Budget meals, evening walk #2, and the Nipper’s first pint

In anticipation of our forthcoming house purchase, H and I are attempting something of an economy drive at present and trying to reduce our monthly grocery spend by at least 50%, if not more. This essentially involves many meals of economy pasta/sauce and/or beans on toast; not having several bags of rocket languishing in the bottom of the fridge at any given time; drastically curtailing my Rioja habit and H’s sun-dried tomato addiction; feeding the Dog and the cat mafia own brand supermarket pet food instead of the grossly overpriced nutritionally engineered titbits they’ve enjoyed in recent years; and so on.

No, we’re not exactly living below the breadline, and are only doing what most sensible families do, i.e. budget our way out of our ingrained consumerist bad habits from our previous double-income/child-free existence. Truth be told, I’m quite enjoying it: what’s not to like about cheesy beans on a jacket potato? It is also incredible to think how much money we have wasted buying bland food we don’t particularly like out of nutritional guilt, having had it drilled into us by doctors, friends, gyms, magazines, infertility books and complementary medical practitioners that we ought to be eating only organic lean meat and green vegetables, which has its place, but is expensive, can rapidly become bland, bland, bland, and has a completely inadequate shelf life if, like me, you prefer to do your grocery shopping once a week from the comfort of your sofa.

Having said that, there is definitely a stodgy trend to our economy drive diet (can I take this opportunity to plug Tesco’s value chocolate at 33p for a massive bar? 33p!!!), and this in turn has generated a fairly uncharacteristic urge to get out of the house at around 5pm with the Nipper and counter some of the carbs with a bit of light exertion.

So, yesterday, H and I packed the Nipper and the Dog in the car, and went to take a turn along Toddbrook Reservoir. The reservoir feeds the Peak Forest Canal from above Whaley Bridge, and has a pretty setting and nice views, and a pleasant path along the north shore at the foot of Slatersbank wood, good for a gentle amble. It’s not exactly buggy friendly; you definitely need two of you to access the path, via the little footbridge, and it’s quite bramble and nettle heavy. I’d also recommend a fly net for your babby, as midges and horseflies abound. However, the views are very pleasant, and there are birds, fishes, plants and wild flowers a-plenty.  It’s dog-friendly too, as it is usually fairly quiet, cyclist-free, and there are side streams where an errant spaniel can and will cool its paws along the way.

Toddbrook reservoir (1)

Toddbrook reservoir (1)

Toddbrook reservoir (2)

Toddbrook reservoir (2)

A spaniel pretending to be a duck

A spaniel pretending to be a duck

A duck pretending to be a duck

A duck pretending to be a duck

For a slightly more strenuous and structured walk, you can carry on up pass the head of the reservoir and do a circuit via Pennant End, Kishfield Bridge, Scar Wood, Gap House and the housing estate and either walk back down into Whaley or cut along the dam back to the northern shores. This is a round trip of about 3-4 miles and takes about 60-90 minutes, and is pretty easy going.

Afterwards we planned to stop off at the Old Hall Inn in Chinley for a little pre-prandial refreshment, but it was heaving, so we called in at the Lamb instead, where we sat outside quite happily as the clouds drew in, and the Nipper enjoyed his first pub experience, although I’m embarrassed to say he did so without any trousers on. I fear this may have been poor parenting.

A drink outside the Lamb

A drink outside the Lamb

Anyway, times being what they are, one drink was enough, and we came home and had fish and chips and Tunnocks tea cakes for dinner, washed down with a bottle of champagne leftover from when the Nipper arrived. Anyway, about this budgeting…




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Shouting back


Slow to catch on as ever, and writers infinitely more articulate than I have already addressed this in the twittersphere and/or will be doing so in the broadsheets in early course, no doubt, but if you, like most human beings, find it totally abhorrent, offensive and repellant in every conceivable away that a woman (or indeed anyone) is subject to violent rape threats for having the temerity to promote a cause she believes in, please sign the above petition.

Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez had pursued an important but ultimately inoffensive campaign to keep women on bank notes, which met with success when the BOE confirmed that Jane Austen would become the new face of the £10 note. Her brief prominence led to a sustained campaign of highly offensive, abusive and frightening threats from internet trolls; frightening both in the sense that she must have felt real fear as the recipient of such unwarranted hate, and frightening in the sense that it is terrifying that there are living, breathing, human beings at large who think and act as these trolls do.

I don’t normally shy away from the profane, as you may have noted, but I don’t have the stomach to give examples of the behaviour in question; you can find out more on Twitter, including on Criado-Perez’s timeline.

The universally accepted tactic for troll management to date has been to treat them like the unimportant, cowardly little bullies that they are, and ignore them. Criado-Perez says no, and is shouting back. A petition has been set up for those who agree that online aggression towards women, towards anyone, should not be tolerated, and that Twitter should move away from the current uneasy quasi-tolerance to this cyber-violence, and take steps to eliminate it.

No one should be silenced out of fear. I agree with Criado-Perez. If you do too, please sign the petition.


