Pumpkin Projects

This Halloween I was challenged to a pumpkin carving competition.

With the gauntlet thrown we each set about with uncompromising secrecy to create the ‘classiest pumpkin lantern’ and fashion ways to use all the entrails productively.

I turned to my secret weapon, the Pumpkin King of Bolton.

Marie's Florists Bolton

Marie’s Florists, Bolton


If you’ve walked down Wigan Road or Deane Church Lane recently you may have seen his work at Marie’s Florists (309 Wigan Rd, Bolton, BL3 5QX). If you haven’t been yet you really should check them out before they go all mushy. Seriously, look at his Alien Attack carving below… His work is amazing.

Mars Attack - Maries Florist Bolton - Manchester Meanders

See Mars Attack and 12 others by The Pumpkin King at Marie’s Florist in Bolton

I knew I could never compete with his awesome carving skills but it didn’t stop me asking for his lantern advice and for a photograph or two to intimidate the competition with.

As he’s such a great guy he wrote me an essay of carving instructions with hints, tips and photos from last year. I considered sharing these with you before Halloween, but knowing that at least one of my opponents reads this blog (you know who you are) I couldn’t risk them getting any ideas, such was the competitiveness between us. (There was a bottle of red wine at stake you know!).

I won’t reveal all his instructions but here are a few tips that made things easier:


  1. Buy the pumpkins early. When they
    Competitors Guinness Pumpkin lantern - Manchester Meanders

    A happy Irish pumpkin submitted by one competitor

    appear in the shops they’ve already been off the vine for about a month and you don’t want to risk them going mouldy (or selling out). PK and I both bought ours from Asda for £1 each.

  2. Forget your kitchen knives. Invest in a craft knife plus either a saw blade (for cuts) or scalpel blade (for peels). Remember it’s a lot easier and safer if you use sharp blades. (I bought a £3 set from the Works in the Arndale Centre).
  3. If you’re lighting your masterpiece with a candle try coating the lid with a pinch of each of the following spices: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice and nutmeg. It smells fantastic when the lantern is lit.
  4. To stop the carvings from drying out coat the flesh with Vaseline / petroleum jelly. It’s a messy job and the jury’s out on how effective it is but it’s worth a shot if it might make them last longer.
  5. Lastly, (and possibly most importantly) if you’re carving ‘cut though’ don’t push anything through until you’ve done the whole carving. Those little pieces stop it from distorting and damaging anything delicate whilst you work.

MY CARVINGSOwl pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester Meanders

The first one I carved was this owl.

I was astonished at how well it worked out. I didn’t expect the spooky glow around the moon and branches, which was caused by the thickness of the remaining flesh. I had assumed the flesh would need to be thin to make it work so I’m glad I didn’t ‘finish’ carving it before viewing it with the lights off.

Witches Brew pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersEYE OF NEWT

A few nights later I carved a witch making a newt brew. I hollowed and carved this design quite aggressively so it only took half the time of the owl lantern. I only needed to submit one pumpkin to the competition so in my mind it didn’t matter if it wasn’t neat. I could have done more with it but as it was an extra I hoped it wasn’t necessary.


(In case you were wondering how I created the two tone effect it’s done by switching between the cut though and peel techniques. To make the face darker and spooky I peeled the pumpkin’s skin off rather than cutting all the way through).


Headless horseman pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersFinally, getting a little bored with the project I roughly carved a headless horseman thowing his flaming pumpkin head.

I know I should have tidied the flesh up a little before taking the photograph but by this stage I was just glad it was coming to an end. I bought 4 pumpkins so I had to use them all. I hadn’t expected my first attempt to work so well.

I enjoyed the competition but it was a lot of hard work. It took me 5 hours to carve the owl; 2 and a 1/2 hours for the witch and finally 90 minutes for the horseman. That’s 9 hours of work excluding research and planning. I don’t know how the Pumpkin King has the patience to carve 13 (or more) lanterns each year.

Pumpkin Gingernut Parfait by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersPRODUCTIVE ENTRAILS

Of course the carving was only part of the project: The rules stated that all of the entrails had to be used productively.

So for the next month we’ll be eating pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin chutney, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin gingersnap parfait (pictured).


Brewing Pumpkin Gin / Pumpkin WineIn the unlikely event that we didn’t have enough pumpkin in our diets this autumn another friend suggested I make pumpkin gin. It all sounded simple enough: cut off the lid, remove the seeds, fill it with sugar, re-seal the lid with paraffin wax, leave it for 30 days then crack the pumpkin open and enjoy.

Two weeks have passed and I haven’t seen or heard a single bubble from the airlock. We’ve been advised to view the pumpkin gin bomb with extreme suspicion. The Pumpkin King says it’s waiting for me to turn my back on it before it detonates and coats my kitchen in yeasty smelling orange goo. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

And just so you know, I did win a bottle of wine 😉

Did you carve a pumpkin this year? How are you using the pumpkin flesh? Are you trying to make pumpkin gin or have you tried it in the past?

All comments are welcome 🙂


Manchester Zombie Walk 2012

On Sunday evening around 1,000 of the un-dead staggered through the streets of Manchester. Groaning, limping, groping along windows and shutters, ghouls swarmed around buildings when they glimpsed anyone inside and encircled pedestrians who scrambled up street furniture in their failed attempts to flee the horde. That night I finally ticked Zombie Walk off my Day Zero List.


