Movember: When Matty met Barry

There seems to come a time in every man’s life when he must hold his head high, flex his Adam’s apple, beat his chest… and be safe in the knowledge that he can grow a big, bushy moustache. And unfortunately for me, Matty’s time came last month.

I went away for two days. That is all it took. Two days. And I came home to this….

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And it is not the pose that I’m worried about. Just look at that hairy growth sitting oh, so happily on the top lip. It was Sunday, November 5th.

For any of you that managed to get through the last month without noticing an alarming rise in the number of furry lips among friends, family and colleagues, we have just come to the end of Movember. The month where men grow moustaches, the universal icon of raw and rugged manhood, and – just to silence disgusted girlfriends and wives across the globe – they do it for charity.

So for the last month we’ve had a third party in our relationship. I christened him Barry and with every passing day, as he marked his territory on Matty’s upper lip, he got a little bit stronger and more prickly. Barry didn’t take long to develop at all. I thought it was only right you all got to meet him.

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Monday, November 12th. Barry and I weren’t getting on all that well.

By Day 14 Barry was ‘holding water’, Matty noted as he stepped out the shower. He could also ‘hold’ food and drink, which he would store between his bristles for later in the day.

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Sunday, November 18th. Barry was changing Matty… This was the hobo stage.

But merely days later Barry had entered the ‘Old Man’ stage. By Day 22, Barry had Matty coming out with all sorts of ‘dad jokes’, which I’m not sure I can repeat on here, while he mused about pipes and cigars.

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Saturday, November 24th. Matty Barry had never looked quite so at home in his Rover 25.

By that evening, Barry and Matty were one. I could no longer distinguish between them. It was just one messy three-way relationship.

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To me, to you: Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Barry Chuckle.

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By November 30th this was what I was contending with. I have never been so glad that November does not have 31 days. It was like Matty had grown a nest on his top lip. Things could have lived in it… Maybe they were.

While I was convinced that Matty had definitely morphed into Barry Chuckle, he was adamant he was more World War fighter pilot style, Biggles if you will. After all it is a hero’s tash…. Ahem.

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So here we are on December 1st… 30 long days later. Now of course by this point you are no doubt all screaming: ‘Delia this is for charity – you are a terrible person, just ridiculing poor Matty on your blog.’

Now, I’ve never professed to be anything other than a terrible person, but today I did finally sponsor him… Withholding the cash until I saw him clean shaven was the only weapon left in my armoury you see. There were threats that Barry might stay for Christmas so I was forced to play the I’ll-sponsor-you-to-shave card.

But all jokes aside, Movember is a fab cause. Today 1,000 miles of tash was shaved off in the UK alone… just think of how many millions of pounds that translates into for men’s health programmes, namely prostate cancer charities. So if this post has amused you, or you’ve felt a pang of sympathy for me at all, take a look at Matty’s Movember site and sponsor him a few pennies.

This morning Barry died and I have Matty back. RIP Barry.

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Disclaimer: The real Barry Chuckle lives on.

World in Pictures: Istanbul – The Accidental Holiday

Travel is never without hiccups. Or at least it isn’t, when Matty and I are involved. I’ve already mentioned the time we got stranded up a Lebanese mountain, and now I’ll tell you about the time we were meant to be flying to Portugal and accidentally ended up in Turkey.

It was a cold frosty December morning when we arrived at East Midlands Airport and we were fully intending to run the Lisbon half marathon two days later. We had all our running gear packed, we’d been (kind of) training for months and we were sort of prepared and very excited about becoming “international runners”. Having been to Lisbon before, we had taken a fairly gung-ho attitude with the whole planning side of things and didn’t buy our city guide until we got to the airport, where we excitedly sat down and starting planning.

Sipping water (like athletes) we kept an eye on the flight board, which continued to show no information about our flight. Eventually we got up and asked someone.

“No, your flight has been cancelled,” we were told.
“All flights to Spain and Portugal are cancelled due to air traffic control strikes.”

