‘That’s the Mancunian Way’

There’s a poem by Lemn Sissay written on the side of a takeaway on Oxford Road in Manchester.

I took a photo of it the day I moved into my student halls 12 years ago. The sky was a brilliant blue – unusual, given it was early September; ironic, given the words painted on the wall.

Today, its prose seems more poignant.

Manchester is a city often mocked for its inclement weather, its reputation wrapped up in near-constant drizzle and Morrissey-like misery. But there’s more to the heart of the North than stereotypes of swaggering scallies and 24-hour party people, as last night’s events have shown.

In the wake of yet another cowardly attack, Mancunians have responded in the way only they know how – with strength, with solidarity and with the no-nonsense attitude borne of living where it’s “grim”.

When a suicide attacker targeted an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, killing 22 people – some of them as young as 8 – taxi drivers took gig-goers to safety. Hotels and strangers opened their doors and homes. People rescued children who had become separated from their grown-ups.

The outpouring of support on social media has pulled us together, both in terms of love for the city and in the thousands of pounds already raised to help those caught up in the attack.

I live in Leeds now, but my heart is in Manchester. The five years I spent in Rusholme, in Fallowfield, in Victoria Park and in the Northern Quarter, were some of my happiest. I think back to that day in 2005 when I arrived at Whitworth Park with a kettle, a crap laptop and a box of cornflakes and feel the same excitement I did then every time my train pulls into Piccadilly station now. This one feels personal.

When I woke up this morning, I had no words. I can think of a few choice ones now that it’s sunk in, but I’ll leave the talking to Lemn Sissay:

“When the rain falls, they talk of Manchester. But when the triumphant rain falls, we think of rainbows. That’s the Mancunian Way”.

Travel review: Bologna, Italy

If you’re looking for a quick 48-hour jaunt look no further than Italy’s gastronomic heartland, where the buildings glow red, the gelato is plentiful and just a two hour flight stands between you and a stroll down Bologna’s 38km of intricate poritcoes – Aperol in one hand and phrasebook in the other.

Its reputation for melding history and belt-busting food has earned it not one but three nicknames – la dotta, la rossi and la grassi; or the learned, the red and the fat, for those without the language skills. But do its walls painted in sunset hues, mosaic walkways and riches of mortadella, cheese and Prosecco live up to the hype?


We made a quick pit-stop at the Art Hotel Novecento before hitting the main square, Piazza Maggiore, for the evening. Though Bologna is just a short train ride from nearby Florence, this is a city where the mood is unfailingly polite and even in its central courtyard, there are no pushy waiters on street corners trying to entice you into the nearest tourist trap.

In fact, on a Tuesday afternoon the streets were practically deserted, leaving us to pick an osteria – cafes serving wine and snacks – quite undisturbed. At Zerocinquantuno 051, we raised our first Spritzes and ate salty slithers of Parma ham, roast belly pork and sundried tomatoes tucked into tigella – small, round-shaped bread made with olive oil.


Then, to the first of many ice cream stops – the much-lauded La Sorbetteria Castiglione, where in keeping with tradition, gelato is stored under the counter to keep it the perfect temperature and texture. We chose velvety scoops of salted caramel, rich dark chocolate and vanilla before chasing them with strong coffees and venturing out in the unforeseen evening drizzle.


Winding our way back to the hotel through a gloom of alleyways, fresh fruit and veg stalls punctuated the darkness with bursts of colour. We paused at a cheering window display of loose tortellini at one of Bologna’s most famous pasta-makers, Paolo Atti and Figli, where signs promised their wares were so authentic it would “fool your husband you made them yourself”.  A nightcap at Mercato di Mezzo also saw us tick off the city’s first indoor market, a three-storey pavilion that dates back to the Middle Ages and now hosts a handful of vendors serving cocktails and street food.


With only 36 hours left, we were out early on day two with a hit-list of eateries, churches and backstreets to visit. Our first stop was Via de’ll Indipendenza, a wide avenue of high street shops bordering the former Jewish ghetto. Veering into its maze of passages, we stopped to read about the fascinating history which saw a community forced by the Papal State to live within borders that were opened at dawn and closed at dusk.

img_3348Now home to an artisan crowd of independent retailers, cafes and bars, one of its greatest features is the network of canals running through its core. The guidebooks suggest peering through the window of a graffitied wall on Via Piella, but perhaps the best view of this not-so-hidden stretch of the Canale delle Moline is over the road, where its deep green water looks all the more vibrant for the golden buildings at its edges.

Leaving the corner of the city known as Little Venice behind, we made our way to one of Bologna’s top sights, La Torre Asinelli. We fully intended to climb its spiral staircase of 498 steps to take in rooftop views but restoration work has closed the tower until the summer. Instead we got our cultural fix at the basillica of Santo Stefano – a cluster of seven churches with mysterious origins. Thought to date back to 430 AD, the complex houses a labyrinth of ancient graves and a Benedictine cloister fronted by a suntrap made for idling in the midday sun.


