A few of my favourite things

So, I got caught up in a torrential rain storm on my way home last night, and, having screamed at the rain all the way while cycling down Oxford Road, I did the only reasonable thing and sought shelter at Big Hands. As I was trying to get a little dryer (by sitting on bench… I know, good story, right?) I started chatting to some Australian girls who had been in Manchester for a few weeks. I kept asking which places they had been to and ended up jotting down a list of my favourite spots to visit in Manchester. I couldn’t help but turn this into a blog post,* so there you go:

Central

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

Oh, how I love this place. Whether it’s for a full tour round the different exhibitions (which can easily take you half a day), or just for a sneaky visit to the absolutely magnificent steam engine hall, MOSI is one of my staples to take visitors to. If you’re lucky, the steam engines are running, and you can spend quite some time just marvelling at these fantastic pieces of engineering, with their bolts and pistons moving to what seems like a perfectly choreographed little dance. Well, I do.

The Knott

This pub, just round the corner from MOSI, offers some of the tastiest pub grub in town. They used to have a grilled halloumi sandwich which was so good, it made me weep (I do get very emotional when eating nice veggie food); the Lancashire cheese and beet root pie (if that’s your kind of thing), however, has now become my new favourite.

Cloud 23

While I find Cloud 23 as a bar rather unattractive, it’s definitely worth a visit for the Afternoon Tea (or, aptly named, “High Tea”). Watch Manchester from above while eating cake – winner.

Affleck’s Palace

It seems every Mancunian has a story of how they used to hang out at Affleck’s in their teens. This indie shopping mall is a huge maze of little shops spanning several floors, ranging from second hand to fancy dress, posters and badges, hand-made jewellery, and general weird stuff. There’s a tasty little milk shake bar hidden in some corner on the 1st floor (maybe… I tend to lose my bearings as soon as I enter the building), a cafe on the top floor, and endless hours of fun.

The Star & Garter

When I first moved to Manchester, I spent many a Saturday night dancing at Smile, “Manchester’s longest running indie night” at the Star&Garter pub. While the novelty of drinking double g&ts and falling up and down the epic staircase has worn off, I still enjoy the odd night out at Smile, dancing to some excellent and un-embarrassing tunes. I’ve never made it to the Smiths night (which, apparently, attracts a fair number of quiffs), but it’s definitely on my “things to do before I leave Manchester” list.

Big Hands & The Temple

While I don’t usually spend too much time at pubs, Big Hands and The Temple are certainly two of my favourite places in Manchester. They’re gloriously dark and scruffy places with similarly scruffy patrons, brilliant jukeboxes (always fun to take non-Brits who are not yet used to the concept of jukeboxes) and overpriced beer.

The Cornerhouse

This art gallery/cafe/bar/restaurant/cinema “complex” is always a safe bet if you fancy art/coffee/drinks/food/indie and artsy movies. Having said that, the cosy little cinema screens are certainly my favourite, in particular because you’re ok to bring in your own snacks (unlike basically any other cinema). My go to combo for rainy days is a pack of biscuits and a cup of tea from the cafe to go with my movie.

Manchester Museum

I like to hang out in the live animals bit of Manchester Museum and watch the chameleon climbing around its little artificial rainforest, which is strangely meditative. Apart from that, it’s the place to go if you’re into dead animals (stuffed and skeletons alike). The bony dude on the picture is called Stan, by the way.

Surroundings

Fuel, Withington (south)

Fuel Fuel Fuel Fuel Fuel Fuel Fuel. I love Fuel. If it was legal to marry pubs, I’d have drunkenly proposed to Fuel a few times already. Mind you, I probably have. There’s veggie food, which always ends up being absolutely perfect, lovely staff, a brilliant quiz on Tuesdays (hosted by two Welsh brothers), open mic on Wednesdays, free gigs on weekends ranging from hip hop to hardcore and back, knitting groups, poetry, comedy, and what not. Oh and there’s no bouncer to yell at you when you stand outside with a drink, so on busy nights half of the fun is usually happening outside on the pavement.

Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury (south)

My favourite park in Manchester. The Japanese garden is absolutely gorgeous in spring/summer.

Bury Market, Bury (north)

One of the biggest markets in Europe. Definitely worth the visit if you want to eat your way across the continents and perhaps buy some slippers.

Boggart Hole Clough, Blackley (north)

I came across this place very randomly when I got my first bike in Manchester and pointed at a map saying “let’s cycle to that place with the funny name“. This seemingly average park turns into what can only be described as a huge hole in the ground, with a little garden and a few benches at the bottom. We sat there eating our lunch while watching a small group in fancy dress filming what looked like an Alice in Wonderland themed scene. Weird-o-rama.

Islington Mill, Salford (north west)

There’s art, gigs, yoga, dancey nights, and more gigs. For some unknown reason, I hardly ever make it down that side of town, but if I weren’t such a lazy bugger, I’d definitely spend more time at the Mill. You should go. It’s good.

Now it’s your turn – What are your favourite (non-pub) places in Manchester?

* I actually woke up at 6am and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was so excited about the idea of writing this up as a blog post. And while getting out of  bed to write is certainly laudable, not sleeping off the drinks has started to take its toll on me over the course of this blog post being written and I only just about managed to finish it without curling up on the sofa. I guess that’s what they call “writer’s dilemma”.

[Images cc-licensed by no22aScraggyDog, marcus_and_sue, and Pimlico Badger because I lost 30GB worth of photos in a Time Machine backup accident.]

Drink! It’s for charity!*

The Black Lion pub in Salford has been around for over 130 years, and according to their website every famous person in the history of fame has already enjoyed a tipple there. Unfortunately the pub was broken into last night – here’s the email I just received:

Last night the Black Lion was broken into, 3 youths smashed through a triple bolted front door and then smashed up a few shelves before making off with over £1000 worth of spirits and a small safe under the bar.

They did this and then stole the Help for Heroes Official charity pots we have on the bar, which had a hundred odd quid in it from our generous customers – as a small social enterprise this is gutting for us, and watching it on CCTV made us all sick (esp when they ripped the H4H pots from the bar).

Our insurance company said they would not pay out as its not worth it, our excess is over £1000 and our premium would go up, already this month we have had to battle Salford city council on business rates and enterprise, the owners of the building, have put beer up! – this is hard for us… we need your support.

If you are out drinking tonight or this weekend, please pop into the The Black Lion and help boost the morale of the staff and help us build the business back up, we live week to week! To loose £1000 like that could cost jobs :(- what hurts the most is the charity pots and the recklessness of these youths, one year after the riots, please share and support your local pub in an hour of need:

Black Lion, Chapel Street, Salford, M35BZ
http://blacklionsalford.tumblr.com
– please share this and RT where possible –

So, you know what to do, right? Drink! It’s for charity!

* Working title of this post: Drinker, drink faster!

[Picture by Robert Wade]

Slow, Slowly, Sloes*: Sloe picking in Chorlton

First things first: You want sloes? Go and get sloes! Check out my carefully drawn map of Chorlton Water Park (jelly-bean-shaped area marks the spot) and go sloe picking while they’re still there.

We’ve been wondering for a while where to find sloes from in and around Manchester. Due to lack of a vehicle, the tip-off about the sloe bushes at junction 19 of the M60 wasn’t exactly helpful. We were just about to head down to Stockport and wander around the parks there, looking for prickly bushes, as the mighty @robotswanking received a Twitter message from sloe expert Cormac. Plans were changed quickly and mission: sloes headed south-west instead, to Chorlton Water Park.

Just by accident (we did actually get lost on the way to the orchard, taking a right turn after the bridge rather than just heading straight on) we wandered down a small path in a field that seemed completely overlooked by the many visitors. And there it was: a sloe bush. Not very big, not many fruit, but it was what we were looking for. As we had picked what would have been enough for at least a glass full of sloe gin, we moved on further down the path – and discovered what can only be described as (drum roll) sloe valley (ta-dah!). Dozens of sloe bushes, easily accessible by the side of the path, just waiting to be picked. As we got closer to the gate that was leading back to the main path, the sloes got bigger and bigger, until we finally found one bush that kept us busy for almost an hour.

