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.
*Gifted – this means that we were invited to play the escape room and VR games free of charge, however, all opinions/words are my own and absolutely honest as usualThe girls and I have taken on our fair share of escape rooms so when Escape Reality invited us to visit their new digs in The Printworks, Manchester, we were more than happy to accept the challenge. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve actually become a bit addicted to escape rooms so was looking forward to taking my dad, uncle, Adam and the kids along for a few hours of family
Last Sunday morning, my noisy clan arrived at Escape Reality ready to take on ‘Bank Job’. With a team of six, I assumed we’d utterly smash it. I was wrong… but more on that later. We’d arrived early so decided to take advantage of the cosy social area which boasts a great soundtrack, bar, sofas and an array of fancy dress items.
My dad, uncle and the girls dived straight into an impromptu photo shoot using various props as Adam and I enjoyed a coffee. Once they’d finished playing dress up, we put our bags in the free lockers provided and met our game master, Alice (who was flipping lovely). She gave us a thorough de-brief of what to expect and answered our questions. The basic premise is that you have one hour to solve the clues, find a ‘rare diamond’ and escape.
The set up was little different to other rooms I’d previously played, with ‘clue’ QR codes dotted around the room and accessed via a tablet, instead of a screen with prompts. This somehow made the game feel less intrusive and more immersive, giving the players full control.
Once you’ve activated a clue, you are then ‘frozen’ from activating another for 10 minutes to stop you from getting too lazy. The tablet also provided a countdown clock so you could take it around the room as you progressed and keep an eye on the time left.
My initial failing was letting Lucie take charge of the tablet as, two minutes into the game, she’d gone a bit power mad and already opted for a clue without doing any detective work or consulting the rest of the team. I swiftly confiscated it and decided that we should probably form some kind of strategy.
This idea went out of the window as my family raced around the themed room enthusiastically throwing around whatever items they could get their hands on in an effort to break out as fast as possible. At this point, I decided that if you can’t beat them, join them – and after ten minutes, we hadn’t solved a single clue.
I spotted a list on the wall and figured that it was part of another puzzle so quietly collared Adam and we managed to crack it together with minimal bickering. Hurrah! (Although for full disclosure, Adam did tell me afterwards that I was behaving a la Veruca Salt at one point *the shame*)
It seemed like this got the ball rolling and before long, all six us were working as a team and making good progress. We found that there was enough variety in the puzzles to keep us busy and engaged without being frustratingly impossible to complete.
I can’t go into detail without spoiling it after that but, 45 minutes in, we were close to success and getting a bit giddy when disaster struck. In our premature excitement, we’d only managed to accidentally lock the elusive ‘diamond’ back in a safe that we’d already conquered. Whilst scrambling to try and figure out the clue to open it again, our time ran out.
Dear reader, we had failed. Alice came to let us out and offered commiserations. After we stopped passively aggressively blaming one another, we posed for a complimentary team picture then made another pit stop in the social area before giving VR gaming a go.
*my dad and uncle do have actual human faces but don’t use social media, hence the emojis to preserve anonymity
Adam and I have tried VR gaming before and found it to be a rather solitary experience but this was different. We followed Escape Reality’s Jamie into another room and after talking us through the practicalities, he guided us through an hour of virtual battlefields, archery, walking planks, fighting stickmen, drumming, singing, dancing and generally having a merry old time laughing at one other.
My dad was so taken with his first VR experience that, as soon as we finished, he was already talking about planning another session with our extended family! As a family of seasoned gamers, I have no doubt that this is going to become a regular occurrence.
One particular stand out point for me at Escape Reality is that there was no pressure to leave. In other venues, it sometimes felt that as soon as you’d finished your allocated game, you were swiftly hearded out of the building to make space for the next customer. But here, we were encouraged to hang around for a while and allowed get a bit silly, take lots of pictures and reflect on the experience.