Got to love the continentals with all their strikes. Scratching our heads and realising we would not be running in the Lisbon half marathon after all, we wandered over to the bar and sank a couple of large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Then we tackled the Easyjet desk.

It was like something out of a reality TV show – people doing their best angry faces, lots of loud phone calls being made in a variety of languages, there were even tears. Not from us mind you, we were just hoping they would fly us somewhere – anywhere a little bit warmer – plus I love airports, and felt like I was already on holiday (the Savvy B helped).

When we got to the front the woman looked up wearily and apologised for the cancelled flight.

“No worries,” we said cheerfully. “Where can you send us instead?”

She looked surprised, smiled and tapped away on her computer.

“Istanbul? Flight leaves in two hours,” she suggested.

Result. We were now flying twice the distance for the same price. So, clutching our freshly printed flight tickets, we headed back to WH Smiths to swap our unneeded Lisbon book with a much needed Istanbul one (much to the check-out girl’s amusement).

And that is why we ended up in Istanbul with nothing but the clothes on our backs and our running kits. And no, we didn’t run once.

Enjoy the pics x

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Mmmm…. Turkish coffee should be adored by all

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The markets are a dazzling array of colours

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The super impressive Sultanahmet Camii (aka the Blue Mosque)

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As if oblivious to the dozens of tourists in the Blue Mosque

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The antique tram that runs down the main shopping throughfare Istikal Caddesi (and me)

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Matty doing his research

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The stunning interior of the Byzantine church Aya Sofya, which was the largest enclosed space in the world for almost 1,000 years (anyone know what is now?!)

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Tee hee, this bird which was happily perched on a boulder at the top of the Gelata Tower, which offers superb views across the Golden Horn to the Old City, flew off after taking this picture… and landed on Matty’s head. Priceless.

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City centre fishing: Dozens of fishermen line the Galata Bridge in Istanbul

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The city has som fab street art…

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Wicked arcitecture to be found at every turn

We fell in love with Istanbul, aside from its spectacular mosques and rich culture, it’s riddled with superb shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. The only city in the world to straddle two continents, perched across the Bosphorus that divides Asia from Europe, it really does feel like a wonderful mixing pot of many different worlds.

Chino Latino, Nottingham: Food Porn on a Plate

WARNING: This post contains serious food porn. If you’re feeling peckish right now I suggest you eat something substantial before reading…

I first stumbled across Chino Latino at the Nottingham Food and Drink Festival this summer, when Old Market Square is transformed by dozens of stalls offering delicious treats from around the world. I was a bit of an embarrassment that week if I’m honest… I gave up any lunch-making ambitions and shamelessly ran to the square at noon every day to get my fill.

It was on one of these days that I noticed Chino Latino’s little stall that had chefs rolling sushi and impressively tossing ingredients around in a large wok. They had some gorgeous little dishes on offer and I went for the wasabi prawns. To this day I still talk about these prawns… There were about five of the giant, juicy fellas, dressed in a spicy, wasabi dressing, sitting in a large shell. They were divine.

That weekend when my friend Nicki visited I took her straight down to the square for a prawn fix.

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She LOVED it

I pledged then and there that I would dine at Chino Latino before the year was up. And when it comes to food I never break a promise.

Finally, on a chilly, autumnal Tuesday evening last week I made it. Eating so early in the week can often be challenging when it comes to atmosphere, but I needn’t have worried about that. The restaurant, which sits underneath the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Maid Marian Way, was absolutely heaving, although I think its warm, dim lighting with red tones would still create an inviting atmosphere when empty.

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The menu is basically a list of all my favourite things. It’s ‘Asian fusion’ so has a fabulous selection of small bites including sushi and dim sum as well as more international favourites like tempura, duck pancakes, chicken wings and Thai fritters. That’s even before we get to the ‘main courses’, but it’s the kind of place that encourages sharing, and we all know how I feel about that, so you don’t even have to order a main – you can just order lots of little dishes.

