writing: between a Hard Rock and up Shingle Creek

Howdo! The next chapter on our Florida tales involves two more hotel reviews, and what a time we had. Next chapter will be our Disney tales and listen, at some point, I promise to start posting food again. Maaaybe. I’m enjoying just writing, if I’m honest. Aaaaanyway, here we go!

Hard Rock Hotel

The third part of our holiday saw us returning back to an old favourite of ours, The Hard Rock Hotel. This hotel holds happy memories for us: we spent the second half of our honeymoon here, we had an ice-cream the size of our heads (which you must remember, in my case, is the size of three normal heads) and we ‘christened’ the butterfly garden on our way back from a drunken night on City Walk. Speckled wood? Well yes, but we were young and reckless with the portable douche. That joke only works if you’re enough of a lepidopterist to realise Speckled Wood is a type of butterfly, but you know what, I believe in you enough not to dumb this blog down. And you should be thankful I didn’t write a joke involving a brown hairstreak. Of course there was no such lewdness this time, but it’s always a pleasure to return back to somewhere familiar.

We turned up nice and early in the hope of being upgraded to the elusive Club 7, my fingers crossed so much that I could barely sign the check-in slip, but no such luck. The lady breezily checking us in poured salt into the wound by saying we’d have been upgraded if only we had been staying just a couple of days, but for this trip, it wasn’t to be. We’ll always be what could’ve been, Paul and I. With the chance of free tiny sandwiches and warm bottles of Heineken dashed from our hearts, we at least enjoyed our room, themed as it was on rock music and musical paraphernalia. Our mirror had little etchings to show you how tall you were in comparison to music stars – turns out I’m as tall as Nick Cave, whereas Paul is the same height as Nick Cave’s plectrum.

Where this hotel loses marks is the pool – it’s so bloody shallow! I don’t understand why American pools all seem to be just deep enough to get your ankles wet and nothing more, and I’m sure there’s a very good explanation that I could find if I google, but it needs to stop. When Paul walks into the deep end and doesn’t so much get his nipples wet – and remember, they’re usually found somewhere just below his knees at this point – it’s not good enough. We tried swimming until we realised we could lie on the bottom of the pool and still fart without blowing bubbles, so that was the only time in the pool. I did google by the way: it’s to make it easier for the lifeguards, water deeper than a certain amount means more intense lifeguarding training to stop the kids drowning. Well don’t I feel bad. No, and I didn’t feel wet either.

But that’s the only negative I can say because the hotel itself is wonderful – full of curios and knick-knacks to keep my own curious little Nick-Nack happy. We’d be making our way to dinner and he’d point out that a dress Cher wore once was hanging in the lobby. At a total loss for what to do with this information I was spectacularly unable to come up with a witty reply – if only I could turn back time. Special mention goes to the Emack & Bolio shop on the ground floor which was ostensibly there for snacks but also served pizza the size of a ship’s wheel. It was proper American pizza too – gooey and cheesy and with more topping than an after-hours Eurovision party. We ordered one for the evening and in a first in our relationship, still had some leftover, so we stuck it in the fridge to enjoy the next day. The next day saw us at Busch Gardens and to my delight, Paul turned to me on the coach trip back to the hotel and confirmed that he too had been thinking about this pizza all day. Great minds think alike.

In our defence, the pizza was magnificent

One of my favourite nights of the holiday was at the Hard Rock actually. For all the days filled with rollercoasters and thrills, the quiet days where we spent a day wandering around the shops or the grounds of the various hotels were equally as fun. We decided, after watching Wheel of Fortune (I ended up _ T T _ R L _  O _ S _ S S _ D with this show), to have a walk down to the other hotels and see what was what. All of the ‘fancy’ hotels are linked by well-manicured walkways or a short boat ride and we ended up at the Portofino Bay hotel, just down the path. We’ve considered staying here a couple of times but it looks a bit too fancy for our tastes, so we’ve always swerved. But we found a little bar by the water and settled in for the night, ordering three starter platters and all manner of exciting cocktails and just people watching. There’s so much to be said for this: a theme park holiday can be so full-on that it’s nice to sit and smell the roses. Well, not that Paul could, I was busy smoking a cigar the size of a draught excluder like a budget Magnum PI(e). He didn’t complain: I never do when he serves contemporary Californian cuisine in my lungs, after all. We made our way back to our hotel room past midnight, drunk and happy. I sometimes wonder what it is we actually talk about and how we haven’t ran out of things to mention to the other – how it is that with a stranger I’ll be stuck for words, or I’ll bite my tongue, or I’ll struggle for a conversation hook but with him there’s none of that, it comes effortlessly. You’d think we’d be conversationally bankrupt at this point, and admittedly most of our discourse is Wife Swap quotes or one suggesting to the other that we eat, but even so. An amazing night in a constellation of wonderful days.

I love this picture, despite looking like a sudoric strawberry – I think it’s Paul regenerating in the background that makes it

Rosen Shingle Creek

Our last hotel was perhaps the most unexpected of them all – a wildcard visit because we’ve never heard of the Rosen brand and Shingle Creek sounds like something you’d rub a cream into and hope it cleared up so you could go back to wearing tight jeans. We only picked it because an eight night stay meant 80,000 extra Avios via rocketmiles and as the taxi swept us up the half-mile long drive into the biggest hotel I think I’ve ever seen, our interest was piqued.

Naturally we didn’t bother with any of that

Turns out it’s another ‘convention’ hotel – lots of rooms, one of the best golf courses in the state and almost endlessly hosting seminars and meet-ups for various industries. When we arrived they were hosting a convention for ‘Luxury Products’ (me neither) which meant all sorts of braying hoohahs wandering around with giant lips clacking away on their phones and speaking in that atrocious manner of elongating every vowel and ending each sentence in a questioning tone. As we aren’t ones for spending the day in the hotel this didn’t phase us too much, not least because we happened across a quiet pool away from the marketers. Strictly speaking the pool was only to be used for lane swimming but as there was rarely anyone there, it was perfect for splashing about in.

On one of the rare moments we were enjoying the sun and swimming, we were joined by a lady who came to get a few lengths in. I apologised for being in the pool and not lane swimming and for some ungodly reason, possibly because I didn’t want to be told off by someone with a lanyard on it extolling her Sapphire status, explained that I couldn’t swim and I was just practising. I can swim just fine, by the way. You would have hoped she would leave it at that but no, she was one of those very sweet people who see a problem and needs to fix it, so she started helping me learn to swim. Half a bloody hour I was in that pool with her coaching me on my technique – you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to strike a balance between pretending you can’t swim to keep up a pretence and swimming just enough to stop actually drowning. I tried to catch Paul’s eye in the hope he might fake us going back to the room but the rotter just laughed and waved his hand airily at me. I gave myself a reprieve by pretending I had a cramp in my leg but even this involved more schtick as I had to ‘hobble’ all the way to the sunbed, get dressed and walk back to the room like I had rickets just in case she saw.

Luckily the ‘Luxury Products’ symposium shuttled off halfway through the holiday and a convention of plumbers turned up in replacement. Now in all honesty I can’t imagine what plumbers have to talk about for three solid days – exciting developments in the world of washers perhaps, or thirty different ways to unblock a u-bend, but there must have been something captivating because suddenly our hotel was full of fit trade walking around the pool with their beer bellies on show. Imagine our distress.

The only issue with this hotel was the fact it was quite far away from anywhere, necessitating a lengthy walk to get back onto International Drive or jumping in an Uber. You can guess which of these we did most often, although we did have an exciting walk back from Publix one evening. We were just about to cross the road with our groceries when a car took the corner far too fast (showing off in their fancy hire), hit the kerb and popped their front tyres and took the bumper off. A very boorish British family climbed out to survey the damage to their car and we were treated to the sight of five very rah-rah wankers all arguing with each other. It was glorious! I almost put my neck out craning to listen. We found all manner of reasons to stand and eavesdrop – checking our phones, taking photos of each other, that sort of thing, until they all climbed back into the car and limped off. We’d see them again a few minutes later as they pulled into the car park of our hotel, still shouting, and then got the courtesy bus to the lobby, all the while still screaming at each other. You know in old cartoons when you’d get a giant ball of smoke and fists flying out? Imagine that but with whatever the FM World knock-off of Creed Aventus is. This continued into the lobby. Now did we both walk past with smug ‘at least I can drive’ faces? You best believe it.

The other joy of this hotel (and perhaps a result of it being a little cut off from anywhere else) was the sheer amount of dining options – it was like having a food court onsite without the risk of someone shouting SAMPLE SAMPLE in your face and throwing a tub of chicken teriyaki at you. We ate extravagantly and often and without any care towards the final bill at the end – that’s the peril of sticking a card behind the counter when you check in. We had burgers, sushi, sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese and so many fried pickles that when I went for a piss I thought I had an STI, then when we had finished all of that, we moved onto our mains. Special mention must go to the Mexican place, Mi Casa Tequila Taqueria, which promised big drinks and bold flavours and delivered in spades, with one of their margaritas served in a glass that would normally be reserved for serving woo-woos to a hen party in a city centre Wetherspoons. We ordered some freshly made guacamole without realising that a) some poor chap actually came to the table and made it in front of you (which was awkward) and b) you were given enough to comfortably skim an Artex ceiling, should you be so inclined. Now see I love guacamole but Paul isn’t a huge fan, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this chap coming back to collect the bowl and seeing we’d left most of it after his dexterous turn with the limes and the avocado, so I, somewhat grimly, ploughed my way through almost on my own. Paul deigned to help by dipping a tortilla chip in and scooping up about a fingernail’s worth then crinkled his nose and said he was full. He’s HELF now, remember.

Tell you what though, brave little sausage that I am , I put away nearly all of it, and when the chap came to collect the bowl he saw it was almost empty and gave us a big thumbs up. I smiled as much as someone can manage when they’ve got avocado pressing into every single square inch of their already quite large body and he went away happy. We had to call it a night at this point because I needed to spend a good three hours rubbing my belly and making ‘poor me’ faces to Paul until he tired of my schtick, put his headphones in and pretended to go to sleep. He can be quite the callous lover, you know.

There’s no case too big, no case too small
When you need help, just call
Ch-ch-ch-Chips ‘n Pale

And that was that. The Rosen Shingle was our final hotel on this wonderful holiday and it was a pleasure to stay there. Breaking the holiday up into four loose quarters and staying at four different venues was the perfect way to do it – it meant on ‘quiet’ days you had somewhere new to explore and you didn’t sicken yourself with the same foods each day. We were both given an opportunity to do what we love doing at home four times over – Paul ironing all the clothes, me packing them away diligently, and that’s always fun. I’m not one of these sorts who can live out of a suitcase, I find it altogether too stressful if I can’t see all of the 456 Fred Perry tops I’ve packed at any given time. We’d happily recommend all four hotels if you’re looking to go away, with the Contemporary and Hard Rock winning out on sheer convenience, the Hilton a close third and Rosen Shingle in fourth, but in no way indicative of the enjoyment of our stay at any of them.

