Hit Me Baby One More Rhyme

Maternity leave. One day you’re a fully-functioning member of society, heading up meetings at work and studying Stylist magazine for your next fashion splurge; the next you’re watching Homes Under The Hammer in crumpled pyjamas with two-day-old baby sick in your hair. It’s frightening how quickly the descent can happen.

Fortunately, there’s no end to the amount of baby-orientated pursuits your days can be filled with: baby bonding, baby sensory, baby rap, baby massage, baby yoga, baby bungee.

Okay, so I made the last one up. But it’s got ‘baby’ in front of it so mums would probably pay good money to come anyway.

And if the tag line said something along the lines of: ‘Baby bungee has been proven to strengthen your little one’s core muscles; the increased blood flow to their head created by dangling upside down encourages accelerated brain development, while providing a unique mother and baby bonding experience…’, well, they’d be queuing out the door.

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But first up, how about something just for the moms…

Baby cinema

My first thought on hearing about ‘baby cinema’ was that it sounded horrendous. Why would I want to watch a film with hordes of rugrats crying in the background?

So it was with some trepidation that I headed down to Everyman cinema on Tuesday morning.

However, it wasn’t half as hellish as I’d thought. Everyman, in case you haven’t been, is a great cinema – all fancy furnishings and sink-into sofas (perfect for clandestine nappy changes). Coffee and cake is brought to your seat (Yep, more cake. I take issue with the fact that people feel the need to constantly feed women on maternity leave cake. It’s incredibly patronising, as if they’ve thought, ‘hmm, what can we give these frumpy mums? Yes, let’s feed them cake – that’ll keep ’em happy’. But still, I’m not one to pass up a slice of lemon drizzle…).

The only slightly unnerving part of baby cinema is the amount of interest the baby takes in the film. My own little pudding is absolutely transfixed and sometimes I feel like I should be shielding her eyes from certain Cert. 18. scenes. Forget Peppa Pig… She’s far more interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant and Tilda Swinton’s legs akimbo in The Bigger Splash.

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It’s the stuff of nightmares. But boy does she love it.

Then I figured that as our daughter had spent her early days being raised on back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, what’s a bit more gratuitous sex and violence during her formative months.

Baby sensory

I’ve yet to be convinced by baby sensory. Like all of these structured classes, the baby has to be actually in the mood for said sensory experience. This is tricky. If you sign up for a regular class like this, there’s a high chance the baby will be otherwise engaged in one of their main activities, namely feeding, sleeping or pooing. In the early days, the window of opportunity for any level of entertainment is preposterously small.

Baby sensory starts with a cheesy ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ song. It’s the kind of event that if – as a non-parent – you happened to stumble across it you’d probably run for the hills. I feel like fleeing the minute we sing, ‘I love the flowers because they gladden me’. Then I remember I’m actually here of my own free will. And not only that, I actually parted with money. I must have lost my mind. I probably HAVE lost my mind.

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The pace is fast; the activities relentless. One minute you’re attempting to keep up with ‘Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you…’, the next you could be crinkling foil, blowing bubbles and learning the sign language for ‘milk’ – all at the same time.

Despite the baby lying on a mat right in front of you (part of the bonding experience), the reality is they’re always far more interested in the person next to you. Otherwise, they spend most of the session gazing gormlessly out of the window or strangely fascinated by the ceiling lights. Basically, doing anything that does not involve participating in whatever activity your £6.50 has paid for.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. Since our six-week sensory course, the baby has really excelled at chewing on her own foot.

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Baby rhymetime

Not set foot in your local library in the last decade? Nope, I hadn’t either. Now I’m in there several times a week. I’m pleased to report the slightly musty smell remains, the librarians are still largely sporting beards and Birkenstocks, and there’s the usual strange, greasy-haired people surfing the Internet for hours at a time.

