Something from the weekend…. Mainly Shopping….

So last week I posted some ideas for shopping at the weekend, and so it would have seemed rude not to have spent at least *some* of my weekend shopping too. And so it was that I filled the weekend, mooching about various stalls and windows, as well as some lazing about too of course…..

On Friday night I made my Biryani dish again…. I added a little tumeric and fresh chilli this time and it was lovely. We spent the rest of the evening watching True Blood (now on Season 2) and sorting the stamps I bought in bulk to make things with. Rock and Roll Friday night!

Saturday started with a breakfast of waffles, banana and maple syrup, before I had a pleasant stroll to Bethnal Green. York Hall was hosting the first London A Most Curious Wedding Fair, and I met up with my dear friend (and Bride To Be), Siobhan, to have a snoop about. The hall is really quite charming, and a great wedding venue in itself. There were some great suppliers there too…. I met a couple I know I will want to use. Having seen everything, we took our ease at the tea shop, which was hosted by A Most Curious too, and we drank lovely tea from mis-matched vintage china.

York Hall for the Most Curious Wedding Fair

A friend we met on Bethnal Green Road

About in Shoreditch

About in Shoreditch

Onward from there, we made our way down Bethnal Green Road to Old Spitalfields for their monthly antique and flea market, where we met Adam too. There were some fabulous stalls, and lots that caught our eye. We were ready for another cup of tea by the time we’d made it all the way round, and so Adam took us for a sit down and cuppa at the lovely Bishopsgate Institute.

Old Spitalfields Antique and Flea Market

The Bride To Be

Tea at the Bishopsgate Institute

From there, we walked Siobhan to the station and decided to pop into the Andaz for the Girl.Stole.Vintage fair….. realising as we came up to the foyer that it was nearly 5pm and so we’d missed it all! So it was a quick stop off at Boots for supplies before heading home for another much needed cup of tea.

For dinner, we’d finally gotten round to booking a table at Rosemary Lane, the curious little restaurant just a couple of minutes walk from us. We really have been meaning to go for ages, but the excuse of Adam’s new job meant we had something to celebrate and a reminder to go. And I’m so glad we finally did. The food and service were incredibly impressive, and my starter for one was absolutely exceptional. The experience was too good to get swallowed up by my whole weekend chatting here, so I’ll be writing about it in a separate post soon (watch this space). In the mean time, here is what I ate….

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Pea, Mint and Spring Onion Flan

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Amuse Bouche of Mango, Ginger and Orange

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Rich Lobster Bouillabaisse, White Wine and Chervil

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Hot Chocolate Fondant with Caramel Centre and Orange Ice Cream

Having thought we’d be home by about 9pm, we actually didn’t get back until more like 10:30 (bearing in mind our travel time was just minutes and our table was booked for 7pm)….. it really was brilliant just to spend a whole evening over a luxurious and relaxed dinner though, so I didn’t at all begrudge the time. Still, despite our finishing our wonderful meal with a black coffee, we were pretty ready for bed by the time we got back, and so it was straight into jammies and our books to finish off a great day.

Sunday saw a lovely lie in (well, I’d walked about a lot on the Saturday). I’ve been hankering after some spicy Deep South style food ever since we started watching True Blood, so we sat in bed flicking through Jamie’s America recipe book, planning dinner. We finally whittled it down to four dishes (which I’ll make over the whole week to get the craving out of my system) and so once we’d added the ingredients to our shopping list, we headed out for breakfast. We’ve not been to our local cafe at all this year, in fact not since the very start of December. So we didn’t feel too naughty scoffing our big fry-ups. Poppies Diner is just as close as Rosemary Lane, and an awesome find. The menu is very much traditional greasy spoon, but the whole place has been decked out in Hollywood ephemera and 1950s american diner touches. The food is great, and the tea excellent (loose leaf no less), but I don’t suppose it would do to make too much of a habit of this for breakfasts.

