driving the NC500: Inverness to John O’Groats

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Welcome back, everyone. With apologies for the slight delay, but with an agreeable tone that we can still be friends and also appreciate the fact you’re not reading this eight years after the event like my usual holiday entries, I present to you part three of my solo trip around the NC500. If you’re new to this, that’s fine, just relax and I’ll be gentle, and of course you could take a moment to avail yourself of the previous entries:

They’re both hilarious, blistering accounts that will make you laugh, cry and evaluate your life choices (according to my mum) and, in much the same vein as this entry, I would love to know your thoughts. Comments, messages, knickers sent in the mail, whatever you like. Is it too detailed? Not detailed enough? You want to see more photos? Let me know! But for now, get a coffee, shut your gob and enjoy. I’ll caveat this one as usual by saying that this isn’t your usual travel blog where someone waxes lyrical about stormy seas and windswept vistas, but rather concentrates on the minutiae for altogether too many words and with too much personal detail.

On that note, the morning began with me doing exactly that – concentrating on the minutiae in bed, having pre-empted my eighty-seven alarms and managed to wake at the crack of dawn. In the absence of the usual twenty stone of farting gristle I have lying next to me, who will gamely offer to lend an orifice as long as I make him breakfast after, I had to sort myself out. And readers, I did, and once I had scattered a half billion little versions of me all over the place (imagine being one of those for a second: you burst into being ready to go find an egg, and instead you’re left gasping for air amongst a forest of chest hair and Lotus Biscoff crumbs – it’s no life, this) I squelched to the shower, ready to wash off my sin and face the day.

Except, no. As previously referenced, showering in Scotland seems to be an abstract possibility: every single shower (bar one) I ended up with would have struggled to extinguish a lit match. This one was by far the worst – I turned it on, fiddled with the knob and received nothing but a splutter for my trouble. THEN I HAD A SHOWER AYOOOOOOO. No, shush, don’t be silly, but I would have been wetter had I stuck the bit where Mufasa dies in the Lion King on Youtube and used my tears to work up a lather. A far from ideal situation when you’ve got body hair like me – my stomach looked as though someone had drowned a cat in PVA glue. I dabbed the best I could with the towel they provided (I say towel, I assume it was an off-cut from the master towel they kept locked away), got dressed, sat on the edge of the bed to listen to my stomach crinkle under my t-shirt, then went to breakfast.

In keeping with yesterday’s theme of there being no-one in the hotel, I breakfasted entirely alone, save for the very attentive and slightly frazzled waiter. I was confused as to why he seemed so harried given I was the only one in the breakfast room, but an answer revealed itself moments later. Having politely and warmly taken my breakfast order, fussed about with the coffee and presented an entirely charming image at 7am in the morning, he went into the kitchen and seemingly started a ferocious argument with half of Scotland about the fact the boiler was broken. I’m not one to listen to other’s drama: it was all I could do to gum my toast lest the crunch I made from chewing it drowned out an important detail. Still, explains the crap shower. Breakfast was delicious – I’ve seen some snotty comments about the fact they use those ‘terrible pink cylinder’ sausages but I’m all for it. If I’m having a fried breakfast I want mush and fat and grease on my chin, not a lecture about how they source the bacon from pigs that have a fortnightly bus-trip out to National Trust properties to discuss culture. Not enough toast, but then there’s never enough toast. Until the day I’m gazing at my beloved across a table upon which a rotary toaster and at least four different loaves of bread has been placed, I’ll never be truly happy.

I went back to the room, picked up my things, emptied their ‘welcome tray’ into my bags and made for the car. As with previous drives, getting on the road early and putting some miles in would give me the chance to stop wherever I wanted, and I thoroughly recommend you do the same thing. It frees up your evening too, which in my case was very important because would they even air The Chase if I wasn’t there bellowing the answers at home? The road is 120 miles along the A9 and A99 and will give you the first opportunity to see what the NC500 is about, given it hugs the coastline for most of the drive and gives you several chances to test the clutch in your car and the swearing in your vocabulary. It’s terrific. I had accommodation booked at John O’Groats with a check-in available at 5pm so I had all the time in the world. But first, some progress please.

I managed 5.4 miles. Spot the recurring joke in these travelogues yet? In my defence, I was being told – nay, instructed – that I must stop at a Harry Gow bakery and try a dream ring. Spotting a turn-off for a takeaway Harry Gow, I bustled in and got myself one. Now here’s the curious thing: despite having tried one, despite having a photo in front of me eating it, I still can’t quite remember exactly what it is. My best guess is a sweet bun cut in half, filled with cream and glazed. Either way, it was delicious and once the sharp pains in my right shoulder had subsided, I was glad to have tried one. Now, I know what you must be thinking – where’s the obvious joke? Well, readers, if you think I’m that predictable, you’re absolutely right: it certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve smashed a cream ring in whilst parked up in a layby, and nor was it the first time I’ve ever driven away from a bank of lorries with my lips glazed. Sigh. Sometimes I feel trapped by my own reputation.

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You wish you were this classy: me smashing a Dream Ring on the NC500

Leaving Inverness exposed the first issue with this trip and one that you must bear in mind: mobile reception. It’s absolutely gash. I’m with Three and for most of the trip going forward until I got back to Inverness, the signal was patchy at best and more often than not, non-existent. This came to light when my friend called for a catch-up and I had to sensitively ask if he had developed a stutter in my absence. So if I may offer up a tip: download the relevant Google Maps section for your trip whilst you have Wifi so you don’t get lost, make sure you have a few Spotify lists downloaded to your phone, and then chuck it in the back and forget about it. It’s actually a nice feeling, being cut off, but if you’re dependent on your phone for work, you will absolutely struggle. You can check the strength of your signal right here, so you can.

First pit-stop, after about thirty miles of driving, was the charming little seaside town of Dornoch (and just up the road, the village of Embo). My boss, once she had recovered from the shock of me asking for yet more time off to gallivant, had earnestly told me that I must visit. For once, I did what I was told, and was very glad to have done so. The beach was utterly magnificent – miles upon miles of pristine sands and blue water and, even better, I had it mostly to myself. There’s that setting off early point again, and it’s one I am going to keep repeating because it made such a difference. There’s a little car park right by the beach and good clear paths (part of a golf course) along the sands if you aren’t up to walking on the beach. I took some photos that I’d never look at again, wrote my name and number in the sand with a shell in case I did a Harold Bishop and set off walking. I’m a terrible walker – very much the type of muttonhead who will cast out in one direction, forget to check the tides and wonder why I’m suddenly cut off from the shore and in dire need of rescue – but I was confident the tide was heading out, so cracked on.

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The beach at Dornoch on the NC500

I had the faint memory of Embo being nearby so decided to walk there – forgetting because of course I did that I would need to walk back – and although my feet were aching at the end of it (just over 6 miles) it was a lovely morning out. More sensible folk would elect to take a coat and a bottle of water but not me, I bravely ploughed on with two cans of Monster in case of emergency. But honestly, there’s something quite terrific about an early morning beach walk, especially when the beach isn’t full of shitting dogs and parents smacking their beetroot-faced children. Even better when you can caterwaul along to Cher and nobody but the odd passing dog-walker can pass judgement. I think I may have took a wrong turn at Embo – it seemed as though it was just a caravan park so I didn’t explore – but the round trip is one I recommend.

As I returned to the car alongside the golf course I reminded once more that there is no sport more responsible for questionable fashion choices than golf. I mean, I genuinely don’t understand it. I’m not one to judge anyone’s sartorial choices – I look as though I wandered into the ASOS warehouse with my arms open and eyes shut – but I’ve never seen so many awful pastel trousers, ill-fitting Ben Sherman shirts and smugly self-satisfied smiles. We recently had cause to stay in an actual golf resort and the only good thing I can say about all the men walking around was that it must be nice to be so confident that you can match the volume of your trousers to the volume of the voice you use to rah-rah to your business colleagues. We had a balcony room which overlooked the golf course and could hear every word of their oneupmanship and gasconade and it was a genuine fucking torture. No wonder their wives were off shagging their personal trainers.

Please, if you’re a golf player, remember the rule of twochubbycubs: if we’re slagging something off, we aren’t talking about you. Mind, if you are a golf player, you’ll probably be talking about yourself anyway, so swings and roundabouts.

Once back in Dornoch I took the opportunity to look around the town and buy a keepsake to stick in our games room. Again, Facebook came through with suggestions and peer pressure sent me to the welcoming arms of Tartan Creations. I’m starting to become aware that if people on Facebook had suggested taking up heroin I’d have had a belt around my arm quicker than you could say ‘least it’s not round my neck’. Nevertheless, it was a good suggestion and Yvonne and James entertained my nonsense for a good ten minutes before I bought a pillbox to keep my multivitamins in and admonished the Anderson tartan. If I may be serious for a moment: one of the best parts of this holiday was chatting to the various little businesses around the NC500 who were all gearing up to welcome people back after what must have been a bloody shite year thanks to COVID. If you do visit, make sure you visit these businesses: buy a trinket, or a coffee, or something. Businesses need it.

I pointed the car North and decided, for once, to keep driving – I had planned to stop at Whaligoe Steps but read online that it was shut whilst they strengthen the stones – apparently they were sick of people walking all over them. Boom! You can imagine how distraught I was at having to skip a 360-step climb, can’t you? I did stop for a moment in a little nearby harbour town to catch my breath and managed to clatter my head off a harbour wall – my first and only injury of the trip.

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That’s really quite something for me, mind you, I’m tremendously accident prone. I once misjudged my own doorstep leaving the house and pitched myself head-first into the front lawn. My masculine scream of terror would have given the neighbours something to laugh at, though, which saved them looking for another source of comedy for a couple of years. I tittered when I drove through a town called Occumster – I presumed they had put out a welcome sign for me – and I spent an hour or two looking around Wick for something to do. There wasn’t anything I fancied aside from taking in the world’s shortest street, Ebenezer Place. It’s just over 2m long, you know, and I can’t in all good conscience neglect to tell you that it took a matter of moments to see everything it had to offer. To give you a sense of perspective as to my struggles to find something to do, the shortest street experience is rated #9 on ‘best things to do in Wick’ on Tripadvisor, with second place being a distillery. Stuck, I asked people for ideas of things to do and the unanimous verdict was ‘leave‘. Harsh, Scotland.

But leave I did, after a quick stop at the local Lidl to pick up some groceries for my overnight stay. John O’Groats is another fifteen miles or so up the road and it is a curious approach – the landscape gets more remote as you drive, save for the occasional coach of tourists passing you in a spray of rainwater. John O’Groats is known as the most Northerly point of the mainland United Kingdom – it isn’t, that belongs to Dunnet Head just up the road – but it has a gift shop and an easily accessible road, so make do. For the record, Land’s End gets touted as the bottom of England, which it isn’t. It is, however, awful. At least the Visitor Centre is – I’m still bitter.

I pulled into the car park at around 4pm and cognisant of the fact I was meeting my host at 5pm, I decided to mooch about and see what is on offer. Not a lot is the honest appraisal: if you’re heading here expecting thrills and spills, you’ll be sadly disappointed. There’s a few shops, a small harbour and a couple of coffee places. But, that’s the charm of somewhere like this – there’s no need to make it flashy or have crappy arcades everywhere, and it’s all the better for it. I did take a picture of the famous sign, of course, and had a walk along the front to look at the brightly coloured houses which looked over the water to Orkney. Realising that I was running out of footpaths and not fancying slipping around on the rocks, I wandered back to the car park and into Stacks, a lovely little coffee shop selling proper coffee and all sorts of terribly deliciously gooey pieces. I told myself it was just going to be a coffee but I walked out of there with a brownie the size of a paving slab. It was scrumptious and although I planned to save some for later, I scoffed the lot sat in my car. What can I say? I’m a greedygobblegannet! Yesss.

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Having time of my life on the NC500 (I really was)

One thing John O’Groats does have is one of those gift shops which is rammed full of things you wonder could ever sell. I’m not taking the piss here – I promise – but has anyone ever wandered into a shop and felt they needed to buy a shortbread tin decorated with a picture of the Queen, a CD collection of Beatles B-Sides but imagined by a bag-and-pan-pipes duo, or a three foot cow made of coir, or any other number of genuinely baffling keepsakes? I say it all with love: I adore a good mooch around, and was thankful for all the distraction. Here’s the thing though: it’s all for naught, because you can no longer buy those giant pencils with the rubber on the end that every kid in school used to get when they went away on holiday. Maybe just our family, actually, we were told it was a good gift. But then I was also told if I picked at my bellybutton my arse would fall off, so who can say?

I bought a postcard, was told I couldn’t use contactless unless I paid a small fee, so immediately bought myself a tin of Queen-branded shortbread to take me over the limit. That’s how they get you! Another NC500 tip though: carry coins in your car. I use my phone for everything and there was a couple of occasions when it came to parking and needed coins and it was a ballache, so think on. If you’re proactive like me, you’ll schedule a weekly trip to the shops in your partner’s car so you can take all of their changes instead. Think on.

I could see my accommodation – a caravan on the beachfront – from the car, and the owner who I had agreed to meet bustling around outside, so went over to meet her. I’m always really quite nervous meeting new people – especially those that are going to be hosting me – but after a few moments of conversation with Caroline I was completely at ease. I promised not to set fire to the caravan and we mutually agreed that I would get rid of the tougher skidders I’d invariably leave in the toilet, and she was on her way, leaving me to explore the caravan all to myself. It was lovely! Booking a caravan to myself was always going to be a gamble: our previous adventures to a caravan park had left me a little jaundiced – but this was smashing. Very clean, tonnes of hot water, several beds to choose from. I made myself a coffee, ate all of the biscuits that Caroline had thoughtfully left out for me, and got to work checking all the cupboards and switches to see what they did. I can confidently say that if I had the money and inclination, I’d cheerfully live in a caravan, and I know Paul would be on board because to him and his shortarse build, it must be like living in a normal sized house. If you were looking for somewhere to stay for an evening, you’ll find no better than Caroline’s caravan, and you can book it for yourself right here. Hell, you can even read my little review for more details.

It stands to reason that I would enjoy a caravan holiday, thinking about it. Back when I a child we used to take caravan and camping holidays all the time and indeed, it was in a caravan that I took my first steps. There’s a photo floating around at my parents of me standing at a caravan door with a face like a smacked arse – my parents had ducked out for a few minutes leaving me with my nana and as they left, I toddled to the door to see where they were going. Knowing my childhood I was probably experiencing nicotine withdrawal from not being around the fug of smoke that accompanied my parents at all times, but even so. Flash forward a good many years and I spent a couple of weeks a year holidaying with my mate at his family caravan in Montreuil-sur-Mer. I can’t remember much of that save for the fact I once got absolutely mashed on French weed, freaked out and was calmed down by my friend asking me to tell him all the recent Bad Girls storylines. That was a great holiday mind – the same holiday where I finally cropped my long hair off (after setting it on fire a few weeks previous) and walked straight past my mother in the airport who didn’t recognise me without my happening and fresh Severus Snape locks. To be fair, I didn’t recognise her either: she’d decided to get rid of her moustache for the summer.

