Unexpected surprises

We’ve been prattling around in our living room of late, preening here, paining there and you’ve been kept very much up to date on our progress. But, I thought I’d spare a moment for a rather ingenious and totally accidental addition to our living room.

Way back when we were hosting a 1970s inspired Christmas soiree, we had a bare patch of wall destined to host some artwork. But, no frames. We’d not managed to find any that we liked and so it was looking like we were going to have to showcase the newly decorated living room sans artwork!

Frames, Poundland
Lamp, TK Maxx

But, I was in a Poundland picking up something stupid like table confetti or tea lights and I stumbled across some frames (for £1 each, funnily enough) which were rather brilliant. 

They’re white with a grey mount inside, and a string with two wooden pegs on, for hanging photographs from. There’s no glass, so it’s easy to swap and change the contents of the frame – which inspired us to get creative.

Table, IKEA

We quickly popped them up and hung our previously purchased book of 12 ink bolts. Y’know, the kind psychoanalysts and psychiatrists use. They’re gorgeously abstract designs that spark conversation, and you can remove the cards from the frame to read the subliminal meanings behind each one too! It was supposed to just be an interim solution, but we quite like them.

Postcards, Faber

Kathleen Lines’ Stories For Girls, Muriel Goaman’s Anyone Can Cook, Paul Birckhill’s The Great Escape, Abetti’s The Sun, Jean Conil’s Haute Cuisine, Anthony Buckeridge’s Stories For Boys, James Blish’s Welcome To Mars, Seamus Heaney’s Door Into The Dark, Alfred Duggan’s Devil’s Brood, T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Rudolf Arnheim’s Film As Art.

Then, this season we switched it up, with some postcard versions of famous covers from the faber publishing house archives. They’re typography heavy and blooming gorgeous. Some are obscure books I’ve never heard of and others are household names, like Seamus Heaney’s Door Into The Dark and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. There’s also 100 in the box, so loads more to swap in and out too! Not bad for a last minute £1 find!


Other Bracefaces: Tom Cruise

In 2002 crazy Tom Cruise gave his teeth some TLC with a near-invisible brace, at the age of 40!

The sofa-jumping, Oprah scaring, Scientologist – best known for being a short arse and general loony toon – is also a former braceface too. Cruise has always been a bit of a heart throb, since back in his cocktail making days (love the sock ‘n shirt dance moment), so it was a bit of a shock for the masses to witness their mega star avec metal-mouth. 

Still, beauty costs.


What Shakespeare means to me

One of the greatest ever writers of the English language died sometime this month, 400 years ago – leaving behind a canon of work that would be read, enjoyed, studied and performed for centuries more. Long may he continue to inspire.

As an English Literature graduate, I have a particular fondness for Shakespeare. His playful ability to weave vast and complex tapestries with his words, intricate webs with layer upon layer of meaning, was one of the discoveries I made in my early school days that lead me to want to study English Literature at University.

 William Shakespeare effigy, Historical Reading Room, 
John Rylands Library Deansgate Manchester

I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning.”

I struggled to read as a child, I lagged behind peers in our reading classes, I found it hard to keep up in general and it was predicted that I would not necessarily reach the reading and writing comprehension required to pass my SATs. But, I always enjoyed stories and wasn’t put off by my inability to articulate myself in prose or digest the written word quickly, I kept on reading.

My parents pushed me to read outside of school too, I took special lessons and had a reading coach, eventually conquering my demons, being able to read and write at the rate of my peers by the time I was to go to “big school”. 

“nothing will come of nothing”
It was at said big school that I was formally introduced to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and for the first time was struck by the power of language and how – aside from delivering instruction or conjuring two dimensional images – words, syntax, grammar and even punctuation could also have a profound and immersive effect on the reader. 

 Depiction of Julius Caesar Act IV Scene III, the ghost of Caesar in Brutus’ tent. 
John Rylands Library Special Collections

I had never comprehended that we could discuss language for the sake of discussing language rather than merely discussing the outcome of language. Discussing the fabric and stitching, not just the dress. It’s a small revelation, but it was the catalyst to a new way of thinking for me and it had a lot to do with William Shakespeare.

I’ll be celebrating his genius with a visit to John Rylands Library on Deansgate to soak up the literary history and see his effigy in the Historic Reading Room. There’s also a co-production of King Lear (my favourite tragedy, and the source of the above quotes) on from today until 7th May at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, details here.