In keeping with the religious theme, we toasted a successful afternoon of sight-seeing in Le Stanze – a former converted chapel in the student quarter. With its impressive frescoes duly appreciated and wine imbibed, we stopped for pick-me-up espresso martinis at the Jukebox Café before making our reservation at top gluten-free restaurant, Franco Rossi, where the service was faultless and the wheat-free pasta as good as its glutinous parent. Dessert at Cremeria Santo Stefano hit peak gelato, with unspeakably delicious custard cream and speculoos flavours on offer for just a few euros.


Our final morning was spent ducking into delicatessens with hams hung high in the windows to pick up souvenirs. Wedges of Parmesan and aged bottles of balsamic vinegar were high on the list of take-home treats and were gelato airline friendly, the stracciatella flavour from our last parlour stop, Cremeria Funivia, would have made the cut too. Bidding farewell to a city brimming with beauty and history, we returned home no redder given the intermittent sunshine, but we did come back slightly more learned and quite a bit fatter.

Why the Gilmore Girls revival kinda sucked

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. Lots of spoilers.

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Picture: Netflix

 As you might have gathered from the headline of this blog post, I was not a fan of this year’s much-hyped return to Stars Hollow. I say this neither lightly nor to upset those who enjoyed the four-part revival (I’m sure there must have been some). In fact, it practically pains me to do so, because I was as excited as the next fan to find out what had happened to TV’s finest mother-daughter dream team.

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments. Kelly Bishop shouting ‘bull shit’ several times being one of them. But for me, the highlights were few and far between. And the reason why?

Rory. Gilmore.

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Picture: Netflix

Now I came to the show pretty late – by about 16 years. When it debuted in 2000, it kind of passed me by because I was a Buffy girl and I liked my TV dark and vampy. The gloominess of real life means I now prefer my escapism cutesy and twee, so when I was looking for something to fill the Friday Night Lights/Parenthood void earlier this year, Gilmore Girls fit the bill perfectly.

The benefit of coming to the programme a decade and a half late was that having squeezed all seven series into six months, many of the story-lines were fresh in my head. But that also meant I could easily recall all the times Rory Gilmore was basically a bit of a dick.

And apparently, that hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten worse.

That’s right. Alexis Bledel’s character has always been, as my friend so succinctly put it, a brat. For much of the show’s run her behaviour could be excused by virtue of the fact she was, for the most part, a teenager. But all the revival did was show how Rory spectacularly failed to mature in the decade that had supposedly passed.

Take for example her Trans-Atlantic shagathon with Logan. It’s hardly a surprise he would cheat on his fiancee and it’s not the first time Rory’s played the role of ‘other woman’ either – lest we forget her doomed affair with first love Dean while he was married. So why does it seem more distasteful this time around? Perhaps because her previous indiscretion could be put down to immaturity and raging hormones, whereas there’s nothing to excuse the behaviour of a 32-year-old who pouts when her fuck buddy says she can’t visit because his future wife is there.

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Picture: Netflix

Then there’s her “career”. With a startling lack of perspective she spends half her time moaning about a meeting with Conde Nast being pushed, seemingly unaware she should be thanking the editorial gods they would consider someone whose credentials seem to be little more than one article in the New Yorker and editor of a university newspaper.

When she finally gets an opportunity to write for GQ, she is the height of unprofessionalism, nodding off while interviewing one contact and sleeping with another. It’s never mentioned, but presumably she blows off writing the article altogether. Finally, when she goes to meet a prospective employer she rocks up having prepared nothing and acts like she’s doing them a favour. And she wonders why she’s unemployed?

With her bottom lip firmly stuck out she returns to Stars Hollow where she plays the Ballad of the Sad Millennial like a broken record to anyone who will listen (I have no job, my driving licence expired, I have no underwear, wah wah wah), until Jess sidles in looking all hot and ripped and gives her the blindingly obvious book idea she is apparently incapable of coming up with herself.

Then, when Lorelai asks her not to write about her life for all to read, Little Miss Entitled throws a strop of epic proportions, in an echo of that time she moved out and refused to speak to her mother for months because it was suggested that leaving one of the most prestigious schools in America halfway through her degree was a bad idea. That sort of behaviour was sort of excusable then because no 21-year-old does what their mother tells them, but at 32?

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Picture: Netflix

And just when you thought she had reached the height of dickishness, she then drops the bombshell I sort of suspected was coming: Rory Gilmore, whose future was once so bright, is up the duff (presumably with Logan’s baby, though there’s an outside chance it’s the Wookie’s) and doomed, it seems, to repeat the mistakes her mother made and had every chance to avoid.

My biggest beef with this curve-ball is more with writer Amy Sherman-Palladino. Rumour has it she always wanted to end the series this way, which is deeply depressing but would sort of have made sense given Rory was supposed to be 22. But what excuse has Rory reasonably got to get into that position at 32? Floundering in every aspect of life doesn’t stop one from using a condom, does it?

