The great age debate

I was struck by the words of the delectable Helen Mirren in a recent interview with Daily Mail columnist Bella Blisset, for You magazine.

The national treasure was waxing lyrical about how she ‘doesn’t give a damn’ about getting older, adamantly and vehemently asserting her propaganda that ‘ageing is an adventure’.

I was particularly struck by her closing comments that ‘growing old is not for pussies [because] you’ve got to have courage…but then, you’ve got to have courage in life anyway,’ and I thought to myself: ‘What a brilliant mantra.’

If ever there was a life-affirming philosophy to cling onto as you trundle through each day, that’s absolutely it.

From Prime Suspect to The Queen, via a non-too-subtle but hardly surprising plug or three for L’Oréal Paris, the actress came across as confident and self-assured, which of course we always knew she was, but is nice nonetheless to see.

Her refreshing outlook and rhetoric are gathering public support at a rate of knots, but even more impressive is the fact she’s reached such dizzying heights of success, such epic proportions of stature, that she’s in a position to get an entire five pages of publicity out of it – and make no apology for looking amazing (but not airbrushed) while she’s at it.

How the world has changed.

So then I got to thinking about how ageism still manifests in everyday life to an embarrassing extent.

Only the other day one of my 20-something colleagues came out with that make-your-skin-crawl sentence about men ageing better than women

Men age better than women??!! Do they? No way! I hadn’t realised! If only I’d known I’d have put myself out of my misery a long time ago. What a scourge on society all these women are. Shame on them for getting older and not looking as good as men while doing so.

And good on the men who are genetically blessed with such amazing chromosomes they never have to suffer such an emotionally painful, outlandish and embarrassing fate. Thank goodness we have men to aspire to look as good as. Thank goodness we have men to show us how to do something entirely natural and unstoppable.

Honestly, that old chestnut of ‘men ageing better than women’ and ‘men getting better with age and women spiralling into the depths of festering disgustingness’ is so wrinkly and past it there’s no way in hell it should still be alive and kicking. How on earth hasn’t it been stamped on and crushed into the ground so aggressively it never manages to sprout shoots and rear its ugly head again?

I challenged my 20-something colleague to justify this irritatingly persistent point of view with examples from around the office. After all, the sentence ‘men age better than women’ is stated as fact so often that there’s surely plenty of unequivocal empirical evidence to prove it?

How, exactly, do the balding and rather flabby wrinklies of the male sex 10 or 20 years this colleague’s senior look better, younger or more attractive than their female counterparts, who at least have the good grace (and approval of society) to cover up their ‘flaws’ with make-up, hair-dye and flattering attire?

It’s baffling to me that these words still pass people’s lips so frequently when all you have to do is take a proper look around to realise they’re absolutely, categorically, completely and utterly not true in any way, shape or form.

Why do we still spout such cr*p instead of thinking for ourselves?! It’s so disappointing.

Only if you’re viewing the evidence with the skewed, misogynistic and unfairly-tinted spectacles of patriarchy does ‘men age better than women’ have any truth to it whatsoever.

It makes me so sad, because I’d genuinely hoped for more from the intelligent, educated and supposedly open-minded generation of today.

After all, they have more autonomy, more freedom and more opportunity than all the generations before them.

And although the battle against ageism is, admittedly, a relatively recent one that’s only just beginning to gather any sort of discernable pace, we’ve been waging war on the tyranny of sexism for a very, very long time already.

How times haven’t changed.

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What a baklava

Recently, I suffered one of the greatest insults of my life: A restaurant refusing to serve me pudding.

Exactly.
Exactly.

The travesty occurred because the kitchen had been closed, even though no one had told us and we’d only just finished our mains.

‘Fair enough’, you might think, had I been demanding dessert at some ungodly hour on a school night, or been too busy drinking and guffawing with friends to get my act together sooner.

But it was 9.45pm on a Friday and I was stone-cold sober.

Ludicrous!

Now, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m much more of a savoury person than sweet (this refers to my food preferences, not my personality).

But when it comes to pigging out on comfort food on a cold November evening, when you’re still reeling from the death of a dear friend, if you fancy a ginormous plate of baklava to cheer you up you should darn well be able to have one.

What I'd been dreaming of: Baklava. And lots of it.
What I’d been dreaming of: Baklava. And lots of it.

Of particular cruelty was the fact I’d been looking forward to the meal for days and as such had been eating meagrely, in order to save a perfectly baklava-shaped hole in my belly.