Next was the weekly shop to Waitrose…. and it is certainly true that it’s better to shop if you’ve just eaten lots…. we came out without all the little naughty additions we usually do and settled for a pot of tea when we got home. We completed the cross word as usual over our tea, and then settled on the sofa with our books for the afternoon.

Before long though it was time to start preparing dinner…. we’d opted for the Cajun Alligator with Sweet Potato and Salsa (although we’d bought some lovely pork loin in lieu of the alligator). We started by marinating the meat and leaving that for a few hours, before roasting our potatoes (with skin on, like jacket potatoes) and making the salsa. It’s one of the simpler and quicker meals we’ve tried from the book, and so in no time we were yumming up the amazing dish, along with a nice cold beer.

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Home made salsa with green tomatoes, spring onion, parsley and cider vinegar

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Cajun Alligator with Sweet Potato and Salsa

After that, it was time for a film….. I’ve been super keen to get Troll Hunter on Blu-ray after we saw it at the cinema and was aching to watch it again. So, we snuggled up on the sofa and ended the night shouting Trooooolllllll (if you haven’t seen it you really must) before cosying up in bed with books and Horlicks. Lush.

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Troooooolllllll!!!!

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Wednesday Wants…… Spring Handbags

I love this time of year. Although it’s still rather chill, the sky is more often blue and the snow drops and blooming blossom trees promise that Spring is near. The shops too are filled with light and floaty things ready for the warmer weather….and of course the handbags have lightened up too.

And so here are my pick of rather aspirational spring handbag ‘wants’……

Alexander McQueen, Ivory Canvas Spike Tote

I absolutely love this ivory canvas tote by Alexander McQueen. It’s not just the classic tan leather detailing and strap, but the rather more edgy gold-tone brass spike detail, and the lovely triple buckle. At £895 from Liberty it’s not likely to join my collection any time soon, but one can still dream…..

Alexander McQueen, Ivory Canvas Spike Tote

Alexander McQueen, Ivory Canvas Spike Tote

A little more realistic, although still very aspirational at £450 is the stunningly vintage styled Eva from Lulu Guinness. Infused with 1940s glamour, I adore the sleek shape and the wonderfully cute heart-shaped clasp. Not to mention the gorgeous stripey lining…..

Lulu Guinness, Stone Leather Medium Eva

Lulu Guinness, Stone Leather Medium Eva

Lastly, I’m loving the large Vida Weave bag in natural and black leather from Reiss. I love the perforated leather and chunky tassel charm, and at £265 it’s not *too* pie in the sky.

Reiss, Vida Weave Slouch Shoulder Bag

Anyone found any cream handbag treasures to share?

Ems x

London Fashion Week AW / 2012…. My pick of the trends

I have never considered myself at all trendy, in fact, probably anything but. I love thrifting, vintage shopping, charity shops, mixing and matching etc. far too much. But at the same time I adore fashion, and to me, the trends of London Fashion Week are a taste of things to come…..here is what is going to be on the High Street soon and what you’re going to want.

Whilst I never go in for a whole trend and clothe myself top to bottom in Top Shop’s very best ‘now’ look, I am definitely prone to a little peer pressure….and because I could happily shop every day and collect a wardrobe the size of the entire United Kingdom (if only) it’s pretty hard not to succumb to the impressions of a trend or two.

And so it is with great excitement that I look out for the offerings of London Fashion Week and I find myself aching for a huge shopping session. I’m not one to be swayed too badly though, and will always pick out as many ‘never in this worlds’ as ‘wants’, and so here is my little round-up of my favourite trends to come out of London Fashion Week Autumn Winter 2012….and a little about those I certainly won’t be hankering after too!…..

The Peplum

Perhaps because it has its roots firmly in British Fashion History, I’m ever so keen on this trend. A cute and chic frill over a skirt, or from the waist down of a blouse… it’s so deliciously vintage. Not to mention the wonderful effect it has on those of us with proper girly figures…..

