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.
For me, BBQ’s generally consist of burnt sausages, warm beers and people getting rowdy by 10pm, which may explain why we don’t bother hosting them very often. In fact, I’ve had a gas BBQ sat in my garden unused for the past six years! After attending a BBQ masterclass with master chef, Richard Holden last week, that is set to change.
I made my first ever trip to Wigan, ready for the class which was held at John Whaite’s Kitchen and it appeared that the weather also got an invite! Along with several other bloggers and journalists, we began the afternoon indoors. Richard introduced himself to the group and talked us through the myths and general hurdles that us Brits often fall foul of when cooking on the BBQ. Chicken was the main concern for most of us, with food poisoning horror stories meaning we either cook it in the trusty oven or avoid it altogether.
Richard says: “As a nation, we still have a lot to learn about what it is to successfully barbecue, and a lot of it comes down to temperature.
“The first piece in the puzzle is to cook at the right temperature – too much heat and your food is cooked on the outside and raw in the middle, not enough heat and your food is cooked through but missing the gorgeous caramelised exterior that excites the eyes and the taste buds!
“The second piece is knowing the correct core temperature of food, so food is both cooked and safe to eat. When I’m teaching my classes, I give my students a simple saying to ensure food safety: 75, stay alive.
“Meats cooked to a core temperature of 75°C will ensure that all harmful bacteria are destroyed. This is critical for high-risk foods such as chicken and minced products like sausages and burgers. I never serve food without quickly checking the core temperature and a Thermapen is the easiest and most reliable way of doing that.
“Food that is cooked properly while retaining its natural flavour and succulence would put British BBQ on the map, and using a thermometer is part of that picture!”
Looks like my technique of ‘cook until it’s black’ is out of the window then! Richard briefly took us all into the garden to show the different ways of using a BBQ, both gas and coal. We were even graced with a cameo from John himself as he took his adorable pup out for a walk and came over to say hello. We then disbanded into small groups, headed back into the kitchen and began to prep various dishes ready to put what we’d learned into practice.
This involved making two salads and marinading different meats: chicken and flat iron steak. If you want to give these a go, I’ve written another blog post here containing all four recipes. These simple ideas use fresh ingredients for maximum flavour and are achievable for even the most novice cook to really take your BBQ menu to the next level.
As mentioned, my usual technique of pretty much hoping for the best is not the right way to go about things. Richard explained that it’s all about temperature, which is where Thermapen comes in. I hear you cry: “But I really don’t need another kitchen gadget that’ll be left in a drawer!” and I beg to differ. You see, I thought the same thing – until I used Thermapen myself.
Random story: baking chocolate cake is my nemesis. Really. It always has been and I could never get it right, much to my frustration. I put this down to partially never quite knowing when it’s cooked thanks to the colour. This time, I used the Themapen and it turned out perfectly after showing a 95 reading. Not just for meat! But I digress…
Richard taught us a little more about cooking outdoors and then, in groups of four, we honed our new-found skills. After checking the temperature of the meats and making sure they hit that elusive number on the Thermapen, this proved to be the key to perfection after all (who knew?). The chicken was still lovely and moist without being raw and the flat iron steak was beautifully cooked on the outside and tender on the inside.
Richard even whipped up an impressive meringue (casually showing off his enviable baking skills right there. Richard, if you’re reading, I need that recipe in my life!) on the BBQ then topped it with berries, pistachio nuts and fresh cream. The whole class then sat together to enjoy a marvellous meal and get to know one another a little better.
Thermapen is also great for making caramel and cooking with sugar so is worth having around. I’ll be creating all kinds of goodies in the kitchen now, knowing that I can’t possibly cock it up too badly if I’m actually measuring the temperature as I go, instead of guessing as previously!
What is your favourite BBQ food?
*I was invited to attend the class FOC, however, all opinions are my own
The last time I got categorically Off My Face drunk was on my hen do in 2016. This resulted in me spending the next morning with my head down the toilet in a posh hotel as my poor sister-in-law witnessed the whole thing. Good times.
As my girls are only just discovering such ‘delights’, I can’t say I envy them. For me, being a teenager was downright traumatic and, in hindsight, my twenties were a rather unpleasant learning curve. I raced through my late teens and jumped feet first into adulthood with no real thought as to where it would lead nor the lasting consequences of the rash decisions I made.
It was in my mid-twenties that I learnt all about humility, accountability, being brave and new beginnings. The juvenile stubbornness began to fade as I took responsibility for my own life and, in turn, became much more cautious about who I chose to let in. Like a newborn giraffe, I stumbled my way through this new chapter and slowly found my voice, along with a surprising level of resilience as I raised my girls and began to take significant steps forward.
My early thirties changed everything. Along with tragedy, this period of my life taught me my most valuable lesson to date; stop putting up with other people’s negativity. I began to challenge narrow-minded views and mercilessly cut off those who were draining me, the kind of people that I no longer had the energy nor inclination to pander to any longer.
For this, I remain unapologetic. Not all us are fortunate enough to make it this far so why on Earth would I want to spend another moment of this precious life around contemptuous beings? Of course, I’m still learning and humble enough to admit when I do get things wrong. It’s just that these days, my priorities are different. My social circle is small yet solid and when it comes to my career, I feel that I’ve finally found my focus.
Sure, the face that once glowed is now growing old and my body is showing the tell-tale signs of wear and tear, with several joints clicking involuntarily as I move and the scars of a turbulent past forever engraved into my skin.
My once-plump lips are getting thinner and the deep frown lines on my brow are evidently here to stay. I won’t lie; I’ve been toying with the idea of Botox and lip fillers recently in a vain effort to preserve my youth for just a little bit longer but I can’t justify the expense nor bother with the upkeep of such commitments.
