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Barren Times

Fact of the matter is, I barely blog any more.  I started this 2 or 3 years ago when I was happy, full of optimism, the future was bright, it looked like dreams I had would be fulfilled in the company of a woman I considered beautiful and I loved dearly.  That all changed on 24th April 2014 when she left me, moved in with another guy 6 months later and had a baby by him exactly 9 months after she walked out.  It’s been tough.

But in past 15/16 months my mind has never been so active, so fertile, so bursting with thoughts and opinion just dying to be released and put into writing.  All the sadness, all the grief, all the bitterness, the humiliation, the drinking, the anger, the drinking followed by anger.  The on-line dating websites.  The messages, the money spent on subscriptions, the replies, the non-replies, the dates.  How many now…10, maybe 12.  First base, past first base, fears, concerns, thoughts…what if she comes back?!  Money, lack of money, loss of benefits I was previously entitled to, no more savings, DIY, yoga.  Elephant Journal (thank you).

A few attempts last year helped me get a bit off my chest and I discovered there were others out there just like me, mostly women it seems.  Aren’t men supposed to be pigs?

Where am I?  Where am I today in the ongoing process that above all motivates me to pursue, at the age of 52, love?  The internet is full of men and women just like me.  The lonely, the rejected, the spurned, the sad, the singles by choice, the serial players.  Slags, sluts, whores.  Players, gigolos and misogynists.  Wankers.  I’m in there amongst them, somewhere. Honest, caring thoughtful.  Me and my on-line profile.  Log on to match.com and it proudly boasts 65,703 currently on-line.  All of us, after just one thing, trying to find one in 65,703.  It should be easy, shouldn’t it?  No, it isn’t.  It’s a conveyor belt, a meat market, a ‘shit against the wall’ scattergun approach.  I’m a glass half full person.  I love to travel.  I’m bubbly with a zest for like.  Looking for my knight in shining armour.  Players and married men need not apply.  I go to the gym twice a week.  I love walking my little dog.  Fuck off!!  Fuck off the lot of you.  No don’t.  I’m here.  I need love, I’m lonely but I won’t admit it.  I like getting pissed now and again but I won’t tell you.  I like to be a little edgy but that might put you off.  I’m lazy around the house but hey, I’m loyal.

I don’t know. Really, I don’t.  I may have another date soon.  It’s on the cards.  But I know it will probably lead to nothing but I’m optimistic.  No-one is perfect.  No-one.  I’ve learned tons, loads.  More in the past year than in my previous 51 about life, love, friendship, people, men and women.  It’s all in my head and in my heart and has been processed incessantly day and night but not expressed on here but in me.  The way I am, not via a medium but through me.  As it should or what’s the point?  One day I’ll die and then I probably will think what’s the point.  Frankly there isn’t a point.  Or is there?  Another question.  My last for now.

Uncategorized

On-Line Dating Pt. 1

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Dates.  The only time I ever heard this word was either on American TV shows in my youth or something my mum used to serve me from a box with a two-pronged fork covered in sweet and sticky goo…which I liked to eat.  Then, when I met my first wife, she had two children from her previous marriage who although were still quite young when I met them, as they grew into their teenage years this American phenomena of ‘dating’ seemed to enter into their Lancastrian lives.  And now, instead of ‘going out’ with someone like we used to we ‘date’ them instead, although I have yet to notice the difference between the two.

As if to endorse the ‘date’ and give it credence in our post English 21st century lives, instead of single men and women scouring the local evening gazette’s lonely hearts column we now visit the dating websites of national newspapers and independent, stand-alone dating websites.  Or rather, we carry them around in our pockets as instantly accessible apps where we can scroll through reams of computer generated ‘matches’ or have them completely delivered in photographic form into our email in-boxes conveniently timed to coincide with a chap’s morning wood should he wake before the scheduled minute when another app will sound an alarm on his phone.

Of course the whole on-line dating phenomenon removes that terribly old fashioned practise of going down the pub on a Saturday night followed by venturing off clubbing to the local Astoria, Ritz, Madisons or Cinderella Rockerfellas depending on what your ludicrously named night club of choice was in your 1980s neck of the woods.  But whereas 30 odd years ago you might venture into a bar or nightclub discerningly chosen to enhance your chances of ‘copping-off’ for the night, nowadays you can afford to be a little more choosey with so many dating websites competing for your hard earned lolly, each of them with hundreds and thousands of equally single (or not so single) people doing pretty much the same as you are.  Log on to the match.com app at around 7 o’clock of an evening and a slightly irritating pop-up erm…pops up telling you that there are currently 47,964 users on-line!  How can you go wrong?  Well you can