I didn’t tell my other half I had a zombie costume. He knew about my list and I’d mentioned Zombie Aid but he didn’t know there was full-body outfit hanging in my wardrobe. I casually left the room whilst he watched TV to try it on for the first time. Satisfied that it was sufficiently creepy I crept back in then stood there, perfectly still, staring silently at the back of his head through blackened eye-sockets until he finally turned his head.

It was probably a mistake.

Scaring the begeebers out of him means he’ll want revenge and I scare far too easily.

I’m still unsettled ten years later after watching The Ring whilst house-sitting – His fault entirely. I don’t remember much about the movie but I know I was seriously unnerved even before it reached the scene where she answered the phone and heard the words “seven days”.

I knew what was coming when the TV phone rang so I was horrified when the house phone rang at exactly the same time. I let it ring, just as she let it ring in the movie. I knew it was just coincidence but there was that part of me that just wasn’t sure. I looked from the TV to the phone to my other half and back again. I begged him to answer it for me but he wouldn’t. I wanted to let it ring but people don’t phone late at night unless it’s important so I didn’t have a choice.

With my stomach in knots I crossed the cavernous pitch-black room of an otherwise empty house, lifted the receiver and strained to hear a tiny unknown voice whisper “seven days.”

I hated him for that.

This should make us even.

Sammy Dee (Manchester Meanders) as a Zombie

Can you believe my friend’s 14 year old son didn’t want to wear this costume? It wasn’t cool enough or something. Personally I love it.

I love the fact that other zombies were scared of me. Every now and then I’d overhear one telling another that I was freaking them out – So naturally on hearing this I slowly turned to face them and stared at them until they ran away. Muhahahar!

Why did the Zombie cross the road? (Zara on Market Street, Manchester)

For more photographs visit the Manchester Evening News (All fright on the night) or look for zombies you know on this 22 minute YouTube video.

Zombies in the PrintworksDid you take part in the Zombie walk? Do you have any photos to share?


All comments are welcome 🙂

Our Radical Print Shop

Many of you have been asking why I haven’t written much recently. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say I’ve been insanely busy – Almost tearing my hair out kind of busy – I haven’t written or read anything significant in 3 whole months kind of busy – Exhausted, frustrated, you get the picture. (Do you think maybe I’ve just had a bad week?)

It is my hope that normal service will resume shortly but in the meantime it is with much gratitude and enthusiasm that I would like to introduce you to my friend Lobsters Are Cute Too.

Lobsters are cute

* Not an actual photograph of today’s guest blogger. Besides, don’t they only turn red after they’ve been cooked? Cooked lobsters cannot type, can they?

Lobsters (Is it rude to give someone a nickname without running it past them first?) is a fellow Mancunian (technically a Salfordian – Oooh so political!) who moved to Liverpool for several years (traitor) but has recently moved back to Sunny Salford. (Quick glance out of the window – yep, looks bright enough across the Irwell to call it that).

Lobsters (Tangents are quite distracting aren’t they? I should really try to cut down) has only recently starting blogging so check out her site and show some support. As an ex-full time creative practitioner / artist / arts industry employee, her blog is a conduit for releasing creativity so here is her guest blog reviewing a recent date with the Hot Bed Studio in Salford:


So in a pre Manchester Weekender type of mood I went off to try out Hotbed Press’s workshop: The Radical Print Shop, taking place in an old Victorian (maybe) building full of studio’s and interesting looking workshops. Tucked back from the cross-roads where Liverpool Street meets Oldfield Road, just over the river into Salford, Hotbed Press is a studio group of printers, who also run courses and workshops.

My date (an old old friend in town for the labour party conference) for the evening was late. When I arrived, a tiny bit tardy myself at 6:30 for a 6pm start, luckily the totally relaxed attitudes made that whole drop-in workshop thing work really well. I’d been worried it would be more like a taught class and my lateness would cause fuss.

I established on the phone that she was also a teensy weensy bit tipsy, out drinking with a trade unionist in the afternoon I reckon. I decided that I was brave and went in on my own. 

After paying my £10 pounds I was directed to talk to someone who explained what was going on: There was screen printing, letter press printing and starting in half an hour the risograph machine would be in action.

I was told to not stay still, not try and compose too much, to mix my media’s as much as possible – delightful I thought, and wandered off to talk to someone in the screen print section of this impressively set up creative space.

With maybe 9 large vacuum beds, huge sinks and beautiful drying racks (I have a thing about these, seriously, ever since I was little, the way they click and slide and the way you turn down the sheets to tuck your work safely in) it was heaven.

ISay No To’ve not printed since Uni, but was allowed to just crack on with it. Screens with a selection of text and images were already set up allowing you to move round the room overprinting in a deliciously casual manner. (Screenprinting is all too often precision and tears when screens don’t line up properly).

There were studio members on hand dishing out advice and technique when desired and I quickly had something to show. So leaving these to dry I trotted off to watch a letterpress printing mini demo, where I was mid 3min whiz through the history of printing words when my halfcut mate turned up. 

BookmarksWe giggled, we chatted (there were more people arriving and the large room was abuzz with noise in a very active kinda way so it all felt totally natural). After she had put her coat and bag down I dragged her over to play at printing. We made bookmarks with the letterbeds – a type of printing I’d never done before and most satisfyingly tying me into a history of selfprinting selfexpressing women.  