Anyway, back to the present. I sat and typed up my stories, had a cold tin of soup (I was too scared to figure out how the gas hob worked: I didn’t want to accidentally torch the place or suffocate in my sleep, so I thought it best to leave it) and watched Coronation Street. Well, tried to, but as wank as it sounds, my eyes kept being drawn to the beach outside and I realised I wanted to be back outside. I’d spotted a road up to a viewpoint as I was driving into town so I hopped in the car and made my way – slowly, lots of sheep – up to Duncansby Head. I can’t recommend this enough. From the car park is a lovely walk across the fields to some of the most dramatic cliffs I have ever seen and with dusk coming in, it was just beautiful.

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The view to the cliffs – possibly one of my favourite points on the NC500

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Dusk over Orkney

I sat and watched the sea for a bit, gave Paul a call to make sure he hadn’t died, then watched the sun go down. It was magical, and it only got better as the stars started blinking in. There’s absolutely zero light pollution up there and a blanket of stars was my reward for sitting on the grass for a couple of hours. I didn’t want to go back to the caravan, but even my arse gets numb in the end. After a final mooch around the harbour in the dark, and conscious of the fact I had another early start in the morning, I went ‘home’ and prepared for bed.

Now, I don’t scare easily, but even I was a little nervous about being out in the middle of nowhere (sort of) in a caravan with patchy mobile signal. A friend of mine had encouraged me to watch Under the Skin that night – naturally I didn’t but I had read the Wiki synopsis about how she kills people in Scottish caravans – so I was a smidge on edge. But good news – since the house fire, I’ve been given sleeping tablets for the very rare occasion I can’t sleep and thankfully, I’d remembered to bring one. I’m a total blurt when it comes to swallowing pills so I had to go and fetch a glass of water to chase it down but in doing so, I managed to drop the pill on the floor where it bounced, rolled and promptly disappeared into those little floor vents. Super. I did swear an awful amount and then realised that such anger would serve no real purpose, so slunk back to bed.

I was just dozing off when I heard a woman’s voice shouting ‘BENNY’ right outside the window. Over and over and over, in various pitches. It was surreal and didn’t abate for a good ten minutes (mind nor did I, she had wrecked the moment) and I was just on the cusp of flinging open the window, probably to certain doom, and shouting ‘Agnetha, Björn and Anni-Frid, any other bloody questions’ when I heard the scratch of tiny paws and her Benny came back to her. Drama solved, I drifted off to sleep, and can honestly say it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. All that fresh Scottish air, it really gets to you.

And that, readers, is where I shall leave it for now. If you’ve enjoyed it, please do let me know. Otherwise, see you soon!

J

driving the NC500: Edinburgh to Inverness

Hello! I promise food recipes will be starting soon. Promise. But until then, here’s part two of my NC500 trip! Enjoy all.

If you’re so inclined, you can click here to read the first part of this story of my trip around the NC500. There’s glitz, there’s glamour, there’s a shot of me carrying some milk in a lift that’ll leave you questioning your life choices when you look over at the drab state of your partner. What more could you possibly want? As in the previous entry, I would absolutely love feedback in the form of comments or Facebook messages. This is a ‘new’ thing for me, writing so exhaustively, and I love it – but let me know if I’m going in the wrong direction!

Welcome back. You left me, like I always knew you would deep down, in Edinburgh, tucked up in bed reading my Stephen King novel and missing my husband terribly. Not even kidding: having to bring my own tea, scratch my own feet, shout at myself for brushing my teeth in the wrong key, it was honestly exhausting. I slept like a log, conscious of the fact I had to rise early to beat the traffic warden to my parking space. The night before I had set my usual raft of alarms, spaced out at four minute intervals (purely so I feel like Madonna first thing), and knew that as long as I was up by 7.40am, I could throw my belongings into my suitcase, have a shower and be on my way to slide out of the street with a ‘what-am-I-like’ wave to the traffic warden. Easy.

Not so easy – with the leisurely air of someone who never has to normally get up early unless he’s going on holiday or the house is on fire, I snoozed all of the alarms, choosing to gamble on the old ‘I’ll shut my eyes, I’m awake, it’s just a bit too bright’ routine. I woke with a start at 7.55am, screaming even more so than usual, hurtled out of bed, packed my things and then spent a good five minutes clawing at the door lock like I was a heroine in a Scream movie. ‘They should put some fucking instructions on this stupid fucking lock‘ I bellowed, ignoring the fact that they had indeed put some fucking instructions on the fucking lock and I was just being too hysterical to read them. After a fashion and police intervention I was released and despite arriving at my car mere moments after 8am, red-faced and panting as though I’d shot my bolt in the lift coming down, I was too late – the traffic warden was just popping the ticket under my windscreen wiper. He pointed to the ticket and said ‘parking fine’, to which I replied ‘oh thank you, I try my best’.

I didn’t, and that joke is as old as Paul’s mother and twice as creaky, but I love it. I wasn’t going to argue with the chap: he was doing his job and I had broken the rules, so all is fair. I can’t be done with those who think spitting and swearing at someone for enforcing the rules is good behaviour. I gave him a tinkly laugh, promised to pay it just as quick as I could, then as soon as his back was turned gave him the finger, wished ill upon all he loved and tried to telekinetically push his silly little bicycle into the canal. However, I’m not Carrie, regardless of how often Paul tells me he can see my dirty pillows, so he went away unscathed.

Now, because I do so hate being told off, this whole exchange put me in a bad mood. Knowing that driving when I’m angry is always a bad idea (not because I speed or get aggressive, but simply because I spend so long coming up with the perfect comeback in any fight or argument that I get distracted and stray from my destination) I decided to quickly nip into Edinburgh again to do a bit of shopping and to find something relatively healthy. The shopping part was easy – Edinburgh has an amazing pipe shop and it’s been closed for so long that it was a joy to go scatter money around their counter again. I’m a collector and they had some terrific pieces that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. I spotted that most of Leith Walk was being dug up to either put a tramline in or take a tramline out (honestly, Edinburgh, it’s been that bloody long since it started that frankly I’ve given up trying to follow what’s going on with your trams, though it seems as though they’re on the right lines) and as a result, the whole street was utterly awash with very handsome men in hi-vis gear swearing at each other and doing terribly impressive things with tools.

Love me, love me, say that you love me

I opted for a coffee from Artisan Coffee Leith, knowing that I could continue my quest to find a decent alternative to milk in there on this trip around the NC500. I’m experimenting purely because I want to see if I can find a non-dairy version that works for me. You must understand that I’ve tried all sorts: rice milk, coconut milk, double cream, hemp milk, pea milk (how, someone tell me, do you get milk from a bloody pea – I mean I have some idea given past experiences with partners on the small side, but I’d love to know), quinoa milk and almond milk. They’re utterly awful, each and all, but you can’t accuse me of not trying. I think I would get more taste and satisfaction from tipping a sample of Wilko White Emulsion into my coffee. Anyway, I digress: I ordered an oat milk something which was actually really good once I’d blown off the froth off and revealed the teaspoon of coffee lurking at the bottom (my fault for ordering what I did, I’m casting no aspersions) and settled down to pay close attention to the workers in front of me.

A merry half hour was spent there, playing on my phone, drinking my coffee and people watching. Indeed, I was only broken from my ‘how do I become a seat-cushion in a mini-digger’ searching by the appearance of a pug jumping up at my leg. I remember looking down into its face, its eye bulging and nose whistling and leering grin full of love, and realised that I was nothing if not this pug in human form. Take a look for yourself – compare the picture of me above with this lovely photo of the pug that was pawing at me.

Fool me, fool me, go on and fool me

It was perhaps time to move on. Before I do though, may I just take a moment to make a plea to dog-owners. Well, two. I bloody love dogs, would love one of my own – a well-trained Springador to fetch my (new) pipe and (old) slippers, for example – but I do wish owners wouldn’t let their dogs run up to people and start scrabbling at their legs. There’s always the fear that the dog might not be as friendly as expected, not least when it gets a whiff of my gooch and senses a rival, and I always have to do that fruity little half-dance until I’m sure it won’t take my fingers off or leave shitty paw-prints all over my jeans. Even the most placid dogs can turn on a sixpence: we used to have a massive Old English Sheepdog growing up called Shannon. She was terrific, the perfect family dog, tremendous with young kids. That was fortunate in and of itself, given my mum and dad used to leave us with Shannon whilst they went out for the day – it was truly a momentous occasion when she figured out how to put the chip-pan on – and it was all very homely and just-so.

However. We once allowed a cousin of mine to come up from Darlington to stay at our house for a week. Upon alighting from the bus and appearing at the bottom of our drive, Shannon went hurtling down, leapt up and bit her on the arm. As welcomes go, it wasn’t the warmest. It wasn’t a terrible bite, no-one was put down, but my cousin was sent back to Darlington on the next bus home with a bandage on her arm and more fleas in her ear. I like to think Shannon was protecting us from the bewilderingly awful Darlington accent if nothing else. But let that be a lesson to all owners out there: it just takes one moment of panic, or a visitor from Darlington, to ruin your day.

The other plea? You own a dog. You own a puppy. You do not own a pupper or a doggo. As inexplicable bends of the English Language go, these two cutesy-poo slang terms deserve to be cast into the fire, along with those insufferable people who insist on saying they’re going on their holibobs. I’m by no means a language snob, but this absolutely needs to stop before I do time.

And don’t get me started on the bloody Rainbow Bridge.

Anyway! Once I’d returned the pug to its rightful owner, and tried to clean the slug-trails that its little lipstick had left on my trousers, I wandered back to the car, took another moment to fully appreciate my parking fine, smoked furiously for another fifteen minutes and then, finally, I was on the road to Inverness. Travel and adventure was in front of me, nothing but road until my destination.

I managed exactly 9.8 miles towards the NC500 before I was gripped by the panic of leaving a service station unattended (what if the next chance to spend £9.60 on a Jamie Oliver toastie and a Yorkie Duo was days away?!) and had pulled into South Queensferry Services to fill up on petrol. I’m doing myself a disservice here, actually. I hadn’t just pulled in to fill up on snacks but rather I was trying to get into the habit of stopping at a petrol station whenever my car was halfway to empty on fuel. The NC500 gets fairly isolated for large stretches and so it’s never a good idea to let your tank run dry. You’re never that far from somewhere to fill up – you can find a very handy map here showing all the petrol stations along the route – but you don’t want to risk it. This is entirely contra to how I normally approach my driving – I like to coast along on fumes and see how economically I can run the car (unless I’m in a huff, in which case I drive the car like I’ve stolen it – but you don’t want to do that on the NC500 either).

As it happens, the fuel pumps were all taken and I couldn’t face waiting, so I pulled up in front of the shop instead and went inside, a decision absolutely not influenced by the fact there was a total DILF serving behind the counter. I selected some potato salad from the Marks and Spencer’s ‘How much?!’ range, decided against buying any more Monster at this point, and made my way to the till. Those who have been reading my nonsense for a while will know that I am a terrible flirt in both senses of the word – in that I am utterly shameless but also, dreadful at it. However, it seemed to be going so well, with me managing to shoehorn in a reference to my husband and ‘of course he’s letting me do my own thing this week’ with a wink so severe you’d forgive the cashier for leaping over the counter and assuming I was having a stroke. Of course, holiday romances are fleeting things indeed and in no time at all it was time to say goodbye, not least because some lady behind me started shrieking that she had kids in the car. I apologised profusely – for the fact she had children – and we all went our separate ways.

As I made to leave, which involves decanting all of the things from my coat pockets onto the passenger seat and then driving just enough to make sure everything falls down the side into some unreachable void, I happened to look up to spot my petrol-dispensing inamorato waving at me with longing in his eyes. Knowing we would always be what could have been, I showed him my wedding ring (I wear it on a chain around my neck, it’s easier to whip off if things are getting steamy), gave him a confident smile and backed the car out of the space. Thankfully, the good people at VW had fitted my car with a clever emergency automatic brake function, because that’s all that stopped me from reversing straight into a Transit van which had filled the space behind me whilst I fussed about putting my seatbelt on. Turns out he was simply warning me of the hazard rather than seeing me off like a wife saying goodbye to her sailor at sea.

I’m not one to feel shame or embarrassment easily, but you could have honestly lit a cigarette off my flaming cheeks. I pulled my hoodie up and made for the relative safety of the Queensferry Crossing, which, after resisting the urge to dash the car against the barriers, carried me over the Firth of Forth in no time at all. Actually, let’s talk about bridges for a second. All humans have varying degrees of what the French call l’appel du vide, which translates as ‘call of the void’. Put simply, it’s that feeling you have when have an irresistible urge to do something entirely stupid and dangerous to see what happens. For a lot of people, it takes the form of wanting to throw themselves over the edge if they’re standing on a cliff, and in my case, whenever I drive over a bridge I am gripped with the sudden need to turn my car suddenly and career over the side. I mean, I’m never going to do it, not least because I would hate the ignominy of being winched from the river in my own personal sea of empty cigarette packets and ‘solo travelling companions’ that would burst from every conceivable compartment in my car, but the call is always there. I have it to other degrees too. For example, when I’m driving along the motorway, I’m always taken with the thought of picking up my phone, lowering the windows on the driver side and posting it smartly through the gap created, sending it to a clattering shatter on the tarmac. If I pass a drain and I have my car keys in my hand, I have to actively step back from hurling them into the sewers. Every day is an adventure in my swirly-whirly mind.

The drive to Inverness from Edinburgh is quite something, though. You take the M90 for an easy drive up to Perth, then join the A9 which takes you up to Inverness (and you’ll stay on the A9 when you start the NC500 proper) and for the most part, it’s a delight to drive, taking in all manner of little towns and places to stop. Google puts it at around three hours (160 miles) if you absolutely hoof it, but there’s no sport to be had in doing it as quickly as you can. Certainly, when you get up amongst the Cairngorns you’ll be stopping to take pictures as you go. I was spectacularly lucky with this drive (and indeed, for the whole trip) in that I seemed to always be ahead of the other tourists and when I did stop, I had places all to myself. If you’re considering your own NC500 trip, give some very serious thought as to the time you’ll be doing it – early in the season, before the midges and the campervans and the tourists and the shrill people in rustling activewear, may be a more attractive prospect.

Anyway. You may have already gathered that my driving style is never A to B. Rather, imagine you popped a hamster on a table and put a delicious carrot at the other end. You might expect it to make a beeline for the carrot, and that’s most people when they drive. To get the measure of me, imagine you threw a handful of sunflower seeds all over the table. Then set the table on fire, and gave the hamster a line of sugar. Now the hamster is me: I’ll get to the carrot eventually but there’s so many distractions along the way. That’s how you should treat the NC500: have a final destination in mind absolutely, but do stop to take in all of the side sights as you go. I’ll touch on that in another entry.

This is why you shouldn’t rush the NC500 – views like this at every turn

Knowing that I was going to be coming back down the A9 at the end of the holiday, I made a deliberate decision not to stop at every single opportunity and instead, to save some sights for the way back. My first stop – suggested by everyone and their mother on Facebook – was Dalwhinnie, a charming little village about halfway up the journey. There’s not an awful lot to see, but they have a distillery, and like I need any reason to buy booze. I parked up in the empty car park (empty save for a woman who had parked her oversized Mercedes across three bays, which I thought a remarkable feat of driving, and made sure to snidely compliment her on such as I left).  The tour wasn’t open as most businesses were just starting back up, but I spent a happy twenty or so minutes looking around the gift shop and availing myself of their lovely clean toilets before I was accosted by a very friendly lady who asked if I needed help choosing a whisky. I hadn’t planned on buying any, but she was ever so persuasive. My experience with whisky extends to enjoying a happy night or two drinking with a good friend a few weeks previous (having never enjoyed it before) but I styled it out before panicking and selecting the first bottle I could reach. Clearly my knowledge and experienced impressed her ever so and I was out of the door, fifty quid lighter, with a bottle of something golden which will sit in our bookcase until time immemorial.

