Music, Flapjack and Public Transport

Well it has been a busy week for my husband and I, one that we have been looking forward to for a while. Thus you get a slightly long and rambling post.

About 6 months ago I got a Facebook notification that one of my favourite bands, Epica, were going to be playing in Manchester. I immediately booked tickets and arranged my work schedule so that I could finish early that day. That was to be on Thursday November 12th.

Then we were invited to a family reunion with my father’s family. It would be on the other side of the country but we decided it would be worth the trip. So, again, I booked time off work and added it to my calendar. That was to be on Saturday November 14th. We decided we would take the train from Manchester (where we live) to Grimsby (where my parents live) on the Friday night and drive down to London with them on the Saturday, it would be considerably cheaper. We could then drive back to Grimsby with them on Sunday and take the train home again that evening.

A short while later I saw that another of my favourite bands were also going to be playing in Manchester in November, how exciting! I was a bit unhappy when I saw the date however: Friday November 13th. That would mean travelling to my parents’ house on the Saturday, getting straight off the train and getting into the car. But, I really love Garbage and have done for many years so I decided that it would be worth it. This time I booked to leave work early on the Friday and also booked off the following Monday to recover.

So, Epica on Thursday, Garbage on Friday,family reunion on Saturday and a heck of a lot of travelling.

Roll on November.

As it is near the end of the year my husband and I realised we had some holiday left to use before the end of the year so we decided to save our energy and book the days of both gigs off as well as the weekend and following Monday. Fun times.

Work disagreed. I had already promised to go help out our new Union rep in Nottingham, originally we had decided to do this on October 30th and make our recruitment/question day Hallowe’en themed. Then the date changed. Yep, you guessed it, it was now going to be right in the middle of our week off. On Friday the 13th I was heading to Nottingham.

I was also going to have to bake as we were tying it in with a Children in Need themed cake sale.

Thursday

I decided to make some flapjack and a chocolate cake for the bake sale.

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Flapjack is a wonderfully simple recipe, I used one from the river cottage website.

Ingredients

 

  • 175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 150g demerara sugar
  • 250g medium porridge oats
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 bags of dark chocolate chips

Method

  • Preheat over to 180°C.
  • Heat together the honey, butter and sugar until the butter has just melted but the sugar is still grainy.
  • Take off the heat and stir in the porridge oats and salt.
  • Pour half the mixture into a greeced 8 inch square pan and press down firmly.
  • Bake for aproximately 10 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edge of the tin and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire wrack.
  • Repeat with the other half of the recipe.
  • When the flapjack has cooled cut each square into 8 pieces.
  • Melt the chocolate and pour over half of each piece of flapjack.
  • Allow to set.
  • Yum.

For the chocolate cake I must confess I had some help from Betty Crocker but I think we can all agree I was pretty busy.

That evening we went to see Epica ^_^.
They had two opening bands Scar Symmetry and Eluveitie. I really liked the second one who used a lot of folk instruments like a hurdy-gurdy, a violin and various pipes. I am not keep on growling lyrics but enjoyed the instrumental parts and the female led vocals.

Epica were, of course, amazing. They seemed to be enjoying the show and each others’ company, which is always good to see. I particularly enjoyed the wearable keyboard which allowed the keyboardist to move around like the guitarists. I am still envious of all sopranos. We got home at about midnight.

Chris and I are in here somewhere. Photo from Epica’s Facebook page.

Epica

Friday

At 6:30 the next morning I was up and heading out for Nottingham, carrying a large chocolate cake, a bag of Union goodies and a big tub of flapjack. Several people commented on the cake so at least I know that it looked tasty.

My train was late so my ride at the Nottingham end had to leave without me. I could not call her because she would not have her phone at work. So I called my work and asked for the number for her office. They gave me one and I called it. I work in insurance, I got through to a soup kitchen.

So I tried again and was given a different number. This belonged to a rather grumpy man and was a private number. Oops.

