travel: our mince around the UK – part three

Howdo!

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

travel: our mince around the UK – part two

Oh hey!

Boiling hot, I know, so I hope you’re reading this somewhere shady and have got plenty of Factor 50 on your bits. No-one wants chapped lips. Whilst we are recovering from our book launch, we’re resting the food recipes for another week or so. I’m thoroughly enjoying having an opportunity to practice my writing hence the longer but less frequent posts, but given we always get such good feedback on our holiday entries, I shall continue with them. A favour though! I really would love your comments and feedback – did it make you laugh? Is the writing style nice and clear? That sort of thing. I know it’s a lengthy blog entry but you know me, when I get going I really go. I really do love hearing from you all, so please don’t be shy. Regular readers of the blog: the food recipes are coming back, I promise. But until then, let’s continue with part two of our recent mince around the UK, with our overnight stay in Blackpool. Enjoy!

click here for part one

When we last spoke, you left Paul and I as we embezzled a free anniversary pudding and settled in for the night, with a plan to rise early and make our way down to Blackpool. The original plan of course was to walk alpacas around the edge of Derwent Water whilst we screamed and slipped – standard – but the inclement weather had put paid to that. Still, Blackpool would surely provide the chance to be spat at by some blonde with badly-spaced teeth, so it was a good plan B. We were just settling down to bed when Paul asked, unusually coyly, whether I had seen the toiletries bag. I confirmed that I had indeed seen the bag and had even left it next to his toothbrush so before we set off on our road trip, he could pop his toothbrush into the bag and then he could put the toiletries bag into our rucksacks. It was an effortlessly simple plan and one I was terribly proud of.

However, it relied on Paul being attentive, and that’s where it fell down. Our toiletries bag, to the surprise of none, was still on our bathroom windowsill at home. We laughed and shook our heads at each other in a way that hopefully conveyed how much I wanted to defenestrate the forgetful sod, then made to go to sleep. Him wondering whether he could go a whole week without his vitamins, me agonising over whether I had enough aftershave to get me through the next few days without reverting to my normal state of smelling like a horse’s arse. Despite our woes we slept well and were on the road by 9am, having decided against breakfast as neither of us wanted to be the only ones sitting there expectantly whilst the chef cursed us for ruining his early finish. I like my toast with Marmite, not ire and spittle.

We managed about five minutes of happy motoring over the hills before we turned a corner to be met with a sea of sheep in the single track road, with a very obvious hole in the wall to the left where they were all merrily spilling out of and a barbed wire fence on the other. Have no fear, I said, telling Paul that I could sharp corral the sheep back into the field with no trouble at all, having read at least three James Herriot books when I was a youngster, but he seemed doubtful. I further explained that sheep can tell the difference between a frown and a smile and so gentle encouragement and a flash of my teeth would be all that was required to put them back where they needed to be.

Almost goes without saying that my approach didn’t work. As I carefully cajoled a few of them back through and turned my attention back to the ones in the road, the rescued sheep decided they needed to see if the stragglers were having a nice time and came back through. I thought I’d cracked it after five minutes or so with a good three quarter of the little buggers returned only to spot that the sheep were now pouring out from an open gate a hundred or so meters down the road. I’d have had more success trying to sieve water. I returned to the car with thin lips – Paul having the good sense to keep quiet – and drove past very gingerly whilst they did everything in their power to try and get under the wheels.

Yeah you better run, you painted whores!

We made progress for about another half a mile when we crested a hill only to be met with another road full of sheep and not a farmer or a sheepdog in sight. This time I simply put the car in reverse and drove, a mite testily, backwards until the previous junction, where I set off in the opposite direction and decided to let Waze sort me out. Happily, after spending a couple of minutes of it deliberating whether we wanted Blackpool in Lancashire or Blackpool in the Yellowstone National Park, it got us back on the right road. When we next return to the Lakes I’ll strap a bottle of Colman’s Mint Sauce on the front of my car to show them I mean business.

With no further ovine calamities befalling us, we made it to Blackpool in good time, with a mere three stops at the services to break up the 100 mile drive. Paul shares the same love of services as I do so never grumbles even if we’ve only been on the road ten minutes before I need to stop for a wee and a snack. Tebay Services is on the way to Blackpool and always worth a stop, if only so you can sit and people-watch for a while.  It always amazes me how busy these places are – which I know sounds like a trite and obvious observation, but where are they all going? All these people with cars and families and children and plans all have a home, somewhere to be, things to do, a job. So many little stories to be mined and discovered and because I’m an inherently nosy person, I want to know all the details. Then you start wondering about how many degrees of separation lie between you and the mother smacking her kids’ legs for wanting sweets or the old couple who have taken seven minutes at the till to figure out the contactless payment or the lorry driver who looks as though he slept once last year and didn’t care for the experience. Of course this is all entirely moot because the answer is I know them all personally from overtaking them doing 35mph on the slip road rejoining the motorway.

So, Blackpool then. It’s a place that divides opinion for sure. If you look online – particularly in threads about the ‘worst places in the UK’, it is often mentioned as being a dying town full of people itching to cause trouble at the slightest provocation. Indeed, Bill Bryson, my favourite author, took a very strong dislike to the place in Notes From A Small Island, although amongst his complaints he did give us the killer line: ‘well, all I can say is that Blackpool’s illuminations are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid.’ – I’d kill to be that cutting. I, however, unashamedly and unapologetically love the place.

If you go to Blackpool expecting fanciness and class you’re going to be sorely disappointed, it is true. By way of illustration, as we parked the car at the station car-park there was a woman hunkered down behind the wall having a big steamy piss with little effort made to either hide what she was doing nor where the frankly endless stream was spitting out of. She looked like an old tractor whose engine had overheated in the sun. As welcomes to a town go, it is certainly below a cheery planter full of chrysanthemums and yet somehow above those patronising signs that say ‘thank you for driving carefully’, which I always think is a touch presumptuous – but then I don’t like any welcome that makes me look up from my phone when I’m speeding along: it’s just careless.

And, certainly, there are parts of Blackpool where I keep one hand on my wallet and the other on Paul’s shoulder lest we get mugged and I need to push him in front of me as a sacrifice, but there’s places like that in every single town and to suggest otherwise is a failure of observation. We all know a pub where you go in through the door and leave out the window. Unless, of course, you live somewhere like Chalfont St. Giles, but then you have the permanent trouble of living somewhere that sounds like cockney rhyming slang for haemmorhoids, so it’s take with one hand and give with the other.

No, I love Blackpool. It is unpretentious, welcoming, full of things to do and – perhaps most importantly – full of people there to have fun. If you walk around with a stick up your arse it’ll sharp be taken out whereas if you go for a good time without expecting too much, you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself. Long time readers will remember that Paul and I had a similar epiphany about Benidorm: snooty as all out when we hadn’t been, but then fell in love with the place upon visiting. One thing I especially like about Blackpool is the people living there: good-natured people who don’t take things too seriously. If you’ll forgive a whorey cliché a hoary cliché, Northerners are indeed more welcoming, and apparently none more so than those who want to flog you a pint for £1.90 or a bag of broken rock to pull your fillings out. This is my third time in Blackpool, having visited twice previous with a mate, but Paul came in with only what he had seen on ‘Bargain Loving Brits in Blackpool’. If you’re using a Channel 5 docusoap as a measure of a place you’d be forgiven for gritting your teeth well in advance, but he was excited. Anything for a Kiss Me Quick hat, that boy.

Doesn’t look like Paris to me

After taking an hour or so to look around the big Tesco to replenish our toiletries – me with toothpaste and deodorant, Paul for some Deep Heat to try and fix the cold shoulder he was getting from me, we went to check in at Hotel 33 on Dickson Road. The owner was a lovely chap who seemed unusually delighted to welcome us to his B&B, though there was no breakfast, so really only a B, but if I said we had joined him in bed you’d get the wrong idea. As it happens I did toy with checking us into one of the more…adult B&Bs in the area but decided against it. We’re too old for that sort of schtick I feel – these days if someone poked their erection through a hole in the bathroom door I’d be liable to hang a towel off it. If the towel stayed put then perhaps I’d schedule him back for later. No, all we need these days is somewhere to get our head down rather than our head up, and this place was fine. Very clean, a good shower and a bed that didn’t have a crust on the mattress. I’d previously stayed at Mardi Gras (amazing) and Boulevard (like someone delivered a hotel meant for St Ives to entirely the wrong town) but a change is as good as a rest. That and Boulevard had recently contacted me to proudly announce they’d just hosted Priti Patel for the evening. As allurements for a return visit go that’s like sending me an email to say every bed has been freshly shat in and the bathroom suites had been replaced with showers that dispense nails at the speed of sound, so I unsubscribed.

We immediately drank the free hot chocolate, scattered some milk on the floor out of those tiny UHT pods and shared the one Lotus Biscoff biscuit that had been given. I don’t know when Lotus Biscoff biscuits replaced those Walkers Shortbread White Chocolate and Raspberry cookies as the biscuit of choice in hotels but I’m not happy. In fact, I blame Alex Polizzi. Too busy looking for pubes on the toilet seat to care for us fatties wanting a more substantial snack.

Paul had booked us to do the Dungeon Escape Room in the – you guessed it – Blackpool Dungeons, under the tower. According to their own email we weren’t due to start until 1.30pm so we set off to have a look around the arcades. You can imagine our surprise then when we received a call at 1.10pm from someone quite aggressively asking where we were and that we were ten minutes late. Forever polite, Paul apologised profusely for their mistake, and we minced (Paul) and waddled (me) to the dungeon. I showed the email to the person on the front desk who looked at it as one might look at a spread of dog shit on a fancy shoe and we agreed as a trio that although their email had specifically said 1.30pm, we were clearly idiots for not understanding this actually meant 1pm. I mentioned that by that metric they could expect a five-star review later and by that I actually meant a one-star review. Actually I didn’t, because I’m British and cowardly, so I just seethed a little.

The escape room wasn’t bad by any stretch – it just wasn’t great. Lots of puzzles and an interesting final dynamic but when your room requires lots of reading on the wall, it might be an idea to provide a torch. I’m of an age where I squint reading things on my phone at full brightness – asking me to ascertain a knight’s lineage by the gentle glow of a fire exit sign isn’t going to happen. That said, we never got stuck for long thanks to the clue system which didn’t so much guide us when we were stuck as walk us through each puzzle before we had a chance to consider our options. I’m not suggesting for a second that the Escape Mistress was trying for an early finish but boy was she keen. At one point I stopped to tie my shoelace and was expecting ‘TIE ONE LOOP AROUND THE OTHER AND PULL, YOU FAT USELESS BASTARD’ to flash up on the screen. We finished with half an hour to spare and were bustled out of the room like they were evacuating due to fire. Thank god for that exit sign.

It turns out we weren’t quite finished. Paul, possibly suffering from a bout of scrapie from our sheep encounter, had also booked us to do the dungeon experience. When I asked why he looked panicked and said it had all happened so fast, but we had no time to make an escape as we were shepherded into a holding pen. Where we were the only people. Can you think of anything worse than being the sole focus of a range of actor’s attentions for an hour whilst they screamed and shrieked and hollered at you? Because frankly I couldn’t. We waited to see if anyone else would turn up and thankfully, at the very last moment, they did, just as someone descended from the ceiling in a Grim Reaper costume and a cloud of Rightguard Xtreme. Even better: it was a family of four with two young children so you know who would be singled out for jokes and ‘hilarious’ skits.

Yep, me. I got asked to pretend I was a grave-digger at one point, which necessitated wailing. Then in the fake courtroom, I got put on trial for bashing the bishop too often, which required a bit of bawdy back and forth. Then, perhaps the most awkward part: I was asked to be the victim whilst a genuinely fit man explained how reprobates were tortured back in the day. Imagine my distress as someone made to trouble my nipples with a set of pliers and threatened me with a red hot poker. Had the family not been there I’d have asked for a safe-word and a rag soaked with poppers but instead we kept it family friendly whilst Paul absolutely pissed himself at my obvious discomfort. He’s lucky: Paul didn’t get selected for anything other than holding the door open for one of the actors to nip out for a cigarette.

You know what though: it was really fun. I mean yes, naff as all outdoors, but rather like Blackpool itself, if you don’t go in all cynical and trying to be clever and ‘too cool for this’, you’ll have a good time. The actors were giving it their all, some of the effects were decent and the tiny drop ride at the end elicited a little scream from one of us. Not me though: I was too busy eyeing up the lad who strapped me in to pay much attention and it was over before it had really begun. They are a bit cheeky calling it a drop ride given it ‘plummets’ about five foot, though I appreciate when you are Paul’s height that must feel like jumping off the Eiffel Tower. The whole experience including the escape room took around two hours – probably only ninety minutes to most but there was a section with mirrors where we obviously lost time as I gazed appreciatively at myself from every conceivable angle – and for £52 all-in it wasn’t bad value at all. Escaped twice over, we went for a wander down the promenade.

A giant dick

Look how happy he is!

 

One of the benefits about visiting Blackpool that they don’t mention in their marketing is that your trousers will never sag with carrying too much change. Everywhere you turn there’s an opportunity to throw your coins into something. In the arcades you can waste a few quid trying to win a teddy so old you wouldn’t be surprised to find a packet of Pall Mall strapped to the other side. Walking down the street you’ll be spoilt for choice for chip, sweet and tat shops (not always all three at once but I’m fairly sure I spotted one business offering it all). You can buy sticks of rock shaped like giant dicks, rock that tastes like weed, ashtrays shaped like a massive pair of tits, and my personal favourite, a gigantic stick of rock that when sucked, revealed the word ‘C*NT’ in giant letters. I’m censoring that purely so this doesn’t post doesn’t get stopped by any over-zealous filters, though I assure you the word wasn’t CENT. There are blokes trying to encourage groups of tiddly-squiff ladies onto horse-drawn carriages as they walked past, although I noted that Paul and I weren’t asked, presumably because we didn’t provide them the opportunity of a growler-flash as we climbed aboard. The injustice never ends. There’s even a few caravans / huts / repurposed electricity substations that promise you the opportunity to have your future read by a ‘Medium to the Stars‘, with photos of those very same stars in black and white on the side of the hut. Now I don’t know about you but whenever I see that half of X-Factor’s Eton Road endorse a product, I know it’s going to be quality. I do wonder though, if I had the gift of clairvoyance, whether I’d be using my gift to rinse tourists out of a tenner a pop on the promenade or picking out the winning lottery numbers and nicking off to Marbella. Still, not for me to reason why.