The reason for my frequent visits is the library’s free ‘rhymetime’ sessions. Yes, note the ‘free’. You’ll be pleased to know your taxes are providing half an hour of light relief for frazzled mums across the country.

Rhymetime is like baby sensory but without the surcharge and none of the fanfare. Actually, what am I saying… it’s not like baby sensory at all. But the free part means scores of parents descend on the library every Thursday morning.

You’d think with this level of interest, the library would pull out all the stops – perhaps getting their best and most entertaining employee to lead the sing-along.

I’m afraid this isn’t the case. What we do get is a rather weary librarian, clutching a sad-looking teddy bear. She leads a few mono-tonal renditions of ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and then she looks in desperation at the assembled throng of mums and babies and feebly asks for requests. Someone usually pipes up with ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ and then off we go again.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like a hearty rendition of The Wheels On The Bus at the best of times. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that the librarians are in any way trained in children’s entertainment but the half an hour rhyme time can often be a little, well, unimaginative.

That is until the Gruffalo came to town.

The Gruffalo made a guest appearance at the library three weeks ago and he was absolutely brilliant. He’s a theatrical 40-something year old with boundless energy and bags of songs up his sleeve. I have no idea where the city council found him.

He charged around the room booming out, ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Chocolate Bar’, occasionally tooting on his orange trumpet, and releasing bubbles from his special bubble machine.

Next up, he donned bunny ears and bounced on one leg for a round of, ‘Hop Little Bunny, hop hop hop…’

And at the end of all this giddy fun, he announced he would be coming back again next week. Hurray!

Who needs baby sensory when the Gruffalo’s in town?!

The following week he had a lot to live up to but he didn’t disappoint. Week 2 saw him lose his Gruffalo disguise and pad around in giant panda slippers, singing, ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. Out of his special prop bag appeared a furry pink and yellow puppet called Rhubarb And Custard, which occasionally pecked people, à la Emu.

This was supposed to be his last week covering for his weary predecessor but then he announced he was coming back again for a third time… (goodness knows what’s happened to the original librarian – maybe the boa constrictor ate her!).

By week 3, news of the best library rhymetime in the country had begun to spread across Leeds.

The library was full to the rafters as the artist formerly known as the Gruffalo bounded around in a tiger onesie, complete with oversized spectacles.

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We sang ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ really, really fast and then again but this time really s-l-o-w-l-y. He pranced around in a floppy hat for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’, led an uplifting rendition of ‘The Woman Who Swallowed A Fly’. before he announced he’s going to be back for one final hurrah next week (the final week again? Talk about dangling the carrot!).

Talking of carrots, he’s actually coming dressed as a carrot for the next session. No, really. It’s going to be the highlight of my week.

Now pass me some cake.

The Gandy Man

The husband has invested in some loungewear.

This is a big deal because:

a: the husband hates clothes shopping, least of all for something as insipid as loungewear.

b: he only purchases items he ‘identifies’ with. It’s hard to fathom exactly what this means. But let’s just say the husband doesn’t identify with garments very often.

c: Just like with fishcakes and cous cous (details here), the husband can ‘turn’ on items of clothing in an instant. For example, he was happily wearing a pair of leather desert boots from Ted Baker until last week, when he suddenly announced he had no suitable winter footwear at all. When I tried to get to the bottom of what was wrong with said boots, he simply said: ‘they are too shoey’. Shoey??

This is what we are dealing with.

But back to the loungewear. Loungewear, in case you’re wondering, is the name given to casual clothing worn around the home. For men, this involves some sort of elastic-waisted, pyjama-style pant (perfect for expanding middle-aged bellies), often teamed with a loose-fitting t-shirt.

For the last five years – possibly more – the husband has been rounging (Lancashire word for lounging combined with a bit of rolling) around in a tired old pair of Ben Sherman joggers.

To sport loungewear around the home and still look stylish is a tricky look to pull off.

Word on the street was that Derek Rose was your man when it came to cool loungewear. I’d seen swanky Derek banded about in Style magazine and other high-end fashion mags.