Peplum at Burberry Prorsum, Mary Katrantzou, Stella McCartney

Cinched waists, bows and belts for an hourglass figure

And along those same lines, I will always be grateful to see the hourglass figure featured in a season’s trends…. blessed with large hips and a defined waist, I love the little bows and belts cinching in the waists and providing a voluminous skirt beneath…..

Cinched waists, bows and belts at Burberry Prorsum, Erdem and Stella McCartney

Big Knits

I can’t always be girly and refined though, and my current winter uniform of over-sized jumper and leggings is both comfy and practical. And, if it’s on the runways, it can’t be *that* slobby!…..

Big Knits at Acne, Mary Katrantzou and Jonathan Saunders

Leggings

And speaking of leggings…. True, on the runways they weren’t so much a comfort feature as a chic alternative to tights….and seen with longer length skirts and heels rather than minis and pumps as they have been, I’m keen to take this look on……

Leggings at Clements Ribeiro, Issa and Bora Aksu

Winter Florals

It goes without saying that the spring trends will feature girly florals, but I’m delighted to see some here for winter too, which is of course when we really need some cheering up and colour lift……

Winter Florals at Erdem, Giles and Temperley London

Military

I like this because it’s feminine but not girly….. I’d love to invest in a really good military style coat this year, and one with a good waist-hugging belt would be splendid…..

Military at Burberry Prorsum, Top Shop Unique and Alexander McQueen

As for the not-so-likelys…. I really can’t see me picking up the padded hips seen at Beradi, McQueen and Mary Katrantzou (I have enough in that area already thanks)….. nor am I keen to accentuate my chunky calves with the mid-length skirts seen at Roksanda Ilincic and Top Shop Unique…… and it’s a definite no to the loose leather trousers everywhere! I’m not yet taken with all the purples on show, but then I said that last year about orange and then became obsessed with it…. It is more likely though that I’ll take advantage of all those lovely pink hues, like those at Holly Fulton.

All in all though, and without having been to a single show….I’d say that this year’s London Fashion Week has thrown up some very useable trends. Now just to get shopping!

Pancake Day!

Ready, steady, flip!

My name is Emily and I can’t make pancakes. There, I’ve said it. It is a constant source of embarrassment to this northern lass that I can’t make Yorkshire Pudding or Toad in the Hole (I’m usually a pretty good cook otherwise). It’s the batter see, I can’t make it work. It always comes out too runny or lumpy or just doesn’t work when it’s cooked. I suppose I shouldn’t feel too badly…. the pancake making in my home as a child was always a man’s job (although my Mum can at least boast a decent Yorkshire Pud).

And so it falls to the man of the house to make them today. I’ve prepared everything at least so that he only has to whip up the batter and get flipping. Here’s what I’ve got ready to go with ours…..

  • Free Range Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Cheese – the first ones will be savoury
  • Chopped Banana – a classic
  • Nutella – we have too many catering size tubs of this lying around for some reason and must get through it
  • Maple syrup – we are huge maple syrup fiends in this house, any excuse
  • Banana curd – this was home made by us and is brilliant with waffles, so we’re hoping its first pancake experience is a good one (perhaps I’ll share the recipe soon)

Growing up, my understanding of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was that it was a way to use up foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of Lent. I now believe it’s also a way to cram in all that good stuff too, before embarking on your fast….. I don’t suppose very many of us go beyond giving up chocolate these days, but a tradition’s a tradition right?!

Apparently, in places like Newfoundland and Labrador, small tokens are frequently cooked in Shrove Tuesday pancakes. It sounds rather like finding the sixpence in the Christmas Pudding….. each of these tokens though are meant to be divinatory…. for example, the person who finds a coin will be wealthy. This reminds me of the little amulets the pilgrims to Real de Catorce leave for St Francis of Assisi that I saw at the wonderful Miracles and Charms exhibtion.