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An evening walk

This evening, the Nipper (ensconced in pram), the Dog and I took a stroll down the Sett Valley trail. This is a disused railway line converted into a pleasant flat path between Hayfield and New Mills, very pram friendly (though watch out for cyclists if your dog, like ours, insists on walking at an angle of 45 degrees and crossing the path of every other living being on the same route). We walked from Hayfield to Birch Vale and back, which is about 2 miles/40 minutes, and very pleasant it was too, with lovely views of Lantern Pike, Middle Moor, Twenty Trees and Birch Vale reservoir in the evening sun. The Nipper didn’t even shout until we got home. Bliss, apart from rabid jealousy of people sitting outside the Royal in Hayfield having an evening pint.


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If Kate were my mate….

…here’s what I’d tell her to get for the new royal arrival. Obvs., what with the entourage and royalness and all, she’s unlikely to want or need any of these things, but if I can’t have an imaginary holding forth with the Duchess of Cambridge in the privacy of my own blog pages, then where can I?

1. A poddle pod. I fear this is something of which our not inconsiderably terrifying health visitor would disapprove, but who gives; since we got it, the Nipper sleeps for about 8 hours at night, enabling me to do the same (or, in truth, to stay up drinking whiskey and writing ineffectual blog posts).

2. A jumperoo. Every fibre in my being screams “wrong wrong wrong” as I slide the Nipper into this ghastly, flashing, whirring, beeping, cacophonous monstrosity that takes up half of our living room floor. Shouldn’t I be providing him with eco-vegan-organic-wooden educational toys instead? I am totally defeated on this. He loves it. (H calls it his office).

3. A moby wrap. Yes, yes, babywearing is awesome and creates a deep, nuturing bond between mother and baby, accelerating the baby’s social, mental and emotional development, etc. etc. Also, a woman needs to make a cup of tea and a slice of toast once in a while. And the moby designs are cute.

4. A  baby gate. Not for the new arrival – yet – but invaluable for keeping dogs out of the room whilst you’re simultaneously trying to remove child from car seat, wipe up sick from child’s face/own hair, answer phone, put away shopping, deal with obnoxious email, and so on.

5. A dummy. Just do it, Kate.

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Beaches for dogs

Today, some pictures of beaches for dogs, and dogs on beaches. Just because.

1. Loch Fyne. This was the private beach of a cottage we have rented on a few occasions. It’s tiny, but pebble heaven, and the tide is gentle enough to let your dog lurk out there all day, if that way inclined (ours is). Beautiful sunsets in this most beautiful part of the world.

Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne

2. Applecross. Brave the Bealach na Ba for breathtaking views to the Isle of Skye and, further round the peninsula, the Torridon mountains. Applecross bay is glorious, but the picture below is from Sand, a short drive up the road from Applecross, or a very easy and pleasant walk.



3. Arran. For seals, and otters, and beautiful views of Holy Isle. (And lots of other stuff).

Lamlash, Arran

Lamlash, Arran

4. Harlech. Splendid huge sandy beach. And a castle. (We just went to the beach).



5. Westport. On the way to Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula. Beautiful, vast, quiet sandy beach.

Westport Beach

Westport Beach

6.  Loch Eck. Picture perfect loch on the Cowal Peninsula. Tiny, magical little beaches with glorious views, safe swimming for the more tentative spaniel (or, indeed, spaniel owner).

Loch Eck

Loch Eck

7. Ardnamurchan. I can’t quite remember exactly where this beach was (possibly Salen?) but it was one of our stopping points on a day tour of this most westerly area of Britain, with Caribbean white sands and turquoise seas (but, sadly, not Caribbean temperatures, though this was alleviated by a hefty swig of Lagavulin).

(Near) Ardnamurchan

(Near) Ardnamurchan

8. Formby Point. There’s a definite Scottish bias to the preceding entries, so here’s a more local one to finish with: the huge, spectacular sand dunes at Formby Point.



I couldn’t quite make it to ten entries for this post, as I got side-tracked looking through photos of H and I and our dogs on various beaches. H often says that he is never happier than when throwing a ball for a dog on a beach. I think the feeling is mutual.


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The crack in everything

Question for you: my fledgling blogging career has had its wings clipped recently by a profound investment of all of my waking energy and time into which of the following three activities?

(a) Watching back to back episodes of Drop Dead Diva on Netflix?

(b) Nourishing the Nipper through his three month growth spurt?

(c) Trying to weather the storm of selling two properties between H and me and buying a new one?

Answer: It is of course (b). Well maybe also (c). Oh fuck it: also (a).