But a quick gander on Mr Porter (posh men’s clothing site revered by stylish 30-somethings) revealed that buying a pair of Derek Rose’s silky trousers involved parting with approximately £300! Surely there was other loungewear out there that didn’t involve re-mortgaging one’s house?

Luckily, there’s a man for whom stylish sleepwear at affordable prices is his speciality. Let me introduce you to loungewear lothario and king of the cotton trousers… David Gandy.

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Gandy has been peddling his super-silky loungewear at good old Marks and Spenny’s for some time now but had somehow fallen under the radar.

We headed into town, the husband trailing reluctantly behind (muttering something about his moth-eaten Ben Shermans being perfectly functional for slovenly sofa surfing).

Pitching up at M&S, our favourite male model was very much dominating the men’s loungewear department. Take a gander at Gandy below (and spot the husband too!). This man isn’t just about shiny dressing gowns, six packs and smouldering looks; he actually purports to be a don in the ‘art of relaxation’.

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The husband was dispatched to the dressing rooms with piles of Gandy’s garbs.

There was a long wait and then he called out, ‘I’m going to take them all.’

‘ALL of them?’ I said. ‘Are you sure?!’

‘I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,’ the husband called back. ‘They’re just SO comfortable.’

Armfuls of Gandy pants purchased, we headed off for a drink.

‘I can’t relax,’ said the husband. ‘Because all I want to do is get home so I can change into my new loungewear.’

Driving back, we decided to investigate The Curious Incident of the Tartare Sauce Sachets.

A few weeks ago, during a visit to the husband’s grandparents, his Gran mentioned that she loved tartare sauce but was struggling to find it in the supermarket. I’m not sure why this is but for some reason tartare sauce is not an easy condiment to lay your hands on.

So, on the way home, I hopped on Amazon and before you could say ‘ta-ta’ (another Lancashire favourite!), 50 sachets of Gran’s favourite sauce were winging their way to her retirement flat in Preston.

A few weeks passed and I’d actually forgotten all about the tartare sauce delivery until one night I said to the husband, ‘don’t you think it’s funny that your Gran has never mentioned the tartare sauce we bought for her?’

There was a pause and then the husband said, ‘I know what’s happened.’

‘She’s received the sachets of sauce in the post and won’t know they’re for her. Right now, they’re probably sat on her kitchen worktop and she’s panicking, thinking they’re a mistaken delivery and actually for the restaurant downstairs.’

We phoned my mother-in-law. She confirmed that yes, Gran had received a mystery parcel of 50 sachets of tartare sauce, and yes, she didn’t believe they were for her and yes, she had been wracked with worry that she’d received them in error and would be hunted down for the money she owed.

Poor Gran had, in fact, barely slept for a week. My good Samaritan sauce deed had turned sour.

That night, the husband kept mumbling how luxurious his David Gandy loungewear was.

In the morning, we checked the label to try to get to the bottom of what made them so super soft. They were made of ‘modal’ – an undisclosed mixture of materials.

”It’s a mystery ingredient,’ said the husband. ‘Gandy will never reveal it. He’s the Willy Wonka of loungewear.’

The husband was reluctant to take his Gandy-wear off. He started making noises about wearing his lounge pants out of the house and had to be cajoled out of them.

Secretly, I think he might want to be David Gandy.

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‘Perhaps David Gandy will branch out into outerwear,’ I said hopefully. ‘He’s already got swimming trunks and underpants; it’s only a matter of time before he takes his signature look outdoors’.

‘If anyone can, the Gandyman can,’ said the husband.

‘I feel like I’ve really identified with him’.

Wisteria Hysteria

Until two weeks ago, I had absolutely no interest in gardening. Now, I’m concerned that this whole blog might turn into an extension of Gardeners’ World – where I just wax lyrical about my petunias, peonies and pagodas.