In England though, Shrove Tuesday means pancake races……. a tradition said to have originated when a housewife was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time, until she heard the church bells ringing for the service and raced to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake. In Olney, where the fabled housewife is said to have lived, the most famous pancake race in the country has been held since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race to the finishing line while tossing the pancakes as they go. Apparently, if a man wants to participate, he must dress up as a housewife!

The seaside town of Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools early, and inviting people to skip using long ropes from the nearby harbour. Whilst the children of Whitechapel in Lancashire continue a local tradition by visiting houses and asking “please a pancake”, to be rewarded with oranges or sweets. It is thought the tradition began when farm workers visited their wealthy neighbors to ask for pancakes or pancake fillings. And in Finland and Sweden, the day is associated not so much with pancakes, but with the almond paste-filled semla pastry.

We’ll be keeping it traditional this year though, and so I’m just waiting for Adam to get home to start cooking!

What are your plans for your pancake supper? Any good fool-proof recipes you can help me out with?

Happy flipping!

Ems x

Something from the weekend….. a trip oop North

PLEASE NOTE!! I’ve had to remove all the images from this post for a bit due to technomalogical weirdness. They will be back when I have figured it out! Ems

 

 

I’ve just awoken from a rather long lie in (I should explain that it’s ‘now’ 09:30, as I’ll inevitably become distracted by tea, crumpets and the need for a shower before I actually manage to publish this). It’s not my fault though….I was catching up from a weekend of adventuring and fun….I needed it!
My weekend started on Friday evening….. we headed out to the cinema to see The Descendants on an early showing and I thoroughly enjoyed this gorgeous film, which is so very funny, clever, and also tear-inducingly sad. It’s about a dysfunctional family trying to deal with a crisis, and coming together as they do so. George Clooney’s performance as the dad is unsurprisingly wonderful, really hilarious at times but also very touching. It’s probably the most ‘real’ thing I’ve seen in a while, and I know I’ll want to watch it again.
After a supper of veggie stew, it was time for an early night….as early on Saturday morning we toddled off to Kings Cross to catch the train oop North. We were off to Newcastle to celebrate my friend Hannah’s 30th Birthday, and I was super excited to be going to visit, and to see her new house too. We’d brought along a flask of coffee, which I drank alongside choccy biscuits and a yummy free range egg sandwich. The train journey is not short (I grumbled the whole three hours journey about how Newcastle is too far away), but I managed to entertain myself typing up notes from a recent exhibition and gazing out of the window. I noticed for the first time just how many gorgeous and huge churches there are alongside this route…..it seemed every town we stopped at (Peterbrough, Doncaster, York, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham)  has an amazingly imposing church in its centre, none more so than the last we passed at Durham which sits atop its hill, dwarfing the pretty town around it.

 

We arrived over one of the excellent bridges on the Tyne, looking down the river to see The Sage and the Millennium Bridge, and after a quick bus ride and proudly finding Hannah’s, arrived ready for cups of tea and a tour of the house. After a little sit and catch up, we took the bus back into town for a wander…. Mhairi needed her eyebrows doing so we popped into Fenwicks and did some browsing (mainly looking at expensive make up and its drool inducing packaging) whilst waiting for her. Next it was a root around in TK Maxx (Mhairi, I still think you should have bought that dinosaur garden sculpture), before we headed back to the house for a nails and make up session, and pizza to ready us for our night out.

A short taxi ride took us to Mr Lynch, a wonderfully retro bar, decorated with 70s prints, wallpaper and furniture. Mhairi and Jamie surprised Hannah by secretly arranging for a friend to come along, whom Hannah had met through Twitter but not in person yet….. her and her hubby are absolute darlings and Hannah was so delighted to meet them (as were we actually).  Adam and I chose the Old Fashioned from the lengthy cocktail menu, and waited the full ten minutes our attentive bar man swirled and mixed them to perfection. Delicious as they were, we decided to stick with the whisky but opted for rather quicker to mix cocktails…. the Manhattan (my old favourite) wasn’t quite made to my taste so it was Whisky Sours I drank the night away with. And so it was only a matter of time before I was up and dancing to Aretha Franklin, and lamenting my choice of footwear. However, a wonderful night ended with a chip-run and more girly chatting before I crashed out on an air bed.