Now we just need to plan the next round…


urgent: cancel your black veil order right away

Because you won’t be needing them just yet – in a marvellous bit of efficiency, I’ve had my CT scan results back and everything looks normal. I’ve taken a look myself and I am assuming the ‘Unremarkable Head’ in the notes is a medical term and not someone critiquing my blowjob skills because they would be absolutely wrong. I could suck a golf-ball through a 40m garden hose without breaking a sweat.

What an opener! I was trying to be very good and sensible by not checking my NHS app to see if the results were in, and don’t get me wrong I was very proud of myself for those four minutes, but I cracked and checked on the off-chance. There’s nothing quite like that fear of clicking the link to look at your results and wondering exactly how long you’ve got left to live and how quickly Paul could order me a piano box. There’s also the very real danger of misinterpretation (which is why, if you’re anxious, you shouldn’t do this) and I know this from previous experience where I spent a good two days panicking about my heart only to realise I’d totally misread the detail and given myself a rough time for no reason. Exercise caution and if you’re unsure, leave it to the professionals. In fact, no, nevermind caution: always leave it to the professionals. I had a follow-up chat with the doctor who has reassured me that my bloods and my scan paint a pretty healthy picture and although I could stand to lose a couple of stone, I was actually doing bloody well. In the absence of him giving me a lollipop for being a brave boy, I made myself a certificate for the fridge:

So, how does someone suffering with health anxiety deal with getting an all-clear result? Interesting question, even if I say so myself. Which I’m obviously doing, as I’m writing this blog. You might expect that the relief is overwhelming, and of course it is after spending weeks telling yourself you’re on your way out and you’ve wasted your life, but this is where the fun of health anxiety comes in. See the next step of the trap is doubting the doctors. What if they missed something? What if they spilled some kahlúa on the results? What if every time they looked at the scan they popped their thumb over the exact place where something fizzy and nasty was growing? What if they ran out of oblique Simpsons references? What if what if what if.

Certainly, in darker times, I’ve gone down the route of assuming the worst and demanding second opinions and retests and wanting to look at their medical degree to assume they didn’t pluck it out of a crane-grab machine in a bowling alley (got one more in!). Let me tell you: it’s fucking exhausting. Not least because that level of narcissism, thinking you know better than someone who has trained for years and who doesn’t have an ulterior motive in seeing you shuffle off the Earth, takes some serious ego-upkeep. If we pop back in time a good ten years ago, and once you’re over the shock of seeing what a beautiful young man I was, you’d find me absolutely adamant that I was dying and everyone was wrong and why wasn’t anyone listening. My legs were going full Riverdance, my body felt like I’d been plugged into the National Grid, my balls were hurting, my brain was aching, my heart was clearly about to burst like a child’s balloon filled with butter. I was ill, and no-one was paying any attention, and any tests they did were lip-service at best. Honestly, I cringe with how arrogant I was, but that’s the indulgence of health anxiety: you’re simultaneously the cleverest and sickest person in the room.

Whaddya know though, here I am ten years later. I was ill, no doubt about that, but it was an illness my brain had created and then, because I was on edge for months, my body created physical symptoms not of some scary life-threatening disease but rather anxiety. You know when you get a fright – say you open your electricity bill and they’ve printed it on A3 to make sure all the numbers fit on – and you’re shaky and all-to-cock afterwards? It’s exactly the same with health anxiety – you spend so long worked up in a tizz that your body doesn’t properly shut down and relax. Like the cleaning of a house, it never ends. That’s another!

So you – or rather I – have a choice. You can choose to take steps to accept you’re not about to die and maybe this is a chaos of your own control, or you can keep distrusting the medical professionals and carry on sending yourself back into the storm. If you choose the former, you’ll recover, and if you choose the latter, you’ll worsen. At this point of the story it’s as binary as that. It’s how I beat health anxiety before: I decided enough was enough with fretting about every little twitch, every little shake and every little hiccup and just got on with things. And that is exactly what I am doing now.

I don’t doubt for a second that the next few weeks, maybe months, are going to be difficult at times: I am trying to come up with a good analogy for what it’s like at the moment and the best I can do is a river with a load of chemicals poured in. The balance of me is all over the shop and it’s going to take time to right it by de-stressing, being a bit more mindful of my reactions to things and, more importantly, not sitting on my fat arse and not doing anything about it. When I twitch I’ll accept it for what it is – the by-product of an overworked body. My eye will heal and stop being so much of a nuisance if I stop focussing on it all the time. The on-the-cusp-of-a-panic-attack moments will re-record, not fade away. And in time, just like the many, many times before, the ship will right itself. Because what’s the alternative? I retreat further into myself and waste my life worrying about what could be? No fucking chance: I’ve got books to write and a dog to play with.

And, at the end of all of this, if it turns out I do have something terrible, I can at least turn around and say to him, as I gasp my last in the best damn hospital room that an eighth-book royalties cheque can buy, that I was right all along.


Oh, before I go, actually: as I was writing the previous entry, I remembered a passage in one of my favourite books, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (so good they named him twice) where he recounts his own experience with a flush of health anxiety. If you ever wanted to hear what health anxiety is like as described by someone who can actually write a joke, now’s your chance. I’ve copied it out below.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

I swear, if it was Jerome K Jerome who got me onto health anxiety (and men smoking pipes in boats), I’ll be blaming my English teacher for time evermore. Damn you Ms Westgarth!

Oh and another final, final point – I’ve had so many wonderfully kind messages both on here and our various social media streams. I have tried to reply to them all, and I’ve certainly read each one, but the difficulty becomes I spend too much time talking about this so it never leaves my head. I will always try and reply at some point, but if I don’t, please do not take offence. I’m writing these blogs for myself, so that I may look back in the future and realise what a silly goose I am. I’m publishing them because I know others find them helpful, and that’s just fine. But if I don’t correspond, that’s not a reflection on the quality of your discourse or an apathy towards your predicament, but rather me taking steps not to overindulge my silly, fussy, always over-thinking, brain.


round and round and round we go – update

So ahead of getting started with twochubbycubs stuff, and partly because I want an excuse to write, I thought I’d update on last week’s post because I received so many lovely comments and questions from people about it. I can’t decide if it comes across as too naval-gazing or self-indulgent to temporarily use a food blog to discuss mental health issues, but fuck it, let’s roll the dice. I can always stick a scrambled eggs recipe on next week to take the edge off things. Social media, blogs, reels, updates – they all present these perfect little glimpses into us living our best lives. Nobody ever writes a blog post about a time they want to forget, after all. Such curated happiness is all well and good, but if you’re suffering with your mental health it can seem a bit like you’re the only one out there who can’t quite get their ducks in a row. Whilst I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on the matter, and lord knows we don’t currently need yet more armchair-experts online, I hope that by writing about the bad times and how I’m getting through, it can hold a mirror up. It also helps me on a personal note, because having a catalogue of my thoughts that I can refer back to at a later point when things have settled down and I’m not totally doolally is a comfort. Of course, I could do that privately (and I do – there’s as much blog unpublished than there is published), but well, got to keep the wheel spinning.

So yep, please do forgive the (hopefully temporary) change of pace here.

In truth, I’m actually feeling a bit better. To recap: started having eye-pain back in December (and yes, I’ve been to the opticians twice over now – was a bit remiss of me to miss that key part out in my last post) and since then, have been in a cycle of expecting it to go away, being disappointed it hasn’t, worrying about it, trying to stop that worry swelling up and triggering my health anxiety and now full-blown anxiety about the fact it is clearly a brain tumour. Or MS. Or Parkinsons. Or CJD. Or a brain bleed because I saw that on a reddit post. Or any number of exciting and terrifying cancers.

When I’m feeling rational, this is what I think it is: I strained my eye muscles watching TV whilst lying down, and rather like when you sprain your ankle, it took a while to heal. Because it wasn’t immediate, my brain took issue with the fact that it hadn’t disappeared and started fretting. When you’re anxious, you tense up, and that means more strain on the muscle – and that makes it worse. Plus, I’m hyper-aware of my body at the moment, so every little pain or twinge that I’d normally dismiss is a CLEAR SIGN OF THINGS GETTING WORSE.

But because I’m anxious, I’m over-analysing everything, and this constant state of feeling anxious and worried is keeping me in this little vicious cycle. When you are anxious, your body is in a heightened state of alertness and adrenaline is pumping all over the place – it’s why the heart races, it’s what a panic attack is: a fear response. Because I’ve had two months of living like this, my body is worn out. My newest symptom is jerky legs and arms which has been fun, but totally normal when you think of what’s going on in my body. My body is like a spring that someone has been tightening ever so slowly for the last few weeks, and all that built up energy needs to come out. Essentially, I need to relax, and take a few weeks to calm the body back down. Which sounds incredible when you think I’ve just been away for five weeks, I know, but it was still always at the back of my mind.

But I said I was feeling better, and I am. Remember I said I was going for a CT scan? The lovely folks at my local hospital moved my appointment forward from late March to this morning – brilliant. I should say they didn’t ring me up with a grave voice advising me to come in as soon as possible – the CT scan remains ‘routine’ not ‘fuck me, don’t make any weekend plans’, I had called up on the off-chance of a cancellation and the sun of good luck shone on me. Naturally being me I turned up an entire hour early which gave me an opportunity to fret about things before going in. I was distracted by a cleaner who seemed in remarkably good cheer considering it was 7.40am and I had (accidentally) kicked her cleaning bucket and then sat in the chair she was trying to clean. I did apologise profusely and offer to help but she was having none of it, possibly guessing how distracted I was and fearful I’d start a fire with her bottle of Flash or knock a wall down in my haste to assist. You know though, I’ve poured countless words into this blog over the years about how amazing the NHS is, but today was another good example: from the receptionist who pointed out I was in the wrong department, to the cleaner who was whistling and cheerful at such an early hour, to the kind nurse who answered my questions about the scan with patience and good humour and who didn’t laugh when I stopped being brave and shut my eyes during the scan – we’re still on a perfect hot streak with wonderfully kind and patient NHS staff. You’ll miss it when it’s gone, I promise, and for the love of God think about that next year when it comes to putting an X in a box.

But the scan itself was nothing – lie on a table, try not to move. I’ve had a number of MRIs over the years (surprise!) and this was nothing compared to those. If anything, I missed the chance to try and doze whilst the world’s worst techno played. I did have a little seatbelt put over my skull to keep my head still, something which didn’t pass without snark from my mate who enquired whether they needed to get one of those bright orange extenders like they do on aeroplanes for those of us carrying significant extra baggage. Luckily I’m used to being restrained and told to keep still – indeed, it made a change not to have a pair of boots perched on my back during.