We returned home with scratched hands, muddy boots, black dirt under our nails and a small blue Ikea bag filled to the brim with big round sloes. Several hours of pricking and several bottles of booze later, we had these beauties in our kitchen:

So – if you fancy picking some sloes around South Manchester, Chorlton Water Park is the place to go! Don’t worry, there’s enough for everyone. Just make sure you’re careful and don’t trample down everything, yes?

* And I do apologize to Liam Frost for the sloe-pun in the title.

Minimize Me! Day 4 & 5

I’m still on the minifood! And still alive, obviously. I skipped breakfast on day 3 and had a random selection of mini foodstuff for lunch (mini sub with a tiny little sausage shaped smoked cheese, cherry tomatoes, a small can of lemonade…) – the real highlight of the day however was the afternoon which was filled with teeny tiny little mini versions of biscuits. Along with my mini cup of coffee, I had the smallest chocolate digestives and incredibly realistic mini jammie dodgers, which are just adorable. Mini biscuits = mega win.

My rather lovely dinner consisted of an omelette with mushrooms, (over)cooked in a ridiculously tiny frying pan, and a ramekin full of salad.

Danger Bear!!

Overcooked omelette on a saucer. I could probably call this art. The shot glass contains water, not vodka… just saying.

After dinner I decided to decorate the remaining cupcakes with butter cream frosting – can you possibly imagine how many mini cupcakes you have to eat to feel sick? Oh boy.

They did look pretty though – pink, green and peanut butter (yes, that’s a colour. Peanut butter.)

Unsurprisingly, my breakfast the next morning was nothing but a small pot of Petit Filous (pictured after I had eaten it… my blog is thrilling isn’t it!) and a mini cup of coffee.

Lunch was boring (tomato soup and a mini quorn sausage roll… or 2 mini quorn sausage rolls, if you cut them in half!), so we’re moving straight onto after work drinks – it’s Friday after all! I had (after a couple of real size pints I must admit) a tiny little half pint of Kronenbourg from a lovely little glass which tried to look just like its bigger brother. Aww.

Thanks to Josh’s left arm (pictured) and the fabtastic Clare (of Words & Fixtures-and-so-many-other-places-on-the-webs-where-people-write-things-fame… that’s what people actually call her!*) who I bumped into on my way home and provided rather marvelous company for the duration of this tiny drink. Seriously, you should go out and party with Josh’s left arm one day, he’s hilarious.

Eventually I made it back home and got ready to assemble not one, but TWO mini burgers. TWO EFFIN BURGERS. Complete with tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and gherkins. Mini gluttony strikes again.

And The Bear goes WHOOP WHOOP BURGERS!

I want a girl with big hands and a tiiiiiiny burger.

Tonight, The Bear will appear in your dreams.

* No it’s not.

Young Hearts Spark Fire: a night out in Fallowfield

Due to my being in possession of a Unirider, some people with, GASP, jobs, believe I am an unworthy creature whose life consists of staying up all night partying, destroying my house and annoying my neighbours*. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the pleasure of being an undergraduate student in this country and therefore cannot live up to these expectations – being a student is a much less excessive affair in Germany than it seems to be here. I usually try to get past the smelly boozers and dirty takeaways of Fallowfield as quickly as possible, since even shopping at the Sainsbury’s on my way home can be painful at times (Now repeat after me: pyjamas were never meant to be worn anywhere outside my house. A supermarket is not my house.).

But hey, this wouldn’t be mightaswell if I was just accepting the facts and avoiding Fallowfield by all means. Why not just go and live the student lifestyle myself – with a particularly classy night out in Fallowfield. The task: drink only the most fluorescent or silliest sounding drinks, eat stuff that doesn’t usually classify as edible in your life, stumble around in heels, make use of cheap booze offers, and spend not more than £20.

