Lisa | That British Betty Blog
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
The problems is, we both lack motivation and work long hours, meaning that by the time the weekend rolls around, we’re mentally and physically exhausted, opting to veg at home and recoup before another hectic week creeps in.
Only last week, we cancelled a cinema trip…because it was raining. Lame I know. I mean, it not like we were going to be exposed to the elements.
We settled for a night in with a takeaway and
ignored each other to play on our respective phones for a few hours a film. Hardly the ideal recipe for a bit of adventure now, is it?
That kind of reflects our family life as a whole to be honest. The kids rarely spend time with Adam and I unless we’ve specifically planned certain activities months in advance, such as escape rooms, crazy golf or an occasional trip to the theatre.
Once we’re actually out of the house, we have a fabulous time and are always left wondering why we don’t make more of an effort.
When Buckt got in touch to ask if I’d like to try out their monthly subscription box, I figured it’d be a good way for us to kick start our date days/nights again.
Buckt is a subscription box with a twist; instead of featuring ‘stuff’, they share five mystery tickets or activities each month. These can be anything from axe-throwing, alpaca walking and ice-skating to pamper days, quirky gig venues and foodie delights.
Buckt began in the West Midlands and has grown so quickly that they’ve decided to expand, launching in Greater Manchester next month.
In 2019, I’ll be working with Buckt and sharing our monthly experiences on the blog so keep an eye out for updates (and no doubt, an embarrassing picture or two).
I’m looking forward to being pushed out of my comfort zone, escaping routine and being inspired to try things that I’d possibly never even considered before. Bonus that they’re all close to home too.
My readers can get 50% off January’s box* with the code THATBRITISHBETTY until Monday 17 December so be quick. Merry Christmas!
Went to Leeds
Considering that I’d never been to Leeds until October this year, two trips in as many months is rather impressive. I booked a coach (parking was terrible last time and the train was expensive) and made the hour journey from Manchester to Leeds for the festive Moonpig ‘Merrier Together’ blogger event. You can read the dedicated blog post here.
Finished my Christmas shopping
*Insert smug emoji here*. I jest of course. I’m usually the kind of girl who leaves it all to the very last minute so this year, I started my Christmas shopping in September, armed with a spreadsheet and everything. Although it’s a lovely relief to have it all done ahead of the big day, there were a few pitfalls which I’ll share on the blog soon.
Had a clear out
I recently organised a thrifty clothes swap event as part of my day job and it inspired me to have a clear out of my own wardrobe. I’m a not a huge shopper anyhow yet was still surprised at how many items had been lurking unworn. I took some along to the event and donated the rest to the local charity shop.
It also prompted me to have a long, hard think about ethical shopping and the impact of fast fashion on the environment (I urge you to watch Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets) so I’ll be setting myself a little challenge in the new year. Watch this space!
Watched Bohemian Rhapsody
Oh my. This film may have been slated by the critics but I beg to differ. Adam and I went to see it at the cinema and I haven’t stopped listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits since (apart from when I’m asleep. Or at work obvs). I was a toddler when they performed their now-iconic Live Aid set so I missed the frenzy around the band during their glory days.
I had no idea that Freddie Mercury was such a cat person (I wish he’d have been my BFF), about his relationship with Mary and so many other things about Queen’s musical creations. I may have even shed a tear or two and the casting was superb – Rami Malek absolutely deserves an Oscar for his role as Freddie. Have you seen it yet?
As I’ve mentioned on here a few times, Adam and I will occasionally splash out on a hotel in Manchester but we’re lucky enough to live just a short drive away so it’s our default location if we fancy day out for a spot of shopping, food or a cinema trip. I’ve put together a short list of my personal favourite things to do in Manchester when I want to stay warm and dry on the wetter days.
Crazy golf for adults only. There are three themed courses to chose from – Bozo, Gary and Pablo. With UV lights and scrapyard props, it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. Don’t forget to check out the pick n mix cocktails and bar snacks too!
Breakout Escape Rooms
I’ve tried a fair few different escape rooms around the city – there seems to be a new one popping up almost every week – and yet this one remains unrivalled in my opinion (and no, they didn’t pay me to say that). They have two locations, High Street and Brazennose Street, and we’ve always had an ace time when visiting, hence returning time and time again. Whether you fancy something magical, horror-themed or patriotic, there really is something for everyone.
If you want to cosy up and escape reality for a while then head to HOME. They often showcase lots of independent films, theatre and dance shows that you won’t find anywhere else. I’m still bitter that I missed out on the Trainspotting 2 preview and Q&A session with Danny Boyle thanks to my lack of planning…
Virtual Hideout Manchester
This place is perfect for a little VR respite. Whether you’re going solo or with a team of like-minded buddies, Virtual Hideout Manchester is a virtual reality and gaming hub offering more than 100 games and experiences.
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience
If you’re a child of the eighties like me, you’ll already be familiar with The Crystal Maze. When this experience came to Manchester last year, I was first in line (literally) to have a go and soon went back again with the kids and my dad in tow. It really is something for all generations to enjoy and is sure to bring out your competitive side.
Ginger’s Comfort Emporium
I know that an ice-cream parlour may not seem like an obvious choice when it comes to rainy day comfort food, however, the milkshakes at Ginger’s Comfort Emporium in Afflecks Palace are a must all year round. I personally gravitate towards the peanut butter or coffee ones whereas Megan likes a good old Coke Float.