Buying/selling a house is very tense, isn’t it? I keep lying awake at night, hearing Ian McKellan’s* voice in my head whispering in hushed tones “The quest stands upon the edge of a knife” as I wait for our solicitor to give us a modicum of reassurance that we will, in fact, complete on one sale this Friday and therefore will, in fact, be able to go ahead with our planned purchase of our first proper family home. Rest assured, though, I’m not about to have a rant about conveyancing, or the property market, or interior design, fascinating as all three of those subjects may be to some. Instead I intend to rant, in altogether more vague terms, on this:

There is a concept which I have spent most of my sentient life seeking (and failing, often dismally) to obtain, believing it to be the ideal to which we should aspire in all aspects of our life: perfection. It is that whiney, whingey voice that insists that I must get top marks at school/do well at work/not get shouted at by the boss/teacher/parent, which as you get older and more material expands into other areas: I must eat organic meat, I must continually (well…) diet, I must have a clean home, I must have a Mulberry handbag, I must do this, buy that, say this, etc., etc., etc. It is a hideous, inbuilt and ingrained fear of criticism and sloppiness that I use to beat myself up and also project onto other unwilling targets and use it to beat them up as well.

If you can’t do it right, then don’t do it all, I often think. Well, I’m wrong. Perfection is the biggest paradox going. To aim to do things perfectly is, in fact, never to do, but to procrastinate, to hesitate, to fail before you even begin. To aim to be perfect is, in fact, never to be satisfied, but to be continually frustrated by your inevitable failure to attain the unattainable. Churchill had it sussed: “The maxim, “Nothing prevails but perfection,” may be spelled PARALYSIS.”

I am an incorrigible procrastinator and I do – genuinely – believe that this is at least slightly, if not wholly, due not to my natural indolence but rather to my obsession with perfection and my fear of being criticised for not obtaining it. I say this as someone who agonises for hours over the simplest email at work, and drives my junior colleagues to despair and drink by my unrestrained use of red pen when checking their work. This blog is also a case in point. How many half scribbled, unfinished, blog posts have I created on my laptop since I started this blog? It must be upwards of sixty or more. How many posts have I actually finished and published? Five. FIVE. Even I can see that’s a very poor productivity rate. The reason? I won’t (with the exception probably of this post) publish a post until I have written it once, then re-written it, then collated about fifty pages of research, then processed the same, then re-written the post, then amended it, then refined its spelling and grammar, then asked H to proof it, etc. etc. etc….. You get the idea.

If you are a perfectionist, then nothing gets done. Here’s another case in point: housework (vomit vomit vomit). It is risible to even discuss perfection in connection with my domestic capabilities. Cards on the table: I’m a slattern. But I think I am starting to understand why. When I clear up a room, I don’t like to whip round it in five minutes and move on; I like to declutter every cupboard, clean every corner, polish every surface, remove every trace of dust and dirt. Since that takes at least 2-3 days… well, you’ve guessed it, I do it about once a year tops, because it takes so long and the reward is so minimal, as the room is so often a tip again within a day or two. (As an aside, if this is your elephant in the room, as it were, I can’t rate the website flylady.net highly enough – sup up the evangelism and you’ll find some extremely good anti-procrastination and anti-perfection advice on cleaning and much more).

If you are a perfectionist, then nothing gets done. The ironing doesn’t get done because I don’t have time to press everything immaculately and put it away. The floor doesn’t get scrubbed because I don’t have time to get every mark off the kitchen floor. The living room doesn’t get tidied because I don’t know what to do with the pile of clutter on the dresser. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all. So I shy away from playing the piano, in case someone hears me play a duff note or twenty; I shy away from working on the novel which I have been writing for years, because I am stuck on a section where the plot is crap; I shy away from applying for promotion at work, in case someone discovers, horror of horrors, that I am not perfect at all. So I sit there is miserable paralysis, doing nothing, judging myself and judging anyone else, especially poor H, who fails to live up to my bizarre and self-imposed (or conceivably parent-imposed) standards.

Having a child is a good antidote to this poisonous mindset. Childcare does not allow for much indulgence in procrastination or perfectionism. You can’t not feed your child because the place or time isn’t perfect; you can’t not change a nappy because you don’t have the right wipes to hand; you can’t not pick up or play with or interact with your child just because you don’t know all the words to Incy Wincy Spider or you don’t feel like smiling. You give yourself a kick up the arse and you get on with it, and you make loads of mistakes, and you get gradually a bit better at it all the time, and it’s ace, it’s the best thing in the world.

Well, here’s to imperfection, in all its glory. To finish off this highly imperfect post, since we’re in a quoting mood, here’s an extract from Leonard Cohen song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering//There is a crack in everything //That’s how the light gets in.

*It was Cate Blanchett. Sorry.

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Hayfield, Kinder Scout and a mysterious mermaid

The recent clement weather (I was about to write “unseasonable” until I remembered that it is supposed to be summer, after all) has had me hankering  to get out and about walking. This currently means a mile or so along the Tissington or Sett Valley trail before the Nipper starts to shout; however, in a previous life, good weather would mean a great day to get up on Kinder, which in my limited experience is one of the best places to be on a fine day, and therefore I thought I would share with you the walk which we might otherwise have done. For me, as a very amateur walker and hill climber, it ticks all the boxes: long enough to make you feel like you’ve done a decent walk without rendering you immobile the following day; a good balance of inclines and walks on the flat; spectacular views of the Peak District, Manchester and beyond, even to Wales; and, of course, a choice of hostelries at which to end.

