Upcoming exhibition: Typographic, Urban and Americana Art by Patrick Macauly

I don’t usually announce events on this blog, but I would like to recommend this exhibition to all of you:

Typographic, Urban and Americana Art by Patrick Macauly
Exhibition at 2022NQ, Manchester October 4th – 10th 2013. Opening night on 4th October by invitation only.

Patrick’s art combines typography, colour, and wood such as reclaimed timber into pieces which remind of deserted houses and factories and… tumbleweeds. Besides the beautiful art, Patrick and his wife Linda are also rather awesome people: I’ve known them since we did the “Beards of Manchester” calendar (Pat was our “Mr December”), and Linda has been a core member of Manchester Girl Geeks for quite a while – I can’t thank her enough for the time she dedicated to helping out at our workshops and “Digital Skills for Women” IT courses.

So, if you want to see lovely art and meet lovely people, get down to 2022NQ in October!

European travels, part 3: Rome

The next stop on my travels around Europe this year was Rome. I took Latin and Italian in school and had been to (Northern) Italy countless times, but for some reason never made it all the way down south to Rome. Fortunately I had the chance to visit the city for a conference in June, and the trip turned out to be one of my favourites of 2012.

Despite being a large city, the central areas of Rome make it feel relatively small compared to other European capitals – considering there’s about as many people there as in Paris, seems a lot more walkable. Many of the streets, especially in the city centre,  are narrow and despite the heavy traffic it’s generally quite easy to get around by foot (which is good, since there’s only 2 metro lines anyway and bus services in unknown cities are always a bit of a mystery to me). I stayed at a room at the ‘Roma Vintage B&B’, an apartment which is conveniently located near one of the rare metro stops, and only 20 minutes walking distance away from the Colosseum. I shared the flat with 3 other guests and a fantastic coffee machine, which made up for the otherwise lacking breakfast – well, I suppose biscuits already count as breakfast in Italy.

The first day took me right to the Colosseum – it being a Wednesday afternoon in term time, there happened to be hardly any queues, and within a few minutes a was inside what is probably one of the most famous ancient buildings in the world, fully equipped with an iPod touch as video guide. I’m a sucker for audio guides, so I paid for one when I bought my ticket, only to find that I had accidentally paid for a video guide, which the rather flirtatious Italian at the audio guide booth was more than happy to hand over and explain to me. It turned out that the video guide was actually pretty awesome, with an interactive map and little movie snippets of Spartacus playing at the right locations in the Colosseum. I also met the official Colosseum Cat which had either fallen over or just fallen asleep in the sun.

After my trip to the Colosseum, I moved across to the Roman Forum (they do a combined ticket) and spent several hours wandering around gardens and ruins of old temples on a lovely sunny afternoon, which was pretty amazing. I’m wondering what today’s equivalents to the Roman Forum – a crammed area full of temples, statues, government buildings and memorials – would be. Probably something like the Printworks. Another thing to note in Rome is that there are drinking  water fountains everywhere (even on the side of roads – there was one right outside my apartment), so save your money for bottled water and just keep an eye out for a free refill.

I only just realised that I spent most of my time in Rome outdoors (well, expect for the conference days) without paying a lot, since a good number of the attractions are temples, squares, churches, or ruins thereof, which are often freely accessible. I also paid a visit to the “Torre Argentina”, a cat sanctuary located in – what else – the ruins of an old temple, had a wander round the Vatican, went up the Gianicolo hill, went on a open top bus tour down the Via Appia (organised by the conference), and visited countless churches from the past few centuries.

In the evenings, the focus shifted quickly from ancient ruins to the one other thing Italians are pretty good at: Food. Luckily we even had a native Roman tour guide – well, one of my fellow PhD students – who was happy to take us to some of the nicest pizzerias around. Having said that, they’re probably all nice. We gatecrashed a pizzeria opening where I had some of the most amazing pizzas I can remember eating (and I mentioned I’ve spent practically every summer of my childhood with my family in Northern Italy), went to another pizza place where we placed our orders on iPads, visited what is said to be the best tiramisu place in Rome – twice (man, that pistacchio tiramisu… THAT PISTACCHIO TIRAMISU!!!), and went to a family run trattoria (this time without our Italian speaking guide) where we communicated with the incredibly friendly host via gestures, pointing, random words, and a lot of laughter.