I visited Chakalaka in October when I was invited to review their menu, however, have been back for lunch several times since and have been shouting about this South African-inspired restaurant to anyone who will listen!
For me, a good old cheese toastie is the ultimate comfort food. Frankie’s Toasties have gotten creative with the humble toastie and offer a menu busting with both traditional and experimental fillings, from cheesy beans to chocolate. You can also grab a hot Vimto for a truly warming Mancunian experience.
Hidden away inside a Grade II listed former market hall, Mackie Mayor provides a variety of cuisines including British, Italian, Korean, steak, seafood, vegan options and everything in between. A great place for breakfast, dinner or tea depending on your plans for the day.
People’s History Museum
This museum holds the largest collection of political material in Britain, sparking the opportunity to discuss and learn about topics such as equality, feminism and social justice. The exhibitions vary throughout the year and there are regular workshops and events hosted, including cinema nights and crafting sessions.
Science and Industry Museum
I spent a lot of time here when I was younger and still visit at least twice a year as an adult. With lots of hands-on exhibits for the kids, they also boast a textiles gallery, locomotive power hall and celebrate the development of science, technology and industry with an emphasis on Manchester’s achievements in these fields.
National Football Museum
Football is not my thing whatsoever. That said, when Adam suggested we take a look inside the National Football Museum, Manchester a few years ago on one particularly rainy afternoon, I obliged – and was pleasantly surprised. With six levels of memorabilia, food and activities, I particularly enjoyed the retro games area.
The Pankhurst Centre
In a humble house just off Oxford Road lay the Pankhurst Centre. This is the former home of Emmeline Pankhurst and family, the place in which the suffrage movement was born when Emmeline formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. The heritage centre is small, consisting of just three rooms but is well worth a visit.
*Our spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.
This year, Moonpig are focusing on togetherness with their #MerrierTogether campaign. Claire from Moonpig told us that the ethos behind this was all about friendships, family, story-telling and enjoying spending quality time with loved ones. And that’s just how it should be.
I’ve been using Moonpig for years to buy personalised cards and gifts for my friends and family to mark birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries or simply ‘just because’. A little random act of kindness is always appreciated and, in a world of digital connections, there’s something special about receiving a gift or card in the post, isn’t there?
We kicked off the event with mulled wine to help ignite the festive spirit and were split into small groups. I teamed up with Charlie, Jo and Leanne and our first activity was card making. We used a photo booth filled with silly props to create a personalised Christmas card each on the Moonpig website.
Now I’m certainly not a natural behind the camera so the result was a few pictures of me with my eyes shut/resting bitch face/gurning whilst wearing a crown. I’m sure my dad will be delighted with his card featuring this image…
Next up was a festive cocktail making masterclass. As much I like drinking cocktails, I haven’t had much experience of actually making them before so it was rather novel to be on the other side of the bar for a change.
Leanne and I paired up to make bespoke mojitos – I added strawberry and lime to mine whilst she made a delicious Christmassy apple and cranberry version. Jo and Charlie made Pornstar Martinis for us all to share. We were also treated to a Woo Woo with a little candy cane.
All of the cocktails went down well and Leanne and I were joking about the Woo Woo tasting like juice; the barman swiftly reminded us that they contained three shots of alcohol each. It’s safe to say that I was feeling rather tipsy by this point so was grateful for the lovely lunch that followed to help soak up a little of the booze!
After lunch, it was time to get crafty! This is not something that comes naturally to me so I was guided by Helen from Helen James Florist and, after about 30 minutes, had managed to create a beautiful Christmas wreath with minimal effort. It’s now hanging on my door and I get a little sense of pride whenever I walk past it (along with a dusting of glitter).
We then got hands-on with fabric pens and stencils to create a personalised gift sack with Sandra Togher from Bowery. I opted for a dinosaur theme (naturally) and very nearly spelt the word ‘Christmas’ wrong as I was too busy nattering with Codie and Lolita. Must try harder Lisa…
A surprise visit from Father Christmas rounded off the afternoon and he asked what was on my list this year. Thanks to Leanne for snapping this picture of me apparently trying to convince him to bring a bottle of gin, topped off with a little hair twirling for good measure. He told me that the elves don’t make much gin but that he’d try his best!
It was lovely to catch up with my fellow bloggers and I went home feeling full of
booze Christmas spirit. Thank you to Moonpig for bringing us all together for a day of festive fun and merriment.
*Photo credits: Matt Chappell, Moonpig
For me, it was always about the stocking. When I was a kid, I’d wake up numerous times throughout the night to take a little peek at the red and white stocking I’d hung on my bedpost and see if I could spot a candy cane or two poking out of the top.
If Father Christmas had been and my stocking was full, I’d then take great delight in waking up the rest of the household to inform them of this exciting fact, like some self-appointed Christmas town crier. My parents were always not quite as enthusiastic as giddy, 7-year-old Lisa at 4am on Christmas morning – I cannot imagine why.
As I grew up, that level of festive excitement never really went away. So as the years passed by and I had a little family of my own, I began our own Christmas traditions. Every Christmas Eve, we’d enjoy a buffet tea (or dinner if you’re not from ‘Up North’) and indulgent hot chocolates whilst watching a movie together, ranging from ‘Home Alone’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to ‘Elf’ and ‘Miracle On 34th Street’.
We then read one of my favourite books, The Night Before Christmas, before leaving out some foodie treats for the big man and his reindeers; a few carrots, a glass of milk and a mince pie. I know that some people like to leave Santa a beer or glass of red but we like to keep things old-school and wouldn’t want him to get too tipsy when he has such a busy night ahead!
