Horrible Christmas at The Lowry (review)

Last night, we took ourselves off to The Lowry at Salford Quays to see Horrible Christmas.  

It was an absolutely fantastic show – a great opportunity for our family to spend some fun time together at Christmas.  I was howling with laughter at one point and our two girls, age 6 and 4, loved it. 

Horrible Christmas
Part of the Horrible Histories tour by the Birmingham Stage Company, the show tells the very funny story of how Christmas comes under threat from a bad Santa dressed in red – “Sydney Claus” played brilliantly by Chris Gunter.  It’s up to one young Wendy Watson to save the day, helped by Shirley Holmes.  

I love the Horrible Histories series and the show has reminded me to encourage my two girls to read/watch more of it. This show focussed on Victorian villains, Medieval monks, Puritans and Tudors, telling us how they celebrated Christmas in an extraordinarily funny way. 

My absolute favourite was King William’s rap (“I’ve got the crown, so get down!”) – not to be missed.  There were plenty of songs and actions for the audience to join in with, including a tune about how to stuff a Tudor turkey in King Henry VIII’s day. It involved a woodcock, a pheasant and a chicken – I remember well.  The Tudors were obviously fond of the 4-bird roast!

We travelled through time, learning about Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell, King Henry VIII, St Nicholas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  The show lasted for around 2 hours with an interval which was just right for the ages of my children (they managed to sit more or less still and the songs/actions meant they had an excuse for a wriggle every now and then!). 

If you can manage to get tickets for the show this Christmas, I recommend this show which is loads of fun for the family.  The Lowry is a fantastic venue, with lots of restaurants and shopping centre on the doorstep.  

Merry Christmas! Let the festivities begin! 

Disclosure:  We were invited free of charge to review this show.  All opinions are our own.  For more info please visit The Lowry website.

Half-term fun at Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester 

Legoland Manchester half-termYesterday my 2 girls and I had a fun packed day out at Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester.

We enjoy going to Legoland.  It’s easy to get to, jam packed with activities and you’re well placed in the Trafford Centre to go shopping or to one of many restaurants afterwards.  

There’s lots on this weekend, both for half term and Halloween.  The indoor lego playground, has been transformed into the world of Ninjago to celebrate the Ninjago adventure Day of the Departed! Children can also build their own Ninjago Eye Mask, take part in the Ninjago Laser Maze Challenge, and build a Ninjago vehicle in the Build and Test area. 

We arrived and were greeted by Professor Brick as usual and were given a limited edition Halloween Lego brick in return for helping him get his machinery working again.  My girls (aged 6 and 4) are always thrilled to meet Professor Brick (mainly because they get to jump up and down like lunatics to get his ‘Legoo’ machine working!).

We then took a ride on Kingdom Quest – a shoot em up ride during which we saved the princess from Orcs. 

Then we passed through some amazing Lego builds – including a fab Blackpool Tower with a firework display – straight to the main area.  My two headed straight for their favourite ‘pink kitchen’ area complete with karaoke machine, which was perfect as this meant I could sit and drink a Costa while they blasted away at the mic! 

Legoland Manchester half-termThey then took a turn on the 2 soft play areas for a good while, made their eye mask and did some colouring,  before we met one of the stars of the Ninjago series, ‘Kai’, the Red Fire Ninja, who is at the Centre every day until the 31st October. He’s a mean looking Ninja!

We also saw the new 4D film experience starring the Lego Nexo Knights.  This is a great interactive experience.  We wore 3D glasses for the film, and experienced wind and even a spot of rain (note: sit at the back if you don’t want to get wet!). 

We also had lunch at the cafe. As Merlin Annual Pass holders we can not only visit a number of attractions – including the SeaLife Centre which is just next door – but also get 20% off food.  The girls had a kids lunchbox with 4 items each, I had a sandwich and (another) coffee and the whole thing came to £12.95.

Legoland is well worth a visit if you’re still looking for something to entertain the kids today.  Great half term activity!

Disclaimer: Lucky us- we’re ambassadors for both Legoland and Sealife, trying out their Merlin Annual Pass in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are our own. 