Amongst all of the rides and attractions we came to my absolute favourite and something that Paul and I have been looking for ever since experiencing it in Scarborough a decade ago: Prize Bingo. You know those old bingo games where you have a pair of boards with little curtains you pull across to hide the numbers as they are called? Here it was, and for only 10p a board. A proper little slice of seaside nostalgia right there. Back when I was a child, my parents would take my sister and me up to Seahouses on a Saturday afternoon. Overcome with the generosity afforded by the happiness of having somewhere sunnier to smoke, they would press a few quid into our hands and tell us to go entertain ourselves whilst they did adult things like fishing and eating winkles. Steady. After we had rinsed the 2p machines by bumping into them and bought ourselves some chips, my sister and I would end up in the prize bingo above the chip shop where we would spend an hour or two excitedly trying to amass enough tokens for a teasmaid or a crystal dolphin or some other tatty ephemera that would delight for moments. We never did manage that – think the sum total of our wins was probably a Wham bar and a lecture off my mam for wasting money – but the memory is a happy one. That prize bingo place is a sea-facing apartment now, because of course it is. When Paul and I played Prize Bingo in Scarborough twenty years later we won a pack of microfibre cloths and we were glad of it – so could we replicate the thrills here?

This was taken on the first trip, before chaos ensued. And look at Paul’s watch!

Absolutely we could. Honestly, of all the good things in Blackpool, this is probably my new favourite. It isn’t the drama of almost getting a line and then having it snatched away from me at the last minute – I’ve become accustomed to that – but rather how unbelievably seriously some of the old guard take it. Bear in mind you’re playing to win a token, and said token might be banked and eventually cashed in to exchange for something that you’d find in one of those Kleeneze catalogue-o-shites that used to be posted through the door, there’s not much to victory. But in the hour or so we saw it all – grumblings about a favourite seat being taken, actual swearing when someone called house, the drama of running out of 10p coins and not having enough chance to catch the old fella with the change machine before the next round started, the lot. There’s an old joke: ‘how do you get forty old ladies to shout fuck – get one to shout house’ which absolutely applied here. Even the bingo calls were old-fashioned – none of this ‘your place or mine, 69’ nonsense.

We somehow managed to keep our composure and ended up winning a token. As we are savvy we banked it into our wallet in case we ever came back – why waste it on a pencil sharpener shaped like an anus when you can put it towards a cup that says ‘I Beat The Millennium Bug’ with a centimetre-thick rim of dust, after all. We actually came back the next day when it was far busier on our way back from the Pleasure Beach and caused a genuine scene: Paul, despite his best concentration face (imagine a squirrel trying to solve a tricky jigsaw), managed to mishear a number and called house incorrectly. Well, octogenarian anger ensued: the ripple of annoyance that someone who hadn’t witnessed the Second Boer Way first-hand had won (“never seen him before”, “he’s not taking it seriously”, “bet he doesn’t struggle for a piss at 3am”) which was accompanied by them clattering their boards to reset them…only to be then told the call was invalid and the game was continuing.

You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, you really could. See you’re told not to reset your board until the call is confirmed so it was entirely their own fault, but fucking hell – you’d have thought he had got up and stuck a bingo ball up his arse the way they were carrying on. Amid a sea of barely-whispered complaining and enough venom in the air to make the hair in my ears crinkle, the game continued.

Paul called house – correctly – on the very next number.

We decided there and then not to stop to cash our tokens in: partly because we thought we ought to let someone else win, partly because I didn’t fancy us getting shived by the sharp end of a walking cane and pushed into the Irish sea.

RISK, REWARD

We spent the rest of the day in the arcades and farting about on the beach, then got changed and headed out for drinks. I’ll say this: Monday night on the Blackpool gay scene doesn’t really do the place justice. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, we really did, but everywhere seemed to shut down at 10 bar Sapphires and that looked one spilled drink away from a dance-off and someone coming in to hold a meat raffle. Now in their defence I’ve been a couple of times previous and it’s been an adventure then, so perhaps it was just an off night. At Mardi Gras we attracted the town drunk who seemed insistent on staying with us until I mentioned that I work in law. I think he took that as me being a policeman rather than the truth of photocopying deeds in a law firm but either way he buggered off into the night to have a scrap with a postbox. For the record the best bar is The Flying Handbag because it has decent music, lots of space and more importantly for two gay blokes who have started making appreciative noises when afforded a chance to sit down, plenty of seating. Plus it’s called The Flying Handbag for goodness sake, and if that isn’t the best name for a gay venue I don’t know what could be. Until I open my own seedy sweatbox nightclub called ‘Gape’ that is. We finished the night eating terrible takeaway in bed.

Having time of us life xoxox

We checked out early the next day, Paul taking special care to ensure he had left his coat in the wardrobe, and took our bags to the car. Blackpool Pleasure Beach was our next destination. I’m not going to prattle on about theme parks because lord knows I need to save some content for the Thorpe Park entries, but I’ll say this: it was brilliant. We had managed to get a cheap deal on the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard points but even without a discount it would have been excellent value for money. I will confess that for a few days beforehand I was nervous because it has been a long time since I had been on a rollercoaster. I used to be absolutely terrified of them but then, somewhat rashly, booked Paul and I a Florida holiday many, many moons ago. I remember standing in front of The Incredible Hulk – and Paul was standing in front of a rollercoaster –  and trying to decide which would win: my phobia of rollercoasters or my Geordie stinginess of not wanting to waste money. My tight-arsed nature won in the end and I’m so glad it did for I now absolutely adore rollercoasters. I actually gave myself heart arrhythmia from riding Manta too many times. Nothing scares me as long as I’ve got a restraint and a bad attitude. However, as I said, it’s been such a long time since I was on a coaster that I wasn’t sure that bravado would still be there. Plus, getting old aren’t we: I imagined every ride finishing with me stumbling around with the balance in my inner-ear swirling like a draining bath.

Needn’t have worried though: we did them all and they were amazing. We did ease ourselves in entirely accidentally by jumping on the first rollercoaster we saw on the map, the Nickelodeon Blue Flyer. Upon joining the queue and seemingly being between two Year 3 classes out for their summer break we realised it wouldn’t quite be the white-knuckle experience we had anticipated, but it was a good bit of fun. Looking on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach website it is listed as ‘Kid’s First Coaster’ which I think sums it up. I was just glad Paul had remembered his Dora The Explorer rucksack so we didn’t look too out of place. Next was Avalanche where I spent most of the queue asking Paul whether it actually ran on a track or if it was just a free-rolling ride. He confirmed it was the former rather than the latter so you can imagine my delight when I realised this wasn’t the case. I’m fine with rides but, call me old-fashioned, I do like being fixed to the actual track. Paul may have lost weight but we’re still a hefty amount combined and I had visions of the car hitting a banked corner and sending us flying into the Irish Sea. Happily, that didn’t happen. Revolution was a lot of fun – the scariest part of that is waiting in the queue high up in the wind. By this point I was getting fussy because I wanted to ride The Big One – to be fair, it’s been a couple of months and I miss it – so we joined the queue there.

See? It’s big.

The Big One, of course, is the rollercoaster everyone knows at Blackpool – the absolutely massive steel coaster that takes you up around 230ft and then drops you down. I passed the time in the queue rubbing Paul’s sunscreen in (he applies it as though he’s Jackson Pollock then forgets to do all the important bits like his ears or his entire body) and reading facts about the rollercoaster. All very dry facts so I won’t bother you with them here but I did spot a story about the ride breaking down right at the top of the lift hill which necessitated the evacuation of the riders down the absolutely tiny flight of stairs to the side of the track. Fuck. That. I’m alright with heights as long as I’m strapped in / jumping off something but walking down a tiny flight of stairs made from mesh metal? Nee chance. I advised Paul that if this happened we would be living on that rollercoaster until they managed to get it going again, whether we were talking an hour or a year. Looking at the online video I don’t even think you get clipped into a harness – which is probably for the best as getting me into a harness is like wrangling a horse into a t-shirt – and I just couldn’t do it.

The ride didn’t break down and it was well worth the anxiety, although I do think once the big drop has happened the rest of the ride isn’t all that and a bag of chips. The rest of the park was great fun: Icon is an amazing coaster that knocks Rita at Alton Towers into a tin-hat, and Infusion saved me any amount of money on getting a chiropractor as it knocked my spine in and out of alignment. We took in the Tunnel of Love and Paul was delighted when he thought I was trying to hold his hand. Sadly not, I just wanted the Smints from his pocket. Even the Ghost Train was good fun – all proper creaking effects and hissing airbrakes – though we were more excited for Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park. I’m sure that won’t disappoint, no no.

I’ll leave you with what I consider to be the scariest ride in the park – the bloody Steeplechase. How that is allowed I have no idea. I’m sure it is perfectly safe but when you’re sat on a metal horse and careering around a track at quite the lick with your husband hanging on for dear life, it definitely gives you the fear. I had to have two ice-creams to calm down. ACTUALLY no! This is the most terrifying thing in the park.

This can actually go die in a fire. Except it didn’t burn in the actual fun-house fire, it survived and they kept it. Why? Lord knows. But it is AWFUL.

But all in all, a lovely day and one I can certainly recommend if you like a theme park. It hasn’t got the showmanship of the big parks but unlike Alton Towers you don’t need to walk eight miles between rides. Plus, if you go at the right time, the queues are entirely manageable – we didn’t fastpass a single ride. Didn’t need to. There’s enough variety of rides to keep everyone interested and there’s more than enough to fill a full day out.

We walked back to the car, taking a long detour back to the hotel to pick up Paul’s coat, and then we were off to our next destination: Liverpool. Until then…


Hope you enjoyed! As ever, would love feedback!

James x

travel: our mince around the UK – part one

Hello! Did you miss us? Of course you did. We’ve been away you understand, and it’s hot, and there’s been such a lot of things going on. Dinner Time (our new book) has done very well and thank you all for supporting that. If you could take a moment to leave us a review on Amazon, we’d be very grateful!

Today’s blog entry is the start of a new travel series, and we’re going to do something different on here going forward. See, I love writing (can you tell) and holiday entries are my absolute favourite, but I’m always conscious that we have to accompany a 3500 word entry with a recipe and it starts getting way too complicated. I want to write more but having to also cook and publish a recipe to go with the writing is a ballache and with everything else going on, it means I don’t post so much. So going forward, I’m going to keep the travel entries to their own posts and the recipes/food on other posts. So if you’re a fan of the writing, that’s all the better, and if you’re just here for the food, you don’t need to scroll through my nonsense to get there! Win. Shall we?

Back in December, I somewhat rashly promised Paul a quick break away at Thorpe Park, entirely forgetting it was a solid five hour drive away and likely to contain the one thing that makes my lips crinkle with disapproval: children. Particularly, loud children. Indeed and perhaps even more particularly, your loud children. Now I know your children are lovely and sticky-faced and no bother at all but you must surely agree that most venues and places would be infinitely improved by a secure place to leave a child rather like one does with a precious coat at the theatre. I strain that analogy as if I know what it is to have a coat that cost more than the petrol I used to go to the supermarket to pick it up. Nevertheless, I love a rollercoaster and the accompanying three days of feeling slightly off-balance, so Thorpe Park it was. I booked two days without checking I could save money with a voucher (I could), without checking what the hotel on-site was like (shipping containers) and whether my padded arse would fit into the rollercoaster seats (it did). See Paul doesn’t need to worry about such things now he is skinny and svelte – in a pinch we can fold him up like a love-letter and pop him in a matchbox –  but the fear of them fetching the prying bar lays forever heavy on my heart. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

See, you know me. I can’t tell a story without eighteen diversions, so why would you expect me to be able to cross the country, arrive at one destination, and return home two days later on time without fuss or fanfare? I treat my holidays like I treat a blog entry – lots of rambling, some good food and if you’re lucky, I’ll finish sometime a few weeks later. Hence our trip away became something entirely more convoluted: I advised Paul that:

  • he was to take two weeks off work instead of three days;
  • I’d front-load our trip with a week of mystery destinations and plan everything in advance – all he had to do was turn up, and more critically…
  • we would take my car and I would do all the driving.

The last point was essential to us having a good time away. I simply can not relax when Paul is at the wheel – partly because it normally means we’re in his Smart car and I’ve got my feet in the glove box and my torso hanging out of the boot, but also because he drives as though he’s just broken out of prison. He’s only ever had one accident (not his fault) (was though) but I put that down to sheer luck than talent. No, he’s a wonderful husband in each and every way but I’ve long come to terms that the only way I’ll fall asleep as a passenger in his car is when he’s plunged us into the sea because he saw something shiny whilst trying to park and the bends get me. So we both agreed – or rather I explained at length and Paul accepted graciously – that I would fill his week with fun and frolics and in exchange, all he had to do was sit in the passenger seat and pass exactly zero judgement on my driving. Quite right too.

Plus my car recently came top of a list ‘most likely to be driven by drug dealers’ so I was holding out for some rough trade climbing in and offering me cash for my antihistamines. A boy can dream.

So there it is: our Thorpe Park trip would become a ten day trip around the UK and with our suitcases packed the night before (by me) and the house tidied up (by me) and a cheery goodbye to the tall, married, bearded DILF on our street who I have fallen in love with (bi me, hopefully), we were ready to go.

Oh! Before we start, just a word of caution. Each place we visited was to be a day or two at maximum, and none of those visits were done with the intention of ticking all off the very best things to do in that area. We were aiming for laid back holiday, not feverishly working our way through a checklist. So if you’re reading and thinking ‘why didn’t they do that’ or ‘I can’t believe they went to the Lakes and didn’t spend an entire day walking vertically through the clouds’, I ask, ever so politely, that you keep your lips quiet. I know I know, but every time we posted where we were going we got about 1000 suggestions and then that creates FOMO. And this homo don’t need fomo, I promise you. To the trip report then!

I say we were ready to go, I wasn’t kidding – I bustled Paul out of bed at 4.30am in order to get a jump on the Sunday traffic heading into the Lake District. In my head I had this rose-tinted memory of road trips with my family when I was wee – getting bundled into the back of a Ford Escort to spend nine hours picking at the stitching on the back of my mum’s seat, washing down warm Kia-Ora with the smoke of a thousand tensely-smoked Lambert & Butlers. Not mine, I hasten to add, my parents weren’t that lax. I had a pipe. What I had forgotten in my reminiscence was that we would be heading up to the Scottish Isles and not 70 miles down the road, so when we arrived at our first destination at 7.30am – for a 10.30am breakfast reservation at Bassenthwaite Lake Station no less – we didn’t half laugh. Literally, half of us laughed, me, whilst Paul bravely decided that sitting in the passenger seat looking out of the window had tired him out and so he needed a quick refreshing nap. Leaving him to gently pool drool into my cup-holder, I went for a quick walk around Bassenthwaite Lake.

uk trip

The weather was glorious!

It took less than three minutes from me getting out of the car to me managing to find a naked bloke in the trees in what I had assumed was a very remote spot. That’s a record for me: I barely had time to put my knee-guards on. However, it wasn’t the nifty experience you might expect – he was wild swimming. Very brave I thought – you could tell the water was cold – and I gave him a cheery wave and went on my way. I’d absolutely love to try wild swimming but I just know I’m the hapless sort that will pull my knickers off, enter the water and have a giant heart attack. I could bear that ignominy if I didn’t think I’d then drift out into the lake and have some passing tourist boat purr over thinking a weather balloon had come down in flight overnight. Honestly, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

I wandered along the shore a little more before the heavens opened (and why wouldn’t they – it had been glorious for the week prior to the holiday, it seemed only fitting then that it would tip down the second I backed the car off the drive) and then hastened back to Paul, who through the soaked windows of the car looked like he had actually died in his sleep. I resisted the urge to let the handbrake off and roll him into the lake and instead woke him up gently by leaning on the car horn. He burst back to animation in a fit of swearing and spittle. It’s how we keep things spicy.