Third time lucky I finally got hold of my colleague and got directions to her office. I decided that the easiest way to get there was to take a tram. I have been on trams in Manchester, Rome, Paris and various places in the Netherlands. I have never been on a tram that had special stop buttons and did not stop at every stop. I did not realise I had to press anything and so my stopped sailed by. I got off at the next tram stop, changed sides and caught the tram back again. This time I pressed to the stop button repeatedly. Again the tram did not stop and I watched my destination slide past again. I got off at the next stop and just walked. It seemed easier.

Overall the day was good. I answered a lot of Union questions, sold a lot of cake and came home very tired.

Which of course made it a perfect time to have a quick change and head out to Garbage!

My friend Kim came with us as well since she has very good taste in music. Garbage were playing up at the University in Academy 1. There was a gig in Academy 3 as well (a much smaller venue). Our gig had people of all ages but the other seemed to be mostly teenage girls. Kim and I had never heard of the band they were going to see and decided that we felt old (We are 29 and 31).

Garbage were fantastic. Because this was a 20th anniversary tour for their first album they played the whole album (out of order) and b-sides from the singles. It was also the chattiest gig I have ever been to with the lead singer discussing sex, sexism, how they met and all sorts of random stuff that came into her head. Again a really good atmosphere and we had a great time. If they are playing near you go and see them.

Pictures are courtesy of Kim who has a much better camera in her phone than I do.

 

Once again we got home after midnight. No worries, we didn’t have to be up until 5am on Saturday.

Saturday

Our train was supposed to be at 6:13. This would get us into Grimsby just before 9am giving us time to stretch our legs before heading down to London about 10ish. We got to Manchester Piccadilly train station at 5:50. Then our train was cancelled. The next train was not until 7:20 so we decided to go and get a cup of tea. A 7:20 train would get us there before 10am although we would not have time for a break between trips. I am not a morning person, as anyone who has ever stayed over at my house will tell you, but I drank my tea and kept my griping to a minimum. It may have escalated a bit as the next three trains by the same company were also cancelled. I kept checking ours on the website and it said it was ok but I was not having high hopes.

Still 7:20 came and a train arrived. Chris and I got on and started to get settled, we put our bags up on the rack… we realised that Chris’ bag was still in the teashop. Chris legged it back to get his stuff while I stood half on, half off of the train hoping he made it back before I had to start an argument with the train conductor. Thankfully he did and we settled down properly for our trip.

Now Grimsby is normally a straight through trip taking about 2.5 hours. That is when the train runs all of the way though. Ours got cancelled at Sheffield, still an hour and a half away from Grimsby. And there were no trains going to Grimsby that we could change to.

We decided to get as far east as we could on the basis that, if absolutely necessary, my parents could pick us up in the car if we got close enough. There was a train going to Scunthorpe, which is only half an hour outside of Grimsby. It was a local stopping train which meant it would take forever but it was going the right way. The national rail website also stated that there was a train running from Scunthorpe to Grimsby. It was also supposed to leave Scunthorpe 2 minutes before our train arrived. We asked if anything could be done about that. No.

I fell asleep on the Scunthorpe train, hardly surprising, I hope you will agree. When I woke up we were stopped at a platform that seemed to be in the middle of a field. I waited for the train to continue. It stayed suspiciously still. Then the conductor came on the tannoy, because of a problem with the tracks we were going to turn around and go back to Doncaster, one of the previous stops. Doncaster is an hour away from Grimsby. We called my parents who told us to get off the train where we were and they would pick us up and head south directly from there.

Now it was 9:30 –  45 minutes after we were supposed to have gotten to Grimsby – and the furtherest east we could get was a field in the middle of nowhere. Well, actually in the middle of Hatfield and Stainforth but I think that everyone who is not from there will agree that that is the middle of nowhere. There were horses in a nearby field and we did briefly consider seeing if we could borrow them to get a bit further east.

We eventually took shelter in a local Asda’s where they were kind enough to let me use the staff toilet. It also gave us an opportunity to stock up on junk food for the trip.

