Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap year - a decent proposal

Happy Leaping 29th February.

One for the ladies, to take the bull by the horns and do a spot of proposing. It's not a bad idea in this day and age of equality, and lets face it, sometimes our other halves need a bit of encouragement to leap into the marital unknown. 

Apparently according to tradition if the fella says 'no' to a lady's marriage proposal he has to buy her a gift of 12 pairs of gloves so that she can cover up the shame of her ringless hands!

I started searching Tris' pockets for a ring back in January 2008 on a mini-break to Bratislava .

"Isn't it lovely up here - I do love you so!"
I spent the rest of the time until he did actually propose, trying to create the perfect proposal scenario. 

"Come and look at this beautiful view across the roof tops of the former Spanish capital Toledo" I whispered softly in his ear after our romantic court yard dinner - as the sound of violins from the street performers rose up into the warm night air like wisps of musical smoke.

"What a lovely view - is there anything you would like to ask me?"

"Yes, very nice" he said - took a photo and then headed back to the campsite. 

The 29th February 2008 (the last leap year) as luck would have it, coincided with a trip to Edinburgh, which meant we would be passing Gretna Green on the Scottish border. A place synonymous with proposals, passionate elopements and shot gun weddings.

I timed it perfectly, so that not only would we need petrol at precisely that point, we'd also need to stop for food. Very good plan Alison!

However the look of terror on his face as we sat in full view of the Welcome Break toilets, eating our KFC bargain bucket, was something that only the thought of me proposing - and Alfred Hitchcock could have created. So I backed off.

Not really Toledo!
I felt fairly confident that he would ask me at some point - in his own time and in his own way. And deep down I didn't want to force his hand - I'd discovered that I am a bit of a traditionalist at heart and I did want to be the one proposed to.

Searching for the right time - it wasn't on the beach at Crosby.
Still looking, but it wasn't in the Lake District.
Perhaps 'the spot' would be up Mount Snowdon?
He finally decided to pop the question when we were on holiday in New England in September 2009. He asked my dad's permission and everything was set. But then I went and cocked it all up by getting cancer. We had to cancel our trip the day before we were due to fly.

I'm sure you can imagine that as our story unfurled and my life unravelled , it was a crazy, horrible, mixed up and frightening time. 

In between scans and starting chemo, we found ourselves with a three night window, so headed to Anglesey (an island off the north west coast of Wales) to get a bit of a break. On our last morning we found ourselves walking along a lovely beach to a peninsular  -  Llanddwyn Island, which by complete fluke is also known as 'The Lovers Island', on account of St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers who made the island her home during the fifth century.

As I read the interpretation board by the path leading to the island, I fleetingly thought that it would make a good proposal story, but then immediately discounted the idea. Everything was different now and I didn't want a sympathy proposal.

We carried on walking - reaching the end of the island, crossing a causeway to an even smaller island with a white lighthouse. Looking out across the Menai Straights to the mountains of Snowdonia, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the sea danced, making waves with little white frothy hats. It couldn't have been a more perfect September day.

Llanddwyn Island.
 It was then I felt a shove in my back.

My first reaction was to turn round and smack him one for trying to push me off the cliff.

But when I did turn round, there he was down on one knee.

"Will you marry me?" he asked.

Hells bells, this was it - this was the moment.

"Are you sure?" I answered. Lets face it, at that point my future wasn't looking too rosy. I was damaged goods and was going to be a whole heap of trouble for the foreseeable future.

"I'm sure", he replied.

"Well in that case then - absof*ckinlutely". I'd been practicing that bit!

Fainted with shock!

On an island, off an island, off an island, off an island I finally said "yes". And the rest as they say is history!

So that's our story - I didn't quite pluck up courage to pop the question on the last Leap Year (over a KFC bargain bucket), but we got there in the end!


Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Open your mind - 'Namaste'

I'm a bit worried. My four were:

  • BOG
  • RAGE
 I think I'm supposed to be seeing 'lovely' and 'graceful'. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because I can't do my jeans up!

Anyway - I wouldn't normally share this kind of thing. It's a slippery slope and before you know it you're posting cute pictures of puppies doing 'downward dog'!

Bugger - I've been 'yoga'd'. I'd better go and kick a tramp or something and re-align my karma!

"Namaste "

PS. What four words did you see?


Monday, 27 February 2012

Oscar day - my favourite films of all time

Oscar - shmoscar!

With my film reviewer hat on - my Odeon card and my addiction to pick 'n' mix, I couldn't let the morning after the night before go unnoticed.