Having invested a considerate amount of time on my make-up and hair (you gotta do what you gotta do) I even decided to wear heels, which happens about twice a year and makes me regret every time that I wasn’t wearing ‘shoes for people with flat feet’, as I was told to. The night started with a romantic three course meal at McDonalds, yet another place which, as a vegetarian / part time vegan, secret hippie and general chain-refusenik, I have probably visited as many times as I have been seen wearing heels in my life. After some difficulties identifying the one vegetarian option on the menu, I settled for a ‘spicy veggie deli sandwich’ with fries and a banana milkshake. That’s three courses, right? (To anticipate the result, my night ended with a cup of peppermint tea and a hot water bottle on my belly.)

Feeling a little dirty and very disappointed with the semi-cold fries, we made our way into Fallowfieldia, the first stop being the local Wetherspoons. The pub was fairly unspectacular even for Wetherspoons standards, and after a pitcher of Woo Woo (silly name: tick!) which is basically just cranberry juice++, we moved on to Baa Bar. Here’s a confession: I don’t actually mind Baa Bar when it’s not busy. The drinks prices are fair, they’ve got German beer in bottles (makes me feel like home…), the insane shooter menu is fun, and the music is generally very quiet. I even suggested they could advertise with something like “Baa Bar – not shit until 9pm!”, but I’m not sure that was convincing enough. In the style of Baa Bar, I went for a bright green apple flavoured fizzy alcopop (fluorescent drink: tick!) and a few shooters with names like ‘Sassy Bitch’, ‘Dave’ (eh?), ‘Twilight’ and ‘Pinky Winky’ (silly names: tick! tick! tick! tick!). Our visit to the rather quiet Baa Bar was followed by a quick stop at the Tesco’s next door to buy a box of Rennie. You gotta do etc.

Moving further up Wilmslow Road, we headed for a quick drink and a game of pool at the Cheshire Cat, where we encountered a person sleeping on the sofa, the bar staff playing ‘catch the peanut with your mouth’, drinks smashing on the floor, and someone being sick all over the sinks in the gents toilets. (I’ve got pictures of the toilet incident, but I think posting these would be one step too far, even for me.) It was also the first time I heard Bjork’s ‘I miss you’ in a bar. Lovely place.

A fairly recent but very clever addition to the watering holes in Fallowfield is the second branch of the beloved cheap as chips cocktail (””cocktail””) bar Font. Sticky tables and unnecessarily loud music are as much a part of Font, as are huge queues at the bar and toilets that were obviously bought from the hellhole store (ok, I stole that one from Das Racist). Nonetheless, we decided to savour some of their delicacies on the cocktail (””cocktail””) menu and ended up bumping into someone we least expected there: people my age. My mates were probably as surprised as I was to meet them there, but the instant ‘we’re in this together now’ feeling convinced us to stay, despite the painfully loud music that reduced my vocal chords to shrivelled up parcel twine.

After only two cocktails (””cocktails””) however, the accumulation of fluorescent drinks, greasy junk food and shooters with silly names cut a hole in my stomach and therefore the evening fairly short. All my plans to end the night with a little dance at Robinskis or the Revolution’s UV party of the year were annihilated. I admitted defeat and went home.

So, how was it? Well. Fallowfield was rather quiet due to it being the end of term time, and therefore rather uninteresting. I got away spending a minimum on drinks, I saw some appalling toilets and got stuck on dirty tables a few times. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected, but hey, I’ll be back in Fresher’s Week to get the full Fallowfield experience.

Did I just write a 900 word blog post about going out for drinks? Hell yes I did.

* Hint: Having a 9-5 job doesn’t make you a better person.

All Across the Sands: And then, then we went to Wales.

Escape, escape.

I don’t know what happened in Wales during the last few ice ages, but it must have been pretty intense. The west coast of Wales pretty much consists of hills, mountains, mountain-like hills, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and sheep. I presume the sheep came after the ice age (who knows…), but everything else looks like it has been scrunched up and folded and squeezed and punched by incredibly powerful giant ice masses. This is also what I imagine the Welsh did with their language – scrunch the words, fold and squeeze them, add a few ls and ys and ds here and there to make it completely illegible.