A Frightsome Halloween at Tatton Park 

Halloween is exciting for 6 and 4 year old girls. So imagine Halloween coupled with Roald Dahl’s The Witches!  Then: imagine Halloween coupled with Roald Dahl’s The Witches AND Tatton Park!

Yesterday we had a half-term day out at Tatton Park’s A Frightsome Halloween, based on Roald Dahl’s The Witches.  This year, Tatton has had magnificent Roald Dahl themed events and activities and they’ve been amazing entertainment for the children.  Check out my previous posts on Roald Dahl’s Tremendous Adventures over the summer holidays and Easter holiday adventures with The Twits. 

A Frightsome Halloween Tatton ParkWe began our day at The Old Hall, converted into The Hotel Magnificent for the event.  We had a great time just in the hour or so we spent here.  The girls were given an activity sheet to assess clues and find all the ingredients of The Witches’ horrible potion that turns all little children into mice. 

These clues we’re hidden around and in the Old Hall itself.  There were games and carousels outside (including pumpkin skittles!) and a fantastic storytelling event. The storyteller was one of the best I’ve ever seen.  She acted the part of Grandma in The Witches, telling a captivated audience how to recognise a witch. 

I’ll never look at any woman wearing gloves in the same way again.

Inside, the hall itself was completely transformed into quite a scary haunted hotel.  It was really well done, to the extent that my husband jumped out of his skin at one point.  I have to add a little caveat that some children may be scared: ours were fine, however! 

We searched for clues in the scary, dark hotel met by figures dresses as witches and ghouls along the way.  The freakiest part for me was the green model skeleton with chattering teeth!

The girls also got to make their own witch mask at The Old Hall and face-painting was also on offer.  There was lots to do – it was great fun. 

Next we had lunch at Gardener”s Cottage at Tatton, next to the gardens and mansion.  This is a great addition to Tatton and the already popular main Cafe area.  Set slightly to one side, the Gardener’s Cottage is quiet, has (you guessed it) a beautiful garden and really good food.  We had the deli boards- one dairy board and one gamekeeper’s board. They were both well presented, contained lots of cheeses and meats, their signature ‘plant pot bread’ and contained extra touches such as little pies and homemade scotch eggs. The girls tucked into hot, buttered toasted teacakes and were treated to ‘posh lemonade’ (or Rose Lemonade!).


After the restaurant we headed to the gardens where we have spent quite a lot of time this year.  Already the girls have enjoyed seeing The Twits in the Tower Garden, including pulling silly Twit faces and trying out The Twits’ oddly sized chairs and walking sticks.  We’ve also completed a Danny the Champiom of the World adventure trail and seen the BFG and Enormous Crocodile in the conservatory area.

For Halloween, there were also Frightsome witches strategically placed around the garden. This was fab fun for the girls as they shrieked with delight whenever they spotted one! The amazing pumpkin display in the greenhouse area fascinated them.  Who knew there were so many different types of pumpkin? 

The girls always spend a good amount of time running around the gardens and enacting imaginary play in the bushes.  For adults who like gardens and gardening, Tatton Gardens are an absolute must.  They are so well kept with burst of colour at every step, all year round.

We didn’t manage to get to the Halloween activities at the Mansion and Farm – hopefully we’ll get to those over the weekend, too. There’s so much to do here it’s hard to fit it all in!

We’re looking ahead to Christmas and A Glorumptious Christmas Mansion which we’ll definitely be attending! We’ve really enjoyed all the Roald Dahl events at Tatton this year and it will be great to end with this sparkling Christmas Mansion event.

A Frightsome Halloween continues this weekend – be sure to try it.  You won’t be disappointed!

Disclaimer: we are ambassadors for Roald Dahl at Tatton Park and attended this event free of charge. All opinions are our own.

Pizza Express, Didsbury (review) 

Hot on the heels of our review of the flaming hot Etna pizza with Pizza Express/Deliveroo, we were invited back to Pizza Express in Didsbury, Manchester this weekend to sample their new Autumn menu.

The new Autumn menu includes some much loved PizzaExpress classics, including the Rustichella Romana, Basilicata Romana and Cannelloni.  AND – the new melting Chocolate Fondant.  