 

 After lying in for a good while, Adam and I woke up the others with cups of tea, and a first breakfast of doughnuts (as well as the premier of my video of Mhairi and Hannah performing Proud Mary the night before….I’m convinced it will be an internet sensation if only I can work out how to get it on there). We all craved something rather more savoury after the doughnuts, and headed into town for a fry up. By the time we’d eaten though it was time for us to catch our train home, so we stocked up on snacks for the journey and hugged everyone goodbye. I knew I wasn’t going to be at all productive on this journey, so my laptop I’d taken along to ‘work’ on just became a DVD player as we watched a few more episodes of The Killing (we recently started season one and I’m just getting hooked). That, and a bumper bag of giant chocolate buttons helped me stay awake until we got back, and we settled on the sofa with a supper of noodles to watch a film.

Adam got Summer Wars on blu ray ages ago, but we’ve just not gotten around to watching it. I was too tired to watch the subtitled version, which we’d usually prefer, but the dubbed version was wonderful enough…. it’s the kind of film I can’t believe they haven’t made before, but at the same time it’s so different and original. To summarise (without spoilers) two friends make their way to a family reunion, only for one of them to be implicated in an internet hack….. the rest of the film is a fabulously fun story of how they ‘made everything right again’, the action taking place half ‘for real’ at the family reunion, and half in a a virtual reality where the characters become heroes in avatar form. We absolutely loved this film, and Adam even commented it may make his top ten. It was exactly the feel-good, easy watch we needed before we popped off to bed with a Horlicks.

What a brilliant weekend!

How was yours….?

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair at Old Spitalfields Market

Having decided to have a relatively quiet weekend in order to catch ourselves up after the Christmas crazy, we kept things pretty local and yesterday opted for a short walk to Old Spitalfields Market. A comfy five minutes away, this is a long time haunt for us and better still this weekend as it hosted Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair.

Judy has been hosting these fabulous affairs for 7 years, around East London and all over the UK. The emphasis is always on the affordable and so I had no qualms about some serious ‘browsing’.

Although we found a couple of really good gents’ stalls, the fair was made up largely of ladies clothing and accessories. There were tables upon tables of bargainous jewellery, some gorgeous hat stalls, and hundreds of rails brimming with treasure.

We were delighted to find a sizeable cluster of vintage homeware stalls too, and plunged into some exciting bargain boxes of plates and cutlery. I spied a lovely Arts and Crafts plant stand I’d have loved and an Edwardian cake stand (one of the wooden three tiered, metre high folding ones)…..but alas our little flat is already fit to burst.

I did manage to pick up some darling tea plates though, to add to our mix and match dinner service, and Adam made an amazing find of a 70s suit which fits a dream!

Judy’s is back at Spitalifields on the 4th February, but all over the country between now and the end of the year, and it’s free to get in!

A sugar sweet Christmas

I’ve recently been introduced to the wonderful world of Pinterest, and amongst all its fabulous offerings, it’s the Christmas ideas I’m currently most obsessed with. I’ve created a board of beautiful ideas along a Sugar Sweet Christmas theme…… here are a few of my favourites…..

This is where it all began…..a tree of sweeties in sugar icing tones…..

Source: trendytree.com via pretty on Pinterest

I was desperate to do this but really haven’t had time this year…..I surely will next Christmas though!……
This is how I intend to spend much of Christmas Eve!…..
I love Paperchase all year round, but at Christmas it’s off the chart!…..
I love this idea for glamming up ordinary fairy lights with ribbon offcuts……
 How beautiful are these! Definitely a project I want to try…..
 So simple and clever!…..
 I may need to hone my skills in meringue making before attempting these…..
I’m sure I can manage these though…..
 Probably my favourite tree decoration this year…..very clever mini versions of the Jeff Koons classic…..
And what would Christmas be without a gorgeous, festive dress…..
 The tree of my dreams….for this year at least!
Source: tumblr.com via pretty on Pinterest
Merry Christmas and happy Pinning!