I went to Snowdon last year, which, while certainly offering a decent walk in surprisingly nice weather, was rather unimpressive. This time we staying for a weekend, exploring the area around Barmouth (Abermaw in Welsh) and climbing Cadair Idris, which is Wales’ second most popular mountain. Well, ‘mountain’. To summarise the weekend: I ate honey ice cream, and saw sheep, and drank ale, and saw sheep, and went up on a hill, and saw sheep, and watched the sun set over the sea while drinking cider, and saw sheep, and learned Welsh, and saw sheep, and had pie and chips, and saw sheep, and went to Happy Valley, and saw sheep, and played with frog spawn, and saw sheep. I loved it!

I’ve been putting off this post for a week because I’ve not been feeling particularly chatty, but the pictures are really nice, so please enjoy the ensuing silence and look at some pretty photos while I’m gathering strength for a first class rant. Or a rabbit post. Or a ranty rabbit post.

You Ride, We Ride: This is not the Manchester I know.

Have I actually mentioned my bike? I’ve got a bike. The best bike in the world, to be precise. I got it from one of my favourite people, almost a year ago, and the first time I was riding it down a quiet and leafy street in Didsbury I started to cry, which was followed by a celebratory bottle or two glass of wine. A glorious day.

Anythatwasthemotherofallhangoversway, last week marked the beginning of my favourite time of the year in Manchester – the 6 months of “oh it’s getting warm…nope, not quite yet…but now!! No… no, still not warm enough to wear short sleeves. OH there it is, that must be it, Summer! No, no…false alarm. Whoops, it’s November again. Well that was that then, I guess. Better luck next year.” Highly determined to make the best of the few hours of sunshine I can get here every year, I put on a floral print dress – my official summer uniform – got on my bike and cycled down to Levy for some food at POD and a visit to the superawesome Laurie Pink, but more about that later.

The excitement had me as soon as I had caught a glimpse of the magnificent trees blooming on Fog Lane that stood bright and colourful in the Sunday sun. I cycled faster. We crossed Kingsway into Burnage. I gasped: My first visit to Burnage. BURN. AGE. Famous for being the home of the Gallagher brothers, Dave Rowbotham of the Durutti Column being murdered in his flat, and… uhm… yeah. That record shop, I guess. I excpected tumbleweeds, gunmen and saloon doors, but I only saw a wide tree lined road, a country pub-ish looking pub with the poetic name ‘The Sun in September‘ and several parks, including the rather vast Cringle Park, luring us in with the promise of seeing an ‘Indian Bean Tree’ that couldn’t be spotted – if anyone has managed to find the location of the ‘Indian Bean Tree’, please do let me know. The bike ride, the greens, the country pub-ish pub and the sun had made me so enthusiastic however, I even came up with a marketing slogan for letting agents who would like to advertise properties in the area: “Burnage – it could be worse.”

Having crossed Cringle park, we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of Levenshulme, only two minutes away from POD, which, once again, didn’t fail to amaze me with the tastiness of its food as well as the slowness of the ordering and food preparing process. But to be completely honest, I actually prefer anticipation up to the point of self-torture to the finished product – this is exactly the right place for me.

On the way back, we paid a visit to the wonderful Laurie Pink who I had met on my first trip to Levenshulme last year. The crazy lady had put herself through a 24 hour drawing marathon to create dozens of drawings for everyone who donated for Comic Relief – raising over £1300 pounds in one day. I had commissioned a royal portrait for my cycling companion, the mighty Robot Swan King (yeah… don’t ask), which we had come to pick up that afternoon. We were welcomed by Arthur and Smith, two incredibly lovely whippets, a pouting cat, actor/singer/comedian Mitch Benn, who was sat in the kitchen watching roller derby videos, and a room with walls covered in drawings as a proof of Laurie’s hard work*. Having swapped cake for drawings, we hopped onto our bikes and cycled back down south – not without stopping by at the ‘Sun in September’ for a cheeky half of fizzy apple juice. I’m living life on the edge.

* madness