I’m now facing seven to ten days before someone takes a look at the results and lets my doctor know. Whilst I am fully expecting this week to be a rough one – for all the time I spend telling myself it’ll be nothing, another scan I’ve had done which shows I’m alright really, I spend an equal time trying to block out the ‘what if it is this’ and ‘what if they find that’. I’ll be fine – as I said, feeling better – but it’s still exhausting. Weirdly, if they do find something – chances vanishingly small, remember – I’ll cope. I didn’t think I would, but the same chap who made the seatbelt gag also pointed out that when I’ve previously had a genuine medical issue, I’ve been remarkably stoic about it and got through it with minimal fuss. Well no, lots of fuss, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with a brain capable of turning an ingrown toe into advanced sepsis or diagnosing himself with weeks to live when his hayfever was bad. I cope so much better with absolute than abstraction: that’s why health anxiety is such a fucking knobhead. If someone tells me my ear will fall off tomorrow, I can plan and deal with it accordingly, but if I read somewhere there’s a chance my ear could fall off, I’ll spend weeks worrying about it until I kick myself mentally up the arse and get on with things.

So that’s where I am right now. I am hopeful that the scan will come back with nothing to report and once that happens, I can work on calming my anxiety back down. As that happens, the adrenaline and stress rolling around in my body will abate and the symptoms will ease off. That means I won’t have so many ‘triggers’ and I can begin the climb back to feeling normal. I’m going to try and keep busy this week and keep my fingers crossed (that’ll be my stenosing tenosynovitis getting worse) that the report comes back as soon as possible, though. I want to get started, whatever that means.

Before I go, a final thought. I’ve touched on it a few times as the reason I’m writing these blogs, but it bears repeating: it really does help to talk to people about this. I’ve made the mistake way back when of keeping this bottled up, and trust me, it’s the worst thing you can do. It’s like getting a bottle of fizzy pop and shaking it up – at some point that lid is coming off and it’s going to be messy. I’ve made a point this time of letting people know what I am going through. When people ask how I am, I’m not replying on autopilot and pretending everything is fine, because lord knows it isn’t. And it helps so damn much. Sometimes you need to just pour your thoughts out and have someone listen. If you’re on the other side – if you have someone confiding in you – listen. You don’t need to provide answers and solutions, just an ear. I’m lucky to have a pretty damn good circle of people I can trust and talk to, and doubly so for having this space to get it all down, and if you’re in the same boat I encourage you to try and find the same.

That’s enough from me, anyway. Thanks for reading!


*taps mic* this thing still on?

I feel we are long overdue an update, aren’t we?

Firstly, we’re both fine, thank you so much for asking. You didn’t ask? I see.

We actually managed to sneak away on holiday in January – returning (finally) to Florida for a few weeks of rollercoasters, waterslides and as much culture as one might find on a bleached petri dish. Listen, nobody goes to Disney to stroke their chins and exclaim ‘but what can one feel from such a representation’* or other such bollocks. You go to make sure your vestibular system knows who’s really in charge and to spend money so fast you get scorch marks on the tips of your fingers.

* I mention this because we did actually meet someone like this in the queue for Tower of Terror – a walking haircut who held up the queue to inform everyone around her, very loudly, of how wrong the ‘period’ theming of the hotel was. Ma’am, you’re in a theme park, no-one is impressed. Save it for Twitter. To add insult to injury, she stepped on Paul’s foot and blankly refused to apologise – luckily she was wearing some god-awful shoes knitted from llama-hair or suchlike, so it barely registered.

I’ll say only this, with an eye to some future blog posts that’ll cover it in more detail: we had the most amazing, incredible time. I’d go so far to say it was the best holiday we’ve ever had and listen, if that doesn’t impress you, know that we once did a three day coach holiday to Birmingham.

Urgh, get a room, right.

Because of this, the holiday blues that I usually feel after some time away were absolutely off-the-charts. Now I know there’s nothing more self-indulgent than feeling sorry for yourself when you’ve been lucky enough to get away from the relentless misery that is the UK, and for that I apologise only a shade. You must realise that I am an emotional being at the best of times, I just hide it behind a well-groomed façade of indifference. As a result, the last couple of weeks have been emotionally hard-going.

This has been compounded yet further by my own health anxiety conspiring against me in its most vicious form. In my last entry on here I wrote of some ongoing eye pain (like someone pressing a thumb in the back of my left eye) and how I was being stoic and using all my previous coping mechanisms to get through it. I felt as though I was doing well. But see, that was back in December and I was banking on the eye nonsense sorting itself out and buggering off by now. Alas, no. So although the last few weeks have been tremendous, they’ve been tempered with the utter exhaustion of having to manage my own health anxiety and what feels like an almost permanent headache. On holiday you can distract yourself with amazing things, but this isn’t the same at home, and as a result I’ve been pondering more than I should.

Without doubt, this has been the hardest period of prolonged mental health difficulties I have faced in many years and whilst I know it will clear, I am really bloody tired of it. I only write this now because I have been very frank about my anxiety through the nine years of this blog and have written at length about how I successfully manage my anxiety – it is important then to show the other side of the coin and write about the bad times too. I’ll be fine, though.

The inevitable result of this ongoing malaise is my demotivation to do all the usual things with twochubbycubs. A good example: would you want to sit in front of a computer typing out a blog post or editing videos if the screen made your eyes hurt? Of course not. But I love doing this, and so when I find myself wanting to write but unable to motivate myself to do so, it magnifies the shitty feelings still further. The less I do, the more I miss.

This leaks out still further into other aspects of my life: I feel disinclined to do other things – gym, running, going out, cooking, eating healthily, making an effort because I am tired and stressed as a result of the eye issue and the subsequent health anxiety tussle. But those things are what bring comfort and happiness and without them, the vicious circle continues and grows. I think of my health anxiety like putting a glass of diesel into a petrol car – I’m still going to motor along, but it’s going to be strained and the journey bumpier as a result. Listen, I don’t know if that analogy quite works because my mechanical knowledge extends only to what colour boxers our local Kwik Fit bloke wears, but you get the drift.

But: enough is enough. As cathartic as typing all of the above was, I’m painfully aware of how self-pitying it comes across. This blog entry is more me trying to put a full stop on the last few weeks of moping and listening to my theatrical and dramatic brain and instead, choosing to be more proactive about fixing the various things I’ve let slide.

So. I’ve been back to the doctors (for only the second time since all of this kicked off, a vast improvement on previous episodes where I saw the doctor so often his wife grew jealous) and explained the eye-pain was still there. He asked that I stop masturbating – not because it was affecting my vision, he just couldn’t get the blood pressure cuff on my jostling arm. Ayoo. I spoke very honestly about how I am sure it is nothing but how the ongoing pain was causing me more mental distress than anything else, and he was ever so lovely.

That’s a point worth mentioning, especially to those who suffer with health anxiety. Mention it to your doctor when you see them: don’t go in demanding every test you can think of, but do explain that you’re prone to catastrophising and ask the questions that are bothering you. For example, my main worry about all of this is that I have some dark tumour billowing in my brain that may reach a critical mass at any point and remove my inability to sing along to any Pet Shop Boys song. He took the time to explain why it is very, very unlikely to be anything of that nature – I’d have more symptoms, they’d be far more permanent, I’ve got a head so big he’s surprised the USA haven’t shot it down and so I could comfortably grow a tumour in there with room to spare, that sort of thing. He was – always is – very patient and kind, and I imagine most doctors will be the same if you have concerns.

With my worries somewhat abated, we agreed that I would go for a CT scan (purely precautionary) next month to have a look in my head. It’ll be like the space-docking scene in Interstellar but with a fraction more Geordie. They’re also taking bloods to make sure I’m still o-HAAAAY positive. So we shall see where that goes. I am hopeful that they’ll find nothing more than stalactites and snot up in there, and I can stop worrying, and in turn, my health anxiety will fuck off. It’s certainly how I managed to beat all my other previous life-ending conditions that I diagnosed myself with.

On a more personal note, I’ve created a little bucket list of self-improvement, and I’ll be working towards that over the year. It’s like I’m revising for my GCSEs, only I’m not sacking it off to play Max Payne instead. This bucket list isn’t because I think I’m dying, I should say, but rather I work so much better when I have things to aim for than I do when I allow myself to procrastinate. Again, we’ll see how that pans out.

Which brings me neatly to you lot and twochubbycubs. I know I’m a terror for false promises about content, but I am going to make a concerted effort from March 1 to update more often, create new recipes and write more. I bloody love writing and you best believe that five weeks in Florida has provided me with stories and views I want to share. There’s also the small matter of refreshing the older recipes. Hell, I might even get around to adding a functioning search button and a website refresh, but let us not get giddy. I do promise to try harder, though.

Finally then – a thank you. This may sound a little over-the-top but when my mood is low, seeing people cooking our recipes or reading the reviews for our books or just being decent in our facebook group is a genuine tonic. As are the Instagram messages from folks saying they’re cooking for the first time or a blog post has made them laugh or they’ve seen us in ASDA or just wanting a chat. We’re terrible at replying because we get so many, but we do read them and enjoy them. Keep doing that, please. For those that have subscribed to the blog, thank you, you’re why I keep writing these.

Onwards, then.


goodbye to 2022, no, not 22022, but 2022 – I couldn’t be clearer on this matter

Hello there: I’d apologise for the next few paragraphs, but you know what you’re getting with us by now.

I write this entry not by way of update, but by means of a goodbye. See, I have been poorly for three whole days now and events are now hastening me to the end. As someone who enjoys the giddy thrills of health anxiety, and an occasional dabbler in Eastenders spoilers, I have diagnosed myself with a brain tumour. Plus, for good measure: bum cancer, gastroenteritis, pneumonia (double pneumonia mind you, it is Christmas after all), encephalitis, fuch eye disease (genuine thing, and don’t google it) (you googled it, and see it wasn’t actually so bad) (but do what you’re told), parentheses-overuse strain and, for a brief yet terrifying moment, the worry that I’d been forgetting to take my contact lenses out of an evening and had built up an entirely functional second eye facing into my mind. Imagine being able to see inside myself: I’m 97% cherry cola Elf Bar and the rest piss and vinegar, no-one needs that.

Of course the reality of my situation is that I have the sickness and Does It Always Run Really Horribly Over Each Ankle (you’re welcome) bug that everyone else has both had and seemingly taken the time to make sure they wipe their shitty fingers on every conceivable surface I would later go on on touch. I wouldn’t mind so much – I love a good sit down at the best of times – but it’s become a source of mystery to me exactly where all of this effluence coming from. Simple maths would suggest that if there’s only a plain sandwich and a cup of tea going in then a similar volume should come back out, but goodness no – going to the toilet at the moment is like playing the world’s worst slot machine. Sometimes you get three bells and a few dinky coins drop out and you feel grateful for a good time, sometimes the sevens roll in and it’s like someone crashed a plane into Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin.

