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.
We don’t generally talk about this stuff, do we? It’s certainly something I haven’t talked about much, mainly because I only recently began to understand exactly what it is that I’m going through, but felt like it’s time to share my own strange experience with you.
I’ll warn you now – it’s a long one (and is a rather dull read containing TMI but it’s been therapeutic for me to finally get it all out) so feel free to come back next week for a more lighthearted blog post.
It all started in October 2016. I was pottering around the house after work when I started violently coughing out of the blue. I then heard an awful sound, wheezing and squeaking – and realised that it was me. There was a blockage in my throat and couldn’t breathe.
I tried to swallow, tried to shout and couldn’t. I soon began to feel light headed and clung to the curtains to stay upright, half hoping that my neighbour would see I was in trouble. I pleaded with some higher force as I knew Meg was due home any moment and didn’t want her finding me like that. I managed to gulp down a glass of water and just like that, it was over as quickly as it began.
The day after, I woke up in agony. I tried eating a piece of toast and began to choke. I managed to get an appointment with my doctor later that week. He was sympathetic but just as confused as I was and referred me to a hospital clinic for further investigation.
A week or so later, I had the pleasure of experiencing a camera up my nose (a nasoendoscopy for the medical folks). As it hit my throat, I began to panic and cried. The consultant tried again as I became increasingly distressed. He couldn’t get a clear view thanks to my relentless gagging so gave up and told me it was probably just triggered by anxiety, nothing to worry about.
Meanwhile, I was genuinely convinced that something terrible was happening and I was going to die soon (maybe he had a slight point about
me being a massive drama queen the anxiety after all). Fast forward another few months and it was time for the stomach camera/gastroscopy to dig a bit deeper.
I did what stupid people do and researched this online beforehand. Some bloke was ranting about how it was the single most horrific experience he’d ever had and that he felt like he was drowning for 45 minutes. Helpful dude.
I then, like an absolute idiot, cancelled my appointment as my anxiety had reached peak levels. I tried to bargain with the receptionist to see if they’d give me general anaesthetic but it was a rather predictable ‘no’. Long story short, after months of ruminating over how awful it would be and still not eating – I had become entirely dependant on food supplement milkshakes and porridge by this point – I forced myself to attend the clinic.
I cried in the car, cried on the nurse and cried as the consultant gave me a lovely dose of sedative to enable them to investigate without me pulling the tube out. Given that I’d already started sitting up and flailing about as they put the mouth guard in, it was probably a good shout.
I drifted off into a wonderful drug-induced haze and the next thing I knew, I was in recovery. Screw you, internet guy – I did it and survived! A few weeks later, the results were back and I was told that I have scar tissue in my oesophagus from acid reflux, a hiatus hernia and stomach corrosion caused by ulcers.
My GP gave me some tablets to reduce my stomach acid but the key point was that none of these things should be affecting my ability to eat properly. Fuck.
With this in mind, I tried to eat solid food – and failed. The moment I took a bite of my egg mayonnaise sandwich, I began choking again as that awful wave of panic washed over me; this was becoming tedious. I’d lost about three dresses since it began and wanted nothing more than to devour a Big Mac and 20 Chicken Nuggets.
I went back to my doctor in June 2017, who mentioned trying speech therapy and floated around words like dysphagia (I’m not even going into detail about the GP who told me I’ll be fine and to just drink Nesquick as it’s nutritionally sound. What a fabulous long-term solution). I dismissed the speech therapy and ignorantly assumed it would just sort itself out. And it has, to a degree.
But things still aren’t quite right. My mind has developed an odd little rule as to what foods and textures are ‘safe’. Anything dry and crunchy, such as crackers, cereal or biscuits are fine. Smoothies and soups are ok too. Pasta, rice, toast, soft fruit and vegetables are manageable in tiny amounts but it can take me an hour or two to finish a small portion. Anything chewy or stringy like chicken, spinach or steak are a no-go.
When I was doing more online research (you have probably realised by now that I am that kind of patient), I came across Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and felt like I’d finally found something that described what I’m going through. I guess the next step is to see my GP again but the truth is, I’m embarrassed. I’m 35 years old and eating like a two-year-old for no logical reason so I’m going to persevere on my own and see how things go for a little while longer.
Those close to me are aware of what’s happening and, on occasion, can get impatient and frustrated. They’ll see me eating porridge and scold me for not trying to eat a bacon sandwich or mock the fact that I can eat a chocolate bar with no issue but am thrown into a panic if a piece of apple even touches my lips.
That said, I did almost finish my Christmas dinner recently which is a massive improvement on last years effort and have started to put on weight so I’m feeling quite optimistic about my long-term prognosis. It’s so much more than being fussy and not something I can simply ‘snap out of’. Trust me, this whole thing is just as perplexing and terrifying for me too. And I want you to know that I’m trying, I really am.