After the departure of the old gardener, and a small interlude where I attempted to manage the garden myself but realised that the water supply to the house had been cut off and I had no idea what I was doing (details in last blog here), a saviour appeared in the form of a lovely lady called Margaret.

Margaret was recommended to me by a friend and she offered to come down to the house to explain exactly what was in the garden and what I needed to do.

When I arrived to meet Margaret at the house, she was already deep in conversation with Zak the baby-faced foreman.

‘Is that boy actually in charge?’ said Margaret. ‘He looks about 10-years-old!’

‘I know!’ I whispered conspiratorially. ‘He probably should be at school!’

Margaret and I pottered round the garden, while she pointed out various plants, such as this shy clementis lurking in the shadow of an over-bearing conifer.

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And this yellow peony tree which with a little bit of TLC, could produce more of its buttercup-coloured flowers.

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But how lovely does this wisteria look?

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The saddest thing, according to Margaret, is the wisteria up the front of the property (which was destined for the skip anyway). Because it had been stuck in a pot for years, it hadn’t been able to grow properly. Same goes for the sickly-looking clematis armandii, draped listlessly over the side fence.

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Knowing how lovely the wisteria looked on the pegoda, I immediately started a Save The Wisteria campaign and decided to replant it on a different part of the pegoda.

Cue The Husband (aka. the muscles behind this futile operation). First, on Margaret’s instructions, he smashed both the wilting wisteria and sickly clementis out of their pots (the husband enjoyed this bit the most).

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Then he had to dig a big hole.

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Next, plonk wisteria in hole.

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According to Margaret, water like mad.

(With the water turned off, I daren’t go back to beg at the nearby restaurant like last week – so have taken to watering the plants with large bottle of Co-Op’s finest spring water – oh yes, only the best for our precious perennials!)

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On Sunday, I told the husband that he had to dig two more holes that day. This did not go down well. The husband is fed-up of digging holes. There’s a book called Holes, which I read with my class at school. The protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp out in the desert and forced to dig several holes a day.

In short, the husband said he felt like Stanley Yelnats. It probably doesn’t help that while the husband is digging his holes, I stand around issuing instructions in my role as Chief Delegator.

‘This is an entirely fruitless operation,’ grumbled the husband, as he stabbed resentfully at the clay-like earth.

‘But if I does work, think how nice the wisteria will look,’ I said.

‘Think of The Sense Of Achievement!’

‘You’ve gone wysterical,’ said the husband. ‘And you’ve got hydrangea mania to boot!’

He begrudgingly continued with his digging.

I, meanwhile (in my new alter ego of Margo Leadbetter) was already plotting my next gardening adventure… namely, what can I grow in these boxes?!

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To Fetch A Pail Of Water

This time last week, after being unceremoniously sacked by the gardener (Yep, the gardener we’ve foolishly been paying £16 an hour to – to mainly to sit in the sun, read his newspaper and eat sandwiches for the last year and a half. Details here), I was contemplating a future where our back garden turned into an unruly forest and there was… (first world problem alert!) no-one to mow stripes in my lawn.

There was only one thing for it: become a gardener myself. Despite years of horticultural indifference, I’ve started piously pruning plants with my own bare hands, watering them obsessively, and religiously tuning into Gardeners’ Question Time. I might even get really serious and invest in my own pair of secateurs.

That’s not all. After 18 months of inaction, the builders have descended on the house like a plague of locusts and started stripping it down to the bare bones. I’m trying to not be alarmed by this. Not least because when I peered through the gates, I noticed all the Yorkshire stones had disappeared. Apparently, they’re being stored somewhere for ‘safe-keeping’.

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The good news is, they’ve left us a grand piano. But, as we can’t get it out of the room without disassembling it, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes firewood too.

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It’s probably time for a quick reminder of who’s who in the line-up of characters involved in our ill-fated house renovation.