Had all sorts of interesting jargon explained, including the origin of minding your P’s & Q’s and Uppercase and Lowercase, most patiently by the studio member / workshop leader. I cut up some of my screen prints and printed letters onto those, we did some more screenprinting, we shared some interesting opinions on men my friend may know.

Finally we came to the Risograph machine, looking like a photocopier but producing printed images in coloured ink more akin to a screenprint or etch, the endlessly patient Hotbedpressite manning it was patiently explaining how it worked and producing prints from collages people were making of their prints and drawings, mixed with newspapers and magazines. I got to be printed just as she’s swapped the colour from red to green and was more than delighted with the way my not so amazing collage looked when it had been run through the machine. 

Perhaps the most radical bit of my evening was the re-engaging with creativity and producing rather than just purely consuming. The text and images used all had a loose connection to ‘radical or ‘protest’ and though it was tempting to go with the purely decorative aspects of printing my final risograph print had a vague message relating to a couple of the ongoing questions in my personal life (personal is political, for me anyhow).

Anyhow I’m not going to make any claims for the quality or aesthetic value of my work, but I had the best time and my scientist politician friend enjoyed herself too and was amazed at what she produced.

Part of the reason I was there on Thursday night was that since moving back to Salford I haven’t been part of a studio group and I really wanted to test the water here. Decision made, as soon as I have the pennies I’ll be joining if they’ll have me.Print Workshop

Hot Bed Press run loads of amazing workshops. I’m pretty much saving up to go to one of their more expensive but amazing sounding courses, and will definitely be going along to any future evening masterclasses they run, which tend to be cheaper.


The Radical Printshop is taking place again today as part of the Manchester Weekender at The Peoples History Museum and John Ryland’s library.

All comments are welcome 🙂 

Guilty Pleasures

Have you answered this weeks Booking Through Thursday Meme?

It’s my question! I’m so pleased they liked my meme enough to use it. In fact, I’m positively delighted that they used it! (Which is why I’m urgently sharing my news with you now!)

My question is:

What book(s) have you read that you’re secretly ashamed to admit?

Some of you already know my answer… but for those of you who don’t here’s a re-blog…

Book Swap Guilt

I don’t read chick lit. I’ll read just about anything: fiction, history, thrillers, sci-fi, the occasional biography, anything, except chick lit.

The first time I noticed this particular book in the book swap area I sniggered, then shuddered. I wondered “Who would bring that in?” Personally I’d have donated it to charity shop rather than publically confess a penchant for romantic tosh. But that’s just me. I’m an action-flick kinda gal.

I pass the book swap pile daily and frequently skim the spines for new titles. This book has been there for several weeks now. No one has touched it. Even the spine is un-creased. (Perhaps its previous owner didn’t read it after all).

Each time I passed it I would inwardly shake my head and think “Urgh! No-one is going to take that. They’d be too embarrassed for a start”. Even the picture on the cover makes me cringe. Then yesterday, inexplicably without any warning, a little voice in my head said “Oh go on then”.


Where did that come?!

I was mortified the idea had sprung from my own brain. I checked left and right to make sure no one had seen it reflected in my face. I walked away quickly and sat at my desk. Fingers on keys. Eyes on the screen. I told myself no. NO. I have never, ever, wanted to read anything by this author, popular as she is.

I have never, ever, wanted to read this particular book. I don’t want to read it. I don’t. I really honestly and truly don’t.

(Deep breath)

But I’m going to. I didn’t decide that right away. On my journey home last night I found myself thinking: If I do take it I can’t let anyone see me take it: I’ll need something to hide it in. Perhaps I should wait until the office is empty… But what if people see me acting suspiciously? They might think I’m stealing! What if I’m subjected to a handbag search? How could I not look guilty?

! ! !

Where were these thoughts coming from?

Again I checked around me in case someone was monitoring my facial expressions. I’d clearly lost my senses. What was wrong with me? Was I seriously considering taking and reading a book that makes me wince at the thought of it? I took a few deep breaths, considered it for a while then reasoned that I might as well.

It is right that I should feel embarrassed? It’s only a book for goodness sake! I don’t even know what the book is about. Do other people feel this shame about chick lit?

Is this normal?

I feel a need to conduct some experiments, to give me a reason, an excuse for reading it: Perhaps I should take it out in public areas, on a train or in a café, just to observe how other people react to it. Will they snigger? Will they judge me harshly on my dubious choice? Will they smile at me but ooze pity from their eyes? More to the point, could I bring myself to be seen with it in public?

As I sat in the canteen I wanted to air these questions: Share my dilemma and consider the responses. I couldn’t. Our book swap is anonymous. I don’t know who the donor is and I couldn’t risk making them feel uncomfortable if they overheard me. I’m grateful other people are willing to swap books. I really am. I certainly wouldn’t want to scare anyone off. So instead I’m sitting here quietly, biding my time.

Tonight, when the office lights dim and most people have gone home, into my pre-prepared black plastic carrier-bag I’m going to slip a pristine copy of a Jilly Cooper.