3tbsp self-raising flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp milk chocolate chips
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp chocolate hazelnut spread of choice
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 – Add sugar, flour and egg to mug and mix
2 – Add milk, oil, chocolate chips and chocolate hazelnut spread
3 – Mix well until all ingredients are combined
4 – Microwave on high for 2 minutes (depending on power, keep checking to ensure it doesn’t overflow)
5 – Tuck in
*I was sent a Wilkos gift card in return for creating content, however, all opinions are my own as always
About six years ago, I began a new family tradition. Every January, we start to fill an empty jar with little notes of memories made, continuing them throughout the year; kind of like an old-school version of ‘Facebook Memories’ if you will.
On New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day if we have a party to attend – I discovered quite quickly that too much gin and heightened emotions are not a good mix, unlike gin and ginger beer), the girls, Adam and I sit down together and read out the contents of the jar.
This year, I thought I’d list them on the blog to give you an idea of what we jotted down during 2018. I’m not sure they’ll mean much to you but for me, my blog is primarily a ‘Dear Diary’ site so it seems fitting (spoiler alert: it turns out that it was mainly filled with picnics and trips to Blackpool).
In hindsight, there were actually lots of things that we forgot to include so I’ll be making sure we’re a bit more vigilant this year. Do you have any similar traditions?
06.01.18 – Belated NYE house party at Claire’s
21.01.18 – Felix Hagan and Frank Turner gig in Lancaster with Jo and Alex
04.02.18 – Giff Gaff blogger event at The Principal, Manchester with Donna, Gina, Charlie and Jennie
05.02.18 – Meeting dad and uncle David for a Sunday morning Costa
16.02.18 – Mini-break in Manchester for Valentine’s Day
19.02.18 – A surprise parcel arrived from Emma and Chris
06.03.18 – Cinema trip to see ‘The Greatest Showman’ – Megan and Lisa
08.03.18 – Megan won ‘Health and Social Care Apprentice of the Year’ award
09.03.18 – Lucie moved up a set in Science class
11.03.18 – Afternoon walk in Heaton Park with ‘The Best Cheese and Onion Pie in the World’ for lunch
01.04.18 – Day trip to Bolsover Castle with Adam’s sister and co
13.04.18 – Lucie’s first Frank Turner gig in Manchester with Lisa, Deb and Claire
14.04.18 – Beautiful stay at Chicheley Hall
15.04.18 – Day trip to Oxford
22.04.18 – Daytime drinking and visiting museums in Manchester
26.04.18 – Trip to Lancaster with Mum and Jo
27.04.18 – Drove to Blackpool for fish and chips
28.04.18 – Meal at The Midland, Marple Bridge
02.05.18 – Jungle Book at the Lowry Theatre
05.05.18 – A picnic in Nuttall Park, Ramsbottom in the glorious sunshine
06.05.18 – Meal in Llangollen with the Valentine’s
13.05.18 – A ride on the Flying Scotsman steam train with dad
14.05.18 – A birthday picnic on St Anne’s beach
15.05.18 – BBQ masterclass at John Whaite’s Kitchen, Wigan
16.05.18 – Lisa’s birthday spa day, Village Hotel in Bury
20.05.18 – Cinema trip to watch ‘Deadpool 2’ – Adam and Lisa
16.06.18 – Adam and Megan’s joint birthday BBQ
17.06.18 – A trip to Amsterdam for Megan’s 18th birthday
30.06.18 – Queens of the Stone Age gig, London
15.07.18 – The Crystal Maze Experience for Dad’s 60th birthday
21.07.18 – A picnic in Williamson Park, Lancaster
19.08.18 – Coffee with Sarah
25.08.18 – Ice cream and arcades in Blackpool
26.08.18 – Bolton Food and Drink Festival
31.08.18 – Felix Hagan house party/private gig
22.09.18 – A day in Blackpool for Lucie’s 15th birthday
23.09.18 – Visiting Grandma
12.10.18 – Wedding anniversary weekend in Chester
27.10.18 – Meeting friends for drinks in Manchester/Jen’s Halloween party
28.10.18 – Family day out at Breakout, Manchester
10.11.18 – Moonpig blog event in Leeds with Jennie, Charlie and Leanne
24.11.18 – A meal with Claire and co in Manchester
30.11.18 – Junkyard Golf and cocktails – Megan and Lisa
23.12.18 – Festive family meal in Llangollen
25.12.18 – Christmas!
26.12.18 – Another trip to Wales
29.12.18 – A catch-up with Lewis in Manchester
30.12.18 – Coffee with Kate and co/trip to Lancaster to see Jo and Alex
I decided to book a few days off at the end of November/early December and to simply see what plans may unfold.