Prickly planning officers aside, there’s sweet-smelling Jonny from the floor store (details here), who nearly took an injunction out on me after I visited him five times in one week, and affable Gary from Porcelanosa, who has spent many hours with me pouring over every tile in the showroom until a bout of angina nearly finished him off. Luckily for them, we’re a long way off tiles and floors right now – but fear not, I’ll be back!

Last week, I was introduced to our lovely foreman Zak and, after I had recovered from the shock that a teenager appeared to be in charge of building our future home, baby-faced Zak was incredibly obliging and yes, he said he would do everything in his power to retain the cornice in the ground floor rooms and yes, he would take care with the Yorkshire stone and store them somewhere safe etc etc.

‘You know I’m not supposed to just turn up like this,’ I told my new pal Zak.

‘You can come down anytime you like,’ said the baby-faced foreman, with a wink. ‘I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t!’

Anyway, back to the garden. Despite his sudden retirement, I did manage to strong-arm the old gardener into meeting me back down at the house to do a hand-over. This went quite well. It appears we have (amongst other things) a damson tree, blackcurrant bushes and another big old pile of Yorkshire stone hidden away somewhere. Ex-gardener even offered to dig up an Acer bush (below) and re-plant it. It’s the least I can do, he said. Tell me about it!

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To cut along story short, the garden has now become a slight obsession of mine. I’ve taken it upon myself to try and save as many plants as possible from the middle section, which is facing an imminent bull-doze.

Guess what the reluctant and not-so-green-fingered husband spent last Saturday doing with his borrowed spade?!

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(The husband would like to add a disclaimer that this is not his usual gardening get-up. He was about to go for a run before he was ambushed by his botanically-barmy wife and put to task.)

According to those in the gardening know-how, re-planting at this time of year isn’t ideal and the up-rooted plants need watering every day if they are to have any chance of survival.

So, every evening after work (when baby-faced Zak and co. have clocked off), I’ve been sneaking down to the house to water said plants.

There’s just one problem: I can’t actually gain access. This is because the builders have completed barricaded the site (to stop would-be Yorkshire stone thieves and nosy owners, no doubt).

But as it turns out, breaking into your own home is a lot of fun.

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On Thursday evening, I parked up as usual, looked around me to check no-one was watching, and then clambered inelegantly over the fence next door (clutching trusty watering can) and crawled, pretty much on my hands and knees, through the undergrowth to pop out eventually in the garden. Feeling like a criminal, I furtively crept towards the outside tap, only to find they had switched off the water. Drat!

I scrambled back through the rhododendrons and scaled the fence to re-emerge on the road. I scanned the park. Surely there was a source of water nearby? It was the hottest day of the year – the plants needed it!

I pitched up at the door of the The Mansion restaurant nearby, just as the chief waiter was about to lock up.

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‘Excuse me. Would you mind just filling up my watering can? There’s a plant I need to water…’ I faltered.

‘It’s going to take a lot of water for all the plants in the park,’ he said, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

‘It’s only a few plants,’ I pleaded, thinking, ‘he thinks I’m a Mad Plant Lady but I’m just going to have to roll with it’.

Watering can filled, I scuttled back to the house, leapfrogged the fence, crawled back through the undergrowth and… Slosh! … I tripped over a stray plank, sending the sacred water spilling everywhere.

I think it’s time to get a new gardener.

Cock Robin

I realise there’s not been much of an update on the Caffè Nero soap opera for a while.

In all honesty, it’s been pretty quiet: Porridge-Loving Pensioner is long gone, sadly. I suspect he might have been carted off to an Old People’s Home and I doubt we’ll ever see him again.

Weepy Widower Peter is still moping around and is even more forlorn than usual, after being dumped by his wholly-unsuitable love interest. Peter spends a lot of time lamenting his lost love, banging his fist on the table and saying, ‘I’ve been a damn fool.’

I don’t like to tell him that the 30-year age gap might have been a problem.