All comments (and mocking) most welcome. 🙂

My Manchester in 52 words

Our balcony overlooks the Northern Quarter; a heritage site, the original Victorian centre. Red brick buildings and rooftops interspersed with flourishing trees give way to high-rises beyond. I glimpse the Pennines and wind farms in the distance. I smile. Sometimes we watch fireworks or glowing paper lanterns. It’s peaceful here: Quiet.

SammyDee, 23 Feb 2012


NQLovesYouEdgeStreetChris Smith and Liz Peel from Finding Manchester are embarking on the mammoth challenge of visiting 52 Manchesters in 52 weeks in 5 continents. It’s a fantastic project inspiring people to reach out and connect with other communities around the world, as well as encouraging people to share their own experiences closer to home.

Chris interviewed me at the Manchester Museum earlier this year, so Manchester Meanders could be ‘placed into the Manchester Box’. This ‘Box’ will travel with them around the world help them explain what it is like to live right here, right now, in Manchester UK.

Contact Chris Smith

Follow Finding Manchester on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m already in the box but there is an opportunity for you to get inside the box too: by entering the 52 word challenge.

The challenge is simple…In 52 words, what does your Manchester mean to you?

You’ve read my first attempt at the challenge and you can read a few more of my ideas below.

But first, here are the rules:


The competition is open to everyone. Thirteen entries will be selected from each of the four age groups, so there will be 52 winners in total.

Entries can be short factual stories, poems, parables, songs or anything else as long as they are exactly 52 words in length. (For simplicity, hyphenated words count as two words).

The winners will claim their place in history by having their reflections entered into the Manchester City Archive Repository for perpetuity. How often does an opportunity like that come along?

Will you write something? Go on, try it. How hard can 52 words be?…

Here are three more of my quick attempts:

When I joined the Duck Race I imagined real ducks, not yellow plastic rubber duckies. I should have guessed. How could they herd thousands of birds along the River Irwell? They’d fly away, surely? Spectators line the banks of Spinningfields, laughing, watching them bob. We cheer for wind to float them along.

SammyDee, 23 Feb 2012

Manchester’s first Duck Race was held on a scorching hot spring day. There was barely a breeze so we cheered for 40 minutes getting sunburned whilst they barley moved 10 meters. At one point they even moved backwards.

Manchester Duck Race

Photo: Thanks to MEN Media

The Duck Race is a fun but bizarre family-friendly day out with decent Manchester based prizes. Sponsoring a Duck costs from just £1 per duck (more for businesses) and the money raised goes to a children’s charity. This year they DID herd real ducks! (Technically, they were geese). Did you sponsor a ducky?

Whose idea was Pub Golf? A cocktail here, a pint there: I don’t normally mix my drinks. I’d rather sit and chat if I’m honest. It’s a good way to see new bars I suppose. Drink up: next venue. An eight-hole ‘course’ and I’m seven over par. The costumes are overkill.

SammyDee, 23 Feb 2012

Pub Golf is on my Day Zero list but I’ve been putting it off. I’m fully resigned to the idea of coming last: Who wants to get so drunk they can’t stand up anyway? It’s the [optional] dressing up, having a giggle with friends and visiting new bars that counts. I will play it, one day. Probably.

Festival season again: So much to see and do! Parades, Markets, Street theatre, Concerts: I want to do them all! I plan the weekend meticulously. It’s the only way, I think. There’s never enough time. I’ll probably get side tracked as the crowds swallow me up. I rarely stick to the plan.   

SammyDee, 23 Feb 2012

Manchester Galleon at the Manchester Day Parade

Manchester Day Parade

Regular readers will know my my plans change frequently. (Fantastic Frantic Festival Season, the £50 weekend challenge and my attempt to follow the Art Crawl are a few examples). It’s good to have a plan but you don’t have to stick to it. Plans get you out of the house and into scenarios where you can be spontaneous. Does that make sense?

So, in 52 words, what does your Manchester mean to you?

All comments are welcome 🙂

(Enter the competition here)

What Makes Britain so Brilliant?

“A lot of things actually. Far too many to mention them all…” so said the 4-page Carling advertisement covering this morning’s free Metro newspaper.

Reading their list brightened my rainy Mancunian morning, so if you don’t mind I’d like to share it with you.


Since it’s the Queen’s Jubilee (and we’re about to have a FOUR DAY WEEKEND to celebrate – Yippee!) here are 60 reasons, one for each year of her reign (shamelessly reproduced without permission…)

  1. Marmite. Mmm…yuck.
  2. Our devotion to our wonderfully gripping soap operas.
  3. Vivienne Westwood’s heels. It’s worth the pain.
  4. The Earl of Sandwich’s groundbreaking concept of putting a savoury filling between two pieces of bread.
  5. Glastonbury – mud and all.
  6. Our modesty – we never boast about how great we are, apart from today.
  7. The pound and our reluctance to adopt the Euro.
  8. The best selling music artists in the world are our very own: The Beatles.
  9. Our politeness – no matter how irritated we get, we are always too British to say anything.
  10. Kate Middleton and her sister.
  11. The Great British Summer (don’t forget the brolly).
  12. Driving on the left (the right way to do it).
  13. No matter where you are in Britain, you’re never far from a pub.
  14. Any excuse for a cup of tea.
  15. Curry, the unofficial national dish, with a pint of cold larger.
  16. We don’t moan because we’re miserable, we moan because it makes us happy.
  17. Our international language. Travelling abroad is a doddle.
  18. The Queen and her graceful wave.
  19. The Great British countryside, when you’re not stuck behind a tractor.
  20. Freedom of speech.
  21. Deep fried food. Fish, sausages, Mars bars… absolutely anything.