It’s not often that the girls willingly participate in family activities these days, being teenagers and all, but they were fully invested in this one and it was heartwarming to see them giggling and posing for selfies with their grandad. Thank you to Alice, Jamie and rest of the Escape Reality Manchester team for such a memorable day.
Just yesterday, I was in a local charity shop with Megan and spotted a coral snowflake Pyrex casserole dish for just £4. I talked myself out of buying it as I really don’t need more ‘stuff’ and am trying to save money. I had a little browse online later on and discovered that the same item is currently selling for around £60. I kicked myself hard!
Anyhow… say hello to Buffy!
I started collecting vintage Pyrex a few years ago after seeing some in a charity shop. As my collection grew I began to wish that there was a shop that specialised in vintage Pyrex and as there wasn’t one, thought I would start one.
Also, my personal collection had grown too big so I had to trim it down a little bit. I offer a Pyrex hunting service where customers can ask me for a specific piece and I will track it down and that is my favourite part of the job I love the thrill of the chase, it is like being a Pyrex detective!
I started with a shop on Etsy and started Pyrex hunting when people started to ask me about how to get rarer items. I have just developed an eco-friendly bamboo phone case with original artwork featuring vintage Pyrex, then everyone can have a rare piece, on their phone at least and for every phone case we sell we make a donation to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, who have a turtle hospital- I love turtles!:)
That’s a really difficult question, as I like most of it but my favourite piece is a Morning Star Cinderella mixing bowl, it’s one of the first pieces I got. It’s not rare, I just really like the pattern, it looks like snowflakes and the colour is quite subtle. I’ve also got a weakness for coral (red) Pyrex too!
I’d like to think so, as vintage Pyrex can be used to store food in the fridge and freezer and you can also take the lidded containers to the shops to put fresh things in, instead of using plastic bags (that’s something I do) but I’m not sure that’s the main reason. Lots of people don’t actually use it because it’s very popular now as an interior design statement.
Some of the designs are quite timeless like the Snowflake and the Daisy and some people like to go for the more retro look with some of the psychedelic patterns from the ‘sixties and ‘seventies. Also now people are also starting to realise that vintage Pyrex is an investment opportunity. Of course, there is also the nostalgia value as a lot of people remember the patterns from when they were young and remember their mums and grandmas cooking with them.
The rare pieces that most collectors want are the ‘Hearts’, which were made in England but were made for the Scandinavian market but the most unique piece I’ve found was a round, white casserole dish with the Daisy pattern on it. They were never released commercially, so it’s a bit mysterious! One theory is a few were made for gifts for employees. That’s the fun of vintage Pyrex, you never know what you’re going to find next.
Thank you so much Buffy. Why not check out her social media channels above and say hello? If you’d like to take part in ‘Say hello to…’, you can get in touch by emailing Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now you’d think that with a surname like ‘Valentine’, I’d be all over it but actually, I’d rather receive something a little more unique, like a bag of my favourite filter coffee, a nerdy piece of stationery or… a donkey perhaps? Now before you assume that I’ve finally fallen over the cliff edge, hear me out.
The Donkey Sanctuary got in touch with me last month to show me all of the beautiful donkeys (I accidentally typed ‘Dinkeys’ instead there and made myself LOL) that they look after. Being the absolute animal lover that I am, I poured over the stories and images of these gorgeous creatures before remembering that my back yard isn’t the ideal living quarters for a donkey.
But luckily for me, that’s not an issue. There are tons of other ways you and I can help The Donkey Sanctuary and adopting a donkey this Valentine’s Day is just one of them.
Henry has problems with his sight and has done amazingly well to adapt to finding his way around. He’s always listening out for the voices of his loving grooms and seeking the company of his good friends including fellow adoption donkey Tiny Tim. You can meet Henry at the Manchester centre.
At night, he will only settle down once he has had a goodnight cuddle with the sanctuary warden *all of the feels RN*. Another fun fact: Henry’s birthday is just 5 days after Valentine’s Day.
