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.

(UN)INTERESTING OBJECTS

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.

GO TO THE MOVIES

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.

ARCHITECTURE

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?

SPACE INVADERS

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.

BIRD BOX PARADE

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.

YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS

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 🙂  

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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.

URBANATHLON

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.

HITTING THE WALL

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…

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.

Haystack wallCLIMBING WALL PHOBIA

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.
 
MANCHESTER CLIMBING CENTRES
 
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).
 
LARGE OUTDOORS
 
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 🙂

Mini Challenge (Win a prize!)

101 in 1001 LogoSince beginning the Day Zero Project on the 7th August last year I have completed 22 challenges.

Twenty-two Challenges!

In theory I should complete a challenge every 10 days, which puts me four challenges ahead of schedule. That’s not bad seeing as I didn’t complete any for two months in the middle.

(OK, so I progressed some of the longer challenges during that time, I just didn’t complete any).

COMPETITION TIME!

ManchestersArtisticSon has his own Project Day Zero List but he’s in a slump. In an attempt to motivate himself to complete his tasks he has posted a competition to let readers have a go at some of his challenges.

The 10 challenges are: 

  • 3. Have an art exhibition. (Even if it’s just in your own home). 
  • 9. Make and encouraging / motivational banner and anonymously put it up. 
  • 23. Interview someone and write a story / poem about their life / experiences. 
  • 25. Cook a soufflé. 
  • 26. Make some Street Art. (We’re not encouraging you to break the law!) 
  • 54. Go on a demonstration / protest and if there isn’t one make one. 
  • 66. Set off Chinese Lanterns. 
  • 70. List a hundred things that make you happy. 
  • 74. Complete a colouring book.
  • 95. Have a T-shirt printed which advertises HIS blog (ManchestersArtisticSon)

Readers who undertake the challenge should record them in an interesting way then blog about it, adding a link in the comments on his blog. Alternatively you can email the entries to him at admin @ Manchestersartisticson.

The submission which makes him laugh / smile / cry the most will win. (Be sure to read the small print!)

We have until Sunday 12th February to have a go.

None of these challenges are on my own list so I plan to attempt a couple at least, just to change the pace.

I’ve already bought a colouring book and some felt tips… Do you think it would be cheating if I completed the book then put the coloured pages on display? Hmmm, it probably is… although it didn’t mention that particular scenario in the small print. 😉

Beetham Tower by Dave Schofield

Beetham Tower by Dave Schofield

THE PRIZE

  • A 6/8 print of the picture of your choice from his 365 project at http://365project.org/chewyteeth/365
  • And “Nobody belongs here more than you” by Miranda July, which is a great collection of short stories.

Go on, have a go! It’ll be fun!

All comments are welcome 🙂

Stockport Air Raid Shelters

DAY ZERO UPDATE

Those of you who have been following my Day Zero Project progress have probably been wondering what’s been going on these past few months. I haven’t posted an update in so long you probably thought I’d abandoned the challenge.

Well I haven’t.

Progress has slowed considerably due to other commitments but I’m still hacking away at it as and when I can. I’m about 150 days into the challenge and so far I have completed 18 challenges. Thank goodness I have until May 2014 to complete them all.

One of my challenges was to visit Stockport’s Air Raid Shelter on Chestergate. Ever since the air raid shelter opened to the public as a museum in 1996 I’ve wanted to go inside – Something I’ve told anyone who’d listen repeatedly over the years. One Saturday morning it finally happened.

16 seater toiletsAIR RAID SHELTER

When the shelters first opened in 1939, they were the largest purpose built civilian air raid shelters in the country. Four sets of underground tunnels, almost one mile in length, were carved into the natural sandstone cliffs of Stockport centre and provided shelter for 6,500 civilians during the Second World War.

The shelters were fitted with basic amenities: electric lights, benches and bunk beds, flushing 16-seater toilets, first aid post and sick bay, plus separate facilities for nursing mothers. Thanks to the “luxurious” standard of accommodation the shelters were ironically nicknamed the Chestergate Hotel. You can imagine it was fairly cosy down there.

LABYRINTH

After years of procrastination it was almost on impulse that three of us ventured inside. We couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered we had the underground labyrinth to ourselves. (It pays to go early, apparently).