Not in Manchester? You could give these articles from the New College Group a gander instead. They uncover some of the words and phrases Shakespeare introduced to the English language, words you thought you knew the meaning of until you read Shakespeare and words you may never know the meaning of. Enjoy!


SS16 Look Book: Camel Coloured Coats

Spring has sprung, just about, so I’m out of my dark, heavy, wool coat and into something a little lighter in weight – and hue – for the new season.

I have two new coats, both a shade of camel, which make for perfect transitional pieces when the weather hasn’t quite made its mind up.

Both these coats have that cocky estate boy-made-good vibe going on, like they’ve been bought (or stolen) at a second-hand shop by some scallywag in sheep’s clothing. I love them! 


Coat, TOPMAN, £150
Jumper, Pop Boutqiue, £20
Chinos, Zara, £19.99
Boots, ASOS, Sale
Necklace, TOPMAN, £10
The first is something a little formal, a coat that easily dresses up any outfit. A gorgeous cut, long-length and nice paired-back design, which makes for a timeless piece I’ll cherish for years to come.
It’s 100% wool, and has a nice light weight weave meaning even in the height of summer this will be a nice coat for evenings and days when Manchester plays up to its reputation and the sun is hidden from view.
I style this in the guise of an unemployed yoof in the late 1980s, determined to make use of his Dad’s old over coat when headed to an interview at the local bookies. All I need is a gold sovereign ring!

I have a casual option too. In a beautiful shade of Tobacco, this coat from Bellfield is proper retro. (I’m pretty sure my dad had one just like it in the late 80s to be honest.) It’s a cool bomber shape, in soft suede and elasticed cuffs, collar and hem, making it a great throw-on for days out in the springtime sun.


Top, American Apparel, £20
 Jeans, Primark, £12
Trainers, Converse, £35
Shades, TOPMAN, £12 

I style this in the guise of the other coat’s younger brother, not yet worried about paying his Mam rent, and instead skiving off school to drink Lager and play pool down the local boozer with his mates.



You can check our Bellfield’s mens clothing here and the bomber is under mens coats and jackets here. Also, if you’re feeling cheeky, treat yourself to something and get 20% off with promo code BLOG20


This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.

Other Bracefaces: Gwen Stefani

Ms Stefani was omnipresent in my teen years, it was a time she rather awkwardly resurrected thoughts of colonial slavery by appropriating Harajuku culture and when “tick tock,” was a pop-song lyric not yet ascribed to Kesha.

Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Basically I was well into her. But, did you know that the Lady L.A.M.B was a braceface too? Back in her years with No Doubt (the first time) she undertook orthodontic treatment – get this – as a treat to herself! She told Harper’s magazine in an interview that she had promised herself braces, once she got rich. Seem’s Rich Girl done good on that promise, as per this little gem of a paparazzi snap can attest.

I admire her courage to grab the bull by the horns, or the orthodontics by the wires, so to speak, pioneering a step into adult-hood brace-hood with that punky style she’s all about. I’d like to say my ascent into adult orthodontics was as Camden highstreet as all that, and not a wet-fart of delayed inevitability but I can’t really. (read more on my life’s pain and torture, here)


A mouth full of tools and brushes a day keeps the dentist away

I’m coming up to my 1 year #braceface anniversary soon, and what better way to celebrate than by telling you all about the insane things I put in mouth (easy tiger) to keep my nashers clean.

(well you try stringing a year’s worth of tooth-related content together, it’s hard!)

Aquafresh non-alcohol mouth wash, Manual tooth brush, OralB 3000 electric toothbrush body, Lush Atomic Tooth Powder, Tepe inter-dental brush, Electric toothbrush head, decorative apple #instagram, Interspace inter-dental brush, Toothpaste and Boots orthodontic wax
Yep, up to thrice daily most, if not all, of these things end up in my gob. Except the apple, that’s just a photographic metaphor, forbidden fruit and all like. I’m like Da Vinci, with braces.

What’s a particularly interesting product of late, though, is Lush’s tooth powder. For those of you that remember Eucryl, the powder based stain remover for your teeth, this is essentially the same principal, only there are more flavours. 
I opted for Atomic, which has that peppery, savoury taste a Dentist’s mouth wash has, you know the one, the pink liquid? It’s a great refresher for one’s teeth and suitable for braces too! Some would use instead of tooth paste, I use it as a post-paste but pre-mouthwash extra toothy treat.