Am I glorifying Rome a bit? Maybe. It’s quite dirty. We are actually surprised to see how much rubbish there was around and how run down some areas look. The traffic is insane – in order to cross a street, you basically just walk and hope for the best while cars are swerving around you. Some people are rude and give you funny looks when they notice you’re foreign. But then again, I get funny looks all the time. But, well, I can live with that. Can I come back to Rome now, please?

European travels, part 2: Oslo

Part 2 in my “European Travels” series is the most expensive city I’ve ever been to: Oslo, the capital of Norway.

I travelled to Oslo in April 2012, as part of a spontaneous “let’s do something fun” trip with my best friend, which took me from Manchester to Berlin to Oslo and back to Manchester within less than a week. The first thing I noticed on my way to Oslo was the ubiquitous wifi. Have you ever made a FaceTime call on a plane, showing your friend who’s sat on his desk in Berlin a view of the landscape from 10,000 ft altitude? It’s possible with Norwegian Air – they offer free wifi on their flights, which is not particularly useful on short flights but definitely fun to play around with. Next stop was the shuttle train from the airport to Oslo city centre with more free wifi, and our hotel with, yes, more free wifi. We stayed at the Comfort Hotel XPress which was cheap and cheerful, and by cheap I mean “real cheap”, not just  “cheap for Oslo cheap”.

Oslo is a lovely little place and absolutely perfect for a short city trip. We went to quite a few places during our stay: The Viking Museum, which I really enjoyed, the Jewish Museum, the modern art gallery, and my favourite, the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Since there is so much water around Oslo, water transport is simply part of public transport, so we took a boat across the fjord to Bygdoy, a peninsula in the west of the city which houses several museums. Another nice part of Oslo is Grunerlokka, a trendy quarter with plenty of restaurants and bars, alongside some reasonably priced cheap eats.

I even managed to find some vegetarian food, which, given that it’s all about fish and seafood in Norway, was fairly difficult. HappyCow pointed me to “The Fragrance of the Heart” just behind the town hall, a nice little cafe that serves affordable vegetarian food. I can very much recommend the omelette and their quiche in combination with several pots of hot coffee!

If you’re visiting Oslo be prepared: It’s expensive. Not just a bit pricey, like, say, Paris or London, but everything is practically twice the price of what you would pay elsewhere. So if you’re not on a Norwegian income, eating out or having drinks hurts a little – after the first day we just stopped converting prices from Norwegian crowns into Euros, which made us a lot poorer, but also a lot happier.

European travels, part 1: Berlin & Potsdam

Here’s a confession: I am a carbon pig. Thanks to my travels, my carbon foot print this year is probably the size of a small Eastern European country. I am not happy with this, but I just can’t help the fact that a) travelling home to see my parents in Germany would take days by train, and b) flights are just so much cheaper than train fares. Anyway. This year, I have been extra busy with various conferences around Europe, which meant a) a lot of work, but also b) I got to see some amazing places! As my life in Manchester is currently restricted to writing a thesis, I’m going to post an n-part series (for n somewhere in the interval between 3 and 8) of my “European Travels”. Sit back and enjoy.

This year’s first trip took me to Berlin, to see some friends I hadn’t seen in over a year. We all know that Berlin is awesome, and I’ve written a 2-part post about it before, so I’ll just tell you about my trip to Potsdam this time. Potsdam is a small(ish) city just south-west of Berlin, about a 20-30 minute train journey from the main station. It’s a student town, but in German that’s usually a good thing, meaning green, loads of cyclists, culture, and hippie-ish people/places. Suits me. Potsdam is also known for various castles and lakes surrounding the town, including the very famous “Sanssouci” palace, which used to be the summer residence of the King of Prussia. I went to visit the town and Sanssouci on a rainy day, but despite some heavy showers I couldn’t help but spend quite some time in vast gardens surrounding the castle.

The palace itself (accessible via guided tour only) is nice, but… well, I’ve seen a lot of castles, and they all begin to look the same at some point. The gardens (free admission) and various little buildings (such as the “Dragon House” in the photo above) are definitely worth a visit though, and you should save some time to have a wander around the lovely city centre of Potsdam.

