travel: our mince around the UK – part three

Howdo!

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

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

click here for part one | click here for part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick stop for Jennifer Beals to freshen up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul practising his gallery face

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Relaxed. It’s all fine!

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

Who is this for?

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


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

James x

travel: our mince around the UK – part two

Oh hey!

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

click here for part one

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

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

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

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

Yeah you better run, you painted whores!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t look like Paris to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A giant dick

Look how happy he is!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RISK, REWARD

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

Having time of us life xoxox

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

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

See? It’s big.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hope you enjoyed! As ever, would love feedback!

James x

travel: our mince around the UK – part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

uk trip

The weather was glorious!

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

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

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

uk trip

Mahaha.

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

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

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

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

uk trip

The full English

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

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

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

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

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

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The size of that pencil!

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

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

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LIES! ALL LIES!

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

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

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

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

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

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Aww.

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


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

James x