We filled the next couple of hours walking around Cockermouth which afforded us the chance to pose Paul in front of various signs so the word ‘Cock’ was next to him. Because we’re childish.

uk trip

Mahaha.

Then we made our way to Bassenthwaite Lake Station, arriving at 10.15am so choosing to sit and wait in the car for a bit before going in. A week previous the wonderful Grace Dent had reviewed this place in the Guardian and absolutely sold it to me (and, judging by the difficulty I had finding a time slot, every other chinstroker within 200 miles) and I knew Paul would love it. It’s a restaurant set in a railway station, with half of the tables actually being on board a replica steam engine that was used in the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. It’s pot luck whether you’re sat in the train or the waiting room – both lovely by all accounts but let’s be honest, everyone wants the train – and you can’t book where you’re sitting.

10.30am came around and we made to go and check in. Do you check in at a restaurant? Arrive? Whatever. As we crossed the car park we were pushed out of the way by a woman and her child as though she was storming the beaches at Normandy. She could have gone around us but instead thought the best course of action was to plough straight through. Clearly her haste was fuelled by the hope of being sat on the train but, much to her chagrin and our utter and entirely undisguised delight, by pushing in she had actually jumped in front of us and was shown to a table in the waiting room whilst we were taken to the train.

We aren’t petty men at heart but that breakfast tasted all the sweeter for being able to catch her eye as she wandered disconsolately outside of the train looking in, and giving her the biggest, cheeriest, most heart-warming smile we could every single time. I almost guarantee that if you look on tripadvisor there’ll be a new and very cross review on there kvetching about the service by someone who thinks their hair colour is a personality trait. Pity.

Breakfast was superb though. I went for the full English and Paul elected for the vegan option because he’s HELF these days. All wonderful, even if we both agreed that peashoots have no place on a breakfast, and we paid after a short delay whilst our waitress trekked over to Carlisle on foot to collect the card machine. Oh! Returning to people watching for a second, there was a couple behind us who were seemingly having the worst time of their lives. Not because of the location or food, but simply their life. I have never seen someone look so unutterably cross as this lady. I like to let my mind wander (usually whenever Paul is launching into one of his very detailed recollections of a time he saw a sparrow or suchlike) and imagine what people’s deals are. With her I can only assume she’d returned from two years of hard service in some awful war. I genuinely thought I could have sat down in front of her, grasped her hand and told her she only had an hour or two left on the Earth and lightened her day considerably.

uk trip

The full English

Anyhoo, with breakfast done, we made our way back to the car and into Keswick – first to check into our accommodation for the night (the Keswick Youth Hostel) and to do an escape room at the Kong Centre. However, en route, I received an email advising me that POSSIBLY THE MOST ROMANTIC THING EVER had been cancelled due to the bad weather. I’d arranged a boat hire to sail us around the lake with an onboard picnic but due to the wind and rain, this would need to be rescheduled. Like a dagger in my heart that one, and to add insult to injury, the next morning’s activity was cancelled too. I’d arranged for us to walk alpacas at Alpacaly Ever After (best name ever) but due to the mud and the wet, that too was to be rescheduled. This was especially gutting as I’d recently done an alpaca walk with my mate and it was glorious. Tall, demanding, awkward on their legs and prone to spitting without warning, he had booked the alpaca walk and knew I’d enjoy it. And I did! So of course fate demanded I’d never get to repeat the process and Paul wouldn’t enjoy it either. Probably for the best though given Paul’s little Polly Pocket legs: he’d feel like he was trundling alongside an AT-AT walker from Star Wars.

Necessity is the mother of invention though and I’m nothing if not adaptable, so a quick google search revealed we could take in the escape room, visit the Derwent Pencil Museum and perhaps have a quick drive up to Whitehaven if we hurried, so with squelchy shoes and five minutes of rage and indignation at having to pay £10 to park in Keswick for a day, we set off. First, the escape room. At first glance it seemed a load of gash, tucked behind a climbing wall in a kids activity centre, but it was terrific: perhaps it was the fact we hadn’t had the chance to shout at each other for a while, perhaps it was having an escape room with a theme we hadn’t done before (we had to locate and rescue a fallen hiker), who can say, but it was great fun AND the first escape room we have completed in months where we didn’t use a single clue. We almost cracked and asked for help with a puzzle involving a xylophone but perseverance saw us through and, not going to lie, we felt like heroes when we crackled the walkie talkie to life and ‘called in rescue’. In the end, the sound of Tarquina and little Footsie-100 stotting their heads off the wall next to us only added to the atmosphere.

With the rain still absolutely pouring we decided that we needed somewhere nicer to sleep and sacked off going to the Youth Hostel (it’s right in the centre away from the car park, the town was heaving and we had about forty suitcases because it’s us) and so decided we’d find somewhere nearby, switching to the Best Western back at Bassenthwaite because it had a pool and was cheap on hotels.com. All about those reward nights! With the knowledge that we’d be sleeping somewhere a little more salubrious in our minds we made our way down the hill to the Pencil Museum. Clearly it took all we had not to sprint with excitement but one must exercise restraint in all things.

The Pencil Museum is exactly that: a museum dedicated to the story of the pencil. How they are made, what they can be used for, exciting pencils through history, exactly how many you have to ram up your nostrils to get out of going to a pencil museum, that sort of schtick. Aaah no though, my sarcasm actually does them a disservice: it’s a very sweet little museum which, whilst not exactly going to give you reason to sit and fan at your face with the map through over-stimulation, does a very good job of making a very dry subject fairly interesting. That’s helped by the fact you’re given a little quiz to complete as you walk around (a clever way of making you read the exhibitions) with the promise of a prize at the end for a full set of correct answers. But goodness me, you’d think the prize was a cheque for a million pounds handed over by Chris Tarrant judging by how seriously some of the people were taking it. At one point we witnessed a very British, snippily-delivered exchange between two couples who both looked like they’d been dug up that morning where one pair accused the other of copying. Copying! The answers were right in front of us in size 48 Comic Sans. Things looked like they were about to get nasty so we moved on, taking advantage of their quarrel to sneak a peep at their answers and finally discover exactly what the ‘Graphite Scale’ is a measurement of. It’s how hard the lead in the pencil is. As if you need a scale – you can normally tell just by whether you can push straight forward or you have to use your thumb to encourage it home.

We spent a good thirty minutes in the museum, making appreciative noises and waiting for the other to buckle and demand we leave, then reached the end where we handed over our quiz sheets and were informed that we had indeed won a prize. We both made a big joke (which I’m sure they’ll have never heard before) about pretending to be surprised about what we could possibly win from a pencil museum where pencils were made by people who make pencils for a living could be, only for the staff member to hand us a free pen. Well, that shut us up.

uk trip

The size of that pencil!

Remembering that the centre of Keswick was four tourists away from the entire crowd joining together as one giant human mass like bubbles in a lava lamp, we got in the car and drove to Whitehaven and see the sights. Once we arrived in Whitehaven, we got back into the car and drove straight to the hotel. No shade to Whitehaven, I’m sure it is a terrific place indeed, but 5pm on a Sunday does not cast it in the best light. The walk around the harbour was very pleasant but given a Wetherspoons is number five of things to do in Whitehaven, I felt we had seen enough. We did buy a chocolate bar from a newsagents only to discover the lady behind the counter had apparently been sitting on it like a chicken may protect an egg, leading to a melted packet of crumbs, and seeing that level of disappointment on Paul’s face was enough for me. Back to the hotel then.

The Castle Inn Hotel, just a short drive from where we had enjoyed breakfast earlier in that day, was charming. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Best Western Hotels – they’re either superb or look like they’ve fallen through a wormhole from the 1970s. We stayed in one in Peterborough once and would have had a more comfortable night had we dragged our mattress out behind the bins outside. Not so here: it does look a bit dated and rough around the edges but so does my face and your husband never complains. It was eerily quiet though – if there were more than ten guests in there I’d have been surprised. We were checked in by a wonderful lady on reception who seemed glad of the opportunity to have a conversation. She really was a delight and would later catch us passing through reception to hand us a little brownie on a plate with ‘Happy Anniversary’ in chocolate sauce. I absolutely adored this and felt utterly awful that it wasn’t our anniversary and I had just blurted that out at check-in because I panicked when asked why we were visiting and wasn’t sure if replying ‘we’re spending a week together in close proximity to see if our hearts still sing to each other’ would have elicited a laugh or a sad face. Between her going to the extra mile and moving us into a colder room after I mentioned in passing I could have comfortably stewed rhubarb without a hob in the first room and the lovely chap in the bar who rustled us up some food despite closing at 8pm, we were very impressed. I did leave a glowing review on tripadvisor because people only use that to complain and that saddens me.

uk trip

LIES! ALL LIES!

(skip the next couple of paragraphs if you’re a bit squeamish about rude stuff)

We finished the night early by heading down to the pool facilities where, save for a bloke doing lengths in the water with that ‘oh look at me I take it seriously stay out of my way’ gasp and splutter proper swimmers do, we had it to ourselves. We splashed about in the water, did a couple of lengths and then went and sat in the hot-tub thingy. I always enjoy the thought of a hot-tub more than the reality – once you become aware that you’re sitting in a hot bubbling soup of people’s toenails, spunk and backhair, the idea somewhat loses its lustre. Paul and I once went to a sex sauna (they’re SEX PEOPLE, LYNN!) on holiday only to find it entirely deserted bar the chap running the front desk. He did us a favour by explaining that we would be better turning around and not coming in because it was grim. After we explained that we were hardy souls and it couldn’t possibly be that bad, he actually took us to show us the place with the lights on.

Jesus. Aside from the fact it looked like an especially well-used dovecote, it was just…filthy. You expect a certain level of muck but not like this – literal load-bearing walls. However, he saved the worst for last – he walked us over to the hot tub, pulled out the filter, and showed us what it had caught. You know on Countryfile when they visit some bore who keeps bees and they have the moneyshot where they pull the honeycomb out from the hive and it’s dripping? Imagine that, but cooked. I’ve seen some sights in my thirty-seven years on this Earth and smelled even worse but that almost did me in. You know how they say you wouldn’t eat the sausage if you saw how they made the meat? That, but in reverse. We spent a good two minutes gagging in ways we didn’t expect, then left, after a brief moment where he also showed us that he had tattooed his own name on his penis. Wasn’t even something like Mike, think it was Christopher. What a show-off. I’m going to get the same thing done but change my name to J.

(come back!) (no, it was in the filter!)

Refreshed and clean, and given the chance to accidentally stare into this random man’s fleshy asterisk when he bent over to pick up his towel in the changing room after his swim, we went for a short walk around the grounds upon which we were reminded that we had brought the gayness to the Lakes. See?

uk trip

Aww.

I know, we’re sweet. It is here that we shall leave this story and return to it another time, where you will join us in sunny Blackpool, the next stop on our trip to Thorpe Park.


As ever, I hope you enjoyed the read, and feedback is always lovely. Food recipes will resume soon!

James x

recipe: cheese and ham boaties (490 calories)

Hello hello! I hope you are all keeping well – cheese and ham boaties await you at the bottom of this blog but I must warn and caution you – please, take a seat first lest your legs go – that today’s blog entry is an awfully long one. See we went off to that Canada place and so a holiday blog follows and you know what I’m like – why take one bottle into the shower when you can take ALL THE BOTTLES. If you’re in the market for a quick, cheap and easy dinner though you will find joy untold in this recipe – so please do scroll until I’ve finished blathering to see it.

ONLY TWO WEEKS TO GO! That’s right, a fortnight until our hot pink satisfier is in your hands! If you’re looking for something delicious then our book will satisfy every urge. Anyway, if you have pre-ordered it, don’t you forget for a hot second that you can enter a competition to win things. Just show your pre-order and be in with a chance. If you have pre-ordered click here to enter. If you haven’t pre-ordered, well, bairn’s crying thanks. Luckily you can put that right by pre-ordering now!

OK, if you’re still with me, let’s go!

As you know, I adore writing the travel stories and lord knows it’s been a long time since we have been able to do it. Paul and I travelled to Canada for a month back in 2018 and have ached to go back ever since: it truly is my most favourite place on the Earth. Well, that and the hand car-wash place up in Blyth, but I confess that’s more for the rough-hewn men blundering about with their slick, soapy fingers. It’s hard to drive upside down and with my cheeks poking out the driver-side window but somehow I manage. Canada though: it truly is a country of inexhaustible beauty and surprises and we saw it in the most perfect way, travelling eastwards from Vancouver across the country via trains, planes and automobiles before we ended up in Toronto. Every stop was a delight, every road a wonder. Plus, to tie this to a weight loss blog, there’s parts of Canada where the gravity isn’t as strong as other places on the Earth so those bathroom scales will always be a touch kinder to you. Great for your confidence.

Now because we both ache for times past Paul and I talk of this holiday often, whether it was the time Paul threw his leftover beef stew into the forest behind our campervan in the middle of bear season, the time we decided the best way to combat my fear of turbulent water was to wear a bin-liner and go crashing about the Lachine Rapids of Montreal in a boat held together with duct tape, or perhaps the zip-lining across dizzyingly deep canyons where to this day the sound of ‘aaaaah Paul you absolute cunnnnnnnnn….‘ echoes around the stones. Yet for all the exciting parts, my favourite Canadian memory of all was the night we sat outside our van on the edge of Cowichan Lake, talking and drinking beer with the skies above us awash with stars.

Well, stars and later, smoke, given a good chunk of Vancouver Island had decided to set itself on fire the moment we got off the ferry. I chose not to take that personally.

However, that holiday did end on an unexpected note. We met a bloke for ‘dinner and drinks’ in Calgary who was so taken with my conversational skills (I presume that’s what he meant by great oral) that he flew to Toronto to meet us for the final three days of the holiday. This was fine – we did indeed have an enjoyable time and it was lovely for someone new to have to make pained faces whilst Paul and I shouted at each other – but it did mean we didn’t get to do Toronto the way Paul and I like to approach a new city, that is, walk about and explore and see what happens. I remember standing in a branch of Zara whilst our new friend fussed and minced about trying on coats and feeling unhappy about the holiday ending like it did. To cheer myself up I resolved there and then that Paul and I would return to Toronto ourselves and see what all the fuss was aboot. Then I bought myself a new coat.

Of course, once you’re home and you’ve washed the maple syrup off your knees, such rash promises tend to get forgotten, like when you say you’ll keep in touch with folks you’ve met on holiday and then realise you’d sooner boil your face in a chip pan than listen to their stories without the anaesthetic effect of free hotel liquor. Then something terribly exciting happened: we won a competition. You must understand that this is a miracle in itself: we’ve already won two lotteries between us – me with my looks and Paul with his husband, so we shouldn’t really have expected more. But no, the god of travel and adventure was smiling on us and we won a paid-for trip to a ‘corner of the Earth’ with srprs.me. Incidentally, the god of travel was Hermes, same as the prior name of the parcel company: the absolute irony of naming yourself after the god of travel when the concept of walking down a garden path and knocking on a door is so dizzyingly bewildering to (some of the) couriers never did register with them, did it? That was February 2020 and we were ever so excited to go away.