Instead, I’m learning to be kinder to that girl in the mirror. You see, we’ve been through a lot together and she’s always had my back, keeping me motivated when things seem hopeless and survived some intolerable circumstances. I’m proud of her and looking forward to seeing what the next few years bring.
With Adam as my date, we arrived in the village at around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and, after circling for while, managed to find a spot to park opposite Brabyns Park in the public car park, just next to The Midland (the pub car park was already full). I was surprised at just how busy Marple Bridge was for such a small place, however, it’s a good indication of its popularity.
Inside The Midland, we waited at the bar for a few moments before being directed up to the dining area (which we failed to spot upon our arrival – I’m not very observant). Adam and I were then shown to our table which was right by the window and overlooking the river. As we sat down, we both commented on how big and comfy the chairs were.
The lunch menu was extensive and each of the dishes had detailed descriptions. During the week, The Midland offers two courses for £12.50 or three for £15.50 from a fixed menu, which is more than reasonable and especially handy if you really don’t feel like cooking by the time Wednesday rolls around.
I’ll share an unpopular opinion with you now: I don’t particularly like ‘pub grub’. While Adam enjoys a good old Sunday roast in the local when he gets chance, I find traditional British pub food incredibly bland and avoid it as much as possible. Maybe I’ve simply had one too many plates of soggy, overcooked veg and dry beef served in generic chain restaurants over the years.
The Midland lunch menu was not what I expected. Featuring dishes such as chargrilled lamb and balsamic koftas with lavash bread, harissa hummus, tzatziki, kale and cauliflower couscous salad with a pineapple, lemongrass and ginger dressing, the options available were far from the usual dreary fayre! They also have a dedicated vegan menu which is a refreshing change for those usually restricted to one or two offerings from the main menu.
The drinks menu was equally as impressive, with a whole two pages of gin to choose from (£7.95 – £8.95 per G&T). The non-alcoholic offerings were also great, with ‘softails’ featuring fruity concoctions and even my personal favourite, Seedlip (£4.95), which is the worlds first distilled non-alcoholic spirit and surprisingly hard to find in many bars.
Being a big fan of seafood means that Adam has tried plenty of squid whilst dining out and rated this one pretty highly. This was seasoned well without too much heat from the Szechan pepper and the aioli was loaded with plenty of garlic.
Soup of the day with artisan rustic bread and butter – £4.95
This was carrot and coriander on our visit. A good sized portion for a starter and was a nice, thick soup with plenty of flavour. My only slight issue was that it was quite heavy on the black pepper so left a real kick/aftertaste. I’m not a big fan of the stuff so ended up leaving it halfway through.
Homemade British beef burger with smoked Irish Cheddar, mustard mayonnaise, relish and fries – £12.50
Adam chose to add chorizo (£1.50), bacon (£1.50) and halloumi (£2.25) to his standard burger. The burger itself was chargrilled and, according to Adam, didn’t taste of ‘cheap meat. The skin-on fries had a crispy outer while staying fluffy inside.
Battered halloumi with twice-cooked chunky chips, minted pea purée and tartare sauce – £11.50
Halloumi is something that I love yet have only ever had it grilled before so this caught my eye. The batter was just right; not too heavy or greasy. The halloumi stayed firm and was mellow. The minted pea puree was such a simple thing yet it worked so well with the chunky chips and gave a touch of freshness and colour to the dish overall.
Baked Sicilian lemon cheesecake with British blackcurrant curd – £6.50
Everything you’ll expect from a good cheesecake; light, creamy and the lemon hit was just enough. The blackcurrant curd was sweet yet sharp, complimenting the citrusy flavour of the cheesecake.
Melting golden chocolate orange bomb with praline ice cream, chocolate popping candy, hot Belgian chocolate sauce – £7.95
Perfect for sharing on Instagram, this interactive dessert was made up of praline ice cream encased in a hollow chocolate sphere and surrounded by popping candy. As you pour on the hot chocolate sauce (which arrived in a separate vessel), the sphere melts and reveals the ice cream. This was great fun! I found it all a little bit rich after a few mouthfuls but it’s a good choice for those with a sweet tooth.
The decor was cosy and modern and the clientele ranged from groups of friends to young families. Adam and I ended up staying at The Midland for well over two hours with absolutely no pressure to hurry, despite it being rather busy. All of the staff we spoke to were attentive and cheerful. A great way to spend a relaxed Saturday afternoon!
Now before I begin, I must state that is not the Disney-esque production that some of you may expect. Instead, what unfolded was a performance filled with mischief, simple yet glamorous costumes and a modern undertone.
Originally written in 1894, Kipling’s beloved tale was firmly brought into the 21st century with a bold cast and a few key messages running throughout. As the story begins, we are introduced to familiar characters and each has a defined personality.
The lead character, Mowgli, was played perfectly by the emotive, strong and talented Kezia Joseph. Bagheera the panther (Deborah Oyelade) was slick and sassy, a true champion of female empowerment and co-guardian of Mowgli. Shere Khan (Lloyd Gorman) was a confident and determined meat eater on a mission, complete with sequins; if you see the show, you’ll know what I mean! Balloo (Dyfrig Morris) is a larger than life, humourous Welsh bear (obvs) with plenty of jokes to keep the kids – and adults – entertained.
Alongside Kaa (Rachel Dawson), Akela (Tripti Tripuraneni) and the wolf pack, the small yet powerful cast of 11 did a sterling job of portraying the ultimate message that we all sleep under the same moon, regardless of race, gender or culture.
