A night with the Netherlands National Circus in Haydock, Merseyside.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Last week, myself Mike and Tristan were lucky enough to go watch the spectacular Netherlands National Circus when it made its stop at Haydock race course. We didn't know what to expect as we'd never seen that particular circus troop before, so we wrapped up warm and drove to the race course to make the most of a gloomy Saturday night.

We were in for a treat. The circus itself looked quite small from the outside - but it had a refreshments area when you first entered the tent itself which sold the usual treats such as hotdogs, popcorn and candyfloss (and wine if you are so inclined) then you presented your tickets at another barrier granting you access into the big top itself. We had ringside seats, so we were escorted to a makeshift booth right at the front which is incredibly close to the action!

Once we had been seated (and once I had ventured out to get a good stockpile of treats for us) the show began. There was a five minute warning before the show did start, allowing people to make last minute trips to the toilets or to go grab a sweet treat before the show. As you can see, there was a wonderful assortment of people representing a whole range of countries as part of the circus acts - I admittedly wondered what I'd let myself in for at this point, but I was about to be amazed.

Every circus has its clowns, right? The Netherlands National Circus was no exception. The clowns they had entertaining the crowd were fun and really engaging - a special shout out to this gentleman who saw Tristan had put his hood up to hide himself from being squirted with water.. The clown came back when Tristan wasn't expecting a soaking and made sure he got him! I loved that aspect because it reassured me that the clowns were taking notice of the crowd they were working, it made it so much more personal!

The acts began soon after we were introduced to the clowns. Each act was accompanied by a live band playing music for them to perform to, and the music they did play was upbeat and often very familiar (such as Radio Gaga by Queen). This added to the experience, and I often found myself tapping my foot to the beat.

The acts were varied -

A contortionist who had a fantastic sparkly wardrobe. I don't want to spoil her finale but I can assure you, its something incredible. A lot of the acts seemed to have more than one specialty up their sleeve also, faces became familiar and you began to recognise them in their different guises.

This act was about ball control - no really. Having 6-8 very bouncy, very small balls which were thrown at varying angles against glass - yet he still managed to control them and catch them in different sequences.

This was the only act of the evening that came with a warning. Its laser based, and the ringmaster did advise that if you wanted to leave the main tent for the act you could return in five minutes and it would be finished. It was an intense light show which had lasers spanning the crowd from various angles.

This act was one of my personal favourites - and not as Mike pointed out, because this gentleman took his top off half way through. He was balanced between two crossed tightropes, and entertained us by flipping between each one and dancing on the wire itself.

Pirates! Juggling, ladder climbing pirates! This act made me cringe so badly - especially when they were on top of the ladders, juggling things which were on fire. As you can see by the picture above, at one point they were balancing huge flaming poles on their chin - and made their way down the ladder with them still there. Mind blown.

Finally, the night was wrapped up by some amazing feats of strength. These guys were amazing, and it was obvious they trusted each other and were comfortable working alongside one another. The positions they ended up in were amazing, but I've shared a few simply because I had to. I can't describe someone balancing on someone elses head without a photograph or two, right?

All in all, we had a wonderful time - I really, really recommend going along to see the show if they're in your local area and even if it is a little bit of a drive - go see it. You have no excuse - the tend is heated, there are lots of deals on half price tickets available through their website and the local area around the days they perform, and its a fantastic family treat!

Do you know who's behind your morning coffee? I do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When I saw that Oxfam were fighting against poverty, I was intrigued. When I saw I could help fight their cause, and do my part? I jumped. This post is the first in a two part series about how we can help fight against the disease which is poverty - sometimes, without even trying.


The scene is a dreary Monday morning, you just survived the commute into the city and you have your heart set on the one thing which can make this Monday more bearable. Coffee.We all reach for it in times of need, and I'm no exception - although after writing this, I admit, I'm doing my best to ensure I'm giving thanks to those that provide me with my caffeinated sustenance. Not the baristas. Not the workmate with her emergency jar of coffee.

The real people behind my mug of coffee.

Meet Pedro Cruz, one of the people behind that coffee currently swirling around your mug.

Photograph Credit: Eleanor Famer @ Oxfam

He doesn't have the job of serving you the coffee, nor does he make it for you. But he's the one reason you have it in your mug today, and it really is time you got to know him. He lives in Central America where coffee production is often a pivotal part of family life. They tend the coffee plantations, harvest the coffee and sort it so that your mug of caffeinated goodness is the best it can be. Unfortunately, it isn't all great.