I recently read an article in which Sherman-Palladino defended the cliffhanger, claiming life isn’t supposed to be wrapped up in a bow at 32. She’s right, but if you’ve given the character every opportunity, support and financial backing, then it’s dreadfully sad to write an arc as subtle as a brick in the face that recycling Lorelai’s past was Rory’s inevitable fate all along.

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Picture: Netflix

I guess the only thing you can say in Sherman-Palladino’s defence is that when a show ends with the loose ends neatly tied – and as we all know, she did not write season seven – where do you go? Lorelai finally had her happy ending with Luke, while Rory had a bright career ahead of her as a journalist. To fill 360 extra minutes of plot you have to fuck it all up to make something to watch.

What we witnessed was Rory becoming a total disappointment and a load of half-baked story-lines in which we were supposed to believe Lorelai would have left thinking about having another child until she was 48 (having apparently never discussed it with her partner of nine years) and having to ‘find herself’ Wild-style. And don’t even get me started on the Stars Hollow musical segment.

If we’re being honest, all anyone really wanted from this was to know who Rory ended up with (Team Jess, btw) and on that basis, the Gilmore Girls revival was a total flop. Except when Emily told the DAR girls where to shove it. Emily forever  ❤

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Picture: Netflix

New York you’re perfect, don’t change a thing

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I wrote this blog post weeks ago in the darkest hour of a sleepless night and left it, unsure whether it would ever see the light of day. Publishing it today is a reminder to myself of my love for America, at a time when many are feeling shaken and confused about the country’s future. 

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A lot has changed since I first stood, wide-eyed, outside Port Authority at 19 years old. I had just stepped off my first flight and until that point, only ever experienced the bustle of Manhattan’s streets through cinema’s lens. Though that initial visit was only long enough for me to buy a Schnapple and gawp at Times Square before heading upstate for the summer, it set in motion a decade-long love of the city that never sleeps.

Since clapping eyes on that famous skyline in 2004, I’ve returned a further three times – an homage to how fond I’ve become of the Big Apple and how lucky I’ve been to have natives who have been generous enough to blow up the air mattress whenever I’ve been in town.

My second visit in 2005 ticked off the typical tourist haunts – the Empire State, the Chrysler Building and the Rockerfeller Center. I walked up and down Fifth Avenue, wishing I had more dollars in my pocket. I took the Staten Island ferry and said hello to Lady Liberty as we sailed past. I snapped a picture of the former Domino sugar factory – sadly no more.  

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During the freak heatwave of 2012, I sat in Central Park and melted like a true English Rose. I walked along the High Line, sharing it with just a handful of people because the secret wasn’t yet out. I lingered over coffee in Williamsburg’s cafes, half expecting to bump into the cast of Girls. I went to flea markets, used the toilet in Katz’s and went to a record launch attended by some of the coolest kids in the LGBTQ scene. I was very uncool by comparison.

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Four years later and I was back again. Having been fortunate enough to have seen so many of New York’s popular attractions already, my trip in September gave me the chance to explore even more corners of the city, punctuated at timely intervals with eating and drinking in places the guidebooks try to keep quiet.

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Day one saw us take in an unobstructed view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers at Brooklyn Heights before hopping on a ferry and taking a waterside tour of the island’s neighbourhoods. At Greenpoint we took a punt on lunch at an unassuming taqueria, where I rediscovered frozen magaritas for the first time since the tequila-riddled Spring Break of 2007.

Stuffed with black beans and avocado, we ambled into Williamsburg where we bought thyme and olive oil chocolate from Mast Bros, made like magpies in Catbird and ran our hands through racks of $100 shirts in high-end boutiques. Later, our 90-minute commitment to the line at Pies and Thighs was rewarded with juicy chicken pieces and smoky pulled pork served with a side of creamy, cheesy grits.nyc3

Day two began with breakfast cocktails at brunch spot Rose Water in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighbourhood, which were the perfect accompaniment to our poached eggs and sweet potato falafel combo. We then headed into the city, passing through Grand Central station and its whispering walls, before embarking on some much required retail therapy.

Laden with bags and giddy after spotting Kim Sears and Baby Murray in Bryant Park, we headed to La Esquina, where I had made reservations the required month in advance. The darkened bodega basement stole our hearts with its tapas-style plates and Mezcal drinks in a variety of sweet and sour flavours, but it was the rich and sticky heap of rib meat which left us raving.

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With room for dessert, we found ourselves at Morgenstern’s indulging in salted chocolate ice cream garnished with shards of sesame honeycomb. We leisurely ate as we walked towards the Woolworth Building, where we had secret access not only to one of the sets of Ugly Betty, but views of the city’s countless flickering lights. 