The staff were wonderful. And that means a lot to me. I spent years working as a waitress so I know how easy it is to be nice and helpful (bar the occasional nightmare customers who deserve every filthy look they get) – but unfortunately so many waiting staff seem to disagree with this. Not so at Chino Latino, our friendly waiter explained we could just order small plates, or one main plate with a few of the smalls – or just whatever we fancied. There were no rules. And I love nothing more than a good waiter with no rules.

Afters much ‘umming and ahhhhing’ we settled on about four small plates, a main to share and a delicious bottle (or two) of Chianti. The latter, the Chianti Superiere II Leo made in Ruffino, Italy, was a warm, spicy number with cheeky plummy after tones.

Our waiter explained that the food would be served as and when it was ready but said he would put breaks between some dishes. I was impressed by his foresight and managed to ignore the fancy pants within me who wanted to stipulate which dishes arrived when. I decided to trust him.

And sure enough, first up was the vegetable tempura. The very dish I would have asked to arrive first.

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Juicy is not normally a word I would use to describe vegetables. Crunchy, fresh, green – yes, but not juicy. However, I have to say these vegetables were just that – chunky slices of aubergine, red pepper, courgette and sweet potato were deep fried in the lightest of tempura, allowing the oils to seep through and bring out the deep and unique flavours of each veg. With a light, sweet soy sauce to dip them in, I have never enthused so much about vegetables.

From the juicy, light veg, we tucked straight into some naughty dim sum of foie gras and shiitake mushrooms. I’ll let the picture do the work here…

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Imagine breaking into those steamy buns?! The foie gras gave it a wonderfully rich edge but the mushrooms brought it down a ‘meaty’ peg or two, making for a mighty fine dumpling.

Meanwhile the scallops (pictured above – but again now to make sure you really understand them) were equally special.

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Meaty and juicy, the pan-fried scallops were perfectly cooked and drizzled in a rich soy sauce. Their melt-in-the-mouth texture was enhanced by the creamy yuzu aioli and complemented by the crushed, crunchy wasabi peas sprinkled on top.

The crispy duck was also a raging success. Served whole and carved at our table, we happily rolled up little pancakes of meat, cucumber slices, spring onion slices and hoisin sauce.

And then, just when we thought it couldn”t get much better, we were served a basket of beef. That’s right, a basket of beef. Served piping hot but perfectly pink, the slivers of fillet came with a selection of three dips; wasabi, teriyaki and a garlic and chilli. And if that was not enough, you could actually eat the basket. It was made from threads of sweet potato, I might refuse to take any other kind of basket in the future.

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This beautiful basket of beef was our “main course” dish

After initially rubbing our bellies and declining dessert, curiosity got the better of us and we asked to see the menu (for research purposes only you see). Upon perusing our options I immediately found a small, fifteenth of a stomach that was free for dessert and while it pains me to admit there wasn’t quite room for the chocolate and ginger fudge cake or the passion fruit cheesecake with blowtorch marshmellow (both of which I will have to return for), I did sign us up for the homemade exotic sorbets to “cleanse the palate”.

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These little balls of rasberry, lychee, guava and mango sorbet were a taste sensation. My friend Lorna, who hath protested she needed no dessert just minutes earlier, cried: “Can you feel the goodness going into you?” as she sooped the sorbet up by the spoonfuls.

I can conclude that Chino Latino has not only made it into my all-time top three Nottingham restauarants, but is easily jostling for the first place position. It does come at a price with small plates ranging from £7 to £12 and mains from £11 to £25, but if you’re looking for something a little bit special to top the taste charts then it’s worth every penny. If, on the other hand, you’ve not got the budget for that then we’re only a (cold, bitter) winter away from the Nottingham Food and Drink Festival and my shell of meaty prawns only set me back about £4.

Travelling Lebanon: Rocks, Punctures and Guns

There haven’t been many moments in my life where I’ve thought ‘Oh God, I might die here’. Admittedly there have been plenty of times (often on stunning white sandy beaches or at Michelin starred restaurants) where I have thought, ‘Oh God, I could die here’, which is, of course, a totally different thing.