But of course, no such luck: the world caught COVID and our house caught fire in quick succession and the plans were shelved. We didn’t anticipate srprs.me honouring the competition because lord knows the travel industry has been on its arse for the last two years and quite honestly, had they said it wasn’t going to happen, we would have absolutely understood. But no – they kept in touch, moving the holiday three or four times to accommodate lockdowns and travel restrictions until eventually we settled on a trip at the end of March 2022.

Now, I ought to quickly explain srprs.me to people who are new to the blog or haven’t seen the helpful videos we have done on the process so far. Essentially, they book a surprise holiday for you where you don’t know where you’ll end up – you select a duration and date, star-rating for your hotel, departure airport and any extras and once you’re happy with the price, the agents will take care of the rest. You do not know where you are going until you turn up at the airport and reveal your destination. You can rule out a few cities or, in our case, make a couple of requests – we never want to travel somewhere that isn’t welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks, for example. Plus we wanted somewhere cold if possible, because heat brings out our fussiness. The agents will make sure you have any visa requirements in place and, especially at the moment, they will notify you of what you need in terms of COVID protection too. A week or so before you depart you will be given the forecast for your destination so you can pack accordingly and that, dear readers, is all you will get. We’ve used them a few times before and ended up in Hamburg, Kraków, Bordeaux and Malaga – all in good hotels in the city centre. That, coupled with terrific customer service and the novelty of surprise, make for an excellent adventure.

I should say at this point: we aren’t getting paid to promote srprs.me – just personal experience.

So it was then, after three weeks of putting ourselves in a strict lockdown because frankly if either of us had caught COVID before our holiday I’d have set the world on fire, our holiday was nearly upon us. Two days before departure we were given the chance to hand over £200 between us for the opportunity of doing a COVID test of which we had boxes of at home but this was different because it was Official and Government-approved and definitely not a money making racket, oh heavens no. Don’t get me wrong, the person doing the test was ever so polite, but if I’m paying someone £200 to shove stuff up my nose I expect at least a handie after. Anyway, pipe down James, now isn’t the time to get into that. COVID test clear, and devastation abound that they never called for coffee, we were all set. We dropped my car in the long-stay parking at Newcastle, making sure to note the fact we were parked a couple of miles south of Carlisle, and made to check-in. We would find out our final destination the next day at Heathrow which necessitated a quick flight down the day before, given the only surprise occurring if srprs.me had flown from Newcastle would have been the plane dropping us back off at our house.

Every picture we take together now I look like Paul’s Dad – here I am dropping him off for footie practice with *checks notes* Almirante Brown

Newcastle Airport is a funny place: it always feels spectacularly empty and desolate yet still manages to have queues for the obvious things: security checks, buying a pint in the airport bar, the stottie and string vest exchange. Today was no different save for the fact the British Airways self-check-in kiosks weren’t working and they had drafted a check-in agent to manage the one open desk. Let it be said he was a delight to deal with but he seemed utterly mystified by each person approaching his desk, as though he had only sat down to tie his shoelaces and had somehow been roped into doing a shift. As a result each encounter took approximately four years and the queue didn’t so much stand still as quietly rot. At one point we all joined together to sing someone Happy Birthday and were gearing up to help deliver a queue-baby when we were called forward.

I’ll say this: nothing makes you look more suspicious and curious than answering the ‘where are you flying to’ question with ‘oh I don’t know, we’re going to get a text at the airport with further instructions tomorrow’. That’s probably why I was patted down so thoroughly in security – it can’t just be my devastating good looks, after all.

I do always enjoy the flight to London with British Airways though – it’s a very short flight with barely enough time to gaze out of the window and wonder how they’ve got the nerve to serve what is effectively a fun-size packet of crisps. They took away the free food a couple of years ago to much consternation, then reinstated it recently in tiny miniature form in the interests of improving service. It is a welcome touch, it really is, but I’ve never had crisps served to me in instalments. Paul, a man so wee he described his height as ‘throwable’ on the shag profile that lured me into him, must have felt like a giant. I ate his crisps too, naturally, for we simply can’t have him being spoiled. Cabin crew with British Airways are always utter treasures though, although I do sometimes wonder about the chap we managed to offend on our previous Vancouver flight by asking for his advice on the gay scene. Call it an inkling but the exceptionally dramatic flounce and hurried mince-off suggested we weren’t entirely on the wrong track with our suspicions he would be the right person to ask such an innocent enough question of.

We barely had enough time to take four layers of skin off our lips from the coffee they served (don’t worry, I didn’t waste it – I popped it into the seat pocket in front to give it a chance to cool down enough for my flight back the week after) before we had landed at Heathrow and collected our suitcases, pausing momentarily to argue about whether to get a taxi to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Terminal 2. The argument was short as Paul had spotted a bus service to Terminal 2 which would ‘doubtless’ drop us off near to the hotel and I just needed to ‘trust him’ because he ‘knew what he was doing’ and I was being a fusspot for wanting to get a taxi.

It won’t surprise you at all to learn that this didn’t happen. After a wonderfully exhilarating tour of various cargo warehouses, back roads and catering depots – and you must understand I did welcome the chance to check my car was alright –  Paul gamely leapt to his feet at Terminal 2 and alighted the bus, with me making very loud noises of disapproval behind him. I’d spotted our hotel on the drive and it was very clear that we were getting off far too early. Terminal 2 was closed. Our hotel was a good fifteen minute walk along roads and through car-parks and for one arresting moment, across the main bus lanes, and please do imagine how good-spirited and jolly our conversation was as we made our way there.

Paul, to his credit, does usually have a decent sense of navigation and if he makes a mistake, will hold his hands up and admit to it, but not this time: he had pressed his lips so thin it was like someone had drawn his mouth on with a Sharpie and there was no chance of contrition. Once we had checked in to our hotel (making the lady on the desk feel awkward when I requested a good divorce lawyer in response to her breezy ‘can I get you anything else’) we were heading to the lifts when we saw our original bus swoosh past reception. I made to helpfully point this out to Paul but he seemed especially keen to read the lift maintenance record and wouldn’t meet my gaze.

The dinner that saved a marriage

A Ploughman’s lunch in the hotel bar melted the frost between us and we slept very well indeed, this time getting a taxi back to the airport in the morning lest our marriage shattered under the strain of more mishap. After standing outside vaping so much that they had to take two runways out of service, it was time to reveal our destination. On previous trips srprs.me have sent a scratchcard with a code hidden underneath – once the time to unlock your holiday came up, you’d reveal the code, input it into the website and your destination would reveal itself. They’re fancier now: you have to draw an outline of a top hat to unlock it on the app. I let Paul, my very own top-hat, do this, but his forever-slick-with-butter fingers couldn’t do it. We tried every way we could think of before it popped and revealed Toronto as our destination.

We were delighted! We had an inkling we were going to Canada based on the weather reports and our requirements for it to be a gay-friendly place, but even so – very exciting! Unfortunately the ‘surprise selfie’ that the app takes when it reveals the destination is not one for the photo book – I had a giant coffee covering my face and Paul is pulling an expression that if you walked into a room and saw him sat in a chair with this face on, you’d send for an ambulance. Every part of his face looked like it was arguing with its equivalent point on the back of his head. We hastily completed our ‘So You’re Coming to Canada, Ay’ visa requirements (dead easy) and went to check in at the Air Canada desks.

The face of someone who just LOVES not having any control

Catastrophe: the self check-in kiosks weren’t working, and I don’t know if you can remember what the queues were like at Heathrow a few weeks ago, but it made the Newcastle check-in queue look like a line for people wanting to be punched in the bollocks by a disagreeable rhino. If we had all spontaneously started doing the conga we’d have been a shoo-in for the Guinness World Records. We were alright – we had nothing but time – but watching people get increasingly fraught and rude with the airport staff who were doing their best made for a stressful experience.

One braying, hooting family in particular kept loudly announcing that they had a very important skiiing holiday (holidaaaaah) to attend and simply must make their flight, as though everyone else in the queue had just joined it on the off-chance of getting a rosette at the end for good behaviour. When passengers from our flight were called to jump the queue we were given the chance to walk past them and you best believe I took the opportunity to look at them with a ‘I just can’t believe how lucky we are‘ smile. I know it doesn’t do to wear your spitefulness on your sleeve but I do hope a bottle of talcum powder had burst open in her rucksack when they went through security.

Security itself was fast and efficient and thanks to the previous queue at check-in, we didn’t need to wait about to board. The last time we had flown from Heathrow we were off to Tokyo and I had somehow managed to ignore the amount of time it would take to get from the fancy airport lounges to the departure gate, meaning we had to do a full Home Alone-esque sprint through the airport to catch our flight. It’s the little mishaps like that of my own that remind me that I mustn’t be too harsh on Paul. We were flying (as a strict one-off and only because we had so many Avios points) in first class that day anyway so they would have held the plane I’m sure, and if not, the pilot would have nipped back to pick us up. No such luck with our Air Canada flight though: we were sat in economy, in the middle of a row of four. I did have a slight panic as I get claustrophobic if I’m penned in, but luckily we had an absolute DILF on either side so that made climbing over them that much easier. He did touch Paul’s hand at one point and apologised for being married once Paul had ‘gone for some peanuts’ for the eighth time.

The flight was uneventful but very comfortable – about seven hours which by the time you’ve had your dinner, watched a couple of movies and had a doze, passes in no time. I did miss having a window to gaze out of – I love looking down at the world below and imagining all of those people looking up and wondering where we are going. Plus I wanted to check my car was still where I had left it as we flew over Greenland, but no such luck.

The highlight for me on any long-haul flight is the food: there’s something about being served two trays of food (as Paul doesn’t like to eat on an aeroplane as he can get a bit poorly) that utterly delights me. I like never knowing whether to start my meal with a breadbun you could buff scratches out on a car with or a tiny bottle of warm water. Do you leave the salad right at the start or keep it to one side to leave it later? The hot meal was pasta for Paul and a chicken dish for me but once you peeled back the foil and poked inside with a fork, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a difference. I’ve never known food exist in such duality – it was both overcooked and undercooked at the same time. But listen: this sounds like I’m bellyaching, and I’m not: I bloody LOVE aeroplane food and ate the lot. Paul’s lack of appetite didn’t extend to leaving me his chocolate orange ganache however and you best believe his Sharpie-mouth was back when I suggested such a rich treat would be ill-advised for his delicate tummy. Nevermind. They did come round a few hours later to give us a vegetable pasty that they’d been storing on top of the landing gear but even that was delicious, once I’d gummed it like a rusk.

Chicken? Pasta? Beef or cow?

We did have an exciting landing though! It had been snowing a little and very windy at Toronto Airport and we were advised the approach might be a little bumpy. As it happens, it wasn’t, but the pilot didn’t so much land the plane as throw it on the runway and hope for the best. We bounced, skidded and came to a stop with more than one scream, very much like our annual ‘I suppose we had better, if only to run the pipes through’ tender lovemaking we reserve for our anniversary. Of course, as someone who has watched at least four episodes of Air Crash Investigation per week whilst not doing the ironing, I knew this was perfectly routine when there is a risk of slipping on the runway – they land ‘hard’ to make sure contact is made. I explained all of this to the lovely chap sitting next to me as I lifted my teary face from the nape of his neck. Paul’s thin lips were back.

Readers, we were in Canada! And what better place to leave this first entry. I do promise to come back and finish this one because – as you can probably tell by the 3,400 essay about our Canada trip where we have only been in Canada for one sentence of it – I adore writing these. If anything, it’s just nice to have a written account we can look back in a couple of years from our respective homes on opposite sides of the world and reminisce. I’ll be back.


Hiya – y’alright? Got everything you need? If you jumped straight to this bit then well, here’s your recipe and I hope you choke on your cruelty. I jest I jest, do buy our books.

cheese and ham boaties

Here we find the cheese and ham boaties all stacked up – lovely

cheese and ham boaties

We serve our cheese and ham boaties with beans and a bad attitude

cheese and ham boaties

Put chilli sauce or pickle in your cheese and ham boaties for a taste ADVENTURE

cheese and ham boaties

Yeah that’s the cheese and ham boaties money shot right there!

cheese and ham boaties (490 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 8 boaties

'ere! I were talkin' and I were talkin' FURST! 

I can't tell you how easy these are to make - well I can, it would be a gash blog entry if I couldn't, but if you're looking for something cheap and easy to make then these are the badgers. Customise them to your heart's content - we used shredded ham hock because we had some leftover from a previous recipe. Add extra veg into the mash. Triple the amount of cheese. Hoover the roof! We don't care or mind.

OH! Mustard added is a treat too.

Anyway enough pre-amble: the calories here are for two 'boaties' and as ever, approximate. Your mileage may vary. See the tips bit.

Ingredients

  • one packet of the soft stand and stuff El Paso boat thingies you can get some the supermarket, you get eight in one pack and they're smaller than you think
  • three large potatoes or a good quantity of leftover mash
  • one egg
  • two large onions, diced fine
  • one teaspoon of garlic puree
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g shredded ham hock or chopped ham chopped finely, hence the chopped, see
  • 125g of extra mature cheese

Instructions

  • make the mash up - either reheating leftovers or chopping your tatties and mashing when soft, making sure to add an egg yolk into the mash with plenty of salt and pepper
  • fry off your diced onion in a little oil until softened and golden, adding the garlic a minute or two before the end
  • mash everything together - cheese, ham, potato and onions, until well-mixed, but keep some cheese aside to throw on the top
    • or do as we do, and just add more cheese - all the cheese, all of it 
  • pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees
  • in an oiled baking tray, stack your taco shells and then carefully spoon the mixture inside
  • top with the remaining cheese and drizzle with hot sauce if you like
  • cook in the oven until the cheese is crunchy on the top

Serve with beans or a salad. Or eat six at once and blame the dog for getting up on the worktop when Paul goes to get an extra one.

Notes

Recipe

  • these are perfect for freezing - once they have cooled, take them off the baking sheet, wrap them in foil and pop them in the freezer - they'll need a good thirty minutes in the oven when you go to reheat, or let them defrost overnight and cook for a few minutes or in the microwave
  • they're also delicious cold

Books

  • twochubbycubs: Dinner Time is our new book and it's out in two weeks and we can not wait for you to see it - it is honestly our funniest, more delicious book yet - you can pre-order here!
  • twochubbycubs: Fast & Filling is awash with over 100 tasty, speedy meals for all occasions, all under 500 calories and so bright it'll make your eyes boil: order yours here! 
  • twochubbycubs: the cookbook is our first book and there's no first child syndrome here - it's the perfect book to start you off: click here to order
  • we also have a gorgeous planner to assist with your weight loss: here

Tools

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as it is Goombella's birthday this week and whilst I was content getting him a new chew toy, Paul has decreed he needs to take dog-friendly cakes into work. Called Wuffins. As someone who loves saving money, I'm cross. As someone who loves a pun, I am delighted!