  22. Some of the very best museums and galleries on the planet. Free.
  23. The national tendency to cheer the underdog and ridicule the mighty.
  24. We apologise way too much. Sorry about that.
  25. Crisps. We eat more of them, in more varieties, than the whole of Europe put together.
  26. Shakespeare. When thou can understandeth it.
  27. Sir David Attenborough and his soothing voice on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
  28. British strawberries, perfect with cream.
  29. Our cobbled streets, watch your heels ladies.
  30. Chips with fish, or cheese, or beans, or pies, or steaks, or curries or in a sandwich. Chips with pretty much everything.
  31. We know the importance of a good queue.
  32. Beans on toast, brilliant no matter what your age.
  33. Courtroom WigCourtroom wigs. Our great way of making very smart people look very silly.
  34. Pantomimes. The jokes never seen to get old.
  35. No matter how cold it gets it will never keep us from our nights out.
  36. HP sauce. Chuck it on everything.
  37. The 3pm Saturday kick off.
  38. Cream teas. In case you’re wondering, Cornish is jam first, Devon is cream first.
  39. Jellied eels. And jelly. Though not necessarily together.
  40. Beer gardens. Because we love our beer and we love our gardens.
  41. Saying ‘I’m fine’ no matter how we feel.
  42. A love of mowing the lawn.
  43. Plugs with switches. Amazingly nowhere else seems to do this.
  44. Tolerating nearly everything, but banning hosepipes.
  45. Llanfairpwllgyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwlllantysiliogogogoch in North Wales. Just wait till your sat nav tries that one.
  46. World Cup, 1966. We’ll be clinging to it forever.
  47. Egg and soldiers. Those brave and tasty souls.
  48. The BBC. The only time you’re not constantly reaching for the fast-forward      button.
  49. Our British seasides. Watch out for the seagulls.
  50. Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland.
  51. Prime Minister’s Question Time. A no-holds-barred, public bashing for whoever’s in charge. Every week.
  52. The Full English breakfast. Served all day.
  53. The weather. Although we get less of it than almost anywhere, it’s still the major talking point.
  54. 99 FlakeThe 99 flake.
  55. Morris dancing. We know how to move it 15th Century style.
  56. Allotments. Our very own little patch of the countryside.
  57. Our love of everything pickled.
  58. Carry On films. Oooer Missus.
  59. Our talent. Be it our artists, musicians, directors or just dancing dogs.
  60. And finally…

(Seeing as the list was a Carling advert I’m sure you can figure their last one out).

Happy Bank Holiday / Queen’s Jubilee / Weekend everyone!

Do you agree with the list? What are your plans this weekend?

All comments are welcome 🙂

Backpedalling and Backwards Running

Earlier today I clicked the ‘reblog’ button above an article I published last June. The ‘reblog’ button has never worked before so I didn’t expect it to work today either. I’ve tried it a couple of times and nothing has ever happened. So why should it work today?

At best I thought it would send something to my ‘drafts’ folder so I could add an introduction later explaining why it was relevant again.

But no:

The ‘reblog’ button distributed the outdated unedited 2011 article directly to all my subscribers.

How very embarrassing.

Perhaps I should explain…


Forever Manchester (the Mancunian charity that puts money back into our communities) is once again holding the Backwards Running Championships at Heaton Park.

There is a £10.00 registration fee, for which you’ll receive a t-shirt, medal, refreshment and a donation to Forever Manchester. Any other money you raise will go to your charity / voluntary group of choice. (Registration is free if you raise money for Forever Manchester).

The Backwards Running race is this Sunday, 27th May 2012 at 10 am. You can register in advance on the website or sign up on the day near the Heaton Park duck-pond café.

So now I’ve backpedalled and explained, here is the ‘repost’ I wanted to share:


Have you ever fancied becoming a UK Sporting Champion with little or no effort?

Last year I did: I discovered that the European Running Backwards Championships were taking place in Austria on the 7 & 8th of August. The UK only had 2 people competing so it was probably my one and only chance to represent the UK in something, anything, and to become a ‘UK Sporting Champion’ despite being not particularly good at anything physically challenging.

Backwards RunningI reaaallly wanted to enter. I toyed with the idea for weeks but in the end I just couldn’t justify a weekend away in Austria, especially after my friends pointed out I should probably try it in England first, before attempting to represent the UK in a sport which [some] Europeans take seriously.

Hmmm, so running backwards is a serious sport, is it? (Shrugs) Well yes it is… apparently. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.


Running backwards has lots of benefits: It gives you an intense cardiovascular workout, reduces the risk of leg and back injuries, helps create a stronger more balanced lower body and is a speedy aid to losing weight. 

People claim that running backwards for just one lap could be equivalent to up to six laps of forward running and burns a third more calories too. (Think of the time you could save exercising!)

I didn’t go to the European Championships. Instead I entered the inaugural UK Championships.  

And I came fifth. FIFTH! Hurray!