At the moment, a fungus is currently wreaking havoc on coffee plantations - it's something known as 'coffee rust' and thanks to climate change, its happening faster than ever. Pedro, can't pick beans that have been blighted by coffee rust so not only is our coffee suffering - Pedro and his family are. But you don't know Pedro and his family, do you?

Photograph Credit: Eleanor Famer @ Oxfam
Wrong. You do now. This is Pedro, his wife, and their four beautiful children. Jeffrey* is 9. Carlos-Danie*l is 5. Jonathan* is 2, and Joseline* is 11. They all live in a town called Plan Del Socorro in Western Honduras in a small but humble home. The place they call home is only accessible by foot, and has no toilet facilities - and they collect the families supply of water from a local well.

Pedro, is what is known as a 'coffee cutter' - an agricultural laborer who specialises in the drink we all know and love. His job provides the income for the whole family - that is two adults, and four children. Thanks to the industry being impacted by the devastating fungus you heard about earlier, that income has been severely impacted. His income has gone from £3.50 (120 lempiras) to £2.90 (100 lempiras) per day. That means that each member of the Cruz household is surviving on £1 a day. That isn't enough to keep up with feeding a family of six, I'm afraid..

Photograph Credit: Eleanor Farmer @ Oxfam
“Sometimes we don’t eat so the kids can. We’re adults and can take the pain more.” “When food runs out the children just eat tortilla and salt. They ask for more food. I feel so sad when they’re asking for food and I can’t give it to them. I say ‘children look-there’s nothing here.’ It’s very hard.”
 - Maria Cruz (27)
Photograph Credit: Eleanor Farmer @ Oxfam

Photograph Credit: Eleanor Farmer @ Oxfam

Photograph Credit: Eleanor Farmer @ Oxfam

Now, Oxfam are working alongside Pedro, his family, and other people in the coffee industry to try and minimise the impact on working families like the Cruz's. They're educating people in sustainable farming, so that people can cope with climate change and the horrors it brings a little better. This safeguards the lives of the families who rely on the coffee plantations, as well as that hot steaming mug in your hand right now.

You can help.

By visiting Oxfam.org.uk/donate, you can donate the price of your beverage (or more if you wish to) to help aid the work overseas.

£3 each week is enough to help farmers like Pedro to provide for their families. 
£20 is enough to buy seeds for a family to grow rust-resistant coffee and earn a good living for a whole year. 
£40 is enough to pay for everything a farmer needs to replant with new coffee seeds and tend the land for a year.

So please, when you finish your local commute and head to the coffee shop - think about donating the cost of your drink to people like Pedro and the Cruz family. I know I logged onto the website and donated £3 - the usual cost of my pre-work latte. Even a little can go a long, long way.

*Names have been changed due to children being under the age of 18.

Sankey Valley, Cheshire - Part 2.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I promised you a Part 2 to the post I made before about exploring Sankey Valley - and here it is. This isn't the same route we took before, although it is connected - we drove to a car park further up the trail as we had the children with us. Little legs don't really walk as far as big legs do, so we made the executive decision that driving the route wouldn't be cheating.

As you can see by the map above, this is in the park closer to Warrington - there are a few car parking spots available if you look for the Gullivers World signs. We ended up taking the turn-off after Gullivers World and finding a close car park to the trail itself. Now, there will be a Part 3 to this post sharing some of the hidden attractions along the way (some are quite unexpected, I admit) so keep a look out. Look for the main location of the park which is marked with !

The day started off pretty grim, weather wise. It did brighten up as the afternoon progressed - and to be honest these pictures are a mixture of Saturday and Sunday as our camera ran out of battery on Saturday so we had to come back to finish taking pictures for this post.

The canal is back! And it has water in, not dirt! The canal actually acts as quite a focal point for the walk, its paved and well kept meaning cyclists can use it as well as groups of walkers and dog walkers. I actually saw a lot of families out for a stroll too, which was nice. The 'moment' though, was when we turned a corner and saw a group of dog walkers out with (at least) ten sausage dogs. Honestly, my heart melted as the army of sausage dogs came towards us - but I digress.

We ventured away from the canal, and discovered a whole variety of things. These buildings have been retaken by the woodland, and despite some newer apartments being used nearby they've kept this barn looking dilapidated and rustic. I love the mix of new and modern, versus industrial and aged!

We did get a little excited taking photographs of the woodland area. It looks like something straight out of Game of Thrones (something we both watch obsessively at the moment) and it is incredibly clean. Winter has made it crunchy and unforgiving to walk on, but it is walkable even off of the paved pathway areas. I urge you to have an explore if you ever visit, some of the wooded areas are so pretty it isn't worth missing them.