Christmas With The Puppini Sisters at The Union Chapel

I’m not a spontaneous person. But sometimes it has been known for me to make a split decision that really wins out. And so when Claire and Matthew came over for sups a few weeks ago, and Claire mentioned that the marvelous Puppini Sisters were to host a Christmas Special at the wonderful Union Chapel, somehow Claire had bought tickets for the four of us from her iPhone within minutes. And I’m so glad she did.

I adore the Union Chapel for its architectural splendor and great programme. And I adore the gloriously vintage Puppini Sisters, whose albums I never tire of. Most of all though I think, I adore Christmas, and so the combination of all three was set to be a real treat.

After a wonderful support act from Tea Dance Band (and some rather fitting tea and cake at our seats…splendid!), the girls began with Jingle Bells, and we were quickly in the festive spirit and clapping along. But it was Wham’s Last Christmas that truly got my Christmas juices flowing in a remarkably gorgeous version, in the girls’ smooth, 30s style of course.

It got more soppy still as the girls and the fabulous string section took on the enchanting Moon river to perfection. And back to Christmas, the girls totally nailed one of my favourites, O Holy Night before an awesome rendition of Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

Their Silent Night was all the more touching and goose pimple inspiring as they’d adapted the lyrics to include the story of The Little Match Girl. But not to remain too serious for long, Kate told us how their next number (and another Christmas favourite of mine) was pinched by the lovely, but ‘dirty rotten thief’ Michael Buble for his Christmas album. One can hardly blame him though as what Christmas record would be complete without Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas? And that one even inspired Adam to some clicking and bobbing along with the horn section who were making up funny routines with clicking and jazz hands.

After some new songs from their album out on Boxing Day, we were asked if we were ‘ready for some youth culture?’ And ready we were as the girls performed their wonderful Crazy In Love, complete with Beyonce booty jiggle.

Announcing it was home time, they pretended to finish with the first single from their new album, which I was delighted to hear is a fabulous version of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (very apt for my Marilyn obsession). But, with the crowd stamping out on the chapel’s wooden floor for more, and after the cheeky horn section had encouraged us to shout Encore, the girls came back to rapturous applause.

And with probably their best number of the night, they sang us out to Elton John’s classic, Step Into Christmas, with the usual Puppini twist of course.

Such a deliciously smooth and retro evening, and a marvelous start to Christmas!

The Puppini Sisters will be performing their new album at Sheperds Bush Empire next April.

Could it be Magic?! Gary Barlow at The Royal Albert Hall for The Prince’s Trust

When a client of mine called yesterday to offer me two tickets to the Gary Barlow concert at the Royal Albert Hall that evening, it was quite the squeal that confirmed my acceptance. I’d have loved to have gotten tickets when they went on sale and to have taken my mummy, but the spur of the moment plan somehow made it even more exciting. The concert, in aid of The Prince’s Trust was the first of two nights for Gary at the awesome venue, and having agreed to donate the ticket price to my client’s current charity, Adam and I were off to South Kensignton.

The evening started with support band The Pierces, two sisters who make up a sound rather like half of Fleetwood Mac, crossed with Sheryl Crow. Then after a short wait, on came Gary’s band and in the first few bars of Greatest Day Of Our Lives, on came the man himself to screams, cheers and uncontrollable squealing.

Wearing the shiniest shoes, Gary soon asked us if we were ready for some ‘old school’ and lead us into a medley of favourites….. Musical Director Mike, with sax in hand was introduced and Gary told us it must be for Careless Whisper as they actually started to play A Million Love Songs accompanied by Gary’s piano.

There was a real spectacle in store as Pray began and Gary treated us to two rounds of the Take That routine through the chorus. Much screaming ensued. But no one could be quite as moved as Sadie, one audience member whom Gary went to ask to do up a button on his cuff!