Maybe the real gift were the friendships I made along the way on the NC500

As I returned to the car I noticed it had started snowing. Super! Messages on Facebook were veritable portents of doom, with people claiming I’d get no further than the snow gates and have to turn back. Naturally, as a born fretter, I had to spend another twenty minutes checking the roads ahead were clear, but this worked in my favour as just as I was rejoining the road I spotted, quite possibly, the most handsome man I’ve ever seen filling up his car with petrol. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I daintily and calmly spun the car a full 180 degrees just so I could go back and gawp. This blog may do me the disservice of painting me as a permanently frisky, leering pest but I assure you that I’m not normally so coltish: perhaps it was the mountain air? But he was stunning, he truly was. Imagine a Viking, but not one of these modern sorts who grow a beard and think they’re sailing the Gokstad via a penny-farthing-repair-shop. He looked as though he’d dropped straight through a wormhole in time and I was utterly smitten. As he drove away I knew that my life would never again feel complete. But still we press on. Turns out the snow was a load of nothing, incidentally – the road was clear all the way to Inverness, with the sun shining bright for most of the journey.

A couple of other notable stops – I stopped at the Ralia Cafe a little further up for a break and the best spiced dahl I’ve ever had in my life, before buying some trinkets from their gift shop. Then, conscious of the fact I hadn’t managed to fill the car since leaving Edinburgh, I pulled into a petrol station a little further up. I stood at the petrol pump, nozzle in the car, and waited for them to turn the pump on. And waited. And waited. I’m not sure if they thought I was standing there simply to soak in the sights of their Londis shop, but despite making eye contact across the forecourt, nothing was forthcoming. I had to replace the nozzle and drive off, a trifle bemused, but let that be another reminder: fill up when you can, lest you find yourself short in a petrol station where the flow of fuel is treated as an optional extra. I pressed on, spotted a sign for the Highland Wildlife Centre, and decided on a whim to go and visit.

Forgive the food shot, but honestly, this was delicious. If you need a stop on your way to the NC500, give Ralia Cafe a go!

I was pulling in when a good friend of mine decided to call for a catch-up. Reception in the Highlands is very spotty and he had been trying to catch me all day, so when he finally got through to tell me his stories, he was full of vim. So full of vim indeed that he decided that, as I was pulling over to talk to the parking attendant, he would start yelling across my car speakers that he was trapped in my boot and could someone please send help as a matter of urgency. I tried to style it out by muting him, but instead managed to switch the audio to my Spotify which immediately started blaring Abba at the poor bemused bloke who was trying to direct me to the ticket office. Given I was possibly the first customer of the year I’m sure he’ll remember me.

As for the Highland Wildlife Centre – it was certainly interesting, but had I known it was a zoo (not sure what I was expecting to be fair) I wouldn’t have gone. The animals are clearly well-looked after and the staff were endlessly cheerful, but there’s something awfully depressing about seeing a polar bear scratching around on a Scottish hillside. Not for me, though I know that they do some incredible conservation work – that’s one for you to square.

They did have gorgeous Scottish wildcats though, which they are breeding ahead of releasing them back into the wildcat. Sola could still chin them though.

View of the Cairngorns

Mountains everywhere, and we aren’t even on the NC500 yet!

The rest of the afternoon was spent making my way to my accommodation for the night and after many stops to get out of my car, put my hands on my hips and say ‘oooh but isn’t it lovely’, I arrived at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel, which you can take a look at here. It’s perched up on a hill above Inverness and looked really quite something on the photos. Knowing I would be back in Inverness in so many days, the plan was to eat dinner there and get my head down early. I was checked in by a very breezy and efficient receptionist and given a room on the third floor, which is always fun when you’re carrying eight years worth of luggage with you. The hotel itself was perfectly fine, even if it did have a touch of the Overlook about it. I was pressed to make a dinner reservation as it was ‘very busy’. I deferred this invitation, thinking I could pop down a little later (and then promptly fell asleep, missing dinner entirely) – but here’s the thing. From the end of that conversation to me departing the next morning, I didn’t see a single soul. It’s like she checked me in and then went home for the day. Despite wandering around the grounds, popping out to Inverness to pick up supplies, nipping out for smoke breaks, there was no-one else there. It was genuinely unsettling – walking through a seemingly abandoned hotel at midnight isn’t good for the nerves. The room was very ‘old school hotel’ – very comfortable, but nothing which would indicate it was 2021. I didn’t mind: I enjoyed a tiny bath, threw my clothes everywhere and spent a happy minute or two dismantling the kettle.

Before I finish, can we take a moment to agree that hotels who use the room key to keep the lights on need a telling off? Every time I left the room I was required to take my key, a proper old fashioned key with a heavy tag so you didn’t lose it, which immediately plunged the room into darkness. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the corridors outside been lit up, but seemingly they had forgotten to pay the electricity bill because I left the room into more pitch black mystery. It was very much an adventure trying to make my way to the lift with only the tiniest of emergency lighting strips to guide the way, I can tell you. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for a fumble in a dark corridor on holiday, but I’ve normally on my knees through choice in that situation. After a final adventure outside, I returned to my room, popped Question Time on, realised our local Conservative MP was on there flapping her bewhiskered jowls about, realised I didn’t need more anguish in my life, and went to sleep.

That’s a good place to leave it, I feel. The NC500 starts properly in the next entry! I’m terribly conscious of the fact I’ve prattled on ever so, but I love having a story to tell, and this is a great outlet for my writing. Again, would love to hear your thoughts! Regular readers, food recipes are coming back this week, I promise!

Stay safe, all.

J

driving the NC500: prelude

This is a very special episode of twochubbycubs. 

In a break from the regular blogging (when did that start?) I am going to walk you through my recent adventures around the North Coast 500. Honestly, a man gets tired of finding new and exciting ways to make a kilo of mince interesting, and sometimes it is all you can do to strike out on your own. So, settle back in your comfy chair, slip your Compeed pads off your trotters and listen to me gab in your ear about my travels. Recipes are due to restart this week, but you know, I just want to write.

First, what is the North Coast 500? Ah that’s easy, it’s 288 miles of road going around Cornwall. Can you imagine? We went to Cornwall once – even visited Lands End, don’t you remember – and it was pleasant enough, but it wasn’t Scotland. That’s what drew me to the North Coast 500 (NC500 going forward) – it’s a 500 mile or so circular trip around the top of Scotland, starting and ending in Inverness. It takes you around some utterly breath-taking places and is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. You can do it as quick as you like – some people spread it over three to five days, some take a fortnight – you do you. There’s a whole bank of B&Bs, campsites, hotels, yurts, shepherd huts, caravans and wild camping opportunities to make the most of. It’s beautifully romantic and perfect for couples.

So, naturally, I left Paul behind. Which sounds awful until I explain the timeline of this whole trip. I read an article about the NC500 on Monday. By Thursday, I was on the road. I am lucky enough to have a job which allows me to work flexible hours and a boss who is an absolute delight. Paul on the other hand needs to be around at certain times so alas, couldn’t join me. I did think about postponing it but he was very keen for me to go away. Presumably so he can piss on the toilet seat himself, I don’t know. Either way, we agreed that I could go off gallivanting by myself (he stressed that bit unusually loudly, not sure why) and he would stay and make sure the cats didn’t torch the house. He’s a good egg.

Actually, let me expand on that. He really is, and I am uniformly rotten to him on here and our social media, but how many husbands cheerfully go into work every single day to allow their partner to go carousing around the NC500 on a moment’s notice? He jokes that he’s glad of the peace and I’m sure he is, but I do know his day doesn’t sparkle without me around to moan about him not making my tea quick enough. He would do anything for me and expects nothing back. So, to Paul: thank you. I’m sorry I call you names on here, but you really mustn’t make it so easy. But thank you, I love you really, there’s a reason why we’re approaching fifteen years together and it isn’t just because I’m excited for a crystal anniversary gift.

Bleurgh, enough schmaltz. So there I am, with a week or so ahead of me with nothing planned. No accommodation booked, no trip route mapped out, no places to visit. If you research NC500 you are told in no uncertain terms that you must book your accommodation well in advance because everything is always snaffled up super quick. However, I don’t like being told what to do: if a fireman shouted at me to jump out of a burning building, I’d stay in and burn rather than respond to his curt tone. You might call that being contrary, but if you did I’d tell you to fuck off.

Two things in my favour though: Scotland had just opened up from its latest lockdown AND I have flexibility, no kids, pink pound and a sassy sense of doing as I please on my side. So planning was easy – choose a few places to stay, drive no more than 100 miles a day – and stop whenever I fancied on the way. Piece of piss.

However – I do not encourage this. This, unless you’re very lucky, will not work with you on the NC500. Places do get booked up very quickly and no more so than ever than these days when people are reluctant to travel abroad. I used hotels.com, AirBnB and the North Coast 500 website to decide where to go. Do your research!

Hark at me getting the red pen of death out. At some point, I’ll circle back onto these blog posts and add a fancy banner and a map, but now, all you need to know is that come Thursday, I was anxiously wondering how I could terminate a work phone call without it looking terrifically obvious I had somewhere to be, had thrown two suitcases full of garish clothes into my car and emptied Paul’s testicles before he set out for work. You must understand that he walks funny if you don’t: he’s like the boiler from The Shining, and not just because he leaks rusty water after you tinker with his valve. I had originally planned to drive up to Inverness that day (the NC500 both begins and ends in Inverness, as you would perhaps expect a circular drive to do so) but it was kicking into the afternoon before I was likely to get away, so I went onto AirBnB and selected a reasonably central apartment (their words, not mine) in Edinburgh which boasted floor to ceiling views of the city. Well, who could resist the opportunity to introduce oneself to Scotland that bending down naked to pick up my socks and showing off my bumhole to Edinburgh would afford? Not I. £89 for one night and the promise of chocolates left all over the place to snaffle. Deal. You can take a look here.

With one last kiss for the cats and eighty-seven checks of the house to make sure I hadn’t accidentally left a chip pan smouldering in a drawer or set the bathroom tiles on fire, I was ready to go – after a twenty minute goodbye conversation with one of three good sets of neighbours we have, of course. The others didn’t say a word, merely stared owlishly from their windows, lost in their internal angst over who may get my parking space. I gave them a cheery two-fingered wave as I clattered out of the street, and was on the road.

Well, in theory. The drive from where I live up into Edinburgh is an easy 115 miles straight up the A1 and, taking into account my need to stop and empty the crisp packets from the passenger seat once and a while, I was hopeful to arrive for about 5pm, which would give me more than enough time to fuss all the cushions, decant their toiletries into my suitcase and stare wistfully over to Arthur’s Seat. However, I managed to get four miles up the road before realising that I’d left my work laptop at home. As I said, work were being incredibly supportive of my whim – they always are – but even they would probably suck their teeth at me going off-grid for a fortnight without so much as a promise that I’d bring back some shortbread. Work essentials reacquired, and a few moments of pause where I double-checked I hadn’t absent-mindedly plugged the Instant Pot in and filled it with fireworks, I really was off.

NC500

 Destination: somewhere North of here

The original plan was simply to shoot straight up the A1, but here’s the thing – it’s a terribly boring drive for the most part and one that I do almost every month. I considered taking the A68 up through Jedburgh which offers far better views and a chance to pose by the England/Scotland border rocks. One of our most treasured photos of each other is us standing there, Paul with chocolate on his face and me with a full-on erection that I’m trying desperately to hide under my hoodie. We were young, in love and full of the giddy spontaneity that being together for fifteen years knocks straight out of you. Deciding that I couldn’t re-enact that picture on my own without ending up on a register, I instead chose to drive up to Wooler and cut over to the A1. Besides, the road would take me near a bookshop that I’d been meaning to visit for a while, and frankly, after twenty minutes of driving, I needed to rest.

Mindful of the fact I didn’t want to deviate without good cause, I rang ahead to the bookshop to enquire whether or not they had the particular book I wanted in stock. After enough time passed to make me wonder whether he had gone to print a fresh copy for me, the chap came back and excitingly told me that they did indeed have the book and I could pop along at my earliest opportunity to pick it up. Excellent! The only books I had bought for this trip was a Stephen King novella, a book about how to deal with psychopathic behaviour and a book all about how to survive in prison, none of which exactly lent themselves to reading comfortably in a restaurant by myself without the chef locking away the knives ‘just in case’. After twenty minutes or so of staring at the back of a logging lorry and twenty minutes of swearing at the driver, I pulled into the bookshop to pick up my book. It would be a matter of moments, surely?

No. Having introduced myself as the bloke who had called twenty minutes ago, the chap behind the counter denied having put the book aside, or indeed, having the book at all. I explained that we had talked on the phone only minutes earlier, an act which he also seemed incredibly surprised by. So surprised in fact that he doubled down on his denial and instead chose to tell me we hadn’t talked on the phone at all. I can’t deny I wasn’t hurt: I have a voice that lights up a room, albeit because most people rise to their feet and start looking for the exit, and I thought our telephone tête-à-tête had been full of gay laughter and memorable exchange. I was insistent that I hadn’t had a mild psychotic break and that I had absolutely spoken to him – I recognised the way his nose whistled when he was thinking – but his pained face told me not to explore the topic any further and I left, book-less and almost an hour behind schedule. I may have accidentally knocked a plant-pot off his windowsill as I departed. I was off to an excellent start with my mission to charm all I came across.

Speaking of those I’ve come across previously, heading into Edinburgh was a veritable storm of salacious offers, filthy messages and photos that aren’t nice to talk about. See, the last time I was in Edinburgh properly was for Bearscots, which is a fabulous event where every gay man who has a credit account with Jacamo goes to gawp at others just like him. This was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID which I think we can all agree was the cruellest consequence of the pandemic. Paul and I had a merry old time there when we went, not least because I got to wear a leather kilt and have people coo at my back hair. That’s understandable, it is magnificent: I look like a wet ham joint that rolled behind the cooker. I’ve kept in touch with lots of people I met there and when I mentioned I was going up, my phone went off like a widow’s marital aid. However: this was to be a holiday all to my own, and I mostly keep my hand on my ha’penny these days, so I politely declined the lot. Mind, I hadn’t realised at that point exactly how long I’d be away from Paul’s church-bell-ringing touch, so perhaps I’d been a little hasty. Live and learn.

That point about the ‘on my own’, though. I confess something to you now – for the days before I left I was incredibly anxious about striking out on my own. I’ve been with Paul for almost fifteen years now and haven’t spent much time away from his heaving busom, and for those rare occasions I do, I usually have something else to distract me, like work. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my own company, though: I’ve always been a fairly independent person and, growing up in the country, used to making my own fun. But regular readers also know I suffer with two tendencies which would play on my mind: health anxiety and endless catastrophising. Unless I keep on top of both, I can find myself lost in lurid scenarios where my heart bursts from mild exercise or I knock my head getting out of the car and Judy Mallett my way off the face of the Earth. Anchored to my usual safety measures – Paul, the cats, even twochubbycubs to some extent – I’m fine, because they serve as distractions. But me, alone, with just my thoughts and all the Billie Eilish songs I could muster? Could be a different story. That said, a couple of years ago I made the decision to do anything I was scared of should the opportunity arise because frankly, the alternative is never living. Far better to try something and fail than sit at home and wonder what if. Which, in my case, usually goes ‘what if that fluttering eyelid is actually a brain stem tumour, James – what if?’ More on that later.

