views of beautiful apartments with chocolate box facades and open windows that spoke of romantically struggling artists with jazz soundtracks and cigarette addictions.

Prague 2

It’s been decided that we are very much about night time river cruises

Day two started in very much a similar kind of vein, and once we’d picked up Mother we took a little trip up to the Castle. Let me tell you, that place is stunning (also super hot). We enjoyed lunch (I had goulash in a giant bread bowl and literally don’t think I will ever use crockery again) in a cute little village café (no waiter mishaps this time, but I do think he found us somewhat bizarre) and then wandered round in amazed bliss, staring at towering spires and sparkling stained glass windows. Heading back to the city centre, we treated ourselves to some of the famous tunnel cakes (so so good), but we did manage to make a complete mess of ourselves. Mother had pistachio filling which succeeded in making her look like she was covered in baby sick, and my strawberries and cream seemed to attract a swarm of wasps that kept trying to dive bomb straight into our mouths. Still, we enjoyed them immensely and they kept us going all the way back to the hotel for Mother to get changed into her concert gear.

The concert itself was in a lovely little church (very different from the Palace) and I was proud of myself for only tearing up three times. I’m pretty sure I have some kind of switch that just flicks and turns me into a blubbering mess whenever Mother sings, but I managed to not embarrass myself too much, and take some nice photos/recordings for everyone. After they finished, we went back to the hotel for a late night picnic and all stumbled into bed.

Day three was yet another early start (we holidayed hard) before the entire group were shepherded into the centre for a team photo in front of the bridge (school trips never change). After finally managing to get a couple of fairly decent shots, we slid off to wander and visited the Mucha Museum. Now I’ve always loved Mucha’s art, ever since being a little girl and being obsessed with a Mucha mirror my Neens had in her hall, but seeing some of his work up close just really drove it home how amazingly talented he truly was. The level of detail and forethought that must have gone into every piece is mind-boggling and we might have all gone a little mad in the gift shop. Finally managing to drag ourselves away, we took a break (we must have walked approx. seven thousand miles over the whole holiday. No exaggeration.) and spent a good 45 minutes absolutely wetting ourselves at a couple of folks trying their hand at a bit of zorbing. We thoroughly appreciated the efforts of a dad who was obviously trying to be very serious and active about it whilst his little girl just threw herself about in the background, and a gorgeous girl who’s hijab kept getting tangled and nearly garrotting her and her boyfriend whilst they proceeded to make it about 2 foot away from the starting point. It was unanimously agreed that we all need to have a go next time.

After lunch, we did another quick change round at the hotel and left Mother at the new concert hall (the Czech Museum of Music) for the final rehearsal and went for a quick drink and an apple strudel (when in Czech…). The second concert was just as good as the first, and once again the venue was stunning.

Prague 1.jpgTMM ponders the classics

After they’d finished, we snuck off (we did a lot of that) for a pizza and a late night wander across the Charles Bridge and a peak into some of the tourist shops – Mother was very taken with the little wooden dollies and Christmas decorations (before you ask, yes we do all have nice new Christmas decorations. And what).

The last day was a tad more reserved, and after a leisurely breakfast/lunch, we said goodbye to our slightly harried guide (she was definitely happy to see the back of our party I think) and were dropped off at the airport. Once again we somehow managed to lose everyone but we made it through with minimal fuss (there were a couple of sneaky older folks who were trying to sneak over the limit liquids back through – v troublesome) and before long were back in the home country. Off the plane, we made a quick departure and made our way back to Manchester (whilst traipsing somewhat sluggishly through a Mancunian train station that was crawling with men with unnecessarily large guns, TMM and Mother both took up another chorus of the bomb song and I had to fight the overwhelming urge just to give them up as terrorists and strike out homeward alone). After various train journeys (only got on the wrong one once), taxi rides and snack stops we made it home in mostly one piece.