Pizza express Didsbury
Our local restaurant is just around the corner from us, so we enjoyed a lovely autumn walk on the way there. Pizza Express restaurants are always a good family choice, as they are great with the children meaning the olds can have a relaxed meal while they’re entertained with colouring and activity sheets and crayons. 

The kids menu is really reasonable: 3 courses for £6.45.  Our excited girls had the dough balls which came with an inviting pot of garlic butter and a separate pot of vegetable sticks. 

They then had their own mini pizzas (1 la reine with olives, ham and mushrooms, and 1 marguerita).  They loved these and got to take the remainder back home (in their own ‘special box’, no less). 

For pudding, they were delighted to tuck into chocolate brownies and a bambiccino – a nice touch which was thrilling for them!

Pizza express Didsbury

Onto the adults, where we were trying out the hearty Autumn menu.  We each had the mozzarella and tomato salad to start which was refreshing and light enough to make room for the mains.  My husband had the Basilicata Romana which was topped with lamb, mint and chilli meatballs.  I had the Canneloni, stuffed with spinach annd ricotta and topped with loads more cheese and a delicious tomato sauce. Both were really tasty – and filling!

Despite this, we still managed to squeeze in pudding.  We just had to try the melting chocolate fondant.  It was soooo nice! All warm, melty, chocolatey gooiness.

We enjoyed or lunch at Pizza Express.  It’s a great local family-friendly restaurant for us and we’ll definitely be returning. 

Disclaimer: We were invited to try the Autumn menu at Pizza Express free of charge.  All opinions are our own. 

Pride and Prejudice at The Lowry (Review)

 

Pride and Prejudice Regents Park Theatre Lowry
Tafline Steen and Benjamin Dilloway as Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy

There was a period of time in my late teens when I discovered Jane Austen.  I remember my welcomingly thick Collins compendium of her works, which still sits in a box of my University books somewhere, waiting for the moment when my two girls are old enough to begin to appreciate them.

Ever since, Pride and Prejudice has been one of my favourite novels.  The journey of Lizzie Bennet as she discovers her love for the distantly brooding Mr Darcy (“Until this moment, I never knew myself” – cue flutterings of the heart!) amidst the surrounding comedy of a highly-strung Mother of 5 girls and the hapless Mr Collins mesmerised and stayed with me.

Last night, I was invited to see Pride and Prejudice at the Lowry in Salford.  The invitation seemed to arrive at just the right time; Pride and Prejudice has influenced so much of our culture, including the fantastic 1995 BBC TV series and the subsequent Bridget Jones series which cast the same Mr Darcy.  I went to see the latest Bridget Jones film featuring Colin Firth’s Darcy just last week – so I feel I’ve had a double dose of Darcy!

The play is a Regent’s Park Theatre adaptation by Simon Reade, with a cast that includes Matthew Kelly as Mr Bennet – played brilliantly (he is so tall!).  We had a few laughs at Mr Bennet’s withering comments to Felicity Montague’s Mrs Bennet.

Pride and Prejudice Regents Park Theatre Lowry
Matthew Kelly as Mr Bennet

It’s hard to top Jennifer Ehle’s Miss Bennet in the 1995 TV production.  However Tafline Steen did a good job.  A little more carefree than the Ehle version, the proposal scenes were nevertheless pleasingly tense, with Benjamin Dilloway’s Darcy delivering his declaration of Elizabeth’s inferiority convincingly.

He didn’t emerge from a pond with a wet shirt at any point in the show, however.

Pride and Prejudice Regents Park Theatre Lowry
Steven Meo as Mr Collins

By far the most enjoyable character to watch last night was Steven Meo’s Mr Collins.  He was just so funny!  His silly dancing – I need to try and emulate this at the next wedding I go to, just for fun.  I could have spent the entire evening watching just Mr Collins.

However, Montague’s Mrs Bennet was a close second.  Clinging to the banister at one point (half way up) in an attempt to convinced the escaping Mr Bennet to force Lizzie to accept Mr Collins’ marriage proposal, she was absolutely hilarious.

I enjoyed the evening and would recommend you go and see Pride and Prejudice. It’s at The Lowry until Saturday 15th October, and further tour dates and venues are listed here (or follow @DarcyOnTour on Twitter).