The constant use of the bathroom means we are saving money though: the heat produced from the simultaneous whirring of both the electricity and water meter wheels mean we’re officially off-grid. I’ve oft-mocked Paul on this very blog for his urgent need to defecate the second he steps off a plane, enters a new hotel room, clears his throat or blinks, and now here I am hurtling out of the room at any given moment shrieking as though the chair I was sitting on had suddenly electrified. Worse, I return from the bathroom looking like Matt Smith when they put the old-man make-up on him in The Time Of The Doctor. It’s no life, but Paul does have the good grace (and inherent sensibility) not to look smug, I’ll give him that.

On top of my arsehole looking like the map from the Bonanza opening credits (one for the oldies there), I’ve also had a terrible headache behind my left eye for the last few weeks. I say terrible because it’s me and I can’t go a single moment without hyperbole otherwise I’ll die, and naturally that ‘constant’ headache has actually been intermittent and only mildly painful, but even so – I’ve been mentally preparing my funeral wishes. In the spirit of over-sharing and just in case for the first time in my life I’ve actually managed to correctly pre-empt my own quietus, my wishes are simple:

  • please burn rather than bury me: yes, it’ll be like when they burned all the cows during the foot and mouth crisis, but I eat well and the smell will be delicious – plus it’ll be good to choke someone on my smoke one last time
  • I’d like Abide with Me played at the funeral, and not just because Eastenders did it (beautifully) when Dot died, but because it’s the best hymn in the world
    • well, after ‘Were You There’, that is, but if we had that at my funeral, half of the North East’s plumbers, tradesmen and passing lorry drivers would have to pause, dab their eyes and nod solemnly when the line ‘I was cold, I was naked, were you there, were you there?‘ came about)
    • that said, circling back to Eastenders, if you wanted to play the duff-duff when the curtain fell across my coffin, I’d be absolutely game, doubly so if you could finagle Sonia into doing it on the trumpet
  • be sure there’s the most terrific buffet you’ve ever seen put on at the wake – and double whatever the amount you were planning on putting on because it’s rare I associate with anyone whose belt doesn’t come from the back of the rack;
  • scatter my ashes somewhere wonderful and plant a tree somewhere I’d love, though I imagine you’ll have a fight on your hands getting Moto to agree to the planting of a sapling in the gents at any services along the A1

Either way, it’ll be fun. Just be sure to look after Paul: he needs three square meals and eighteen opportunities to tell people he’s lost weight a day otherwise he gets fussy.

The eye thing isn’t really anything to be concerned about: a few weeks ago Paul was away for a couple of days and I spent 24 hours watching 24, with the remaining six hours staring at my phone and doing indiscreet things to myself, resulting in eye strain and wrists that sound like corn popping in a microwave. In a way, it is fuch-eye disease, but not in the way google suggests. As I’m forever wearing my glasses for a moment and setting them aside for an exciting treasure hunt four days later, the eye strain is taking a while to wear off, and as I am focused (well, barely) on it, I’m exacerbating the situation, and it’s all very tiresome. I have had an optician look deep into my eyes and reassure me via the faint whiff of their breakfast breath that everything is fine, so mustn’t worry. Plus I used my own health anxiety against myself and examined my own medical notes from 2017, which revealed the exact same issue and a similar timescale of recovery. I knew having my medical notes printed and bound over sixteen luxurious editions would pay for itself in the long run.

Oh! Those notes did spit out something curious though: in 2018, there’s a note in there for ‘removal of a foreign body’ at my doctor’s surgery. I can say now with absolute sincerity that I have zero idea what this refers to, and nothing either side of this mysterious entry sheds any light. It’s not even as though I can ask for elaboration – the doctor has long since gone – but that is going to itch away at me for the next few weeks until I shoot upright in bed with my epiphany. Will keep you posted.

Anyway, I mention all of the above as a somewhat jokey goodbye, but of course it isn’t goodbye (just yet). But this will be the final post of 2022, and I thought it would be good to finish it the way we started it – 1200 words about nonsense and no food recipe. But 2023 will bring change and good things four all, I promise. The gentlest reminder that our cookbooks make wonderful Christmas presents and it isn’t too late to get them ordered for those you are stuck for. They’re on Amazon and bookshops but I won’t sully this by spamming you with links.

Assuming Paul and I don’t shit our arses off, we’ll see you in 2023, and until then, have the most amazing Christmas, lord knows you’ve earned it.

James x

PS: Christmas Goomba says hi.

Dinner Time – Black Friday deal – only £7.20 – and an update

Well, hello there. This is awkward, isn’t it? It’s been so long. I know I said I would keep in contact, but it’s been such a turbulent couple of months with Liz and Boris, plus there’s the whole pesky business with the pickled walnut currently rattling his cage over in Russia. Plus: I’ve had writer’s block for the longest time.

That’s not quite right actually: I haven’t had writer’s block, but blog-block. It’s a curious thing: I have been writing all sorts of various little projects and bits and pieces for the last couple of months, but each time I sit down to write a blog article, it just doesn’t flow. Whilst I am sure that’ll change in due course, and certainly I have an idea for next year which should spin out some content, but until then we won’t rush it. To be fair, I’ve been writing this blog off and on for nearly ten years, and sometimes it is good to take a break and forge a new direction for a bit.

But it’s not all doom, gloom and shoe-gazing – just a bit of good news, which I really should have pushed out yesterday – our newest cookbook DINNER TIME has been reduced on Amazon to the cheapest it has ever been – a nice £7.20 for today only. You can click here for it, or search online. On top of that, if you’re struggling to justify £7.20 for a cookbook, then I must point you towards FAST & FILLING, our middle child, which is currently only 99p on Kindle for the month of November. Click here for that little treat. It is worth noting that you don’t need a Kindle to own this, just download the app. It’s a very cost-conscious way of owning another 100 recipes, for sure.

Hope you’re all keeping well,


ALERT: our book DINNER TIME only 99p – for one day only!


Hello everyone! With apologies for the unprompted email (we’re still alive) – just a heads-up to you all that for one day only – Saturday 8 October – our newest book DINNER TIME will be 99p on Amazon. It’s the Kindle version rather than the hardback, but that’s perfect for having a copy on your phone if you’re shopping or just reading it in the kitchen without getting your screen mucky. Unless your phone looks like mine, that is, like trying to read a newspaper through a film of wallpaper paste. Oh stop it! Click here to order or click on the photo!

A little plea too: if you see any of our social media promoting this, do give it a share or tag in anyone else who may be interested in this deal – it will really help us out. Also, we have noticed in the comments – and understandably so – that lots of folks simply can’t afford £10 for a book, and that’s just fine. Hopefully this way more people will get to read and enjoy it, which is all we ever set out to do. Remember too: you don’t need a Kindle to read this, simply download the Amazon Kindle app onto your phone or tablet and you’re good to go.

Enjoy, and I hope everyone is keeping well!


one day only: our new book is £8!

Click the image to order or simply click here!

Run, do not delay! Our new book has finally dropped to the lowest price it has ever been – for one day only on Amazon! If you’re after more of our delicious recipes – all under 500 calories bar a bonus fudge recipe packed in at the back, then this is the book for you. It’s colourful, it’s bold and more importantly – it’s cheap. We would love you forever if you were to tell anyone who you think may be interested, share it in your slimming groups, tweet about it, whatever you can! Thank you 🙂

travel: our mince around the UK – part four

Hello! I’m not sure if all subscribers were sent an email last week to point them to a new page on the blog where Paul explained calorie counting and what works for him, so apologies if you never received it – it’s an excellent read! If you’re looking for some tips on how to get started, you could do worse than read that. But that counted as last week’s new content, so here is this week’s entry – part four of our seemingly endless tour of the UK. We’ve also released a collaboration with the lovely Lorna over at Feed Your Family For £20 – take a look here! So we’ve been busy. Hope you’re keeping well! Before we get started, I’m going to say – this is our longest entry yet. I apologise for nothing. But as before, all feedback is utterly welcome: I love hearing from you on these bigger articles, so please do chip in! Enjoy!

click here for part one | click here for part two | click here for part three

I have learned by now to not bother prefacing my travel entries with my usual ‘I’ll keep this punchy’ because it never works. So, rather like my lovemaking, with this post expect very little and whatever happens, happens. That said, unlike my lovemaking, there should at least be no crying afterwards and having to take a match to the bed-linen. After our cheerful day out in Liverpool we were straight back to the car and ready for our next destination: Manchester. Now being a cosmopolitan sort with a tart in every city I’ve been to Manchester a fair few times, although never really explored far beyond the shops and a couple of escape rooms. Plus there’s a few memorial streaks of me dashed across a few Premier Inn bed-throws, but we’ll say no more about that. Paul has never been so was very much looking forward to it. I explained with that sage face I use when I think I’m being clever that it will look like they’re filming Day of the Dead outside of Piccadilly Station but not to worry, that’s just heavy use of spice. He didn’t get it.

The drive was uneventful save for Paul taking it upon himself to mute the radio to bring a premature end to my singing, and we approached Manchester during rush hour – with our hotel being right in the city centre, because of course it was. I love driving but unfamiliar cities really stress me out, something doubtless borne from trying to navigate around Gateshead to get to the big Tesco a few weeks after my driving test and finding myself trapped in a circle of one-way systems and bus-lanes. Panic set in and on the second revolution around the roads, I almost hit an old woman crossing the street, who betrayed her sweet and innocent face by waving her stick at my car and calling me a useless fat grunt. I think that’s what she said, though I confess it was difficult to hear over the sound of my neck veins popping as I tried to find a way out. Happily, I saw the same woman on my third go around and was able to wave apologetically at her as I sailed past. Being a good sport she waved right back, though her arthritis must have been playing up as her fingers had curled into a claw whilst she did it.

Since then, driving in cities has panicked me tremendously. It doesn’t help that, rather like Liverpool, the road system seems to have been designed by someone drawing out a logical system, then shredding it, then having the work experience lad piece it back together whilst he keeps one eye on the football. Several times I would be guided into the correct lane via the wisdom of Waze only for Paul to shriek I was driving in a bus lane or the wrong way down a one-way street or driving up the on-ramp onto a ferry or suchlike. What didn’t help was, for almost the entire journey, I had someone in a Fiat 500 (of course), driving far too close to the rear of my car and only taking a break from swearing at me to check her phone or shave her legs. At one point she was so far up my arse that I almost pushed back out of sheer instinct. She turned off one street before we got to our car-park and, listen, I know this is mean, but I couldn’t help but hope she drove straight into the canal. If so, I guarantee that as the windows cracked and the water turned her car into a tomb, she’ll have been live-streaming the whole thing and pulling that face that makes your lips look like Mr Hands’ sphincter.