Just before bedtime, the girls take their stockings upstairs, grab a bath and ‘Father Christmas’ leaves a surprise parcel at the foot of their respective beds. This usually contains a pair of new pyjamas, cosy socks, a personalised decoration for the tree and a little treat, from chocolate to beauty products as they got older. (Is it even Christmas if you don’t have new pyjamas to wear? I think not.)
Once the girls are asleep, I then relax with a gin or two and wrap the odd present that I’ve inevitably forgotten about and try to stay awake long enough to make sure their stockings are filled. They have certainly inherited my festive genes as we always wake up bright and early on Christmas morning (although these days, I refuse to entertain the idea of getting up before 6am) to enjoy a cooked breakfast and a Bucks Fizz whilst opening our gifts together.
This year, I decided to include my niece in our little traditions and will be gifting her a personalised Christmas Eve parcel of her own with a personalised dressing gown and a Christmas decoration to hang on her tree. Given that she was born shortly before Christmas 2016 and is called Hollie, it seems very apt.
On a side note, trying to find anything Christmas-related featuring Hollie or Lucie’s names spelt correctly is no mean feat. Studio came to rescue this year with these cute personalised festive decorations for just £1.49. I did draw the line at getting the cats one each but there’s still time yet…
Given that my girls are older (Megan is 18 now), I actually suggested to them that we ditch a few of these traditions, such as the stockings, new pyjamas and leaving food out, and was met by a horrified cry of resistance so we’ve decided to keep them going for a little bit longer.
On the lead up to the big day, we always crack open a bottle of fizz and a tin of chocolates, whack some classic Christmas music on and argue quite a lot whilst trying to assemble the tree. Attempting to stop the cats from climbing it and trashing my glass baubles is another challenge altogether.
We also light an advent candle every night throughout December in memory of loved ones who are no longer with us. Christmas seems to magnify the loss so it’s our little way of remembering and including our friends and family who have passed away into our traditions and celebrations.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? That every family has their own personal ways of making the Christmas period their own. I’d love to hear how you spend yours and what little things you do to make it special.
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Personalised Initial Make-Up Bag – £9.99
Christmas Pyjamas in a Bag – £7.99
Brights Christmas Gift Wrap Set – £2.99
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Christmas Stag Jumper – £9.99
Glass Cat Mug – £7.99
Snuggle Twosie Pyjamas – £7.99
*This post is sponsored by Studio as part of my ambassadorship
As a couple, we’re not really about the fancy lifestyle so decided to spend a low-key night at the Hilton Doubletree in Chester to mark the beginning of our third year as Mr and Mrs Valentine – luckily, childcare had been sorted well in advance this time (yes the girls are 18 and 15 years old but it turns out that babysitters are still very much an important part of planning a trip away to prevent any meltdowns).
We had planned on spending a day in the city of Chester (apart from one drunken night out a few years ago, I haven’t really been back since I went on an immensely dull school trip circa 1993) but Storm Callum put paid to that. The rain was relentless which made the drive down somewhat perilous and I definitely didn’t spend most of the journey clutching the passenger seat and whimpering…
Plan B was to relax in the hotel instead, which I was secretly thrilled about as I’d been feeling a bit burnt out on the lead up to our mini-break so a night of ‘nothingness’ was welcomed with open arms. Not long after we’d unpacked, the door to our hotel room flung open and in rolled housekeeping; an intrusion that could have been rather embarrassing for all involved if we weren’t just chilling on the bed with a cup of tea like the rock star couple we are.
Adam and I lazed about in the spa then enjoyed a drink and food in one of the hotel restaurants, The Garden Room. I was bitterly disappointed about the fact that they don’t serve cocktails – I’d been fantasising over a sexy Espresso Martini or two all week – but Adam told me to stop being ‘that’ person and get over it. Instead, we dined on overpriced pizza and I settled for a G&T #FirstWorldProblems.
The next morning, we drove around the corner to Chester Zoo. Neither of us had actually been back since we held our wedding reception at Oakfield Manor back in 2016 so it was long overdue. We’d been graced with another day of persistent rain and galeforce winds so we legged it straight to the gift shop and bought a brolly for me and a poncho for Adam (if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a little video of Adam sporting said poncho – LOL).
It transpired that most of the resident animals at Chester Zoo enjoy the rain as much as I do, so had decided to hide away for most of the day. Sensible for them, a little sad for us. That said, we did see a baby
Gollum monkey, showing off her new arrival by the glass.
The elephants were possibly the only animals who loved the downpours (and ducks, obvs) so we stood watching them splashing about for a good 20 minutes or so. We also saw sun bears which are properly awesome and free-flying bats in the Bat Cave – no Bruce Wayne in sight though sadly.
Oakfield Manor has been refurbished since our last visit and is now known as ‘The Oakfield’. With a beautiful extension, I was kind of sad to see it looking so different. A friend bought us a copy of ‘The Zoo’ as a wedding gift and it’s since become one of my most-loved reads. Written by June Mottrom, she shares plenty of anecdotes and gives an insight into the world of growing up at Chester Zoo, it’s rich heritage and beyond.
After filling our bellies with coffee, soup, steak and cheesecake, we strolled through the grounds and breathed in the Autumnal atmosphere, with leaves of all colours everywhere and squirrels foraging for food. Our little break was a timely reminder to not lose ‘us’ in the midst of hectic work schedules, family life and the general humdrum of everyday life. Here’s to Year Three, whatever it may bring.