I can’t quite believe it’s been nearly a year since I had my braces fixed, so much (not just in my mouth!) has changed since then and the process has been faster, more interesting and exciting that I had ever expected. I’ve actually enjoyed having the braces on and it’s not over-exaggeration when I say that I prefer my smile when hidden behind metal braces and wires than I did my smile before my braces. I feel like, even with them still on and still with work to do, that I’m more confident because the main cause of anxiety is partially concealed from the world. 

I must admit though, Ifind it hard to picture what I’ll look like when they come off, because even the shape of my face has changed, so I think it’ll be quite a shock when I see. Which, incidentally, may be sooner than first forecast, but more on that soon!

Boot camp take aways

So, I announced in early January, in Jay-Z launching Tidal fashion, that I was committing myself to a fitness boot camp by Darren “Bear” Craven, to get myself into shape following my incredible efforts at gaining Christmas podge.

I’ve since been to two classes.

One thing that’s struck me is (how fucking painful it is) how hard it is to commit to specific class times when you’re a busy independent corporate bitch. That’s why I’ve turned it around (unlike Jay-Z’s Tidal) and taken the things I’ve learnt from Darren at his Bear Strength Conditioning Performance classes and used them to form my own circuit at my usual gym to practise in-between (or, if life gets in the way, instead of) his classes.

In all honesty, we’re all busy, but we have to find time to keep fit – so by attending my usual gym twice a week when I can fit a 45 min session in, I’ll be able to supplement my once weekly Bear class nicely and if I have to skip a class, so be it (I hope Darren isn’t reading this).

So, three things I learnt at Bear SCP, that I’ve taken away and practise in my usual gym:

Weighted Leg Lift

Like a normal leg lift, but with a 2kg weight stuck in-between your feet. Careful not to drop it on your balls!

Runny Heavy Thingie

Spot the photographer!

You stick a weight on it and then run as fast as you can down a carpeted runway, like Naomi Campbell when she fell over at Vivienne Westwood, it’s most fun (hard).

Plank-reverse-Plank (came up with that name myself!)

Basically, you assume the plank position and then descend onto your elbows and back up again, over and over, for 3 minutes a set. Ouch.

Cue Rocky theme tune.

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.


4 things to NOT do in Budapest (and things to do instead!)

I recently whisked the boyfriend and myself off for a cheeky weekend away to Budapest, Hungary, as his Christmas present. (Aren’t I the best?) It was a wonderful trip, and the first we’ve taken together on our own since July’s excursion to Edinburgh! It was the perfect excuse to kick-back, relax, and eat some Goulash.

Thought I’d flip things on their head and compile a list of things to not do if you find yourself in Budapest, because there’s honestly too much to tell you to absolutely do.


1. Don’t bother with the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) Building Tour.

I know, it’s number 1 on Trip Advisor, I know it’s the largest civic building in Europe and I know it’s beautiful, but everything you want from the tour is unceremoniously denied you, like Nescafe was denied Hungarians living under Communist occupation (bit of a leap there…)

The tour costs around 2000fts or £5 per adult with an EU passport, so it’s hardly breaking the bank, but the building is on the far north-eastern tip of the city centre region and kinda on its own, so you’re committing to trek up there.

Regardless though, what you want (well, what I wanted) was some juice, some gossip, some insider tid bits and things that you’d never forget like, “President whats-his-chops once vomited here after a particularly lively state dinner in honour of the German Chancellor.” We got none of that. Instead, I learnt that the building is 96 metres high and boasts 96 steps within it’s central entrance hall, both to commemorate the millennia of Hungary and inauguration of the building, in 1896. Snore. I also learn that if you put all the carpets together, from end to end, (which may have actually been more fun) you’d have over 2.5km of carpet. Fascinating.

Honestly though, you do get to see the infamous wonky-topped crown and some nice ceilings, but I just wanted more history, more about the occupations and the building’s innovations and technological advances. Some of my thirst was quenched, however, in the post-tour exhibition, where multi-lingual TV screens walk you through aspects of the building’s history, including the totally bizarre Communist Russian obsession with putting giant red stars on everything, including the top-most steeple of the central dome of the Parliament building. Ridiculous!

Things to do instead:

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 31, 2016 at 8:31am PST


Walk up to the Citadella on Gellért Hill, (District I) it’s 100% free and the views are priceless. There are many beautiful aspects in Budapest, the city is named the jewel in the river Danube’s crown specifically for the many stunning views that line her banks. But, those from the Citadella are ten times better.
 Wander the streets of Old Town on Castle Hill, (District I) where you’ll find the former royal palace, Buda Castle, now the national gallery, library and museum, as well as St. Matthias Church and the current President’s house where, if you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll witness a changing of the guard ceremony!