Courses evening meals

Cuisine as I said, evening meals

Well, I think that’s where we can leave this. If you’re after more recipes, please do take a look through our recipe index. It’s achingly out of date but there really is a treasure trove on there!

Know that they’ll be loved.

Jx

recipe reacharound: cheesy meaty fingers (600 calories)

Sometimes I look back over the blog recipes of old and wonder what on Earth we were thinking. This was definitely one of those instances but in the spirit of making sure we hadn’t gone fully doolally-tap back in 2016, we decided to revisit these cheesy meaty fingers. Partly for the name, partly for the fact they’re essentially squished burgers topped with cheese and if that doesn’t give you a dewpoint in your knickers, whatever will?

Imagine a future where a flash of pink doesn’t mean you’ll be eating out (cough) but instead, staying in to try a delicious recipe from our wonderfully rainbow new cookbook DINNER TIME. It’s a wonderful thought no? We’ve talked about the new recipes, the funny intros, but one of the things we’re most excited by is how utterly gorgeous the new book is. So many cookbooks out there are as dull as dishwater to look at but ours is a technicolour explosion and an utter treat for your eyes. You’d be a fool not to bring the sunshine home! Luckily you can put that right by pre-ordering now!

Now, before we get to the recipe, my apologies: there’s the final part of our London trip to get through. No I know, but I am determined to finish a bloody holiday trip on here! If you’re hankering for the food just swoosh straight down to the photos. You can find part one here and part two right here.

Rather than write out a big wall of flowing narrative about what else we did in London, I’m going to write out some random bits and bobs because that’s the fresh, forward thinking style you have come to expect from a blog that probably still has Realplayer adverts sitting on the server. Plus it’s been nine years since we were in London and I have only my scribbled notes on my phone to work from. Don’t like it? TOUGH TITTY. (Spoiler edit: I totally didn’t end up doing this, but I’ve left it in to show you my optimism)

We did a fabulous escape room in Shepherds Bush – an officially licensed Sherlock themed room starring the actors themselves. Well videos of them, Benedict Pumpmysnatch wasn’t taking a break from filming Doctor Strange to show me where the fire exits were. It was possibly one of the best rooms we have done to date, even if we did get off to a bumpy start by being paired up momentarily with a very argumentative couple who insisted on sniping at one another through the introduction. I’m not sure if they thought they had come along to a Relate session – my perfect marriage to Paul must have shot jealousy straight into their souls – but after the story had been discussed (you’ve got 60 minutes to…evil Moriarty this…don’t CLIMB ON THE WALLS ROFLMAO…if there’s a fire WE WON’T JUST LEAVE YOU TO BURN OMG LOLZ) we were sent into separate rooms. The puzzles were complex and well done, culminating in a room where you had four puzzles requiring some physical dexterity. Somehow we avoided the urge to push the fire alarm button and let ourselves out, persevered and – hooray – completed the room.

We left the room to have a look around the gift shop – I’m always glad of a chance to purse my lips and say ‘I think the fuck not’  – when the rowing couple also emerged into the gift shop, still bickering, and were told they hadn’t managed to complete the room. Naturally Paul and I took all of four zeptoseconds to announce we had completed the room with a couple of minutes left over with the smuggest grins you can imagine. The girlfriend of the couple came back with the most curious of responses though – she pointed at her partner and told us, thin-lipped and accusatorially, that he ‘had diabetes’. What do you say to that? I just nodded sagely in a manner I hoped conveyed both understanding to her and a ‘get away from her, as far as you can, and if you can’t then don’t buy a rabbit’ to him. Anyway, the room was mint, and I encourage you to give it a go – your ability or otherwise to produce insulin really doesn’t have a bearing on it. You can find more details here.

We spent an hour walking around the Tate Modern, as ever waiting for inspiration to strike, and left the same uncultured swines that we always are. I’ve put many words into explaining the desire of both Paul and I to finally have an epiphany in an art gallery and for us to both finally ‘get’ art, but the only thing we got from our visit was sore cankles and a telling off from someone with a clipboard and a failing art degree (I guarantee it) because we stood in the wrong spot on the unmarked floor. There was a faintly interesting exhibition of an open room with some white powder nicely arranged on the floor (they must have had one hell of a giant credit card just behind the curtain) but once we realised that we could replicate this at home by not hoovering up after Paul has been ped-egging his feet, we left. Thing is, we probably would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t have been rammed with the type of insufferable arse and their utterly awful children all running around screaming and getting in the way.  Now that I am now officially middle-aged I am all for parents being told to leave their children in a locker when they enter such places but even then, those big halls would still echo with the strangulated vowels and upward inflections and pseudo-intellectualism bollocks that doesn’t so much set my teeth on edge as set them on fire inside my own angry mouth and demand I bite the flames out with malice. Ever since I twatted myself off the side of an installation by Yoko Ono I’ve been immoderately angry about art galleries and this looks set to continue ever onwards.

We were lucky enough to have our publishers put us up in the Sea Containers hotel for two days over Valentines – this was very thoughtful as they must have realised we always like to argue somewhere ritzy on Valentines Day – and it really was something else. Paul and I aren’t fancy people – I’ve only just managed to persuade Paul to stop brushing his teeth with reeds from the garden – but it was a beautiful room and a wonderful treat. Our publishers had kindly indicated that we could claim expenses and we did take advantage of that by enjoying the minibar, ordering room service and tipping everything that wasn’t nailed down into a suitcase. Paul had to hold me back from nipping down to Screwfix for a set of wrenches to take the television off the wall. What can I say, I’m a terror. We did laugh the shrill laugh of the long-married at the ‘Lover’s Kit’ included in the room which consisted of flavoured lubes, condoms, a pair of fluffy handcuffs and my personal favourite, those dice with ‘actions’ on one die and bodily parts on the other. So you may roll ‘LICK’ and ‘ELBOW’ to make ‘lick elbow’ (I realise I picked the worst pairing of words there but I’ll be damned if I’m going back to change it) and sexy shenanigans would ensue. We were tempted to give it a go but as I say, we’ve been married fifteen years now and unless ‘THE IRONING’ came up after ‘DO’ or ‘SHOP ELSEWHERE FOR’ came before ‘PENIS’ we’d both be left disappointed. We consoled ourselves with a £6.50 packet of £1.50 Haribo and then went for dinner downstairs.

And what a dinner – possibly one of the best meals we have ever had, although Paul counts a burger he had on an aeroplane as the nicest meal he has ever had so I’m not sure we have an especially high benchmark. As we weren’t paying we took great pains to walk our way through the extensive cocktail menu which was a delight, though we couldn’t help but notice an uptick in service once the snotty waiter had realised that despite our George at Asda shoes we weren’t just going to order tap water and a bread basket. I had bone marrow for starters (and again later, well, it was Valentines) and Paul had some especially good fried chicken which made your arteries crinkle just looking at it. Of course, wat wiv it being ded posh like, you only got enough of a portion to mollify a churchmouse’s hunger pains, so we didn’t feel too stuffed with a heavy starter. I somewhat rashly ordered an oyster when Paul nipped off to the loo, knowing full well I don’t like them but keen for Paul to try. When it arrived he somewhat blithely reminded me that he went to Cambridge University and they had oysters all the time, presumably to keep up their strength for knocking homeless folks about. He refused to try it, citing the fact he had half of the spirits from the bar rolling in his stomach, so it was up to me to take one for the team. I remain resolute in my dislike: there is nothing redeemable about an oyster. The texture, the taste, the look: it’s like a sea captain hockled in my mouth during rough sex. I swallowed, dry-heaved politely into my elbow and spent the next five minutes chewing my way through some roasted padron peppers to take the shame away.

Nothing about that says eat me does it?

The rest of the meal was an utter triumph though: I had a length of pork loin that I’d have blanched at had it slid through a gloryhole and Paul had ribs that went on for days. Halfway through the main course the table next to us was filled by an especially embonpoint banker and his by-the-hour date. I’m not even being catty: we were treated to him asking what his money got him almost as soon as the waiter had brought the water. Happily she played the game very well and ordered the most expensive dish on the menu accompanied by some very costly wine. Speaking of a classy whine, Paul was complaining that he hadn’t left enough room for dessert. I reminded him that in all the time we have been together I’ve never known him not be a greedy pig – he remains the only person I know to ask for a side-dish along with his barium enema – and as soon as the waiter appeared Paul was ordering food without a care. The dessert was the shining star though: two cheesecakes formed into imitation Magnum ice-creams served with jelly rose petals and other exciting flimflam. It was that good that I took great pains to explain to Paul that he was simply too full to enjoy it properly but he was having none of my transparent attempt to steal it. He’s a poor sport. As it happens, halfway through eating his it melted and fell on the floor. You know in the Lion King when we all bubbled and sobbed when Mufasa went tombstoning off the hyena gorge? It was just like that. We asked for the bill, shrieked loudly, charged it to our room and went twirling into the night.

I think, from memory, we ended up back in the Kings Arms which was full of dating couples and all terribly sweet. Paul and I discuss this with (probably worrying) regularity – we’ve been together so long that the idea of being single and going out on dates terrifies us both. Paul is wrong to worry though: if I die, I expect him to dress in black for the rest of his life and become one of those crazy folks who spend their days shouting at the skies about the injustice of a life taken from them. If the unthinkable happens and Paul shuffles off first, we have agreed that I’ll try and keep my knickers on until at least the police officers who came over to break the sad news have left. The dating couples were a keen contrast to the night before which was karaoke night – you’ve never lived until you’ve seen a bloke the size of a transit van caterwaul his way through Think Twice by Celine Dion whilst a hundred other gays hold their lighters in the air until the barman shouts at them for almost setting off the sprinklers. To be fair there were so many open bottles of poppers on the go I’m surprised the whole thing didn’t end up like Backdraft.

We ordered breakfast the next day to take the edge off our hangovers. It was delicious, see?

It felt unusual to have a hotel breakfast where a battery of children, or an oversized man-child, hadn’t sneezed into the sausage tureen

The final thing to talk about with this trip to London is the fact we got to film some recipes ahead of the book launch, something which is always a delight because working with our publishers and the camera chap is great fun. However, it doesn’t half hammer home how difficult it is to actually ‘cook to camera’ – neither Paul or I have the coordination, grace or ability to not mutter ‘for fucks sake’ under our breath to master it. I’m fairly confident speaking to most people but stick a camera in front of me and I lose the ability to speak with any sort of coherence. Paul is worse, he freezes and worries about making a boob of himself, which he really shouldn’t because he always comes across so well. Even if it does look a little like I’m operating him like a glove-puppet. Which to be fair, I usually am. However, you will hopefully enjoy this little blooper reel of ours.

I will never tire, never, of the bit at 1:23 where Paul cracks up at my little boop noise in his ear.

And that, as they say, was that – our trip to London. We made our way back on the late train to Newcastle, thoroughly exhausted but having had a wonderful time. Naturally, because we were looking like we had been freshly dug up, not one but two people recognised us and wanted a photo. This is the weirdest feeling of them all, not going to lie, but we don’t mind in the slightest – if anything, I like to imagine someone showing their partner a photo of us and said partner asking what it was like to meet Hale & Pace. We arrived home safe, delighted to see Goomba had managed to figure out how to use a tin-opener and feed himself, and off to bed. All in all, a bloody fun weekend!


Now, shall we look at the cheesy meaty fingers? It’s so weird looking back and seeing recipes where we dithered about whether to use a bread roll that was 64g instead of the prerequisite 60g Slimming World used to allow. That said, if you are following SW, then you could still use a wee wholemeal breadbun, so no harm no foul.

I’m going to say it: these don’t photograph well! They look like the pure junk food that they are. But you know what? They’re delicious. The type of food you need sometimes to leave your chin greasy. Serve with chips on the side if you really want to trouble your cardio system.

Side note: the article that accompanied the old recipe was a walkthrough of my pyrophobia of old. I mention that growing up my biggest fear was the house burning down and that I used to have a little routine that my young self had to do before going to sleep to stop such a thing. Thankfully growing out of that tic had no real consequence. Still, we gotta be strong, and we need to be brave [high note intensifies]

cheesy meaty fingers

We recommend making sure the pepperoni is totally under the cheese if you don’t like it cremated. But I do, and these cheesy meaty fingers are mine, so swivel

cheesy meaty fingers

Add green chilli if you like your bum troubled with cheesy meaty fingers

cheesy meaty fingers

Add chilli sauce to your cheesy meaty fingers if you REALLY like your bum troubled

cheesy meaty fingers (600 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 8 cheesy fingers

Cheesy meaty fingers then. As always the calorie counts are approximate - you can lower them depending on what bread roll you use, how much cheese you put on vs how much you say you put on, whether or not you bother with the sauces...just a guide folks. This makes eight halves and the calorie count is for two, so one submarine roll.

Ingredients

  • 500g of extra lean beef mince
  • four submarine rolls - we used the bog standard Tesco white rolls, but you can drop the calories by using wholemeal or smaller buns if you want
  • 50g panko or other breadcrumbs
  • one egg, beaten
  • one medium onion, diced fine
  • one teaspoon each of thyme, garlic powder, pepper
  • half a teaspoon of salt
  • two tablespoons of tomato ketchup
  • one tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • green chilli sliced finely (or use jalapenos)
  • 50g of mixed grated cheese - we used spicy because we're scum
  • a few slices of pepperoni

Instructions

  • preheat the oven to 220 degrees 
  • slice the submarine buns along the horizontal and pop on a baking sheet with the cut side up
  • bake in the oven until lightly toasted and then remove, turning down the temperature to 190 degrees
  • mix together the beef, onion, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, garlic, beaten egg, salt and pepper and panko in a bowl until nicely combined
  • spread the beef across the top of the buns, making sure to cover all the edges so the buns don't burn
  • spread the tomato sauce on top with a little egg brusher
  • bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, making sure the beef is cooked through at the end by breaking a bit off and checking it isn't pink
  • remove from the oven, add the pepperoni, chilli, then top with cheese and grill until bubbling and lovely
  • drizzle with chilli sauce and serve

Notes

Recipe

  • as discussed, feel free to jettison the pepperoni, extra cheese or chillis to control the heat and calories of this dish. I mean we both know you won't but isn't it a pleasure to do the dance

Books

  • twochubbycubs: Dinner Time is coming out soon and will give you satisfaction every night, unlike whatever it is that you bought from lovehoney which you need to power with a car battery - you can pre-order here!
  • our second book, Fast and Filling, is full of recipes that are either quick to make or super filling - well actually, they're all both of them and then some: order yours here! 
  • our first cookbook might not have a sexy cover but there's so many classic recipes in there you'll be cooking for days: click here to order
  • if you're struggling with keeping on track, get yourself a planner - there's cartoons of us to colour in and everything: here

Tools

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as I must leave, I'll have to go, to Las Vegas or Monaco, and win a fortune in a game, my life will never be the same, unless you know, you buy a few whisks from our links and keep the pennies rolling in.

Courses fakeaways

Cuisine fingers

I know, we’re fabulous. Looking for something else to fill your gob? Try these! 510 calories for a sloppy mince. I mean haway! Click the picture to go to the recipe.