Tiny Tim is not tiny at all. In fact, he is one of the tallest donkeys in the herd at the Manchester centre. He is always easy to spot, not just because he is tall but because he has a distinctive white stripe down the centre of his face.
Tiny Tim is also known to be the Harry Houdini of the donkey world. He has an incredible knack for removing his rug at night, without even undoing the straps. Impressive, no?
If you’d like to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in Manchester (or any other location in the UK), you can find more information here.
*Not an ad, paid or gifted. I just wanted to tell you all about this fabulous place!
*I was provided with this subscription box free of charge in return for an honest reviewI told you all about Buckt subscription boxes a little while ago and at the end of December, our first box landed on the doormat. Buckt costs £12.50 a month (per person) and you can cancel at any time. Given that just one of our January activities would have cost us £50 to enjoy without this subscription, there is no denying that the service is excellent value for money.
I’ll be sharing our gifted experiences of Buckt on here for the next few months, however, Adam and I have already decided to continue them beyond this collaboration as we found it was a brilliant motivator for us to get out of the house and try new things together.
This is what was inside the January Buckt box:
Located in the Great Northern, Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing was my personal favourite Buckt experience this month. Upon arrival, Adam and I signed a disclaimer and sat in the social area watching other people fling axes about with both rage and glee.
After a short wait, the group were separated into teams – and I was delighted to find that Keeley from Phat Cupcake was on ours. We all had a few practice rounds under the eye of an experienced instructor and it turns out that it’s much harder than it looks! Axe throwing is also fabulously liberating and a great way to relieve a little stress.
After our practice rounds, it was time to get serious. Each participant took turns to compete with a random member of the team in the hope of making it into the semi-finals. And guess what, dear reader? I, Lisa Valentine of Average Aim and Strength, made it!
Sipping my hot Vimto and taking a moment to appreciate the banging soundtrack on offer at Whistle Punks, I gave myself a little pep talk about the challenge ahead and found a competitive streak that I never knew I had.
I ultimately ranked third out of ten so was rather happy with my respectable efforts. I can’t tell you what Adam’s place in the tournament was as it may trigger a divorce. Highly recommended and something we’ll be doing again for sure.
I didn’t get around to booking this but there was the option to visit Jump Ninja in Salford as part of January’s Buckt box. The lovely Natasha did share her trip to the trampoline park on her Instagram stories last week though and it looks like she had loads of fun.
Meditation is something that I’ve had on my ‘To Do’ list for years but never quite got around to actually actioning. I took my mum along for a lunchtime guided meditation class at Kadampa Meditation Centre in Manchester and, after a quick introduction, got straight into it.
Initially, I found it hard to concentrate but after about 15 minutes, found myself focusing better and came away feeling calm and relaxed. As I said, it’s not something I’ve ever done before but I can definitely see how powerful it is when carried out on a regular basis.
Same as the trampoline park with this one. Adam is already a seasoned drummer (I’m still in awe of his trip to Texas to play at SXSW and other boast-worthy drumming tales) so there wasn’t much point in him coming along and, although drumming is something that I’d like to take up one day, I decided to hang on until I can really commit to it.
Adam isn’t particularly fussed about historic buildings or famous writers so I invited my friend Sarah to come along for a Sunday afternoon catch up. The building itself is impressive and there were several knowledgeable volunteers around to give us the back story of various rooms and artefacts.
Elizabeth Gaskell was seen as being a rather progressive writer in her heyday; her first book, Mary Barton: The Tales of Manchester was written anonymously and caused a great deal of controversy when it was published in 1848.
Elizabeth’s publisher, Charles Dickens, often frequented the house along with her dear friend Charlotte Bronte, John Ruskin and Charles Halle. After her sudden death in 1865, Elizabeth’s heartbroken husband, William, continued to live in the house with their two daughters, Meta and Julia.