Tour the St. Stephen’s Basilica, for 200ft (or 50p) you can tour the beautiful RC church in the centre of Budapest, (District V) on the Pest side. Its gilded ceilings and effigies are like something out of the Vatican. 

2. Don’t just think you can eat anywhere

Whilst it pains me to say this, as I wouldn’t want you to think I’m anything but in love with Budapest, Hungary isn’t exactly known for it’s food. Whilst we did taste some gorgeous Goulash, sensational steaks and Scallops you’d dive into the Danube for (if, y’know, they were there…) this wasn’t the case in all restaurants. It would pay to do a little research before putting bottom to seat if you want to avoid frozen pizzas and McDonald’s like deep fried Camembert.

Places to eat instead:

Spoon restaurant, a boat restaurant just beside the Chain Bridge, on the Pest side, (District V) with incredible views of Castle Hill, the Chain Bridge and the Citadella from its decks. The food is Hungarian/European, with expert staff and a great house Prosecco too! For two courses, for two people, with drinks, expect to pay around 35000fts or £85. 

Marvelosa, a gorgeous little independent restaurant, with cooking like Old (Hungarian) Mamma used to make. At the foot of Castle Hill’s cable car (District I) on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, you’ll find this little cafe/bistro facing the river. Decorated like a Gypsy just found her forever-home, the restaurant gives a new meaning to cosy. If you can, grab the two-seater upstairs table in the window, for perfect people watching aspects out onto the promenade and down into the restaurant via the cut-away mezzanine.  Two courses with ample Dreher (local larger) for two people, expect to pay around 11000ft (£27).

3. Don’t go out of you way to visit the 8th District for evening drinks

Famed for being the once-Roma ghetto of Budapest, District 8 had an urban regeneration Salford City Council would be proud of, that came in the 1800s bringing with it beautiful palaces erected by the Hungarian aristocracy, giving the area a new name – The Palace District. Since then, the area was neglected and bullet holes form WWII and the 1959 revolution are still visible in the densely built-up area. Now though, the location has a reputation for a somewhat kaleidoscopic night-life with everything from live poetry readings through to street prostitution. Needless to say, we were excited to experience it. But, it was a bit of a let down. 

The supposed centre of things, Mikszáth Kálmán tér, just behind the National Opera House, was sleepy and quiet. We spotted the Lumen cafe, where the local indie types drink craft ales and eventually sat down for a dinner of mixed emotions at neighbouring Darsham Restaurant up Krudy Gyula utca (street).

Budda Bar, just by the Elizabeth Bridge on the Pest Side (District V), is a bar worthy of royalty. But no, not former European dynasties, this temple is one dedicated to the East. With a cocktail list boasting such delicacies as Sake and velvety and refreshing cucumber Kiwi Kukama, there’s enough to entertain you for a whole evening.
There’s a little bar on Fo utca (street) off the Chain Bridge round-about on the Buda side (District I), the name escapes me, but it’s a hilarious little boozer where the locals go. Wall’s filled with random memorabilia (crap) and a double Jamesons is like 2p.

4. Don’t visit the over-crowded baths


Rather advice learnt from experience, this was advice I took before headed out to Hungary in the first place, citing Rudas Baths at the foot of Gellért Hill, (District I), as my bath of choice. Dating back to the Turkish occupation, the baths is mainly a mens-only space, but I popped by (when the boyf couldn’t be arsed leaving the apartment before our flight home) alone on a mixed day. The baths are enormous and whilst many tourists did find the baths too, there were lots of locals floating around. There are steam rooms, saunas, cold dip baths, ice washes, a swimming pool and pools with spring waters enriched with calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate and sodium for joint pain and well-being. 

Courtesy of budapest.hu

The number one attraction though, has to be the roof-top pool with views out over the river, a must-dip!

See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Budapest on my TripAdvisor contributor pages


A walk around Trinity

The boyf and I bought our first home last year, in the last remaining leafy corner of the inner city area, Trinity – a hop, skip and a jump over the river at Spinningfields and the mantelpiece from which Salford displays its best wares.

I spent a day wandering around the area (just 10 months after moving in) because I had a morning of work, and it was splendid.

I started with a coffee from Lupo Caffe,  a gorgeous little Italian caffè on Chapel Street, the main drag in Salford Central. Then, after a peak in the window of neighbouring Pencil Me In Shop, it was straight up Chapel Street toward Salford University campus.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 14, 2016 at 5:32am PST

It’s around a fifteen minute walk from the Manchester end of Chapel Street, up to the University where my final destination, the Salford Museum and Art Gallery, is situated and you pass some impressive sights en route. The old Salford Town Hall, for one, now swanky flats, sits within a pristine and pretty square with the New Oxford Pub nearby, all just around the corner from our home. 