Overall though I think it can be classed as a success and I’m terribly proud of Mother. We’ve already started to surreptitiously mention other holidays, but I’m laying down the law on the musical accompaniment….bomb de bomb bomb, bomb in this blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Blues and Writing Cues

Hol Blog

I’m not going to lie to you Readers, it’s been bloody hard going trying to blog this week. Even now, I can’t promise that it’s going to be a particularly good one, or even if it’s going to make it past 500 words. It appears that whilst there is a way, there is definitely a distinct lack of will.

I do want to state right now though, that this dirge in writing is not for lack of content – indeed you’ll be glad to know we Whitby-ed hard. We ventured far and wide, and our disgustingly early start (for which we in the back of the car complained about HARD) paid off and meant that we had chance to visit the absolutely stunning abbey before most people were even up. We were able to take many hilarious photos of us carefully (read – idiotically) re-enacting scenes from Dracula (I made an excellent Lucy), and TMM (ever the true professional) had even brought his nice new copy with him for some lovely moody shots.

I mean, just look at the artistry! TMM is really wasted where he is.

We also enjoyed a truly hysterical affair in the £4 Dracula experience on the main street. I feel like we should have been made more aware of what to expect, but to be honest the rather shapeless Gary Oldman puppet in the window and the particularly un-arsed man with a scruffy band t-shirt and unkempt facial hair didn’t promise much. Within 5 minutes however, Wilson was practically underneath Jonbles t-shirt and all of us had let out the odd exclamation (except for perhaps TMM, who was tucked at the back of the queue (missing out on most of the story much to his chagrin) and rather at home in the horror strewn décor – Angry Boy (TM) at heart that he is). The animatronic powered curtain covered puppet that flew out, or the man dressed as a wolf (unsure tbh) who was clearly enjoying himself hiding round corners proved to be a little startling, especially for the young women and her daughter who kept running to hide behind us whist screeching unattractively. My favourite bit though, was when we were all crammed into the section depicting Dracula (or a melted looking plastic scarecrow mask with a awkward hair in a dressing gown) rising from the coffin and Wilson turned slightly and proceeded to let out a splitting cry only to follow it with “oh, it’s only TMM”. Apparently his looming figure loitering in the background pushed her over the edge and poor Jonbles arm probably still has little half moon nail marks in it. The sweet little ale pub we all crowded into after (with added taxidermy foxes and portraits of dogs in army regalia) for a swift one was definitely the balm we needed to calm our nerves.

By this point, we were all a bit hot and over-emotional so we retreated to the car to get our cases and take them to the cottage. TMM was the perfect gentleman and took all the wheelie cases (the cobbles were making me laugh to hard too actually do anything) and after a few back and forths, we eventually located our spot and were able to collapse on the couches for a breather and a glass of cider. Our first evening culminated in a visit to a couple of nice gin bars and a superb fish and chips (battered black pudding is definitely a new thing that I am All About).

The next day saw us adventure even further afield, after stopping to pick up TMM a new fisherman’s smock which was possibly the only thing that could have complimented his dungarees so perfectly. Indeed, there were parts when he paused to stare artfully out across the marina and we were all struck at how suited he was to his environment. I always knew I’d marry a sailor.

It’s a shame that none of us could open our eyes in that second photo, but at least we look happy enough. At that point anyway…

Once suited and booted, we walked to Robin Hood’s Bay along the coastal path. I think it is fair to say that there were massively varying levels of enthusiasm about this, though TMM once again showed his true gentlemanly nature by saving Wilson for certain death in a rocky stream and escorting her down some of the more tricky hills. (Woo pointed out here that she expected a while essay about how sh*t walking is so she is pleased by my polite reference to my dislike here. She thinks I secretly love it. I do not).

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Have you seen a cuter couple? They look like they’re off for an early afternoon constitutional.