But this morning I'm found lacking. I haven't seen 'The Artist', 'The Help', 'The Descendants' or 'War Horse'. What have I been doing with my days?

I have however seen 'The Iron Lady' which I loved - and said as much in my article for 'The Good Review'. And 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' which I loathed for being about as clear as a muddy puddle!

I could leave it at that, but it would be a bit of dull blog on a subject that I think I'm rather good at. So instead I've decided to have a bit of a think about my favourite films from over the years. I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones that spring to mind.

1. Dr Zhivago (1965)

One Christmas a couple of years ago I actually watched this epic from start to finish. It's set in Russia as the country moves from Tsarist to Communist rule - via the Russian civil war (1917-1923). 

Zhivago is a doctor (you'd probably guessed that) caught in a love triangle between his wife Tonya and lover Lara. 

What I love about this film is its historical context - it's a period that has fascinated me since I studied it for 'O-Level' (showing my age now). It was brutal and harsh in a country where the landscape and environment was similarly brutal and harsh. Besides, I've always had a soft spot for Boney M's 'Rhasputin' and a macabre fascination in the Tsar and his family being shot, dissolved in sulphuric acid and thrown down a well (including little Alexander who had haemophilia)! 

What else? Well the music is amazing - "La, la la la - la la la la la laaaaa".
I love its expansive wide scenic shots of the landscapes and beautiful cinematography. The ice and snow in the summer house on the Russian plains is exquisite.

I think Julie Christie, who plays Lara is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen - and while we're at it, I quite fancy Omar Sharif.

Click here to watch the Dr Zhivago trailer.

2. Officer & a Gentleman (1982)

When I was a student, I was struck down with glandular fever. During that period I had terrible insomnia and spent many nights watching the two films we had for our Betamax video. One was Grease, the other 'Officer and a Gentleman'. I know if off by heart.

I love Richard Gere as 'Mayo the Wop' - who just needed the right woman to understand him (enter Debra Winger).

It has a great sound track - Pat Benatar's 'Treat me right'. "One of these days you're gonna reach out and find that the one that you count on has left you behind!"  What a tune!

Richard Gere runs around in a muddy puddle and does sit ups until he is a broken man - "I can't quit - I've got nowhere else to go".

And then there is the ending - "Love lift us up where we belong!" What woman wouldn't want to be swept off her feet in a paper factory with such passion that her hat falls off and her hair comes tumbling out. "Way to go Paula - way to go."

Click here to watch the trailer for An Officer and a Gentleman.

3. Shadowlands (1993)

I watched this in Sheffield - and I howled and howled and howled. Set on the 1950's, it's the story to author CS Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins and his relationship with divorced American poet Joy Gresham played by Debra Winger (I must like her films). 

The two finally found each other late in life and it is just a beautiful story of two extraordinary people. One, a very sweet middle aged man who has spent a life time living in his imagination and doesn't really know how to do relationships. 

The other, a determined America woman who doesn't take no for an answer and gently guides him through the maze.

The tragedy is how short lived this happiness is as Joy is diagnosed with cancer and ultimately dies.

I'm not sure that I could watch it now - but I remember it as being a beautiful, gentle and touching film that will always be amongst my favourites.

Click here to see the trailer for Shadowlands.

4. Before Sunrise (1995)

We've all imagined what it would be like. You meet a stranger on a train from Budapest and then spend until sunrise running around Vienna getting to know each other. A brief encounter before you go your separate ways. 

Ethan Hawke (American Jesse) and Julie Delpy (French CĂ©line). It is such a fantastic idea. Just two people getting to know each other and we get to spy in on them.

Vienna looks amazing as the camera stays just a step ahead of them as they chat. The scenes are long and uncut. They must have been a nightmare to film, but in doing so showcase just how great these two actors are.

The film ends as they agree to meet again in the same place in six months time - but do they?

Well you find out in the sequel - Before Sunset (2004) - I won't spoil it for you. But if you would like to watch the trailer for Before Sunrise, then click here.

5. Gallipoli (1981)

Ask me my favourite film of all time and I will tell you over, and over, and over - it's Gallipoli. 

The whole Australian nation now loves me!
I loved it from the first moment I saw it, New Years Eve 1983. I wrote an essay about it in my teenage diary about war and its futility.

Set during the first world war, it stars a very young Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two friends who meet through athletics. The horrible war bit is only a small portion of the film right at the end. For the majority of the film you follow these two friends, Archy and Frank, as they travel across Australia to sign up for their big adventure.