After exploring the exhibitions, library and more, Sarah and I stopped by the tea room and chatted over fresh filter coffee and cake. They also sell merchandise and second-hand books there and frankly, I’m impressed that I didn’t come home with 20 new novels.
And I, for one, am thrilled about this fact (apart from Mrs Hitch’s excessive use of chemicals but I won’t dig too deep down that hole today). I’m also secretly annoyed that I didn’t realise just how much other people are interested in being taught how to store pants properly or pictures of shiny taps; I should have launched my own organisational blog years ago and shamelessly cashed in but I always assumed it’d make for some boring as fuck content. How wrong I was, eh?
Those who know me well will testify that I’ve always been a fan of general tidiness. Well, not the actual act of tidying per se but I do find great satisfaction in having a clean home and get irritated if I see a pile of wet towels on the bathroom floor, a wardrobe full of clothes that haven’t been worn for years or dirty pots left idly by the sink.
Given that I live with three other people who categorically do not share my views and are blessed with the ability to ignore said chores/clutter, this can inevitably lead to tension (me stomping about whilst passively aggressively shouting: ‘Am I the only person here who even CARES IF WE LIVE IN AN UTTER SHITHOLE OR NOT?!‘ probably doesn’t help matters).
I was recently given a copy of Marie Kondo’s book, ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, by colleagues after I’d been banging on about the Netflix series so did what bloggers do best and decided to share my thoughts about this book and the KonMari Method on the internet.
I always thought I was pretty well organised – until I actually began the process. Hello, my name is Lisa and I am a secret hoarder LOL. Just from sorting out my clothes, books and paperwork, I managed to discard/donate 18 bags of stuff. And I haven’t even finished the last few categories yet.
The KonMari Method – in a nutshell – is that once you get rid of unnecessary clutter in your home, your life will change for the better and keeping things tidy in the future will be easy peasy. Hmm…
There are a few key rules:
It really is ‘Go Big or Go Home’ with this one – there’s no bit-by-bit approach. The idea is to discard things first and then think about storing the remaining items later.
This can seem overwhelming but Marie breaks it down by reminding us that it’s simply a case of deciding whether to get rid of an object or keep it. And the only question you need to ask yourself is: ‘Is this useful or does it spark joy?’. If the answer is no, then either bin/recycle it or donate it.
Marie says that to do a mass once-in-a-lifetime clean, it takes around six months. At first, I baulked at the idea of spending six months to complete the KonMari Method but when you do it properly, it’s actually an accurate period of time to really ‘get your house in order’.
As I mentioned above, the key phrase to the KonMari Method is ‘Does this spark joy?’. I can’t say that my tin openers sparked much joy however, I certainly didn’t need four of them so I kept one and popped the rest in a bag to be donated.
Joy is a subjective word, isn’t it? The things in our home that spark joy for me, such my collection of Delftware figurines (why yes, I AM an old lady) or cookbooks don’t spark joy for Adam so there definitely has to be a degree of flexibility if you live with other people.
Marie suggests that to truly declutter, you need to do it via set categories. This kind of went against my usual method of decluttering as I usually tackle one room at a time.
I love a good analogy so came up with this: you wouldn’t do your laundry and just take items from the bathroom, would you? If you did your laundry room by room, you’d never properly catch up (this idea works for me as my family like to leave dirty laundry not only in their respective bedrooms but under the bathroom sink, stuff socks down the side of the sofa and leave sweaty shirts in the kitchen *shudder*).
The penny was starting to drop and I began to think that maybe, just maybe, Marie knows what she’s on about. It’s also important to stick to a particular order of decluttering (below) as apparently, that’s what makes the method work efficiently so don’t be tempted to go rogue.
Are you happy wearing clothes that don’t make you feel absolutely amazing? No? Then get rid. Harsh I know. The best way to do this is by gathering every single item of clothing in the house and putting it into one big pile.