As you may have guessed my parents did find us and, after a 5 hour trip, we managed to find our hotel. From there everything was straight forward. The family reunion was a lot of fun and I did a lot of dancing. The trip home was long but uneventful (thank heavens). The sleep on Sunday night was deep and well needed.

Miscellaneous Rome

And lastly for Rome, a few shots that don’t fit into the other categories.

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The Spanish Steps

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Marcus Aurelius Pillar

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Elephant and Obelisk

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The Wedding Cake (or Typewriter or any of another half a dozen names)

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The Castel Saint Angeli and a couple of angels from the bridge approaching it.

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And lastly some interesting rooftops, taken from the Villa Borghese Grounds

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Next time will be moving onto the Vatican.

Fountains of Rome

As the title suggests ;p

This is the first Piazza we went to, Piazza del Popolo. Also where the Count of Monte Cristo and friends go to watch an execution.

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The fountain opposite the Pantheon

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Trevi fountain. It is indescribably huge and in a relatively tiny square. It’s amazing.

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This was near the Quirinale

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The Quattro Fontane

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The Moses Fountain.

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Fountain de Api

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Piazza Novana

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Including the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

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At the other end of the Piazza Novana

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Ancient Rome

Well, it’s been a while. Life has gotten away from me a little and between work and an increasing backlog of posts I basically gave up the idea of blogging. However I feel more balanced these days and would like to get back to it. I’m going to catch up on a couple of memories from the last couple of years, heavy on the photos probably, and see where we go from there.

The following are some of the pictures from our honeymoon. One of the days we spent doing the Ancient Rome trio of the Colosseum, The Forum and Palatine Hill. Other pictures are from the nearby Imperial Forum museum and Augustus Mausoleum.

Augustus Mausoleum
Chris and I had our first dinner in Rome in a lovely restraunt overlooking the Mauseleum. It felt very strange to sit and have dinner next to an ancient emporer’s tomb. Definitely a different experience!
I recommend the restraunt, Gusto, it was exquisite and one of the best meals we have ever had.

Augustus Mausoleum Chris and I had our first dinner in Rome in a lovely restraunt overlooking the Mauseleum. It felt very strange to sit and have dinner next to an ancient emporer's tomb. Definitely a different experience! I recommend the restraunt, Gusto, it was exquisite and one of the best meals we have ever had.

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Here start the pictures taken at the Colosseum. There were a lot more so I have just selected a few to share.

Here start the pictures taken at the Colosseum. There were a lot more so I have just selected a few to share.

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After the Colosseum we went to the Roman Forums and up Palatine Hill. It was an exhausting day but well worth it!

After the Colosseum we went to the Roman Forums and up Palatine Hill. It was an exhausting day but well worth it!

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Colosseum from Palatine Hill.

Colosseum from Palatine Hill.

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Vestal Virgins.

Vestal Virgins.

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A personal high point; the birth place of Romulus and Remus.

A personal high point; the birth place of Romulus and Remus.

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The last three pictures are from the Imperial Forum museum, well worth a visit.

The last three pictures are from the Imperial Forum museum, well worth a visit.

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And here is a representation of the other myth of the founding of Rome. Aeneas, carring his father and leading his son, fleeing Troy.

And here is a representation of the other myth of the founding of Rome. Aeneas, carring his father and leading his son, fleeing Troy.

Super-duper Hen Do

I’m afraid this post is a little late (sorry Kim!) since my hen do was actually 2 weeks ago now but things have been a bit busy around here. I can’t believe the wedding is next Saturday! A friend at work went to a 3 day wedding last week and the planning that must be involved in that is unimaginable to me.

Fortunately I had zero planning to do for the hen party as my fabulous maid of honour did all of the work and everything was a complete surprise to me. And what a lot of work she did too! Our group convened just before 2pm on Saturday and got home around 2am on Sunday after a four part party! Amazing.