The evening’s finale came in the form of a wildcard trip to the night courts, where the wheels of justice creaked into the early hours. We watched as a trickle of defendants were casually dealt with by a judge who waved them away with court dates and fines – a far cry from the stuffy tradition and procedure of England’s magistrates’ courts. nyc7

A final day wandering the streets of the Lower East Side saw us lazily pinball between cafes, bars and shops. In need of culture, we took in a tour of the Tenement Museum to learn about some of the neighbourhood’s former residents, before heading back to Williamsburg. A goodbye dinner at The Four Horseman – brainchild of LCD Soundsytem frontman, James Murphy – left us all crossing forks over the last mouthful of a sublime sugarsnap and cashew salad. 

On the way home, the remenants of Hurricane Hermine – which had threaten to rain down the whole weekend – finally rattled through the night, as if it had politely waited for my trip to end. I dozed off, wondering how soon I could impinge upon my friend’s kindness again and whether it was possible to every really be ‘done’ with New York. I decided not and went about plotting my return. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quest for the perfect lip balm

balmsAs the clocks go back, the nights draw in and my jumper collection come out of hibernation, an annual mission presents itself once more – the quest for the perfect lip balm.

It’s been about 15 years since I first stood in a chemist agonising over whether to buy the mint or the cherry Chap Stick. In the intervening years, not much has changed, except I’ve gone through a conveyor belt of contenders trying to find the one that won’t end up relegated to the bottom of my bag after two swipes of my wind-ravaged pout.

I’ve put countless tubes to the test, including award-winners with high-end prices and those that promise to nourish at a purse-friendly price. If you’ve found an absolute winner, let me know in the comments section because I’m still on the hunt. 

Carmex – £2.69

There’s something pleasingly retro about the packaging of this 80-year-old salve, particular in its potted formula. But I have never been able to get on with the camphor-heavy smell of the original, and even less so when it clashes with other strong scents such as its cherry and vanilla, which are both sickly and medicinal. That being said, Carmex does a decent job of moisturising and gives a matte and non-greasy finish. But the flavour and overpowering scent means I can’t bear to wear it, no matter how cheap and cheerful.

Burt’s Bees – from £3.69

I first bought some Burt’s Bees in sixth form and thought myself highly sophisticated every time I took out the sleek little tin and smeared the minty wax on my lips. In the fifteen years since, the range has mushroomed to include tinted sticks and a variety of flavours. I’ve remained loyal to the beeswax brand, even specifically hunting out a special pumpkin spice version while on holiday in the States. It doesn’t quite stand up to a cruel, harsh winter, but gives decent protection against the elements of your average British day, is cruelty-free and imminently affordable.

Nivea Lip Butter – from £1.49

Another budget balm – this time from the Nivea skincare giant, whose range also includes a vast number of chap sticks. Its vanilla and macadamia guise is like a grown-up version of the overly-sweet cocoa butter balms of my Body Shop-buying youth and also makes a nice alternative to the super-sweet After Eight smell of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter balm. But the slightly sticky consistency and the omission of magic, softening ingredient lanolin leaves it wanting for more.

Blistex Intensive Moisturising Hydrating Lip Cream – £2.65

The promise of a thirst-quenching saviour was a major draw in choosing this product, but more attention should have been paid to the full description because ‘cream’ is the operative word. Imagine, for a second, dipping a finger in a pot of E45 and slathering it on your lips. That greasy, slippery texture you’re thinking about? Pretty unpleasant in such close proximity to the tongue.

Vaseline Lip Therapy – £1.95

The smell and taste of the aloe vera version of this iconic, pocket-sized tin of petroleum jelly will always remind me of not having much to worry about apart from whose turn it was to buy milk. But nostalgia for my university days aside, I can’t kid myself into believing this was a particularly good balm. Its ingredients are basic – a cheap as chips pot of grease meant for sealing and lubrication – and as a temporary measure, you can’t beat it. Just don’t expect any long-term comfort from continued use.

La Roche-Posay Nutritic Lips – £6

Many of this sensitive skin specialist’s products are lauded in beauty circles and rightly so – their Anthelios anti-shine sun cream alone is worth the plaudits. But no-one likes a wimpy lip balm and this very mild product is so unassuming you practically have to double check whether you’ve put it on. Perhaps it works for those whose lips do not require a damn good slathering, but for those wanting protection against more than a light breeze, I’d recommend moving swiftly on.

L’Occitaine Shea Butter – £8.50

I’m drawn to anything with the word ‘butter’ in because it conjures up feelings of being cosseted in a thick, comforting layer of warmth. But too much of this scent-free balm leaves you feeling like you’ve been sucking a stick of lard, while just enough leaves you feeling like you’ve missed out on something potentially very cosy. A bit disappointing on the whole.

Clarins HydraQuench Replenishing Lip balm – £19

After trying so many budget brands it seemed right to try something that must surely be worth its eye-watering price tag. Thankfully, there’s a lot to love about this lip balm. The texture is addictively silky smooth. It has the subtlest of pink tints and its delicate scent is neither overpowering or artificially floral. It ticks a lot of boxes – except of course, the all-season column. This does a great job of softening already chapped lips, but as a preventive measure, it doesn’t seem particularly robust in the face of ice and snow. It’s almost there, but not quite. I’d still buy another though.