Happy Birthday, little man!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about life with our new lagomorphic housemate, so, in the light of current events – I just had a “aww look how awesome he is” chat with his soon-to-be pet sitter Lucy from Furry Feet Petcare – here’s an update of how Das Rabbit* is doing.

Previously on mightaswell:

As you may know, Geth moved in with us about a year and a half ago – and despite my worries about him destroying the flat and topping himself in the process, he quickly settled and accepted us as the people who bring him his food. After a short while, however, he developed a mysterious sneeze – I wrote about the first few months and the sneeze in a two part post on Dave’s blog.

In the meantime…

A lot has happened since the first 168 days of rabbit. A lot, and not much at the same time. After 7 months of several different antibiotics, both oral and as injections, two (two!) sinus endoscopies (that is, sticking a camera up the rabbit’s nose), two culture & sensitivity tests to grow bacteria, and an x-ray to see whether he’s got anything stuck up his nose (he didn’t, but the x-ray image looked pretty awesome!), and an astronomical vet bill (PEOPLE! GET. PET. INSURANCE.) the sneeze is still there. As the rabbit seems otherwise fit and has a healthy appetite, i.e. eats like a farmer (“aww, just like his mum!”), I’ve given up on doing anything about it. Meh.

On a more pleasant note, Geth has been quite a clever bunny who has learned a few things over the past year or so: He can now do a couple of tricks (hop over my leg and “spin” around himself), he’s overcome his fear of heights and learned to hop down the stairs in our flat (which means the bedroom is no longer safe from him), in the same instance he also figured out how to get on top of the dining table in order to sample the offerings of our fruit bowl, and he now knows that if he wants attention he just needs to flip his toilet bowl upside down. Winner.

One of the other things Geth is very good at is sleeping. Snoozing. Napping. Dozing. Catching z’s. Resting his eyes. And he is very creative in his choices of sleeping places around the flat. Some of these places include:

The window sill.

The book shelf. (He kept kicking out the books, so I gave in and declared the shelf rabbit zone.)

A suitcase under the bed. He blends in perfectly with the black suitcase. Camouflage bunny.

In the middle of the kitchen floor. Posing like a mini lion.

Under the coffee table.

Under the dining table. One day, he just started sitting on one of the chairs, so I put a cushion on it. It’s an official bunny zone now, including the “oh no that’s Geth’s chair” warnings for visitors. Yeah. I know. I am that woman now.

On the rug. This picture was taken after a particularly exhausting session of “destroy the box and spread hay all over the floor”. It’s a hard knock life.

Under the sofa, preferably after I’ve dropped a Big Issue down there for maximum shredding pleasure. See the guilty look on his little face? Yeah, me neither.

That should be enough rabbity catch up for now – but I’m sure you know there will be more rabbit posts soon. On that note: I don’t exactly know when his birthday is, but according to my estimates it’s “some time in autumn”. So:

My dear bunny friend, I wish you all the best for your 3rd birthday, may you be happy and healthy for many more years to come.

* Also known as Gethin, Geth, rabbit, rabs, rabtastico, bun, bunbun, buntzzz, bunster, “the original bunster”, chubster, sweet cheeks, sweetheart, mini-dude, duderino, du-du-duh-dude, mini-donkey, squirrel, sausage, and “NO!!”. 

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:


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.


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.]

“Up a bit, then left!”: Day 0 and 1 at FutureEverything 2012

I moved to Manchester around the same time FutureEverything was on 4 years ago, when it was still called FutureSonic – and I never managed to figure out what exactly the festival was about (let alone pay for a ticket…), until last year where one of the academics at our department was invited to a panel discussion and I realised that it was probably something I’d be interested in. Luckily, this year they’ve had a few places for poor but proactive people like me, and I was fortunate (or poor and proactive enough) to get one of those places.

The festival officially launched on Wednesday evening, with a few drinks and some short welcome talks from FutureEverything organisers, our city council leader Sir Richard Leese (who, according to my neighbour, gave exactly the same talk as last year), the head of the Arts Council, and Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic politician, activist and geek, who will also be giving a keynote talk on day 2 of the conference.