Finding the apartment was no trouble at all, but finding somewhere to bloody park was. The listing had reassured me that parking would be a doddle with plenty of free parking space outside, but this simply wasn’t the case, with yellow lines everywhere. I drove up and down that cobbled street so many times that I almost brought myself to orgasm. I did sit and wait whilst an elderly couple fussed and struggled into their car in the vain hope that they were about to free up a parking space, but they were clearly one of those pairings who drive somewhere, take out their egg sandwiches and sit enjoying the view over their dashboard until the sweet caress of death takes them away. There was one other space – a tight little parallel park job between cars whose owners had clearly parked up with blindfolds on – and I thanked the good people at VW for installing park assist on my new car. However, I was so delayed trying to figure out how it worked that by the time I had started backing into the space, an Uber Eats driver had shot into the space before me and missed my back bumper by a whisker.

Words were exchanged, and fiery ones at that. He pointed out my lack of indicating, I enquired whether he thought I was sitting in the middle of the road to rest my clutch. Luckily, in his haste to criticise my driving skills, he forgot to monitor his own and ever so gently, but oh so delightfully, reversed into the car behind. I bade him a cheery goodbye at that point, and you must understand that my smirk at his misfortune was entirely accidental, and drove off a little further down the street, noticing that I could park on the single yellow lines as long as I was out of the apartment by 8am. As I planned to get on the road first thing this wasn’t an insurmountable problem so I left my car, waited for the angry Uber driver to disappear over the horizon, cursed the fact I had packed so much, and made my way to the apartment.

Can’t complain about anything – I even managed to take the best photo I’ve taken of myself in years in the lift on the way up too. It’s the little things.

NC500

Unapologetically slutty.

The apartment was spotlessly clean, was equipped with everything you could need and they had indeed left Lindt chocolate everywhere, though this did give me a moment of panic that I wouldn’t spot one in the bed, sleep on it and leave it looking like I’d performed a dirty protest in the night. Which was silly in retrospect, because I’d always just use the towels for that. I have to say, I love staying in an AirBNB – for the most part, they’re so much more homely than a hotel and full of nods and winks to the owners’ personalities. For example, this one was full of charming little tchotchkes that even I liked, which is quite something as I’d happily live in the white room that Betina and Max created in Absolutely Fabulous if I could. However, due to the fact you are rated as a guest, there is a pressure to leave the place looking absolutely spotless lest your AirBNB profile is ruined by ‘left a skidder like a landslide on the toilet pan’ or something equally distasteful. I like to try and leave it exactly how I found it so it almost looks like no guest has been it at all, though the fetid combination of my shoes and flatus always give the game away.

NC500

There was the small matter of the creepy haunted doll that would slash my throat if I blinked.

I decided to try and have an early night given I had a long drive to Inverness to start the NC500 in the morning (not actually that long, but there’s so many places to stop on the way) but stepped out for an evening walk in the hope I’d tip my calories back into a deficit. Edinburgh in the early evening just reminds me how much I want to live there (well, no, I want to live in Glasgow, it’s like Edinburgh but you do seem less likely to be accosted by chinless gap-yah students trying to pull you to see their two-person eight-hour comedy act on the Richmond Bread Riots). I did a little bit of shopping, then decided to head back for the night, keen to get away in the morning before everyone else and, most importantly, before the traffic warden had a chance to do his worst. I had the first of many disappointing showers on this holiday then retired to a bed that felt slightly unusual, not least because I wasn’t being gently tipped to a snoring, farting hippo by the cruel force of gravity.

NC500

Adventure beyond.

That seems like an excellent place to leave it. I hope this gives you an idea as to how these trip reports are going to be – you’ll get about 300 words of useful content and the remainder will be me waffling on about absolutely nothing. But: I’ve got some tales to tell, and we’re off! Part two soon. Would always love your feedback!

J

eggy bread cups – a syn free breakfast idea

Syn free eggy bread cups – possibly one of the easiest recipes we’ve ever done, but if you’re looking for a quick, healthy breakfast, fill your boobs. Not a typo.

So, here’s the deal folks. We need to knuckle down and focus on our fabulous cookbook, which is coming out in December.

Coming up with eighty-six jokes about willies per paragraph is taxing on the old fingers, I can promise you. But we can’t leave you without something to read of an evening, and as a result, I’ve decided to publish a chapter from the other book we’re writing, a memoir of our month in Canada last year. Our travel blogs, like your dear writer, always go down well.

Canada has been on my mind a lot lately, so it’s always nice to revisit it. Seems like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been nine months. Anyone got a contact for Bernard’s Watch? Anyway.

If you’re here for the eggy bread cups recipe, scroll right to the bottom and you’ll see it right there!

We landed at Toronto Airport in double-smart time and, after a restorative coffee and a mental note of all the airport shops available to us for the end of the holiday ‘get rid of the Canadian money because I’ll be buggered if it’s getting added to the drawer of mystery money at home’ dash, we made our way to the car rental place to pick up our motor for the brief trip to Niagara. I had asked for an exciting car, something with a bit of zip, something that an NHS dentist wouldn’t drive. They gave me a Nissan Qashqai that, if it were represented by a sound, it would be that little sigh you make when you bite into an apple and it’s soft. I mean, it’ll do, but. Toronto to Niagara is about a two hour drive if you drive like Paul, about an hour if you drive like me. By drive like me I mean furiously, with scant attention to road-signs, other users and the fact I was falling asleep at the wheel because I was so, so tired. Who would have thought that thirty days of travelling would catch up with me so suddenly?

Luckily, Canadian motorways are wide, many-laned and never particularly busy, so I was able to get some shut-eye for a good few miles before Paul’s screaming and wrenching at the steering wheel rudely brought me around. He can be a very selfish passenger. Oh, I should preface this by saying I asked him to drive but he couldn’t because he was tired. But we couldn’t play loud music because he had a headache. He also wouldn’t talk to me to keep me awake because he was sulking because I wouldn’t let him wear my sex-trophy hat. So actually, had we rolled the motor and shuffled into the afterlife, he’d have only had himself to blame.

After our brief sojourn onto the hard shoulder Paul made me stop for a coffee. I immediately poo-pooed this idea because the last thing I need when I’m trying to nod off is caffeine and instead made a swap for a Dairy Queen Dime Bar Blizzard. Listen, if you’re at a computer, look into flights to Toronto right now and get one of these into you. I’d cheerfully push the Scottish rugby team off my bumhole to have another bash at one of these. It’s worth losing a foot over, I promise you. It’s like they blended a whole bag of Dime bar miniatures with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and rubbed it across my prostate for a solid ten minutes. I’ve never had a dessert give me a full stonk-on.

Back in the car, absolutely smashed off my tits on the sugar, the rest of the drive flew by in a blur of metal and me screeching along to Cher. Paul laughed as his ears bled.

Our hotel was the Sheraton by the Falls. It’s called that because of the amount of old people I pushed over in my haste to get in (there was a much, much better joke there originally, but in this age of hysteria, I pulled it). Gosh no I’m kidding, it’s a wonderful hotel that overlooks the falls – if you’re fancy and pay for an upgrade you can gaze out of your window at the majesty of the falls. Which sounds just lovely and indeed it is, but it comes with a significant downside. Being so near so much thundering water means everything is ever so slightly damp. It’s like a hen-party with an aged male stripper. This in turn creates an overwhelming smell of foist in the room, which admittedly was alleviated a little once Paul and his toxic arse settled in. Something to consider if you’re planning on booking it: great views, deathly smell. twochubbycubs in a nutshell!

We farted about in the room for a bit – the usual, you know, Paul has a dump, I have a browse through the porn channels and lament that yet again, the Hilton have failed to cater for us delicate souls who can’t get off unless there’s stuff on there that would make a jury wince, then made to go out. I got as far as the bathroom before I realised – through a haze of Paul’s effluence – that the bath was one of those fancy doohickies with bubble jets and all sorts of fancy buttons to pulse your sphincter and make your boobs jiggle. I couldn’t let that go, so promptly set the taps away, adding just a drop of Molton Brown for that luxurious black pepper scent. Nipped out to give Paul some ‘we’ve been married twelve years, let’s get it out of the way’ disinterested attention, and came back to the bathroom to wipe the shame off my hands only to find the room absolutely awash with bubbles.

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Bubbles.

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It was fantastic. I climbed into that bath and entirely disappeared into a cloudscape of gently popping bubbles. I’ve never felt gayer. With my head just poking through the bubbles I looked like the campest meringue you’ve ever seen. I must have been cooing and oohing too loudly because Paul came in (maybe he thought I was finishing myself off? Cheers, Mr ‘And I’m Done’, for the concern) and shrieked. Nothing spoils a peaceful moment like one of Paul’s shrieks. He explained that we’d probably be charged for wrecking their plumbing and pointed to a tiny sign on the wall which implored folks not to use bubble bath with the jets turned on. Please. The sign was the size of a postage stamp: you’re talking to someone who needs all his focus to hit the bowl when he has a pap. The bubbles showed no sign of abating – possibly because I still had two of the jets focused on my cock – so I dried off and out we went, deciding to worry about that problem later in the night.

That’s enough for now. Part two coming soon! Let’s do the syn-free eggy bread cups!

eggy bread cups eggy bread cups

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syn-free eggy bread cups

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 eggy cups

The cheek of us calling this a recipe, honestly. But sometimes, you just want something quick in the morning so you can spend all your time outside pushing a couple of weeds around so you can surreptitiously gawp at the one hot neighbour pushing his lawnmower around with his shirt off. No? Just me? OK, quick and easy so you can get back to your stories.

Ingredients

I'm making the recipe enough for two egg cups - enough for one person, I think you'll agree. Scale up accordingly.

  • two slices of whatever bread Slimming Would have decided is alright for you that week (your Healthy Extra B choice)
  • two large eggs
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  • preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  • get a deep muffin tray and spritz it with some spray olive oil
  • cut the crusts off your bread and then cut each slice into two
  • layer the two halves into one of the muffin spaces and crack an egg into the middle
  • give a couple of grinds of salt and pepper
  • repeat as many times as you like and then cook in the oven for fifteen minutes (runny) or twenty (firm)

Notes

  • gussy these up by adding a sprinkling of cheese
  • I threw a load of cherry tomatoes into the muffin tray to let them roast whilst the eggs cooked
  • we're a huge fan of silicone in this house - you can just pop these right out once cooled - Amazon have a good selection but you don't need to spend very much
  • remember we have a cookbook coming!

Courses breakfast

Cuisine dunno, what am I, an atlas

I know, it’s a travesty but damn these eggy bread cups were good!

Want more breakfast ideas? I remain your loyal servant:

J

sundried tomato, chicken and parmesan couscous

Here for the sundried tomato, chicken and parmesan couscous? Something for the weekend, madam? Sir? Well regardless, it’s here, but continuing the theme of less blog posts but more quality writing, the next entry is a long one – feel free to scroll down to the food pictures if you’re short on attention / time / desire to read 2400 words about a camping trip.

It was my birthday last week (29, again, thanks – sure) and, confession time, I don’t handle getting older very well. Due to a mixture of being ill, a general lingering sense of disenchantment and work commitments, I took a strong and stable decision to postpone any celebrations until later in the month. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday on Brexit Day, either. I think this is why Theresa delayed it.

This led to me trying to fill the void with all manners of tedious activities including clearing out the garage, which I’m totally doing because I want some extra space and not because I want to move the gloryhole into there as our knees are wearing a tread in the carpet. We’ll touch on that in another entry but all you need to know was that on one Saturday morning, we were to be found Sorting Out Shite in the garage. Well, I was, I’d sent Paul to try and find somewhere to store all of his nonsense / sentimental keepsakes.

Now, you must understand, for as much as I love camping, Paul loves the act of complaining about it even more: he’s got a bad back / legs / attitude and no amount of sleeping out in the wild will cut the mustard for him. Paul’s idea of roughing it is a hotel without a bidet to wash his knot with and full room service. He’s all fur coat and no knickers, that one, and has certainly changed from the days when his mum used to put Netto washing up liquid in his bath because they were too poor for Matey.

So, for years, every time I suggested we go camping, it would immediately be shot down or a ‘compromise’ offered where he stayed in a nearby hotel, appeared on command for cuddles (or to check there wasn’t another man in my tent) and then fuck off. Well, I wasn’t having that: either shit or get off the marriage, I say. Hence on this Saturday morning, tent in hand, I decided that I ought to take myself off into the wilds of Northumberland – alone mind you – to have a night to myself. It was a glorious sunny day, the sky was full of hope and my heart full of joy, so after a quick mince to Argos for the essentials (air-bed for two, sleeping bag for two, night-light you could flag a plane down with) and Morrisons for the even more essentials (twelve packets of crisps, bottle of gin, six cans of tonic and blue Rizlas) I was set to go.

However, in my search for a carrier bag for my snacks, I noticed our greenhouse was now overflowing with garage stuff, and that just couldn’t do: I spent the next two hours clearing that out until events came to a screeching (quite literally) halt with the appearance of a spider that I genuinely could have boxed with. I’m not too bad with spiders as long as I can see them but this was a big, mean looking bastard and it came hurtling from under the table I’d just sledgehammered with the look of a neighbour whose bin I had knocked over. To be honest, had I been bent over at the time, this could have been a #metoo moment. Paul, alerted by my more-screaming-than-usual, came out to see what the problem is, then went immediately back inside, smartly closing the door, and taking a position at the bedroom window to peek at me through the blinds as though fearful the spider itself could have crowbarred the door open.

I’d made such good progress at this point that, after my heart resumed its normal beat of 180BPM, I dashed back in and valiantly set about the area with a shovel like I was beating out an oil fire, cracking two floor tiles as I went – but I got the bastard. It was certainly the first time I’ve ever felt a spider fight back. You know in Infinity War when Scarlet Witch is using her powers to hold back Thanos? That was this spider. I do hope its children were watching – I left the carcass on the floor as a warning. That and I couldn’t lift the bugger because adrenaline had left me weak. That all wrapped up, I was in the car and heading for God Knows Where in no time, just as the heavens started to open with that indecisive rain where it’s wet enough to make your thighs chaff but not enough to warrant putting the windscreen wipers on. Of course.

After a good solid hour of yelling and shouting and foaming at the gash about being stuck behind weekend drivers (seriously: why do you have a car with a three litre engine if all you’re doing to do is drive it to your hospice appointment at a speed so low I’m surprised the reversing lights don’t come on – why? Who hurt you? Me, if you don’t get out of the friggin’ way, you lavender-haired shitemare), I pulled into Wooler. Found a charming little campsite only to be immediately and snootily told that oh no, chortle chortle, they don’t allow tents. Yes, I can see the concern – the last thing you want on a campsite is people camping, after all. I mean, where would all the aforementioned arseholes park their Range Rover Evoques? I gave a harrumph of disgust and spun on my heel as gracefully as a fat bloke in size 12 Dr Martens can manage, swishing my none hair at the same time. You know, it’s been over 15 years since I had long hair and if you look carefully, I still instinctively push my hair out of my eyes when I’m concentrating or arguing. Fun fact.