After listening to an introduction in the tiny audio-visual room our guide answered our questions then disappeared leaving us alone to explore the tunnels. Of course, only the bits with the electric lighting re-installed were open. (Everything of use was stolen from the tunnels after the War – including the lights). It is possible to explore the remaining tunnels by torch-light, subject to booking, but when we were there those tunnels were temptingly locked behind big metal gates.

ARTEFACTS

Artefacts from the time, such as benches, three tier bunk beds and gas masks, have been reinstated so visitors can get a feel for what life was like during the War. My Dad remembered seeing similar artefacts growing up and appreciated seeing them in context. (“Oh, so that’s what that’s for!”)

I think our guide expected us to wander through the tunnels and be out the other side within 15 minutes or so. It’s not as though we had to queue for anything after all. We actually spent a good 90 minutes down there, soaking up the atmosphere and playing spot the motion / light sensor. Our guide was beginning to get worried.

CHRISTMAS IN THE TUNNELS

It’s too late now of course, but Stockport Air Raid Shelter had special events over the Christmas period, such as Carol singing in the tunnels, with a festive feast of wartime favourites, followed by free wine and mince pies. On other days children were invited to ‘follow the good fairy’ through the tunnels in search of Santa and were treated with 1940s wartime gifts, provided they brought a sock or stocking to put them in. I don’t know about you but I’m disappointed I didn’t go!

SEE IT YOURSELF!

I’ve written about Manchester’s underground tunnel tours before and I still think they’re worth a look, however if you only want to visit one set of underground tunnels in the area make Stockport’s Air Raid Shelter your priority. Believe me, it was £4 well spent.  

Click on the photographs to see larger (clearer) versions.

My photographs from the day are all dark and gloomy. If you’d like to see some colourful photos of Stockport’s Air Raid Shelters (Brinksway deep level shelter and Dodge Hill deep level shelter) take a look at 28dayslater – The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forum.

Accidental Activist

Monkey and a Shrub

Monkey and a Shrub: Guerrilla Gardeners in a Manchester Protest in 2007. Photo borrowed from the BBC News Website.

Last week I wrote about my intention to create a secret garden somewhere in Manchester city centre. Guerrilla Gardening certainly isn’t new but I’m a newbie at it. In my blog I mentioned NQG: Northern Quarter Greening group who have been guerrilla gardening throughout the city centre all year. They are true Guerrilla Gardeners: Many mornings I woke up to find an empty patch of land was suddenly filled with bedding plants to liven up my walk to work. I intend to join them, if they’ll have me.

I published the article on Saturday. Two days later I received an email that should have thrilled me: BBC Radio Manchester had been in touch to invite me to be interviewed on air about taking part in International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I’m a wallflower. I like to stay in the background and never take centre stage. If you read this piece you’ll know how painfully shy I was growing up and how it took years to crawl out of my shell. They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. I don’t want it.

ABJECT TERROR

The few people I told about the interview were ecstatic. They went beyond enthusiasm and excitement; they were bouncing off the walls with delight. I on the other hand felt abject terror. The more people delighted in telling me what a fantastic opportunity it was the more I felt myself withdrawing into my shell. I felt sick. I was shaking. The idea of speaking on the radio absolutely petrified me. I have never ever wanted to speak on the radio. I knew it was a privilege to be asked, but as for actually doing it – Not in this lifetime.

DECISION TIME

The fear lingered for hours. My colleagues wouldn’t let the subject drop. Whenever I managed to put it out of my mind for a while someone would bring it up again. I kept telling them “No chance. I’m not doing it. Nothing you can say will talk me into it” and then I thought about my Day Zero List.

Number 83: Agree to do something I really don’t want to do. Being interviewed live on the radio is something I really, really, REALLY did not want to do.

So I agreed to do it.

Beswick at BreakfastI tentatively emailed the producer. My hands were probably shaking as I typed. I enquired what they expected from the interview and whether it would be live or [fingers crossed] recorded so if I screwed it up we could start again.

The next day I received an email giving me a get out of jail free card; the producer told me it would be live (Sorry!) and that their reporter Kevin would take good care of me. Or, if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.

WAITING

Sometimes the anticipation is the worst part. Every day this week I have had an internal debate over whether to go through with it or whether to pull out. I could feel panic rising within me whenever I thought about it. I had already agreed and didn’t want to let anyone down so I knew I wouldn’t pull out, but knowing that I could and life would go on was comforting.