Chakalaka is a bar and kitchen serving up South African inspired food and was the brainchild of two friends, Stuart Dean and Chris Plotts. They had both previously worked for large hospitality chains but decided to invest their own money in creating a new independent restaurant.
The name Chakalaka comes from a spicy tomato, chilli and bean relish, usually served alongside Pap Balls (balls of deep fried maize filled with cheese which of course, we had to try out).
The menu is modest but this is where the whole ‘Quality Over Quantity’ thing is absolutely relevant. Personally, I’d rather dine somewhere that does a few dishes perfectly than be overwhelmed by a big selection of options that are at best, pretty average.
Chakalaka serves tapas-style dishes so you can try a little of everything on offer, giving a casual dining experience. The decor is bright and industrial with a cosy feel and the clientele during our visit ranged from families with children to couples and groups of friends.
We began our afternoon with a couple of drinks – cream soda for me and a coffee for Adam. In hindsight, I really wish I’d have made the most of the SA- inspired cocktail menu but that’s something for me to try out next time I suppose!
We opted for:
A spicy chickpea and potato dish served in a ‘bowl’ of fresh bread.
Traditional SA cured meat
South African sausage. Spiced with Chakalaka.
Made from beans, chillis, tomatoes, peppers and some special spices.
Balls of maize deep fried and filled with cheese
Doughy balls fried and dipped in cinnamon sugar with a citrus syrup.
Apart from Biltong, neither Adam and I had tried South African food before, however, we’re always looking to expand our culinary horizons and this menu was more than enough to convert us.
Being a sweet tooth, the Keok balls are something I could eat every single day and, being a firm carnivore, Adam rated the Wors and Biltong. The kids have always been good at trying new foods and I know that Lucie would be in her element at Chakalaka so we’ve made plans to go back again for lunch in December.
They’re keen to be good neighbours, offering money off for students and local workers, even though the dishes are already great value at £3-£5 each. The bar also donates 5p to the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund for every pint of their own brand lager, ‘Chakalager’ sold.
When we had finished eating, I went to say goodbye and had a little chat with Stuart, who was elbow deep in the kitchen. For me, that kind of sums up everything our experience at about Chakalaka. Wonderful service, great food and a brilliant company culture.
*I was invited to dine at Chakalaka FOC for the purpose of this review, however, all opinions are my own as always
Manchester Three Rivers Gin isn’t one that was on my radar before last month, however, this summer, I got to interview another distiller, along with the fabulous Charlie from Gin Fuelled Bluestocking, for a project I’m working on in my day job and have since become rather fascinated with the whole process. When I discussed this in the office, my boss mentioned that once you’ve seen one copper still, you’ve seen them all – he had a point.
When I was invited along to the Manchester Three Rivers Gin Experience a few weeks ago, I smugly assumed that I already knew everything there is to know about gin and the distilling process. It turns out that I – and my boss (sorry Mr G) – were wrong. Advertised as ‘a truly unique three-hour immersive and interactive experience’, it did not disappoint.
Housed in a humble railway arch just a few minutes from Manchester Arena, we were greeted with a classic G&T upon arrival. We then watched a short video and Joe, our guide for the evening, talked about the history of gin. But this was no dull history lesson – this was gin school after all. With a sprinkling of humour and Mancunian pride, we learnt all about the roots of not only Manchester Three Rivers gin but the origins of this much-loved spirit.
I’m a bit of a fact-nerd so soaked in the information and particularly enjoyed the parts about how gin caused the notorious ‘Gin Craze’ epidemic in the 18th century, where mothers would happily trade their offspring for a small amount of gin (as a mother of teenagers, I can understand that one to be fair) creating the infamous ‘Mother’s Ruin’ legacy.
Gin was developed based on an old Dutch liquor that soldiers liked to drink before the war to calm the nerves – hence the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ – so we were given a shot of bols (drink number 2) to get a taste for gin in its original form. I also loved the clandestine ways of which people would get their gin fix once it had been (temporarily) banned in the UK. The logic was that if you can’t see who is selling it, you can’t arrest them so Brits came up with an ingenious way of trading.
Customers would look for a sign of cat nailed to a window, with a small lead pipe underneath its paw. They would then pop a few coins in the cat’s mouth and mutter the word ‘Puss?’. The hidden distiller would then confirm they were in the right place with a ‘Meow’ and the pipe would pour gin directly into their mouths. Luckily for us modern-day folk, we don’t have to resort to such measures to get our paws on the good stuff.
Our group moved downstairs to learn how Manchester Three Rivers Gin is created and saw the magnificent copper still that has loving been christened ‘Angel’. We were given an ‘Aviator’ cocktail as Joe explained what it is that makes their gin so smooth, whilst handing us a shot of neat Manchester Three Rivers gin.
You know that ‘burn’ that you normally get when necking spirits? There was none of that present. It was a silky delight and a welcome surprise. Joe told us that they use oats in the distilling process which helps to create such smooth blend. According to the notes I’d taken – the ones that become absolute nonsense as the night progressed so I’m not sure how accurate they are in hindsight – Angel can produce 500 bottles of gin during a 13-hour period.
Just from chatting with Joe at the bar afterwards, we could sense the sincerity of the company and it still very much has a family feel. Manchester Three Rivers Gin was set up by four friends in 2016 and is Manchester’s first ever gin distillery. The bottle labels are all attached by hand and the team truly care about the quality of the end product.