But no, I haven’t feared a great deal for my life in the past – well, apart from the time a load of ladders flew off the top of a van while I was driving about 70 mph on the M25.

That was quite scary. And then there was the time that Matty, the Mongoose and I hired a car to drive around Lebanon. The Mongoose, aka Donagh, is our travelling buddy who we met many years ago in Australia and have since shared some wonderful adventures with.

And Lebanon was definitely one of them. An intoxicating mix of complex history, the friendliest people on earth and an uncertain future, Lebanon often feels like it’s just a day away from another bloody and horrendous war. Vulnerable and volatile, housing thousands of refugees and the infamous Hezbollah, many watch the little country closely, arguing the first sign of trouble in the Middle East will be seen here.

Nevertheless as you stroll its beautiful towns and villages, scattered with some of the largest and most impressive Roman ruins outside of Rome, it is hard to feel afraid.

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Just a tiny fragment of the impressive Roman ruins in Baalbeck, Lebanon

Today Beirut is heaving with funky bars, clubs and cafes and is home to a burgeoning bourgeoisie, but the gunshot-wounded buildings serve as a stark reminder of the bullets that fell like rain as recently as six years ago. (In 2006 the Israelis and Hezbollah engaged in a 33-day war, which saw Hezbollah fire a hail of rockets into Israel and the Israeli’s bomb towns and villages across Lebanon – after eight Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah. And that was just a flash in the pan after the 25 year-strong civil war that ripped through the country until the early 1990s).

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‘The Lebanese do not save their money,’ one girl told me in a Beirut bar.
‘We like to live life to the full, we spend all our money every day because you never know when it will end.’

Nevertheless, it was not a country we travelled timidly. We were there in September 2010 and felt surprisingly safe, embracing everything it had to offer – in our little white hire car.

We had been grounded in Bcharre, in the gorgeous World Heritage listed Qadisha Valley, for a few days because Matty had been struck down with the inevitable stomach bug that he always insists on getting whenever we visit foreign lands. But eventually we convinced him to make the short drive over the mountain range and Bekaa Valley to Baalbeck, land of the impressive Roman ruins. (The Mongoose doesn’t drive and we had decided not to put me on the licence for health and safety reasons), so Matty tensed his stomach and off we set.

It was a stunning drive, and as we weaved up one side of the mountain we were rewarded with magnificent views. We reached the top and slowly began to zig-zag down the other side. Or at least that was the plan. After one small zig, before we could begin to zag, we hit disaster. In the form of rocks.

The crumbling mountainside had gathered on the roadside and we had driven right over it. Almost immediately we heard the tyres pop and realised we were no longer in control of the car. Slowly Matty brought it to a stop and we surveyed the damage.

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The front and rear right-hand tyres were completely flat. It soon dawned on us that we would not be able to get the car down the mountain, we were well and truly marooned. Then we realised we only had about half a litre of water, a few scraps of food, no shade and no real idea of what to do.

So we took some pictures.

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The boys wandered down the road a little way to try and assess how long it would take to walk to safety. It was only about 11am but the winding road looked endless and with so little to eat and drink, we decided not to risk it.

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We rang the hire company and were told that lo and behold, we had breakdown cover and that they would send someone from Beirut. It would take a ‘couple of hours’ but to just sit tight, help was on the way!

So we got our books and sarongs out and perched on the side of the mountain to enjoy the view. Well at least the Mongoose and I did, Matty was clutching his stomach, looking longingly at our half-empty bottle of water (and yes it was very half-empty, there was no half-full about it) – and worrying his next toilet trip.

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As we lay there soaking up the rays, the occasional truck would drive past, crowded with men with large guns sticking out the side. We flinched a bit when the first couple drove past but soon got used to them, some even stopped to chat, clearly bemused to find tourists sunbathing on the mountainside.

After about two and a half hours we called the car hire company.

‘Yes, help is on the way,’ they assured us.

An hour later we had the same conversation. And after another hour passed we were told they were nearly here.