In the Bay itself, we stopped for a  truly superb lunch (so much grilled cheese and white bread was imbibed) and a few cuppas. The journey back was slightly easier, especially for TMM, Wilson and I, who decided to get the bus back so we could veg on the couch with cups of tea and watch Monsters vs. Aliens. We (read TMM) made ourselves useful though in stopping at the local Coop to pick up the makings of a homemade fish pie and having tea ready to go whist Woo and Jonbles braved the return route on their own. It was best for all really, as it meant that Wilson and I were in far better spirits by the time we were beckoned to a close by bar to meet the returning heroes. We spent a little while enjoying watching the various Steampunk aficionados that were wandering about in full regalia and drinking happily before returning home to our pjs and TMM’s truly spectacular tea. Like true grannies on tour, we were all safely tucked up with blankets and wine by 9pm, and spent the rest of our evening being pulled and pummelled by Woo, who used her not inconsidarably strong pointy fingers to massage away any knots and draw forth some truly ridiculous noises. At one point, she basically played Wilson like a human piano. By the end of it though, we were all slightly more tender and aware of our faults (I apparently have a ridiculous hard knot in my lower back that has been affectionately christened “The Butt Marble” and TMM has an appointment to visit Ann – the official back lady – because we are mildly concerned his spine is all out of whack) and ready for our two tubs of super fancy ice cream.

Our final days bloomed with a rather unnecessary downpour and after a sturdy fry up and a stop for a couple of books (it’s not a holiday without them) and a lovely pair of jet earrings for yours truly, we all bustled back into Juan (Woo’s car) and started for home. Whilst it took a little longer than we could have hoped, and there was a mild fear of vomming from at least two members of the party, we made it back in one piece.

(Admittedly, I do also have to admit the snapchats sent from my particularly disgruntled work pals who were thoroughly not enjoying their day only served to make the whole experience that much better – #soznotsoz)

Well, at least I can say I made it past 500 words, though I can’t say if any of them are particularly thrilling. We enjoyed ourselves (please see below images for further reference) and I can only hope those reading this got some fraction of amusement too.

 

 

Warm up to the Weekend

whitby blog box

So it’s the warm up to the team trip to Whitby this week. In honour of TMM’s birthday on Tuesday, and what is now being referred to as Woo’s ‘Funeral for Youth’ (she’s not taking her retreat from the her 20’s in particularly good cheer), we’re taking a jaunt to the coast. We’ve been meaning to visit Whitby for ages but somehow have never managed to get round to it until now. The real world has cruelly taken over much of our free time and our adventures have a taken a bit of a hit, but we are nothing if not resilient and we made sure this weekend has been in the diary for weeks.

Woo has already demanded a repulsively early start (5am!)to ensure that we squeeze as much time out of the trip as possible, and as such I’ve already had to start giving myself pep talks. Once I am awake, I am happy and I can go from in bed to ready to go in 8 minutes, but that actually process of opening my eyes and admitting consciousness can be a challenging task. I’ve also had to allow a truce with Wilson and promise that I won’t take any photos of her napping in the car. Nobody deserves to have to get up that early and then try and avoid hilarious photos of their sleep face. (Also, it’s more than likely I’m going to be squished in the back because I am not the tallest and also one of the only members of our team that doesn’t get travel sick. I suspect the passenger seat will be in deep contention between TMM’s long legs and Wilson’s threats of vomit, so any attempts to take photos won’t work out as well as they have when I’ve been rocking the co-pilot’s seat).

Now considering we are only going for 3 days (Friday-Sunday), our itinerary is pretty packed (and thus I can accept the need for such a god-awful departure time). TMM has voted for a walk to Robin Hood’s Bay (Wilson and I have both already raised suspicious eyebrows about the amount hiking that is going to be involved, but we’ve been promised a pub lunch so we’re letting it slide for now) and Jonbles has arranged a trip out whale watching on the coast which I am rather looking forward to. Whitby used to have its own Whaling Company in the 1700s, and Whitby boasted one of the most successful whaling ships in the whole of the British fleet at one point. Thankfully we sharn’t be going out with harpoons and designs on blubber, but hopefully we’ll get to see whales going about their casual day to day business.