I had to miss the morning talks on day 1 and arrived just in time for a presentation by the BBC on their digital coverage of the London 2012 Olympics. While I had not been particularly interested in the Olympics (except for the opening ceremonies – I just love the excessiveness of Olympic opening ceremonies!), knowing that there was some technology and possibly even data (loads of semantic web technology, metadata and even tagged videos) to play around with, especially during the Young Rewired State week which happens to be around the same time as the Olympics, sounded very tempting. The only downer came after the talk when I was told that the data were indeed accessible and could be used, hacked, and mashed by anyone, however, publishing the results of such a hack  might not be possible due to copyrights held on the data. I’m hoping to get some more information about the situation from the beebs.

The post-lunch sessions I attended where themed around personal data, identity, and security, which was both interesting and worrying. I am fully aware that my data is constantly being used, tracked, and analysed (after years of refusal I caved and got a Nectar card, which allows me to access my stats online and see when I shopped for how much at which Sainsbury’s… so if they haven’t yet found out that I’m a 20-something female with erratic eating habits who bakes a lot, they will know now), and avoid using social media in a personal capacity. You won’t find drunky pictures of me on Facebook, I’m afraid. Imagining, however, how insurance companies use personal data on, for example, shopping habits to estimate your life expectancy (Wall Street Journal article here) makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Next on for a short talk was Jeremy Newman, who introduced a strategy for preventing identity fraud: By building up a network of trust, where the identity of a person is confirmed by the people who know them and “vouch” for them by identifying their picture. Well. Nice idea, but it seems to have way too many holes (what stops me from using someone else’s name and picture to assume their identity? How can blind people vouch for others if they can’t see the pictures? Do I really want to go through the process of having other people verify my identify whenever I change my appearance?) that might need addressing first.

The last session I attended was part of the ongoing “Reuse and Replicate” talks and workshops, with some great insight into the MDDA’s wireless sensor network project that will monitor environmental factors along the Oxford Road Corridor. Back home, I tuned into I’d Hide You, a live online / real life game in which people with cameras mounted on helmets run around the Northern Quarter trying to “snap” each other with cameras, while the spectators can give them directions via a live-chat. I was pretty impressed by the quality of the game (real-time live video streaming of people moving, reading out the messages we sent them), and the players were all fun (“I might just go for a little drink here…”), but it felt like there was something missing – an actual goal. I’d love to see the concept used for a treasure hunt or a capture the flag type game, but simply running around the block and artificially creating clashes seemed a little pointless after a bit. Oh, and they should totally add point & click features – like “Player 1, read… poster! Take… book. Use… book…with…sausage.”, that kind of stuff. Having said that, they will be playing all weekend, so I’m quite looking forward to a live video-stream of the Northern Quarter on Friday and Saturday night.

I’ll report back with more FutureEverything funsies soon.

Cherub Rock: A trip to Kinder Scout

Just like every year around this time, the past few weeks have been pretty effing glorious up here. Sun sun sun, blue skies, and almost no clouds; a rare sight in Manchester. Newcomers, don’t be fooled – this was not the beginning of spring or summer, it *was* spring and summer combined into two fantastically warm and summery weeks. It’s only going downhill from now on, trust me.

Given the weather conditions, it would have been foolish not to get out of the city for a spot of walking and heat strokes. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Globe pub in Glossop lately, and I’m quite fond of veggie food stuffs as you might have noticed, so it didn’t take us long to plot a little round trip from Glossop to, uhm, Glossop, via Kinder Downfall and the Kinder reservoir.

Having been walking around Kinder Scout before (on a pretty ridiculous 9 hour march from Glossop to Edale with huge rucksacks through the wet snow a few years* ago – I never felt so much hate and love for nature at the same time), I was curious to see what was underneath the snow and ice covered fields of mud I experienced the last time.

The walk up to Mill Hill which leads to Kinder Scout was… bleak. Brownish grass. Heather. A few rocks. Sheep. Streams. The usual. But as soon we had climbed up the rocky path of doom up to Sandy Heys I couldn’t stop talking about THE ROCKS. Rocks. Everywhere. Wind, rain, and thousands of years of the earth moving had shaped the gritstone into magnificent marshmallow-like layers and fascinating rock formations, some silently sitting on top of the hills in solitude, others gathering in large groups like crowds around the buskers on Market Street. I was stunned and amazed. Imagine Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks pointing out the impressive trees at his arrival to the town… but with rocks.