Kinder Scout is not so much a summit as a sprawling high moor topping over 2,000 feet, thus making it the highest point in the Peak District. For those of you who care to don a pair of walking boots from time to time, you will be fascinated to learn, if you did not already know, that Kinder is the scene of the 1932 mass trespass, a sort of protest ramble which revolutionised access rights to the countryside, and this walks picks up part of the route taken by the trespassers. If you travel to Hayfield by car, you can park in Bowden Bridge car park and ascend the Kinder slopes by the trespassers’ original route, but I prefer to start this walk from Market Street.

Pass the Packhorse pub, and veer up Kinder Road to the right of the Royal, passing the library, until you see a public footpath heading off to the left. This, if memory serves me rightly, is the Snake Path. Follow this uphill, through a number of kissing gates (which can usefully counter the marital rage that often overshadows the first half hour of any major walk as a result of heated exchanges over e.g. dog leads, sandwich choices, washing facilities at campsites, etc.), and past a copse known locally as Twenty Trees, although I believe there are only nineteen. Turn around here for great views of the village and Lantern Pike.

The path levels out after a short climb, and brings you into sight of Kinder and the shooting lodge. I really love it up here on the moorland grasses, with the ridges looming in the distance, and there are a variety of other walks you could take from this point over Middle Moor and/or down into Little Hayfield. For now, follow the path with the shooting lodge to your left, the reservoir down below to your right, heading off to the left end of the Kinder ridges.

Twenty Trees

Twenty Trees

Shooting lodge and Kinder from the snake path

Shooting lodge and Kinder from the snake path

Kinder reservoir

Kinder reservoir

The path leads along the slopes above the reservoir and takes you onto William Clough, a very pleasant path up a gentle ravine, which ascends steadily until you merge with the Pennine Way at Ashop Head. Turn right and follow the path up for a short, steep-ish climb onto the edge of the Kinder plateau at Sandy Heys.

William Clough

William Clough

View back down William Clough to the reservoir

View back down William Clough to the reservoir

Walk round the edge for about a mile and a half. This is very easy walking along a good path threading between gritstone formations, with views of the reservoir below and beyond.  You will soon reach Kinder Downfall, the highest waterfall in the Peak District, where the river Kinder spills over the plateau down a tumble of gritstone rocks to the reservoir. Whilst not perhaps the most spectacular torrent on the planet, it looks impressive on a blustery day, when the water seems to blow back up on itself. The banks of the river make a good place to stop for lunch.

Kinder Downfall

Kinder Downfall

From here, you can also see the mysterious Mermaid’s Pool, shrouded in nebulous tales of a nymph who appears on Easter’s Eve to either grant immortality or lure men to their doom. It’s not an obvious spot for a mermaid, being a good fifty miles from the coast, and the legends are unclear as to whether she lures her victims to a nearby cavern or tavern, making a clear case for typographical accuracy if ever there was one. Here is a cheery poem by Henry Kirke telling the tale of a hapless shepherd’s boy who met his end at her hands.

Reservoir and the Mermaid's pool from Kinder Downfall

Reservoir and the Mermaid’s pool from Kinder Downfall

After lunch, cross the river and carry on along the path for another couple of miles or so until you reach the trig point at Kinder Low, set amidst a peaty, somewhat alien landscape with its quasi-lunar rocky outcrops.  Here you have good views of the southern ridges and yet more gritstone formations. From this point, my navigation becomes even more sketchy, but basically you carry on in roughly the same direction, keeping to the left of the rocks, until you reach a paved path which takes you past what I think is Noe Stool to a crossroads with the paths leading up from Jacob’s ladder/Upper Booth/Edale. Turn right through a gate, and follow the pony track for a while, passing the medieval Edale cross.

Kinder Low

Kinder Low

Edale cross

Edale cross

Kinderlow end

Kinderlow end

From here, there are various routes back into the village. The last time we did it, we took the path signed off to the right to Hayfield via Tunstead Cross. This takes you along the hillside and, if you bear right where it forks, under Kinderlow end, eventually bearing off downhill through several fields to Tunstead farm. From here you follow the path, which becomes a road, back to Kinder Road and the Bowden Bridge car park, from where you can bear left to continue back into Hayfield.

There are various places where you can take refreshment, in particular the Sportsman on Kinder road if you can’t make it back to the village without a restorative shandy or two, or outside the Royal on a hot day.

All in all, depending on where you start and finish, the walk is about 8-10 miles and I would allow a good 6 hours for it.

(Disclaimer: this route description is written by a woman who relies heavily on her mobile navigation app, and is not intended as a substitute for a good map and a compass, and the knowledge of how to use them – none of which I had, which is all well and good on a fine day, but potentially disastrous in more typical High Peak weather).

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The ten things I didn’t know about having a baby

No real northern angle here, just a little exposition on my general babyrearing ignorance and what I have learnt in the first six weeks.

1. Epidurals aren’t 100% effective. Sure, I had lots of earth mother ideas about labouring in a spa-like birthing pool, with dim lighting and atmospheric music and aromatherapy oils, effortlessly delivering the Nipper whilst barely breaking into a sweat. Since I couldn’t, and since I was hooked up to various IV drips and bells and whistles anyway, I thought I may as well go with the flow and enjoy the ride with an epidural.  Fact for the day: an epidural that only works on one side offers little relief from a syntocinon-induced labour. Painful.