Then like a gift from the Gods, a man pulled over over and opened his boot to reveal rows and rows of sweet, sticky nuts and dried fruits. A food delivery!

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The Mongoose couldn’t keep his hands off the poor man’s nuts…

We hungrily gazed at the treats, sampling a handful of different nuts before enquiring about the price. He wanted to charge us about £10 for a bag of nuts. We laughed and we sneered, we used all of our finest tactics to haggle him down. It didn’t work. We were stuck on a mountain, he had us cornered and he knew it.

Disgusted and hungry, I took my mountain seat once more and waved him off. I would not pay £10 for a bag of nuts – even if it was the last thing I did. And I started to wonder if it might be.

We called again. This time we were told our mountain-rescue-chariot was lost.
‘There are many roads over the mountain,’ the lady at the car hire shop told us.
‘He’s been up and down a few but can’t find you.’

‘But,’ we protested, ‘There’s only one road between Bcharre and Baalbeck on the map you gave us with the car. And that’s where we are. On that road. We’re on the blue line.’

But it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the water was running dangerously low and I started seeing cashew nuts on the horizon. The sun was getting lower in the sky.

We made a few more calls and had the same sort of conversation. And we sat. And waited. And finished our water.

And then suddenly, just as the day was turning into dusk, our chariot arrived. We were being rescued! I practically hugged the spare tyres that he carried out of the van and danced around him as he wrenched up the car and removed our deflated rings of rubber with ease. After hours of waiting we were back up and running. Hungry and thirsty we were keen to finish our journey to Baalbeck in time for dinner.

‘You cannot go down this mountain now, it is too dark,’ our rescuer explained.
‘Dangerous people on this side of the mountain at night’, he said pointing down the roadside.
‘You must go back.’
He explained that we were actually now in Hezbollah land and must leave as soon as possible.

Realising for the first time that we may have actually been quite lucky, we nodded in agreement and followed our rescue chariot back the way we had come. Choosing not to go back to Bcharre, we stopped off at the Cedars, a ski resort that was a little closer and home to the country’s famous Cedar trees – a national emblem that can be found on the Lebanese flag.

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The Lebanese flag painted on a wall in Tripoli, Lebanon

It was a balmy summer’s evening and the ski resort had a real ghost town feel to it. As we gingerly stepped inside an empty little restaurant, which had walls covered with framed pictures of skiers, we found a man who greeted us like his first guests since the snow had melted.

We took over a large table in the corner and the happy restaurant owner, once a famous skier he told us, covered every inch of it in mezze dishes.

It was a feast for Kings. There was rich, creamy hummus, marinated barbecued meats, delicious salads, soft warm breads, stuffed vine leaves, the smokey flavours of baba ganush (a tasty combination of mashed Aubergine and olive oil) and much more.

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The next day we managed to make it to Baalbeck, and about five days later we returned to Beirut where we were staying with a friend of the Mongoose’s.

‘Good to see you’ve made it back ok’ he said as he opened his front door.
‘Did you hear what happened to the tourists on the mountain?’ He asked.
We thought it was a stitch up. But it wasn’t.

About 24 hours after our escapade a couple of Polish tourists had been kidnapped from almost exactly the same spot. They were thrown into the back of a car and because the driver failed to stop at one of the many police patrol checks that line the roads in Lebanon, the police opened fire on them. The police killed the driver but remarkably the Polish tourists, although shaken, were unscathed and freed.

It was hard to swallow. Later that night, as we sampled some of Lebanon’s fine wines in one of Beirut’s funky little bars, we reflected on how unbelievably lucky – and incredibly stupid we had been.

But actually I hadn’t really feared for my life once up that mountain. It’s so easy to feel safe in Lebanon and forget about the conflict that is bubbling away under the surface. The mounting volatility is well disguised and hides behind the sheer beauty of the country and its kind warm-hearted residents, who will invite you in for a cup of tea or drive you 10 miles to find your lost camera (yes that happened) without wanting anything in return.

On the other hand, the M25 is just plain dangerous.