Since Whitby is also a ‘Gothic Hub ™’, we shall of course be involving ourselves in all kinds of gothicy doings. If I’m being honest I’m not 100% sure what being gothic involves per se, but I can say with certainty we shall throw ourselves into with gay abandon. If Woo’s Youth Funeral doesn’t show willing, I don’t know what does.
I for one, am very taken with Whitby Abbey and shall petitioning for a visit there at some point. The Visit Whitby confidentially declares it to be a real “must visit” and I am not one to argue against such a source. Apparently its gothic splendour and atmospheric backdrop was a key inspiration for Bram Stoker whilst writing Dracula, and my literary soul demands we pay tribute.

Speaking of, TMM and I have been mightily into the spirit of things (loving these puns). TMM decided he couldn’t go to Whitby without ever having even owned a copy of Dracula and therefore treated himself to a shiny new version a week ago.

TMM’s Instagram post was rather excellent, the little Nosferatu popped up and waved.

He received it, rather fatefully, just in time to start reading whilst waiting for his blood test the other morning. Because he is a fantastically innocent angel, he didn’t even question his choices until he was already there are receiving slightly concerned looks from the surrounding pensioners, who I imagine were all turning up their collars and thinking garlicky thoughts. It was only afterwards we realised that he’d made a grave (ha) error in not taking some false pointy teeth, or taking a phone call whilst in the queue loudly announcing that he was just getting breakfast.

We’ve been getting a bit obsessed with the general genre though and have watched a ridiculous amount of similarly themed things over the past two weeks. A friend gave us access to her Netflix account under the strict prevarso we watch The Alienist – a psychological thriller drama set in late 1800s New York based around a selection of gruesome murders and the ragtag team that come together to solve them. I am happy to report we did so with both vigour and gusto, and since have been unable to watch anything that’s not either been set in the turn of the century not steeped in mythically gruesome deaths. We snuggled up on the couch to watch Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman which was pretty but acutely lacking in plot or any acting ability (ass Woo pointed out, this does seem harsh on Hugh, who is very lovely, but it’s so true). I remember being much more impressed with it when I was younger (and obviously distinctly lacking in taste) but it did fleetingly rekindle my teenage crush on Richard Roxborough. It was clear though that as a film it should have come in a boxset with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which succeeds in being stylistically wonderful and completely bereft of any worthwhile substance or storyline.

We followed this in pretty quick succession with Nosferatu (we provided our own hilarious commentary and then both fell asleep before Count Orlok had even revealed his true nature), Stonehurst Asylum (loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe story and the second film we watched where Kate Beckinsale got to wear fancy outfits and look beautifully quivery whilst simultaneously punching someone), Lime House Golem (which inspired a somewhat bemused conversation about whether Bill Nighy has ever looked any different or if he’s been approximately 60 for as long as anyone can remember) and finally Sleep Hollow (which is pretty much worth it for everyone’s hair).

With this back catalogue safely under our belts, TMM and I are pretty much ready for anything Whitby can throw at us, be it death, devilry or delightful Gothic architecture. Let’s just hope the early start doesn’t do me in…

And We All Live Apacaly Ever After

Alpaca Blog

So as some of you may have seen on my Facebook or Instagram, I spent the weekend living my best life and enjoying my birthday present from Woo. Woo is what we would class as “good people”; she puts up with my consistent and often hysterical emails, endless hearty bants and works well within the dreaded birthday constraints of “no stuff” when dealing with potential presents. I am very troublesome when it comes to giving people suggestions of what I want for my birthday. When I was younger, I would prepare colour coded lists in triplicate that went to all family members to provide clear guidelines on what I wanted. These days, I merely shrug and ask specifically for “no stuff” because I am a hoarder and must be controlled. Woo understands that my life in a constant battle between wanting All of the Things (like a true millennial), whilst simultaneously wanting to live like a Buddhist monk and free myself from the fetters of the material world. Last Christmas, she got me a trip to the Manchester Cat Café (that came with a hand drawn card which still sits on the mantle piece) and a pot of hair dye because she gets me. For my birthday this year, she succeeded once again in pulling it out of the bag (along with matching card) and this Sunday found us in the Lake District walking Alpacas.