‘Cause when you’re half-way up, you’re always half-way down (sing it Celine!)

Jx

recipe: the best Irish stew we have ever made (390 calories)

Hello sorry yes we haven’t died and to celebrate we’re posting an Irish stew recipe that we cobbled together in our pressure cooker.

Of course the real peril with posting an Irish stew recipe is that we’ll invariably get messages telling us that Irish stew shouldn’t have this, that or the other in it – and listen, we love feedback, but please do not be that person. We’re calling it an Irish stew because it’s a stew and it has Guinness in it and frankly, that’s enough for us. You ought to be grateful that I didn’t open this blog entry with some crass joke about the last time an Irish Stu filled my hole and left gravy around my gob, but thankfully we aren’t that type of crass blog.

Oh hi! Normally I’d use this little pink paragraph to extol the wonders of our newest cookbook DINNER TIME, walking you through some of the dinners available, telling you how good the food is. Well, not today. All I’m saying is that if you haven’t pre-ordered it, we’re going to tell Goomba and he will sit in his crate looking all mournful and sad like he’s in an RSPCA advert. How could you do that to him? Those big baleful brown eyes scanning the horizon for the postman bringing new toys as celebration for our book sales, but he never arrives. That Sarah McLachlan song ‘…in the aaaaarms of an angel’ song swells in the background as his little granny-lips quiver. Honestly, you’re a monster for even allowing it. You can put right your absolute shadiness by ordering it here 

Of course, when I said we haven’t died at the top of the post, the grim reality is that of course, we actually nearly have. I mean yes there may be a touch of hypochondriac melodrama on that sentence but here is how the last couple of weeks have unfolded. We returned back from Canada in a pressurised cylinder of 400 people’s farts, coughs and sneezes into a Heathrow airport so rammed and so busy that I physically cheated on my husband seven times just trying to squeeze past people in the queue for Pret a Manger. We then spent the flight back to Newcastle being lightly coated in a miasma of spittle and snot made worse by two sneezing children whose parents were taking a ‘hands off’ approach to parenting, leaving them free to clamber about the seats and coughing in people’s faces. See if that had been my mother I’d have been put in the overhead lockers, albeit not for any sort of punishment but because she’d have wanted to keep her precious cargo of 800 duty-free Lambert & Butler buckled in next to her in case of emergency.

Either way, I got properly ill. Not COVID, I tested, but just the sort of ill which demands you lie in bed wailing and scratching at your throat and falling asleep during Four in a Bed and waking up delirious in the middle of Question Time and wondering why the fuck Priti Patel is reviewing someone’s breakfast. Can you imagine Priti Patel running a B&B? She’d seal you in a windowless room, weld the door shut and spend the evening pushing fancy chocolates into her smirking gob whilst you scrabbled for oxygen. She’s John Kramer in a Karen Millen pencil dress.

Anyway, a few days later Paul started attention-seeking coughing and revealed that he had one-upped me (well holidays do always bring us closer) and had caught COVID. This meant pushing him into our bedroom, bringing the TV in so he had something to occupy himself with and me bringing him all manners of snack trays. However, a few days later, I caught it too, we reunited in the hallway as though we were Desmond and Penny from Lost – and that’s where we are now. Me in the middle of coughing and spluttering and feeling lousy – in particular is the fuzzy-headed brain thing I’ve got going on – Paul emerging from the other end of his COVID like Andy Dufresne popping out of the sewer pipe in The Shawshank Redemption. Luckily the pipe was just full of Covonia and not faeces.

So the good news: as someone who had convinced himself he would die the second he got COVID, I don’t feel half as bad as I thought. It’s been more knackering having to keep on top of my health anxiety and reassure myself that my tonsils aren’t about to go septic or my sinuses aren’t going to jam up like someone squirted expanding foam up there or that my cough isn’t one hack away from needing to be put on an iron lung. COVID, so far, feels like a bad cold – and make me thankful indeed for two things: I gave up smoking seven weeks ago and I had my vaccines and booster. Now some people – usually those with a degree from the University of Life (i.e. as dense as a Boxing Day dump) on their profiles – may leap to say that the vaccines and boosters do not work given both Paul and I caught COVID in the end. It ought to go without saying that this is bollocks: the vaccine lowers the chances of serious complications and touch wood, that’s very true. The first time Paul had COVID was dreadful – partly because I couldn’t see him, partly because he was a perfect sphere – whereas this time around he’s just been a sniffly-snotty mess. That’s as good a reason as you should need if you’re still sitting on the fence a year later. Think of your poor bum!

So, assuming this COVID doesn’t turn into something terrible, we are at least back in the country and cooking again, with all the blog entries that entails. Which is nice. To that end, shall we cut to the chase and sort out this best ever Irish stew? But of course.

Irish stew

How about that bowl of Irish stew to put hair on your gebs?

Irish stew

Lovely lovely Irish stew ingredients!

Irish stew

Chuck all the ingredients in for this Irish stew and you’re laughing

best ever lamb Irish stew

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

Now we've used an Instant Pot for this because we're fancy and it saves farting about with the hob, but this will do just fine cooked in a heavy-duty iron pot for a few hours. We've portioned it up as four large servings at around 390 calories a time - we usually just have ours in a bowl but feel free to serve it with whatever.

As ever, calories are approximate and do rather depend on your mix of vegetables and what have you.

Finally, see the note on lamb!

Ingredients

  • 400g lamb - we used chopped lamb neck which you can get from most butchers - it's a dirt cheap bit of meat too so won't break the bank
  • two large onions
  • one teaspoon of minced garlic
  • one teaspoon of tomato puree
  • about 400g of chopped carrot
  • 300g of chopped celery
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 400g new potatoes, halved
  • 330ml bottle of Guinness
  • 400ml of beef stock
  • pinch of dried chives, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper

Instructions

  • slice the onions into fine half-moon slices and then:
    • if using an Instant Pot, select saute and fry them gently until golden, adding the garlic and thyme a minute or two before everything is done
    • if on the hob, well, same as above, but on the hob
  • tip all of the other ingredients into the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook on low for about 30 minutes, making sure the valve is set to seal - once done, allow to vent pressure and serve
  • if making it on the hob, put everything into the pan and allow to bubble away on a medium heat for at least a couple of hours until everything has thickened
  • serve with whatever you like

Notes

Recipe

  • lamb neck is cheap and tasty, but if you're not a fan, swap out for diced beef
  • if Guinness isn't up your street, just use more beef stock
  • the recipe freezes very well indeed

Books

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because my head is full of cotton wool and leaking out of my ears

Courses stew

Cuisine lamb

 

A hyena’s belly is never full.

J

recipe: super simple beef and broccoli (300 calories)

Come for the beef and broccoli, stay for the stories. And there’s a sock to wipe up the first bit of that sentence, you filthy cow. Fans of my rotation will note that this should be a retrorecipe post but the thing is, my Fanny has been shut away for a few days and I haven’t had time to slap it out and give it an airing. The retro recipes will be back, we promise, as they’re as much fun to write as they are to cook, but for now, just a recipe reacharound to tide you over.

As of today, our new cookbook DINNER TIME is at the printers getting turned into hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s a super exciting point of the process for us – we can’t change what has gone in: the i’s are dotted, the t’s are delicious. Now begins the two months or so where we spend it fretting that you’ll all hate it and send us angry letters or we’ve made some massive faux-pas that’ll set our windows put through and Paul crying on a ten minute long apology video. But fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. Of course, to alleviate our imposter syndrome, feel free to buy the book and make us feel more secure about putting down a deposit on a holiday. You can order it here 

 The good news is my arm is better and I can go back to typing one handed purely in incognito mode as opposed to having to wince my way through doing blog entries. I’m sure I used to laugh off such aches and pains (after spending four hours googling symptoms and demanding an MRI) but I’m taking it as yet another sign of my advancing years. Actually, on that googling thing, I broke my own health-anxiety rule and was busy googling whether or not my arm was anything to worry about when it suggested blood poisoning as a result of muscle tearing and had to stop.

Speaking of advancing years though, it’s my birthday next week and quite frankly I thoroughly intend to mark it because for the last two years, I’ve ‘cancelled’ it – we were in lockdown in 2020 and in that awful semi-lockdown in 2021 so it didn’t feel worth celebrating but I’m 37 and let’s be honest, pretty unlikely to stumble my way anywhere near to living past 74. So I’m treating this as my mid-life point and I won’t be told otherwise. Historically I’ve always been a bit down in the mouth about my birthday, seeing it as a personal affront when the numbers on the left side of my age tick higher than the right, but I’ve been listening to a podcast by Derren Brown of all people which touches on how we mustn’t be fazed by the passage of time nor the advancement of age because there will come a time when you’d give anything to be right back here in this moment with the people and health and tchotchkes you have around you right now. Unusually for me, that actually sunk in, presumably because I was concentrating hard listening to him in the vain hope he was trying to put me under and lead me to some evil bidding.

He also promotes the concept of philocaly – finding beauty in the small things you tend to overlook – and I happen to think that’s a charming way to live. For my part, I’ve stopped swearing and throwing my arms around like I’m conducting an orchestra when I’m stuck behind some old dear doing 25mph on a 60mph road – they might be a nervous driver, they may have things on their mind – plus they’ll be dead soon enough. It’s really quite easy when you tune in to your feelings.

Anyway: just a short blog entry today because I want to take Goo out now that it’s getting light at night. It’s just so much easier chasing after his poo-walking with a bag thin enough to see through when the sun is shining. This recipe was originally on the blog from 2015 and comes with a very sweet, very innocent trip report from our last visit to Berlin. Heavens.

beef and broccoli

but in the end he needs a little more than me, beeeeeeeeeeef and broccoliiiiiiiiiiii

Is it even a plate of beef and broccoli if you don’t over-saturate the picture so it looks as though you’re serving it up on a nuclear moon and spill gravy all over the place?

recipe reacharound: beef and broccoli (300 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

This little fakeaway dish might not exactly scream excitement and flavour, but listen here slick - it's one that we keep coming back to when we can't be arsed with anything flash. So check your attitude at the door and crack on.

Calories (300 of them), as ever, are approximate. Don't be tempted to skip on the cornflour, it's needed for the sauce to thicken, and if you have a dodgy ticker or high blood pressure, and yes Susan, I do mean you, perhaps switch to low-sodium soy sauce. Because the thing is, well, close up, he was almost purple.

Ingredients

  • 500g of diced beef - now we just buy the ready diced stuff from the supermarket, but feel free to get steak and chop it up, you heartless monster
  • 75ml of light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp of cornflour
  • one large onion, diced finely
  • two tsps of garlic paste 
  • same again of ginger paste
    • look, we know you can use fresh, and that's fine if you prefer, but this is a lazy dinner
  • 250g of broccoli, chopped into tiny little trees
  • pinch of chilli flakes if you like your arse all-a-tingle
  • 250ml of good beef stock

Instructions

  • over a high heat and with a little bit of oil, fry off the beef for a minute or so with two tablespoons of soy sauce until browned on all sides, then set aside
  • in the same pan, add a little more oil if needed and saute, on a medium heat, the onion until golden, adding the ginger and garlic towards the end
  • add the broccoli and chilli flakes and keep frying off for a minute or two more
  • mix together the cornflour, beef stock and remainder of the soy sauce, making sure there's no lumps or so help me god
  • add the beef and the liquid above into the pan and bubble away on a high heat until cooked and thickened and what have you
  • serve with rice

Notes

Recipe

  • we prefer our broccoli with a bit of crunch but if you're of the generation that believes a vegetable ready for tea should be set away boiling seven months before because you'd take rickets over vitamins, then parboil the broccoli before hand
  • but seriously, get out of that habit, enjoy some flavour
  • add peppers into this to bulk it out - chopped into fat strips and thrown in with the onion
  • buy your broccoli pre-chopped by all means, but it's easier to just cut your own. Well no easier no, but certainly less bougie

Books

  • 100 dinner time favourites for your perusal in our newest cookbook DINNER TIME, launching in May - you can pre-order here!
  • perhaps you prefer things fast and filling - well there's over 100 speedy recipes in cookbook two: order yours here! 
  • let's go back to where it all began - cookbook one: click here to order
  • you want somewhere to track your successes - try our diet planner: here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because Paul seemingly needs a new set of clothes every time he leaves a room and he's costing us a tonne in fabric conditioner

Courses fakeaways

Cuisine fakeaways

Now listen: Paul and I are taking a short break – only a couple of weeks, and then we’ll be back with more content. Until then, look after the place, feed the cats, blast the skidders off the netty. Back April 5.

Every time I shut my eyes, it’s always the same.

Jx

recipe reacharound: sloppier cubs (510 calories)

If you think I’ve called this recipe sloppier cubs simply because between that and the word reacharound anyone googling it is going to get a filthy surprise, well, you’d be gosh-damn right, Susan. But this little trip down into the recipe archives is a hot take on our bacon cheeseburger sloppy cubs recipe from 2017 and frankly, it’s one that we ought to have revisited a lot sooner BECAUSE THEY ARE BLOODY AMAZING. Seriously, if you like sloppy mince between your buns – and once you’ve finished sending me your number / nudes – you need to try this. But first…

What do you call your evening meal? Whether you’re an ASDA sort who calls it tea, a Marks and Spencer sort who calls it dinner, a Waitrose type who calls it supper or a Juice Newton who calls it Angel in the Morning, it hardly matters. We’ve got 100+ evening meal ideas in our new book which is bursting with colours and flavours and you just need it. You do! You really do. You can order it here 

Oh I know, I’m never off!

I do want you to know – and I am not trying to guilt trip you, mind – that I am writing this blog in an unusual amount of pain, even for a hypochondriac like me. In a misguided effort to lose some weight before we go on holiday, I’ve been attending our local Elite classes again. For those that div-not-knaa, they’re high intensity fitness workouts where you get thrown about and shouted at for forty-five minutes three times a week. I’m making them sound awful when in reality, I bloody love doing them when I can actually motivate myself to get out of the car (currently at a 50/50 split on that success). Anyway, one of the recent classes involved a fitness test where you pair up with someone else and do as many reps of various exercises as you can in a minute. Paul is actually attending a different class so there’s no slacking off for me, which I feel is a sign of our crumbling marriage.

The problem is, I’m a dangerously competitive person in situations like this and as a result, as soon as I have to get as many things done in a minute, I have to really, really push myself, way past what I should ordinarily do. That’s fine if it is eating skittles or satisfying Lederväters in a dark room, but not when it comes to mountain-climbers and bicep curls. I ought to clarify, given my reputation, mountain-climbers is that exercise where you get on all fours and bring your legs up your chin, like you are running on all fours. That’s all well and good if you’re skinny and lithe but I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve kicked my own tits into my teeth. Plus I’m always a bit self-conscious doing that pose whilst someone behind me shouts ‘HURRY UP’ and ‘PUSH YOURSELF’ and ‘FEEL THE BURN’ because it takes all I can do not to shout ‘YES, DADDY, YEEEEES‘ back at them. 