Please, don’t google that.

Now that you’ve googled it, it’s a terrible business isn’t it? But hay, anything for a stable relationship.

We were greeted at the Q-Park by a man who looked as though he’d blow himself over if he sneezed putting out a little sign saying the car park was full, but who then ushered us in regardless. Perhaps he knew something we didn’t, who could say, but we drove around that car park about eight times and could only spot one space. I say a space: it was almost a space, as some giant fucknugget had parked his Audi Q7 (an Audi driver driving like a prick – who would have thought?!) halfway across his space and a third into the space next to him. Plenty of space on his passenger side as there was a wall there, but clearly he didn’t want anyone dinging his precious car so thought he ought to take two spaces, presumably so he could climb out of the car without hurting his giant, massive, throbbing penis. We finally managed to get a space elsewhere as someone was leaving and were making our way to the exit when we spotted another car waiting, with two young ladies swearing and gesticulating at the Audi.

Well, never let it be said that Paul and I aren’t generous and kind. Working as a foursome, with perfectly executed hand gestures and gentle encouragement, we managed to squeeze their car into the reduced space with a little guidance. Always leave it up to the gays to slide more into a tight spot than you might expect. The result was them both having to climb out of the driver side door, but you couldn’t have posted a leaflet between their passenger door and the Audi. We all agreed on a job well done and went our separate ways. I know this is mean, but I couldn’t help but hope that on his return, the Audi driver got so wound up he had to clutch at his chest climbing into the driver seat from the passenger side and tumbled square on his gear-stick. For good measure, let’s keep our fingers crossed it was one of those stupid paddle gear-sticks too.

Car parked, friends made and a trap set, we bumbled over to our hotel, the Brooklyn. Now, when planning this trip, I had only booked one night here and planned to find somewhere the next day in between Manchester and Shrewsbury. However, on the ninth service stop on the way over, I checked Google Maps and the only two destinations that seemed sensible were Wrexham or Stoke-on-Trent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure both places are utterly lovely and full of delights and wonder, but you rarely see people making an urgent peregrination to Wrexham for thrills and spills. With this in mind, I asked the chap behind the counter how much it would be to stay another night. Well, honestly. I’m not sure if the bloke used to work as a car salesman or an estate agent or a car salesman who sold cars to estate agents but boy, could he sell. Not only did we pay for an extra night but we bought breakfast and then started talking room upgrades. We explained we had recently married (fifteen years is recent, no) and he gave us a bit of a leer and upgraded us into a suite. He offered us a choice between a room with a balcony or one with a bath in the middle of a room. Clearly he saw us both and knew we loved nothing better than a ridiculously humid room with water sloshed on the floor, so we chose the suite with a bath. He agreed that we had made the more sensible option, gave us a drinks voucher each and sent us to our room.

Smile, though your legs are aching…

It was a lovely room, though. The night before Paul and I were actually married we stayed in the honeymoon suite at the Hotel du Vin (room 1216, one after Magna Carta, as if I could ever make such a mistake!) where there were two baths in the middle of the room where you could wallow together. I’m sure other couples probably rutted like stuck pigs all over that room but Paul and I had hot chocolate and watched Deal or no Deal and were glad of it. Back in the present, Paul immediately went for his new hotel room tradition whilst I luxuriated in a steamy, bubbly bath, making sure to slosh as many bubbles onto the floor as I could get away with. There was a giant bed too which you can be sure we made good use of, eating biscuits whilst half-heartedly watching Emmerdale. I know, I know, the hedonism of our lives would put Dionysus to shame. After a rest and half an hour for Paul to shave his feet and put his orthotic inserts into his granny shoes, we went out on the scene, enjoyed a few drinks and had snacks.

Oh tell you what was lovely, though. I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not mentioning it to be all ‘look at us’, because lord knows we are about as utterly Z-List famous as you can imagine. If you were to build a ladder of celebrity, aside from the fact we shouldn’t be on it, we’d probably rank somewhere below Maureen from Driving School’s husband and somewhere above Dan Wootton. Not because he’s not famous, mind, I just think 99.9999% of people are above him. But when we are travelling about and posting pictures online people seem to keep their eyes out for us and occasionally – very occasionally – we’ll bump into folks who want to say hello. All for this! We walked onto Canal Street and there was a scream from someone straight away. First thought was it was some scene-queen gasping in abject horror at my £16.75 jeans but no, it was a group of folks who had seen our previous days in Liverpool and Blackpool and wanted a picture. We will always oblige, not least because it means other people looking over and wondering why people are clamouring to get their photo taken with the stunt doubles of Miss Trunchpole and Bruce Bogtrotter from the Matilda film. We had a bit of a chat, Paul spilled a pint all over my white t-shirt and then we carried on drinking. Seriously though: I know the odds are vanishingly small, but if you ever do see us out and about, and you want to say hello, please do. If it’s the two of us we’ll always do the same joke we always do (which I can’t say on here otherwise we’ll get a snotty legal letter) (again), if it’s me by myself you’ll see my nervous Hugh Grant-esque wittering and if you’re lucky enough to catch Paul on his own – as rare as a shiny Unown – you’ll be witness to someone who hates making small talk in case he says something mortifyingly offensive. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility: Paul could ring the speaking clock and end up apologising.

The next day we woke up bright (hungover) and breezy (wishing for death) but after I’d generously nipped out and brought Paul a McDonalds back to the hotel room (forgetting we had paid for breakfast in the room) we were raring to go. Paul’s first suggestion for a fun thing to do? A visit to the Museum of Policing. I can’t pretend it would have been my first choice but he explained there’d at least be policemen and weapons to gawp at so I went along with it. It’s his holiday too, after all. However, disaster: we turned up at 10am only to be told by a crackling voice on a speakerbox that the museum only opens on a Tuesday. Well, that makes perfect sense. I was tempted to point out that my mother was DCI Vera Stanhope (now retired, sadly, which means I’ll need to revert back to making jokes about my mother looking like Irene from Home and Away) and to let us in but I knew they’d hear my actual Geordie accent as opposed to the Geordie-via-Tromsø accent Brenda Blethyn chooses to use and know something was amiss. I promised Paul we’d come back another time, knowing we wouldn’t.

Happily, we found a distraction just around the corner in the form of The Dog Shop, a tiny little pet store selling all sorts of fancy things. For months I have wanted to buy Goomba an overcoat because he absolutely stinks when he gets wet and I had seen this Stutterheim rainbow dog-coat online on my searches. It’s amazing and just the thing for making sure any other passing dog-walking blokes know I take it up the gary but it was too expensive to justify. However, there it was in the window, and after some conversation with the owners and me doing my best puppy-dog eyes at Paul, he agreed that it would be utterly foolish not to buy it there and then. Frivolous spending is always so much more fun when it’s coming from Paul’s bank card. I should say, it’s not even that expensive – £50 and it’s good quality so it’ll last a few winters – but I’m the type of person to split a match in half to make the box last longer. You’ll be glad to know we got it home and put it on Goomba who proceeded to immediately shake it off, drag it into his crate and hide it under his cushion. I’m not sure if this counts as a hate-crime but it’s hard not to take it personally, you know?

We farted about wandering around the Arndale for an hour or so, looking at things we’d never buy and men we’d never have, until it was time for the main thing in Manchester that I had booked – The Cube Live. Yes! A chance to have a go at playing The Cube, the gameshow from off the telly where people stumble around trying to do tasks of ever-increasing difficulty within their nine lives whilst Philip Schofield shrieks in the background. Paul and I used to love this show, albeit we’d record it and fast-forward through all the non-game bits meaning each episode lasted about six minutes, and would forever sit on our sofa saying how well we would do and that there was really nothing to it. This confidence ignored the fact Paul has the manual dexterity of a washing machine tumbling into a quarry and I the co-ordination you’d expect from someone who places eating cheese higher than moderate exercise on his life priorities.

With this being Britain, I fully expected a white room with a couple of those naff ‘move a hoop around a wire’ games or some other tat, but no! It’s AMAZING. It’s just like being on the TV show, only without the chance of some knobber calling you a useless fat twat on Twitter afterwards because you failed to throw a beanbag onto a podium. It’s the little things. In order to maximise the people playing, they’ve built 14 different cubes, each playing a different game, and the idea is you get into teams and get a random selection of cubes. You have a host taking you round to make sure everything is done correctly – you get three attempts per game, and each time you lose an attempt, the prize amount goes down. There was a simplify too, and honestly, the aesthetic is so much like the TV show. The first three games get you 500 points if you win, the next two (harder) get 1000, the sixth 2,000 and the last 3,000.

Because it was just us two as a team, they paired us up (and put us into direct competition with) another team. I’m going to preface this by saying they were a very charming young couple and entirely pleasant to be with, so there’ll be no mean comments. However, the bloke was very much an alpha male, and well, Paul and I shop at Jacamo and have a herb garden. The host asked how we all thought our chances were: Paul and I said we fully expected to be crap because we’re uncoordinated and a shambles, she said she was there to have fun but he: he was there to win. His words. There was very much a sense that there was no way he was a) going to embarrass himself in front of his inamorata and b) he certainly wasn’t going to be beaten by a flabby gay couple who’d already had two Red Bulls to get them going. The game was on! Our host asked us for team names – we were sparkling in our originality and went for twochubbycubs, with the other team going to Crystal. The host followed this up by asking whether that was a reference to healing crystals or crystal meth – typical Manchester – and we all had a polite titter. Well everyone else did, all I was wondering was whether someone on crystal meth would be better or worse at The Cube for it. I have to imagine they’d get the games done in record time but end up humping the ball cannon. Who can say?


The games begin! The first, Exchange, involved posting twenty-five red balls from one container through a slot in another. Easy – Paul won on his first attempt (hero!), so did Team Crystal. The second was Pathfinder – you stood in the corner, the floor flashed up a sequence of tiles to follow across the room and then disappeared after two seconds. Put a foot on the wrong tile and it was game over. Team Crystal went first and the poor lass absolutely ballsed it up on all three attempts. At one point she came very close and then dithered, gambled and lost. I was excited – I have a brilliant ultra-short-term memory – and despite the sheer bloody panic of trying to memorise it whilst people are staring, I sailed through. I have a brilliant ultra-short-term memory. 2-1 to the Cubs. The bloke looked absolutely furious. So naturally Paul and I did the whole ‘eee, I have no idea how I did that, we guessed most of it‘ schtick. I know. Of course, I know how I did it – I have a brilliant ultra-short-term memory. The next game you did as a pair and involved standing in different corners of the cube and throwing a ball to each hit a target within 0.2 seconds of each other. I thought we were fucked – my T-Rex arms and Paul’s dancing eyes would surely do us in – but we did it on the first try. Team Crystal did not. His unhappy face grew a shade more rictus. 3-1 to us.