We then moved next door to create our very own full-size bottle of gin – something that I’d been particularly looking forward to. Armed with another G&T (!), we were all set up at our own little stations that consisted of everything we would need, including a mini copper still. Behind us was a row of more than 50 herbs, spices and botanicals that we could use to get creative.
There was a tablet on our workstation with a guide to quantities but other than that, we were pretty much given free rein to come up with something bespoke. I opted for a festive blend of oats (to keep it smooth), orange peel, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg while Claire went for lemongrass, almond and other ingredients that I have forgotten – I’m blaming the booze for that one.
Joe talked us through the process and once we’d meticulously measured everything out and logged our recipes so that we can repurchase more bottles of our own gins at a later date if desired – I will be buying a few extra bottles for friends and family – we waited for the still to work its magic.
We drank more G&Ts and nattered loudly. I also got the chance to say a quick hello to two fellow bloggers that I’ve known for a while – Keeley from Phat Cupcake and Emma from Earth to Emma. I loved the fact that in between the talks and gin creating, there was time to socialise, making it the perfect place for a proper get together.
Before I knew it, my gin was ready to pour. Joe tested the ABV (alcohol by volume) level and mine came in at a rather impressive 49%. Keeping things classy, I had a little taste from the bottle and the orange flavour was prominent in the silky smooth blend. I’ve already got it earmarked as the perfect for Christmas tipple when mixed with ginger ale or classic tonic.
We ended the evening at the bar with a champagne cocktail and Claire bought two bottles of the classic Manchester Three Rivers Gin – one for her to enjoy and one for me as a very lovely thank you gesture for inviting her along.
I’ve always been completely honest on my blog and would never encourage my readers to buy anything with their hard-earned cash that wasn’t up to scratch. That’s why I can wholeheartedly say that I would happily pay to go back and do the Manchester Three Rivers Gin experience all over again.
It costs £95 per person and is superb value for money when you factor in the whole experience, the generous amount of drinks provided and the full bottle of gin you get to create and take home – it really was an evening like no other. It’s recently been voted the ‘Top-Rated Attraction In The UK’ so I’m clearly not the only one who had a fabulous time. If you want to book your own gin experience at Manchester Three Rivers Gin distillery or buy a gift voucher, you can do so here.
*I was invited along to review the Manchester Three Rivers Gin Experience FOC, however, all opinions are my own as always
My dad’s side of the family likes nothing better than a day out so I suggested we get a team together and unleash our competitive sides at Breakout, Manchester. There were nine of us who were up for the challenge so we booked two separate rooms (they hold up to five people each), Enchanted and Forsaken.
I was placed with my dad, his partner, Lucie and my uncle in Enchanted while Adam teamed up with Meg, my cousin and her fella and took on the slightly more terrifying Forsaken. It took us about ten minutes to figure out where to begin and we had no strategy, just lots of shouting over one another and scrambling around.
Given our lack of planning and communication, we failed to escape our room, however, had lots of fun regardless. We did have about four hours sleep the night before as we’d been out seeing friends (and consumed lots of gin) so I blame that. The other team also failed to escape but that hasn’t stopped us booking in again for Round Two in December.
Speaking of gin, I was invited to review the Three Rivers Gin distillery experience in Manchester a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I said yes. I also took the opportunity to plan an overdue catch up with my friend Claire, who is a fellow fan of gin and happily came along as my plus one. There’ll be a full post for you to read on here next week so I won’t say much more, however, lots of
booze fun was had by all.
With Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Making a Murderer 2 (can we please talk about Episode 8?) and House of the Haunted Hill, not to mention a traditional movie fest on Halloween, Adam and I have certainly got our monies worth from our Netflix subscription this month and saw the ‘Screen of Shame’ on more than one occasion – you know, the ‘Are You Still Watching?’ judgy reminder that you’ve just binged on four hours of telly in one sitting.
Adam and I enjoyed a low-key night away in Chester to celebrate two years as Mr and Mrs Valentine. It involved a night at the Hilton, battling Storm Callum, a day at Chester Zoo and lunch at the Oakfield, where we held our wedding reception in 2016. I’ll be sharing a dedicated blog post soon with plenty of animal pictures!
Megan is going to university next year so we’ve been attending lots of open days to see where she’d like to go. I never went to university (ironically, I was busy raising Megan as my friends were discovering Fresher’s Week) so it’s all very new to us both. After lots of debating, we think she’s found ‘The One’ so are now in a whirlwind of UCAS applications, personal statements and strange emotions.
Even though Meg will be flying the nest a year later than planned, I’m (selfishly) still not quite ready to let go. Long story short, she started sixth form after leaving school and hated it. After a year, she quit and secured an apprenticeship at a local hospice, much to my initial concern. Megan then went on to win ‘Apprentice of the Year’, gain lots of praise from her colleagues and has flourished in her chosen field.
I learnt that apparently, mum doesn’t always know best so I ate lots of humble pie while reminding myself to butt the fuck out and let my daughter make her own life choices. As we looked around Halls of Residence and heard all about how tough but rewarding an adult nursing degree is, I also discovered that I am absolutely going to be that mum who cries loudly whilst dropping their child off to embark on uni life – soz in advance Meg.