2010 winners at Heaton Park, Manchester

Admittedly I only came fifth out of the female contestants and even then only about eleven women entered that first year, but none of that is relevant really…

The fact of the matter is, as it currently stands, I SammyDee, am the fifth fasted Female Backwards Running Champion in the UK. And I have a medal to prove it!

It’s surprisingly difficult. Yes it’s easy to go a few dozen meters. Anyone can ‘run’ backwards a few steps, but believe me; your calves start to burn very quickly when you don’t stop… I probably should have practiced at least once prior to the race.


One memory that still makes me giggle is when I looked down to see I’d just stepped in horse manure. I continued running, naturally, but with every step I waded deeper and deeper into more manure. I had too much momentum to stop or swerve. Instead I just doubled over laughing and continued to run. Thank goodness I didn’t slip or trip at that point.

As the manure shrunk into the distance I noted it was several meters long in one fairly narrow path. One step to either my left or right would have spared me the mucky trainers. Perhaps I should have made a cap with mirrors at the sides, or at least looked behind me once in a while.

Back to present day: A BBC article about the event is still live on their website but if you wanted to play ‘Where’s Wally’ for me on the clip published on ITVs Granada Report, I’m sorry but the link has been broken.

If you don’t already have plans for this Sunday I recommend going to the race at Heaton Park. It’s going to be a scorching day and it’s a great excuse to feed the ducks and have a picnic.

The course is only 1 mile long… Anyone can walk or run 1 mile! 

Go on, give it a go… then you too can boast about being a UK Sporting Champion.

All comments are welcome 🙂

Finding Manchester

Previously I’ve written about my desire to go on a scavenger hunt in and around Manchester. My ideas were miniscule compared with Chris Smith and Liz Peel’s ambitions:

You see, whilst my hunt was limited to our very own Manchester UK, Chris and Liz’s ‘scavenger hunt’ is to visit 52 Manchesters in 52 weeks in 5 continents, sharing knowledge, memorabilia and experiences and building bridges between our cities:

  • 52 Manchesters
  • 52 weeks
  • 5 continents

You have to admit, my hunt is trivial by comparison.


Chris emailed to tell me about ‘Finding Manchester’. He wrote “It’s a crazy research project (in a good way!) to create a permanent archive of 52 Manchesters for generations to come, celebrating each of them as they are at this moment in history.

“We’re going to be interviewing people connected with the Manchesters, photographing the places and collecting memorabilia. We’ll also be taking with us ‘boxes of Manchester UK’ to the other Manchesters.

“The boxes will include things that are ‘Manchester’ through and through, such as interviews with people from here (well known and not so well known), images of the city and people today, emblems, technology etc.)

“Before we go we want to pull together a selection of interviews with people who are passionate about Manchester!”

I read and re-read the email. The project sounded fantastic. I could see the potential and it gripped my imagination from the start. When at the end I read “How about an interview sometime?”, well, you can imagine my reaction.

Finding Manchester in the Amazon

*A few years ago Chris and Liz discovered a forgotten Manchester in the Amazon. This new challenge stems from their earlier adventures. (Photo: Thanks to Chris Smith)


I asked Chris how the interview would take place. I hoped it would be nice and informal, over a few drinks in a pub perhaps, with him taking notes as I answered. I even thought we might do the interview via email. I thought he could send the questions and I could compose a reply at leisure. No such luck. 


If you’ve been reading Manchester Meanders for a while you’ll remember my radio interview and the sheer terror I experienced leading up to it. That was live (LIVE!) but at least they could only hear my voice.

Regarding the Finding Manchester interviews, Chris wrote “we like to do them face-to-face so that we can record the audio in WAV (the adopted technology format for the British Library to ensure that the recordings can be listened to in many years to come and doesn’t become redundant). We also like to video the interviews where we can too. People like to put a face to the voice.”

(Video? They want to video it?! Eek!)

Chris and Liz: Finding Manchester

*Finding Manchester: Lost in Bolivia. For more information see below and visit the Manchester Museum website. (Photo: Thanks to Chris Smith)


After several emails back and forth we finally set an interview date. We arranged to meet at the Manchester Museum one afternoon after work. The plan sounded simple enough but on the day I missed every sensible connection; I missed busses, got stuck on trains; I ended up running across Manchester city centre rather than risk any further mishaps, which wasn’t easy as I was breaking in new hiking boots at the time.Two and a half hours after setting off I arrived for my interview glowing with sweat and panting for air. It wasn’t really the best look for Manchester UK.

As we were running out of time we launched straight into the interview. Still gasping for air, without checking a mirror for streaming mascara and without combing my hair, I answered personal questions off the cuff without thinking. To be honest, I hadn’t realised we were recording.

The plan, according to Chris, was to “capture what it is I love about Manchester and give people an impression of the person I am – as a person who lives in Manchester today.

He said: “Think of it as telling someone about your life in Manchester who has no idea what the place is like or who it is that lives there.”

I’m not sure how well I achieved that. If it was a job interview I wouldn’t have got it.

I don’t know how long the interview lasted. The staff at Manchester Museum were waiting to lock up but they patiently (and generously) let us record for half an hour past closing time, after which we slipped into the museum’s café for a brew until they threw us out too.

I answered questions about relationships, how long I’ve lived in Manchester, why I moved into the city centre, how I met my partner, how long we’ve been together, what I studied at University, how my career has changed over the years, where I want it to go from here… None of that actually made it into the final cut. The final cut from the interview is all about this blog, making it appear like a shameless advertisement for Manchester Meanders! That wasn’t my aim! Hopefully I’m just being paranoid.