Kim, planner extraordinaire, had been careful to make her hints about the day as cryptic and worrying as possible. For example, when I asked her what sort of clothes I should wear she answered that it would have to something I could bend down in for the daytime event. Hmmm… She did say she wasn’t going to make everyone wear something stupid… except for possibly me. Fortunately I escaped with a main ‘costume’ of a circlet veil and a ‘Bride To Be’ sash. She did make us look stupid though…

So part one of the hen do was bowling! This was not something I would have guessed since I knew we were staying in town and I didn’t know town had a bowling alley. Apparently it’s only been there a month or two. So off we went to All Star Lanes in the Great Northern which was appropriately American themed.

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It’s been a while since most of us had been bowling but we valiantly pressed on with the sides down. I got an impressive 9 on my first roll, only to follow it with 5, 5!, gutterballs. But once we got going the points started pouring in. We like to tell ourselves that anyway.

Kim

Kim

Susie

Susie

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Mom and I

Mom and I

Mom (who will now tell me off for putting up this picture of her.)

Mom (who will now tell me off for putting up this picture of her.)

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Annie

Annie

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Cris

Cris

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Katie

Katie

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She just had to go one better than the rest of us.

She just had to go one better than the rest of us.

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Kim had also prepared a variety of games, challenges and forfeits for the day. None of us were allowed to say the name of my fiance, Chris, which was made all the most amusing by having Cristina (who usually goes by Cris) in our group. We each had a name badge, her’s said ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’. Yes my friends are also geeks.

No one slipped up on this until after we had finished bowling but we didn’t make it out of the centre without me mentioning the cursed name. That was when I got the forfeit:

Possibly not my sexiest look.

Possibly not my sexiest look.

Kim had also arranged a less embarrassing forfeit for anyone who lost a game. I guess that is why she worked so hard to win at the bowling.

Bowling may not be our talent but it sure is fun.

Bowling may not be our talent but it sure is fun.

As the lowest scoring bowler my mother’s ‘Partner In Crime’ Annie had the forfeit:

I think she looks very glamorous.

I think she looks very glamorous.

After the working up an appetite bowling we headed down the road to Opus One for one of my favourite things, High Tea!

Kim and I have been here a couple of times before so we know they do a good spread.

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Most of us went for the traditional afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and a variety of cakes. I think the scones were my favourite part of the meal, light and sweet. Cris had the gentleman’s high tea which has things like pork pie and mini fish and chips instead of sandwiches. It looked good although sadly I didn’t get any pictures of it. It looked so good that Kim commented to me that we should bring Kieran (her partner) and Chris out for one. Ooops…

She actually ended up using the 'C' word more than I did!

She actually ended up using the ‘C’ word more than I did!

To keep the fun flowing Kim also had a game for us to play during our meal and pulled out some post-its and pens from her bag of tricks. We played a hilarious game of couples Guess Who I Am while we waited for our food. I think the winner got theirs within four or five questions but there were several occasions of people using their 20 questions and being none the wiser. Katie got the glasses for this game having the only historical couple in the game. I was the only one who wrote a fictitious couple which I thought was interesting and Kim got the only non-romantic couple whom I had never even heard of.

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We did take the moustaches off to eat after I tried to drink with mine and failed miserably.

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I just thought the glasses would add something.

Since Kim had not made everyone wear something that made it obvious we were a hen do she insisted I came to the ladies’ with her as ‘context’ for her moustache. For the record, it is a very nice bathroom with real towels and everything.

Kim also used her sticky notes to have everyone write down a date for Chris and I, they are secrets and whenever we need a date after the wedding we can draw one at random. We then have to follow the instructions. I hope none of them say ‘Go to Spain’ because that could be tricky for a mid-week date.

Since we were on a hen do I also got a special present from the management.

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The chocolates were a rich fudge-like treat and I adore strawberries with melted chocolate.

We found this in the restaurant/hotel lobby. After all, what would a hen party be without one?