There is an aptly name dating app called Plenty O’ Fish (POF) because the process of attracting a date is not dissimilar to going down to the canal by the local gasworks and doing you best to catch a gudgeon or two out of the murkyFirst of all, you have to create a profile.  A lot of the hard work for this is taken out of this because you just have to answer questions.  You can fib a bit about your physique (if you want), perhaps you are slim going on athletic (athletic it is then) or you are possibly heavy set but still in decent enough shape (that’ll be athletic then).  Most people over a certain age tend to put down the hair colour of their youth even though it might have a) turned mostly grey (or choose ‘salt and pepper’) or b) fallen out (shaved).  Then it’s interests and there’s usually a list to pick from.  Well, we all like pubs, don’t we?  Dining out, of course and it’s surprising to see how many people just love to hike.  Perhaps it’s just a common thing amongst singles that they all love to hike or perhaps all hikers are just shit at pulling the birds (or blokes) and end up being single.  Who knows?  And I’ve yet to see anyone describe themselves as a glass half empty kind of person or admit to doing drugs as POF happens to ask.

OK, so you’ve done your profile, you need to add a few photos.  Now, most of us go out at least occasionally and with the ubiquity of camera phones these days, someone must have downloaded a picture of you on Facebook somewhere.  If that’s all you’ve got, you might as well use it.  Or, there’s the ‘selfie through the looking glass’ – just be careful what’s behind you reflected in the mirror though, bathroom furniture is rarely a turn-on.  So, you’re good to go (another Americanism), almost.  You’ve downloaded your photos, ticked all the interest and description boxes but now comes the hard part, the bit where you have to describe yourself…your sales pitch.  A lot of people start off by modestly announcing that they hate describing themselves (dull) or describe how their friends would describe them (if they had any).  These are usually people with a row of photos which are all selfies and mostly taken in public WCs.  But you have to sell yourself, even though many think no-one reads the profiles (I do…OOPS, what a giveaway!).

Yes, I admit, since my wife left me in April 2014 I’ve been on Zoosk, POF, match.com, Guardian Soulmates, Telegraph personals, something called Love Match (I think) all of which (bar the free POF) I’ve paid good money to display my profile on. And, I’ve been on a few dates.  I’ve also messaged a lot of people and received a few too.  But more of that later.  I’m 52, a single dad, sometimes lonely, sometimes quite pissed off about things, but God Bless America for giving us dating and more to the point, on-line dating.

Uncategorized

Down The Hatch Recipes #1 – Lamb Harira Soup.

This soupl looks so amazing I simply had to re-blog it.

Southsea Food Social

Allow me to welcome you to episode #1 of the Down The Hatch recipe series. With the winter months truly upon us and the new batch of Strong Island enamel mugs now released, we shall be unveiling a weekly range of winter busting recipes to warm the cockles of your heart. Kicking off this mug friendly series is a simple and spicy North African soup which is guaranteed to keep the cold at bay: Lamb Harira soup. Ya salam!

3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
Cubed lamb on or off the bone
1 leek, washed and finely sliced
4 fat celery sticks, chopped into small pieces
3 large carrots, chopped into small pieces
Coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves reserved to serve
1 tbsp cumin seed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp harissa
2 x 400g cans…

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Uncategorized

Insert Images Four Ways (Now with 100% More Getty!)

Simply for future reference

The Daily Post

We talk a lot about photography and working with images. Today, let’s take a break from honing the photographer’s craft to review  your choices for getting images into posts and pages.

Lots of you are familiar with uploading images to your Media Manager, but there are several other options: you can add images that live on another site, embed images from sites like Instagram (and starting today, Getty Images), or use shortcodes to embed a variety of media. Here’s the rundown:

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Music

Daily Prompt: We Got The Beat

I cannot confess to being the most prolific of bloggers; ever since my employer blocked logging into WordPress my output has practically dried up.  However, I have a day off today with not much organised and I was intrigued by the Daily Prompt post entitled ‘We Got The Beat’ (I’m sure there will be a way of putting a link to that blog here but I have yet to discover how to include it). The post invites bloggers to share their experiences of being in a band, amongst other suggestions, but it was the being in a band aspect which caught my attention and offered me something to do post gym. I was in a band…