Clinique Superbalm – £14

Continuing the theme of luxury lip care, it seemed logical to put Clinique’s self-proclaimed ‘super balm’ to the test to see if it lived up to its lofty title. The texture wanders into lip-gloss territory with its sticky consistency, which can be very annoying for those of us who hate picking hair from our lips at the merest gust and is, incidentally, the reason why I can’t get on with the Lanolips range. But if the initial gloopiness doesn’t bother you – or if you can get past it – the product does melt as it warms to the temperature of the lips, leaving a softening, protective layer.

Origins Conditioning Lip Balm with Turmeric – £16

Citrus and a whiff of cocoa butter accompany the subtle spice of this turmeric-laced balm – bought as an alternative to the brand’s much-recommended ‘Drink Up’ range, which is actually more of a gloss and to be avoided if you’re shine-averse. At £16, it’s a very expensive chap stick and rumour has it, it’s being discontinued. So if you’re a fan, stock up while you can. The jury’s out for me – so far, it’s doing a serviceable job, but until the first frost, I’m reserving judgement.

Yet more things that never made sense in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Copyright: Getty Images

To mark its shock removal from Netflix UK (damn you!), here’s 20 more things that never made sense in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  1. Why didn’t The Master’s bones turn to dust like every other vamp that took a stake to the chest?
  2. Why did Angel start wearing that weird beige coat in season 2? Was that his ‘I have a soul’ coat?
  3. Why did The Anointed One look like so much like Billy the coma kid? V confusing.
  4. Why when Angel went on the cargo boat with the Judges’ arm did he jump in the water to save Buffy? Can Buffy not swim? Seems like a slayer should be able to swim.
  5. Speaking of – for all of Buffy’s super senses, why did she never wake up when bad shit crawled across her face at night? (I’m talking that weird egg and Bad Angel with his creepy cheek-stroking).
  6. How come the cops ‘dropped charges’ against Buffy for Kendra’s murder?
  7. Why did we never see Joyce’s ‘art gallery’?
  8. I know it was convenient for locking up werewolves and the like, but why was there a cage in the library anyway?
  9. Why was Willow’s dad always ‘out of town’?  And how come her ‘super strict’ parents never said anything about her passing up Oxford for Sunnydale University?
  10. Given that she didn’t go to school or have a job, what did Faith do when she wasn’t slaying? And what did ‘five by five’ even mean!
  11. How come you can take photos of a vampire but you can’t see their reflection?
  12. How did all the demons know martial arts?
  13. Where did Giles’ random British girlfriend disappear to?
  14. Who were all those people at Tara’s birthday party!?
  15. What happened to Willow and Tara’s cat?
  16. When Giles left Willow quipped: ‘What will he do in England? He never talks about anyone from there’. A good question Red. A good question.
  17. Did Willow and Tara ever graduate?
  18. Didn’t anyone think it was a bit weird that Giles wasn’t at Xander and Anya’s (non) wedding?
  19. What happened to the temple Dark Willow raised? Did it go back in the ground? Or did the residents of Sunnydale just go, ‘oh, that old thing…’
  20. Seriously though.. when did Xander have time to be ‘in the army’?

… and if that weren’t enough questions to be going on with, here’s a few more.

I quit sugar for two months and this is how it went down

Until recently, I ate too much sugar. You’d never know it from my Instagram feed, which is full of arty shots of homemade brunches and healthy salads, but I was a slave to the sucrose monster.

Back in the days of wheat, mine was a 99

Sure, I don’t eat biscuits and cake because wheat makes my stomach a little crabby. But what I missed out on in baked goods, I more than made up for in desserts, ice cream and chocolate. If there was an excuse to eat salted caramel, I was there.

I blame my parents, cause well, why not. Growing up there was always pudding. It was the 90s, when the frozen dessert reigned supreme and there could be a cheesecake or pavlova defrosting on the side with no mixing, beating or baking required. My mum ate black forest gateau for breakfast when she was expecting me, so was it any wonder I came out with a sweet tooth to rival Violet Beauregarde’s?

Toblerone: Not just for airports

Unsurprisingly, I was a tubby child. I tried to scale back the sugar consumption in high school, because no-one wants to be the fat kid, but I had a full-blown addiction to Polos which were the cause of my first filling. By the time I went to university, it was a junk food free-for-all. I would think nothing of drinking sugary cocktails most nights then treating my hangover with crisps and chocolate the next day.

But I’m in my 30s now and therefore ~wiser~. I realise this is no way to treat my liver and pancreas. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to give up sugar cold turkey with minimal success – because I know that unless I have a motivation beyond ‘because it’s healthy’, making a commitment to a sugar-free life was never going to be something I achieved solo.

A Twister used to mean summer had arrived

And so, I parted with money. Because what greater incentive to succeed than knowing you’ve spent cold hard cash? In June, I signed up to Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar (IQS) programme which promised to help me find “food freedom” through its structured daily recipes and helpful advice. This is how it went down.