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After lunch it was time for a quick trip home to change into evening wear before heading out again (5 women, 1 bathroom, you do the maths!). Sadly Katie had to go home at this point but were joined by my lovely soon to be mother- and sister-in-law.

For our evening festivities we went to Manchester 235, the casino in the Great Northern. I think this was a great choice as it is a very glitzy, hen partyish thing to do. Also I have never been to a casino so it was very exciting!

When we arrived there we were ushered into the VIP lounge for our own private cocktail making class. Those of you who have read previous posts will know that Chris and I both enjoy making, and drinking, cocktails so this was particularly cool. Since Kim enjoys drinking the cocktails we make I guess it wasn’t an entirely self-choice of activity :p.

Anyone who has ever been out with me knows I am a complete lightweight so when they started me off on a shot of something strong and strawberry I was already well on my way. It may help explain the following pictures if I point out that Mom is as bad as I am and also that we made A LOT of cocktails so that even the hardiest drinker was giggling.

We started off with a cocktail everyone made.

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The first cocktail was strawberry vodka and amaretto topped up with bubbly and garnish with a strawberry. Yum yum. So good in fact that when Annie wasn’t looking Mom started drinking her’s as well!

For the other cocktails the guys teaching us would make a sample one and pass it round then ask for a couple of volunteers to try it themselves.

Firstly we had a cosmopolitan. As the bride (and someone who likes cosmopolitans) I thought I should be first to volunteer. This round was a straight up contest between Sandra (Chris’ Mom) and myself. She won and got to have a shot as her reward. I got to light a piece of orange peel though which was quite exciting.

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See the cosmopolitan in the front? I'm sure we took pictures of the cocktails up close but I don't seem to have them, they must have been on someone else's camera.

See the cosmopolitan in the front? I’m sure we took pictures of the cocktails up close but I don’t seem to have them, they must have been on someone else’s camera.

The next cocktail on the list was Kim’s favourite: the Mojito! My Mom and Susie took on this challenge as Kim wanted to taste both and be the judge.

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I'm not 100% sure how it got a moustache.

I’m not 100% sure how it got a moustache.

After this the challenges got more tricky with Sandra and Cris competing with Annie and Kim to make a coffee cocktail… only using one hand each!

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Next up was a Hudson/Hardman duo competition with Sandra and I competing against my Mom and Sandra’s daughter Vicky. To make it more interesting Mom and Mum were both blindfolded and Vicky and I had to guide them. They couldn’t decide which Sex on the Beach was best so we all got shots.

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They also made a personalised cocktail for me after asking my hens for some of my characteristics.

It was passionfruit, spiced rum and strawberry puree muddled together then chipped ice was added and the cocktail was topped up with champagne. While they were making it the manager came through and told them to use the good Crystal champagne which we later found out was £365 a bottle! This was definitely the most expensive drink I’ve ever had. It was good too. To top it off the hollowed out passionfruit skin was filled with 65% proof rum and set on fire and a strawberry was added to garnish. And, if that’s not enough pizzazz for you, cinnamon and sugar was sprinkled on top causing a whoosh!

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You can't see the flames as well here but Annie and I's reaction should speak volumes.

You can’t see the flames as well here but Annie and I’s reaction should speak volumes.

As well as the one they made Annie and I also made this cocktails. Annie put the correct 1 measure of rum in her’s. I couldn’t remember how much went in so I asked and was told ‘whatever you want’ so I put in two O:-).

There were so many names suggested that I couldn’t pick so I amalgamated them into one: Raunchy Rachel’s Fairy Cup of Tea on Fire! Delicious.

But the alcohol didn’t end there (sorry liver).

I believe this is called a Jaeger train? You lift the end cup and...

I believe this is called a Jaeger train? You lift the end cup and…

... the shot glasses end up in the larger cups, how clever is that! And I could even do it decidedly tipsy.

… the shot glasses end up in the larger cups, how clever is that! And I could even do it decidedly tipsy.