Now let me tell you straight that walking with Alpacas might be the closest thing on this earth to true happiness and anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly deranged.

There were 5 of us that went, crammed into the new little motor (still as yet unnamed) and chipper at the prospect of the fun that awaited – little did we know how much joy we would experience. The company itself – Alpacaly Ever After (and whoever came up with that name deserves a medal) is based in the grounds of the Lingholm Estate in Derwentwater, Keswick. It is a gorgeous setting; coincidentally the Summer home of Beatrix Potter during her formative years as well as the home of where the new Swallows and Amazons film. It is basically the dictionary definition of “idyllic” and 100% the kind of place Alpacas deserve to live.

We arrived and went straight to the café (because we know what we’re about and what we’re about is fancy café lunches) before wandering the kitchen gardens that inspired many of Beatrix Potter’s tales and all getting slightly emotional that we weren’t posh ladies from the turn of the century. Soon though, the time came and we stood, all shifty like, by the statue of a giant and slightly mental looking red squirrel whilst waiting for our contact. Turns out, arranging Alpaca dates is somewhat similar to spy meetings – who knew?

Anyway, Shelley, our very knowledge and super smiley guide, appeared in a timely fashion and led us to our delightfully cuddly charges. She carefully explained the stroking etiquette – due to their eye positioning, they have a blind spot (unsurprising with those fringes if I’m honest) and like most animals don’t like being stroked where they can’t see. This meant their heads and backs were out of bounds, and also that there should be no butt touchings, which is just good manners really. Mainly she advised we stick to their necks when petting, but considering the length of them, this wasn’t too much of a hardship.

Whilst she was talking, she corralled our various partners and harnessed them up and we dithered about with thinly veiled excitement. By the time the gates opened and the Alpacas were led out, we were a undoubtedly overcome.

Now Jonbles had no Alpaca because he is a boring old fart, but he came along for the ride anyway and admitted later (no matter how much he tries to deny it now) that he wished he’d had one too. The rest of us picked (or were picked by) the four Alpacas who were milling about giving us the side eye – and the whole process was somewhat reminiscent of the wands in Harry Potter; the Alpaca picks the walker, not the other way around.

Woo went first because she is by far the bravest, and was paired with Kato; a big bubble headed beastie who was pretty much the agreed leader and enjoyed having a good chatter the whole way round.

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I followed and was paired with Jasper, who had fabulous hair, a casual attitude and the ability to wee for about half an hour non-stop (we matched perfectly). Shelley explained that there are actually only 2 breeds of Alpaca; Suri and Huacaya. Huacaya are by far the most prevalent, making up approximately 90% of the Alpaca population, and whilst they were lucky enough to have Jasper, he is the Loneliest Suri. The only one in their herd, he stands out a little and after being unfortunately snipped in the trouser snake department, is destined to stay that way. Still, he was The Most Chill and we bonded beautifully (read I pawed him desperately and he snuffled me a little and posed wonderfully for selfies).

     

Wilson “The Honey Badger” was paired with Jake, a toothy gentleman who knew exactly what he was about and wasn’t prepared to be moved unless he was ready. He viewed the whole excursion as a sort of extended buffet selection.

    

Finally, an executive decision was made that TMM should be left with little Theo, who whilst looking like a baby and being 2 years old, was pretty much fully grown. They looked like a kind of comedy duo (think Shrek and Donkey but much prettier) but they bonded beautifully (possibly over their matching eye lashes) and I’m pretty sure might have actually been each other’s spirit animals.