Contact Chris Smith

Follow Finding Manchester on Facebook and Twitter.

I might be able to show you the interview on Vimeo sometime in the future but until then check out the Finding Manchester website. Show them your support! It’s a fantastic project and suggestions and donations are welcome.

Chris and Liz hope to leave Manchester UK to visit 52 Manchesters in 52 weeks in 5 continents shortly after the Manchester Day Parade. (Sunday 10th June at 2pm). 

* For more information on their previous adventure (through the Amazon, in search of the small South American village called Manchester) visit The Manchester Museum Website.

Extract from the Manchester Museum archive: “Chris Smith and Liz Peel came across the village of Manchester on a 1950s Russian air map of Bolivia. Intrigued by this, they set out on a canoe along the Rio Manuripi River in the Bolivian Amazon in South America to find it. Liz and Chris spent four months on the river, negotiating tropical storms, eating piranha fish and aided only by basic equipment, before reaching the small village. Home to less than thirty families living in huts around a football pitch, the village was founded in the late 1800s when Anthony Webster-James, a young Mancunian engineer, moved there to set up a rubber smelting plant in the height of South America’s rubber boom.”

All comments are welcome.

The Great Manchester Scavenger Hunt

Danger Moo-seWhen was the last time you went on a scavenger hunt? I think my last proper one was the Manchester Cow Parade in 2004. That is, unless you count the Manchester Art Crawl I attempted last year. Then of course there are bar crawls and Northern Quarter café crawls: Do you think they count?

The idea of scavenger hunts has played on my mind for several months now. One of my Day Zero Project challenges is to create a hunt of my own, or to take part in one at least.


Poor PlanningManchester Confidential trialled a bizarre one last year: ‘A Tour of Uninteresting Objects’. The fact it claimed to be uninteresting made me very interested indeed. I hoped they would run the tour again and they did, as part of the Stairs WaterfallManchester Histories Festival, but I discovered it too late and missed it again. 

I’m not sure whether I would find the whole hunt entertaining but the name of it intrigues me. I already Diversionknow where to find these little gems… but like many Blockbuster movies I fear they’ve revealed all their best bits in the advertising.


Photo from USA Today of Hayley Atwell filming on Dale Street in Manchester.With a little research I’m sure movie locations could be turned into a hunt. It’s no coincidence that Hollywood keeps returning to Manchester to film: We’re told the Northern Quarter looks a lot like old New York. Captain America was filmed near Piccadilly Basin last year; Alfie was filmed near the old Smithfield Market a few years earlier; and Sherlock Holmes was filmed in-between the two, both in location and in time, with additional scenes at the Town Hall.


Beetham Tower by Dave Schofield

Photo: Dave Schofield

An Architectural Treasure Hunt took place alongside the Manchester International Festival in 2011. We are lucky to have eclectic and unusual architecture throughout the city centre to match Manchester’s rich and varied heritage. Most of the time all you need to do is look up.

We have our fair share of eye-sores too; Beetham Tower might be iconic but urgh! What were they thinking?


Manchester Town Hall, John Rylands Library and the Manchester Museum all offer mini scavenger hunts within their walls.Northern Quarter Space Invaider

Moving outdoors, Manchester city centre had 47 Space Invaders hidden amongst its streets. Unfortunately several have been painted over but I know where a few still remain. Using this map I’m sure I could find more.


Perhaps Manchester’s newest scavenger hunt is Farrow & Ball’s 50 bird boxes, which were painted and installed for National Nest Box Week. (14th to 21st February) I read that Farrow & Ball have a pallet of 132 colours for exterior paint so in my mind I visualised an array of brightly coloured, patterned and embellished bManchester Bird Boxird boxes, decorated to rival the Manchester Cow Parade.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered all 50 boxes had been painted off-white. (Technically, they’re painted in ‘Pigeon’ and ‘Dove’ to follow the bird theme). I’m sure they had their reasons but I can’t help thinking it was a wasted opportunity. I’m not going to track down 50 white boxes but if they had been brightly painted, by members of the public or school children perhaps, then I might have given it a go. Maybe I should suggest it to them for next year.


So when was the last time you went on a Scavenger Hunt? Do you have any suggestions I should incorporate into my own hunt? I’m open to ideas.

All comments are welcome 🙂  

Hitting the Wall

What did you fear growing up? Was there anything that terrified you so much that you’ve never tried it since? I’m not talking about phobias here: I’m talking about real, [almost] rational and legitimate fears.Edale stream

I had several, most of which stemmed from school trips. Between the impressionable and personality defining ages of about 9 and 13, school trips involved adventure holidays at Welshpool in Wales and Edale in the Peak District. These beautiful, parentless locations were the backdrop to our attempts at a variety of challenging and often exhilarating activities – most of which I’ve virtually forgotten.

Rock ClimbingIn fact, I barely remember my achievements, but I vividly remember the scary parts. I remember that I dreaded rock climbing most of all. The idea of putting my life in the hands of another pre-pubescent child was terrifying, as was being responsible for another’s life when I had to hold their safety-line in return.