Week One – 13 June

Week one promised to “gently reduce” sugar intake so you were still allowed fruit, sugars and sweeteners in moderation. So far, so easy. What wasn’t so easy was finding time to bust through the suggested prep for the week ahead – an integral part of the eight week IQS plan which earmarks Sunday not as a day of rest, but as one to get very friendly with Tupperware and the washing up bowl.

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The much lauded paleo bread with avocado and feta

For someone who already has a lot of the required store cupboard “essentials” (coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, buckwheat, the like), even I struggled with the first recipe – a paleo courgette bread which was inevitably well worth the effort, but had me running around several supermarkets trying to source arrowroot powder (Sainsbury’s, btw).

The IQS portion sizes were usually huge

Made from eggs, Parmesan, the aforementioned arrowroot, courgette and carrot, once sliced up and in the freezer this gluten-free loaf saved my bacon on more than one occasion. As per the recipe, I ate it topped with avocado and feta many, many times.

Never again shall I buy shop-bought satay

Other notable meals included a chicken peanut satay which involved making the sauce from scratch. Served with rice noodles and lashings of coriander and seasame seeds, it was better than any takeaway Chinese I’ve ever had and got me thinking about how the shop-bought stuff is probably laden with nasties. Gross.

Though I had picked the “summer” programme, there were some recipes in week one that seemed slightly off-season. A roast sausage number was really enjoyable and introduced me to fresh fennel, but it had the feeling of being rather autumnal and so I filed it away for winter use.

Adventures in fennel

Perhaps it was a result of lowering my sugar intake, but I came down with a cold halfway through the week and would have killed for fruit and juice, but I resisted the urge after seeking advice on the forums – an element of the plan the IQS team encourages you participate in. I was told as long as I stuck to the plan, I would get all my vitamins from the vegetables, which were in abundance at almost every meal.

Week Two – 20 June

This was the start of the four-week detox: no sugar, fruit or sweetener of any kind.

Though it’s called I Quit Sugar, what they’re actually referring to is fructose.   Sucrose (table sugar) is roughly made up of half glucose and half fructose. The former is used up by our bodies for energy, the latter, not so much. You can read more about their stance on it here, but in a nutshell, they say it’s bad for you because it’s addictive, has no “off switch” in our brains, gets converted straight to fat and can lead to certain illnesses.

Fruit: An IQS no-no

I could – and still can – get on board with some of the science. One of the examples they use is how you can neck a bottle of Tropicana but you can’t eat the equivalent number of oranges it would take to get all that juice. Reason being there’s no fibre in the liquid stuff to slow down the absorption in your liver, which therefore gets overloaded and farms out the excess to fat stores around your body. Scary.

So, with the theory explained, it was a fond farewell to my 3pm Diet Coke, sugar free squash and “natural” sugars like honey – because as we’ve learned, regardless of what form your sugar hit comes in, the liver reacts the same – or worse.

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It was a tad dry…

I missed drinks that weren’t tea or water but did learn to enjoy coffee without sugar. I was weirdly aware of the general taste in my mouth having realised chewing gum was also a no-no, so I had to settle for breath spray when brushing my teeth wasn’t an option. Have you ever tried to find breath spray in Boots? It’s by the dental floss, next to the portal for the 1980s.

I thought now there were no options for snacking I’d feel hungry between meals, but the recipes are (supposedly) engineered to fill you up and I was surprised to find I didn’t feel hungry at all, in thanks, I assume, to the uptake in protein and good fats.

By the time I finished taking pictures it was cold

I had been told to expect crippling headaches, fatigue and all manner of nastiness in week two as my body cried out for a hit, but didn’t experience any. The only craving I really had was on EU referendum day when everyone around me was mainlining biscuits and chocolate eclairs to quell their misery.

The week’s recipes included a halloumi “bowl” of almonds, quinoa and broccoli, which was nice but a bit of dry. A salmon traybake with coleslaw veg and sweet potato wedges was a real winner and the Turkey San Choy Bow in lettuce cups was both visually pleasing as well as tasty.

A pork meatball dish – while a faff – made me finally appreciate courgetti, the trick being to cook it in a dash of apple cider vinegar and garlic and top the lot with a crap-load of Parmesan. Definitely a recipe I’ll be revisiting.

Week Three – 27 June 

If one thing was becoming clear about the programme it was that you need to be the mother of all organisers.

I work four ten hours shifts which can start as early as 6am or as late as 10.30pm. The upside to this chaos is I get an extra day off in the week and a few random hours around everyone else’s normal working day, meaning I can squeeze in food shopping and cooking quite easily if I manage my time right.

The sweet potato muffins were, um, fibrous

But I don’t exaggerate when I say I genuinely don’t know how anyone working a regular 9-5 manages to complete this programme, especially if they’ve got kids. My day off was almost always spent cooking, freezing and cling-filming in prep for dragging my meals halfway to London. 