However, the next game did us in, and it was my solo game too. All you had to do was approach a circular table upon which twenty five cylinders were balanced. Once the floor flashed, you had to turn each one over so the opposite side was showing, all under twenty seconds. Sounds easy and I won’t lie, I thought I’d be a shoo-in, but nope! First I knocked them over. Then I was too slow. Then on the third and final attempt, I had one cylinder to turn, but my belly hit the table and sent a load of them clattering to the floor. Even though we were playing for fun, the actual disappointment was immense – I understood then why the other chap looked as though he was chewing his lip off. To add insult to injury, he went in and won the game, and fair play did a very good job of it. 3-2, though we were still well in the lead on points.

The next game we absolutely knew there was no chance of winning. You had a cylinder full of 50 red balls in the centre on a domed obelisk, and you had to lift the cylinder so the balls fell out of the bottom and all over the Cube. The game would start and you had twenty seconds, working as a team, to pick all the balls from the floor and deposit them back into the cylinder. No chance! I’ve been known to let a fiver blow away in the wind rather than exert myself picking it up and if Paul bends too quickly at his current skinniness he’ll fold up like a two-bob accordion. We gave it three tries but we were nowhere near, although I’m sure everyone enjoyed the sight of my arse-crack winking at them every time I bent over. Seriously, I bet it knocked one star off of their overall tripadvisor report. Team Crystal went in and failed the first two times, but only just. In light of this, they chose to use their simplify, which gave them three extra seconds – but she managed to kick a ball across the cube and the game was lost. He looked about ready to kick our balls across the cube when we clapped them coming out but we meant our sincerity, honestly.

The sixth game was even harder – Paul had to put on a blindfold (that made him look like a steampunk welder, was kinda hot not gonna lie) and then traipse around an octagon on the cube floor without stepping over the lines. Paul had excitedly pushed himself forward to do this one, and although I had reservations (namely I’ve been with him fifteen years and wouldn’t have been confident of him doing it even without the blindfold) I let him try. Three almost instant fails. Team Crystal were next, failing on all three attempts. No points for either of us!

So the final game – Increment. At this point we were in the lead but if we failed and they won the game, they’d win overall as they’d just sneak past us on points. Now this was an absolute doozy of a game and very difficult, as you would expect from the final challenge. Working as a pair, one person had to grip a cylinder, the other person had to put another cylinder underneath that one, and the first person would let go. So player two is now trying to balance two cylinders on top of each other. Rinse and repeat, swapping the person balancing each time, until you had a tower of eight cylinders balanced precariously on top of each other, being held in one hand. Imagine trying to balance a four foot tower of wobbling, narrow cylinders no wider than a thick marker pen and you’ll get the idea. To win the game, you had to declare when you were ready, and the tower must hold for four seconds with nothing hitting the ground.

To give you an idea as to how difficult this would be for us:

  • Paul has genuinely troubled eyes – all the jokes on here are actually true – his depth perception is terrible;
  • I have a slightly shake as soon as I grip anything and abysmal fine motor skills;
  • Paul is 3ft 4″ in built-up shoes; and
  • we are dreadful communicators and anything that requires us to work under stress always ends up in an argument – you could ask us to sign our names before you had to dash to a waiting train and the pressure would result in us writing ‘Lance and Mary’ and having a wrestle on the floor

However, we had a simplify! Team Crystal had spunked their simplify up the wall earlier on the ball collection challenge and boy oh boy could you tell he regretted it. We immediately simplified which reduced the amount of cylinders needed for the tower to seven. Attempt one we managed six cylinders before it toppled from my grip. Attempt two, despite our best efforts and warm encouragement to each other (‘LEAN THE TOWER FROM AWAY TOWARDS YOU \ MOVE IT A BIT MORE PERPENDICULAR – PERPENDICULAR TO WHAT FOR FUCKS SAKE \ TRY GRIPPING IT STRAIGHT – AS OPPOSED TO WHAT KNOBHEAD, JUGGLING IT’), clattered to the floor just as we swapped grip. Tense! On our third attempt we took it so, so slowly, managed a tower of seven, and I called it. I’ve never known four seconds pass so slowly and just as we were so close to victory, the tower started to fall.

But I’m nothing if not incredibly inventive in my competitiveness, and I angled the tower right at my face. See, by having them fall towards me, they hit me before they hit the floor, and that took an extra second or so – enough time for the floor to flash green before anything hit the floor. We BLOODY WON. Team Crystal, clearly overcome by the sight of two pro athletes acing their final game and/or the realisation we’d totally hustled them, cracked under pressure, and came nowhere close to winning. Victory was ours!

We were incredibly magnanimous in victory, we truly were. Well, we turned around and Team Crystal had already left, but what can you do? But listen, as you may tell by the fact I just used up 1,500 words recounting it, we can’t recommend The Cube Live enough. It was utterly fantastic and a marvellous way to spend a couple of hours, though be prepared for some tense situations. And, because we’re nothing if not kind, a tip for you if you get the same end game we did. Everyone looks at their hands and the tower in front of them when trying to balance – don’t. Keep your eyes level with the top of the tower, and it’s far easier to judge where adjustments need to be made. twochubbycubs: saving the day once again.

Good lord, look at the length. Right – just a couple of things to rattle off and then we’re done. Get yourself an Ovaltine, we’re almost done.

We visited the Science Museum because it was free and we needed a walk, but discovered all the fun bits only opened on a weekend and were ‘for kids only’. So that filled twenty minutes.

Later in the evening we went to a cocktail bar which was recommended to us several times over on Facebook. Because it’s 2022 and nothing is ever easy these days, you had to go to what looked like an unassuming laundrette, pick up the phone inside and explain you wanted to do some washing, upon which a door would swing open and reveal access to the bar. Very cool, and certainly not the first time I’ve been encouraged to get rid of a load amidst piles of white powder. Daz? Yes, but he preferred Darren. Oh, Manchester, really.

How much for eighteen shirts of the same style and shape, heavily soiled? DEAL

The place was absolutely fantastic though, with each cocktail they brought out being more wonderful and whimsical than the last. By way of example: I started with a Bloody Mary, only this one had chorizo fat in it, fried black pudding and was served smoking. Aren’t we all? Paul had something fruity with a massive wedge of aloe vera poking out which he immediately got into his eye, but didn’t care because it was so delicious. One of my cocktails was a pile of the most delicious slush I’ve ever had. I’m really not doing the place many favours with my rubbish descriptions but you must understand: these were phenomenal drinks. And the staff! They kept sitting at our table and explaining the cocktails and making recommendations but not in an irritating, please leave us be way, but rather just showing off their knowledge and friendliness.

The best Bloody Mary since my flatmate who used to hide her clotstoppers behind the radiators in her bedroom, and I wish I was making that up

Skip the next couple of paragraphs if you’re planning a visit and don’t want a surprise ruined!

I think we managed eight cocktails before we were absolutely rat-arsed and realised that if we were to continue with the night, we’d need to stop. The bill came and I was temporarily taken with an urgent need to visit the lavatory, so I left Paul to pay whilst I went upstairs. Here’s the thing: I had my wee and was washing my hands (I know, I’m so cultured!) when I spotted a massive red button on the wall, with a sign saying it must not be pressed. Most of me knew it had to be a gimmick and something like that would be very in keeping with the random nature of the place, but then there’s always the risk it does something vitally important like setting off the fire alarm or calling for assistance because someone had slipped and fell. I was ruminating over whether to push it when another bloke came in for a piss and we agreed it was worth a gamble, although he refused to press it himself. You only live once though, so I went for it!

Don’t do what Donny Don’t does!

Disco lights came on, a glitterball descended from the ceiling and some dance music kicked off – it created a tiny disco in the gents and it was GLORIOUS. The poor bloke couldn’t piss for laughing and I almost fell down the stairs in my haste to tell Paul. I LOVE stuff like that, even if it does further cement the fact that as soon as you instruct me not to do something, I’ll do everything in my power to ignore you. Rather like The Cube, we implore you to give a go.

Utterly tiddlysquiff we decided that more alcohol was what was needed and so we headed back to Canal Street, determined to take a drink in each pub. It was a fun exercise in feeling old, that’s for sure, but it was a nice reminder of how simple we have things in Newcastle. You’ve got one pub for pop music and dancing and one pub for poppers and fisting. There’s a degree of crossover admittedly but you know where you stand. Usually in piss if you’re in the second pub. I was glad to see one of the gay bars upheld the tradition of displaying terrible porn in the background, but not even your usual ‘I’m straight, honestly, I’ve never done this before love (then proceeds to make a penis that you’d mistake for a fire-extinguisher in a smoke-filled room completely disappear without pause)’ porn but rather a random selection of soap stars and Z-list celebrities, all with crudely Photoshopped giant knobs on them. You’ll never look at David Platt in the same way once you’ve seen him nude with what looks like Noo-Noo from the Teletubbies bursting out between his thighs.

Look how fit he’s looking these days though! Even I would, and I know where he’s been!

It was a good night though, and we had a lot of fun – Paul’s an excellent drinking partner, and we’ve been together long enough to know where each other’s flashpoints are in a drunken conversation so there’s rarely an argument or hissyfit. We did have one mis-step – the name of the bar escapes me (actually it doesn’t, but I’m not kicking them when they’re clearly down) but honestly, I thought I’d stumbled back about twenty years. I can only assume the bouncers on the door were to stop the bailiffs coming for the bar-stools. You know when you enter a pub and get an ‘off’ vibe? Well this didn’t so much ring alarm bells as sent for the firemen in advance. We ordered two pints of beer from someone who had seen her arse and didn’t like the colour of it, paid far too much for the opportunity and then took a mouthful. Tasted like someone had literally just farted in the glass. And I hadn’t, I’d been sure to fart at the bar as a tip. We didn’t dare go back because by this point she looked as though she’d probably glass us if we asked for a new one so, with a brief look at the cabaret who were clearly killing times before the meat raffle came on, left. Even the bouncers didn’t look surprised by our swift departure.

Look, don’t let Mr. Anderson’s dancing eyes and bubbly bon vivant personality fool you. He’s actually believe it or not, somewhat taciturn

That was the only rubbish part of the evening though, albeit we were tucked up in bed at only an hour past midnight. The next day we woke, had several strong coffees (forgetting we had paid for breakfast, again) and a good walk along the canal until safe to drive, then made our way back to the car to set off for Shrewsbury, our next destination. There was a final shocker though: £46 for the parking. That’s with the hotel discount, no less. I spluttered indignantly and then went to find our car, which didn’t take long, as I knew exactly where it was. After all, I have a brilliant ultra-short-term memory. Save, apparently, when it comes to breakfasts.