The pose of devious ‘Funky Monkeys’ added more humour and roguery to the plot, with toilet humour and slang. Original music was actually a welcome addition and every single cast member carried the tunes with ease – some even played instruments too!
The set was basic yet effective, with the plot unfolding on a rotating apparatus of ladders. The use of clever lighting and the sporadic addition of fire and smoke machines helped to set an understated jungle scene without distracting from the performance.
The Jungle Book is clearly a family show but not exclusively for kids as Adam and I had a marvellous evening watching this uplifting and heartwarming production.
Dates: Wed 2 – Sun 6 May 2018
Tickets: £17.50 – £24.50
*We were invited to The Jungle Book FOC, however, all opinions are my own
Anyhow, here’s how April went.
Enjoyed a spa day
My little sister is getting married in June so, as her bridesmaid, I’d been getting busy planning her hen do! I did what a professional social media executive does best and set up a Facebook group, including various polls and such. The general consensus was that a spa day and meal was the preferred option so I booked us in for a day of tranquilly at a local luxury leisure club.
Here I met my sister’s future mother in law (keep up people) for the first time and she is hilarious – I’m already looking forward to seeing her at the wedding. We all relaxed and spent hours in the water whilst nattering about wedding plans. Sadly, I couldn’t make the meal afterwards but it was so lovely to catch up with our loved ones.
Explored the UK
April turned out to be the month of adventure for us. Adam and I stayed in a beautiful hotel in Buckinghamshire and enjoyed a rare night of ‘us time’ (not a euphemism). If you haven’t seen it already, you can read the full review here. We also spent a day in Oxford and went to the Peak District over Easter to see my sister-in-law who was holidaying there.
Last week, Adam and I took a whole five days of annual leave from our respective jobs in order to spend some quality time together so did a fair bit of exploring then too, as well as spending a morning lazing about in bed watching Netflix like responsible adults. Oh, and after a brief spate of sunshine the week previously, it absolutely pissed it down/was freezing cold on every single day of our leave. Great timing, eh?
I managed to get accidentally drunk in Manchester last Sunday morning before checking out Tim Peake’s spacesuit/spacecraft at the Museum of Science and Industry which was fun, followed by a quick mooch around the National Football Museum.
Later in the week, I went over to Lancaster to see family and enjoyed a walk around Williamson Park. The day after, Adam and I had a spontaneous jaunt to Blackpool, eating fish and chips on a very windy beach before wasting twenty quid in the arcades. Seriously, those penny machines are addictive!
Saw Frank Turner in Manchester
Yes, again. For the thirteenth time to be precise. I coerced my youngest girl into coming along and met up with my dearest friends, ready to sing our hearts out. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who got me on the guest list this time and found out just before we got to Manchester that he’d actually reserved me two spots, meaning we had a spare ticket.
In the spirit of Frank’s new album, ‘Be More Kind’, I put a shout out on social media and gifted my ticket to fellow fans 11-year-old son, which made me feel like a pretty alright human being. Lisa – 1 Touts – 0.
We missed the first support, The Homeless Gospel Choir, however, managed to catch the Canadian band, Arkells, who are now firmly on my Spotify list. Despite Frank suffering from a terribly timed throat infection (this was the first night of his world tour), the gig was as epic as ever.
The atmosphere is always unrivalled, kind of like being at a party with 2,000 mates who happen to have awesome taste in music! He also showcased the new single, ‘Make America Great Again‘ which I’m yet to warm to (‘1933′ is an old-school, angry masterpiece though and I listen to it at least once a day), however, the lyrics: ‘Let’s make America great again, by making racists ashamed again‘ reminded me why I fell in love with his music many moons ago.
How was your April?
I’m not sure when brunches become a thing but I like them; especially when accompanied by a cocktail or two. When I was invited to check out the Kahlua Brunch Club at The Loft in Manchester, I knew that Adam wouldn’t object to spending the morning sampling good food so last Sunday morning, we headed to Quay Street for our 11am sitting.
As first-time visitors to The Loft, we found the modest building by spotting the colourful Kahlua Brunch Club sign on the railings outside. Once upstairs, we were greeted by a team of friendly faces offering us hot drinks. We both opted for a coffee and made our way into the game/lounge area.
The first thing I noticed was the decor. Cactus, coffee beans and bunting in bright Kahlua branded colours made for an Instagram delight. Adam challenged me to a game of table football as our fellow diners relaxed on the various sofas. I’ll skip over this as he managed to win quite spectacularly (18 – 2 in case you were wondering), much the amusement of the staff who began to take an interest in how our game was going!
We were then called over to the dining area, which consisted of several rows of benches and tables before being introduced to a member of the team (remembering names is not my strong point so please forgive me) who talked us through how to make the perfect Espresso Martini. All diners were given pre-measured spirits in the bottom of a cocktail shaker so that we could all have a go at making our own.
Apparently, the key to a perfect Espresso Martini is in the mixing; plenty of ice and give it a really, really good shake! Mine turned out quite well with plenty of froth and tasted even better. I’m looking forward to whipping up my own at home when we’re hosting a party (or you know, just for a Tuesday night treat).
Next up was the food. Before our drinks, we’d been asked if we had any specific dietary requirements to ensure that they could cater for all guests accordingly. A dish of smashed avocado on an English muffin, topped with Kahlua and maple-infused ham and an egg, with a side of hollandaise sauce was served/passed down the tables.
I know that the communal tables won’t be everyone’s idea of fun but we ended up chatting with our neighbours as we ate and liked the casual style of dining. The combination of relatively classic ‘brunch’ ingredients worked well and our empty plates were cleared away swiftly.