I remember how small and baby-faced the boy responsible for my line looked: He was a full 5 inches shorter than me, the youngest and smallest in the class; I remember him looking up at me, nearly as frightened as I was, with his pale wide eyes and pudgy freckled ginger features.

I somehow managed to get to the top of the cliff despite fear oozing out through every pore. I loved climbing trees but standing before a rock face I became weak and scared of heights. I was always relieved when the climb was over. I eventually reached the top once at each location but that was it: Once was more than enough.

The only part of the climbing experience I enjoyed was the abseiling. I felt proud when the tutors commended me on my natural ability… It was more fluke than skill but I didn’t admit that at the time.

The terror I associated with rock climbing prevented me from trying it again as an adult. I’ve was never tempted, until I wrote my Day Zero List.


I didn’t just pluck this particular challenge out of the air: I ran in the Manchester Urbanathlon to raise money for Forever Manchester, which rekindled my thoughts about Urbanathlonclimbing.

Yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before, twice, possibly even three times, and yes I probably will mention it again: The Urbanathlon is “a silly yet challenging urban obstacle course where competitors run, wade, scramble, slip, slide and dangle to the finish line in sweaty, soaking, mud-splattered splendour.”

Amongst other challenges the Urbanathlon forced me to face my climbing fears at least twice during the 5km race. 

About 4km into the race Blondie and I were suddenly presented with a seven foot vertical wall to scramble over. It might as well have been a twelve foot wall for the likelihood of me getting over it. My upper body strength is virtually nonexistent.

Blondie and I turned to the race marshal and asked in disbelief whether people were actually getting over it unaided. With a nod and a smile she replied “Yes off course”, just as three competitors caught up with us and hopped over without hesitation.


We looked at each other. We looked at the wall. It looked impossibly tall. Blondie backed up several paces and took a running jump. She managed to get her elbows over whilst her legs flailed about beneath her. Several failed attempts and four grazed knees later the marshal conceded that we were allowed to take a short detour around the wall and go through the gate to rejoin the race on the inside.

Detour? That sounded like cheating. Blondie and I looked at each other and shook our heads. One way or another we were both getting OVER that wall.  


Plan B: Blondie gave me a leg up. After the other obstacles we were both a little jelly-like so she manhandled me to the top in the least elegant way imaginable. Once I was safely seated on the wall Blondie took another running jump whilst I tried to pull her up from above. This clearly wasn’t going to work either so we embarked on Plan C: I dropped down the other side of the wall, followed the wall back around through the park and out through the exit, back to Blondie’s location to manhandle her over the wall. It wasn’t graceful but it worked.


After scrambling over a wall of haystacks and other random obstacles, prior to the two parked cars whose hoods we slid over Dukes of Hazzard style, we were suddenly faced with a climbing wall. My stomach clenched. My feet slowed.  

Ellie Howard on 40 degree board at Gorton Climbing CentreIt seems silly that I should be afraid of a climbing wall. The brightly coloured hand and foot holds are supposed to make it look easy and inviting but to me they look menacing.

With adrenalin pumping I barely had time to flinch: We both ran at the wall and were over it in seconds. I had no idea it could be that easy! All those years I’d wasted being afraid of climbing walls!  
I didn’t give the wall a second thought after that, until I came to write my Day Zero List. (The Day Zero Project is to complete 101 challenges in 1001 days). I added “Have a go at rock climbing / indoor wall climbing” to the list. I thought if I could climb a wall at the end of a 5 km obstacle course I could manage a nice easy session at a climbing club. I was wrong.
Gorton Climbing CentreWe have fantastic indoor and outdoor climbing facilities in and around Manchester. The Manchester Climbing Centre in Gorton looks spectacular with its climbing walls against the backdrop of stained glass windows and gothic architecture.
In the city centre you’ll find Rock Over Climbing just a few hundred yards from Victoria Rail Station.
There’s also a climbing wall inside the Chill Factore, should you feel a sudden urge to hone your climbing skills between skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.
You can even try a moving climbing wall in the Trafford Centre at Laser Quest’s ‘The Rock’ if you get bored of shopping or have time to kill before your film starts in the cinema.
101/1001 CHALLENGE
I completed my climbing wall challenge. It wasn’t easy and I don’t plan to return any time soon. Blondie ran up the wall like Spiderwoman but I got stuck. Repeatedly. My torso ached for days. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head without wincing in pain for the best part of a week.
It was fun at first but once the muscle fatigue set in I didn’t stand a chance. I made the mistake of trying too long on one particular obstacle which sapped all my energy and strengh. I would have been better off climbing back down and starting again. I suppose I know for next time, if there is one.
I should probably work on my coordination and strength before I try another hour session. It’s possible to book 5 minute taster sessions to help build experience and confidence – A great idea for people like me – as long as you don’t need to go out of your way to get there. (Who in all honesty is going to travel all the way to the Chill Factore just for a 5 minute climbing session? It’s a nice idea even if it isn’t practical).
I had considered joining Manchester’s new climbing club with Large Outdoors. (Started in October 2011). They run a weekly club in association with the Manchester Climbing Centre. It’s open to both experienced climbers and those wanting to learn. Although I was tempted I think I’ll stick to hiking instead.

What did you fear growing up? Have you faced any childhood fears? Have you ever run in an Urbanathlon? Do you share my fear of climbing walls?

All comments are welcome 🙂