Outside the Lowry
Outside the Lowry

The Lowry is a great venue, for both adults and children.  It’s easy to get to and is an impressive building, with lots of eating and drinking places.  The play was in the Lyric theatre. it’s spacious, comfortable and we had good stalls seats with a decent view.  We ‘retired’ to the Circle bar in the interval for drinks which is really nice – low lighting, comfortable tables and seats and view of the theatre. I’ve also seen previous shows in the Quays Theatre, which also has a great bar adjacent to it overlooking the Quays.

We’re looking forward to our next trip to the Lowry.  I’ll be looking at what’s on in the next few months and the lead up to Christmas.  I may also re-read Pride and Prejudice!

Disclaimer:  We were invited to watch Pride and Prejudice free of charge.  All opinions are our own.

Me time: Volair Spa, Knowsley

It’s hard to find time to relax as a parent of young children.  Even those times when you do have a few moments to yourself, you can find that your mind goes into overdrive with a mental list of tasks you ought to be either doing or thinking about.

As Mum to nearly-6 and 4 year old girls, I was delighted to be invited to the Volair Spa in Knowlsey this week for a pampering spa day.  A whole day just for me? Doing lovely, relaxing things? Unheard of!

Volair Spa Knowsley
I set out to Knowsley this Tuesday with my fellow blogger HodgePodgeDays anticipating some serious Zen time and we got just that – and more. 

The spa is set within a multi-million pound leisure complex so we had a nosey around there first as we approached the spa. There’s a huge swimming pool for example, coffee shop and welcoming sculpture and art work.

In the spa, we were greeted by the lovely Hayley and her team, who I must thank as they looked after our every need all day.  Hayley showed us to the spa’s relaxation room which was so inviting- full of cosy chairs, squishy beanbags, fleecy throws with dimmed lighting and chill out music.  Every spa should have one of these. 

We had a welcome drink (I chose a fiery rhubarb and ginger tea) and pastries and Hayley explained that our group would be split into two, experiencing the thermal suite and cleansing/facial interactive demonstrations in turn.

Volair Spa Knowsley
HodgePodge and I experienced the thermal spa first, which consists of jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  But first, a member of Hayley’s team gave us some beautiful-smelling body scrubs to try.  These were by Lycon and I tried the lavender and chamomile scent which made my skin feel so soft and exfoliated – great to do before a sauna/steam.  

As you can see from the above, we spent a lot of time in the jacuzzi! The thermal area is really nice, with beds you can also relax on as you move from room to room, detoxifying.

Volair  Spa  Knowsley
We had to shift ourselves out of the tub however and move to our buffet lunch, followed by the demonstrations.

Here Hayley talked us through how to cleanse and take off makeup effectively – with a real handy hints and using AromaWorks products.  We tried their cleanser, toner and facial oil range.  I do like to use a facial oil on some evenings of the week as I find my skin can get quite dry.  The AromaWorks oils smelt gorgeous, with lots of essential oils to treat the skin.  

Hayley explained that it’s best to cleanse twice, particularly in the evening as the first cleanse will loosen the grime and pollution of the day and the second will then take away any final traces and allow any oils to penetrate the skin. Also, using a wet cotton pad to apply toner means you will use less product each time.  Finally, tapping the skin lightly with your fingertips as you apply moisturiser will ensure the cream is applied evenly and also help the circulation, helping the moisturiser to sink in. 

Our group then watched Hodgepodge have a CrystalClear microdermabrasion facial.  Fascinating! This used an electric tool which gently exfoliated the skin using very fine crystals.  The result was very good- take a look at HodgePodge’s site to see the results.

We felt really looked after at Volair Spa.  I’d certainly go back there (already booked in, in fact).  It’s a lovely, small spa with a personal feel to it.  If you’re in the area and have time for a pamper- give it a go.

Disclosure: We were invited to Volair Spa, Knowsley free of charge.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

A perfect Father’s Day bacon butty

 perfect bacon sandwichFather’s Day is once again upon us and my 4 year old and 2 year old daughters are looking forward to treating their beloved Daddy.  Just earlier today we took a trip to our local shops to buy some pressies (shhhhh we can’t say what they are) and they’ve also made some very creative cards.

