Monday, 26 March 2012

Did I mention I am an Observer writer?

There was intense excitement in our house when the Sunday paper arrived yesterday. I had sent in some words and a photo for a regular feature in the New Review section of The Observer, called My Cultural Life. I didn't expect it to get published, but IT DID and apart from the teen's toe-curling shame, it caused a great deal of laughter and brightened up my day considerably.
I must say, this is

not my first appearance in The Observer, oh no. In 1984 I came second in the Northern Region section of the Observer/Whitbread essay writing competition.I won £150, a tour for my economics class around Boddingtons Brewery ( I have never before or since been so popular)and a visit to London for the grand final. This overall prize was won by Matthew D'Ancona who went on to be a Tory party speech-writer and editor of The Spectator. Not invited to the London bash were those "highly commended" in the regions. A little while back I was clearing out some stuff and came across the prize winners names. In the "highly commended" section for the Scottish Region was one Michael Gove, now Education Minister. So for one gloriously brief moment in time, I was better at essay writing than the future Secretary of State for Education. Allow me to bask a while, it was the pinnicle of my writing career to date!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tales From The Tearooms, Hey Little Cupcake.

I will let you into a little secret, Im not a HUGE fan of cupcakes. I prefer a traybake or a slice of something cakey. Cupcakes can be TOO sickly in my experience ( which is extensive). The absolute exception to this rule, are the divine cupcakes baked by Stuart Thornley
( I will blog about those another time.
Hey Little Cupcake is a cupcakery and coffee

shop in Spinningfields, Manchester, next door to Nando's. Bel and I have been visiting for about a year now and our last outing was after a Mother's Day brunch in the nearby Alchemist.
The shop is small but, oh, so perfectly formed, it is a piece of New York style frippery in the heart of Manchester. The pink and white, airy decor brings a smile to my face.There is a selection of gifts to buy, I couldn't resist this mug, and you can attend cake baking/ decoration classes here too.
The service is always friendly and when I have visited it hasn't been too busy, so getting a table is easy. Bel always choses a Viva Las Vegas chocolate cake, which she adores,and my mum chose a Sorrento Cello lemon cake, which she polished off very quickly. I had the New Yorker which was not too sweet due to the coffee flavour with coffee frosting on top.
Hey Little Cupcake is a great place for a quick pit-stop whilst out in town with the girls.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Another Friday, another gig: The Civil Wars

Last night I went to see The Civil Wars at The Academy 2 in Manchester. My daughter saw them supporting Adele last year and text me from the Apollo to say she was watching a duo I would love. She was right, I bought their debut album, Barton Hollow, and was hooked by their perfect harmonies and brand of Americana/Country/Folk. I snapped up tickets when their solo tour was announced. Since then, the band have won two Grammies and are returning in the Autumn to larger venues. Jo and I felt lucky to be watching them in the relatively intimate atmosphere of the Academy and we managed to weave ourselves through the sell-out crowd to quite near the front (an important factor when you barely scrape 5ft 2).

With just John-Paul White's guitar as accompaniment, his and Joy Williams' vocals were just perfect and their chemistry was palpable. They treated us to much of Barton Hollow plus wonderful covers of Portishead's "Sour Times", Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To The End Of Love" and, as an encore that got the whole place singing along, a pared down version of "Billie Jean". The duo appeared to genuinely enjoy themselves and were very warmly received by the Mancunian crowd. If you get the chance, do go and see them, The Civil Wars will not disappoint.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Laura, Laura, I adore ya.

Laura Marling is twenty two years old and has already produced three albums of astonishing songs. I will be honest, the appeal of Adele has passed me by somewhat. I realise I'm in a very slim minority, but I find listening to a whole album samey, the lyrics do not move me at all. However, Laura's voice and poetry can transport me to another place altogether.
The Manchester O2 Apollo looked full last night and as she ambled on stage dressed in jeans and a sweater, Laura looked nothing like a star but when she sang, staring upwards, delivering lines of such beauty, the effect was mesmeric. The band were extremely adept and an "introduction to the band" slot was amusingly accompanied by each of them reciting a "fact". I now know that there are sixty two pieces of Lego for every human on the planet thanks to the keyboard player.
However, it was all about the songs. Laura opened with the first four tracks off her latest album, "A Creature I Don't Know" then we were treated to flawless renditions of older songs from "Alas, I Cannot Swim" and "I Speak Because I Can" plus some new songs.Her voice is so pure, better live than on the records, both me and my erstwhile gig-buddy, Jo, were both in tears at various points.
Near the end of a perfect ninety minute set, some witless big-mouth shouted, "C'mon, Laura, play something to get the crowd going". This was met with a few boos and general disbelief, Laura's retort, " I think you're at the wrong gig, mate" drew huge applause. Her's isn't barn-storming, sing-a-long music. It's music to be cherished, loved and I for one felt very fortunate to spend a Friday night in her delightful company.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Tales From The Tearooms, Sugar Junction.

To say that tea rooms are my favourite places may be an exaggeration, but the prospect of visiting one certainly puts a spring in my step. There are many fine establishments in the Manchester area and as I appear to have visited most of them, I have decided to write, briefly, about my favourites. Today, I visited Sugar Junction at 60, Tib Street, Manchester.

I had not been before, but several of my twitter friends spoke well of it, and first impressions

were extremely favourable. I sat downstairs in a room full of mismatched furniture, comfy sofas and tables decorated with embroidered tablecloths and fresh flowers. The effect was cosy and not at all twee. The waitress was very friendly and the service was excellent. I had a delicious Spinach and Coconut soup which came with two large slices of fresh wholemeal bread. I followed this with a sticky toffee slice (gorgeous) which I had to choose from a mouth-watering selection, with not a cup-cake in sight. A pot of China Gun Powder tea washed it all down nicely and all for less than £10. I will certainly return and it is definitely worth walking the small distance from the chains in the Arndale for something far more tasty and eclectic