And that’s Manchester! Now I know we didn’t see all the sights and live a day of culture, but we had great fun, and we’re planning on going back for a longer trip to catch all those bits and bobs. Next stop, prison. Not even kidding.

Hope you enjoyed! I’ve given up pretending I’m going to keep these short and punchy, but let me say this – I love having these blog posts to look back on and remember where Paul and I have been and what we did. We’ve got almost ten years of our lives documented to various degrees now and it’s the most wonderful thing. As always, I’d really, really love your feedback. Enjoying the more prosaic writing style? Did I make you laugh? Hope so!

Oh and I know, food recipes. Soon!

James x

travel: our mince around the UK – part three


At this point it is customary for me to apologise for the delay and come up with some faintly engineered reason as to why I’ve been absent. This week I have an excellent reason: I went back to Liverpool for a day out and ended up in Glasgow on an extended break to mince about and eat hotdogs. Literally and euphemistically. So, although a week behind schedule, I hope you will enjoy the next instalment of our little mini-trip, with today’s destination being Liverpool (this time with Paul). Do I promise to get through the next 4,000 words without making a ‘calm down’ reference? No. But do bear with. As for the food and books: recipes will be back soon and if you have any of our books, I implore you to leave a review. It really helps us!

Everyone else, enjoy! And as I’ve said at the bottom, any feedback is always welcome. I adore hearing from you lot!

click here for part one | click here for part two

Perhaps the good news for you as a reader is that this entry will be considerably shorter than the previous Blackpool entry. I visit Liverpool on the regular and have seemingly exhausted the more unusual things to do – plus Dolly Fartin’ gets fussy if he doesn’t rest – so this day and night was to be a quieter one.

Before we get to Liverpool, I must tell you about our brief stop at the services between Blackpool and Liverpool. I know, I know, I always prattle on about our pitstops and say nothing more really than how aghast I am at the price for a can of Monster or that I’m glad of a chance to ogle some truckers. Indeed, both of those happened at Charnock Richard services – and if Charnock Richard doesn’t sound like the haughty villain in a Brontë novel then I ask you who does – but that isn’t why I’m mentioning it here. The reason is perhaps even more juvenile. See, we had stopped for sustenance, with Paul dispatched to KFC to get himself a grain of rice and a photo of some chicken to eat (because, as I have mentioned before, Paul is h-e-a-l-t-h now), whereas I was off to Starbucks to get some coffee you could stand a spoon up in. I was a mite tired from all that walking around Blackpool, after all, and there was little to zero chance I was letting Paul drive. We didn’t have his booster seat anyway, so that point is moot.

No, I mention my walk to Starbucks because I passed a bloke in the corridor – one who I admit I would have climbed into his lorry cab and headed for Gdańsk with if he had so much as made eye contact with me – who, as he went past, did the loudest, most troubling cheek-flapper I believe I have ever heard in my life. It wasn’t so much a fog-slicer as an attempt on my life. He could have nipped into WH Smith, positioned himself on the tannoy and bellowed the alphabet and it still wouldn’t have troubled the decibel-level that his room-clearer did. It could have blown a side parting into a bald head. To make things even funnier, he made zero attempt to hide or even acknowledge the fact he had so loudly clouded the issue. It occurred to me, after my own ears had folded back to their usual position, that he may have been deaf – and little wonder because if he did one of those wrong-way-burps in his lorry cab with the windows up it would be the audible equivalent of a plane crashing through the windscreen – but I rather hoped not. I hoped it was done with intent.

See, to me, a colonic calliope is always hilarious. No matter the situation, no matter the person – we all have to do it unless we want hours of stomach pain and cramps, and they should be celebrated. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should kill the canary at any opportunity, there’s very much a time and a place, but I will never understand for example those couples who refuse to rear-roar in front of one another. I mentioned this anonymous whisper on our Facebook page and someone commented that they’d been with their partner for seven years and never once played the devil’s trombone in front of him. That boggles my mind as well as, presumably, her innards. I’d singed my knickers within about ten minutes of meeting Paul for the first time and we both laughed ourselves hoarse over it, which cemented in my mind that this was a bloke worth keeping. Had he clutched his chest in disgust – rather than clawing at his throat with his hands – I’d have told him I had to go and never spoken to him again. And think: had I done that, then there would be no twochubbycubs and you’d be having sad dinners every night. Gwyneth Paltrow’s life in Sliding Doors pivoted on whether she managed to board a tube train in time: mine all comes down to Paul laughing at my bum trumpets. It really makes you think.

Sustained and gagging, which to be fair is my usual position in a lorry park, we pressed on. We were supposed to be staying at The Arthouse Hotel which, according to the good folks at hotels.com, promised to be Liverpool’s most Instagrammable hotel. You know what that means folks: they’ve had a trolley dash around the tat aisles at The Range and bought some fairy lights from wish.com. High hopes I did not have. That said, I recently had reason to stay at The Adelphi, which is arguably Liverpool’s most condemnable hotel, so a soiled mattress behind a skip would have been an improvement.

Actually no that isn’t fair, I had a great night at The Adelphi. The only thing I knew about the Adelphi prior to my stay was what I remembered from watching Hotel on BBC One back when I could count my pubes with two hands and being in awe of the boss shouting and screaming at her staff in what I assumed then was Russian but now know to be the Scouse accent. She wasn’t quite up there with Jane Boulton from Airline in the ‘just as likely to glass you as help you’ customer-service stakes but she was certainly close. Fun fact for you: Eileen, the woman from Hotel, went on to manage Pontins and famously tussled with Anne Robinson on Watchdog about the clip of their hotels. If you would like to watch a masterclass in deflection and looking like the evil twin of Anne from The Chase, you can watch it right here.

The Adelphi is very much an on-brand Britannia hotel in that all the furniture looks like the kind you’d see loaded into the back of a forensics lorry after a nursing home expose, but it was charming in its ramshackle ways. My friend and I had booked a suite which was about four times the usual hotel room size with half the usual furnishings plus some genuinely mystifying darkened cupboards which you wouldn’t have been surprised to see a taped-up corpse fall out of in the dead of night. The bed creaked when I lay on it, but that’s no surprise: I could take a kip laying down on the A1 and the concrete would protest underfat.

I do feel a touch of sadness when you see these big Britannia hotels falling into disrepair – they’re beautiful old buildings that are usually fabulously ornate inside and true fallen out of time relics, but they’ve become tatty and worn with not enough money flowing backwards to restore them back to former glory. How do you raise enough capital to completely renovate a 402 bedroom hotel and then run it successfully when you can only reasonably charge about £60 a night and even then, have people turn up expecting glory and splendour only to get your bog-standard hotel room with added shouting outside? I mean, I’m not giving it a free pass here, there’s plenty of things that can be done to improve things with minimal cost. I’d start by, and I appreciate this is a level of niminy-piminy above and beyond, getting someone to remove the wads of chewing gum stuck to the mirrors in the hallway. I know, I’m a fusspot. But those people who rush onto tripadvisor and leave a one-star review because they’ve found a speck of paint in the sink or their reflection looked at them funny in the lift? They can bore off. Cut the hospitality service some slack, you self-important arses.

Anyway, I digress. Actually I digressed twice – first to the Adelphi and then onto moaning about tripadvisor. Where did I leave us? Ah yes, approaching Liverpool in our car heading for The Arthouse, only no, they had rang to advise us the hotel was ‘undergoing works’ and so, with our permission, they wanted to move us into their sister hotel The Shankly. The lass on the phone, misjudging my lifestyle a smidge, excitedly told me it was a football themed hotel dedicated to Liverpool’s best football manager, Bill Shankly. Well I could barely mask my excitement, because it was barely there. It will come as a surprise to no-one that football holds very little interest to either of us – it’s true that I can name plenty of footballers from the nineties but that’s only because I used to collect Panini football stickers because I was just too cool for Pogs. That’s bollocks too, I had Pogs coming out of my arse. She reassured us that the hotel was easy to find and parking would be no problem so we took her up on the offer. After a brief but exciting ten minutes of driving around Liverpool city centre with Paul providing counter-navigation to our Sat Nav (“I think the navigation probably knows more, dear”) and me reacting calmly and without fuss (“It’s fine, honestly, I’m fine”), we were there. Had I not spotted the hotel before driving into the car park I’d have assumed I’d driven onto the set of Hostel 4 but luckily, we were OK.

Check in took a wee bit longer than expected as the lady checking us in had just started, but I’d have forgiven her killing my parents frankly because she was so wonderfully cheerful. You know when someone just lights up a room? That was this lady and we were delighted to take our time whilst she fumbled the card machine and misheard my car registration number three times straight. After a fashion we were given our cards and headed up to our room which was up four storeys, through the Mersey tunnel and over the Irish sea. I’m not saying it was a trek but we had to set up base camp by the potted ferns halfway. Of course when we got to the room neither cards worked so we had to head back, but mistakes happen and, as I said, she was so delightful we had no real opportunity to be cross. We laughed gaily and both raised our eyebrows in a mutual ‘what are we like’ gesture and agreed that ‘we really ought to stop meeting like this’ before we said our goodbyes, walked back to the room with our suitcases and realised, again, the cards didn’t work.

I have to confess on our third visit to the counter the eunoia between us had dissipated a little and, slightly concerned it was laughter that was interrupting the tricky business of coding the keys correctly, we kept things a tad more businesslike. Though I will say this – despite blood pooling in my shoes and half of my ankle skin hanging off in blisters – when her supervisor came over to ask if there was a problem, we saved her bacon by saying we’d put the cards next to our phones and wiped them twice over. I’m not suggesting we are heroes, no, but we ought to get a medal. Not least because Paul had shrunk by two inches with all the walking.

Thankfully, the cards worked on the third attempt and we were in our room. It was…interesting. Absolutely nothing wrong with it, very clean, but absolutely massive. It had a full sized lounge, a kitchen, a bedroom that could accommodate a coach tour. My personal favourite was the free-standing shower over the giant bath with bubble jets, which I immediately filled with every bottled unguent in the room and spent a merry twenty minutes sloshing frothy water all over the floor. It sounds mean to say it but the room reminded us both of those videos you see online where a visitor gamely and cheerfully assists with an entire pissed up rugby team, most of whom are standing around looking disinterested and drinking warm lager. I appreciate that’s a niche reference but it really did! I had to hope that was dried PVA glue making the mattress protector crinkle.