Many thanks to our good natured teacher, one of whom even ended up wearing a ‘I said Chris’ moustache over his real moustache.

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After the cocktail class we stayed at Manchester 235 for a 2 course dinner (with wine of course, we had free drinks vouchers after all).

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The food was very good as was the dinner time game of ‘I have never’. Amusing the ‘loser’ at this game was Chris’ Mum and the ‘winner’ was mine! My mother really is a child of the 60s and 70s.

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During dinner several other people had to wear the moustache (thank heavens, Kim and I were getting tired of our monopoly after several failures each).

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Adventurous moustache!

Adventurous moustache!

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But the evening wasn’t over yet!

Kim had also booked us in for a gambling lesson plus we had vouchers for a £5 bet each. As I said I had never been to a casino so this was a new and fun experience. The guy teaching us how to play was also excellent so I would highly recommend the casino.

First we learned blackjack, at which I was doing alright. Unfortunately finding a £2 in table after the lesson was hard, most of them were £5 in.

He even gamely wore our glasses.

Then we had a lesson in Roulette.

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I played a few real games of roulette as well and managed to turn my free £5 into £15 so I was pretty chuffed. Mom did significantly better at the fake game unfortunately, winning a fake fortune.

My winnings.

My winnings.

Susie won a pound but it was a fortuitous pound since on the way back from cashing it a random man playing blackjack bought each of us a drink. Win. Thank you random man.

So overall we had a great and hilarious night. Thank you to all my hens, you are so much fun! I hope you had as good a time as I did. And mostly a huge thank you to Kim who orchestrated everything perfectly.

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Comedy Store

If you are in Manchester any time and looking for a fun night out I would definitely recommend a trip to The Comedy Store. We’ve been twice now (see, it must be good, we went back) for family birthdays and have always had a really good evening.

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We went on a Saturday for the “Best In Stand-up’ night which meant we got a variety of 4 or 5 comedians including the MC which means if someone doesn’t tickle your funny bone there are plenty of others who will. Overall Chris and I have found that the standard of comedy is pretty high and always has me giggling. I particularly enjoy watching hecklers get ripped to shreds.

The theatre itself is two floored (although the bottom floor has been the only one open when we were there) and quite cosy but not claustrophobic. The smoke blowers and the ‘comedy store’ lights make for a cluby atmosphere which works well on a Saturday night. It is also a good place to people watch between shows as quite a variety of people come.

They do a 7pm and a 9:30pm slot so it makes a nice after dinner entertainment still leaving time to go out on the row of bars next to it. Just don’t fall in the canal outside!

You can make a real evening of it and even eat there, which is what we did both times and then went to the later show. With 2 courses for £14 in their downstairs restaurant or a selection of bar food upstairs there is some selection and I can vouch that the food in the restaurant is pretty good.

Wild Mushrooms in garlic and cream on toasted ciabatta

Wild Mushrooms in garlic and cream on toasted ciabatta

Thai Fishcakes with a chilli and coriander salsa

Thai Fishcakes with a chilli and coriander salsa

Chicken... I can't actually remember what kind >_<

Chicken… I can’t actually remember what kind >_<

Homemade Steak and Ale pie with chips, vegetables and gravy

Homemade Steak and Ale pie with chips, vegetables and gravy

Chicken again! My memory is awful.

Chicken again! My memory is awful.

Italian Meatballs in a plum tomato and basil sauce with garlic bread

Italian Meatballs in a plum tomato and basil sauce
with garlic bread

Red Thai Chicken Curry with rice and naan bread

Red Thai Chicken Curry with rice and naan bread

Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham stuffed with Mozarella with roasted new potatoes and garden peas.

Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham stuffed with Mozarella
with roasted new potatoes and garden peas.

I had the mushroom starter and the red Thai curry and both were delicious, although in fairness I love anything with mushrooms!

After dinner a member of staff escorts you to your seats for the show which is a nice touch, we have always had good and attentive service there.

If you do go to the comedy store one word of warning: Don’t sit in the front row!