Next up was a stack of three coloured pancakes with Kahlua chocolate sauce and two chocolate covered coffee beans. This was in addition to a selection of optional toppings such as fresh fruit, marshmallows and chocolate chips. The pancakes were average but made better by the sauce.
We were also given another cocktail: the ‘Chokahlua Orange’, designed by Chris Bains from Australasia. This was made up of Kahlua, tequila, cacao syrup and fresh orange and had a zesty kick, making it a refreshing end to the sweet course. By 12.30pm, our table was being cleared so I took this as a cue to move back to the lounge area.
I forgot to mention that Adam was driving so I ended up drinking all four cocktails myself! Given that I rarely drink these days, being a little tipsy by 1pm is something that I’m really not accustomed to so that was interesting and on this basis, I declined a game of darts after the meal had finished. (I can see the headline now: ‘Drunk Blogger Injures Several Bystanders With Rouge Dart’.)
The Kahlua Brunch Club is only a pop up so won’t be in Manchester forever (sadly). They are hosting more sessions throughout May, including over the Bank Holiday weekend and you can get your tickets here for £20 per person – if you’re quick, you even can get a discounted ‘Early Bird’ rate of £16.
This is an excellent price given that the cocktails alone are £7 each so you’re only paying a few extra pounds for two courses of food to help soak up the booze. Enjoy!
*We were invited to Kahlua Brunch Club FOC, however, all opinions are my own
Last Saturday, Adam and I waved Lucie off to her granddad’s house for the night (shout out to my dad for being an absolute legend/long-suffering babysitter) and packed the car ready for our road trip. We arrived in the foreign lands of ‘The South’ at around 3pm after a long yet pleasant drive and the obligatory coffee/donut break.
Chicheley Hall is a Grade 1 listed venue that could have come straight out of a romantic novel. It is undeniably stunning and easy to see why it was chosen as the filming location for several classics, including Pride and Prejudice, The Meaning of Life and Black Beauty.
The grand drive up to the hotel set the bar high. The English Baroque style exterior of the mansion made for a gorgeous, dramatic welcome and even the sun decided to make an appearance; a refreshing change from the notoriously grey and rainy Manchester climate that Adam and I have become accustomed to!
The main car park was full, however, the overflow car park is two-minute walk away so we parked up with ease and headed to reception to check in. Here we were greeted by a cheerful lady who gave us directions and the key to our room, along with a bit of Chicheley Hall history.
Not only is the building set in a whopping 80 acres of land – both woodland and landscaped gardens – it also boasts resident peacocks, a quaint library (with several other reading nooks dotted around the hotel) and is home to the oldest scientific academy in existence, The Royal Society. At this point, I contemplated never leaving as my inner nerd/bookworm/nature-lover swooned.
Throughout the duration of our stay, we discovered lots of little touches that give Chicheley Hall even more charm, such as beautiful bird-themed artwork around every corner, luxurious fireplaces, marble pillars, gorgeous windows in a variety of shapes and sizes and of course, the self-supporting solid oak staircase; a bloggers paradise!
Alongside the standard guest rooms, Chicheley Hall also has several superior rooms to choose from. Each of the 48 rooms is named after a distinguished scientist and ours was ‘Born’, after German physicist, Max Born.
Located at the front of the house, our room overlooked the lake and was adorned with antique furniture. The four large bay windows provided an airy ambience and allowed plenty of natural light to spill inside. The walls were painted a pretty pale blue colour with several pictures and mirrors sporadically hung.
The bed was absolutely huge – I’m not exaggerating. I was able to sleep in my prefered ‘starfish’ position and still not encroach on Adam’s sleeping space (I’m a selfish sleeper). There were plenty of plug sockets dotted around and fast, free wi-fi which is pretty essential for us and our various devices. I ventured into the bathroom and discovered that was bigger than our living room at home! There was an entire mirrored wall above the sink and a large bath/shower combo, along with complimentary toiletries.
As I sat at the beautiful writing desk overlooking the window, it was clear that the atmosphere of this place was something that a simple budget hotel could never offer. A large sofa situated at the foot of the bed was the ideal size for two so we snuggled down with a cup of tea and plenty of feather pillows (a decent array of brewing up facilities were also available) to watch TV for an hour as we recouped from the drive.
After a rest, Adam and I then went on to explore the breathtaking grounds of Chicheley Hall before dusk. We strolled through the immaculate gardens and towards the lake and woodlands. As with the interior, there were so many details to take in that I kept stopping to take pictures approximately every 20 seconds (hello Instagram). We stumbled upon hidden doors that reminded me of Edin Blyton books, flowers, sundials, a dovecote, peacocks, a small boat and endless trees during our walk, not to mention the wildlife.
Whilst looping around the lake, we did have a close encounter with a feisty-looking swan but thankfully avoided any confrontation! The air was filled with the sounds of local church bells and birds singing.
We continued to meander through the gardens, breathing in the simplicity of the evening without chores, deadlines and other such responsibilities weighing us down. It really was a rare period of pure escapism and felt like we’d been transported right back to the early days of our relationship.
On the way back from out walk, Adam and I found stacks of beehives and discovered that these provide the local honey sold at the reception of Chicheley Hall. Again, the place is crammed with quirky, unexpected details!
At 7pm, we went to the dining room for our evening meal and took a seat next to the window. The dining room was decorated with dramatic marquetry walls and original oil portraits in ornate gold frames. Even the long silk curtains gave a nod to the scientific roots of Chichelely Hall, commissioned by The Royal Society and featuring a pattern of Hooke’s micrographic flea image.