One of my favourite areas was this maze. It was gated with huge metal gates decorated with Elves and magic, so it was completely up my street! Unfortunately, the gates were locked so officially we didn't get to have a look around. On an unofficial note, there was a log propped up against the fence at the back so unofficially, we did get to climb over and have a look around inside. Its obvious that it hasn't been tended for a few months, but I liked that wild aspect to it.

In the summer when the maze is looking its best, I bet it really is magical. The flooring is pebbled (and in some places, magical Elvish mosaics are underfoot) and the maze itself really does add to the fairytale feel. I wouldn't completely recommend going in the unofficial way, as there were nettles and brambles to contend with - but in Summer - please go see it in its prime!

A light lunch at 1875, Bradford.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

As it was my last formal day teaching with the group I have cultivated for a few years now, they surprised me with a trip out to a shiny new venue in Bradford. 1875 is situated on Ivegate, and the building that it resides in used to be an old rock/heavy metal club called Gasworks. The Gasworks was a black-on-black-on-black affair with boarded up windows and a scary exterior, so I was more than a little bit curious as to what the owner of 1875 had done with the place.
For those that aren't familiar with Bradford, here is where you can find 1875 at the -

(I did add 1875 onto Google Maps, but it may take a little while to add! If you look for 18 Ivegate, you can find the restaurant/bar there, even if you find yourself wandering down Ivegate in search of it - it stands out with the pretty frontage!)

The frontage on its own is a huge success - the red and white paintwork really is the biggest change to Ivegate - I did try scour Google for a picture of how the front looked previously but alas, I can't seem to find one. Its a welcome pop of colour to a rather neglected street of Bradford. I love Ivegate because it has pretty much all of the charity shops on it, but even I have to admit it isn't the most attractive areas in the city.

My flash misbehaved on this snap, but I wanted to keep it in to really show what changes have happened inside. I had a chat with the owner and he did mention that even the inside was following the black-on-black-on-black theme - what a difference this must be. The restaurant isn't quite finished - there are still on-going bits and pieces here and there but even so, the overall feel of the place is light and airy.

I also fell in love with these great big industrial looking light fittings. How amazing do they look? These line the bar area, which paired with the pallet-décor you see below, gives the whole place an edgy, modern feel.

As well as the large airy dining area you saw a few snaps above, you can see they also provide more private areas like these cosy booths. Great for when you feel like tucking yourself away for the evening with a bottle of house wine! (Again, I swooned over these light fittings - I approve of all lighting choices the designers of this space made!)

The bar area is modern, with the pallet-wire décor mentioned before. I really liked the spacious feel of the bar, it sits in the centre of the room and it makes a statement. The bar is stocked with every type of drink you could possibly feel like, from Grey Goose to the house wines - and as you can see, they serve Indian street food at the moment with ambitions to expand their menu.

We actually took advantage of an offer in the Bradford Review paper. If you manage to track down a paper, you can find a voucher inside which encourages you to pay a visit to 1875 between certain hours of the day when you can order a drink and get a free 12" chicken or vegetarian wrap. Its a wonderful lunchtime pick me up, and the staff are incredibly attentive and friendly - we had a pretty demanding group and despite requiring gluten free options and changes to orders, they were so accommodating and I can't thank them enough. I opted for a chicken wrap, which was light enough to feel like a healthy lunch but in such an establishment you felt it was a real treat.

I'm really happy with the send-off I received, and the venue only made that better. I won't get to see 1875 blossom into the bustling venue it is destined to become as I'll be over the Pennines in Newton-le-Willows, but when I come back to visit I'll be sure to pop in. It really does make a refreshing change to have a fresh, new venue in the bottom end of town - we have a bustling, wonderful set of bars and restaurants up on North Parade so its only fair they share it with the bottom of town too!

The Blog Domination Planner By TeaPartyBeauty.com

Saturday, February 13, 2016

As I recently restarted blogging, I've vowed to be more organised and really work on keeping a structure around the blog instead of it being so spontaneous. Because of this, unless something really urgent comes up or distracts me I generally post once every two days. Obviously, that may change during summertime or during the move - but I really hope to keep up to a posting schedule which is manageable to me.
On my first week back, I saw that the blogger behind TeaPartyBeauty.com had developed a blogging planner. I was intrigued. I already have an illicit love of planners, so when I was able to purchase one from her Etsy store I did.

I'm going to be featuring it a lot more on here as I tackle the pages and sections as a blogging newbie, but my first impressions are really good. The planner comes with a plastic front cover so that it is a little more durable, and the pages themselves are glossy and well presented. A lot of work has gone into it and it really does show - I'm happily filling out my February plans, and I hope to share those with you at the end of February to really see how useful (to me) the planner system is. Wish me luck!