A quick stop for Jennifer Beals to freshen up

Now, mindful of the fact that I said this would be a shorter entry and we’ve spent 2,000 words getting to the hotel – coupled with the fact that this stay involved a lot of walking around a city that I’ve written about at length in previous blog entries – I’m going to write about the things we did rather than all the minutiae between.

In the evening we had noodles and kept our heads down.

First on the list of things to do were two escape rooms, both at Breakout Liverpool, one at the start of the day and one at the end. The first was Heist, your standard break into a vault affair which was pleasingly linear. Sometimes that can be a good thing like this, where you see the solutions generally in the order you require them, although I tend to prefer rooms where you can see lots of puzzles and solutions at once and have to spend time marrying them up. After a brief moment at the start where we stumbled over a translation exercise, we motored through without help and claimed the record for the quickest room completion that day. I mean, they’d just opened, but still, it felt good to finish first. Certainly unusual for me in Liverpool I can tell you. Our victory was short-lived though as by the time we had returned for Reclassified, we had been knocked off the top spot.

Naturally Paul and I were devastated and spent the entire time in Reclassified with our fists balled in our mouth trying not to succumb to sobbing, but this is another fun room with plenty to do. Reclassified is a single room experience which is increasingly rare in escape rooms these days as they all feel they have to have hidden rooms and big reveals. Reclassified shows you can do a lot with a small space and a good mix of physical and mental puzzles, even if one of the puzzles made absolutely zero sense at all. The lass in charge of the room came in and explained it afterwards to which Paul and I made appreciative noises, agreed that we could totally see the solution, and then made what-the-fuck faces to each other. All I’m saying is this: if you’re relying on two people with one working set of eyes between them to solve an optical illusion, then you’re in for a long wait.

If you’re thinking of doing an escape room in Liverpool, rather than the big chains, may we point you towards Cluefinders? They’re an independent escape room business and run by the most enthusiastic, cheerful people you could ever hope to meet. I’ve never played a bad room there and for a ‘small’ company, the rooms are always very inventive. You will need to set aside two hours per one hour room because you’ll be chatting so long afterwards with them, but trust me when I say this is no bad thing. Any support you can give them, please do. You can find their website here – and please do mention that you came via twochubbycubs. It won’t give you a discount or anything but it will give you the opportunity to interrogate them as to what the sight of the top half of my arse looks like pressed up to a security camera.

We also spent a merry time looking around the Museum of Liverpool, after waiting twenty or so minutes for them to open. We stood away from the door as it can look a trifle unseemly to be itching underfoot to finally see what a difference the docks made to Liverpool – you don’t want to look too keen. We distracted ourselves by watching a tourist taking endless photos of herself posing in front of the museum. She pulled every single expression you could make with a human face and then went back through the range for another go. Tell you what though, what started off as comical to watch fast became exhausting and then, ultimately, genuinely, quite sad. I’m by no means someone who is afraid of a camera but even my endless selfies are a three-shots-and-done business, whereas I genuinely wouldn’t have been surprised to see her pull a dolly track and a drone from her Hello Kitty rucksack in the pursuit of the ‘perfect photo’. She must have took over a hundred snaps over the course of the time we were sat and not once did she actually look happy. Smiling absolutely but entirely dead behind the eyes. It put me in somewhat of a pensive mood as we went in.

See, one quick pose and you’re done – Paul wearing his Nelly plaster to hide a zit

That pensive mood lifted the moment I caught sight of the older bear wandering around behind the counter, who was all grey beard and sparkling eyes. He was a delight! So too was the museum: local museums can be very hit and miss but given Liverpool’s extensive history in trade, industry, football, music and entertainment, the museum has a lot to draw on. I mean, did you know The Beatles were formed in Liverpool? Well fret not, because fuck me you’ll know within four seconds of arriving, three if you’re coming in via Liverpool John Lennon Airport. A Beatles reference as the name for an airport – Imagine. I confess myself disappointed that there wasn’t a Cilla Black statue, though modelling those lift-door teeth out of brass would probably bankrupt the city.

Oh and I know there used to be a statue of Cilla in the town before you write to tell me. I hope it was made into bottle-tops. My favourite ‘queen of the common folk’ Cilla story comes from Twitter – so probably as made up as Cilla’s pretend accent – where she was sat in seat 1A in first class on British Airways and refused to speak to the air stewardess, demanding her PA spoke for her instead. The stewardess, tired of being looked down upon, leaned in and said ‘Cilla, I knew you couldn’t sing, but I had no idea you couldn’t talk’. I hope to goodness that is true.

We must have spent a good ninety minutes rattling around the museum, pressing buttons and trying to catch the eye of the chap we saw earlier. Among the exciting things we learned was Liverpool comes from ‘Muddy Pool’ – it’s always interesting to learn the histories of why places are called what they are. Hopefully one day I’ll solve the mystery of Newcastle. What could it mean? Liverpool is also the home of the biggest clock in the UK, though I confess I misread that and had started browsing Rightmove for houses to buy before Paul corrected my error. Either way, I’m putting two hands and my face on it, ayooo.

Liverpool also has a stone ruin that is older than Stonehenge – I know him as Martin – and the two liver bird statues on top of the Liver Building are known as Bella and Bertie. Bella faces the sea to protect those on the water whereas Bertie looks over the city to keep those on the land safe from harm. We have the same idea in Newcastle: Denise Welch stands on top of the Monument at night to drunkenly wave her knickers at the trains arriving at the Central Station and Robson Green poses at St Mary’s Lighthouse pretending to visitors that he’s a proper Geordie. For the record, he’s about as Geordie as I am. And lives in a matchbox. With a drawing pin as a dining table.

With the museum completed, we wandered around the Albert Docks, although we would have been substantially drier swimming straight across because the heavens didn’t so much open as flood the Earth. I haven’t seen rain like that for a long time. Not wanting to take the risk of having a flash flood catching Paul’s feet and swirling him down a crack in the pavement, we dived into the Tate Liverpool. You know what’s coming don’t you? Yes! My usual statement about us having no culture and art galleries leaving us cold and my desperate, fervent desire to actually ‘feel’ something other than discomfort and boredom in an art gallery.

Paul practising his gallery face

Well…gasp, it ALMOST happened. I’m not going to pretend I had some epiphany because I didn’t, but there was a genuinely interesting exhibition on all about climate change called Radical Landscapes. Naturally, it was the only exhibition you had to pay for, and I didn’t half wince when Paul handed over the card, but I’m glad we did. It gave us something to focus on whilst we lightly steamed dry under the bright lights of the gallery and I admit right here it was lovely to not feel like an empty husk for once.

My favourite was this photo of me attempting dogging for the first time

Speaking of feeling like an empty husk, Paul advised me as we were leaving that he would need a brief moment to go make a deposit in the porcelain bank. We retrieved our coats from the basement and I sat down to wait in the cloakroom whilst he went off to the loo across the corridor. All very routine. I sat for almost ten minutes before I realised Paul had seemingly vanished. I went into the gents to see if I could spot his size 12 Naff Co 54 trainers poking out the bottom of the cubicles but the doors were full length and plus, I didn’t fancy being arrested for being the world’s fanciest pervert cruising the bogs of the Tate, so went back to my seat for another five minutes. Paul has been known to take his time with his ablutions so I wasn’t too concerned but once almost twenty minutes had passed I threw up my arms and stomped upstairs so I could get a signal in order to text him to hurry up.

That’s where I spotted my dear husband perusing the gift shop without a care in the world save for finding some overpriced tat that I’d need to carry around for the rest of the day. He looked entirely surprised by my curt enquiries as to where the fuck he had been, and explained that he had assumed I’d gone into the toilet after him. That didn’t quite appease me given a) he would have walked straight past me on his way out of the toilets and b) I’m a very efficient shitter, in that I’ll be in and out without any significant delay. I asked how long he would have waited before coming to check on me and he replied thirty minutes. Half an hour! The only time I’ve spent half an hour in a public toilet was when I was a teenager and testing out the knees on my C&A trousers and even then I’d be wrapped up and smoking a cigarette after twenty. Minutes that is, not blokes.

We agreed that it would be best to fit a bell onto his collar and left, thankfully into sunshine, towards our next destination: the Liverpool Wheel. As you might expect from the name, this is a hedge maze in Doncaster. Well obviously not, it’s one of those giant ferris wheels that have sprung up all over the UK that give you the chance to coo over a cityscape from your own pod as it slowly completes a revolution or two. Newcastle is getting its own very soon called The Whey-I. It doesn’t work so well spelled out but if you say it in a Geordie accent (ask Robson for tips) it sort of works. Curiously, they’re planning on putting it so it overlooks Byker on one side and er…a concrete mixing plant on the other. I know they’re stymied a bit about being able to build it somewhere where it doesn’t block the view of something beautiful – and mind, Newcastle is absolutely awash with amazing views – but they definitely need to rethink its placing.

Liverpool’s wheel doesn’t have that issue though – the views were wonderful. Admittedly, it took me a revolution and a half before I plucked up the courage to fully relax and enjoy myself. It’s the most curious thing: heights don’t phase me in the slightest but put me in one of those pods – and mind, it really is only ferris wheels where this happens – and I get a pain in my kidneys and tense right up. I think it’s a combination of knowing you’re trusting your life to a couple of bolts and a chap whose mind is probably still preoccupied with his Tesco meal deal. Either way, I’ll sit bolt upright, clinging onto the seat with my fingers, legs and bumhole, until we’ve done one full pass and I know we’re not going to tear off and tumble into the Mersey like we’re in the world’s shittiest version of that gyrosphere ride in Jurassic World. Once I had relaxed it was marvellous and thoroughly worth the £16 or so fee to board. It’s certainly the highest I’ve been in Liverpool for many months.

See? Relaxed. It’s all fine!

It does baffle me somewhat that they need to put a warning sign on the door expressly telling you you mustn’t wrench the doors open mid-turn and step outside. Who is that for? Who becomes so bored by a trip around a wheel that they think the most sensible thing to do is to add a 196ft free-fall drop into their afternoon? And yet, at Ferris HQ (they never get anything done, they’re just going round in circles) (sorry), they must have considered this a big enough risk that they needed to counter it with a warning sign. The mind boggles and the body splats.

Who is this for?

And that, my lovely readers, is that. We did do other things but we’d be here all day if I was to recount them all and I’m keenly aware of my promise to keep this short. What can I say, I’m a terror. The next stop on our trip was Manchester, where we would drink too much and beat off a bloke with peak meet-me-at-McDonalds hair. I wish I could tell you it’s not what it sounds like, but it absolutely is.

Hope you enjoyed! As ever, really would welcome your feedback. I know we’re a food blog and we’re slightly more absent on recipes than you’d expect but it really has been lovely taking a break. Part four will be next week, assuming I don’t see something shiny and end up driving across two countries like I did last week. I’d apologise, but I’m shameless.

James x