I needed this week. If on Monday they had asked could we interview on Tuesday I couldn’t have done it. I needed this week to calm my nerves and convince myself it would be OK. It didn’t help that I felt like a fraud: The NQG group have worked hard all year and here I was, a newbie, coming in and stealing their thunder.

ILLEGAL

It didn’t help that guerrilla gardening is illegal either. Was I really going to publicly announce my plan to engage in an illegal activity? It’s hard to imagine being prosecuted for having civic pride and wanting to improve the look and feel of your neighbourhood but it could happen.

THE DAY BEFORE

Yesterday I still didn’t know whether it was on or not. I had suggested a time and a place for the interview but there had been no solid confirmation. Was I relieved that I might not have to do it? Hmm, I was unsure. For days I had been brainwashing myself into thinking I could do it. Did I feel cheated at loosing the opportunity? Yes, relieved but cheated.

My challenge was to ‘agree to do’ something I really didn’t want to do. I had ‘agreed’ to do it. Would the fact I didn’t actually do it mean that it wouldn’t count? It’s hard to imagine another such opportunity which would make me recoil in fear, as per the challenge, short of a TV interview that is.

At about 2 pm my phone rang. It was Kevin, a BBC journalist, my interviewer. Challenge 83 was back on track.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Last night I met Lou’s book group in Matt and Phreds. It was my first visit since the smoking ban was introduced. It was much brighter than I remember, but as I discovered Thursday night is salsa lesson night, so the lights were on. I’d been expecting darkness and jazz.

Before I arrived Dave informed the group of my impending live humiliation. I struggled to drink just 2 bottles of beer or to eat the delicious pizzas. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but was the deal: Buy 2 bottles of beer get 2 bottles of beer plus 2 pizzas free? What a bargain! I’ll go there again!) What I really needed was an alcohol free early night.

SHOWTIME!

I was woken up at 2.30 am and again at 5 am, after which I couldn’t get back to sleep. Feeling groggy and sick with nerves I found I had developed a cough in the night. It was as though my body was fighting me every step of the way telling me to pull out; cancel; abort.

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

At 8.30 am I met Kevin at a secret location. We chatted about a lot of things on the run up to the live slot – mainly to calm my nerves. We talked about Manchester Meanders and about being shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards. (Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I really appreciate it!) We talked about Manchester’s events and the Day Zero Project. We talked a lot about Guerrilla Gardening, after all that’s why we were there.

We ran through the procedure of the interview: Kevin told me how he planned to introduce the piece and the type of questions he was going to ask. We had 3 or 4 ‘dress rehearsals’ so I wouldn’t be frozen with terror and revert to nodding silently when it was time to speak on air.

Nerves came in waves. Whenever Kevin needed to adjust the microphone or test the equipment, or when he listened to voices in his headphones, I felt the butterflies taking flight. I hopped from one leg to the other and took slow deep breaths.

When Kevin started his introduction for the final time (It’s going out live!) I had to make a conscience effort to ignore the microphone and look at Kevin: Look at Kevin; Talk to Kevin; Ignore everything else. Just as it started a man walked past less than a metre from us. [Ignore him Sammy! Ignore him!]

At 8:59 am it was all over. I wasn’t traumatised. My voice didn’t shake ludicrously as I expected it would. I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself, I don’t think.

We didn’t cover the ground we’d planned to cover. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we talked about International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day (this Sunday) which was the whole point of the interview. I think I mentioned NQG and The Secret Garden but I’m not sure.

From the initial email we expected the interview to last 10 minutes but during our ‘rehearsals’ the slot was pushed back by 5 minutes, cutting the interview time in half. Kevin expected it to last 3 minutes. The studio overran slightly and as they had to play a jingle at a specific time exactly the final interview probably only lasted about 2 minutes. We might even have been cut off at the end. I have no idea what I did or didn’t say in that time.

The interview is available online but I haven’t listened to it.

I’m not sure if I want to.

I’m going to give you the link now but you have to promise to be kind. OK?

The interview was on Beswick at Breakfast on 07/10/2011. Our interview was right at the end of the show.

As I accidentally became an activist for guerrilla gardening please show your support by planting tulips this Sunday for International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day!

Challenge 83: TICK!

All comments are welcome. 🙂

Charles Darwin and the Mongolian Grill

I am currently reading “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin as one of my Day Zero Challenges. Specifically, I am reading “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” (The title was changed to the shorter version from the 6th edition onwards). 