Further up you come to the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, Salford Cathedral, the first cathedral to be built (1848) in cruciforiam shape since the Reformation. It’s an impressive space, sparse and solemn like most churches, but surrounded by gorgeous gardens too.

Next door is St. Philip’s Church, Salford’s answer to St. Paul’s in London, with a striking dome shaped steeple.

As well as relics from the past, you pass examples of regeneration in Vimto Gardens, the beginning of a huge residential and retail regeneration of the Chapel St. drag, on the site of the former Vimto factory. Timekeeper’s Square is another resident complex, next to St. Philip’s Church is being developed right now too.

St. Philip’s Church, Trinity, Salford

Nearing the campus, you catch a sight of The Meadows, a expanse of greenery within the meander of the Irwell, before it scoops back around and trims the boarder of Manchester and Salford at Spinningfields and Trinity. It’s a nice sight, some green within the urban city environment.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 14, 2016 at 5:46am PST

Then, the University, and my destination for a spot of culture on a rare morning off when I had nothing else to do. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery is a lovely little spot, with some beautiful permanent displays in the Victorian Gallery and changed exhibits throughout, from pottery and paper-work to modernist painting and photography. Well worth a visit.

For me though, it was time to trundle back down the street toward Manchester.

Breakout Manchester

Being locked in an upstairs room, above a wine bar for an hour is honestly one of the most exciting things you can do with your mates in Manchester, right now.

Breakout Manchester are a two-site entertainment venue straight out of the ordinary, where you and select mates can test the very fabric of your friendship in an immersive experience akin to Crystal Maze. But, 10 times more amazing, because you’re not watching it on TV, you’re living it.

Breakout is made up of eight rooms, in their sites on Brazennose Street off Albert Square and High Street in the Northern Quarter, each with their own story and puzzle(s) to solve. They range from hard to the near impossible in difficulty and each room gives you one hour to breakout before you’re (locked in forever) declared the loser and have to take a humiliating mug-shot to tell all your friends on Facebook.


When we last broke out (and saved the world from annihilation, you’re welcome!)

To celebrate our wonderful friend’s birthday (which was actually in October…) the boyf and I took him and his hubby with us to play the Madchester room. Together, the four of us have broken out before, we played the Sabotage room last year – a then 4/5 difficulty rating that’s since been raised to 5/5 – which tells a Cold War meets 007 Golden Eye story that was absolutely hilarious and saw us break out with less than a minute to spare. 

This time, however, we were playing Madchester (5/5) and were subsequently locked in some sweaty teenager’s room, a teenager with an unhealthy obsession with all things Manchester. A bit like the room from that girl in My Mad Fat Diary.

Now, I’m not giving anything away – because that’s mean and I think Breakout Manchester would come round and lock me in a Chinese Puzzle Box and then paint it like a rubik’s cube and throw me into the canal. But, what I will say is – you don’t need to be an expert on Manchester for this specific room, just in the way you don’t have to be a war veteran to play Sabotage. It’s just the theme, not the nuts and bolts. What you do have to be good at, however, is screaming across the room at your best friends about how shit they are.

In the room, everything is a clue (unless, y’know it’s just the light switch…) and you can’t overlook a thing. You run around piecing pieces of the puzzle together and you have to keep each other in the loop so you can connect the dots on the things you’ve seen and done.

There’s a big screen on the wall too, that counts down from 60 minutes to 0, with increasingly hostile music being played to, y’know, make you feel right at home and positive you’ve got this under control. You can shout into the screen (or, actually, the camera above) and the game master person who runs your game can communicate with you on screen if you’re desperate for a clue, or to tell you go get down off the wardrobe because their liability insurance won’t cover them.

Yeah baby!

So, there’s us, running around like headless chickens thinking we were doomed with too many puzzles to solve and only 5 minutes left when we have a windfall and we’re all of a sudden, back in the game. We still had a bit too much to do, so started guessing the remaining answers to our puzzles to unlock the exit door, with two of us operating the door locking system. We guessed right and the door unlocked, but in our sheer excitement, the stupid thing locked itself again, I turned around and clocked the screen as the code was being thumped back into the door and we had 3, 2, 1 seconds remaining when the door flung open and we fell out.

I’ve never come closer to murder.

Book now.

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.