I’ll occasionally attend Halloween house parties with friends, which I do enjoy, but more often than not, I tend to give in to my trusty hibernation instincts instead. Adam and I like to make a huge pot of chilli with a side of loaded nachos, snuggle up on the sofa with the cats (Halloween is Luther’s time to shine) and pull an all-nighter whilst watching as many movies as we can handle.
But what I love the most about Halloween is the array of sweet culinary delights on offer. I discovered candy corn when we were in America one October and…oh my. In fact, Adam’s friend kindly brought me a couple of tubs of candy corn back from a recent trip to New York so I may or may not be in a slight sugar haze as I type this. Americans really do Halloween on a whole other level to us Brits, don’t they?
When we stay home for Halloween, I like to make an effort for any trick-or-treaters that may visit (whilst secretly hoping that they don’t knock on so I can eat them all for myself the next day). Along with these sweet-filled paper pumpkins, I adapted my trusty chocolate slow-cooker fudge recipe for the occasion using Cadburys Goo Heads to give it an extra-ghoulish touch.
My slow cooker is my BFF when it comes to creating both sweet and savoury treats. Honestly, the concept of being able to throw various ingredients into one pot and producing a decent meal without having to actually do much else is pure genius. Mine gave up the ghost a few months ago so I ordered this monster 6.5l copper one from Studio.
When it arrived, it was bigger than I expected – of course, I didn’t actually bother to check the size of my old one before getting rid – but it was a blessing in disguise as I can now make double batches of my favourite meals and freeze half for those weeknights where I don’t feel like cooking much after a long day at work. Hurrah!
If you want to make your own slow cooker fudge, you can use the recipe below as a guide. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can use a heavy-bottomed pan on the hob instead on a very low heat. It also works well with a host of other ingredients – swap the 3x Goo Heads for an extra 100g of milk chocolate and you can pretty much add whatever extras you like.
I made the other batch of fudge by using 300g of milk chocolate, 2 chocolate oranges and a tin of condensed milk. I’m going to have a go at making peanut butter fudge next weekend so will let you know how it turns out over on Instagram.
400g milk chocolate (any brand will do – I use a cheap supermarket one)
5 Cadburys Goo Heads
1x 397g tin of condensed milk
1 – Break up the chocolate and chop the Goo Heads.
2 – Set your slow cooker to low and add the broken chocolate, 3 Goo Heads (regular size, not mini) and the tin of condensed milk.
3 – Leave the lid off and stir occasionally. The mixture should begin to melt and form a crust; you’ll know when you see it. This takes about 30 minutes.
4 – Stir well and wait for the fudge to form a second crust.
5- Pour into a lined square tin or mould (I use a silicone one) and quickly top with the remaining chopped Goo Heads.
6 – Leave to cool in the fridge overnight. Cut into small squares and store in an airtight container (refrigerated) for up to one week.
Shop the look with Studio. Don’t forget that if you’re a new customer and use the code 089, you’ll get free delivery.
EGL 6.5l Copper Colour Slow Cooker – £29.99
Village Candle – Pumpkin Tweed 11oz – £17.99
Cadbury Halloween Party Pack – £11.99
Copper Wire String Lights – £8.99
Be You Animal Print Batwing Top – £12.99
*This post is sponsored by Studio as part of my ambassadorship
When I was younger, I loved them and remember happily being scared senseless by ‘The Amityville Horror’ and ‘The Ring’. However, I found that they would then play on mind whenever I was alone – hiding under the duvet isn’t a good look at 35 years old.
My dad is a huge fan of classic horror films. He had a vast video collection so when he was asleep one night, I decided to watch ‘The Video With The Clown On’, without really realising what it was – IT by Stephen King. I must have been about 10 years old I think. I don’t remember feeling particularly scared, just confused about why this clown had such a vendetta against kids!
I do love the cheesy, traditional slasher movies such a the ‘Scream’ ones, although I have actually never seen ‘Scream 4’. I was about 13 when the first one was released and I found myself drawn to the teenage angst of Sidney Prescott. I suppose she did have a good reason to be so miserable though and thankfully, my own expedition through adolescence was void of vengeful killers murdering my loved ones every other day – poor Sid.
I feel like I’m cheating with this one but I prefer ‘Comedy Horror’ such as ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ or ‘Tucker and Dale vs Evil’ and ‘Earnest Scared Stupid’. A bit of light-hearted horror is much more palatable for a scaredy cat like me!
Anything that is almost relatable or could actually happen in ‘real life’ scares me to death. Supernatural stuff like ghosts or aliens don’t really make an impact on me but documentary style ones – Blair Witch Project, I’m looking at you – or those based on real-life stories really do. Witnessing (fictional) human beings trying to kill other human beings really freaks me out.
I saw ‘The Shining’ for the very first time earlier this year and it haunted me for a good while afterwards. See above for the reason why! Creepy AF.
It has to be Jaime Lee Curtis for me, although in my eyes, she’s more of a kick-ass role model than the usual hapless victim of a classic horror movie.
A decent plot line. Lots of them seem to substitute the storyline for gore or unnecessary suspense. If the storyline is believable, I’m much more invested.
Can’t say I have a favourite kill but ‘that’ Drew Barrymore opening scene from ‘Scream’ is iconic. Ooh and that one with the logs flying through the car window in ‘Final Destination 2’ is to thank for me purposely not driving behind trucks, even years later!
I adore the American Horror Story television series. I know it’s not a movie franchise but I’ve watched every single season and loved them all. The self-contained miniseries means that viewers get to see the same familiar cast members in a brand new light every time.