I had hoped to visit to the ExInked Exhibition at the Manchester Museum this weekend, to tie in with and celebrate finally finishing the book. I had to put those plans on hold as I am two weeks in and still less than half way through.

My favourite fact about Dawin is not only was he a documenter of rare species and the father of evolutionary theory, he was also a voracious carnivore – one of the great eaters of unusual animals.

Charles DarwinMatthew H wrote: “When [Darwin] discovered a new species he would lovingly sketch a picture of it in his notebook and then he would decide whether it would taste best roasted or fricasseed. One minute he was throwing back giant tortoise and the next he was chowing down on a bit of Armadillo.” (Yelp.co.uk)

I am considering reading “The Voyage of the Beagle” just to find out whether Darwin mentioned loading aboard and eating 48 tasty tortoises, making the species extinct. Arguably it was the tortoises fault: They made the mistake of being delicious and providing their own soup bowls.

If I could have joined the Gourmet Club with Darwin I would have. He ate hawk and bittern, armadillos and agoutis, puma, rhea, iguanas and the aforementioned giant tortoises. If I could, I honestly would.

With that in mind, one of my 101 / 1001 challenges is to eat 10 unusual meats that I haven’t tried before. Step one towards this goal was to eat at Genghis Khans: Mongolian Grill, on Chorlton Street in the Village, Manchester.

GENGHIS KHAN REVIEW

My first impression of the venue was a little mixed: From outside it looked warm and inviting with its deep red walls and appetising menu in the window, but the moment we entered I couldn’t help noticing that the wheelchair access lift, next to the entrance, was being used to store old beer kegs. Aside from being unsightly it raised the question of what other junk they store in the kitchen. (It also made me wonder how they expect their wheelchair using customers to get up the stairs to the restaurant to tell them they want to use the lift). I was hungrily anticipating eating zebra so I quickly dismissed these concerns.     

At the bar we were greeted by our young server who immediately asked whether or not we had a Groupon voucher. Was she psychic? On this occasion we did have a voucher, but it made me suspicious that no-one pays full price. (If they don’t, was my deal really the bargain I thought it was?)    

UNUSUAL DECOR

We surrendered the voucher and were led to the far end of the restaurant: past the food counter and cooking area, past all the other diners, up some steps, into a second dining area where every table wobbled. We know every table wobbled because our server very helpfully tried each table in turn to find the least wobbly option. As there wasn’t one, we selected a table beneath a fake raw-hide where we could peer into the main room and monitor the queue. 

In addition to the raw-hide the wall was decorated with a shield boasting a portrait of Genghis Khan. (I don’t know why this was decorated with fake dead mice hanging from their tails. Do you?) Another imaginative feature was the numerous sets of chairs stacked up around the perimeter. (Perhaps Groupon customers eat in the store room rather than in the dining room.)  

Our server was perfectly friendly but completely useless. She forgot our order the moment she turned her back. She was also confused by which starters we selected. As there were only four options: chicken, beef, pork or veg, I’m not sure why she found this so difficult. A different server brought us our starters then both left us alone to look at our food without any cutlery to eat with.

THE MAIN EVENT

Of course, we weren’t there for the starters. In fact, we were relieved that our skewer and rice dishes were minuscule. We didn’t want to fill up on boring chicken and beef – No; we were there for the unusual meats. Amongst other items the menu promised zebra, ostrich, buffalo and wildebeest, subject to availability. They also occasionally serve reindeer and crocodile but perhaps it isn’t the season. The unusual options of the day were kangaroo, wild boar and pangasius.

Self ServeAlthough the starters and deserts are served at the table the main course was self serve. Along half the length of the restaurant is a counter where you wait your turn to select a bowl, some meat, some vegetables, some sauce, some herbs and spices then you deliver all that to the chef to cook up teppanyaki style for you.

(Apparently the Mongolian army’s daily meal was tenderised strips of meat barbecued on their metal war shields, using slender tree branches to toss the food. The restaurant equivalent is to cook the food on a standardised round hot-plate using elongated chopsticks).