All was not lost, though – a little down the road I found somewhere quiet and flat to pitch my tent and, after Youtubing how the hell you put up a tent, set about it. You might expect that I’d struggle with such a task, but it was easy! I had two ropes to pull and up the tent popped, legs locking themselves and boom, done. The only tricky bit was forgetting to bring a hammer, but it’s OK – one of the advantages of being so burly is that most things bend underfoot and I had that tent secured in no time. Trickiest part was inflating the air bed – it was a manual pump (aren’t we all?) and boy did that take some doing. I was wrecked – in any other situation I’d have given up there and then but damn it, I won’t be beaten by a velour covered mattress with all the structural integrity of an old man’s scrotum. I huffed, puffed and almost blew my house down but by god after ten minutes that bed was as taut and firm as my coldness towards my husband.

All set up, I set about reading the book I’d brought along for all of thirty seconds before my feet start itching and so, I set off to explore a rural village in Northumberland in the hope of finding somewhere for a drink. Well now. It was a pretty village absolutely, and I’m a confident guy, but wearing rainbow sheen DMs paired with this understated t-shirt:

gave me a touch more pause than I usually have. The pubs didn’t look terrifically welcoming and perhaps not the place for a cheeky crème de menthe. I’m sure everyone was going to be very friendly but I’d forgotten my douching bulb and if we were going to go full Deliverance in Wooler, this wasn’t going to be the night. I mooched about, bought some petrol station sandwiches and somewhat disgustingly sober made my way back over the hill to my tent to set about enlightening myself. I noticed a caravan parked nearby but they left soon after, presumably after they realised they’d be kept awake by my snoring and farting.

I had the snazzy idea that if I needed emergency lighting I could use my car key fob to turn the headlights on and bathe my tent in bright light, however, the car was facing the wrong way. That’s fine – I got dressed (and you have no idea how difficult it is to put a pair of wet jeans on in a 5ft tent when you’re 6ft 1″) and nipped out. A quick reverse to turn the car around and we’d be good, only, in classic me fashion, I managed to reverse over two of the lines keeping the tent fastened and also a good third of my tent. Listen, it was dark and I didn’t have my glasses on, so don’t be a judgemental cow. Tell you what though, instead of snapping, those ropes held firm and the car did a smashing job ramming the tent pegs into the Earth. I hope there wasn’t a lassie sitting having a piss on a beach in New Zealand because she probably got the end of my tent-peg tickling her clopper. Aside from a tyre print across the side of the tent, all was well, and I congratulated myself on my ingenuity by sitting and flashing my lights off and on: – …. .-. — – – .-.. . / — . .-.-.- / -… .-. . . -.. / — . .-.-.- / .-.. . .- …- . / … -. .- -.-. -.- … .-.-.-

And so it was that the night passed along, me entertaining myself to the fullest degree I could. The idea of setting in a canvas coffin, your breath and farts condensing on the ceiling and dripping into your hair as you sleep, might not appeal to most, but it was worth it for one moment in the middle of the night: I stepped out for a piss and after marvelling at the fact I no longer had a penis because it had hidden away in my lungs for the night, I looked up – not a cloud in the sky and all the stars you could ever want. Somewhere out there, a star shines for me.  There was no sound, no light nearby, and it was just magnificent: an absolute blanket of space and for all intents and purposes, not another soul around. I haven’t felt so perfectly alone in a long while and, far from it being awful, it was everything. Now admittedly, my giddiness could have been somewhat influenced by intoxicants, but I don’t care. I love the stars and I adored that moment. I do wonder if there was another couple watching the sight of an almost nude me staring transfixed at the sky for a good solid fifteen minutes and, if they were, I hope they enjoyed the sight of my bullet nipples and my milky-white bumcheeks positively coruscating in the moonlight.

Back inside, comfortably returned to the welcoming embrace of rustling sleeping bags and my own scent, I fell into sleep, and my night was done, save for an arresting gasp at about half five when I woke up disorientated and panicking due to shuffling so far into my sleeping bag that I thought someone cruel had buried me alive, I slept like a log. Honestly, I could have cheerfully stayed, but boo, work and someone needs to feed the cats. And oh aye, Paul. I nicked into a nearby toilet block for a shower and what a treat that was, mind – I’ve never felt fresher than I did soaping my balls under a shower I had to walk around in to get wet. Temperature? Glacial. Which made the next fifteen minutes of drip-drying all the sweeter, I can promise you – I’d forgotten to bring a towel and well let’s be frank, there’s a lot of flesh and hair to hold the water. I had to knock the icicles forming on my cock before I had a piss. After twenty minutes of dry-humping the airbed to try and get enough air out to enable me to fold it into a C3 and ten minutes of feeling sorry for myself for falling over in the mud whilst doing so, I was on my way. Stopped for a fried breakfast in somewhere artsy-fartsy and was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t judge me for not having muesli, then a quick drive back home (after the briefest of 200 mile diversions, you understand, to take in some familiar views) it was all over.

Camping, done. Definitely going to do it again. But enough about me, suppose we should do the recipe. Sundried tomato, chicken and parmesan couscous, here we go.

sundried tomato chicken couscous

sundried tomato chicken couscous

sundried tomato chicken couscous

sundried tomato, chicken and parmesan couscous

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

A handy lunch this, if you're stuck on stuff to eat during the day. Keeps well in the fridge and tastes better for being left. If you're feeling like an indulgent hussy, add yourself a small knob of butter when you add the couscous. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 200g Ainsley Harriott sundried tomato and garlic cous cous (6 syns) (save syns by using plain couscous, but you know: taste)
  • 6 handfuls of baby spinach, chopped up
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 30g parmesan, grated (1x HeA)

Instructions

  • chop the spinach finely
  • spray a large frying pan with a little oil over a medium heat
  • add the garlic and cook for one minute
  • add the chicken and cook it off until it's white
  • add spinach, basil and pepper to the pan
  • crumble over a stock cube and add 350ml water along with the couscous
  • mix everything together and bring to the boil
  • remove from the heat, cover the pan with a lid and stand for 5-10 minutes until the water is absorbed
  • sprinkle over the parmesan and serve

Make it more indulgent by adding 90g more of parmesan (3 x HEA!) and living the bloody dream. Stir it in!

Notes

  • don't let Frylight ruin your pans - use one of these oil sprayers instead!
  • you can easily make this syn free by using plain cous cous instead
  • to chop the spinach simply bunch together a handful and slice thinly, then slice lengthways. Or, if you're really lazy, just chuck it into a food processor
  • make quick work of the garlic with one of these Microplane grater! No fiddling!

As with all of our recipes, you can add anything you like into this. It would work well with roasted peppers, feta cheese, olives, sausages, packet of crisps or Trex.

 

Courses lunches

Cuisine dunno mate

The problem with recipes like sundried tomato chicken and parmesan couscous is that it’s super hard to make the photos look good – doesn’t help that it looks as though I’ve tipped a ped-egg over the top! But damn it, it tastes good and is worth giving it a go! Want more lunch ideas? Sure thing, sugartits:

Mwah!

J

a proper old fashioned trifle – two ways to syn!

We had to make this – we’ve seen someone passing off a frozen yoghurt with crushed berries on the top as a ‘traditional trifle’. That’s about as much of a traditional trifle as I am confident around a fusebox / football discussion / vagina. Sometimes it feels like we’re screaming into the wind trying to encourage people to eat proper food, but nevertheless, here’s a rare beast: a twochubbycubs desserts. Yes, it has syns, but it’s easy to make, tasty and you know, proper food. Before we get there, two things:

  • wouldn’t normally stick an advert here but Amazon have a proper cracking deal on Morphy Richards soup-makers at the moment, including this £100 model down to £40. If you’re looking for one, now is the time to get it! Prices correct at the time of writing (18 March). Click for that – it’ll open in a new window!
  • and – this is also a holiday entry – boo – so if you’re here just for the food, click the button below and head straight there!

Yeah that’s right. Moany bag! Let’s do it.


 

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

The last time you left us we were getting pulled off by the police. In my imagination, because the officer looked like Javert’s lumberjack brother. I almost certainly would yield when we came face to face. BOOM: culture/anal reference right off the bat! We went to bed shortly afterwards (unaccompanied, sadly) and awoke the next day as fresh as a daisy. We ordered breakfast: croissant, coffee and amyl nitrates to bring me back round when they put the bill down, then off we went. For the sake of your eyes, we’re going to wrap up the two days left in Stockholm in one concise entry.

Museums

We spent the morning wandering about the Vasa Museum (a museum about a famous Swedish warship which was the best of its time, until it sank six minutes into its maiden voyage), the Nordiska Museet (a museum of Swedish history) and the Fotografiska, an art gallery. You know where we stand of those: usually eight steps away from the exit, moving swiftly. Don’t get me wrong, there were some interesting pieces to look at – there was a great exhibition of x-rays to gaze at and diagnose myself with (I knew my uterus was hurting, I just didn’t know why) and it gave me an always-welcome opportunity to stare disdainfully at people whose legs were thinner than my wrists and shoes more expensive than my car. Why do so many art aficionados always look so brittle? You’re not living in squalor in the Bohemian bedsits of 19th century Paris, love, have yourself a sandwich and fuck off.

We did find something a bit vag-esque outside though. Hence the faces. Also, Paul perfecting his Jayda Fransen face. Only, he’s not banned from Facebook, unlike that vile racist shitbit. Mahaha!

The Nordiska Museet was slightly more entertaining, not least because a lot of the exhibitions had buttons to press and TVs to gawp slack-jawed at in that uncultured fashion of ours. We know what we are. There was an exciting moment when Paul attempted to crawl through a small door made for a child only for his arse to catch on the frame of the door and wrench a good portion of it away. We made our excuses and left, with no-one around to witness our embarrassment.

The Nordiska Museet

We did get a chance to dress up, mind, and I think we can all agree that I make a Santa that you’d happily allow to empty his sack onto your best duvet cover, no?

See? And look, Paul makes a sexy secretary elf!

You’ve never been wetter, have you?

Speaking of wetness, the Vasa Museum was an absolute bust. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing that they managed to salvage and restore the boat, and it looks mightily impressive in the grand hall, but…OK, deep breath now…sigh…

…if I wanted to see an old, creaking wreck that resulted in the death of an immeasurable amount of seamen, one that was barely held together and had succumbed terribly to the harsh ravages of time, something that just didn’t work and was 95% rust and rot, something that appears preserved in time but smells of foist and rot…you’ve guessed it…

I’d go see Paul’s mother! Eh? You having that? Hello?

Eee she’s lovely really, you know, and I give her some awful stick on here – she was absolutely cracking as Zelda in Terrahawks, too.

After paying polite respects, we left.

Subway stations

You may laugh, but we spent the next three hours tootling about on the subway system taking pictures of the stations. Partly because we needed to rest our cankles but also because Stockholm’s subway stations are awash with art – some painted in very dramatic fashion, some stations themed, some looking like the entrance to Hell. It was terrific: cheap, fun and, rather unlike the Tyne and Wear Metro, we weren’t asked for a tab, money or used as a soft spot to rest a carving knife. It makes me realise that, as much as I love the UK, we could do everything so much better by spending a bit of money to make things a little less shit. The artwork on our Metro extends to some toerag writing INCH everywhere and PUT ARE CUNTRY FURST stickers left by spittle-lipped wankers. Stations, bar for a couple in the centre of Newcastle, are grey and dingy and threatening. Luckily, the Metro only runs for 5% of the time before being cancelled, so you get plenty of time to appreciate the squalor. Here’s three of our favourite Stockholm shots, and if you’re wanting to try it yourself, here’s a very handy guide to the best stations!

Fun fact: this is the exact same viewpoint as one of my sperm.

N3rdsbar

Cruising over, my phone suggested that we were near to a place called N3rdsbar – a videogame themed bar full of vintage games consoles you could actually play, Nintendo artwork and a toilet full of retro instruction manuals. Paul thought I had the shits when actually I was just finally figuring out how to get past Grimace’s Highlands in MC Kids. Anyone who disagrees with me that MC Kids was one of the best NES games out there can go burn in a fire.

Silly me, that’s not how you spell Count!

I’ve never felt more masculine in my life.

It was fantastic – they even had a full range of videogame themed cocktails, including a ladder of multi-coloured shots called Rainbow Road. Imbued with nostalgia and more than a little pissed, we put our card behind the bar and settled down for a game of Mario Party 2 on the N64, signalling for more drinks and shots and beer and wine and burgers whilst making the absolutely fatal error of not asking the prices and forgetting we were in Stockholm, where you get charged forty quid just to wipe your arse after a plop.

£310 later…

Yep. Not our proudest moment. A brilliant night though, only tempered with what happened next – we were just deciding what to do when my phone flashed up with a text from our lovely neighbours who look after our house – emergency! That’s all it said, with a short message asking me to give them a call. Naturally I start catastrophising – clearly the cat had been run over, or had somehow worked out how to get the chip pan out and start a fire. Perhaps we had been burgled – the thought of some rough scally running his fingers around in my underwear drawer usually gives me pause but not when I’m on holiday – but no, no notifications from our Nest alarm. I tried to call back but in my heavily drunken state couldn’t remember how to dial internationally, or indeed, how to form words consisting of more than strings of vowels and slurred Ss. When I eventually got through I was inconsolable and speaking gibberish (I was worried and drunk, be fair!) – my poor neighbour, it must have been like the calls Bryan McFadden still gets from Kerry Katona when there’s been a 25% discount at Oddbins. Eventually it transpired that our outdoor tap had burst in the cold and was spraying water everywhere, necessitating a quick call to my dad to establish what a stopcock was (do I look like someone who has ever said that word?) and then a second call to the previous owners of the house to find out where the stopcock was, then a third back to our neighbours who were dispatched to turn off the stopcock in our bathroom. The thought that Paul might have left a skidmark on the toilet before we flew to Stockholm that had been sitting baking for four days was enough to sober my mind and it was with that image that we decided to cut short our night out and head back to the hotel – we were flying to Oslo in the morning anyway, so perhaps a clear mind for international travelling would be wise.

As a side-note, we really do have excellent neighbours – well, the ones that look after our house, anyway. They’re like surrogate grandparents – I don’t think I’ve ever met a more cheerful woman and her husband keeps me in vegetables and stories. There’s still a few living near us who don’t speak to us even when we speak to them, but you can imagine how little that concerns me. Ignorance wears tan corduroy. Five years we’ve lived here and never been so much as a bother – we even employ a gardener just to keep our lawns short even though frankly, I couldn’t give a monkey’s jot what our garden looks like. Anyway…

We did, however, stop for hot-dogs on the way home.

I genuinely can’t remember the last time Paul looked at me like that.

Still, we were home in good enough time…

Night night!

We awoke the next day to absolutely wild weather – a proper winter storm. It was amazing – certainly puts our Beast from the East into keen perspective – it was like stepping into an untuned television. Would we get away to Norway? Were the trains running? Of course. Indeed, our fretting about whether or not we would be able to even get to Oslo in light of the heavy snow, blowing winds and freezing temperatures were relieved as soon as we got to Stockholm Airport and saw that not a single plane was showing as delayed. Very much business as normal. Now I’m not daft – I know that their infrastructure is designed to cope with harsh weather and ours isn’t, and I’m not going to be one of those curmudgeons who goes on about how we can’t handle snow…

…but at the same time, Newcastle Airport shuts up shop if someone so much as sneezes in Durham. Why? It was snowing that hard in Stockholm that we had to take a husky-ride with Santa just to get to the plane – which made a refreshing change from being packed into a tiny sweaty bus with two hundred other people, chewing your way through someone else’s armpit hair as you careen around the runway. Everywhere you looked there were bearded blokes in hi-vis jackets throwing snow about and bellowing at each other in some mysterious language. It was like an LSD-infused wet-dream for the both of us, and we almost missed our flight, so taken were we with the view from the window. We boarded with about three minutes to spare, with the Chief Flight Attendant giving us a look that would have emptied a lion’s cage. I gave her my best ‘but we’re British’ smile but she was having none of us, and ushered us to sit down.