As a kid, I could never play a musical instrument although I did fancy myself as a drummer should the opportunity ever present itself to me to actually sit behind a kit and give it a whack. My music taste in my teens rarely ventured further than Rock and the first band I ever went to see was British Rock band UFO at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1978.  in the years to come I would see a multitude of live bands but while most of my peers would handle air guitars I had the knack of being able to switch effortlessly from air guitar to air drum kit whenever a particular fill was required. It was about this time that some fiends and I got together with the intention of forming a band. A couple of mates had acoustic guitars, another had an electric base with an amplifier and I had a dream of playing the drums. The others hooked up primitive pick-ups to their guitars and I began with an up turned wicker basket, a biscuit tin and a couple of wooden spoons as we convened in Rick Gaskell’s bedroom and wrote our first song; Dead Dog – about Tim Farrel’s greyhound. While still at school, another guy in our year suddenly decided he was a fan of Elvis Presley and did as much as he could to look like a 1950s version of him and sing like him. He had got a gig at the annual school Rugby Show and needed a backing band and we were the only potential ‘musicians’ he could call on. At this point it was all systems go as the guitarists went out and bought the best electric guitars they could afford (Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster copies) and I borrowed the school drum kit as the music teacher allowed us to rehearse in the school music room room (in exchange for me attending his weekly Christian Union meetings!) This offered me my first chance to sit behind a drum kit and as you can imagine I beat the living Daylights out of it. Rehearsals continued and we practised 4 Elvis classics for our 10 minute slot which were: Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, Teddy Bear and Hound Dog. The Rugby Show was a 3 night show of performances by each school year predominantly by members of the school rugby teams, although none of us by this time played any rugby. I can vividly remember these 3 ‘gigs’ and just how well they were received. Teaching staff stood at the side of the stage to watch us and people in the audience actually got up out of their chairs and danced. It was quite amazing and our singer, Gary Slack, was a great showman. For the next couple of years we increased our repertoire of songs, mostly 50s rock n roll as we added songs by the likes of Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry amongst others as well as writing a few of our own songs and I had bought my first drum kit for £30 off a guy I met working for a local rose grower and horticulturalist. By now we had a name as we became Gary Slack And The Wild Turtles, or if Gary was feeling particularly empowered he would become Garfield Tremayne. Playing music was a lot of fun and I loved it and we began to develop a bit of a name for ourselves until one day we were invited to a local recording studio in Nottingham called Sin City to cut a demo tape. This whole experience would turn out to be the end of the band as our cheap equipment was shown up for what it was in the sound-proofed environs of the recording studio and although Gary was kept on by the studio the rest of us were unceremoniously dumped.

So we were left with the nucleus of a band but no singer and we all still wanted to carry on. Tim, who had been kicked out of the Wild Turtles in a power struggle with Gary rejoined Phil, Richard and me and we recruited Dave ‘Feathertouch’ Stocker to play drums and I took over the vocals. I could sing a bit and I still do a bit of Karaoke to this day but I wouldn’t get past the first stage of auditions on X Factor even in those days!  We decided to go ‘Rock’ and picked the name Abattoir (seriously) as we learned a number of standard rock songs. We did a couple of school gigs with a set list that included songs such as Smoke on The Water (of course), Status Quo’s Big Fat Mamma (now that was a struggle to sing!), and a few songs mostly written by me and Tim with titles like Suicide, Come On And Get a Down On Me (blush) and Over The Top 1916.  Well, we were naive teenagers at the time!  In some quarters we went down quite well but we were invited to play a couple of gigs, one on an exchange visit to a small French town called Feignies where we blew the electricity as soon as we turned the equipment on and for a charity gig at The Nottingham Royal Concert Hall where I still have memories of the first 3 rows of old age pensioners with their fingers in their ears as we belted out Smoke On The water…oh well.  They were good times and for a  few happy years music dominated my life…more so even than football and I still say now looking back that I would have been quite content to be a drummer in a band living out the back of a van eking out a living.  But I didn’t follow my dream and due largely to parental pressure I settled for a life of what has been for the most part, taken up by dull office jobs, alas. 

I don’t really see any of the guys in the band any more.  Richard, sadly, died in a skiing accident – he was the real musician amongst us, Phil Wright went off to university with his electric guitar and still no doubt knocks out Status Quo riffs from time to time.  Tim, or Tom as I nick-named him, quit university and grew a beard and was last thought to be gutting fish in Holland and I never really know what happened to Dave.  Gary became front of house manager of the The Nottingham Playhouse Theatre and was last known to be making books for deaf people – or something similarly worthwhile.  He never did quite make it to Vegas but although not actually an Elvis impersonator, as they go he was a good one.  Good times and when I think the last time I sat behind a drum kit was 1983 it just shows how long ago it all was – unless you count playing Rock Band on the PS3!