It was those exercises which have done me in though: I actually felt something twang in my right elbow at the end and since then, it hurts like absolute buggery to straighten my arm. Typing hurts. Ironing is a knacker. I may as well forget about my fantasy of being picked up by a rough lorry driver whilst out hitch-hiking. I’ve had to look at Paul with a pained face more than once and explain that I couldn’t possibly do the hoovering because I’m clearly dying. See also: taking the dog for a walk, cleaning the glass in the shower, marital relations.

I’ve taken to walking around with my hand wedged into my coat pocket as a makeshift sling because it hurts to let the arm flap around too much. That was fine until yesterday afternoon when I had to go to a jewellers to get my ring finger measured and I strolled in looking like I had a shooter and was about to turn the place over. The look of panic on the poor lady’s face soon dissipated when I tried to explain I needed my ring measuring and burst out laughing when she cautioned that ‘as you warm up, your ring will expand’, which was a relief to all concerned.

Still, at least I got through the actual class without any major incident. The last time I did an actual bleep test was back in high school where I got put in detention for a week for telling my PE teacher to ‘fuck right off’ when he screamed at me to keep running. In my defence, he was absolutely one of those PE teachers who wanted to be in the police, failed because he got angry trying to spell his name without a prompt, and decided to buy a whistle and bully schoolchildren instead. I hated him and he hated me just because I didn’t treat football as something worth turning my face beetroot for. And listen, it’s not that I minded an authoritarian teacher – my favourite teacher of all was a tiny little bloke who once thew a football boot at me for talking – but this bloke was just a knob. Still, who’s laughing now.

So yes, please do keep me in your thoughts, because clearly I’m one moment away from death (or I’ll be better once I rub whatever knock-off Voltarol Paul brings me back from Tesco) – and if I do die, I ask for only modest floral tributes and minimal wailing at your windows to remember me by.

Now, let’s do the sloppier cubs, shall we? Well, you do it, my arm hurts.

sloppier cubs

At only 510 calories each, these sloppier cubs burgers will fill you right up!

Sloppier cubs, but with branding (siiiiiiiigh) – lovely

We only took two photos of the sloppier cubs burgers but when I typed burger into google photos, this popped up – look how wee he was!

recipe reacharound: sloppier cubs (510 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 burgers

If we're entirely honest, we haven't had to make a lot of changes to this recipe - just added a few bits and pieces in. But what you have here is a proper sloppy burger that'll make a right mess of your front, but that's just fine because it tastes so good. Plus: we've added more bacon into the recipe this time, and that's never a bad thing.

We've also cooked the cheese straight into the sauce because, and you'll need to trust me, it makes the dish absolutely perfect.

Calorie counts, like my level of current partners, are approximate.

Ingredients

  • four brioche buns - you can use normal buns if you want, but why would you
  • 400g lean beef mince
  • teaspoon of garlic paste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carton of passata
  • 4 tbsp of that sweet, lurid yellow American mustard
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 8 rashers of bacon
  • 125ml beef stock
  • 100g of reduced fat extra mature cheese, grated

Instructions

  • cook off your bacon, setting aside half for the burgers at the end and chopping the rest into small pieces
  • fry off your onion until golden, add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more, then add the beef mince and cook until browned and lovely
  • add the bacon, passata, stock, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir, and allow to simmer right down and thicken up
  • once nearly done, tip all that cheese in and stir through, and cook until gloopy
  • slice your buns, add the cooked bacon, then pour the mince on top

You could serve this with chips. But then you could just do a lot of things if you tried.

Notes

Recipe

  • a tin of chopped tomatoes would be fine here, as long as you let everything break down and simmer
  • although we didn't add them, chopped gherkins would also be a bloody winner

Books

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because see, there was this emperor, and he asks this shepherd's boy, "how many seconds in eternity?" and the shepherd's boy says, "there's this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it! Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiselled away, the first second of eternity will have passed" You must think that's a hell of a long time, but I don't care, that bloody sparrow owes me a fiver and he's gonna be ages yet. Sick of this.

Courses burgers

Cuisine burgers man, I literally just told you

Enjoy! Oh and we’ve done another video recipe! Remember to like and subscribe otherwise Paul cries his tears of hot gravy.

I must be careful, I must be kind…

Jx

recipe: corned beef bake, hash, slop, whatever

I’m going to call this a corned beef bake – it’s absolutely the least photogenic of all of our most recent recipes but I tell you what, if you’re looking for a bowl of stodge to keep you warm, this is the potato dish for you. I don’t know if it is a bake, a hash, some slop in a tray, but it really doesn’t matter. But before we get to the corned beef bake, some EXCITING ADMIN.

OK, so not exciting admin, but I do love writing in this little pink box. Just a reminder that Dinner Time, our third magnificent cookbook, is coming out in May. It’s over 100 recipes of wonderful dinner ideas with the usual smattering of us all over the pages. You can order it here – thank you!

Finally, this is a holiday entry so it’s probably going to be a long one – if you’re in a rush, just scroll straight to the food photos! Right. Back to London.

Because I’m going to talk at length about the next two things, I’ve decided to split London into three parts. I know, I’m a slut. But if you haven’t read part one, you can do so by clicking here. Otherwise, you left us as we’d just finished a marvellous escape room, and so we return.

Monopoly Live

Paul reminded me that we had Monopoly Live booked and we had not one single moment to spare for me to go and make myself look pretty, so we were straight into an Uber. Now here’s the thing with Uber: I remember when you could barely move for them in London – you’d open the app and there would be an Uber at your feet within moments. Nowadays you have to wait five to ten minutes. What happened there? Either way, Paul’s impeccable 5* Uber rating took a hit the other week after we bundled a drunk friend in to take him home and he did something – we don’t know what – which made Paul’s rating drop by .02. Paul is still incredibly sore about that. Coming back to London though, our driver was chatty and lovely, even if neither Paul or I needed to open our mouths for the conversation as it was just a long, long monologue. What does that feel like, readers? We arrived at the venue and he was still chattering merrily to himself as he pulled his Octavia away. We loitered for a moment to see if we could hear him on the wind, failed, and so went inside.

I will say this now: we both audibly gasped when we went in at the sight of the doorman: he was quite genuinely one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen in my life. Tall enough to be continued, dark beard as majestic as Aphrodite’s pubes, arms like sleeping bags full of bowling balls. I’ve never, ever been more tempted to kick off and cause trouble in my life and frankly if he had offered there and then to take me up the Old Kent Road I’d have beaten my own shadow to the back room by a solid ten seconds. I looked at Paul (partly to make sure he was seeing what I was seeing but also to ground myself) and he was similarly slack-jawed, though with him it’s pure muscle memory. It was all I could do not to curtsy but somehow I managed to blurt out our booking reference without being lost in his eyes forever. We had arrived forty minutes early and he assured us this would be no problem but honestly he could have spent those forty minutes calling my mother all the names under the sun and we’d have stood there smiling beatifically and nodding politely.

We were shepherded/slid into the bar to wait for our team to be called and we took the opportunity to have a glance around to see who we might be paired up with. Paul and I are both terrible for making assumptions of people (I bet you’re the same) and we immediately decided we wanted to be with the group of four who appeared to be on a double date. The fact that one of them looked like a chubby version of Aaron from Emmerdale (though you could tell it wasn’t actually him, as he wasn’t crying) had absolutely no bearing on our decision, I can assure you. There was another table of four comprised of people more Tipping Point than Mastermind and we were fretting the whole while that we would be paired up with them. Thankfully, the bar had an extensive range of Monopoly-themed cocktails and after three of those, we were too pissed to care. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a strong old-fashioned in a bar in London, and I doubt it’ll be the last. Paul did make the mistake of taking the tiny decorative £50 note affixed to the cocktail jar and slipping it into his shirt pocket as a memento, failing to realise that it was made from sugar paper and as soon as he started sweating (and Paul starts sweating as soon as he blinks) it melted across his boob and looked like he’d started lactating.

Mascless

At half eight we were all corralled into the next room and given our teams – we were, thankfully, with the handsome team. They finally explained how the whole thing worked and I am going to try and give you the gist here – it sounds way more complicated than it actually is, I promise. You were grouped into teams of six, with a maximum of four teams per board. There were only eighteen of us waiting so it became three groups. A man dressed as Mr Moneybags (and a very enthusiastic actor!) comes out and welcomes you all and sets out the rules. No drinking, no smoking, no-no Nanette, that sort of thing. You’re playing on a giant version of the Monopoly board (there’s four to choose from, and we chose the luxury board because we’re classy) and you roll giant dice and move around accordingly. At each property is a little room which contains a puzzle – very much like The Crystal Maze – and you solve the room within a time limit to win that property. To win the game, you need to build properties on your spaces just like Monopoly, and there’s all the usual buying and selling and stuff going on. It is incredibly fast-paced, easy to follow and very, very fun.

What made the whole experience even better was the fact each team is given a real-life token – that is, rather than playing as the top-hat, you’ll have an actor with you wearing a massive top-hat explaining the rules as you go. Our token was a camp, bearded bloke called Timothy Thimble (I have no idea why he appealed to Paul and I) and he was utterly, utterly brilliant. You know when someone knows they are playing a nonsense role but leans totally into it and makes the whole experience so much better? This was Timothy. He made us laugh the entire way around and he was just what you need to get everyone’s inhibitions down. We went in full of British reserve and came out with aching ribs from laughing.

In terms of the games themselves, you all get a go at doing something. Paul and I won our round by correctly hooking forty keys from a bowl onto the right keyhooks which revealed a code – I confess it felt unusual to be taking keys out of a bowl rather than putting them in, but nevertheless we persisted. There was another room which was dark and involved creeping up behind a bloke to rummage in his pocket – I put myself forward for that but I think the fact I’d already taken my trousers off and started passing poppers around might have put them off, and someone else took charge. Paul spun a lucky wheel of fortune three times and lost, which I feel is very Paul, and then as a team we had to build hotels and houses together against a clock using building blocks. Well goodness me, we were appalling at this part: a combination of alcohol, wandering eyes, distraction and an inability to literally think outside of the box saw us needing Timothy Thimble to step in and ‘help’ more than once. We came second – story of my life – but it was absolutely bloody marvellous. If you’re in London and looking for something unusual to do, we can’t recommend this enough. We paid £98 for two tickets so it certainly isn’t a cheap couple of hours but the theming, fun and sheer inventiveness of the game was worth every quid. You can book it online here.

Us in Mayfair? Not exactly the Reader’s Husbands bit is it

The Crystal Maze Experience

The other ‘big’ experience we had booked was a go on The Crystal Maze Experience near Piccadilly, which promised a perfect replica of what was my favourite TV show growing up, Fun House. RELLOW RELLOW RELLOW. No, The Crystal Maze obviously. I used to have a crystal in my bedroom that I had been told came from The Crystal Maze and I was super damn proud of that. However, in retrospect, it seems obvious that my ‘Auntie’ Elsie – already pushing 95 at the time the show was on – hadn’t hurtled around the maze herself. I mean she couldn’t get out of her chair without a hoist so again, seems unlikely. Turns out the crystals were just paperweights you could buy in tonnes of shops too. It’s always been the lies I can’t handle.

I was never one of those purists who stopped watching when Richard O’Brian left, although I’ll die on the hill that the Industrial zone was far superior to the Ocean zone. I’m all for that derelict factory aesthetic. Paul and I did chuckle watching a re-run a few months ago when we realised one of the games involved sliding a perfect illustration of Paul’s ‘fancy a takeaway’ face around. See?

Also, if you’ll forgive me a moment of nerdiness, it’s the fourth best TV theme of that era after (in reverse order and all opening in new tabs):

  • the BUGS theme tune (though the way the wire moved in the opening credits always – and still does – creeped me out);
  • the Going for Gold theme tune (done by the same chap who scored Interstellar, no less) (and that link takes you to the full theme tune if you are wanting some extra cheese on your day); and
  • the 999 theme tune (brrrrrr)

Actually sticking that 999 theme tune on when I was finding the link gives me the shivers. When I was young I used to be terrified of the house burning down at night so naturally my parents thought the best way to calm me down was to let me watch a 50 minute programme, upstairs and alone, full of things bursting into flame and people getting javelins thrown through their neck. Funny how simple bits of music can take you back, isn’t it? Mind saying that I blame Gladiators for awakening my love of dick after seeing Rhino prancing about in his leotard. Also, possibly why I have a thing for authoritarian men too thanks to referee John Anderson – even now when it’s ‘taking a while’ Paul just needs to shout ‘YOU’LL GO ON MY SECOND WHISTLE’ in a strong Scottish lilt and we can get to sleep early.

Anyway, shock horror, I digress, but you learned something new about me there didn’t you? So, to very briefly explain how it works – it’s essentially the TV show but slightly smaller, but all rules are the same. Team of six (they’ll pair you up with strangers if there’s just two of you, like us) running around four giant zones, each player playing 3-4 games to try and win a crystal whilst your teammates look through the windows and shout advice / naked hostility. Games are split into mental (using your brain), skill (using your agility), physical (using your strength) and mystery (fuck knows). A team captain is nominated at the start who chooses who gets which game. You get between two to three minutes per game and if you don’t get out in time you get locked in. Each crystal is worth five seconds in the Crystal Dome at the end where they turn on giant fans and tonnes of gold and silver tokens blow about. You need to get 100 gold tokens after deduction of silver to win. There see, I could be the Maze Master – lord knows I’ve got the haircut.

With us starting at 3pm, Paul got us to the venue at 2.15pm, because heaven forfend we would turn up to an adventure and not have to spend fifty minutes glancing at our phones and me inwardly seething at him. We were shown to the bar (hooray) and told we couldn’t drink (boo) and immediately spotted another couple of lads who were on our team, literally and (so we thought) euphemistically. There was something about one of them – 6ft 2″, chubby, snappy shaped beard, green coat, hectoring his partner – that just appealed to me, so I decided to spend my time making cow-eyes at him. Eventually, after my hamfisted attempts at flirting left my ham entirely unfisted, we were ushered in to meet the other couples and to meet our Maze Master, Ty Tanic. I’ll say this now – in much the same vein as Timothy Thimble, this man was an absolute legend – so full of vim and enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself. We gave the captain role to a lovely lady whose name I forgot immediately and in we went.

Cubs, I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was. The games are exactly like the ones on the TV in terms of attention to detail, size and scope and you really do feel like you’re on the game show itself. Paul did two games (winning one, losing the other – and how: he had to shoot arrows to knock apples off perches and he quite honestly would have had more luck if he had stayed back at the hotel, bless him). I did three games and, somewhat inexplicably, won all three. My mystery game was essentially a tiny escape room which was easy enough, then I had a physical room where I had to crank a generator and then hoist myself across the room on a trolley quick enough to snatch the crystal before it disappeared out of sight. I say with no exaggeration that it was probably the fastest I’ve ever shifted my 20-stone frame in my entire life: I exited our burning house in a more leisurely fashion. My last challenge involved building a set of giant keys to slip into holes into the wall and well, it can’t be a surprise to you to know I did well there. Between the six of us we played sixteen games before heading to the dome with ten crystals.