2. Babies neigh. And shout, and grunt, and snort. Not so much angelic cooing; the Nipper sounds mostly like a combination between a tiny pony and Father Jack Hackett.

3. Forget the toys. The various luxurious soft toys, playgyms and educational games that we purchased to encourage the Nipper’s early route to prodigiousness seem, largely, to have been a waste. What the Nipper actually likes: curtains; the demo function on our electric piano; kitchen roll; pulling my hair; picture rails; the inside of his pram. And Matthew Kelly being interviewed on breakfast television about his upcoming stage role in The History Boys, apparently.

4. Babies’ breathing makes you neurotic. When the Nipper is sleeping, instead of following the oft-bleated advice of “sleeping when baby sleeps”, it is obviously very important that every two minutes one of us goes to the pram/cot to check that the Nipper is breathing. Owing to the irregularity of infant respiration, this usually involves the following neurotic mental process: “Hm, the baby isn’t neighing/shouting/grunting/snorting, I’d better check him… hm, the baby is very still, I’d better check his breathing… OH MY GOD HE’S NOT BREATHING… OH MY GOD PLEASE BREATHE…OH NO OH NO OH MY GOD…Oh, there you go.”

(That reminds me: any neurotic thought that you have as a new parent? Google it and you can guarantee a Daily Mail article will come up that will make you feel worse).

5. Babies grow really quickly.  The Nipper was quite tiny when he arrived, so we wisely immediately stocked up on tiny baby vests and babygros. He outgrew them in a fortnight.

6. Babies fart. Really, really loudly. Usually with perfect comic timing just as you’ve informed him how adorable he is.

7. Motor skills development. Yours, not the baby’s. Suddenly, there is a whole host of new skills you need to learn: e.g. how to type emails without being able to see the keyboard, make dinner in under three minutes, wash up with one hand, execute a perfect plié so as to remove something from the lowest shelf of the fridge without dropping the baby, and so forth.  And looking after a baby is like being some surreal action movie; sprinting from the bathroom back to the living room to catch the Nipper before he goes into total meltdown, or watching the weird egg thing on the dressing table turns an alarming shade of fluorescent red when the temperature goes over 20 degrees, it’s hard not to feel like a shit Keanu Reeves trying to stop Dennis Hopper from blowing up the house.

8. The tit police will get (to) you.  I assumed that, having decided to breastfeed, it would be simple; if the Nipper was hungry I would pop him on and off we’d go. No one told me that breastfeeding is hard.  It doesn’t come naturally; it’s awkward and uncomfortable; it bloody hurts when you’re trying to get it right; it takes ages, especially during growth spurts; and it’s impossible to do in public whilst retaining a shred of dignity. And the tit police are everywhere; the health visitor, the doctor’s surgery, the midwife, other mums, and the women who weirdly turn up unannounced at your house just after you’ve got home from hospital to watch you incompetently try and get your screaming two day old to feed for more than thirty seconds. Yes, yes, I know it’s worth it and important and blah blah blah, but sometimes I wish those serenely smug NCT types would just sod off and not make me feel like I’m poisoning my child just because I top up with half a carton of formula every evening.

9. Mother & baby sessions. Having clearly been identified as a potential post-natal psychosis risk by the health visitor, who doesn’t realise it’s in fact perfectly normal for you to walk around wide-eyed with your hair unbrushed and no make up and dog hair all over your clothes, you finally succumb to weeks of pressure and take your six week old infant to the mother and baby group session at 9am on a Monday morning, where you bemusedly watch a dozen other much older babies and their mothers playing with wooden spoons and singing “If You’re Happy And You Know It”, whilst your infant screams blue murder and you realise all other six week old infants and their mothers are very sensibly at home in bed.

10. It’s all worth it.  Oh, I know it’s a cliché, but none of it matters when he smiles. Seeing his little face light up makes every terrifying, exhausting, anxious, frustrating second worthwhile. Even though he only smiles at the cat.

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Now is the winter of our discount tent…

There was a time, once, where a spring weekend did not mean sitting in pyjamas with baby spit down the front, with the curtains drawn, waiting for H to get up so I could half-arsedly push a hoover around before various relatives turned up to coo at the Nipper. No, the dawn of the weekend would mean skiving out of work half an hour early, donning my walking boots and attractive rainproof trousers, heading to Piccadilly station and catching a train to Edale or Windermere, where I would meet the advance party (H and the Dog) and head off for a weekend of proper northern fun. Yes, any weekend between March and November that was not spent knee-deep in mud and empty wine bottles after at least 8 hours walking at a steep incline was not a weekend well spent, irrespective of the gale force winds/torrential rain/subzero temperatures, etc. etc. etc. This weekend just gone would have been perfect: cold, damp and poor visibility. Still, family commitments being what they are these days (and, for the avoidance of doubt, I wouldn’t change a thing), the tent will languish in the boiler room, and I will post a little homage to my favourite Lake District, Peak District and Welsh campsites:

1. Wasdale National Trust Campsite.  It was probably ambitious of us to select this for our first ever camping trip, since not only did we have to brave Wrynose pass in distinctly unfavourable weather conditions, but trying to assemble our luxury three-man tent for the first time in gale force winds would have sent a saner couple home, Anyway, we braved it out and it was well worth it. At the head of Wastwater with amazing views of Great Gable, Scafell, the Screes, Illgill Head etc., and with a proper lakeland pub, the Wasdale Head, within staggering distance, this is a reet proper lakeland experience. Handy for exploring the more remote Western lakes and some spectacular walking, although owing to infirmity of Dog we are yet to attempt the obvious ascent up Scafell (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

2. Thirlspot Farm Campsite. On the road between Ambleside and Keswick, this is a lovely if basic spot opposite Thirlmere reservoir,  the experience of which was not spoilt either by the traffic from the main road or by the fact our luxury three-man tent blew down on the second night, never to be used again (and has now been replaced by a far less ostentatious model). Ideally located for Keswick, Blencathra and one of the easier ascents up Helvellyn. King’s Head next door also ideally located for a post-Helvellyn spritzer or three in the sunshine, or indeed for a bed if your tent blows down.

3. Baysbrown Farm. Massive but impressive campsite in the postcard-perfectly picturesque Langdale valley. Good facilities and good access to walking up Dungeon Ghyll,  the Pikes, etc. Wainwrights’ Inn a pleasant 15 minutes walk away, the Britannia Inn at Elterwater another 15 minutes on, both dog friendly if I remember correctly. Bacon butty van at the campsite in the morning very welcome after a night of torrential rain.

4. Upper Booth Campsite, Edale. Basic but beautiful campsite at foot of Kinder plateau, about 1.5 miles from Edale. Brilliant walking straight out of the campsite. This was the campsite that made us fall in love with Kinder Scout, and the Peak District generally. The Nag’s Head in Edale is the location of the Best Pint of Shandy I Have Ever Had (after 9 mile circuit of the Kinder plateau in unseasonable sunshine, the last 3 miles being completed in a filthy mood with a sprained ankle).

5.  Cwmrhwyddfor, Tal Y Llyn. This is a slightly strange but very attractive campsite at the foot of Cadair Idris, near Dollgellau. Separate areas for caravans by the river and tents in the field above. The farmer owners are friendly, even down to the old guy who sits in his car waiting to collect dosh. Barmouth and Twywn close by. Three pubs close by, two of which are slightly intimidating in their own way (think: Girl’s World head on bar in one (actually, no, who thinks of that?); H getting bollocked by landlord for not using a coaster in the other). Birthday dinner in the third pub was abandoned when chef went missing (?) so ended up eating crisps and drinking fizzy wine in the tent, listening to one of the caravans blaring out Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits. Good times. I’d definitely go back, if only to make it further up Cadair Idris than we did.

So, off you go, no excuses, the weather couldn’t be better for a proper northern camping experience (snow in May, I ask you….)

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You don’t have to be Made in Chelsea to work here…. but it helps

This post has taken me a few days to write, as it has required extensive research, seeing as I am about to break a well-established rule and write about something about which I know next to nothing: specifically, TV reality shows; more specifically, Made in Chelsea. 

First, a tangent. There was part of me that was secretly looking forward to getting seriously reacquainted with the gogglebox during my six months “off” on maternity leave; imagine therefore my devastation to discover that, 99% of the time, notwithstanding the mystifying abundance of available channels, there is nothing, nothing on (or at least nothing that I could watch for more than five minutes without reaching for the gin). Of course, there are some exceptions: a) Game of Thrones; b) er…that’s it.

I feel particularly bereft by TV’s current comedy offerings. I was brought up on Monty Python, Vic and Bob, Fry & Laurie, the Mary Whitehouse Experience, Adam & Joe etc., etc., and I lapped it all up, memorising sketches, songs and one-liners like the irritating adolescent I was and probably still am, and there is nothing, nothing on TV that now compares. (Or is it just age? Please don’t say it’s age. Oh god, it’s age, isn’t it).

Having said that, despite apparently sliding into a mirthless maturity, there are still things on TV that make me laugh: Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It; Adam Buxton generally; Dr Foggerty in Hunderby; Family Guy in a puerile way; and I am made up that they are doing a fourth series of Arrested Development. There are also bits of the current series of Watson & Oliver that I find very funny. I didn’t watch their first series, and probably wouldn’t have watched the second had I not been highly amused by a stare-off encounter between Paul Hollywood and Lorna Watson on a Comic Relief Bake-off spin-off (see here from around 9:04 onwards). I am glad I did, as it meant I got to see the sketch Made in Chelsea General Hospital, a skit of the popular reality TV show itself. I thought the sketch was genius, even though I’d never watched an episode of MIC or, for that matter, of any of its less affluent siblings such as TOWIEThe Valleys  and Geordie Shores, in my life. W&O’s sketch was however brilliant because you only needed the most minimal understanding of the concept behind MIC to find it entertaining. 