Add to this the fact the restaurant was – up until then, at least – one of the best in Huddersfield (in my humble opinion) and you can see why I was so miffed.

Ever the pragmatist, not to mention keen to restore my faith in humankind, I pointed out a few key facts in the hope of averting total disaster.

I remained calm and poised, presenting the evidence in a polite yet assertive way (it would have been a different story if I’d had anything to drink), even though my blood was boiling and I could quite happily have slapped our surly waitress in the face.

I was having to suppress the urge to get violent...nothing should come between a girl and her cake.
I was having to suppress the urge to get violent…nothing should come between a girl and her cake.

The truth was thus:

  1. We only sat down at 8.15pm.
  2. We were still hungry and hadn’t finished our meal.
  3. We hadn’t been told the kitchen would shut at 9.30pm with no room for manoeuvre.
  4. It’s not entirely unfeasible for a restaurant to continue serving beyond 9.30pm on a Friday night and therefore it was a fair assumption on our part that this would be the case on this occasion.
  5. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to plonk a bit of pre-made dessert on a plate.
  6. The entire debacle was atrocious customer service and if I didn’t get my baklava there’d be all hell to pay and I’d never come back or recommend the place to anyone.

Alas, my optimism that common sense might prevail proved to be foolhardy wishful thinking, perhaps stemming from a misguided belief that someone in the establishment might possibly have at least one functioning brain cell, so my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Slowly but surely the pitiful reality of the dire situation dawned on me: Not only was I point blank not going to get my fix of gooey, sickly sweet, deliciously nutty dessert, I would also have to blacklist what had been one of my favourite and most raved about eateries.

So we paid the bill and left as huffily as we could – which was tricky given it was only a few feet to the door – then spent the rest of the evening (there was a fair bit left, remember, as it was only 9.55pm) putting the world to rights and lamenting our sad loss.

An indignation so brutal it's a crime. The most harrowing evening of my life.
An indignation so brutal it’s a crime. The most harrowing evening of my life.

Restaurateurs of the world beware: Not only is the customer always right, the baklava is always essential.

So for the sake of your customers’ happiness and wellbeing, not to mention your own bottom line and business interests, it’s absolutely imperative you don’t behave like a total idiot and refuse to let them have their cake and eat it.

I’m off to the cake shop.

Pet hates – things that really annoy me

Bad behaviour, stupidity and relentlessly annoying people really get under my skin. I’m not intolerant or impatient – I have average standards and low expectations – yet somehow certain things irk me to such an extent I feel compelled to have a little rant on here.

1) People with no manners.

Hand them a drink, a magazine or a plate of food and they don’t even say ‘thanks’. Cook dinner for them, run errands or pay for lunch and you hear not a mutter from their lips. Others barge past rather than step aside, cause doors to shut in your face, or fail to show gratitude when you do the opposite on either count.

2a) People who whistle in public, or sing along to pop tunes in shops.

No further explanation required.

2b) Cafes, bars, restaurants and retailers who play loud music of dubious quality at inappropriate times, presumably under the impression everyone wants to go clubbing at 2.34 on a Tuesday afternoon.

3) People who engage their vocal cords to yawn, creating wince-worthy noises of such epic proportions your eardrums split.

4) Chairs being scraped along hard floors instead of lifted up.

If ever there was a noise that goes right through you, to your very core and beyond, it’s this.

As far as I’m concerned such activity is almost as bad as Chinese water torture – and metal objects being dragged down blackboards – and as such should be banned under the Human Rights Act.

5) People who drop cutlery, coins and crockery from a height onto other cutlery, coins or crockery, or other hard surfaces.

You know who you are.

6) Idiots with souped-up car engines.

‘Nuff said.

7a) Relentlessly annoying squawking sproglets who bewail their way to ‘most bothersome things in the world’ status for hours on end.

7b) The bad parents who allow their irritating little darlings to continuously behave in such a poor, antisocial and generally tiresome manner. (See point 4, above, re human rights).

8) People who talk so loudly to their gaggle of friends you can hear every single word and all the intimate details.

Just. Shut. Up.

9) People who are incapable of taking half-decent photos. ‘Ooo, what a lovely plain brick wall/fire escape sign to be pictured against on holiday: Everyone will be able to tell we’re in one of the world’s most beautiful and exotic locations with this as a backdrop.’

10) Handbags being put on dining tables and kitchen worktops.