The menu offered five dishes per section (starter, main and dessert), including vegan options. Adam and I both opted for the tomato and basil soup to start, I chose pea and goat cheese gnocchi with pesto cream sauce as my main and Adam went for the beer-battered haddock fillet with homemade tartar sauce, chunky chips and mushy peas.
Our server, Ieva, was attentive, knowledgeable and talked us through the wine menu before we both decided to stick to soft drinks (no reflection on the wine – we’re not big drinkers!). Our starters arrived promptly; the soup was rich with a sweet basil oil to cut through the sharp, fresh tomatoes and a crusty bread roll with butter on the side.
Our plates were cleared and mains brought to the table shortly afterwards. My gnocchi was laden with the cream sauce and topped with fresh rocket leaves. Adam gave a thumbs up on his battered fish so I’d say the mains were a success!
We were pretty full by this point but still managed to find space for desserts (standard). I ordered a baked chocolate tart and Adam picked the apple tart, both served with vanilla ice cream. We took our time eating these, chatting about how much we loved the decor and made plans for future date nights together.
After our meal, we decided to grab a drink at the bar and I noted the impressive gin selection – hurrah! Now I’m not actually supposed to drink alcohol these days thanks to issues with my stomach lining (delightful, I know) but I was feeling rebellious so ordered a G&T regardless. We then retreated to our lavish room, watched a movie in bed and had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.
The next morning, Adam and I wandered back to the dining room for the self-serve breakfast. This was made up of cereals, pastries, juices and cooked items with fresh tea or coffee poured at the table. With full bellies, we reluctantly said a silent goodbye to Chicheley Hall and vowed to return again soon.
Being only an hours drive from Oxford, Cambridge, London and Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, I suspect this will be happening sooner rather than later!
If you decide visit (two of our friends have already booked to stay in June), I’d highly recommend that you opt for the superior rooms. The tariffs are incredibly reasonable (from about £55 per night depending on the date selected) and the ‘upgrade’ is only about £10 more than a standard room. You can find details here.
Have you been to Chicheley Hall before?
*Our accommodation, food and drinks at Chicheley Hall were provided FOC for the purpose of this review, however, all opinions are my own
While these are both huge steps and helping to prepare them for the road that lay ahead, what about the other stuff? You know, things like learning how to problem-solve, bond with strangers and push physical boundaries. Of course, we do some of these things at home in various ways but having Mum on hand pretty much 24/7 kind of takes away the satisfaction of going it alone!
I personally grew up spending most of my time outdoors with friends who lived on our street, climbing trees in the local countryside, making daisy chains and catching frogs in rivers (no, I didn’t grow up in an Enid Blyton book).
However, I never really ventured far from home in my teenage years and in hindsight, wish I’d have had the opportunity to meet new people from different cultures and cities during this important period; something that most of us only do when/if we go off to university.
NCS (National Citizen Services) gives teenagers aged 16-17 the chance to do just that.
What is NCS?
NCS (National Citizen Services) is a government-backed programme established in 2011 to help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. By bringing together young people from different backgrounds for a unique shared experience, NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens.
The whole experience including food, accommodation and travel costs just £50 and bursaries are available on a case by case basis. Support is also provided for young people with additional needs.
If (like me) you worry about your ‘babies’ being away from home the first time, fear not! All staff and volunteers are subject to enhanced DBS checks and all venues are rigorously audited to ensure the highest standards of safety for your peace of mind.
How does it work?
This experience consists of four phases, lasting two-four weeks in total:
Phase One – Adventure
Living with a team at an outdoor activity centre, teens can get to know some amazing people and enjoy some quality time away from home in a group of 12-15 incredible people they’ve never met before (aka the chance to make some new friends!)
The participants will then be reunited with their group in a uni-style environment where they’ll develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication to help boost their CV or UCAS personal statement.
They could meet organisations and important people from the local community whilst potentially discovering something new about themselves. Maybe they have a surprise passion for photography, editing, football coaching or even an interest in setting up their own business.
Phase Three – Social Action
This is where the NCS experience all comes together. All the fun and inspiration from the first two phases means the teens are ready to step up and deliver their very own social action project. To plan, fundraise and really make a difference.
Phase Four – Celebration
At the end of the experience, they will get exclusive access to potential volunteering offers and apprenticeships, as well as discounts and big events. This opportunity really is something special!
My girls tend to spend the summer holidays cooped up indoors, glued to their phones, indulging in expensive trips to the cinema or shopping. This time, I’d like to give them something more.
NCS is also flexible so can work around any existing holidays or commitments that you and your teen may have. There are still places available for Year 11s to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity this summer. To sign up now, go to the NCS website.
The more they’re wrapped up in their own tales, the less I have to talk, thus making the whole scenario less awkward for us all. I’m in awe of those brilliant personalities who can capture an audience and wow the crowds with their radiant energy and charm.
You know the ‘Person Who Can Find A Cat At Any Party’ memes? That’s me in real life. Seriously. The last two parties Adam and I attended, I managed to find cats (jackpot) and spent more time fussing over them than I did socialising with actual human beings. I even hung out with a dog at a wedding we attended a couple of years ago.
That said, I promise I’m not intentionally being ignorant, standoffish or rude as it may seem. I like people, I really do. I find them fascinating, draining and perplexing, all at the same time. Making small talk leaves me with sweaty palms and, in my mildly terrified state, I end up overcompensating by blurting out random things, such as: “Do you like cake? I really love cake. All kinds of cake! I mean, who doesn’t like cake, right?! Steam trains are awesome too. I’m such a train nerd!” then laugh maniacally until the inevitable silence ensues.
I simply find some everyday situations, the ones that some of you take for granted, completely overwhelming. Being in a room full of acquaintances makes me feel like an alien yet have no problem talking to individual people about our respective life goals, hopes and dreams, politics and I also enjoy a good debate. Go figure.