You really get to know these two boys, and you continue to follow them as they undergo their training - all the way through to the Anzac horror that was Gallipoli. A campaign which was a series of monumental military cock ups and achieved nothing more than a stalemate with their Turkish enemy.

Gallipoli is so embedded in Australian history. It's where they feel they came of age and fought together under one flag as a single nation - side by side. 

The combination of Jean Michel Jarre and Albioni is genius as the film reaches its devastating climax. This clip is of the last six minutes - so - spoiler alert. But I think it's one of those films where seeing the ending first, probably makes it even more powerful when you see the whole thing. Click here to watch the ending of Gallipoli.

So what does this list say about me? Well - it seems I'm an old romantic who loves history and stories about people. But then you probably knew that already!


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wonderful Homey - homemade rosemary & chili oil

Something quick, simple and cheap for all you 'Homey's' out there.

You can make the most amazing flavoured olive oil by taking:

  • An old HP Sauce bottle.
  • A handful of rosemary.
  • A handful of chili flakes.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.

Bung them all in the HP Sauce bottle (that's a technical term). Leave it for a couple of weeks for the flavours to infuse - and then use it for cooking and salads. 

Keep it in the fridge and it will last a lot longer.
Give it a shake and you've got a beautiful twinkly red hot chili 'snow globe'.

Please note, that according to the web site 'A series of kitchen experiments' if you include garlic, then it may cause botulism - and nobody wants that!

More tips from the 1950's - when I think of them!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

On the Green in Chorlton

What could be nicer on a sunny Saturday in February than a wander across the river Mersey and through the Waterparks to Chorlton Green.

I always feel very nostalgic making that particular journey. Tris' lived in Chorlton when we first met, so you see I have lovely memories of cycling that route with my nightie and tooth brush in my saddlebag. Brimming with excitement and full of anticipation for an evening of home made quiche and rude word scrabble!

Chorlton is described as the arty, bohemian, shabby chic part of Manchester - with it's plethora of independent shops, bars and restaurants - not forgetting a vegan supermarket. Think 'Chorlton & The Wheelies' and Badly Drawn Boy. It's somewhere that I never get bored of mooching. 

The microbrewery at The Horse & Jockey on Chorlton Green.

Serendipity seems to be shadowing me at the moment. As luck would have it, today just happened to be the last Saturday of the month - which meant that the Farmers Market was camped out on Chorlton Green. 

While shopping in general can be a flippin' chore, give me something a bit different and a bit of personal banter and I'm hooked. 

Christine's Cheshire preserves - "OMG!"  Holy Cow they are good. In fact I'm sitting here eating a selection of Chili Jam, Spicy Quince Chutney and Ginger Marmalade with a nice focaccia (also bought at the market) as I write. 

The high priestess of preserves, Christine was in residence on 'The Green' today. 

As she opened jars of chutneys and jams for us to sample, she told us "I've only been doing this for two years - some of the recipes I learned from my mother, but others - well I just like to experiment".  

She's hoping to make a 'really different' strawberry jam this year and win another 'Great Taste Gold Award' to add to the others she already has in her collection.

Moving on, there was the lady with the pies, who whenever she goes on holiday likes to visit the local markets for inspiration.

 There was beefy meatiness from happy cows.

 And a man in a 'v-neck' who knew his cheeses.

See - dreaming of cheese!

There were also organic fruit and veg, brownies and cakes, Greek and Spanish stalls and lots more.

But it didn't stop at food - there were some lovely jewelery and woolly hat stalls as well. 

However, the one that gave us the biggest giggle was the 'Not for Pussy's' Dog Store. Doggy accessories are, it seems big business. In addition to some very natty collars and leads, there were 'Pup Cakes'.

The chicken and carrot buns with bacon sprinkles were selling like - hot cakes!

There were doggy tutu's for 'Darcy Woof-le'.

And 'goggy doggles' for a pooch with a Prosche. It was bonkers and brilliant in equal measures.

And all the while as we mooched in Manchester a man with an owl - the size of a two year old, watched over us - and why not!

Chorlton Green Farmer's Market takes place on the last Saturday of every month. This is not a sponsored piece - I just enjoyed it and wanted to share.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Photo shoots and camera shots

The 4Manchester Women 'Hotty' photo shoot last night at was really good fun. A big thank you to Bacchanalia on Chapel Walks in Manchester city centre, for letting us take over part of the bar and making excellent Cosmo's! 