Handbags, dear readers, will invariably have been on grubby and germ-infested surfaces in their lifetime, such as pub loos (no hook on the back of the door, so you dumped it on the floor), night clubs (when you were dancing round it), pavements (when you couldn’t find your mobile phone) and car rooftops (when you were fumbling for your keys).

Likewise, shopping bags: Supermarket packing area, to trolley, to car boot/footwell, to garden path/house entrance hall, to dining table or other food preparation area.

Nice.

Ode to the humble lemon

A wise man once said: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” so I decided to take his advice, mix it up a bit and bake a delightful lemon cake for my dad’s birthday.

My Masterchef-in-the-making nephew and I (aka James Martin and Delia Smith) toiled for hours in the kitchen, fuelled by hell-bent perfectionist tendencies and an unwavering commitment to baking the birthday cake of all birthday cakes for a very special man who’s more than worthy of such Herculean efforts.
suzanna bain lemon cake birthdaysuzanna bain lemon cake

We created the lightest, fluffiest sponge cake you’ve ever tasted (thank gawd for electric whisks), as well as vanilla-infused butter icing to spread in the middle and a moreish syrupy concoction to drizzle on top, as a sort of glaze.

It was one of the lengthiest cake-baking processes I’ve ever endured – complete with full-on confusion about oven times, cake tins and appropriate sugar types for different purposes – but by the end of it all we were feeling rather pleased with ourselves, if not ever so slightly smug.

James took full credit for the finished article, of course, because at the grand old age of nine he is already more than capable of singlehandedly executing complex kitchen procedures such as this.

As sous chef I was very proud of our achievements and more than happy to be mentored by one of the nation’s finest up-and-coming culinary talents, who also insisted on doing mini versions of said sponge cake in blue, as is a nine-year-old’s prerogative.

suzanna bain lemon cake candlessuzanna bain lemon cake cheshire

The lemon cake looked delicious (if a little rustic) and tasted even better, plus there was plenty of leftover drizzly syrupy glazey stuff for those who wanted their plate of cake to pack even more of a citrusy punch.

After suffering a week-long migraine that robbed me of my appetite and made everything taste somewhat odd, it was extra fantastic to pig-out on a large slice of home-baked goodness that was not only calorie-free(!) but also one of my five-a-day (it had lemons in it, in case you’d forgotten).

And to wash it all down? A steaming hot cup of perfectly brewed Mad Hatter tea, of course, then a Grumpy Mule coffee for seconds.
suzanna bain lemon cake tea

Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival, Yorkshire.

My great Yorkshire summertime adventures are continuing apace, most recently with a trip to the fantastic Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival.

The event had loads of brilliant stalls showcasing their wares, featuring everything from local Yorkshire Drizzle rapeseed oil to zebra burgers, gin, sausages, cake, tea, curry, cheese, noodles, nachos, pulled pork and pasties.

suzanna bain huddersfield food festsuzanna bain huddersfield food festival cheesesuzanna bain yorkshire sausagessuzanna bain huddersfield food festival yorkshire

Plenty of local restaurants and takeaways were on site to cook up stacks of fresh food, so the air was filled with a medley of deliciously exotic aromas whichever way you turned. Huge pans of enticing sauces were being swirled about at every corner, along with mounds of various pasta, bread and chips to mop it all up.

suzanna bain indian food yorkshiresuzanna bain huddersfield food festival bakedsuzanna bain yorkshire sweets retrosuzanna bain yorkshire cakes

It was really tricky to decide what to eat, as there was so much choice and so many tempting options, but in the end my mum chased down a venison burger (with all the trimmings, including liver and sausage) and I opted for zebra, both of which were totally scrumptious and well worth the £5 price tag.

Credit must go to the organisers for choosing a wonderful location (St George’s Square, right by the train station), setting everything out really well, providing plenty of seating and lots of variety.

We also thought the toilets were rather humorous…

suzanna bain yorkshiresuzanna bain yorkshire huddersfield

With the sun shining and everyone in such a delightful mood, it really felt like summer had arrived. Ice cream was therefore a must and what better choice than delightfully rich, smooth and totally irresistible Yummy Yorkshire, courtesy of Delph House Farm in nearby Denby Dale?