My introverted core means that I’m left feeling utterly depleted when I’ve done a little too much ‘peopling’ and need time to recover. This involves occasionally spending a whole weekend at home in my own company, for the sake of my wellbeing. Entertaining impromptu visitors is a daunting concept and I require a good few days notice ahead of these rare occurrences.
Having a hobby such a blogging may seem somewhat contradictory – hypocritical even – for a girl who enjoys solitude. However, this is my creative space and a way of getting my ramblings out into the world when my voice fails me.
I’m so very lucky to have friends and family around who understand and accept that I’d rather be home in my PJs with a book on a Friday night than constantly out and about; they don’t push me to be somebody that I’m not. What about you? Are you a fellow introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between?
Watched my girl win an award
A few weeks ago, we discovered that my eldest girl had been nominated for an award. Not just any award though. Forget the Oscars, my clever daughter had only gone and won ‘Health & Social Apprentice of the Year’!
Out of hundreds of students, Megan’s tutor had nominated her after seeing how dedicated and mature she is when it comes to her full-time placement at a local hospice.
My heart filled with pride as she was publically recognised for her outstanding efforts and determination. Megan’s work ethic is incredible for someone of her age and I know first hand just how much she adores her job. She’s certainly on track for a wonderful career as a neonatal nurse after finishing university and I’m so excited to see what the future holds for her.
Cursed The Snow
Erm, what happened to the weather last month? The UK has seen more snow in March than we did all of last year combined! Not only did the Beast From The East make me a moody bitch for a few days earlier this month (walking to work in a blizzard was not fun) then to have it make a brief return a few weeks later really cocked up my plans!
Mainly because I’d been invited to an awesome blogging event in Liverpool last Sunday and had to cancel. The night before, we had a few flakes of snow but I was still optimistic as I printed off mine and Lucie’s train tickets.
It was not to be. We woke up to this at 6.30am and soon discovered that the buses had been cancelled and roads closed. I spent the rest of the day at home, furiously complaining to anyone who’d listen (including the cats) about how fed up I was and that snow shouldn’t even be making an appearance in frigging March. Fun times.
Got shortlisted for the Lovin Manchester awards
Last week, a friend tagged me on Twitter to let me know that I’d made the final ten in the Lovin Manchester Best Blogger Awards. Given that I’m a small fry hobby blogger, I was genuinely shocked yet over the moon to have been considered, especially when I spotted the other nine nominees; I was up against some seriously good competition.
After begging friends, family members and colleagues for votes, I was informed that I’d only gone and made the shortlist – OMFG! At the time of writing, I’m now in the top five and will be attending the awards ceremony later this month where the final winner will be announced. Exciting stuff!
Of course, I’m not too hopeful about actually winning this title as I’ve been placed in the Best Food Blogger category and the other people nominated are much more established (and frankly talented) than I am. If you do want to vote, you can do so here.
Simply scroll down the article, enter your email address in the Google Doc and select your favourite. I’ll let you know the outcome over on my social media channels. Wish me luck!
Re-visited Heaton Park
Heaton Park, Manchester is somewhere that features fondly in my past, from childhood memories to days out with my own kids several years later. We’d been suffering from a mild case of ‘Cabin Fever’ so decided to head out for some fresh air.
Now that the kids have their own busy social lives (sob), Adam and I jumped in the car one Sunday morning and headed to Heaton Park for lunch and a walk. The cheese and onion pie at the Stables Cafe is pretty legendary so we filled our bellies then went to explore.
What was initially intended to be an hour out of the house turned in to a five-hour adventure as we stumbled across woodland art, a billion squirrels and took a ride on the vintage tram. Even though it was still freezing, I couldn’t pass up the offer of a Lotus treat from the ice-cream van!
Watched ‘Ready Player One’
I read the book by Ernest Cline last year and absolutely loved it. I grew up playing computer games in the 80s and 90s and am a bit of sucker for nerdy nostalgia so devoured the book within a few days. I’d been eagerly anticipating the movie release so took advantage of not having to work on Good Friday and headed to the cinema to see how Stephen Spielberg, Zack Penn and Earnest Cline had adapted one of my favourite novels.
The first few minutes of the movie explains the dystopic world set in 2045, the OASIS, ‘gunters’ and other fundamental details. I’m not going to post too many spoilers but the film has several key differences from the bestselling book.
In the book, one of my favourite chapters is a ‘Copper Key’ challenge involving the main character, Parvizel aka Wade Watts, and a throwback to a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ module, ‘Tomb of Horrors’. This was completely omitted from the movie, instead swapped for a more modern, fast-paced mission.
Alongside the death of a key character in the book, Wade’s extensive self-education on James Halliday and Ogden Morrow and more being left out of the screenplay, it was a very different experience, however, the addition of a scene involving a cult 80s movie made up for the lack of pop-culture references that a thirtysomething-year-old like myself may have enjoyed seeing more of. Have you read or seen ‘Ready Player One’ yet?
In loving memory
March also marked four years since the worst day of my life to date. March 27, 2014, was the day Neil – my fiance, the girls step-dad, a son, brother and much-loved friend – passed away suddenly and our world changed forever. As the years pass by, this tragic loss has become a little more bearable but still manages to sting with unavoidable, bittersweet memories and emotions.
I’m not really one for sentiment nor holding much value on transitory things, such as a date on a calendar but the anniversary of Neil’s death is always one that fills me with sorrow regardless of my efforts. I find myself reflecting on how far into this journey the kids and I have come, how different my life is now and yet the events that unfolded on that horrific evening feel remarkably vivid and are still so hard to comprehend. Grief is a complex beast, eh?