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During the walk itself, in which we were lead around the grounds and, in turn, had much fun shepherding our companions around, our very lovely guide educated us about the Alpacas as well as the land the company resides on. Obviously I was in nerd heaven because we all know how much I enjoy fun learning – and learning with Alpacas in the most fun. For example, did you know Alpacas are bred specifically for their fibre, unlike Llamas who are working animals and can be used to carry up to 10 stone. Sadly this meant I couldn’t throw myself on Jaspers back and gallop off into the sunset as I had hoped, but a girl can dream.

We also learnt that they “hum” when talking to each other (Kato had a lot to say), only have one row of teeth (along the bottom) so no accidental dismemberment of which there was a slight fear, and only actually spit when distressed, but let’s face it – who doesn’t? They’re also incredibly graceful considering how silly the look, and surprised us all by taking the various sets if stairs we came across in their stride (ha ha).

Within the hour though, I can safely say that each if us had fallen head over heels with our charges and once we had taken them back and given them some snacks, were all heartbroken to have to walk away. I’m not ashamed to say I could have wept as Jasper non committedly bumped his head against my arm before scratching his belly with a back hoof and trotted off without a backwards glance. I know our love was a fleeting and possibly one sided affair, but I can’t help but hope that as I’m writing this, he still thinks of me now and then.

It was obviously a bit too much for some people…

The Ivy – The Commoners Guide to Eating Posh

Blog Ivy

Picture, if you will, two weary travellers. Wandering aimlessly under the baking sun; their skin is pink, their limbs are heavy and their nerves a slightly frayed due to encroaching hunger that is unstated by the raspberries they had for breakfast in the car. Lost, they have been wandering Cambridge for hours, buffeted by the inordinate amount of school groups (curious, on a Saturday) and tourists who are rampaging the streets. There is also the gradual realisation the perhaps visiting a city where each attraction is hidden by large, unerring wooden doors bearing unapologetic slogans like “No Visitors, Only Students” or “£13 per person for entry” was possibly not the best choice of destination when their pockets are a little tighter than normal.

Eventually, after trudging past cafes, restaurants and eateries packed to the gills; after pressing their noses sadly against the windows and eyeing piled high plates of food on their way to other people; after being so dehydrated that they had resorted to threatening to spit in each other’s mouths to provide any kind of moisture, a metaphorical light appears on the horizon. Coming to a stop outside an unassuming dark green shop front to gently berate each other for having let it get to this stage, one gestures to the darkened doorway with only a slight hint of exasperation and says “what about here then?”

Up a step, they are greeted by a smart young lady in a starched white shirt behind an imposing lectern housing a computer screen. She stands just to the right of a sizable wooden door with an artful stained glass window and to her left hangs a rather dramatic deep red velvet curtain. She smiles candidly at our heroes before asking softly “reservation?”

“Err, table for two?” Is the somewhat querulous response. She narrows her eyes just a fraction and looks down at her computer screen. From somewhere behind her appears another lady, this one with added blazer, who whispers something quietly in her ear. It is here, dear reader, that our weary wanderers began to get the sneaking suspicion they had stumbled on something a little beyond their usual fare. Indeed, the internal warning sirens were sounding and a couple of sharp glances were shared between them as another lady appears off the street, pushes her way through and flippantly remarks over her shoulder to the door woman and friend as she slips through the door that she was there to meet people. The sliver of restaurant viewable for the brief second it took her to get through afford a mere flash of finery and the impression of chandeliers.

Suddenly the burgundy curtain swishes aside and a third lady appears; this one wearing a smart red dress and fancy heels. She smiles and inclines her head, before slipping behind the lectern, palming some menus and shepherding our duo through the door.

