Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester (review)

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, ManchesterTicking off another item on the Summer Bucket List 2017, we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester this weekend.

Another very conveniently sited family attraction, Elizabeth Gaskell‘s House in Manchester is the former home of Elizabeth and her family. I’m very familiar with her most famous novels, which include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.  In my (long-distant?) youth, I studied Victorian Literature as part of my degree and obsessed over Bronte, Eliot and Gaskell.

My eldest daughter, who will begin Year 2 in September, has recently been studying the Victorian at school, with a school trip to the nearby Dunham Massey House.  I thought this would be a good place for them to visit during the school summer holidays – educational and fun activities – what’s not to like?

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, Manchester
Victorian tea time for minis

We arrived to find a beautiful period home near Central Manchester at 84 Plymouth Grove.  It’s an impressive,  beautifully restored Grade II listed neoclassical villa with spectacular period rooms, villa garden and a lovely tea rooms.  It was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively, and one or more of their daughters continued to live there until 1913.

What’s more, we were most impressed with the volunteers, stationed in every room and manning the tea rooms.  They seemed so dedicated and knowledgable – we could ask them anything!

With 2 hungry youngsters, we actually began our tour of the house in the tea room, situated in the old kitchens and adjacent to the servants quarters.  My two girls (aged 6 and 4) were really impressed that they could sit at their own tea-table and enjoy a piece of home-made cake.

Elizabeth Gaskell's House Manchester
A Victorian lady and her maid

However, they were even more impressed to try out the Victorian costumes in the servants quarters.  This is my best photo of the summer so far – my youngest as a Victorian lady, perchance about to nip out for her afternoon stroll around the gardens following her tea, with her lady’s maid (not sure how good a lady’s maid my 6-year-old would make, however!).

We didn’t actually make it upstairs for quite sometime due to costume-induced hilarity.  However we eventually ascended and made it, back at the impressive entrance to the house.  the girls each had a turn at ringing the doorbell – a traditional wired system whereby a lever at the front of the house is pushed to ring the internal bell.

The girls were each given a clipboard with a pictorial list of items that they needed to find around the house.  The house has been beautifully restored over the years, having lain dormant for some time until the University of Manchester procured it in 1969.  Most of the items there are of the period, with many original Gaskell items held here also (these are kept behind perspex – for example letters, pictures, other personal items).

Exploring the house and activities

We made or way through William Gaskell‘s study, the morning room, drawing-room and dining room.  There are activities for children in each of the rooms, for example the magnifying glass and range of letters, much-loved by my two girls who were fascinated by the tiny, cursive writing.

We saw copies of letters from Charles Dickens which I found interesting.  Mrs Gaskell wrote for a periodical for Charles Dickens and some of her stories later formed the basis of Cranford.

We also found out much more from the volunteers about the life and work of the Gaskell’s and the lives of their daughters and servants.

I was particularly drawn to the Gaskell quotes stationed around the house – so appropriate still to modern times!

We will certainly visit the Gaskell house again.  The house and it’s volunteers host a year-round programme of special events and the loved book shop sells a range of new and second-hand books.  I bought Sylvia’s Lovers as I’ve never read this novel of Mrs Gaskell’s. It will provide me with my holiday reading!

Disclaimer: We were invited to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House free of charge.  Admission is £5 per adults – children under 16 go free.  All opinions are our own.

Never a truer word spoken!

 

Babe, the Sheep Pig at The Lowry, Salford Quays (review)

Babe, the Sheep Pig at The Lowry, Salford QuaysToday I’m breaking my ‘no social media for lent’ rule by reviewing the most excellent Babe, the Sheep Pig, which we saw earlier this week at The Lowry, Salford Quays.  Has to be done – it was such a good show!

Babe is a great story for young children (although we saw quite a lot of older children and adults, too!) – a story of friendship, adventure and bravery.  I remember reading the book by Dick King-Smith when I was younger and it was one of those early books that I couldn’t wait to read more of, couldn’t put down.

This production features a West End cast and is adapted by Olivier Award winner David Wood who has also adapted the likes of Goodnight Mister Tom, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows Babe’s rise to become a world famous sheep-pig. Babe arrives at Hogget’s Farm and is taken in by the trusty sheep-dog Fly who becomes his adopted Mum, learning to lead the most comical sheep! He makes lots of animal friends on the way and faces a number of piggy trials and tribulations.

Babe the sheep pig lowry
Stunning puppetry of the world’s cutest pig

The highlights of this production for us were the stunning puppetry and music/percussion. The clever music gave a sense of momentum and created atmosphere at key parts in the story.  My girls, age 6 and 4, were enthralled by the puppets (and as an adult, we could easily forget they were puppets at all – so clever!).

It’s not easy to entertain young children for 2 1/2 hours in the Easter holidays – but Babe certainly did.  The audience got involved at key parts in he production and this created a sense of fun and adventure that the children could be part of.

The Lowry is also an excellent venue for children. It’s easy to get to, it has lots of restaurants and shops at The Lowry outlet across from the theatre. The theatre itself has a number of bars and cafes. My girls really enjoy visiting.

Babe is on at The Lowry until this Saturday 15th April.  Book tickets on The Lowry website or visit the Babe the Pig Live page for details of the UK tour. 

We look forward to more Lowry shows in the future- next stop Fantastic Mr Fox in the summer!

Disclaimer: My family were invited free of charge to review Babe the Pig Live. All opinions are our own.

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.