Jaffa cake might seem like an odd flavour to some – indeed one person I mentioned it to thought it was downright controversial – but it was definitely the right choice, evidenced by the fact I ate it so quickly I didn’t get time to photograph it (which is also true of our burgers – sorry guys)!

suzanna bain yorkshire oilsuzanna bain indian sauce yorkshiresuzanna bain yorkshire ginsuzanna bain yorkshire naan bread

Mum and I also picked up some amazing meat from Coddy’s Farm, which is based in Holmfirth. Their beef burgers (which we both saved for after the weekend, as a Monday pick-me-up) were legendary – packed full of deep mellow flavour and seasoned just right. The same was true of their mint-marinated lamb steaks, which we cooked medium-rare later that evening for dinner, with green beans and fried chestnut mushrooms.

suzanna bain huddersfield food festival piehuddersfield food festival scene

Again, the results were really impressive (even if I do say so myself, as Head Chef), but we were so ravenous from all that walking around in the sun that we wolfed down the fruits of our labour before you could even think about saying ‘get the camera out’.

Willpower is not one of my strong points, especially when it comes to food, but as a bona fide blogger I realise I must try harder to photograph what I’m about to scoff instead of just writing about it after the event.

Please have patience and understanding. And watch this space.

Yorkshire love affairs

The best thing about moving away from a place you adore is you can fall in love with it all over again whenever you go back.

And so it is I am now truly, madly, deeply, head over heels about two of Yorkshire’s finest cities…and not for the first time.

What makes Leeds and York well worth a visit (aside from the fact they both have the very good fortune of being able to name yours truly a former resident, of course,) is the fact they are full of brilliant places to eat, sleep, drink, explore and photograph, as well as plenty of history, unique personality, a vibrantly buzzing atmosphere and an abundance of finest Yorkshire spirit.

St Mary's Abbey ruins, in the York Museum Gardens, makes for stunning photographs.
St Mary’s Abbey ruins, in the York Museum Gardens, makes for stunning photographs.
The Leeds Markets building is one of the city's most beautiful.
The Leeds Markets building is one of the city’s most beautiful.

Both cities never fail to make my heart swell whenever I head back to visit because as well as still feeling like home – and bringing back some very fond memories – I know there will always be something new and exciting to impress me.

What’s brought on this deluge of lovey-doveyness, I hear you ask? What’s got me thinking all over again about how spectacular Leeds and York are and how grateful we should be for the preservation of their heritage because it helps us understand who we are, where we’ve come from and all that’s shaped the world in which we live?

Well, it’s all down to a NYawker I met recently, while on a night out in wonderful Leeds. 

Our paths crossed at one of the city’s loveliest pubs, The Midnight Bell, which is housed in an old building in part of the city’s former industrial heartland, an area that’s been given a new lease of life thanks to recent regeneration schemes.

Midnight Bell, Leeds, courtesy of someone else’s Flickr account!

Said NYawker was somewhat baffled and befuddled as to why this local landmark was rammed full of so many merry reporters on a school night (it was two very prominent editors’ leaving do), as well as why one of Yorkshire’s finest eccentrics (a very good journo buddy of mine) had decided to befriend him and force-drink him local ale all night.

It turns out my buddy thought the NYawker was to do with the paper in some way, in spite of his decidedly non-English accent, genuine bewilderment as to what on earth was going on and repeated protestations that he was, in fact, in finance/IT.

Never one to leave a rabbit floundering in the headlights for too long, frantically searching for an escape hatch, I took the bemused NYawker under my wing and started boring him to death with talk of why Leeds and Yorkshire are so completely fantastic and why once upon a time the media industry was too, back in the glory days of local newspapers printing non-churned-out-by-agencies content that actually had relevance and importance to readers.

The NYawker was a little disbelieving of my claim that York was a far better day out than London, not just because of its impressive architecture and plethora of cobbles but also the fact it’s not three hours away by train and doesn’t involve anything as torturous as the Tube.

And so began my time as official tour guide, local travel expert and all-round-seller-of-Yorkshire-to-overseas-visitors: Yes, folks, there IS life outside London…and it’s truly a marvellous thing.

York Minster, England: Just a bit spectacular.
York Minster, England: Just a bit spectacular.
Old buildings in York are full of character and give the place a wonderful sense of history.
Old buildings in York are full of character and give the place a wonderful sense of history.
These incredible abbey ruins, in York, are awe-inspiring.
These incredible abbey ruins, in York, are awe-inspiring.

Seeing York Minster in all its splendour, dazzled by the summer sun (another thing the NYawker was dubious about the existence of) made me feel humbled, awestruck and proud, even though I’ve seen it many times before.

And I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to point at the timber-framed Medieval/Tudor buildings of The Shambles, which lean so far in they’re nearly kissing, and to stand in the arches of abbey ruins that leave you speechless and feeling so small.