DELICIOUS SKIPPY

Working from the far end of the counter I selected some juicy looking pieces of kangaroo steak. I piled on a selection of mixed vegetables and was then faced with the decision of which sauce(s) and herbs to choose. Kangaroo beerThere was probably about a dozen very different sauces and marinades to choose from but I wanted something that would enhance the flavour of the meat rather than mask it. I decided beer should work well. (Kangaroo – Australia – beer: you can see my thought process). To spice it up a little I added jerk and cracked pepper.

We delivered our concoctions to the chef who proceeded to cook it before us on a large semi-circular hotplate. Despite cooking about 20 meals at once whilst the customers wandered off or swapped places, the chefs did remarkably well at matching the concoctions with their owners.

Ghengis KhanOur first dish seemed to take forever to cook. We realised we’d made a mistake by not overflowing our bowls as the other customers had: By the time our dishes were reduced by cooking and served to us there was very little left to eat. That aside, my first taste of kangaroo steak was unforgettable. I had been right to keep the dish simple: It was delicious, perfectly tender, juicy and oozing with flavour.

HAZARDOUS SQUID

The second time we queued for our food the time passed more quickly. Perhaps it was because we now knew it was worth the wait. Rather than diving straight into the wild boar I decided to mix together a few of the fish options: My bowl overflowed with squid rings, salmon, prawns and pangasius (catfish). Choosing the sauces again was difficult: They had lots of flavours that would work well with chicken, beef, pork and turkey but I didn’t fancy them with fish. I opted for a simple Thai Green Curry with a selection of extras from the spice rack.

As delicious as this new concoction was it was also potentially lethal. People have told me they cannot eat squid because they find it too stringy and that it chokes them. I have never had that problem before, but, wow, it was a problem this night! I really had to concentrate on each and every mouthful to prevent myself from dying.  

I nearly choked on three occasions. I tried to only eat small pieces at a time but that’s hard when you’re using chopsticks. When I thought I’d chewed it enough I would try to swallow a bit – but unknown to me that ‘bit’ was usually still attached by a little unsnapable string to the ‘bit’ I hadn’t yet swallowed, so I was left with the frightening sensation of the whole thing slowly being pulled down my throat. Leaning forward to put gravity on my side didn’t help either. Scary stuff! I think I’ll skip the squid next time.

WILD BOAR

For my forth and final course I chose wild boar in a beer sauce. I know it was unimaginative to choose beer again but I didn’t want the sauce to overpower the flavour. I think the red wine would have worked well too but why mess with perfection?

(I watched other people mixing together a variety of different sauces – I’m sure individually they would all be tasty but mixed together like that they couldn’t taste good. Could they? Surely not.)

I thought the kangaroo was delicious and full of flavour until I tasted the wild boar. This packed a much stronger hit of flavour. It was similarly tender with a slightly coarser texture and it too was bursting with delicious juices.

VERDICT

So despite being a little overly critical and negative about the venue I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there again.* The dishes I had were delicious, (forget the starters – they were a load of rubbish) but I probably wouldn’t pay full price to go back, unless they were serving the more exiting of the exotic meats. (I’m very disappointed they didn’t have zebra). At £20.95 per person I would expect something more interesting than kangaroo and wild boar – both of which I could have bought at the forthcoming Manchester Food and Drink Festival or Manchester Christmas Market (or probably at most other Manchester’s food markets).

But I didn’t pay full price, did I? A little while ago I posted the offer on my Deals and Bargains page saying that GK: Mongolian Grill was offering 2 courses, including the unlimited BBQ, for 2 people for £15. i.e. £7.50 – per head. At that price it really was a bargain.

If another offer comes up for this restaurant I will be first in the queue.

Footnote:

*There was nothing wrong with the décor really – It was a bit tired and they should probably do something about all the wobbliness but it all adds to the character of the place.

Questions:

  • What is the strangest meat you have tried?
  • If you could try any unusual meat (ethical reasoning aside) what would you eat?
  • Do you know any other restaurants or food places in Manchester that I should try to help me complete this challenge?

All comments welcome 🙂

Defective Baking

To be honest, I knew it wasn’t going well when it turned green. I’d followed the instructions exactly: It said “gradually add a few drops of blue food colouring (don’t add too much or the cake will look green.)” Well excuse me, but any yellow mixture is going go turn green if you add blue. It couldn’t be helped.

The Gingerbread House’s Battenburg turned green. Did I really expect mine to go differently? No. I looked at her photo and knew mine would go the same way. In hindsight I should have used white butter instead of yellow butter. When I was in Tesco’s surreptitiously buying a kilo of the stuff it just didn’t occur to me to peal back the wrapper to take a peek inside.