However, this is by no means the main event of this coming Sunday.  What they’re really looking forward to is presenting Daddy with breakfast in bed, featuring THE PERFECT BACON SANDWICH.

I’m a vegetarian myself and have never understood bacon-worship. However I understand it’s the best treat ever on a Sunday morning for most meat eaters.  My daughters and husband (actually the rest of our wider family too- so just me, then) love it.

I did a bit of research and here are what I think are the ingredients for the perfect bacon-butty:

  • Two slices of soft and fluffy white bread, such as this delicious specimen from Roberts Bakery.
  • Some unsalted butter, softened 
  • Pack of unsmoked back bacon
  • Smidgen of tomato ketchup 

My husband likes the bacon crispy, but not too crispy, which is quite a difficult feat for a vegetarian who doesn’t really know what she’s doing with bacon. However, I always give it a good go and mainly get it right.

It also important to note that the perfect bacon sandwich is purist- no lettuce, tomato, egg or other nonsense. Pure bacon. 

Let’s hope I get it right this Father’s Day and it starts with the bacon sandwich from heaven! Check out the Roberts Bakery guide to the perfect bacon sandwich

Disclosure: I was sent a breakfast in bed goodie bag in return for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Stick Man, The Lowry

 stick man scamp theatre Yesterday, we went to see Stick Man, by Scamp Theatre productions and based on the Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler favourite.

Stick Man was at The Lowry at Salford Quays, Manchester. I always love taking the kids to The Lowry.  It’s a great place; we take the scooters and they can have a good old scoot around the Quays, stopping at The Blue Peter Garden, various play areas and topped off with a selection of places to eat.  

The shopping outlet is good, too!

The theatre is great for kids.  We’ve been to see several production there previously, including Room on the Broom and Dinosaur Zoo.

The theatre is comfortable and exciting for kids,and Stick Man kept my two girls, aged 4 1/2 and 2 1/2, entertained for just over an hour which is just right for children this age. 

The show is suitable for children aged 3+.  It runs until May 31st at The Lowry and is on tour across the UK until the end of August. 

My children loved the songs and there was lots of audience participation. It’s great for them to see one of their favourite stories come alive onstage.

The actors really held the children’s attention. Stick Man himself was portrayed by an actor with some clever puppetry involving a Stick Man stick.  There are lots of other characters, including a dog and Stick Lady Love.

My children really enjoyed the production – it’s well worth a visit and a great place for a family day out.

Stick Man is on at The Lowry until May 31st, for more information and to buy tickets visit The Lowry website.  The show is then touring across the UK until the end of August. See Scamp Theatre for more info.

Disclosure: we were invited to see Stick Man free of charge in return for this review.  All opinions are our own.

Geronimo Festival, Tatton Park

This weekend, we were invited to attend the  Geronimo Festival at Tatton Park.  The festival was held over the Bank Holiday weekend and is the largest children’s festival in the North West.  I was really excited about it as I knew families who had attended last year and absolutely loved the range of activities and entertainment for children of all ages (and adults who admit to liking some of the CBeebies TV programmes!).

Cook and Line, Swashbuckle
My eldest was completely over the moon to meet Cook and Line from Swahsbuckle at one of the Meet and Greets.

There was a long list of activities to choose from, including a zip line, BMX display, petting zoo, bouncy castles, donkey rides, and most importantly for my two (aged 4 1/2 and 2 1/2) the main stage, with performances from some of CBeebies’ most loved characters and presenters, including Alex Winters, Mr Bloom, Katy from I Can Cook and Cook and Line from Swashbuckle. So  that’s where we headed first of course.  There was a lovely grassy areas where we could rest and picnic, just in front of the main stage.  Nearby, there were lots of food stalls (and a bar on a double decker bus!) so we had plenty of choice.

My girls totally loved seeing the CBeebies stars and it was so nice to see them so excited and happy!

CBeebies Alex Winters Geronimo Festival
My 4 year old enthralled by CBeebies Alex Winters on the main stage

Next we had a wander around to see what we could find.  First up – some spinning hammock type things! Despite there being lots to see and do we seemed to spend quite a while here. The girls thought hammocks were the best thing ever (er but we’re not having one or I’ll effectively not see my husband all summer).