On the other side, they are met with a sight to behold. What they had originally expected to be a single room with a couple of tables turns out to be the size of a banquet hall and positively dripping with opulence. Beautifully tiled floors in dark blues and mustard yellows sit below dark wooden tables and walls artistically crammed with photos and paintings. Waiters and waitresses in full regalia (waistcoats and ties) move quietly and swiftly round with huge trays balanced precariously, and burly men in suits circle silently, smiling beautifully at guests.

The pair huddle together and hurry to follow their guide, nearly tripping each other as they stare, open mouthed at the two bars that could have stolen from a 1935 gin joint, resplendent with crystal glasses, mirrored fittings and bottle displays that could have easily doubled as a potions store. After what seems like an inordinate amount of time, they are invited to take a seat at a sweetly tucked away corner table. They fall somewhat chaotically onto the plush couches and take the proffered menus with only slightly trembling hands.

“Any water?” Asks the hostess. Our wanderers share panicked looks at being asked a question so promptly without any chance of preparation and after a moment of hesitation nod frantically.

“Still or Sparkling?” Is the next query which results in yet more overwrought looks, before the safer option of still is plumped for. Finally left to their own devices for the first time, our champions take a moment to properly absorb their surroundings; the salt and pepper shakers that appear to be made from gold and the casually placed wine bucket at every available corner before bursting into stifled giggles and muttered suggestions that they are definitely not posh enough to be where they are. They both suddenly hush when their server returns with a glass bottle of water that she carefully pours into the prepared glasses. As she walks away, there’s a flurry of panicked whispering regarding potential costs of bottled water vs dehydration. Turning to the menus, they hold hands tightly under the table in preparation of expenses. The mains cause a conjoined wince, and the wine list is discarded immediately, but the sandwiches are perused with interest.

By the time a new waiter appears; a swarthy man with curly dark hair and an intense unblinking stare, our duo are prepared to order. A pair of peach and elderflower lemonades are first, followed by an order for eggs benedict and a truffled chicken sandwich.

Here, dear reader, we must take a side bar to discuss the hereforto unknown wonders of truffled chicken. Initially unsure, I (for yes, the heroes you’ve shared this journey with your friendly neighbourhood Ebear and TMM) chose it under supervision and boy, was I rewarded. Two rounds of fried bread, chunks of perfectly tender and ridiculously tasty chicken, salad dressed in some kind of delightful dressing and pre salted chunky chips. The food of the gods.

By the time the meals arrive, our wanderers have settled enough to enjoy their environment and appreciate how it is to live like one of the rich and famous. Surrounded by fancy people with laughs like braying horses and neck scarves galore, they tuck into their food with relish.

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Sadly, small but unapologetic signs declared “No Photography Allowed”, but worry not. It did not stop our intrepid heroes who gladly broke the rules to take a sneaky photo of this super fancy knife with a silver fly on the handle (though it’s clear a life of covert observation is not on the cards considering how blurry this is).

Due to high hunger levels and a small yet undeniable fear someone was going to realise that our couple were 100% not posh enough to be there and kick them out, the plates were clean within a rather small timeframe. Due to unfortunately unexpected circumstances and somewhat limited funds, there was no time for desserts (though the delightful looking Rum Baba with Chantilly Cream was noted and will be enjoyed again in the future). However, before dropping the cash and hightailing it out of there as fast as their £10 Primark pumps would carry them, both our explorers braved the crowds of Cambridgites to visit the facilities.

Typically, I have to admit, I barely visit toilets in the outside world, because I have the bladder of a camel and a definite fear of being kidnapped. This time though, it was definitely worth the risk, if only for the apparent million mile walk (I still have no idea how this place actually fitted behind such a demure shop front) lined with beautiful botanical drawings. The full size wall mural of a tropical bird was much appreciated too (I tried to take a photo of this too, but was scuppered when someone suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs to stare at me judgingly).

The obligatory toilet selfie – it smelt freaking amazing in there.

Soon though our heroes emerged, blinking and slightly shell shocked, into the bright sunshine. Bellies full, pockets significantly lighter and lives enriched, they strode hand in hand, off towards the horizon.