After a quick lunch near Kinder Downfall (speaking of which, you might know that “Kinder” means “children” in German, which always leads me to think of “Kinder Downfall” as a place where children were tossed down the rocks in ancient times… I know, I know.), we took the route down the hill towards the reservoir and over the moors back into Glossop. Thanks to my unsurpassed navigational skills (“yeah this only like, an inch on the map, I’m sure it’s really close”) the walk back along the main road wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it led us in a straight line to our final destination: The Globe. Just in time for dinner we fell into the pub and found it absolutely crammed. I was a little surprised that vegan food would be so popular, but as soon as my walking companion returned from the bar with a broad smile I found out what may contribute to the Globe’s popularity: pints of ale for £1.80.

The next pleasant surprise was the food menu – the meals were only marginally more expensive than the drinks. This encouraged us to assemble a balanced meal based on all the major food groups (rice, curly fries, chips, bread), including some delicious parsnip chips and the much talked about chick pea curry, which managed to live up to its reputation. Several pints, lemonades, and starchy foods later, we returned to Manchester with full bellies and bright red faces. Hey, Peak District – we’ll be back in you soon!


* Bloody ‘ell. A few years ago. Come May I will celebrate my 4 year anniversary in Manchester. Bit of a detour from my original “I’ll just do my MSc here and then go back to Germany” plans.

The Coast is Always Changing: A trip to Somerset & Devon


That’s the sound of me stretching my hands, positioning my chair, neatly arranging that cup of tea in front of me, stretching again, trying to remember the URL of my blog, checking Twitter first, having another biscuit, and finally logging in to WordPress to write… a blog post! It’s been a while, bah bah bah, the usual. But hey, I’ve brought something back from the many trips I made in the past couple of months: Stories. And piktchas. That’s what you’re here for, right?

Now, let’s start in non-chronological order with my short visit darn sarf. We went to the wonderful Butlin’s holiday park in Minehead for the Nightmare Before Christmas ATP (curated by Les Savy Fav, which I ended up missing twice in one day, Battles, and Caribou, just in case you’re wondering) at the beginning of December, and, being the ueber nerds we are, somehow did not spend the  whole weekend getting drunk and chasing seagulls (and by that I mean making out with Dutch girls) like my German friends. In fact, we got up early every morning and went on excursions around Somerset and Devon to see some more of the South than just the inside of the chain restaurant and arcade games lined Butlins pavilion.

On the first day, we tried to explore the rather magnificent looking Dunster Castle near Minehead, only to find that it is closed to the public over the winter months (it’s okay, I only cried a little). A short walk around the ‘medieval’ (for some meaning of medieval) village did not bring up any more interesting sights and so we returned just in time to watch the first set of Battles.

The next day, we stretched a little further and simply drove as far west as we could, finally landing in Lynton/Lynmouth on the north coast of Devon. As expected, the town had already gone into winter hibernation – except for the big and cold Arts & Craft centre, where we interrupted the reading pleasures of a lady in a thick winter coat. Back outside in the pouring rain, we followed signs to the Cliff Railway, just out of curiosity. Much to our surprise* the cafe at the top of the cliff was open for business, and we did our best to support the local economy by purchasing coffee and stale apricot cake.

And this was my breathtaking account of a spectacular holiday. The highlight of the weekend was when I got a text of my ex-housemate, who kindly agreed to look after the rabbit: I had dropped the wrong set of keys into his letterbox, leaving the rabbit locked into our flat for the entire weekend with quickly dwindling supplies of hay and water in his cage. Images of the rabbit doing this while trying to survive on a diet of newspaper cropped up in my head. Thanks to our landlord however, the situation was quickly resolved, the ex-housemate got into the flat to feed the rabbit, and all three of them (including the rabbit) just sigh and roll their eyes a little bit whenever my name is mentioned.

* I must apologise for the number of clichés I’ve used in this blog post. This is what happens when you only write scientific papers for months. You lose all ability to communicate and default to clichéd language. Just like all those scientists that write for the Daily Mail. Q.E.D.

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.