This week was no different. There were muffins to make (they sounded more exciting than they tasted), sauces to prepare and fritters to throw together. The recipes themselves were simple but not particularly visually appealing, hence the lack of pictures. Despite their unappetising appearances however, they were filling and I was still really surprised to find I didn’t miss the afternoon sugar binge.

The only real hissy fit I threw about the restrictiveness of the whole experiment was on a really hot Sunday afternoon when I would have happily shoved my boyfriend into the road for a bite of the cold, juicy peach he was eating. I still can’t believe I was that upset about not being able to eat a piece of fruit.

Week Four – 4 July

The beginning of week four coincided with my best friend’s 30th, in which I managed to say no to celebratory fizzy booze, peanut butter birthday cake and baked beans with my hangover breakfast. I did feel slightly miserable about this but consoled myself with the fact then when the programme was over, I’d be able to control myself and eat these things when that special occasion arises. And that, I reckon, is progress.

Curried mince: A grower in the taste department

Week four’s meals were a turning point in my patience for the programme – vastly unappealing and not worth the money I paid. Sorry, but nothing on this earth would make me eat curried mince for breakfast and I didn’t even bother to make a recipe parading as a chicken Caesar salad because it involved an oven which went against every fibre of my being.

Basic burrito recipes didn’t warrant the money

The chicken burrito bowl was nice but very simple and hardly a stretch in the culinary department given it was 80% raw chopped vegetables. But, I have to give credit where it’s due: a mid-week kedgeree was definitely a highlight – so much so that I’m still thinking about it a month later. I swapped super fishy mackerel for tuna but I doubt it made much difference.

But then I ate this kedgeree and all was forgiven

Emotionally, I was noticing that I was replacing the chocolate I normally reserved as a reward or commiseration for something else -namely wine – which meant I was probably not really severing the tie of reaching for a pick-me-up out of habit. One particularly low day at work had me treating myself to new makeup in a bid to cheer myself up, which was a damn sight more expensive than a bag of Minstrels.

Week Five – 11 July 

I started to drift from the rigidity of the plan at this point due to time constraints. I was away in London at the weekend which made it impossible to stick to the prescribed meals and I was not going to cook up a bunch of meals and take them away in plastic boxes, because that would be insane.

KFC it wasn’t

So I embraced the beer of the festival (even though all I wanted was a cold G&T) and I behaved myself at the hotel breakfast the next morning, where – even with a fairly horrendous hangover – I managed to say no to the orange juice and muffins my body was screaming out for. I did eat three squares of melon however, on the basis that it might curb the shaking and because I knew I would be allowed to reintroduce fruit the next day. If that was cheating, I don’t care. I would not have made it home without raising my blood sugar.

Of the things I did manage to cook up, the pulled pork was genuinely incredible and the accompanying cauliflower cream was so rich and tasty even my dad, who hates all veg, ate it and said it was “quite nice”.

Getting creative with leftover pulled pork

The abject failure of the week was the pesto zucchini bread which was entirely my fault as I obviously failed to squeeze out enough moisture from the courgettes. I ended up with a soggy loaf of mush which went straight in the bin. Fail.

I had high hopes for the KFC-style chicken recipe but the end result was a bit powdery and weirdly tasteless considering the amount of spice that was used. Overall though, I was pleased with week five – I wasn’t hankering after sugar at all, but I did miss fruit. I still find the IQS stance on that front a bit bizarre. Nothing will ever convince me that eating a banana is worse for you than eating a bar of Dairy Milk.

On a side note I jumped on the scales and was pleased to find I’d lost four pounds. Not a great deal but I was pleased nonetheless.

Week Six – 18 July

There had been a big build up to week six because it was the week where the plan “reintroduced a little sweetness”. I had visions of making desserts with IQS-approved and fructose-free rice malt syrup, but alas, it basically meant three strawberries on some avocado and toast.

THESE.

That combo struck me as a little weird and so I skipped it and had them with a blob of full fat yoghurt in the garden on the hottest day of the year. It was basically the best thing ever and perfect for the weather. The next day though I found myself daydreaming about eating more fruit so I decided not to for a couple of days. I didn’t want to slip so easily back into my old ways after my hard work thus far, so my flirtation with fruit was short.

I got a bit overexcited in the chili department

There were loads of tasty looking meals on the week six menu but a glitch with the IQS website on my allotted cook-up day meant I couldn’t access the recipes. I was away from home by the time it was fixed and didn’t have the facilities to roast an entire chicken, so was left to my own devices.

Eating out was easier than I thought it would be

Luckily, I had created a “freezer stash” as per the IQS mantra earlier on in the programme, and ended up either reheating a few meals from previous weeks or eating out and choosing sensibly, which had been one of the tasks in week five anyway. On one occasion we went for Mexican which is typically low in sugar anyway and made a nice change from being chained to the oven.

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The only thing that crumbled on this plan

Week six also brought back the peach (at last!) in a raspberry and oat ‘crumble’ form, which I ate for dessert one night instead of breakfast as suggested. Call me crazy but I like my pudding after tea.