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‘Back in the day, I was Cock Robin,’ he told me. ‘I had a 50 inch chest and 18in biceps.’

Peter believes that the reason for being dumped is that his love interest already has a boyfriend, who according to Peter is a controlling psychopath.

‘He’s a bad bastard,’ Pete told me. ‘I can sniff out a rotter a mile away.

‘The problem is she’s being controlled by that man. All these women are. I know because I watched a programme on Panorama about it.’

In the background, Loopy Linda is still stomping around, tutting at small children and falling out with Peter (‘he’s a petulant child’). She has also developed a fixation with the fact I’m from Lancashire, where she spends a lot of time dealing her antiques.

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Yesterday, she came up to me and said, ‘I was in Last Drop Village yesterday and I thought of you.’

I stared blankly at her for a moment as she stood smiling at me intently, awaiting some acknowledgement of this.

‘Ah, Last Drop Village,’ I said, weakly. ‘I only know it vaguely.’

‘Well, it was a complete dump,’ she said savagely and turned on her heel.

Enter Mad Malcolm stage left, resplendent in his best suit. Malcolm has been schmoozing with a younger woman, who he sips lattes with. I think this is a bit dodgy, given that he has an ailing wife cooped up at home.

‘Malcolm thinks he’s the oracle,’ observed Peter bitterly. ‘He rocks up in his flashy overcoat. It’s all one big ego trip for him. He just wants the attention.’

I’ve developed a bit of a fixation myself… with Ginger Colin Firth, who I’ve renamed ‘Frazzled Firth’.

Frazzled Firth is usually in Nero at the weekend, attempting – and failing miserably – to control his two sticky-fingered children who seem to spend most of their Saturday morning hurling bits of cake at him.

Meanwhile, his glamour puss wife breezes around in the background, with perfectly blow dried hair and ruby red lips.

I also vaguely know Firth from the gym. He’s part of a crew of men who do a rowing session at 6am, including previous blog stars, Big Grey Man and – perversely – my old Nero nemesis… Legs!

Yesterday, Firth was sat with his head in his hands on the sofa, while his two unruly children were using him as a human punchbag.

Glamour Puss Wife was hovering somewhere in the background, perfectly made-up as ever. She dropped off a tray of coffees and muffins, and then went and sat on the other side of the room to enjoy a civilised coffee with her friend!

‘You look like you’ve got your hands full,’ I said to Frazzled Firth.

‘Tell me about it,’ said Firth, wearily.

‘Our house it too small, the kids are hard work and I’m trying to get my business off the ground.’

I looked up to see the Glamour Puss Wife shooting daggers at me.

Peter told me that Firth’s wife is a high-maintenance career woman who leaves all the child care to him. Their marriage, he claims, is being held together by a thread. Blimey!

But back to Peter. After his latest love disaster, he’s back on the prowl. Sometimes, he dines alone in his favourite Italian, looking for people to talk to.

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‘You’d think dating at my age would be easy but it’s more complicated than ever,’ he sighs.

‘The thing is I’m just looking for friendship.’

He gives a wink.

‘Well, that’s what I tell them,’ he says, adopting a suggestive tone.

‘But never say never!’

‘Hey,’ he suddenly says. ‘You won’t tell anyone about any of this, will you?’

‘Of course not!’ I say, innocently.

‘I mean, who would I tell?’

Monkey Fingers

The Nando’s obsession is over! Well, it’s not quite over: let’s just say it’s been usurped by an equally-addictive and gruesomely-unhealthy eaterie that goes by the name of Meat Liquor.

I’m not quite sure how to describe Meat Liquor. It’s part of a rising tide of restaurants all purporting to be the ‘all-American dining experience’: vying for business with the likes of Gourmet Burger King, Byron’s and Red’s True Barbecue (a hellish place where you are basically force-fed mounds of meat and have to lie down for at least an hour after to recover).