Once we've chosen our favourite shots I'll give you a sneak preview.

It's set us up really nicely for the other three shoots ('Mummy', 'Lively' and 'Homey') which will be taking place over the next couple of weeks in locations out in the Manchester 'burbs!

Talking of photos, in the mean time I've been messing with my new birthday camera - I think this is going to be fun! These are my favourites so far.....


I think my model has fallen asleep on the job! WAKE UP Charley Bucket!


Published in 'Brides Up North'. The kids are alright

This week, my guest blog for Brides Up North is all about children at weddings. In our case we made a child friendly wedding a priority and as a result welcomed over 50 of the little tinkers !

Click here to read the full article.

Picture by Jon Roach @ FourT4

Thursday, 23 February 2012

4Manchester Women takes shape

Time for another update on my new project. It is really starting to take shape now. I have a web site address, business bank account, a web designer and developer and today (hopefully) I will be doing the first photo shoot.

I wrote my first description yesterday to brief the web developer - it's the first time I've actually written it down. Before this, if you asked me to explain my new idea, I'd still be talking 30 minutes later. At least I've got it down to 250 words!

4Manchester Women is a free daily magazine style blog and directory specifically for busy Manchester women. 

Our on-line lifestyle articles are intelligent, humorous and observational. Our aim is to be entertaining and practical. 

We cover anything from restaurants to recipes, fashion to family days out, travel to trades people and money saving tips to music and gigs – bringing you the best offers, reviews, recommendations and top 10’s that we can find. 

Articles can be easily found under one of four headings – ‘Hotty’, ‘Homey’, ‘Mummy’ or ‘Lively’. See what we did there? 4Women / four categories – we’re not saying that you are one or the other, just that there’s a little bit of each of them in all of us. We are all colours of the rainbow. Talking of which, each category has its own colourful identity, so readers can quickly find the articles they most want to read.

4Manchester Women bangs the drum for Manchester and we love local independent businesses which give the city and its ‘burbs such character. We are proud of where we live and we’ve got serious hutzpah. We like to let Manchester Women know ‘what’s on’, places to go and things to do and we like getting out there. Sometimes we head further afield, but we always take our Manc humour with us.

While 4Manchester Women has one editor we feature a number of guest bloggers. We are for real Manchester women written by real Manchester women. We are your daily dose of local Manchester life – “By eck!”

What this doesn't say is that I'm hoping to develop a model that I can franchise to people in different areas, the site will generate income through advertising (primarily local independents) and events.

Thank you also  to everyone who completed my on-line research. I had 99 brilliant respondents. I've not analysed everything yet but here are a few initial results:

The ladies answering the survey considered themselves to be:

17% Hotty (fashion, bars, restaurants, hair & beauty)
32% Mummy
27% Homey (cookery, interior design, gardening, craft)
23% Lively (travel, health & wellbeing, sport & fitness, music & gigs, theatre & cinema)

All anonymous, so any mummy who scored themselves less than 50% shouldn't feel guilty and won't be reported to social services!

They are interested in:

82% Cooking
78% Restaurants
70% Health & Wellbeing
61% Travel
60% Money Saving Tips
60% Cinema
54% Child Friendly Venues
52% Books
52% Interior Design
48% Theatre
45% Fashion
43% Sport & Fitness

And when it came to competitions, offers, reviews, recommendations and top 10's, they ranked them accordingly:

3.45 (Most interested): Offers & discounts.
3.43: Top 10's
3.40: Recommendations (e.g. trades people)
2.93: Reviews
1.79 (Least interested): Competitions

In terms of what they are currently reading:

16% Sunday Times Magazine
15% Hello
14% OK
13% Red
13% Saturday Guardian
12% Cosmopolitan
11% Marie Claire
10% Runners World
10% Grazia
10% House Beautiful

However, 20% of respondents replied 'none' because they either don't have time, don't think there is anything relevant for them or they get their information on-line.

There is bags of really great information for me to wade through, so thank you again. It has really made me think and shape my ideas.

And finally - this is only the very first design and I have made quite a few changes, but I wanted to show you how my idea is coming to life - the colours, the logo and the general look and feel. Once I have a dummy site up and running, I'll be asking for more feedback and for people to have a play.

Here it is - I'm really excited and I need to say a really big thank you to Emma Burke for all her design expertise and general amazing brilliance!

I'll be working with the web developer to make sure it works well on phones as that's how 47% of you access the internet. 

All I'm going to say is "Watch this space!"