So, when the following Saturday afternoon some idle channel hopping whilst feeding the Nipper turned up the repeat of the latest episode of MIC on E4, I was suddenly possessed by an acute and urgent desire to watch it and find out what all the hype was about (which had absolutely nothing to do with the volume of urgent housework to be done before my parents came for tea).

I gather that MIC is currently in its fifth series – finger on the pulse as ever – and is, as I understand it, a “structured reality” show following the lives of a number of young, opulent, Sloaney socialites.  It has never appealed to me for the simple reason that I expected it to be crap. This was a grave error on my part, as I had completely underestimated the skill and talent of the program’s producers. How they are able to generate 45 minutes worth of television, let alone five series, from such vapid human interaction beggars belief. I watched it with the sound on. I watched it with the sound off. I was not mistaken: nothing happens. It was enthralling. I was, like, literally mesmerised, yah?: by the blow-dried hair; the airbrushed complexions; the arrogance; the drinking; the names (Binky? really?); the way they all look and sound so similar; and above all the curious long, awkward pauses in the many, many conversations of which the episode was constituted. I didn’t get it. It was ace. 

Anyway, like all good television, it got me thinking, sort of:

  • Are these people really this country’s “social elite”? By whose standards? Look, I did the BBC Class calculator, right, and it said I was elite and trust me, I am neither rich nor classy nor even that socially well-adjusted (I speak as one who has been stuck indoors wearing the same pair of Primark trackie bottoms and Wonder Woman T-shirt for the past 3 days and is currently drinking a pint of milk from a Guinness glass).  Are these ghastly, dull, congenital idiots supposed to be better than the rest of us? Is this why we watch it? Oh god, we’re screwed. 
  • Is this, as claimed by some, the worst thing on TV? I don’t know if it’s the worst thing on TV. Nobody was murdered, hurt or oppressed, and it was at least no more offensive than the vacuous journalism frequently to be found on breakfast television. It is alienating, yes, in that most of us will never move in these people’s circles; but then would most of us want to spend time with these people or indeed with any star of any reality TV show? Essentially these shows, replete with resplendent characters living out unconvincing storylines, beget the same compulsive viewing and curiosity as a poorly written and badly acted soap opera, and have to be judged in this context, i.e. as harmless, mindless escapism (this reminds me of a theory that was circulated when I was younger that one’s brain activity output was lower whilst watching Neighbours than when asleep).
  • Are these people archetypically southern? Or do Londoners find the stereotyping as offensive as we might a depiction of northerners with flat caps and whippets? On this point, I did in fact gear myself up for a rant about why all these programmes are set in the South when I remembered a) Geordie Shores and b) they did fact attempt this in Harpurhey in the BBC “observational documentary” People Like Us which, if I recall correctly, sparked a reasonable degree of kicking off about “laugh at the chavs” programming, and resulted in various protestors threatening to march on the BBC in Salford until they took it off air, which they didn’t (you see? We northerners complain when the BBC don’t make programs about us and complain when they do).

Amongst the many, many articles on MIC  etc. that I have read in the name of research, one comment in particular struck me: why can’t we have shows about smart, intelligent, compassionate and successful people instead? Well, make of that what you will, but apparently the next reality TV show to come our way will, in fact, be set in Wigan and will be entitled Grim up North. Wigan was apparently selected for its diversity (really?) and will showcase the North “for what it really is” which, according to the same article, is a mix of TOWIE, Shameless and Phoenix Nights. No stereotyping there, then.

Well, we shall see. In the meantime, purely in the interests of sociological research, I had better keep watching MIC. Oh hang on, it’s on Monday nights at 10pm. Clashes with Game of Thrones. Forget it.

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The ten best things* about Manchester

(*Disclaimer: I haven’t been out much in the past year, what with the Nipper and all, so this might not be terribly current)

Let’s start off with a bit of Manchester love:

10. Teacup & Cakes, Thomas Street. Everything you might require in a tea shop: proper loose leaf tea, fish finger sandwiches, pie, and oh god the cakes. And Mr Scruff’s tea. I love, love, love this place, except when I am on a diet.

9.Oklahoma Cafe, High Street.  Why yes, I think I will have one of your milkshakes and then spend the rest of my lunch hour frittering away my hard-earned cash on your lovely trinkets, thank you kindly.

8. Cornerhouse, Oxford Street. I will confess, sometimes I go to the Printworks, have a large glass of cheap white wine in Lloyds and then watch an animated film whilst eating a week’s worth of calories in Ben & Jerry.  This fills me with shame. Going to the Cornerhouse for a glass of wine, a pizza, and (usually) something more cinematographically challenging and inspiring makes me feel infinitely more sophisticated and cultured than I in fact am.

7. St Ann’s Church and Square. Sneak out of a concert rehearsal at the church and sneak in a swift vat of wine at Tom’s Chop House. Drink gluehwein and eat bratwurst at the Christmas markets. Have a latte in Starbucks whilst pretentiously pretending to write your novel. Sidle into Space NK, look at the pretty things and sidle out again without buying anything. That’s how I roll.