But back to Meat Liquor. The name itself conjures up images of shot glasses being filled with the slimy, fattening juices of a plumped-up Christmas turkey. In reality, it’s a stripped down burger joint that largely serves root beer and sticky chicken wings.

Once you’re in its greasy clutches, there really is no escape.

Let’s backtrack slightly. The husband and I have recently developed this weird weekend ritual. This is how is goes. We park up in Headingley at approximately 1pm on Saturday. We visit Salvo’s Salumeria for lunch, partaking in their pasta special (no one cooks a better pasta).

From there, we set off on foot into the city, occasionally – depending on the weather and levels of greed – buying an ice-cream en-route from the excellent Ecco Pizzeria.

The two-mile urban walk down Otley Road weaves its way past a number of intriguing locations. Just past the bustle of central Headingley and the famous Original Oak beer garden, there’s a strange place set back slightly from the road called Hinsley Hall. And in its grounds – just a stone’s throw from students staggering past on the Otley Run – are grazing horses. Yep, horses in Headingley! Who knew?!

We continue past a clutch of beautiful Victorian villas, which once stood grand in their heyday but have now been carved up and populated by students. It’s quite a sad old sight (spot the dejected husband!).

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But one road in particular Ashwood Villas – home to various University dons with its cobbled entrance and blooming gardens – has managed to retain some of its original charm (spot the happy husband!).

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Ambling past various vintage shops and hippy hangouts, the route cut through Woodhouse Moor (often mistakenly called Hyde Park, much to the annoyance of locals) and the public toilets that were converted into a curry house years ago (but let’s be honest, never really lost their public toilets feel).

Eventually, after a pitstop at Friends of Ham for a class of Malbec (a brilliant little city centre bar that probably deserves a blog all of its own), we pitch up at the purple-curtained entrance our old friend Meat Liquor (I’m not sure on the thinking behind the purple curtain but it does make you feel like you’re entering a lap dancing bar).

Down the stairs we go, where we are greeted by a big-bellied, bearded hipster, who the husband and I have long called Ageing Hipster.

Ageing Hipster always asks if we’ve booked a table. We never have, so he huffs and puffs a little bit and scrolls through his computer system, while over his shoulder all we can see scores of empty tables. (I think Meat Liquor must have some kind of policy of trying to make themselves more popular than they actually are – a dangerous strategy, which I fear could ultimately spell their downfall.)

Meat Liquor is a dark basement restaurant, set to a backdrop of red lights, canteen-style wooden walls, parquet flooring and poster print wallpaper, emblazoned – ironically – with mock headlines like ‘Veggies on the rampage’ and ‘Fury of meat mentalists’.

In the corner of the room, is another stab at irony: a shimmery-curtained DJ area, which wouldn’t look out of place in Phoenix Nights.

On the formica tables, are an array of back-to-basics condiments and kitchen roll, while in the background they pump out a selection of indie rock: anything from Ocean Colour Scene, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys and Guns and Roses.

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The menu itself is a stripped-back selection of burgers, American-style starters and various slaws (incidentally, when DID coleslaw get shortened to slaw?) all served up on plastic trays, with not a knife and fork in sight.

But one thing Meat Liquor have fallen victim to is the horrendous new trend of unisex toilets, also trailblazed by Everyman cinema. Restaurant and bar designers please take note: women do not want to share their toilets with smelly, drunken men, who leave the toilet seat up and basically wee everywhere but in the toilet itself.

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Disorientating decor and terribly toilets aside, there’s only one reason the husband and I have continue to frequent the dimly-lit depths of Meat Liquor. And that is for their hot wings, aka Bingo Wings on the menu.

Quite simply, they’re the best hot wings in town. They come as a starter but the husband and I are so obsessed with them, we have contemplated having a set of hot wings as our starter and then another set as our main, the burger being merely an after-thought.

For weeks, we’ve been heading to Meat Liquor now, gorging on piles  of hot wings, washed down with lashings of root beer.