Hejdå Sverige

Our plane – Norwegian Air – was clean, spotless and, more excitingly, came with free Wifi. I had managed to forget to download anything interesting to my phone and the thought of having to make polite conversation with Paul for an hour filled me with dread. I’m sure he felt the same. Paul’s role on the plane is to occasionally order me drinks and smile indulgently when I pick at his sleeve and ask him whether he thinks the chimes from the stewardesses means the cockpit is on fire or whether we’re making an unscheduled, atomised stop in Uzbekistan. The poor bugger spends so much time taking out his earphones and putting them back that his Radio 4 podcast sounds like the poshest dubstep ever. The flight was wonderfully smooth and we were descending into Oslo in no time at all. Quite literally: we seemed to go from about 33,000ft to being on the runway in the time it took me to put away my Camembert-ripe feet and do up my laces. Even the stewardess seemed surprised – she barely had time to finish her shave.

We were through security with all the brisk efficiency you expect from the Norwegian, and, one short train trip later, we were at our hotel. That’s an excellent place to leave not only our luggage but also this post – until we meet again…

…as an aside, what an absolute joy it was to jump countries: from hotel to hotel took us less than five hours, including the flight. If you’re looking at a Scandinavian trip, we heartily recommend Norwegian for internal flights – without luggage (we travel light) the flights were about £30 each and there’s a flight every hour. Can’t get vexed!

Seems like a good place to leave it!

REMEMBER FOLKS: we love feedback on the holiday entries! It makes my day! So please do leave a comment to gee us along!

previousArtboard 1


Right, the trifle then! We’ll give you two options here – the proper way and the lower syn route. We recommend the proper route – it’s tastier – but if you must, you can make some swaps for a lower-syn end result. But…

slimming world trifle

slimming world trifle

a proper slimming world trifle

Prep

Inactive

Total

Yield two bowls

If you're looking for something sweet at the end of a meal, have a Polo. But if you're still itching for dessert, make one of these dead easy trifles! Still well within your syns limit, they make a nice change from shattering your teeth on frozen yoghurts or trying to pretend your 'sponge cake' tastes of anything other than sweaty hot arse.

This makes two big bowls or, if you're fancy, serve them in a nice glass like we did.

Ingredients

Proper route:

  • a bag of frozen raspberries
  • two Tesco trifle sponges (7 syns)
  • one sachet of Hartley's sugar free jelly - we used raspberry (1.5 syns)
  • six tablespoons of light squirty cream (1 syn)
  • 200g proper custard (light) - (7 syns)
  • 10g of hundreds and thousands (2 syns)

That's a total of 18.5 syns - so for each trifle, just over nine syns. But it makes a big, proper dessert. Worth it!

But if you're worried about syns, you can drop it by either:

  • leaving out the sponge and replacing it with more fruit (-7 syns)
  • replacing the custard with banana and custard Muller yoghurt (-7 syns)

That brings each dessert to just two syns. But really.

Instructions

  • break up your sponge cake into tiny little pieces and line the bottom of your bowl with it
  • optional: you could drizzle on some creme de cassis if you wanted, 25ml is 3.5 syns!
  • build up a tight layer of frozen raspberries - pack them in so they can't roll about
  • make up your jelly and gently pour over the raspberries and sponge until it just covers the fruit
  • leave to set
  • top with custard (yes!) or Muller Yoghurt (booo), then the cream, then the hundreds and thousands

Enjoy!

Notes

Courses dessert

We don’t have a great amount of desserts to offer, but have a look…

J

our best ever lemon chicken fakeaway

Lemon chicken, if you don’t mind – but I do mind, because it’s my favourite dish and I want it now. James is still laid out with illness and, in between dabbing his fevered brow and attending to his every need *cough*, we still have to get a blog-post out. However, luckily, the other half writes out his holiday entries well in advance so when times are dry for things to write about, we can whack one of these up. To that end, if you’re here for the recipe and the recipe alone, click the button below to be whisked straight there. Or scroll until you see the food. I imagine that’ll pose no difficulties for most of you.

Thank goodness they’ve gone. I bet they own more television remotes than books, you know. Let’s go back to Stockholm!


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

Look, if we carry on at the rate we’re going, we’ll never leave Stockholm. We’ve got three more days there and frankly, if I keep spending 1000 words describing the type of coffee I enjoyed, we’ll never get anywhere. So let’s try something different: I’m going to write about the highlights of the trip in a loose, fudged-together timeline. If you’re like Rose and are displeased, I invite you to stop being such a surfitta-lit. Best not to google that one, though.

Skyview at the Ericsson Globe

First on the list was a trip on the Skyview – an external lift that goes up and over the Ericsson Globe arena down in the imaginatively named Stockholm Globe City district of Stockholm.

It’s like a Bond film without a budget!

You’ll know the Globe, I bet: it’s hosted the Eurovision Song Contest at least twice (fun fact: for three days after these events they don’t actually need to power the lifts – they rise up on the fug of amyl nitrate of their own accord) (and mysteriously, all the previously stuck doors just ease open to allow easy access) and there’s been all manner of big stadium concerts in there. And Shania Twain. We learned this fact by having to bear witness to the same Shania Twain five-second advert on loop whilst we stood in the queue for ten minutes waiting for tickets to be the first to board. No man should ever have to endure that much Shania Twain – I felt like I was 14 again, listening to my sister play ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ for the eighty-seventh time. She’s a hard to please witch, isn’t she – Shania, not my sister: frankly, if there’s any rocket scientists out there with a car and fine hair, get in touch. I get impressed by a bloke who can eat his dinner without spilling a third of it on the carpet, much lower standards. We were second in the queue with only a wee Chinese grandma in front of us so we were guaranteed admission to the first pod and then we could be on our way.

Only, no; she bought tickets for 22, and out of the McDonalds over the road came a tour-bus of selfie-sticks, expensive winter wear and Marlboro Reds, pushing us back into the third pod. That meant twenty more minutes of Shania looping. If I close my eyes now I still see her fabulously-conditioned hair and Polo-mint-teeth burnt on my eyelids. Keeping things in perspective, I spent those twenty minutes staring at the suspension cable of their pod in the vain hope so much venom would melt the steel. It was our turn soon enough and I mean, it was good fun and affords you a pleasant enough view of the city, but nothing that the (much cheaper) TV tower earlier hadn’t done the day before. Plus, the clean freak in me wanted to open the pod and run a squeegee along the windows, they were absolutely hacky.

#inspirashunal #omgbabez

Twenty minutes is a long time to spend looking over the top of a mall and some distant buildings, though we were at least entertained by the three teenage girls who spent the entire twenty minutes posing in front of their phones. I swear, they couldn’t have looked out of the window once. Just how many shots do you need of:

  • sucking invisible spaghetti;
  • thousand yard stare;
  • oh my god spontaneous shot of me I promise but actually, it’s taken twelve minutes;
  • McDonalds eyebrows; and
  • GROUP OF GIRLS RIGHT hadehar

for your friggin’ Instagram? You know how I take photos of us? I point the camera somewhere north of our staircase of chins, and click take photo. Done. It’s that simple.

The ABBA museum

Next, the ABBA museum. Well, it had to be, didn’t it? We made our way via Sweden’s excellent underground rail system. First of all, they must have known I was coming because they put up some especially camp warning signs.

No mincing please

Secondly, our journey was greatly enlivened by the fact that a woman, clearly off her tits, stood up, started shouting in Swedish and then pissed herself at great length. Was it my aftershave? I don’t know, but we had to all get off at the next stop – her to clean herself up, me to wring the bottom of my jeans out. Poor lass pissed like a bloody racehorse. Luckily, we were close enough to walk to the Abba museum and it only took us ten minutes of sliding around on the ice to do so. Now, remember me telling you that Sweden is eye-wateringly expensive? I was in full gush when I paid for our tickets here: £44 for two. £44 to enter a museum! That’s not £44 for a sit down meal and a chance to try and talk Agnetha round, no no – just to give you access to the turntable. I mean, I know they’ve got to make their Money Money Money, but come on.

We paid up and went in and boom: something to make it all worthwhile. Who the hell knew that Benny was such a DILF back in the day? I mean now he looks like someone you’d see arguing with trees but back then, fuck me – lucky I hadn’t spotted him yesterday, or else it really would have been The Day Before You Came. I was quite taken – all sorts of shirtless photos and videos plastered the walls – at least I had somewhere to hang my multi-language headset, I suppose.

He’d be Benny, Paul and I would be the Jets

And actually, despite the shafting at the start, the museum was excellent – very thorough, detailed and interactive. Almost too interactive actually: there were booths you could nip into and do karaoke without people being able to hear you. We elected to give Mamma Mia a bash and thought we sounded great until we listened back later on via their website and it sounds like a livestream from a condemned abattoir. You know how you think you can sing in the shower? You can’t. I’m surprised they didn’t ask us to leave.

Make just one swap in this photo and it’ll match the thumbnail of at least two of our xtube videos. Just saying.

It only got worse – we rounded a corner to find the next exhibition was where you could get up on stage and sing along as the 5th member of ABBA whilst they superimposed the other four alongside us. FLABBA, if you prefer. I said we couldn’t, but the museum worker was very persuasive – she literally said you can dance, you can jive. I tried to explain that I dance like my feet are on fire and she replied ‘Dancing Queen’. I retorted by calling her a homophobic blonde bitch.

I jest, on we went – there was no-one about anyway bar her and I’m sure she’s seen two eighteen-stone Geordies pretending to be Abba before. Who hasn’t? I’m sure it was a storyline in an episode of Vera – if it wasn’t then it bloody should have been, because we absolutely murdered the song. Of course, no sooner had we started caterwauling and shuffling around like sad bears in a rubbish zoo than a gaggle of other gay men – all stylish and shrieking – came round the corner and started giving us bitchy appraising looks. Honestly, the collective effect of them pursing their lips at the same time pulled at my eyelashes. The curator had the good grace to at least shut the music off after a minute rather than making us do a full set. We slunk off stage like the fat national embarrassment that we were and we hadn’t even went through the exit doors before André, B’Michael, Brandonael and A’Joseph were belting out Does Your Mother Know.

The rest of the museum was awash with dresses, videos, quizzes and all sorts of memorabilia. Yes: far too expensive, but worth it. I mean, it’s Abba.

Putting at least one syllable into country singer

 

Eating and drinking

We spent more than a couple of lovely hours in the Ardbeg Embassy tasting all the various beers they had to offer. Listen, when a beard with a man hanging off it offers you a giant glass of ‘Just Don’t Call Me Brett’ or ‘Cellar Troll’, you just don’t say no.

 

Always wondered what happened to Casualty’s Clive Mantle, and now we know – he’s ordering a pint in Sweden

What started as a ‘quick drink’ became an elongated ‘work our way down the list’ until we were a) smashed and b) poor. Fifteen quid for two pints, remember.

Pished

Drunk and beholden to our empty stomachs, we ventured out to find food, only to stumble into the first place with an open door that we found – Sally’s, next door. It was delicious. You know how good food tastes when you’re steaming and hungry? That, but coupled with big doughy flatbreads and good cheese – you need to understand that I haven’t had bread for several months at this point and I’m not kidding when I say my side of the table lifted up a fair few inches when they brought it out. Almost spilled my wine.

I want this again.

Oh and because it was Christmas, I had the reindeer carpaccio for starters. They even stuck a little red tomato on the plate in what I thought was a rather cruel jibe at poor Rudolph. Christmas is cancelled and I’m turning it into poo.

This was better than it looks.

The 3am graffiti

At some point we were tucked up in bed, doing our best to keep the hotel awake with our beer-smothered snoring, when I got up for a gypsy’s kiss and noticed that for the first time in the entire holiday, it was proper snowing. Not that stupid vicar’s dandruff sort of snow we get, but big thick flakes of it, all settling merrily on the ground. You need to understand that we went to Iceland, Switzerland and Copenhagen in winter and saw barely any snow so this was a big deal, so much so that I woke up Paul by throwing water in his face (accidentally, I knocked over his bedside glass in the excitement – I haven’t taken to waterboarding him in his sleep – yet) and got him out of bed. We dressed in all the fabulous winter attire we had brought and thought we wouldn’t need and dashed out to play in the snow like the two big kids we are. The city was asleep, we had to place to ourselves – I managed to sneak in some free advertising:

I was going to try and put other SW blogs on there but I didn’t have time to draw out the eight adverts necessary to go with it.

We made our way down into a small square that was absolutely pristine with snow – a complete blank canvas.

This IS…ART ATTACK!

It took less than a nanosecond before we were both studiously working on writing out the most offensive swearword we could in the biggest letters our legs would allow. Unhappily, I was only a third of the way through the ‘N’ when two police officers came over to see what all the gleeful screaming was about. You’ve never seen someone turn a nine foot capital ‘N’ into a ‘B’ and a tiny ‘S’ quicker than me that night – I was like Michael Flatley on ice. They asked what we were doing and I lied through my teeth to try and explain we were making a giant version of our logo – it was only when I showed them twochubbycubs on my phone that they understood.

Now in a normal situation both Paul and I would have been well-up with being bundled into the back of a van by two tattooed, bearded, uniformed men and roughly manhandled, indeed, we call it a successful night at Washington Services round here, but not that night – it was that cold that my testicles were rolling around in my scrotum like peas at the bottom of the freezer. Any ejaculate would have slid out like a Mini Milk, so even I didn’t bother making the ‘whatever can I do, officer’ fluttering eyes/arse at them.

A mite embarrassed, we returned to our beds.

Paul does have a chin – he has a collection, actually – it’s just the lighting

Seems like a good place to leave it!

REMEMBER FOLKS: we love feedback on the holiday entries! It makes my day! So please do leave a comment to gee us along!

previousArtboard 1


Let’s do the lemon chicken recipe then. This makes enough for four large portions, and if there’s anyone who can handle a large portion, it’s YOU!

lemon chicken

lemon chicken

to make our best ever lemon chicken fakeaway, you’ll need:

  • four chicken breasts, big and fat, cut into chunks
  • 3 tbsp of light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp of rice vinegar
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 175ml chicken stock
  • 75ml lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 2 tbsp of honey (5 syns)
  • 1 tbsp of cornflour (1 syn)

top tips for our best ever lemon chicken fakeaway:

to make our best ever lemon chicken fakeaway, you should:

  • in a bowl, add the chicken chunks to the soy sauce and vinegar and make sure every piece is covered – longer you leave it, the better it will be
  • when you’re ready to cook, cook the chicken off in a pan until it is cooked through
  • mix together the chicken stock, lemon juice, honey and cornflour and then tip into the pan with the chicken and cook until it has all thickened up
  • serve with rice and finely grated lemon rind
  • mwah!

Easy peasy! We’ve done loads of fakeaways lately, take a look:

J

beef chilli and bean pasta bake – canny winter food!