6. Bridgewater Hall. It was a toss-up between this and the MEN but the Bridgewater tips the balance for the best gig I have ever been to (Elbow and the Hallé), also for not being at the arse end of Victoria Station. 

5. Manchester Town Hall/Albert Square. Beautiful neogothic building (I know FA about architecture but bees mosaics in the floor and stars painted on the staircase ceiling do it for me). Great for weddings, speaking from personal experience. Also, Albert Square great for drunkenly dancing across with your new spouse the day after your wedding, before retiring to the Midland Hotel (again speaking from personal experience).

4. Cuba Cafe Bar on a Saturday night. Over 30? Been drinking at Sam’s all day (see no. 1)? Drunk enough to think you can dance? Not drunk enough to embarrass yourself in front of young people? Cuba Cafe is awesome – soul, motown and rock’n’roll if I remember correctly (I had drunk an enormous of wine), cool decor and an over-25s policy. Best Saturday night out since the Brickhouse closed down. 

3. Northern Quarter. OK, this is a cop-out non-specific entry, and bits of it can be a bit too cool for school, but no visit to Manchester would be complete without including this eclectic, bohemian mix of bars, restaurants, shops etc. It also has a wool shop. (I told you I wasn’t cool).

2. Location location location. Another cop-out entry, but where else in the country can you access, so easily, all of the following: Scotland, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Wales, the Peak District, even (gasp) London?

1. Sam’s Chop House. This has to take first place. Proper wine, proper wine glasses, proper pub, proper food, and Lowry at the bar.

What I have missed? Answers on a postcard please… (or just comment below).


Hello blogosphere

First, a confession: this blog is entirely self-serving. I am slightly concerned that the transition, albeit temporary, from fourteen hour days at work dealing with relentless emails, phonecalls and, er, lunches, to what appear to be twenty four hour days at home changing nappies, watching endless repeats of Friends and eating toast, might cause me to completely lose my already tenuous grasp on reality without something vaguely intellectual and constructive to do when the Nipper is sleeping and H is at work. I have therefore done what it seems all sensible parents do, according to Mumsnet, and started a blog, to keep the grey matter fresh and to maintain a healthy interest in things going on outside these four walls. (I should clarify that in doing so I do not harbour any delusions of being offered a publishing deal, or taken on as a columnist for the Independent). (What am I saying? Of course I do).

Having said all that, I do appreciate that writing about the day to day minutiae of my maternity leave might cause me, or indeed anyone else foolish enough to read it, to gnaw off an arm out of boredom, unless I make at least a vague attempt to shoehorn it all into some form of niche. So: the plan is that I will blog about things I like, and on occasion things I don’t like, all  from a northern perspective.  This is in part for the unremarkable reason that I am northern, and I live in the North. The concept of this blog has also evolved from my perennial frustration at what I perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be the ubiquitous southern bias in the lifestyle sections of the weekend broadsheets and the national media generally. I do understand, thank you so much, that this reflects the demographics of the nation, but I am increasingly wildly irritated by the lifestyle divide that is perpetuated in the printed press and the reluctance of, for example, BBC Breakfast News to acknowledge the existence of a landscape north of Milton Keynes (examples to follow in subsequent posts to avoid a premature descent into relentless ranting).

What this blog is not (I hope):

  • An “eee by gum it’s grim up north” whine. It certainly can be; I have done my time in grim Lancastrian market towns populated by B&M Bargains and frightening teenagers in hoodies, waking to find a pint pot of piss on the garden wall, or a kebab on the car windscreen. I am sure there are parts of the South that are equally charmless to live in, if not more so. However, I think Manchester is sound in every conceivable way, and that life in the village in which we currently live in the Peak District is, on the whole, not at all grim.
  • A twee, chintzy “isn’t-life-funny-in-the-provinces-but-deep-down-christ-I-wish-I’d-moved-back-to-London”-style journal. I don’t own an aga, or a labrador,  or a Land Rover (actually I wouldn’t mind any of those); I don’t socialise with the vicar; I don’t bake cakes; I don’t hunt; I am terrified of village social events. I like where we live because it’s beautiful, and you can walk out of the front door and be climbing a hill within 15 minutes.
  • A yummy-mummy, know-it-all, smug, self-satisfied exposition of how much more I know about things than anyone else.  Nor do I profess to be at all cool, or have my finger on any sort of pulse.
  • A true “you know nothing, Jon Snow” rant about the inequity between North and South. I recognise and respect that the issue of the North-South divide carries political and economic ramifications about which I know next to nothing, and about which therefore I don’t intend to write (much). However, I do reserve the right to talk about it in a shallow, superficial way, and to make further Game of Thrones references at every conceivable opportunity.

So if you, like me, are an older, professional, working parent, perhaps daunted as I am by the changes parenthood brings to your professional identity – or even if you are none of these things – think of me as your northern correspondent, idly rambling on about things in the hope that a snippet or two might distract you.  And if you like what you read, or even if you don’t like what you read, please do comment; I always love to hear that I’m awesome/a twat etc.



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