So my cake batter was green. Not the nice bluey-green Gingerbread House managed to achieve. Mine was more of a sickly pea-green. At least it didn’t curdle when I mixed the sugar, butter and egg. Oh wait, yes it did. The recipe said “If the mixture looks like it is curdling add a spoonful of the flour”, so I did. It didn’t help.

I probably should have used a proper cake tin. Instead I used a flimsy latex one from The Pound Shop. You’d think I’d have taken more care when putting it into the oven. It nearly ended up on the oven door. I caught it, just in time. I balanced the flimsy square on my left hand, the edges drooping on three sides threatening to overspill, whilst my right hand battled the oven rack.

Grabbing it with both hands wasn’t much better: the cake flopped into a V shape redistributing the mixture once again. (Note to self: Use a baking tray in future). I scrapped the mix back into the ‘tin’ and popped it in the oven.

I shouldn’t have opened that bottle of wine. I was home alone and baking on a Saturday night. I knew it was a mistake but I did it anyway. I thought I deserved it at that point. It couldn’t get much worse, could it? …

…That’s as far as my diary entry went for Saturday night.

I meant to finish writing about my disastrous Union Jack Battenberg and post it in a blog. I also meant to write about the wonderful chocolate / vanilla marble muffins I successfully scraped together. (Number 44: Tick!) The recipe said they were cupcakes. Who am I to My Chocolate Cup Cakesargue? If I’d known they were muffins I’d have used a muffin tin instead of a Yorkshire pudding tin, then maybe they wouldn’t have spread out and covered the tray. They still worked out well, considering. They look good though, right? They tasted good.

I also meant to write about the “Northern Quarter Loves You” festival which took place over the weekend. (2 day, 3 stages, 30 bands etc.) I wish I had the time to tell you about sitting outside Centro Bar on Tibb Street listening to J.P. Cooper and chatting with a fascinating ex-pat Mancunian who nearly died in the Boxing Day Tsunami, but survived with just one leg amputated.

I wanted to tell you how much I loved seeing Manchester come together like that: having fun, eating, drinking, dancing; and I wanted to debate the idea of having a NQ festival monthly, bi-annually or annually.

I just don’t have the time. Not this week. Instead here are some photos from the Northern Quarter Loves you festival.

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If you didn’t go – You missed out. If you did go – Tell me about it. 🙂

All comments welcome. 🙂

… P.S. We’re looking for a Canadian themed venue in Manchester for our next book club. Any ideas?

P.P.S. My cupcake photo isn’t suppost to be part of the slideshow but I don’t know how to remove it without removing it from this page completely. Just ignor that one! :-p

Day Zero Project

101 in 1001 LogoInspired by The Laughing Housewife, Sarsm and Corkscrewboo-hoo I have decided to undertake the Day Zero Project, otherwise known as the 101/1001 Challenge.

The Challenge:

Complete 101 preset personal challenges in a period of 1001 days. Challenges must be specific and unambiguous, realistic and demanding.

1001 Days is about 2.75 years. This means I will have several seasons (and hopefully multiple opportunities) in which to complete the tasks.

Why am I doing this?:

Because it sounds fun. Because I take things for granted. Because as a child my dad told me to “Live Every Day of Your Life”.

It is actually quite difficult to write a list of 101 things you want to achieve in a relatively short period of time. I’ve already achieved a lot of things on my ‘some day’ list, such as doing a marathon, riding a horse in the sea, planting a tree, climbing a waterfall and learning the alphabet in sign language.

If you read my post The Next Step you will realise that I’m willing to try just about anything. Many of the items on my 101/1001 list were added on a whim. There are challenges that just popped into my head, sounded fun and I thought “OK, I can do that”. Although I had I never seriously considered them before I’m sure I will have fun along the way.

Other challenges on the list should encourage me to do my ‘some day’ items sooner rather than later. Others will stop me taking Manchester for granted, for example, I used to visit galleries regularly but don’t seem to find the time nowadays. Well now I have to – The clock is already ticking.

As I launch the list today I have only chosen 90 challenges. I am open to suggestions for the remaining 11. If you have any ideas for me or think you can help me with any of the challenges please get in touch.

Read my Day Zero Project List here

Wish me luck!