Beef chilli and bean pasta bake! We’ve done a fair few pasta bakes lately but see, they’re excellent winter meals because you can make a huge portion, freeze the leftovers and thoroughly enjoy them as a meal! It’s a holiday entry though, so if you’re here just for the recipe, click the button below and it’ll take you straight to the recipe. Move along, sugarboobs, there’s nothing for you here.

You absolutely made the right choice, let’s go!


click here for part one | click here for part two

You last left us just as we stumbled, blinking and frowning into the apricity of a Stockholm winter, having spent a merry hour groping around in the dark with a total stranger. I appreciate that’s pretty much the start of all of our holiday entries but you get the idea. What next? Over in the distance from the Museum for the Blind loomed the Kaknästornet, a 155 meter TV tower. We weren’t planning on visiting until we realised there was a restaurant on the 26th floor and given how windy it was, it was likely to be deserted. A quick tramp through the woods led us there and, after handing over a small fortune, we were dispatched to a rickety old lift that sounded like it clacked and clicked against every last bolt and screw in that shaft. Despite the whole tower swaying ominously it was absolutely worth the trip – the views were amazing. We sat and enjoyed a strong restorative coffee and a slab of cake the size of Paul’s arse and all was well with the world. I like being high up looking down – it makes me feel like a God, albeit one with lingonberry jam dripping on his chin.

Admittedly not the best photo, but it was swaying…

 

We should explain at this point that we had, for once in our lives, managed to plan ahead and purchase a Stockholm Pass, which afforded you entry into all sorts of attractions for a one-off fee. A quick google search revealed we were within walking distance of a bus-stop which would take us straight to the museum district which held, amongst other things, an Absolut Museum and even better, the friggin’ ABBA museum. Well now come on, some things are inevitable, and us two benders paying homage to the campest band ever, well, it was always going to happen. We wandered over to the bus-stop and took a seat, reassured that one of Stockholm’s incredibly reliable buses would be along within six minutes. The timetable and electronic board certainly confirmed this. So we waited. Waited some more. Then a bit longer. Thirty minutes passed and I made to leave only to spot Paul sitting there with that grim, sulky and determined look on his face that told me that because he had wasted half an hour waiting for this bus, he was going to damn well wait until one turned up. I know this face well: bottom lip pops out, eyebrows furrow like he’s solving a cryptic crossword – normally the only thing that can break the spell is if he hears me unwrapping a Crunchie bar, like an obese take on Pavlov’s dog.

Even the bus-stop suggested filth.

So we waited even longer until I snapped and ordered him to stand up and start moving. So much protestation but I’d be damned if I was going to spend another minute gazing at the minutiae of the Stockholm bus timetable and trying to work out whether överföra meant cancelled, transfer or that the typesetter had taken ill at the keys and slumped over the keyboard. After promising I’d rub his feet if he started moving we were finally off.

We were about twenty steps away from the stop when a bus sailed straight past us, depositing a pleasant mix of slush and schadenfreude across the bottom of our trousers. Paul was furious and only calmed down when we happened across The Museum of Science and Technology. Now we’re talking: buttons to press. It was great fun! Highlights included a stage where you could pose whilst virtual reality dinosaurs ran around you, the sight of which was beamed to the rest of the museum live. It took less than seven hot seconds before Paul was pretending to get bummed by a tyrannosaurus rex and was roundly tutted from the stage. Oh and let’s not forget the winter sports section where you could try all manner of sporty experiences in the comfort of a warm museum and a reassuring proximity to a defibrillator. I climbed a tiny little mountain before realising my own giant crevasse was on show.

It’s like a Lidl take on Cliffhanger

We both tried our hand at curling only to realise you need dexterity and grace rather than a considerable weight advantage – most folks glide on ice, we look like a landslide. My favourite part was an enclosed booth which offered you the chance to be commentators on an ice-hockey game playing out in front of you – we started off with good intentions, yelling and blaring, before it degenerated into ‘HAWAY TORVILL, YOU LAMPSHAPE-FACED SLAPPER’ and ‘SKATE FASTER, NANCY KERRIGAN: THIS TIME THERE’S NAILS IN THE BAT’.

Not exactly Match of the Day

All in good fun – the booth was soundproof from the inside so no harm no foul, and we took everyone’s icy stares as simply being that crisp Swedish attitude so common over there. That was until we realised I’d managed to shut my coat in the door, preventing it from fully closing, and allowing the museum full audible access to our rantings, shrieking and wailings. We left ashen-faced, but not before a quick go on the virtual toboggan – only a quick go because a four year old child appeared and start pressing the buttons.

Honestly, do folks not know how to behave in museums?

We tackled the big issues!

After the Science Museum I somehow managed to persuade Paul to keep walking (it’s easier in cold countries – because of the icy ground, you just need to shove him gently and let gravity do the rest) and we headed a couple of miles along the river to the Spritmuseum down on Djurgårdsvägen, having found out that the Abba museum was shut for the night. Bastards. The Spritmuseum is a museum dedicated to booze – how they make it, how they bottle it, what it does to the body and even better, with some free tasters. You understand why we were lured in, yes? I can’t pretend it was terrifically exciting, and I don’t think we took the ‘hangover simulator’ as seriously as the guides wanted as Paul promptly fell asleep on the sofa during the ‘a hard night out’ movie, but it passed the time. There’s something about museums abroad that the UK can’t seem to match – our museums are always full of tired exhibitions hidden behind glass cubes coated with fingerprints, smelly children barrelling around being noisy and loud and lots of ladies who have never known what it is to love yelling at people that THEY MUST NOT TOUCH and STAND WELL BACK and YOU CAN’T EAT THAT IN HERE. I swear I once had an argument with a curator who had a pop at me for eating outside food when I took a packet of Halls from my pocket. Pfft.

Found Paul!

Found my bedroom friend!

The museum itself took up only half an hour but afterwards we decamped into the bar and, in a fit of ‘but I don’t care that it cost more than the flights over’ excitement, I ordered a taster selection of the various spirits for us to try.

Pictured: Cyril Smith enjoying a drink

It’s hard to look butch in that shirt

Now listen: I’ve swallowed some disgusting things in my life. Top tip: pinch your nose and gulp, you’ll find it slips down that much easier. But these spirits absolutely defeated me – I felt like Anne Robinson back when she was necking her dressing room Chanel. I tried to sip them to ‘taste the flavour notes’ but it would have been nicer to chew open batteries. Paul was merrily necking them and so, in my haste to get past it, I threw the lot in my mouth, grimaced and swallowed. Worst 50 Swedish krona we spent that holiday. We should have left, but the very friendly bar staff noticed how quickly we had knocked it back and filled our glasses up again for free. Very generous indeed, but you have no idea how difficult it is to fake pleasure in swallowing what tastes like something they’d use to dissolve a London fatberg, especially when some blonde bombshell is looking at you both approvingly whilst you savour the flavour. I’ve never acted so hard in my life but after the second round – seeing stars – we had to pretend to urgently leave. We were absolutely bloody smashed.

We had an escape room booked for the evening and so, conscious of the fact we were both seeing double, we decided to make our way to the escape room via a nice long boat ride. Ah it was glorious – floating along in the ice-cold really freshened the mind and by the time we were pulling into the port, we were back in full ‘Rose and Jack’ voice.

Our Escape Room was hosted by Fox in a Box and they welcomed us with open arms, wincing only gently at the alcohol fumes pouring out of us. It was a very unusual location – underground with several rooms with different themes. You know we love an escape room and we have made a point of doing one on each holiday so far: this one was themed like a laboratory and the idea was that we had to stop a zombie apocalypse. Of course. Escape rooms are fun but it’s so hard to look serious whilst someone who couldn’t care less is telling you that there’s zombies just outside the door. She sealed us in. I started looking for clues when, as though he’d been holding it in since the TV tower, Paul let out a fart so loud and so elongated that I thought he’d found a trombone. You know how your ears ring after a large firework goes off? That was me. I might remind you that the rooms are linked to the reception so that they can hear if you get stuck, so they would have been treated as well. We were absolutely creased – we’re huge fan of toilet humour – but then it literally sank in. In a sealed room, with no air-conditioning or window, that fetid air wasn’t going anywhere. If anything, it seemed to get worse and worse, smelling like someone was burning tyres in a fire made of shit. It’s hard to concentrate on mixing colours and typing codes when your eyes are streaming and your nose is bleeding. The hour passed and we ‘saved the day’ with moments to spare. That’s all well and good, but when the lassie unlocked to lock the door and the air rushed out of the room, she was hit with the full force and set away with a coughing fit. I’ve never been so embarrassed and this happens a lot on our holidays: I’m left beetroot faced and Paul is standing there grinning like the cat that shat the bed.

Oh, at least the McDonalds had a compliment…

Cheers mate!

Seems like a good moment to get back to the recipe, doesn’t it?

REMEMBER FOLKS: we love feedback on the holiday entries! It makes my day! So please do leave a comment to gee us along!

previousArtboard 1


Right, let’s do this recipe eh? This serves 4 big portions!

beef chilli and bean pasta bake


beef chilli and bean pasta bake

to make beef chilli and bean pasta bake you will need:

  • 400g lean minced beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of kidney beans, drained
  • 2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp chilli powder (as hot or as mild as you like)
  • 300ml beef stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 300g wholewheat pasta
  • 120g fat-free greek yoghurt (check the syns)
  • 220g Philadelphia lightest (2x hea)
  • 80g reduced fat extra mature cheese, grated (2x HeA)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten

top tips to make beef chilli and bean pasta bake

to make beef chilli and bean pasta bake you should:

  • preheat the oven to 200ºc
  • cook the pasta according to the instructions, then drain
  • meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, spray with a bit of oil and add the onions and celery
  • cook for a few minutes until starting to soften, then scoop out the pan and set aside
  • add the mince to the pan and cook until browned
  • add the onions and celery back into the pan and tip in the tomatoes, kidney beans, celery, tomato puree, chilli powder, garlic and beef stock
  • stir well, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes
  • next, mix together the yoghurt, Philadelphia, salt, pepper, cheese and eggs and set aside
  • mix the pasta and the mince mixture together and tip into a large dish
  • top with the cheese mixture, making sure that it’s even spread over the top
  • bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes – finish under the grill for a few minutes to get the top crispy

Who couldn’t love that?! Try our other pasta bakes!

J

warm and spicy shepherd’s pie – perfect warming food

Warm and spicy shepherd’s pie on the menu tonight. Two things: it really ought to be a cottage pie because we’re using beef mince and secondly, should it be shepherd’s or shepherds’ pie? Oh it confuses me, but at least you guys aren’t getting the blog delivered in text speak. So shush. For tonight’s story you’re coming back with us to Stockholm but listen, we’re not going to stay too long – it’s just I’ve had this ‘typed up’ in my head all day and I want to spurt it out. It’s only one memory – a two hour trip, in fact – but because it was great fun, here it is. As ever, if you’re here just for the food, click the button below to be whisked straight to it.

Do you know, even though I’ve included that button and made it super clear how to get to the recipe, I’ll still get emails from people saying luklushun were recipea plz. I think I could cheerfully nip over to their house, cook their meal and then press their faces into the gravy and they’d still look blank-eyed and slack-jawed, mouthing the words carent c it sorry over and over. But I digress. Enjoy my mini holiday entry, those of you with some dignity.

click here for part one

I’m actually going to cheat and jump forward to the next day – we spent most of the evening before just wandering around drinking before retiring for an early night, and as this isn’t an Ibsen play, I don’t think you need that level of blisteringly boring deal. So, power-mince through time with me ’til the next morning when, having applied for a small loan in order to buy a coffee and a pastry, we wandered out into the streets.

What joys awaited us then? Of course: a museum dedicated to what life is like if you’re a blind person. Admit it: that was your second guess. We had seen the Invisible Exhibition advertised in the inflight magazine on the flight over and despite the scant details, we knew we had to give it a go, and so it was that we were found heading towards the Osynlig Utställning at 10.30am in the morning.

Our journey on the bus was marred a little by having some chap stare at us the whole way – every time I looked up from cooing out the window at how pretty the city was I’d meet his fixed, cold gaze. This went on for a good twenty minutes and he didn’t return my smile or respond to my scowling. Even when I started doing that thing where you stick your middle finger up and slide it over your cheek in a subtle ‘fuck off’ fashion he didn’t stop staring. Very disconcerting, and, of course, when it came to our stop he jumped up and made his way smartly off the bus in front of us, though thankfully he disappeared in the opposite direction as went off to find a coffee that wouldn’t immediately bankrupt us.

That took altogether longer than expected: turns out there’s not a great amount of cafés open down at the docks on a Sunday morning, though we managed to finally locate a watery attempt at coffee by walking into a gym and standing looking at the receptionist for ten minutes whilst she dithered about with her paperclips as though we didn’t exist. Here, I know we’re fat and thus about as welcome in your fancy spa-gym as a verruca outbreak, but pay us some heed. Sulking but caffeinated, we made our way to the exhibition.

The premise then: experience life without sight. The first shock was the price of admission – they definitely saw us coming. Or rather, they didn’t. Actually the entrance fee was very reasonable – I just wanted to set up that laborious joke. We were the only ones there and had to stow our coats, watches and indeed, anything with a light, into a locker. I joked that ‘but I light up a room just by being there!’ but they must have been a deaf-mute because they didn’t immediately fall to the floor clutching their sides. The tour began with a kindly chap showing us how to use a Braille keyboard which, of course, I grasped straight away and typed out my name – it came out as Jimas, and rather than admit my error I just took that name and ran with it for the rest of the tour, feigning some vague Arabic origin story. Paul mastered it effortlessly, of course, but see he’s got a terribly boring first name which is hard to get wrong. If his name was a colour it would be the shade of piss-weak tea.

Our young host left us at this point and we sat at the table until a cry of ‘Jimas and Paul’ bellowed out from across the reception. Part two of our tour was ready: forty minutes being led around a pitch black room stumbling around various ‘scenarios’ to see how you would come without sight. Our guide arrived and OF COURSE it was the bloke from the bus who I thought had been staring wildly at me but had actually just been looking at me without seeing me. The relief I felt when he explained in his opening speech that he was totally blind was immense. He hadn’t seen me mouthing ‘fuck off’ to him for half the bus journey. Or had he? Was this a ruse? Was he going to trip me up in the darkness? Paranoid!

He led us in. What followed was a genuinely bizarre but, no pun intended, eye-opening experience – lots of different rooms to be led around in the blackness, guided only by his excellent instruction. Stuff like sniffing spice jars in the dark to season a meal (at first I thought he was giving me poppers – what can I say, when in a dark room…), operating the taps in a bathroom, putting on music. There was a room where we were encouraged to feel various statues to identify them – The Thinker by Rodin, Atlas holding up a globe and then, with much shrieking from Paul, he identified that he was in the throes of giving Michelangelo’s David a rusty trombone. Later rooms involved crossing a ‘busy street’, walking through a forest at night (♬ you gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith ♬) and sitting down in a café where you were able to order drinks and snacks from the guide. I was all for a glass of tap water and getting the hell out but, because Paul is hilariously obese, he ordered a tube of Pringles. He could not have ordered a noisier bloody snack if he tried. Have you ever had to sit in the pitch black, all senses bar your sight heightened, listening to your partner crunch his Pringles, smack his lips and make awkward small talk with a guide who was probably itching to get out? I have. I took to making ‘wanker’ signs at Paul and mouthing ‘c*nt’ at him whilst he chewed.