Ryan Murphy and the team behind AHS. From ‘Coven’ to ‘Freak Show’, the cinematography and plots are always so original and gripping.
I’m a bit rubbish and left this post until the last minute (welcome to my life) so I won’t tag anyone in particular, however, if you’d like to join in, feel free and let me know so I can check out your answers.
While I follow plenty of fashion, beauty and food bloggers, the ones that I adore most of all are those that make me feel like I’m having a coffee with a friend when I read their posts; something that’s actually quite hard to find in the blogosphere. Dorkface, Polkadot Pink, What Lyd Did and Last Year’s Girl are just a few examples of the ones I seek out when I fancy a good, authentic lunch break read.
However, there are some things that I purposely hold back when it comes to sharing content on my own blog:
Other Peoples Stories
The reason that my blog may seem rather self-indulgent is that it is! I’ll happily share my own opinions and plans without question, however, don’t be fooled into thinking that everything in my life is posted on here. There are plenty of experiences and updates that get omitted from my blog quite simply because they’re not my stories to tell. From happy news to the more somber occasions, there are so many things that I simply won’t publish as they involve people who opt to keep their lives private and I have to respect that.
Let’s face it, no-one wants to read about that. Or more importantly, this is not something that I want to share with the world/my relatives/colleagues/daughters. It’s one of the few things that I like to keep strictly out of the public eye and to be honest, is something I’m quite private about in general. Whatever happens in that department will categorically never be shared online.
My Past (mostly)
There are so many events from my past that I wish I could change. Things that have left me traumatised, things that I wish I’d left behind much sooner than I ultimately did and things that I’m not even ready to deal with on a private level yet. For years, I wasted so long ruminating over the past and, although I know it’s healthy to occasionally address these events in order to really move forward, they’re not something that I want to be part a of my blog.
My job has never been a secret, however, it is filled with lots of strictly confidential content. I work closely with various clients and, although the day to day stuff is generally quite ordinary, there are a few occasions where I’d love to be able to share details of exciting campaigns I’m working on with you all, the things that I’m particularly proud of when I see them come to fruition but alas – you’ll have to make do with pictures of coffee and my messy desk instead.
It would be easy to assume that my life is hunky-dory when browsing through my ramblings. I am admittedly prone to sharing the odd grumble or snippet of less than ideal situations but I never share details of disagreements with other people. I try to stay out of drama in general so sharing the nitty gritty of any beef that does go down on my blog would be a rather silly thing to do. Oh and I don’t fancy getting sued for libel either.
We got engaged a year after our first date. ‘Bloody hell Lisa, that’s way too soon!’, some may cry but it’s working out alright so far. The irony is that when we first started dating, neither of us were actually looking for a long-term relationship, let alone a future spouse.
Once we’d been engaged for a few months, Adam and I began discussing our respective visions of what our wedding day might look. For me, being an introvert and general anxiety-filled human being, my ideal wedding day would be fuss-free and inexpensive. For Adam, it was all about family.
We then thought about the location. My family are predominantly Manchester-based whilst Adam’s are all over the place, from Wales to London. We knew that people wouldn’t be bothered about travelling, however, wanted to make the day as easy as possible for our guests to attend.
We viewed a 4* hotel near Chester, hoping to host our entire wedding day there. However, the room hire and food costs would be approx. £8,000 and this left us with little room for much else. Add on the registrar, bridesmaids attire, flowers, room decor, rings, photographer and all that jazz and we soon looking at a bill circa £14,000 before even thinking about a honeymoon (another couple of grand or so).
We then looked at hiring a marquee, getting wed on a steam train in Llangollen or even having a low-key event at the campsite where we got engaged but there was always some kind of hurdle; Auntie Joan couldn’t attend from March-Sept, it would be an extra £1,000 to marry on a weekend, the venue would only let us use their super expensive (and bland) approved caterers and on it went until the whole wedding planning thing became a pretty stressful chore.
Whenever I moaned about it, Adam shrugged, saying he was indifferent and didn’t really care too much about the venue or little details (I, on the other hand, had been losing sleep over Pinterest boards and trying to find the perfect colour theme for about two months). During one particularly mammoth whinge, I’d joked about pissing off to Vegas and letting ‘Elvis’ do the job for us instead – and we both had a bit of a lightbulb moment.
We’d already compiled a mutual travel wish list as long as my arm so why not use the wedding budget to make a start on that? We agreed to take a step back and think about what we actually wanted. I wouldn’t blow money that we don’t have on any other occasion – so why on Earth was I contemplating taking out a £14,000 loan for this one day?
This isn’t a dig to other couples who do prefer a little extravagance by the way – it’s mainly down to the fact that Adam and I could think of so many other ways to spend our hard-earned and, to be honest, pretty modest disposable income than on canapes and flowers (and we really, really wanted that honeymoon!)
After doing some research, the idea of eloping to New York was starting to look like a realistic option. Of course, this too brought new dilemmas. Would our friends and family members be upset? What about the legalities? Were we just being selfish as fuck and needed to grow up?
We spoke to our nearest and dearest and explained our thoughts. I’m forever thankful that we have a brilliant bunch of people around us and they all understood, supporting whatever we wanted to do. We began looking at options and soon booked flights to America, just the two of us.
My parents were going to look after the girls as we combined a honeymoon and wedding ceremony across the pond. We were also gifted sums from family members which really helped and allowed us to book a beautiful wedding reception at Oakfield Manor, Chester Zoo the week after we got married and celebrate in style.