The girls and I marked the day with a beautiful bunch of orange gerberas which always make me smile. They were the chosen flower for Neil’s funeral and the vibrant, pretty petals always serve as a personal reminder to stop sweating the small stuff (including snow days) – life really is too short <3
My family are ‘outdoorsy’ people and have memberships to RSPB nature reserves where they go to savour the natural beauty and wildlife on offer. I’ll be honest; I personally spend way too much time hiding behind my laptop so this year, I’m making plans to explore more of the UK and more importantly, learning how to get back to basics again.
Norfolk is a 4-hour drive away from home so is somewhere that we’d spend a few days exploring (any excuse for a mini-break is just fine with me). Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful cottages and retreats for us to rent which would allow us to take our time discovering nature in this charming part of Britain. I’m a sucker for itineraries so here’s what I have planned so far for our summer trip to the coast.
RSPB Snettisham Nature Reserve
This reserve is free to visit and one place to witness two of the UK’s great wildlife spectacles. On big tides, as water covers the vast mudflats of the Wash, tens of thousands of wading birds are pushed off their feeding grounds and onto the roost banks and islands in front of the RSPB hides.
In mid-winter, you may even be rewarded with the sight of thousands of pink-footed geese flying to or from the overnight roosts. Large numbers of common terns and black-headed gulls nest on the reserve in summer, when there is a spectacular display of shingle flowers. I’ll pack my binoculars then!
Address: Snettisham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE31 7LR
Tucked down a little track, Horsey Beach has no facilities – just peace and quiet. This appeals to me for so many reasons. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a picnic on the beach, perched on sand dunes while I read a book without any distractions. I can imagine taking a sunset stroll here and breathing in the evening sky.
From the top of the marram-covered bank (marram is an original East Anglian word, deriving from Old Norse words for sea and grass) there are occasionally basking seals. A lovely break from the usual seaside tourist noise and attractions.
Norfolk Coast Path
The Norfolk Coast Path runs from Hunstanton in west Norfolk round to Sea Palling on the northeast Norfolk coast. The majority of this walking trail runs through the dramatic landscape of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This would be a lovely opportunity to spot a few famous Norfolk poppies in spring too.
Do you have any other places to recommend in Norfolk?
However, with a full-time job and kids to feed, it’s not really practical to spend the entire winter season in bed (much to my disappointment) so on Saturday, I dragged myself up and decided to indulge in a spot of baking.
I’d spotted this recipe from Elsa Eats on Twitter earlier in the week so attempted to make my very first batch of Fifteens. This traditional Northern Irish traybake is so simple to make – seriously, you just use 15 of each of the main ingredients, hence the name – and ideal for St Patrick’s Day!
Adam and I were both feeling a bit ropy so decided to take it easy for the afternoon and challenged the kids to road test two new board games we’d been gifted.
Staccups* is a game of speed and coordination and I went in fairly confident with this one. The premise of the game is to get rid of your cups before your opponent. Not as simple as sounds when you factor in a few other rules.
Begin by pressing the button on the base to be given a colour. You then have to match the colour on the top of your cups with this one. Oh and you need to have a close eye on the other players as it’s pretty easy for them to cheat!
After getting my head around the rules, it was simple enough to play but I just wasn’t quick enough so ended up losing every single time (we had five games…)
Word Has It* was another one that I was sure I’d smash. Words are my thing guys! Erm, wrong. With this one, you have to build the longest word you can think of within a set amount of time. Not just random words, of course, but ones prompted by a ‘category card’ and a first letter is also supplied via a spinner.
There are a few helpful features of this game, such as special cards that allow players an extra 40 seconds or a ‘Any Letter’ card to allow the chosen player to pick any letter to play in the category.Each piece is three-sided with a letter on each and stacks together easily enough.
In a replay of the Staccups defeat, I lost each game of Word Has It! quite spectacularly. So after all that, it seems doing tasks under pressure and ‘on the clock’ just doesn’t work well for me – story of my life. It did, however, provide a great afternoon of tech-free family time!
After that, we decided to call it a day. I got back in to bed with the excuse that I had to be up at 6am on Sunday (!) to travel to Liverpool for the Celebrity Makeup Masterclass event with Debenhams Beauty (which we had to cancel as the vile weather meant there were no buses running and my car was snowed in – gutted is an understatement).
How was your weekend?
Edit: it turns out that my sleepiness wasn’t solely due to being a lazy cow – I’ve been absolutely battered by a virus and have spent the last couple of days sleeping/
nodding off by with my head down the toilet bowl. Bleugh!
*Contains PR samples
Cadbury Creme Eggs are my (not so secret) vice. So much so that I keep a little stash of them in the top drawer of my desk at work, much to the amusement of my colleagues (until they get peckish of course – whos laughing now, eh?)
Anyway, you came here for a recipe so I’ll stop my incessant ramblings. I’ve been experimenting with slow cooker fudge for a while now with varying success, however, this haphazard creation was an absolute belter so I wanted to share the love. Enjoy!
Creates approximately 36 small squares. 2 hours cooking time, cool overnight. This can be made using a heavy-bottomed pan on low heat if you don’t have a slow cooker.
400g milk chocolate (any brand will do – I used a cheap supermarket one)
6 Cadburys Creme Eggs
1 397g tin of condensed milk
1 – Break up the chocolate and chop the creme eggs.
2 – Set your slow cooker to low and add the broken chocolate, 3 creme eggs and the tin of condensed milk.
3 – Leave the lid off and stir occasionally. The mixture should begin to melt and form a crust.
4 – Stir well and wait for the fudge to form a second crust.