Some links have been removed due to availability.

What I wore to explore Sankey Valley.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

This was the outfit I wore for our stormy stroll through Sankey Valley at the weekend. Something simple, but snug as heck because that wind was freezing. The wellies are actually my Mother-in-Laws as I'd only brought my knee-high suede boots and wedges, neither which is suited to boggy sludgy exploring. I really want to invest in a good pair of walking wellies, if they even exist. I feel they should!

The dress is a charity shop find, a Primark one I found in Leigh a few weeks ago for the princely sum of £2. I know Primark is fairly cheap and it isn't often I'll pick a Primark item up in a charity shop, but I loved this. While talking about Primark, the faux-leather jacket is one I picked up from there a few weeks ago - I love it a lot and it hasn't worn like I thought it would. No patches or cracks in the material yet!

Leggings are from a shop in the market at St Helens called 'Shh don't tell your friends' which both me and my Mother-in-law frequent. She got me addicted. The hat, from a stall outside that shop which I can't remember the name of but I know they're available on Ebay. I spent a long time trying to find a hat that was faux fur as I hate the thought of real fur, so I grabbed it when I could - it was £8. The scarf is one of my winter staples, you can find out the day I bought it way back in this post!

Sankey Valley, Cheshire - Part 1.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Sunday was the kind of day where a walk was needed after lunch. My Mother-in-Law made a huge roast dinner, and even though I ate every morsel (it was delicious!) I really did feel like I needed to hibernate for a few months afterward. It didn't help that the weather was a little feisty and the wind was incredibly strong - the tail end of Storm Imogen rattled the Pennines and I had to endure commuting back over them to Bradford before the day was done.

Because of this hibernation urge, we decided to go for a walk instead. The area will be local to me in a few weeks anyway, and how better to get to know the area than a lazy Sunday stroll? The story behind this area is that the canal that ran beside the town has been.. Well. Partially filled in, as you'll see later on in the post. This area hasn't been filled, and you can walk beside it towards St Helens or the opposite way - towards Warrington. You can view where we started on the map below, and if you want to follow our route you can do so by following the 'Sankey Valley Trail' which is marked close to the .

We headed towards Warrington. Mike used to run this route when he was younger, so he was incredibly familiar with the area - pointing out lots of local landmarks that held a lot of childhood memories for him.

This is where our stroll started. Its a lock (I think!) that has been filled in, aside from the small amount of water you see flowing over the waterfall pictured. It was built in 1868, and although I'm unsure of the time it was filled in, the plaque commemorating its opening is still there. The local wildlife seem to enjoy it here - we interrupted a family of swans all feeding!

Some of the local fauna - I have a little bit of a fascination with wild mushrooms. They terrify me (because hello, fungus) and intrigue me completely. Whenever we go out wandering with the camera I have to make sure we get a photograph!

See? I'm terrible, when walking in woods you can almost always find me trying to capture the image of a toadstool because they're the pinnacle of awesome fungi.. That's a phrase I didn't expect to ever make it onto my blog!

The picture below is one of Mikes landmarks. Apparently, as a child in the 80's/90's it was great fun to ride in a rubber dingy down this patch of water. I'd have been absolutely terrified, but he assured me it wasn't that deep and that was the only patch of water that got a little scary. Another 'game' was to walk over the beams above the water. None of those sound remotely fun to me, but maybe that's because of my irrational phobia of fish? When I was young, it was all about tree houses and mud and dens - not risking my life, nor securing a rubber dingy to do so.

Further down the path, you can see it starts to open up and quickly become much more rural. At this point, the canal has stopped. Its been filled in and covered in scrub. The pathway was actually bustling with people who all had the same idea as us, working off those Sunday lunches. There were lots of dog walkers on this route, some with dogs who were only just getting used to being on the lead - so keep that in mind if you come down here for a wander yourself.

Above you can see where a lock once was, the wooden gate still there and half buried in the soil they filled everything in with! This really confounded me as I didn't see why they should leave half a gate just.. Stuck out of the ground, but I guess if they didn't I wouldn't have it to photograph and feature!
Hopefully we'll be walking more of this route when I'm wearing better footwear - I did this in wellies and I still have painful blisters - so you'll be exploring more of Sankey Valley with us as we extend our wanderings (I wonder if walking wellies are a thing?). Not long after we managed to get back to the car in the stormy weather, I had to leave to the station which is always very emotional. No pictures of that I'm afraid. The countdown has begun for the move over the hills though - 10 more days to go!
© She & Life. Design by FCD.