The most exciting hammocks in the world?
The most exciting hammocks in the world?

Next we checked out the petting farm and donkey rides.  The petting farm involved a huge tent with iguanas, snails, tarantulas and tortoises which they were allowed to touch and stroke.  They also had a short donkey ride and treated those waiting in the queue to a rendition of “Hey ho, away we go, donkey riding, donkey riding…” about 10 times which I’m sure they loved very much (!).

"Hey, ho! Away we go!..."
“Hey, ho! Away we go!…”

Next we tried out the bouncy castles.  We adults got a nice sit down (it was a lovely, sunny day) whilst the girls bounced away some energy in the ‘inflatable village’.

We also had a look at some of the stalls which were selling handmade gifts and food such as cupcakes and chocolate crafts. The girls tried out chocolate covered strawberries and raspberries which they obviously loved and wanted even more of.

We had a great day out and I would definitely go back next year.  It’s a great family day out over the May bank holiday.  You can easily spend the whole day there and find lots to do.  Under 2s are free and a family tickets (for four) was £86 this year.  All activities are free of charge once you’re inside.

Disclosure: We were official Geronimo Festival Bloggers and were given free entry to the event in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

School holiday activities: Home Community Cafe, Didsbury

 home community cafe didsbury  All local parents wondering what on earth they’re going to do with the kids during half-term, may I introduce you to Home Community Cafe, recently opened at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury.

I was excited to hear about this new venture – an independent, not-for-profit café for all the community in Didsbury, run by volunteer ‘Home Makers’. Crucially for me, with two girls aged 4 and 2, families are not only welcome here but are actively and very warmly provided for. As Hannah, Home’s Creative Director says, “We want children to know that at Home they are not an afterthought, but little stars in our community constellation!”

This café is whole-family-focused: the combination of a great ‘mini café’ children’s section together with a brilliant children’s menu (check out the ‘Little Homies’ collection plate which is served in a bun tray, different items in each section – my two girls love it!) means I can sit ever-so-slightly apart from them, get a massive piece of gorgeous cake and an even larger cup of Tank Coffee and chill out. An event which is often unheard of for busy parents – particularly mums of very inquisitive and lively preschool girls! 

The mini café is one of the best places I’ve encountered – perhaps rather selfishly due to the relaxation effect on myself. There’s a really lovely selection of toys – for example a toy kitchen with pretend food and utensils so young children can indulge their penchant for role play to their heart’s content. They also have their own small tables and chairs to sit and eat their food (it’s really cute to watch them sat here!). The volunteers will happily heat baby food and drink, and the café is breastfeeding-friendly, with cushions and comfy sofas.

Note: for those looking for activities during term-time, too – Home café is currently running a Lego club for all ages on Thursdays from 3pm, with more after-school clubs planned for the future. The café also hosts a free Youth Café on Friday evenings for Years 6-11 and a story time session for preschoolers on Wednesday mornings.

Delicious coffee aside (my regular readers will note that coffee is a big part of my life), I’ve sampled lunch here which is quite different and something special. This is because there’s something new every day. Last week, I sampled an Asparagus, Pea and Mint tart with salad which was amazing. The week before I couldn’t resist the Sicilian Caponata made with aubergine and mozzarella. A quick check of their Facebook page tells me that today’s special is Wild Rice, Pear and Fennel salad (but I’m at work – boo!!). There’s a great selection of home-made cakes, too – check out the Bakewell Tart and you won’t be disappointed! Offerings change daily, but there’s also the regulars – the Collection Plate, for example is like an upcycled Ploughman’s lunch with lots of hummus, cheese, freshly baked bread and salad. Take a look at a sample menu here. home community cafe didsbury

 I know there’ll be many of you wanting to try somewhere new with the kids this coming half-term: give it a try, if only to give yourself a break between activities while your kids are happily at Home.

Home café is open Wednesdays-Fridays 10:30am-6pm, situated at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road. Keep up-to-date with events and activities on their Facebook page, website or follow them on Twitter.