Food And Drink, Uncategorized

The Food Of Lebanon 2

Sorry I haven’t posted anything for so long, that’s the topic for another entry.  But I’ve still been cooking regularly and here’s what I made for C & me last night. Another great dish from Salma Hage’s The Lebanese Kitchen, published by the wonderful Phaidon, it’s Koftas With Tomatoe Sauce And Potatoes. 

It seems that all countries have their own version of meatballs but these Koftas made with lamb, onions, garlic, parsley and mint (amongst other items) had a particularly middle eastern flavour.  The recipe called for seven spice season but I used some Ras El Hanout instead which is Moroccan but pretty similar, I imagine.   And here it is…straight out of the oven and on the plate. I still score low on presentation but it tasted great, especially when I had the leftovers for lunch today!

food, Food And Drink, travel

Food Of India

The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ is one that has become firmly established in describing that breed of national treasure renowned for being great at cooking, owning a string of restaurants (usually in the South of England) and having a personality suited to the multi-tasking requirements of being able to engage a TV audience in bon homie while creating a mouth-watering dish against a backdrop of rolling hills, lolling lagoons or a sweeping moutainscape. The current trend for well known chefs and restauranteurs to travel the globe while sampling the local cuisine and then conjuring up their own representations of the same food which might also appeal to the English palette began in the 1980s with the seminal series Floyd On France where the late Keith Floyd travelled seemingly haphazardly through the French landscape begging, stealing and borrowing, as he put it, kitchens and kitchen equipment and this style of ‘on the road’ cooking captured the imagination of the British Public who enjoyed the mix of food, travel and personality as millions tuned into the series and the accompanying book sold in bucketloads. Since then, other chefs have continued the trend as they seemingly attempt to outdo each other in visiting more and more out of the way and off the beaten track places to find the sort of food which would appeal to our travel and food lust; Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein being the most adventurous in traveling the world with seemingly nothing more than a collection of shirts, hats and TV crew.

The formula shows no sign of abating. About 6 weeks ago, Rick Stein’s new book, Rick Stein’s India appeared on our bookshelves without fanfare and caused some murmuring as to where was the accompanying TV series. Then, 3 weeks ago the first episode of the series of the same name began on BBC2 with Rick beginning his latest Odyssey in a region of the sub-continent seeing him visiting back streets and slums in search of the perfect curry. Apart from the great food we see being cooked in back street kitchens one of the main talking points is Ricks perspiration which sees him bedecked in long-sleeved Ralph Lauren linen shirts which at certain points of the episodes look as if he’s just been caught in a flash monsoon but the drying air has yet to reach his back and arm-pits. Nevertheless, the series is engaging and the food he discovers and cooks himself looks amazing. The enduring popularity of the travelling TV celebrity chef is evinced by the immediate disappearance following the first episode (and to this day) of Rick Stein’s accompanying book from our local book shop shelves. Luckily C managed to track down and buy a copy last weekend to add further filler to our already overflowing shelves of cokkery books and writing.

Here’s Rick, the genial restaurateur on the cover of his latest book who made his name with his famous seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall and his subsequent TV series extolling his passion for fish and seafood.

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It’s a great series too; part food programme, part travel programme and Rick definitely strays off the beaten path, usually finding a local English speaking guide and then tramping his way through the slums of India which, we learn are home to many of the city elite who choose to live relatively cheaply in a shack where they can be close to their job rather than pay exorbitant local city centre property prices. It all reminds me of Vikram Seth’s amazing novel A Suitable Boy which took me a year to read and describes life in post war India for all classes and castes.

So to the recipes…we chose as our initial effort a squid curry and ended up buying frozen squid tubes from a fish monger (it was all he had) whereas we could’ve bought the fresh stuff from a supermarket had we visited there first. Rick clearly likes his chillies so we made the paste with 2 red ones and the sauce with 3 green ones making it pretty hot. We bought fresh coconut and I used a hammer to get to the flesh which needed to be grated into the dish. I have packets and jars of whole spices which in some cases I’ve had for years but they still have their individual aromas so in went cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, funugreek, cumin and garam masala. It was hot, spicy and sweet but overall delicious. I would have preferred to use fresh squid but the result was still excellent, served with steamed basmati rice.

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food, Food And Drink

Food Of Lebanon

There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.

The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.

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I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.

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I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).

So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.

The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.

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I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!

Food And Drink, Music, travel

Grillstock…Meat/Music/Mayhem

I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).

We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.

We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?

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After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.

We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.

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