Find someone who looks at your arse like Paul looks at mine and you’re set for life

Before we get to that, a couple of things I learned:

  • turns out when you don’t know the people you’re playing with, you can’t really shout ‘helpful’ instruction like you might with your partner – whenever we lost a game, it was all very aaah bad luck and IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE – one of the games we lost was a giant form of Operation where you had to pick up scattered bones and put them into a giant alien corpse. Our teammate seemingly didn’t understand how to use tweezers and took two minutes to figure it out. I almost bit through my tongue holding back my yelling but she was so nice I didn’t dare say anything;
  • you move between zones in the same way as you did on the TV show – crawling through tunnels, sliding down giant slides and for what must have been a terrifying moment for the person below me, climbing down a very tall ladder. I was preoccupied with Paul climbing down above me however as he had spent a good ten minutes saying he didn’t think his knee was going to hold – that and me wearing oversized Dr Martens made for a very scary descent;
  • one of the rooms apparently has an actress playing Mumsie in it – we didn’t get her and that’s probably for the best – had I opened a door and been met with an aged crone wearing tattered rags looming from a veil of smoke, I’d have just assumed Paul’s mother had come along on the Megabus

The dome itself was exactly like it was on the TV – lots of screaming and shouting and things getting blown all over, then we were ushered in to have a go ourselves. We managed 188 gold tokens and only one minor concussion. A quick stop for photos (the magic ruined slightly by someone coming in with a leaf-blower to sweep up all the errant tokens) which I won’t be posting here because I look like three little men wearing a giant shirt and then we were on our way, promising to leave Tripadvisor reports and to bitch about the other contestants.

Rather like the Monopoly Live experience, we can not recommend this enough: it was a solid two hours and superb from start to finish. As there are more games than there are opportunity to play them, Paul and I will be going back to try the others. I’d say only one thing: it is probably better with people you know purely so you don’t feel bad calling them a stupid cow when they can’t do the games, but even if not it was still amazing. Expensive though: two tickets cost £158, but there’s always deals to be found if you look around on those voucher sites. You can have a look here!

OK, let’s leave it there. 3,000 words. I’m not even sorry. To the corned beef bake!

corned beef bake

This is what the corned beef bake looks like cooked

corned beef bake

Again, the corned beef bake doesn’t look much, but it tastes so good!

corned beef bake

Get a spoon and start to shovel this corned beef bake as soon as it is done! 

corned beef bake

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 giant servings

This recipe comes via the author of the Emotional Support Potatoes. I've tinkered with it to add our own spin on it, which will doubtless result in four days of asthmatic, indignant wheezing and a face like a slapped arse - six days if he realises I've changed the recipe - and it's lovely. I have however added his gran's recipe under our own so if you're a purist, you can try that too. Either way works!

Also, this is one of those recipes where it is hard to give an exact amount on things because it depends what ratio of corned beef to potato you like. See also cheese.

On the calories: this comes in at 605 calories but those are HUGE portions, including the cheese and the crisps - you can reduce both to save some calories but listen, this is a bowl of stodge and you don't need to skimp. Calorie counts are approximate as ever.

Ingredients

  • 700g of potatoes - we use Maris Piper
  • one egg and a splash of milk
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • one large tin of reduced fat corned beef 
  • two large onions
  • 250g of extra mature cheddar
  • chilli sauce, as much as your arse can handle
  • optional: one bag of Walkers Max Flame Grilled Steak Crisps

Instructions

  • make the mash by boiling chunks of potato (don't peel them) until soft and mashing it up with an egg and some milk, plus salt and pepper to taste
  • whilst the mash is cooking, finely dice your onion and fry gently until golden and soft
  • in a big bowl, mix the mash, corned beef, half of the cheese and more salt and pepper together, seasoning to taste
  • slop into a baking dish and cover with the rest of the cheese and, if using, the crisps - but crunch the crisps up first so they go into wee tiny bits

Pop in the oven on about 170 degrees for 30 minutes, covering the top with tin foil for the first twenty minutes so the crisps don't burn. Feel free to finish off under the grill to make it super crispy. Serve with beans if you like but we prefer just good old fashioned chilli sauce.

Notes

The original recipe by Ann Nethercot, living legend

Make your mash with a load of butter and milk until creamy. Mash in a tin of full-fat corned beef, top with cheese and grill until crispy. Serve with beans and disappointing looks at your grandson.

Recipe

  • customise this to your heart's content - add some peppers in there, chilli sauce running throughout, try sliced tomatoes on the top - but we think either the pure way above or our way works best
  • don't stop reading at this point, we've given you a second recipe for how to use leftovers

Books

  • this might not look like the most sexy recipe ever, but that's because we're saving those for book three which is awash with recipes that'll make you pop a towel down - you can pre-order here!
  • what's bright, colourful and satisfies you in the kitchen? Neither of us, but the second book can: order yours here! 
  • considering it was our first, the original cookbook is still something to treasure: click here to order
  • looking for twenty six extra recipes and a kick up the arse with your diet - then try our planner: here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as we're going on a cruise in September and just learned that J-Lo is our entertainment and I need to bone up on diamonds so I'm not fooled by the rocks that she's got

Courses comfort food

Cuisine twochubbycubs

Now, if you have leftovers – and you likely will because lordy does this make a lot – let it cool in the fridge and then shape it into fish-cake sized patties. When time to cook, dip them into egg and then seasoned panko crumbs, then gently fry them until the crumb is golden. Serve with beans and a fried egg on top, like so!

Look at that ooze though!

Right, that’ll do. Until next time.

Tick tock goes the clock, and what then shall we see?

Jx

retro recipe: chutney stuffed coconut chicken

A nice trickle of pre-orders at the moment ahead of launch of our new cookbook in May – having seen the final drafts and signed off on all the recipes a few days ago, we can promise you it is absolutely glorious. Very us. You can order it here – thank you! 

Today’s retrorecipe is something slightly different. I’ve realised that there’s a lot of sport to be had from looking at old recipes and mocking the fact that they put everything in jelly or use the word ‘puff’ far more than could ever be considered decent, but there’s actually a lot of very good recipes out there which have fallen out of favour that simply need rescuing and brought up to date. Plus there’s the small matter of us wasting food by cooking stuff only for Paul to shove it away and pronounce that he isn’t eating it, like he’s Newcastle’s answer to Violet Beauregarde. That’s my drag name right there incidentally: Violent Noregarde.

This coconut chicken is an absolute doddle to make and comes from Betty Crocker’s ‘Buffets’, which promises menus, recipes and planning tips for easy and successful home entertaining. Now my first confession: for years I have imagined Betty Crocker as some homely nana bustling around in her American kitchen, keeping an apple pie cooling on the window and swatting at her sticky-fingered grandchildren with a broom. Kind of like my nana but she doesn’t have Fifteen-to-One playing at a volume that brings the roof tiles clattering off when someone buzzes in. However, a quick bit of googling to see what she looks like reveals the whole thing to be a sham: she’s a made-up figurehead representing a massive conglomerate who just so happens to look like my husband in a nice dress. I confess myself seriously disappointed and to make matters worse, it turns out there was never an Aunt Bessie, despite all the cloying marketing and ‘just like my nana used to make’ advertising. Which, to loop around, wouldn’t be true anyway: my nana used to make Yorkshire puddings that you could climb inside and enjoy a hot bath of gravy – I’ve never had an Aunt Bessie Yorkshire pudding that wasn’t as flat as a witch’s tit.

I’m just amazed it’s taken me thirty-six years to realise the scale of corruption in the home baking world, I truly am. I know a lie takes the elevator whilst the truth takes the stairs but even so: madness.

Second confession: this book is absolutely glorious. A relic of its time absolutely (make sure there is one ashtray per every two guests is an especially timeless tip, with presumably a few tanks of oxygen kept to one side for after) and very much a ‘whilst your husband goes and works, you stay home at occupy yourself with doilies’ tome, but still glorious. By way of example, there’s four pages, including diagrams, detailing how best to set up your buffet to promote good flow. There’s a map if you’re having a circular buffet, those who fancy a three-sided buffet are literally catered for and, best of all, a double-line buffet plan. Not to be sniffed at.

We can’t very well talk about buffets if we don’t mention the one buffet that I absolutely do not miss: the taster nights. I know we have talked about this a lot over the years but good lord if we didn’t see the worst of humanity (maybe overegging the pudding a bit) at those events. Long time stalwarts will know it’s where everyone attending Slimming World is encouraged to bring a snack to place on the decorating table and everyone titters and chortles their way through eating watery quiche and plucking dog hair from their teeth. The type of meeting where you’re looking to see if those are sesame seeds on the prawn toast or nits. We were lucky – our class was on the outskirts of the posh part of Newcastle (Edinburgh) and so it was fairly civilised but I always remember a couple of weeks we spent attending a class in a flat-roof social club whilst on holiday. I’m not saying it was rough but when we got up to eat we took our chairs with us in case the scrap man swiped them. I’ve never seen, either before or since, such fervent desire for a Tupperware box of golden vegetable rice that had been sweating in someone’s handbag for the best part of eight hours. Possibly the only buffet I’ve attended where everyone brought their own knives without knowing the event was catered.

Thankfully, Betty Crocker’s buffets are a far more decadent affair – you can tell Betty has a bit of money because ‘she’ also recommends having one member of staff (hired or otherwise) per six guests to dispense drinks and to replenish snacks. Maybe this is where Fanny Cradock’s Sarah moonlights at night, when she’s not busy being scolded/scalded by Fanny during the day. You won’t need any staff to assist with this coconut chicken because it’s luckily very easy to make – handy, it’ll give you time to rearrange your ashtrays just so. Perhaps the best bit of the book is how bewilderingly comprehensive it is: she has thought of every buffet situation you can imagine. They start off obvious: ‘A Mother’s Day Buffet‘ opens the book, though if I served my mother a gooseberry tart and a ‘summer’ cocktail for Mother’s Day I’d be likely to get it thrown back in my face. My mother’s idea of a cocktail is putting her usual six Jack Daniels shots into a mist of diet coke and sticking a cigarette in it for decoration.

We then travel the world a little: ‘A Hungarian Style Dinner‘ gives us an apple strudel and some buttered noodles, a ‘Scandinavian Coffee Party‘ suggests ‘jam sandwiches and cookies’ which sounds delightful and even Ireland gets a mention with ‘An Irish Dinner‘, a stunning festivity consisting of Irish coffee and bread. You rather get the sense that ‘Betty’ is phoning it in at this point but fret not, she pulls it out of the bag for the ending. If you have ever agonised at night what to serve at an ‘Out of Town Guest Buffet‘ (usually clumsily-administered poppers in my case, and if they were halfway decent, I’d make them some toast after) then the answer is here: a marinated cauliflower and broccoli salad set in aspic BECAUSE OF BLOODY COURSE IT IS. We end on my personal favourite: a ‘Soup and Sandwich Late Supper‘ (presumably for the times you don’t want to wake Iris and instead microwave your own soup) where Betty suggests that when you get home of an evening stinking of shame and sambucca, you should set about making scotch shortbread and creamy split pea soup. I mean goodness me, it’s all I can do not to void myself into the wash-basket after three sniffs of the barman’s cloth – where does Betty get her stamina from?

All the above sarcasm aside, it really is a terrific book that I will be taking more than a few recipes from. Given we only let people into our homes if they’re punching a hole in something (walls, ceilings, my bumcheeks) we tend not to have many buffets but with this handy guide, perhaps that’ll change. Shall we do the coconut chicken then? No, we must.

coconut chicken

We served our coconut chicken with a traditional puck of Uncle Ben’s (ANOTHER LIE) rice and some chilli sauce

coconut chicken

You can use any chutney for this coconut chicken – anything you want

coconut chicken

Branding shot for the coconut chicken right there

chutney stuffed coconut chicken

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 people

So desiccated coconut - aside from being one of those ingredients I actively avoid because I can't spell it (desiccated I mean, I can manage coconut) - is one of those things I say I don't like until I actually eat it and realise it's like eating a Bounty bar. If you're not a fan of coconut however then you're shit out of luck here and I suggest you leave right now, before you fall any deeper.

You'll forgive me if I don't make any obvious jokes about chutney stuffing in this recipe, because that would be childish and immoral.

I apologise for the somewhat uninspired photography - I was in a rush because as I was serving up, Goomba was staring at me with his big sad eyes like he was Link's nana from Windwaker and that only means one thing - he needed to be let out. It was very much a plate up, photo and go affair otherwise we'd have another kitchen disaster to handle.

We used fig chutney from Tesco here because it was the first chutney Paul spotted on the shelf, but you can - and perhaps should - use a red onion chutney or similar. 

Finally, as ever, all calories are approximate and worked out via the NHS app. Your experience may differ. If that's the case, sorry.

Ingredients

  • four large chicken breasts
  • chutney of your choosing - we used Tesco Finest Fig & Balsamic chutney here because we are fancy bitches
  • two large eggs
  • 100g of desiccated coconut
  • salt and pepper

We served ours with microwave rice and some chilli sauce because we were in a rush, see. You will also need some cocktail sticks and preferably a big rolling pin. What can I say: size-queen for life, me.

Instructions

  • bring to mind someone who you absolutely hate: the type of person who if you accidentally ran them over, you'd reverse back over them to make sure the job was done
  • whilst you're thinking of them, take a knife and cut your chicken breasts in half horizontally - through the breast so it can open like a book
  • place onto some greaseproof paper and cover with more greaseproof paper
  • still got your enemy in your head - excellent - take your rolling pin and bash the absolute buggery out of those chicken breasts, imagining it is the skull of your nemesis, flattening them so they're easy to roll
  • hiding your 'excitement', remove the greaseproof paper, smear a good tablespoon of chutney in the middle of each breast, ignoring the fact it now looks a bit like a beskiddered gusset
  • carefully roll the breasts up in a nice spiral and secure them with cocktail sticks
  • they can sit in the fridge for a bit until needed
  • once you're ready to cook, carefully dip them in beaten egg (seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper) and then roll in the desiccated coconut
  • cook - you can bake in the oven but we put ours in our Instant Vortex Airfryer (cocktail sticks removed) for twenty minutes, until the chicken was cooked through
  • serve with rice

Notes

Recipe

  • please make sure the chicken is cooked through before serving - at a minimum you want an internal temperature of at least 75 degrees celsius to be safe - see our notes under tools

Books

  • twochubbycubs: Dinner Time is our new book and it's out in May and has over one hundred meal ideas for every single evening event you can imagine - you can pre-order here!
  • our second book, glorious in its rainbow spine, is perfect for every other meal occasion: order yours here! 
  • our first cookbook is still a sight to behold, full of our sass and meals: click here to order
  • everyone forgets about the planner which is silly because it's brilliant for whacking ganglions with (and also contains 26 recipes, just saying): here

Tools

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as Goomba is going to the groomers next week and if he's anything like his Dad, will tip the groomer generously in the hope of being roughly tumbled about in the back room by the lad clipping his hair

Courses retro, chicken

Cuisine chicken

May we take a moment to appreciate the retrorecipes so far? We have domino sandwiches, a fabulous cocktail salad, a party pate and a recipe, such as it is, for cheesy bananas. I mean, I’ve worse.

I want your horror, I want your design.

J