5- Pour into a lined square tin or mould (I use a silicone one from Home Bargains) and quickly top with the remaining chopped creme eggs.
6 – Leave to cool in the fridge overnight. Cut into small squares and store in an airtight container (refrigerated) for up to one week.
As my own daughters are battling their way through the maze of teenage angst, what better time to share my life lessons with them (and the world. Being a blogger and all, it’s kind of a given).
Yes, I’m fully aware that the chance of my two headstrong teenagers taking this advice on board is slim but these snippets of ‘wisdom’ are things that I kind of wish I’d have known (or you know, actually listened when other people shared their own advice with me) twenty years ago.
Your body is your own
Never, ever let anyone else tell you what to do with your own body. Set your own boundaries and do not tolerate any other human being who disrespects your personal space or touches you without your explicit consent. That guy (or girl) who slaps you on the arse or makes inappropriate comments about your figure? Call them out without fear or shame.
Wear the clothes that you want to with pride, be comfortable with your shape and don’t allow society to dictate what that should look like. As an adult, you are free to sleep with as many or as few people as you like. Who you choose to have sexual relations with is absolutely your own choice, regardless of gender, age (within reason, obvs) or stature. You get to decide, no-one else.
Financial independence is something that I’d highly encourage you to make a priority and is incredibly liberating. Before you have to start thinking about lengthy commitments such as a mortgage, save as much of your income as you can to help you on the road to financial freedom. Honestly, you really don’t need another pair of trainers!
Even when you’re older and have numerous bills to pay, it’s a healthy habit to put even a small percentage of your earnings away for that metaphorical rainy day and never, ever rely on anyone else to provide financial stability for you.
You are so much more than pretty
There is no denying the fact that you’re both aesthetically gorgeous girls. However, you are also far, far more than that. Beauty is a weird thing, isn’t it? A ‘luck of the draw’ lottery in which the genetics you end up with impact the way you are perceived and treated for the rest of your life.
Accepting compliments based on your appearance is fine but don’t forget to focus on your wit, intelligence, abilities and strengths too. For me personally, these unique traits matter so much more than ‘pretty’ ever will. Let them see your soul, not just your face.
Buy Decent Bras
If you wear decent, well-fitting bras now, you will thank me for it when you hit your thirties. The cute Primark bralets are all good and well but don’t actually carry out their functional purpose. Trust me, as an ex-bra fitter, this is one of the few things in life I actually properly know about!
Your heart will be broken – but it does get better
I’ve had my own heart broken through the years, by lovers, friends and family members in tragic, unavoidable circumstances and toxic ones too. It’s an unfortunate part of life and hurts more than any physical pain I’ve experienced, however, it does get better.
This is a huge cliché but time really does…well, not heal per se, but certainly helps to ease that raw, stinging pain. Once a relationship is past its ‘sell-by date’, learn how to let it go. Take the lessons in your stride and use the experience to grow, instead of being bitter and hateful.
See The World
This doesn’t necessarily mean taking a gap year, it means really seeing the world for what it is – the good, the bad and the ugly. Be brave enough to take the opportunities that may come your way. Make friends with people from all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities.
Debate with people who have different outlooks and opinions to you. Breathe in new places and take the time to learn about new cultures. Open both your eyes and your mind!
Don’t Be A Dick
How you treat other people is a huge indication of who you are as a person. Whether you’re speaking to a CEO or the lovely lady at the supermarket checkout, treat everyone you come across with the same level of courtesy; even those who don’t deserve it. Remember, this isn’t a reflection of their character, but a reminder of yours.
Clap when other people are winning, listen to your own moral compass, say please and thank you and if someone treats you like a knob, don’t stoop to their level. Be kind to those who seem incapable of reciprocating the same quality, keep your integrity and, regardless of the situation or temptation, honestly really is the best policy.
No-one knows everything
Despite appearances, no-one knows everything. Ego and ignorance to do not equal knowledge or wisdom. Be humble enough to admit when you are wrong; this takes guts and maturity. You learn nothing from life if you think you’re right all the time!
Remove toxic people
Do you ever walk away from a conversion with certain people feeling ‘heavy’? Those who seem to ‘take’ but rarely ever ‘give? I’m sorry to have to tell you this but some individuals are simply incapable of change. Those who take great delight in gossip, negativity and other people’s misfortune are not worth your precious energy.
This also applies to those who always seem to be angry and looking for an argument; most of the time, the issue is with them, not you. You may feel guilty but ask yourself if your own inner-peace and happiness is worth keeping up a toxic relationship, whether that be romantically or with a friend, relative or otherwise. Love yourself enough to set healthy boundaries and don’t respond to people who constantly steal your joy.
When I was little, your Grandad would always be taking photographs. I’d roll my eyes and smile but never really understood the significance this until I was much older. You see, your mind is a wonderful object but it doesn’t retain everything.
As an adult, looking back through numerous photo albums of days gone by, forgotten memories and precious time spent with loved ones (some who are no longer with us) is a beautiful thing. Take that spontaneous picture and enjoy documenting the seemingly ordinary moments such as a trip to the beach or a silly night out with friends.
Look after your body
Ok, so it’s kind of a given that you’ll be falling out of plenty of pubs in the next decade or so but remember, everything in moderation. Go to the gym/exercise at least a couple of times a week and balance out the pizza binges with a few decent meals.
Learning to cook from scratch will bode you (and your bank balance) well in the future. Feel free to decorate your skin with the tattoos and piercings that reflect your respective personalities but please, please don’t ever pump yourself with narcotics.
The only thing that’s left to do is live
This one is self-explanatory (and stolen from Frank Tuner).