Then you need to get reacquainted with each and every item by holding it and asking yourself if it truly sparks joy. I’ve always been quite ruthless when it comes to clearing out my wardrobe and will generally donate things that I haven’t worn for a while without getting too attached.
Storage is also a big deal. Marie prefers items of clothing to be folded in a very specific way rather than hung up – with a few exceptions – and says that we should not be storing socks in balls but roll them up into pairs.
Marie recommends that no household should own more than 30 books. I get the logic here but books are my thing. From cookbooks to novels, I flipping love being surrounded by books and my bookshelf makes me happy every time I walk past it.
In the end, I did tackle my collection and only kept the ones that truly sparked joy, have sentimental value or that I use frequently. I got it down to about 55 and have donated the rest as I cannot bear the idea of throwing books in the bin unless they are damaged beyond repair.
That said, there was one paragraph in this book that halted me in my tracks. Marie said that she rips certain pages that contain meaningful words from her favourite books and stores them in a file so that she can glance over them easily when needed. Wait, what?
I very nearly popped ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ in the bin there and then as an act of rebellion against the mere idea of tearing up books (one less book for me to store LOL) but, given that I’d already committed by this point, I decided to persevere.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this practice. Too far Marie, too far. The time and love that goes into writing a book – any book – make it far too precious to be destroyed in the name of tidying.
To tackle papers, we need to collect letters (not sentimental, we get to that later), magazines, product manuals, postcards and other paper-related bits from around the house.
Marie then recommends sorting them into several piles; ones that needs attention immediately – bills that need paying, magazines that need reading etc, ones that are only needed for a limited amount of time such as notes from a class then other items that need to be kept indefinitely, such as birth certificates, passports and marriage licences.
Marie even says that you should get rid of wage slips and bank statements once you’ve read them. I know that most of us have access to these online but I’d personally hold fire on binning the paper copies as you may need them to get a mortgage or claim certain benefits (in the UK at least).
This is pretty much everything else that you own, from kitchen utensils and make up to DVDs and electrical items. A big task but it’s alarming just how much crap you could have hiding in plain sight.
I made a start on the kitchen and found spices that had a use by date of 2016. Shameful! I also found old makeup that had been lurking in my cosmetic bag for about five years but I probably shouldn’t admit that to the world. An eye infection waiting to happen right there.
It’s easy to end up with piles of things in the name of sentimentality but when this collection ends up taking over numerous cupboards, it’s time to downsize.
I have a small box of sentimental items containing trinkets from the girl’s childhood and mementoes of various trips away but I’m fairly ruthless otherwise; I even donated my wedding dress, veil and shoes soon after Adam and I married – but I did keep the vintage belt that was attached to my dress.
Marie’s logic is that the memories you keep in your heart and mind are more valuable than the physical items, that letting go of ‘stuff’ doesn’t mean letting go of those experiences. I’m still a bit on the fence with this one as sometimes, an old ticket stub can spark a great deal of joy and ignite memories that may have otherwise faded.
Long-term, Marie says that you should also thank your items daily, not just when getting rid of them. Marie thanks her shoes for their hard work after wearing them, thanks her clothes every time she gets changed and empties her handbag every night before storing it away.
I struggled to get on board with this bit, even though I get that the idea behind it is practising gratitude etc. I’m also a bit dubious about how realistic the method is for those who are natural hoarders and may not be able to find the discipline or mental strength for such a brutal change.
It did, however, have an expected effect on my spending habits; I now ask myself: ‘Will this spark joy?’ before buying things and am reluctant to bring any unnecessary crap back into our home.
The book obviously goes into much more detail but my verdict is that this isn’t just a passing fad. There really is something to the ‘Tidy Home, Tidy Mind’ process and if you’re serious about changing your home – and possibly your life – it’s definitely worth a read.
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
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!
*Our spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.Manchester is nicknamed the Rainy City and with good reason. At the time of writing, it’s been raining for eight consecutive
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!
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.
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
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