It occured to me as we left the ‘room’ that there’s bound to be an infra-red camera up in the eaves watching us in case of someone falling over or a fire breaking out, meaning that me being horrible to my other half in the dark will all be documented and put on the staff newsletter. However, as we left, Paul confessed that whenever the guide had been talking, Paul had been pulling faces and spreading his arse cheeks at me. Classic Jimas and Paul, right? Once we’d settled up the bill for the Pringles and said a thanks to the guide, we scuttled out.

Let me say this on a genuine note: it was great. No pun intended, it was eye-opening – so disorientating being in the dark but interesting in all of the different ways life can be made easier for blind folk. The guides were charming and the exhibition really well set out – if you’re ever in Stockholm, and in the mood for something entirely different, give it a go!

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Right, let’s do this recipe eh? We were looking for a more unusual, warming take on the shepherd’s pie and this recipe came through! You might be feeling a bit unsure about adding spice to such a classic but trust me when I tell you it’s bloody amazing. This makes enough for four massive portions – could very easily serve 6, but we’re fat and greedy. We didn’t get here by eating salad, after all!

shepherd's pie


shepherd's pie

to make a warm and spicy shepherd’s pie, you’ll need:

  • 800g potatoes, diced into 1cm cubes
  • 500g lean lamb mince (or beef)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • 400ml lamb (or beef) stock
  • 1 tbsp gravy granules (2½ syns)
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • juice of half a lemon

top tips for making warm and spicy shepherd’s pie:

to make a warm and spicy shepherd’s pie, you should:

  • if you’re using an actifry, chuck the potatoes in with the turmeric and spray over a bit of oil and cook for about 10 minutes
  • if you’re using an oven, spray the potatoes with a bit of oil and toss in the turmeric
  • next, preheat the oven to 200°c
  • heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and spray in a little oil
  • add the mince, onions and carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently
  • add the garam masala, stock, peas and gravy granules and give a good stir
  • bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce to a simmer until the gravy has thickened (about 3-4 minutes)
  • tip the mixture into a large dish and top with the potatoes, then squeeze over the lemon juice
  • bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes
  • serve!

Tasty! Want more ideas for a good evening meal with mince? Then let the Mincing King sort you out!

Yum!

J

syn free cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake

Here for the cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake? WITH NO BLOODY QUARK? But of course you are, my love – the recipe awaits you at the bottom of this page. But before we get to the cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake, we have part one of our holiday entry for our Christmas trip to Sweden and Norway! Newcomers to the blog may not know this, but we’re also a ‘travel’ blog in that when we go away, we like to post the stories of what we get up to. Admittedly, this can lead to a long post, so to help you – if you’re here solely for the food, click the button below to go straight to it! I promise not to cry too much.

The rest of you settle back – this is a long one! And look, to celebrate, I’ve even tidied up the banners – I was sick of that awful messy looking banner template I had. This looks altogether more…Swedish, ja? Let’s go!

I’ve been looking forward to typing up this holiday entry ever since we came back – why? Simple: it was amazing! It’s not as though we did anything out of the ordinary or unique – just our usual pottering about in cities getting lost and having a good time – but there was just something terrific about the whole experience. Every day was a happy memory – I haven’t been able to say that about any holiday since we went on that coach trip. I jest, that was Hell in a 57-seater. But before you join us on our Scandinavian adventure, we need to dip back in time a bit further to a wet October afternoon, where you would have found me slumped over my keyboard at the end of a very, very long email exchange with the other half. Here’s how every single holiday of ours gets planned: I suggest somewhere, Paul sucks air in over his teeth and say ‘oooh’ with that look a roofer gives you when he’s going to need to take your tiles off, I suggest somewhere else, he grimaces like he’s shitting an acorn. He then suggests somewhere wildly expensive and extravagant and pouts when I point out he’s trying to live a Waitrose lifestyle on a shoplifted-from-Lidl budget. We both then give up and stop talking until one of us cracks and we’re friends again, holiday completely forgotten about. Hence, on this October afternoon, conscious of the fact we’d need to book somewhere before all the parents and (shudder) their snotty-nosed litter booked up all the fun places, I sent a plaintive little email asking if we dare broach ‘booking the big holiday’. Paul, to his credit, was very agreeable, but then we immediately started arguing about where to go.

So, I did something I would never normally do because it’s altogether too much effort: I acted unilaterally. Straight onto hotels.com to book four nights in Stockholm, flights to Oslo, four nights in Oslo, a train journey to Bergen, three nights in Bergen and then the flights back to London then to Newcastle. For good measure, I booked the train to take us up to Edinburgh Airport for our Stockholm flight and a hotel for the night before. I parcelled all the reservations in one big PDF and sent them to Paul, triumphant. His reply? ‘Ah good, sounds nice

It’s lucky he works twenty miles away and I’m so fat and lazy that I couldn’t be arsed to get in the car to go and tan his arse because damn, was my excitement punctured. He only won me around later by explaining he was in a meeting and actually he was very much looking forward to our lovely holiday and indeed I was the best husband in the world and no, he’d never sin again. I can’t say his agreement was purely because I was pulling on his balls like a farmer milking a cow at the time. Who can say…

To day one, then. Our journey begins as so many of them often do: a taxi ride to the train station by a man so Geordie and hardcore that he explained he’d recently suffered a heart attack at the wheel of his car, chalked it down to indigestion and carried on driving passengers around. It was only after a whole day of chest pains and breathlessness that he went to A&E. Great! I imagine he took my endless staring into his rear-view mirror as rapt attention to his mildly-racist stories but actually, I was just making sure his lips hadn’t turned blue and he wasn’t going to career us into a lamp-post. We made it safely to the station and I left him a generous tip. Well, something had to pay for the funeral buffet. We were due to take the 14.30 Virgin Train to Edinburgh, but, to add a frisson of excitement to the start of our holiday, they elected to jumble all the trains around and delay our train by a full hour. Super, but have no fear, we’re Rockafella Skanks – we had first class advance tickets and thus the utopia that is the first class lounge awaited us – what a treat!

No. You may know this yourself but the first class lounge at Newcastle is fitted out like the waiting room of an NHS dentist – all pastel colours on the wall, hotel biscuits and furniture that looks as though it’s blown in from a storm. It really is dreadful. We comforted ourselves with the fact we could eat as many biscuits as humanely possible and entertain ourselves with our phones, able as we were to take full advantage of the charging points. Only the charging points didn’t work, they had run out of biscuits and the toilet was blocked and overflowing. We’d have had more luxury fighting the rats on the train-tracks for some discarded Greggs and somewhere to shit. To compound my misery I spotted my old HR director from a previous job who I absolutely despised. She was to fun what I am to a chaste heterosexual lifestyle. She was very much one of those type of people who would click ‘skip straight to recipe’ on this blog and then email me to tell me she was allergic to food and how insensitive I was being by posting a recipe. She hated me especially because I burst out laughing when she fell over in the middle of the office, having stumbled into an open floor socket, falling down like one of those cooling towers you sometimes see getting blown up on the telly. I couldn’t help it: I have a nervous laugh, and anyway, she deserved it. She was Miss Trunchbull in a Jigsaw-outlet suit. We clashed many, many times – she upheld a complaint that I laughed too much, for example, and that I didn’t take the job seriously because I wore trainers to work. Pfft. I never said anything about her homage-to-Robert-Winston moustache.

I made sure to give her the sickliest, fakest, cheesiest smile I could muster up – a smile that said ‘Damn, I honestly thought you’d be dead by now, but here’s to the good times, you vile husk of a woman’ and walked past her, making sure she saw I still wore the trainers that used to irk her so. It did mean, however, that I couldn’t relax, because every time I stood up for a fresh coffee or a newspaper she would give me 100% pure stink-eye. So, all in all, a rubbish experience. Luckily, the train journey made up for it, though I wish they’d do away with the pretence of unlimited tea and coffee – we had one member of staff come around with the hot drinks, leave us a gin and gave us a sandwich, and that was it, no more, goodnight nurse. We’d polished off our ‘dinner’ by the time the train was whooshing past the house we’d left only 90 minutes before. No matter – we arrived in Edinburgh in the pissing rain, jumped straight into a taxi (why oh why oh why do people stand and wait for taxis these days? Just use bloody Lyft or Uber for goodness sake – embrace technology!) who whisked us straight to the hotel, but not before regaling us for forty minutes about why electric cars were the future. Forty minutes is a long time to nod politely: my poor neck sounded like popcorn by the end of it. Paul and I have an agreed arrangement: I deal with taxi drivers, he deals with the people who bring room service to our hotel room whilst I hide in the bathroom. It works very well indeed simply because I’m good at making small talk and he’s very believable as a fat bastard who has ordered enough food to feed two people. He’s seen many a hotel worker cast him a pitying look as they put down the laden trays of food in front of him.

Don’t worry, that bedspread soon looked as though someone had spilled Marmite everywhere   

Our night at the Dakota was very pleasant indeed, even if the room service left a lot to be desired. It’s all a bit frou-frou – I like to see people buckle under the weight of my plate, not be able to frisbee it across the room because there’s a bit of cress and a hair of cheese on the plate. In fact, we were so unsatisfied by the volume of our food that we waited a discreet twenty minutes and ordered another round. Well, when you’re on holiday, these things don’t matter, though I could have done without the judgemental ‘oh, TWO rounds of room service, my mistake’ remark from the receptionist when we checked out. I don’t think she had warmed to me because, upon seeing that the reception was full of blokes all in black kilts, full Scottish regalia and beards you could lose a dog in, I remarked ‘but I didn’t order breakfast!‘ to her with a nudge-nudge-wink-wink leer. That’ll be us on the blacklist.

I won’t bore you with the 150 minutes we spent at Edinburgh Airport only to make two remarks:

  • can someone please persuade my husband that we absolutely do not need to be at the airport so far in advance of a flight, especially when the only thing we’re taking on board the aircraft is hand luggage and chewing gum – I swear that unless Paul’s at the airport the day before he’s an unbearable nervous wreck; and
  • massive thank you to the Scottish toilet cleaner who, having not realised I was sitting in the cubicle next to the one she’d just gone in to clean, exclaimed ‘now which fuckin’ dirty c*nt has gone and done that’ in a loud Scottish burr. Thank God I was sitting on the toilet at the time because I would have pissed myself outright – it was so loud and so disgusted that I almost wanted to climb on my toilet to peer over and take a look.

Now here’s a new thing: we weren’t flying easyJet! I know! I want some reassurance from you all though – am I the only one who likes to fly with an airline they’ve flown with before? I think I rationalise it in my mind that they didn’t crash before, so it must be safe. Nevertheless, the lure of a cheaper flight won me over and so it was that we boarded an SAS flight to Stockholm. Well: what a revelation! Lovely new plane, free tea and coffee, USB sockets in the back of the seats – even the bog didn’t smell like a foot and mouth crisis in an open sewer like they normally do. I was very impressed, and even more so when they landed us safely in Stockholm without ditching us into the North Sea. Don’t get me wrong, my heart will always be with the tangerine-trolleys of easyJet, but I might use SAS on the side like the plane-hopping slag that I am.

Byeeeeeeeeeeee

Before we continue, I want to give praise where it’s due: to Paul. We’ve flown twenty times this year and each time he lets me sit by the window because he knows I like to be able to look at the engine and the wing to make sure everything is OK. I mean, I know the captain has a fair idea, but I’m sure it’s a comfort to him (or her) to know that I’m keeping an eye on the flaps from the back. Story of my life, that. Anyway, I always offer to sit in the aisle but Paul always gives me the window seat and for that he gets a gold star, or a go on my brown star, whichever he prefers. It makes the flight better for me so I want to say a big thank you to my gorgeous and lovely Shitty McGee.

I love this woman’s face. It’s like she’s being asked to blow into a smeggy knob.

We landed on time and were ushered through immigration in a wonderful Swedish efficient manner. I was pleased to see that the lady looked the spit of Agnetha from ABBA – exactly as I expected. We sloshed our way to the train station, took the airport express straight into Stockholm Central and then made our way on foot to our base of operations for the next few days: the Hobo Hotel on Brunkebergstorg. I chose the hotel simply because of the name and the fact it looked so cool and hip on the website. I wanted to see how they’d deal with two fat blokes whose idea of high fashion is a Cotton Traders. To their absolute credit, the staff – though they all looked like they were part of a really shit/unknown yah-yah electrosynth band – were unfailingly lovely and helpful.

Our room – we could watch the office workers over the road. No doubt my fat hairy arse has appeared in their company newsletter.

Our room was gorgeous too – massive bed, good steamy shower, television with Discovery on it (thank heavens – Paul was almost at 24 full hours without watching a How It’s Made) and lots of neat little touches. For example, there was a water pistol – imagine Paul’s delight when he’d just settled down for his ‘Welcome to Stockholm’ crap and I opened the door and squirted him right in the ear. How we laughed as he almost wrenched the toilet away from the wall in sheer fright. Ah, we’d arrived.

All I wanted was one nice picture.

Now, I’ve done the classic twochubbycubs holiday report opening and spent 2000 words getting us to the hotel. I did it with Copenhagen, Paris, Geneva…at this point, it would be rude not to. But let’s close part one here and get to the recipe.

Remember, folks – if you enjoy our holiday entries, please do let us know. I know they’re a longer read but we like to make it interesting. Feedback always welcomed!


Gosh, I’m spent – and now I need to do a full recipe for the cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake that you’re all actually here for! This makes a giant dish of pasta – easily enough for six – but it freezes well and tastes bloody amazing. Let’s go! This uses six HEAs but makes enough for six – so I count it as one HEA per portion as you’re using a sixth of each. Yes, we’re splitting HEAs, but hey, let’s live a little. This is a heavy, rich dish so you’ll not be eating loads in one go. YEAH RIGHT. You could knock down the HEAs by using Quark instead of Philadelphia, but it won’t be nearly as nice.

pasta bake

pasta bake

to make a cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake, you’ll need:

  • 500g of pasta – any type will do, I promise
  • two fat leeks (use onion if you prefer)
  • a pack of bacon medallions
  • optional: 200g button mushrooms, chopped
  • two cloves of garlic
  • 120g of extra mature lighter cheese (3 x HEA)
  • 220g of Philadelphia Lightest (2 x HEA)
  • 250ml of semi-skimmed milk (1 x HEA)

top tips:

to make a cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake, you should:

  • preheat your oven to 200 degrees
  • cook your pasta – boiling water, salty as Paul in the morning, remove when there’s still a bit of give in the pasta
  • thinly slice your leek and chop your bacon (and add the mushrooms, if using) and gently fry it off in a pan with a few squirts of oil from your sprayer – as they soften, add the minced garlic
  • meanwhile, make the sauce by tipping your Philadelphia and milk into a pan, put it on a low heat and gently whisk until it’s all mixed together – it’ll be quite runny – at this point, add 100g of the cheese and keep whisking – you’ll end up with a nice thick cheesy sauce – season it with plenty of salt and pepper
  • tip everything together in the pasta pan, give everything a bloody good mix, slop it into an ovenproof dish, top with the remainder of the cheese, some chopped spring onion or leek if you’re feeling fancy, and pop it in the oven for about thirty minutes until the cheese is golden and everything is delicious
  • serve with a side salad which you studiously ignore

Gorgeous! Of course, if you’re looking for more delicious pasta ideas, we’ve got you covered:

Enjoy!

J