Week Seven – 25 July 

I kicked off week seven with the organisational skills of a demon, knocking out the buckwheat granola, buckwheat bread and quinoa in about two hours, while also finding time to make raspberry chia jam on a whim. This was particularly pleasing as unbeknownst to me, week eight’s cook-up would have me make said jam, so I had saved myself a job.

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The bread looked great in the tin…

The granola was the first recipe in the programme to introduce rice malt syrup into the mix which didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the taste, though it remains to be seen whether it makes any sort of impact in larger quantities.

Regardless, the granola mixed up my breakfast routine which had become a bit of a feta-egg-scramble boreathon. It did however make me miss cereal, which could be my gateway drug back to Sugar Town, so I had one or two bowls and decided not to make any more for a while.

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The feta egg scramble became a go-to breakfast

The other side of the buckwheat coin didn’t fare so well. While it held together in the tin it crumbled into a pile of misery dust when I sliced it, which led to a disastrous incident at work in which I had to tip out chunks of ‘bread’ and about five years’ worth of crumbs from the toaster in a bit to save my breakfast.

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The ill-fated lamb

The week also called for a slow cooked lamb dish which I met with some ambivalence as I only really like my sheep in shank form. I sabotaged this meal from the outset by choosing a cheaper cut of meat than specified which probably contributed to its weird, fatty taste and just to boot, my pomegranate seeds were on the turn and I couldn’t be arsed with the faff of making the accompanying ‘pilaf’, so all-in-all, it was a bit of a fail. First world problems.

The highlight however was a halloumi and corn salad which I demolished so quickly I forgot to take a picture. It contained peaches (I frigging love them) though so here’s a picture of that instead.

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The best kind of donut

There was one day towards the end of week seven where I almost caved to a square or two of 85% chocolate only to find it had mysteriously disappeared from the cupboard. But, given that I could easily have caved to the Hotel Chocolat selection gift box that had been sat in my kitchen since week two instead, I must have developed some sort of self-control.

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Pork, paprika and peaches make a great combo

In the spirit of full disclosure however, I did accidentally ingest some sweetness when my well-meaning boyfriend bought me some Doritos. I didn’t look at the ingredients and it turns out there’s sugar AND glucose syrup in them. Both gross and mildly disappointing, but as it wasn’t intentional it doesn’t count.

Week Eight – 1 August

I spent most of my final week telling anyone who would listen that I couldn’t believe I’d gone two months without sugar. I also spent the whole week fantasising about what I would eat once freed from the shackles of the programme. This slightly worried me because it suggested I might go back to old habits, but more on that later.

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Pancakes forever ❤

I also could not wait to see the back of the awful IQS “app” which was clunky, more often than not inaccessible, and not actually an app – just a slightly crap website. On the final day I had gone out to buy all the ingredients for the courgette and pear brownies – the one dessert allowed on the entire programme – and flew into an apoplectic rage when I could not download the recipe because the site was down. I did eventually get to make them and they did taste nice, if not a little dry.

Another final week recipe highlight was the coconut fluff pancakes, which tasted just fine without the impossible-to-source coconut flour. They’re probably dreadfully bad for you in the fat department given that they contain coconut milk and are cooked in butter, but my god do they make a great Saturday brunch.

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I’ve made this three times already this week

They were closely contested by the sausage sandwich recipe which has transformed all sausage sandwich recipes for life. Why I ever thought a load of ketchup on my pork products tasted better than garlicky, oniony, mustardy kraut remains a mystery. I will (probably) never go back.

Final thoughts

And so, here I am at the end, having survived a sugar-free existence for 60 days. This morning I got up and made those damn fine pancakes again, ate some pork meatballs and courgetti for lunch and cooked up some curried mince for my dinners later in the week. There’s two of those weird muffins, a shed load of sweet potato puree, and possibly the best tip IQS has given me – portioned up quinoa in the freezer – to keep me on the straight and narrow.

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Hello, old friend

This afternoon I had a cup of tea and cracked open that box of Hotel Chocolat goodies. I ate four pieces and went… “meh” and put the lid on. I’m not sat here jonesing for my next hit, I didn’t immediately go out and buy a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, and I have no plans to inhale a pint of Haagen Dazs any time soon.

What I will do, however, is treat myself from time to time. I go to America in three weeks and when I’m there, if I want to sit on a bench in Portland and eat a weird ice cream from Salt and Straw, I’m going to. If I’m in a bar in San Francisco with my friends and I really want a G&T or a White Russian, I’m going to drink it. But then again, I might have a beer. Who knows.

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Without beer I might not have survived

The point is, I can now make a choice because I don’t feel like I’m a slave to the sugar monster. I don’t advocate IQS as the best way to quit the so-called demon – nothing will ever convince me fruit is bad and did I mention how much I hate their app? – but it’s not a bad way to make a start.

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I still love you ice cream

What I learned is I didn’t die giving it up. And even if I do “relapse”, I now know giving it up is perfectly achievable. I’m proud of that, even if everyone else thinks it’s insane. ✌️