But then the other weekend, the waitress said: ‘If you like hot wings, why don’t you try our monkey fingers; they’re basically identical to hot wings without the bones!’

A boneless version of our favourite-ever dish? The husband and I thought this sounded ideal so we ordered a set of monkey fingers along with a set of standard hot wings – for safety measures, of course.

But when the monkey wings arrived, they weren’t like hot wings at all: they were great slimy tendrils of deep-fried gloop.

Being ‘monkey fingered’ has now become some sort of euphemism for ill-fated greed and excess.

And because they had the same sweet-sour taste as the original hot wings and we felt the need to persevere in our consumption of them, we ended the meal clutching our stomachs in disgust and swearing never to darken the door of Meat Liquor again.

But of course, we found ourselves back in the greasy lair only the very next week.

Party Of One

It’s Saturday night and Leeds city centre is abuzz with happy folk, drinking, eating and shopping.

Somewhere in the middle of this merry revelry is yours truly: dining alone in Nando’s.

It’s a sad old sight. All around me people are chatting animatedly – occasionally casting suspicious/ sympathetic glances in my direction.

How I came to be tucking into a medium-spiced butterfly chicken sans dining partner boils down to two crucial factors:

1. The husband is stuck on a road somewhere in the French Alps. Due to a combination of taxi driver ineptitude, a land slide and a gargantuan boulder blocking the only passable way down the mountain, he has missed his flight home and is currently in an agitated state, attempting to book new flights back from the back of the taxi with limited phone signal and depleting battery power.

2. My addiction to Nando’s (previously blogged about here) is now so great that if I even go one week without sinking my chops into a peri-peri-flavoured meal, I start to get withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nightmares about being attacked by a giant red rooster to swigging peri-peri sauce straight from the kitchen cupboard.

Dining alone, especially on a Saturday night, is a tricky beast to pull off. As I travelled into town, I was already contemplating which of the city’s Nando’s would be best to confidently pull off my Carrie Bradshaw-esque solo dining experience.

Do I go for the quieter Nando’s, discreetly holed away upstairs somewhere? This would reduce the possibility of strange stares from fellow diners, yet almost certainly accentuate my solo-ness.

Or do I go for the bustling Trinity shopping centre where trendy hipsters will be too busy taking selfies to spare me more than a passing glance?

I plumped for the busy Nando’s.

Lo and behold, in front of me in the queue was another lonely diner: a Japanese student who used exaggerated arm movements to communicate that he needed a table for one.

Japanese student sorted, the waitress turned her attention to me.

‘Table for one,’ I said breezily, adopting the air of this-is-all-perfectly-normal.

The waitress studied me for just a fraction too long and for one horrifying moment I thought she was going to pair me up with the Japanese student, which would have been terribly awkward given he only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language.

I was so busy worrying about said scenario it was only when I had been deposited at my table and the waitress had departed, that I realised she had seated me – perversely – in the middle of a huge, empty table for 10!

There might as well have been a giant illuminated arrow pointing down on my head. Tag line: ‘This sad woman is dining alone.’

‘Excuse me,’ I said to another passing waitress. ‘This table is too big for me. There’s only me. It looks, well, a bit strange.’

‘I understand,’ she said, her eyes filled with pity. ‘I’ll get you a smaller table.’

After some conspicuous hovering around while I inwardly chanted, ‘I’m an independent W-O-M-A-N’, a smaller table was finally found for me, sandwiched awkwardly between two couples.

I join the queue to order.

My phone rings. It’s my sister.

‘Where are you?’ she says.

‘In Nando’s,’ I say. ‘About to gleefully stuff my gills with spicy chicken, fries and halloumi cheese.’

‘On your own?!’ she exclaims.

‘Er, yes,’ I say, in a small voice.

I glance back at my temporarily-abandoned table, just in time to see the original waitress obliviously seating another couple there. Nooo!

There’s a long pause on the phone.

‘You seriously need help,’ says my sister.