Then there was Clifford’s Tower, a good few pubs (The Old White Swan on Goodramgate and The Masons Arms on Fishergate being two of my all-time favourites) and, of course, a walk along the delightful River Ouse.

As for Leeds, the main place I hadn’t been to before is The Botanist, in the city’s brand new Trinity Leeds development, which houses not only plenty of big-name retailers and eateries but also the Everyman cinema. The whole thing brings to mind Cabot Circus, in Bristol, because of its architecture and open-air (or at least open-sided) design.

Trinity Leeds, one of the city's newest developments, has an eye-catching design.
Trinity Leeds, one of the city’s newest developments, has an eye-catching design.
A mix of eateries and retailers are housed in the new Trinity Leeds development.
A mix of eateries and retailers are housed in the new Trinity Leeds development.
The Leeds Corn Exchange never fails to impress.
The Leeds Corn Exchange never fails to impress.

Then there were the usual suspects of the Corn Exchange and Brewery Wharf, as well as what can only be described as one of the best scallops and steaks ever at that shining beacon of gloriously blingy Art Deco design; Bibis Italianissimo.

Bibis' scallops were totally divine.
Bibis’ scallops were totally divine.

Leeds and York really have far too much going on for me to cram into this one small blog post – and I haven’t even got started on music and theatre – so I thought I’d add more personal insights and photos as time goes on, whenever the mood so takes me.

In the meantime, why not let me know what you think of these fantastic places, or whether my gushing enthusiasm has encouraged you to visit if you happen to find yourself in the vicinity for business or pleasure.

I’d love to have your thoughts.

The York Eye was where our adventure began...and affords excellent views over the stunning city.
The York Eye was where our adventure began…and affords excellent views over the stunning city.

‘Shopping maths’ that doesn’t add up

Ever noticed that the minute you haven’t got something – or are soon to lose it – you start missing it, craving it, loving it, thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread?

This is the way with relationships, cars, houses, holidays, haircuts…and items you put on ebay.

Something about taking photos to make things look as wonderful as possible, then writing a load of big-it-up blurb to entice buyers, makes me want to reclaim all my lovely things for myself once again.

Then there’s the issue of what I call ‘ebay maths’: Does flogging these clothes, shoes and handbags really add up? After all, it’s not just listing them that takes time, it’s also wrapping them up and queuing at the Post Office.

Add to this the problem of accidentally buying all sorts of junk/apparel you don’t really need – because some bargain or other caught your eye and seemed too good to resist – and you’ll soon find two plus two equals five.

What’s not to love about spending ages getting rid of stuff, only to replace it with more stuff, having made money then lost it all?

‘Tis surely the reason woman was put on this earth.

It’s a vicious cycle

vicious cycle<

Great British weather

Curling up under the duvet during the crashing and banging of this morning’s obscenely loud and scary thunderstorm was definitely the right thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I loves a bit of drama I do, but when it’s 6am and you’ve had a restless night’s sleep anyway the last thing you need is Armageddon as a wake-up call.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the annoying sproglets next door were out in force, squawking, screaming and screeching in their usual blood-curdling manner about how exciting it all was, adding to the decibels and piercing noises ensuring nobody in hell had even the slightest prospect of getting any more shuteye.

I did contemplate hotfooting it up to the attic room, to get some action shots of the blisteringly bright lighting skewering the Huddersfield sky, but unfortunately I am far too foggy-brained first thing in the morning…especially when I’ve endured a rude awakening and the main thoughts in my head are not fit for publication.

So instead I shoved a pillow over my head and tried to meditate my way through it all.

An entire hour’s worth.

Suffice to say, today’s soozebee has not been in the best of moods or the happiest of spirits and now needs a lengthy afternoon nap to see her through the rest of the day and help her stay awake at this evening’s Supper Club – falling asleep in one’s soup, at someone else’s house, is so last season.

I can’t decide whether thunderstorms and sproglets are more or less annoying than the ostentatious shouts and relentless door-hammering of some idiot neighbour the other morning, when the entire street was trying its hardest to remain in the land of nod.

The cretinous imbecile in question – one of Huddersfield’s finest – felt it his duty to ensure Michelle-at-number-whatever was up and about in the wee small hours, because some very important and legitimate matter clearly needed her urgent attention.

Oh well, I guess this is what you get for having a heatwave and needing to sleep with the windows open.

And living opposite total chavs.

I will have to dig out my ear plugs and hope I can shove them in far enough to make a difference without them coming out the other side or getting stuck midway.

Huddersfield weather report.