Fast forward through months of planning and we boarded a plane from Manchester Airport to JFK, ready to become Mr and Mrs Valentine. On the day of our wedding, we got ready together in our hotel room and, after a short wait at the City Clerks Office (not City Hall a la Carrie and Big as most people – including me – would assume. Turns out that you can’t actually marry at NYC City Hall….), the deed was done.
It was simple, intimate and rather romantic. But the best bit for me personally? There was absolutely no pressure. Just us, the two of us, making a lifelong commitment to one another. Easy peasy. The rest of the week was spent enjoying our adventures in Manhattan and making memories that we will cherish forever.
For the grand sum of around £6,000, we managed to have an incredible week in New York City and still got to celebrate with our loved ones, without starting married life in a shit ton of debt. Ultimately, our wedding day/reception was lovely but our marriage is even better and that’s what really counts once the
dust confetti has settled, isn’t it?
Celebrated Lucie’s Birthday
To celebrate Lucie’s birthday last year, we went to the Late Night Riding and Fireworks event held at Blackpool Pleasure Beach at Lucie’s request and she enjoyed it so much that she asked if we could do it again this time. Basically, the park stays open until 10pm then boasts an elaborate musical firework display (it was The Greatest Showman themed this year, obvs).
I’m not really one for rides these days so I bought Lu and her boyfriend wristbands as Adam and I stayed firmly grounded, enjoying penny machines, chips and coffee. We agreed to meet up with Lucie every few hours to make sure she was ok but otherwise, left her to enjoy herself sans boring adults.
After about half an hour, she called to say that they’d won a prize on the side stalls and could we carry it for her. Thinking it would be a small teddy or something, we soon discovered that we’d inadvertently agreed to lug a mammoth Daim bar around for the remainder of the day.
I’m not even exaggerating – for the grand total of £4, they’d won 2kg of chocolatey goodness. Adam and I won about 5941 keyrings and other useless bits in the arcades, spent more money than I dare to admit and had an all-round lovely day at the seaside.
Visited My Grandma
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandma. We’d jump on the double-decker bus and go for a mooch around charity shops or visit the butterfly house at Moss Bank Park in Bolton, amongst other little adventures. I also have fond memories of staying at her house regularly and being greeted by hot buttered toast and Vimto for breakfast.
Sadly, I hadn’t seen her for a few years due to dementia making contact difficult – mainly for her as she became easily confused and cautious of visitors. She’s been plagued with other rather gnarly illnesses recently and was hospitalised last month, resulting in major surgery.
I agonised over what to do, wondering what was the best thing for everyone involved. I knew I wanted to see her but had to ask myself if that was purely for selfish reasons or out of guilt or if she’d be distressed if I rocked up again out of the blue. Knowing how precious time can be, I put my emotions to one side and nervously made the trip to the hospital on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
I knew not expect much. As Adam and I walked in with my mum and her partner, my grandma exclaimed: “Oh what a lovely surprise! You were my very first grandbaby. How are the girls?”. It took every ounce of strength not to burst into tears there and then. Of course, there were tell-tale chatters that couldn’t mask the hazy signs of dementia but she was still there and had that feisty, determined spark that I recognised underneath it all.
We talked about her love of Bolton Wanders FC, dancing, my job, the kids, Adam, the view from her hospital window, chocolate and lots of other things. After an hour or so, I could see she was in pain and getting tired so we said our goodbyes and left her to rest. Once we got in the car, I found myself sobbing a little and didn’t really know why. In hindsight, I think a bit part of it was due to relief.
For the past few months, I’d been worrying every time I got a text or phone call, imagining all kinds of wretched things. Seeing her again was heartbreaking yet reassuring at the same time and it felt like the underlying weight and sadness had been somewhat lifted (and I’ll be making our visits a regular thing from now on).
Took A Trip To IKEA
I flipping love IKEA (who doesn’t?) and haven’t been for a while so thought I’d pop over to the Ashton-under-Lyne store ‘for a browse’ – what an absolute lie that was. I have a thing for plants and am currently having an ongoing clash with Adam about the fact that we have so much greenery adorning our dining room #soblogger.
What he didn’t know is that I was on a mission to sneak a few more in. Luckily for me, just before I set off to IKEA, Adam sheepishly asked if I’d mind him giving it a miss. Secretly delighted, I feigned a mild disappointment (and even managed to guilt him into doing some housework while I was out) and Megan and I headed out for a little Sunday shopping trip.
First of all, going to IKEA on a weekend is never a good idea. After circling the car park for about 20
years minutes, we finally found a parking space and got started. I fawned over blush pink sofas and pretty bedframes before taking a break for meatballs, Daim cake and coffee (FYI, this post isn’t sponsored by Daim – it just happened to be a bigger part of September than I realised until now…).
I grabbed a trolley and that, my friends, is where the real fun began. Before I knew it, I’d managed to fill said trolley with no less than 12 candles, six cushions, a doll bed for the cats (!), a clothes airer, some Christmas decorations and wrapping paper, a bath mat, a blanket, a Venus flytrap, some floral bedding, a mug, a strainer, a sieve, a multipack of scissors and some measuring spoons. Oh.
After doing a quick calculation of how much the contents added up to, I talked myself out of buying the cat/doll bed (FFS Lisa) and bedding. The total cost still almost hit triple figures but I have no regrets as buying festive wrapping paper in September is an absolute essential, right?