On the first day of my leave, Megan also had some time off so we spent the day in Manchester browsing the markets, playing crazy golf and daytime drinking (my Mother of the Year award is pending).
On the second day
of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Adam was working from home so we enjoyed a lazy morning together, with him working on his laptop as I caught up on some blogging/life admin on the sofa. In the afternoon, I deep-cleaned the house and drank Bucks Fizz whilst putting the Christmas tree up.
By the third day, the ‘fear’ had set in and was left twiddling my thumbs. When I’m at home, I can’t relax until the chores are done or if I know the food shop needs doing and so on. Instead of fretting, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. The house was already clean, there was nothing on my ‘to do’ list and I’d already finished my Christmas shopping so I decided to wing it.
At 11am that morning, I ran a bubble bath and soaked for an hour whilst reading a book – a bath in the daytime! How very decadent. I then drove to my local coffee shop and bought myself a ‘posh’ coffee before going home to clean my car out (sad but I’d been putting it off for months, there was food older than my niece hidden behind the seats and it made me feel rather achieved afterwards).
In the afternoon, I binged watched several episodes of ‘Luther’, batch cooked some lovely, healthy food and fought the urge to ‘do’. I joked with Adam that I’d make a fabulous Lady of Leisure (although I know full well that I’d be bored within a week of being at home).
I think what I was feeling was contentment. Allowing myself to truly switch off and enjoy a small snippet of indulgence and solitude was something I never knew I needed yet had such a massive impact on my overall wellbeing.
When I went back to work, I felt refreshed and was suddenly aware of just how mentally bogged down I’d felt prior to my break. I discovered that it really is good for the soul to enjoy some downtime and I truly hope you have the chance to experience this for yourself over the festive period. Peace x
This time, I decided that I was going to be much more
of a grown-up organised about the whole thing, be conscientious about my spending and I even set up a spreadsheet to help me keep tabs on things. It began well. I logged every single penny, made a list of what I’d be buying for whom and enjoyed feeling like I was in control of the situation.
I had set a small budget for each person and told the kids not expect too much. They each chose one ‘main’ present and I used the rest of the allocated budget for smaller gifts. I took pride in updating the spreadsheet every time I bought something and seeing the boxes change from red to green.
But alas, my well-meaning mission backfired. You see, starting my shopping in August meant that I had even more time to buy unnecessary crap. A few weeks ago, I’d officially finished my Christmas shopping – hurrah. And it was then that I realised my new system was utterly flawed. I’d completely overlooked the splurge on overpriced tat at Manchester Christmas markets after drinking too many £6 mulled wines.
Or the spontaneous trip to Newbank Garden Centre when I blew £40 on more tree decorations that we didn’t need. And the night that I decided the fireplace looked bare so bought a £25 pinecone garland online. Not to mention the little extras I’d spotted for friends and family and added to my basket without a second thought.
I sat down and modified my list to include the festive food shop, kids stocking fillers and Christmas Eve pyjamas, Secret Santa and gifts for teachers, Christmas jumpers, the last minute ‘bargain’ Soap and Glory set, a poinsettia plant and festive candle or two, a bottle of fizz and box of chocolates to enjoy while decorating our tree (it’s tradition), two mini Christmas trees for the kids room, token gifts for the neighbours, another trip to markets to meet friends, Christmas cards, advent calendars…the list goes on.
When I added up exactly how much cash I’d blown (not including Adam’s shopping. Each year, Adam buys the gifts for his friends and family and I sort out my family, the kids, food, decorations and so on), I felt utterly sick. The total amount I’d spent on ‘Christmas stuff’ to stay at home this year was far more than I paid for a luxury family Christmas trip to Paris a few years ago, including flights, Disneyland park passes, a lovely Christmas dinner with the Disney characters, a 4* hotel and spending money. Fuck.
And the saddest part of all? Spending Christmas Day with my girls in Paris was one of the most memorable, stress-free Christmases we’ve ever had together and something that they still talk about regularly. Yes, it may seem extravagant and I know that most people may prefer to spend the day with their loved ones but for us, it was something to treasure and the memories we made there mean more than the mountains of ‘stuff’ that will be sat under the tree this year (and most likely will have been forgotten about by March).
The lesson I’m taking away – apart from learning the art of self-control when shopping – is that experiences mean so much more than ‘stuff’. Next year, I’m determined to go back to basics and enjoy spending some real quality time with my family, not just pissing away more money.
This will also be reflected in the gifts I chose for others (a homemade afternoon tea with their favourite cake or a day on the steam train as opposed to another bottle of perfume or gift voucher) and I’ll be resisting the pressure to create a ‘perfect’ Christmas.
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.
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.
Personalised Initial Make-Up Bag – £9.99
Christmas Pyjamas in a Bag – £7.99
Brights Christmas Gift Wrap Set – £2.99
Victoria’s Secret Body Spray – £11.99
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.