It all got a bit gooey as the star cloths began to glow and Gary sung ‘Nobody Else,’ originally written for his parents. But things soon picked up as Gary announced his ‘Swing while you’re thinning’ medley of swing classics…. I’ve Got You Under My Skin….. Fly Me To The Moon…. and my favourite, Moon Dance. With plenty of Big Band brass, Gary was smooth and actually pretty cool.

After a little piano practice of a rather (purposefully) out of tune Amazing Grace, he led the audience into Love Ain’t Here Any More, proclaiming his surprise when he asked the men to sing alone in reply and they actually did… “we’ve got fellas in the gig!” And this made the start of a string of quieter piano solos, with  Why Can’t I Wake Up With You and Forever Love.

Next, Gary announced that there would be an interval (suggesting we get ourselves a Fab, Cornetto or Zoom) but that didn’t happen until he’d performed a rather climatic Could It Be Magic. Still on piano, and in a much slowed down version, he stirred up the audience into quite the frenzy as the rather choral chorus was repeated again and again.

After our ice cream break, and after a rather jazzed up Sunday Through To Saturday Love, and Wasting My Time, Gary introduced the band and then announced it was time he came to meet the audience, whilst performing Everything Changes But You. Thus ensued a gob smacking trip through the stalls, surrounded by extremely proficient and bulky security staff, as Gary made his way through his fans. The surge of bodies we saw from above in our Circle seats was incredible, and fans scrabbled just to touch him for a second. One lucky and savvy girl even managed to sneak around to steal a kiss!

And then Gary shared that he was about to introduce the first of a few special guests, and as we heard the first few bars of Relight My Fire, I only hoped it was who it turned out to be…..for as the famous soul-filled solo came up, on strutted none other than Lulu, looking and sounding incredible. I couldn’t believe she’d come along just for a solo in one song, but I was more incredulous still as Gary introduced his next guest (and good friend apparently), my long time heart throb of old, Jason Donovan! I think Adam must have felt as though he was stood next to a complete stranger as I turned into a screaming crazy, accompanied by so many other members of the audience too. And rather than another Take That number, they joined to perform Too Many Broken Hearts which was even more ‘old school’ than anything Gary had offered up yet.

He still felt the need to ask “can anyone remember this one?” though as he started up back For Good, and even Adam joined in for a sing song. But before long things were brought rather more up to date as Gary introduced his final guest, Olly Murs who took up Mark’s place singing Shine. Perhaps the most enegetic and bouncy performance yet, Murs quickly won over the audience, ending in a big cuddle with Gary. Aw.

But not so popular was Gary’s next announcement, as he explained “it’s time for me to go” and the band struck up Rule The World. The audience were happy to sway, wave and sing along, until of course Gary left the stage and the chanting and foot stamping for his return escalated.

And of course it wasn’t really the end….the band and Gary returned not a minute later and the squealing rose again as, just like on the Progress tour, he finished with Never Forget. Confetti fell by the bucket load, and the awesome audience (there are no fans like Take That fans) left buzzing and humming their favourites.

Incredible night.

Take That…..Progress

And so it was that June finally brought that most anticipated of treats as I travelled North, and homeward, to see the Take That Progress tour. On its first night at the City of Manchester Stadium, the band ‘came home’ to hoards of screaming women, including me and my mum. I’ve seen enough tours of this scale, (and even worked on a few of Robbie’s) to know that the amount spent on them *should* mean it’s practically impossible to produce anything that’s not super-impressive, but when you’re putting together the next tour for a band like Take That there’s enough expectation and competition that it’s necessary to very much pull out all the stops for something totally original, bigger, better and utterly unforgettable.

And I’d have to say that for me, Progress ticked all the boxes. I’ll admit that I was rather surprised to hear that the Pet Shop Boys would be opening the show, (what with them being incredibly successful and accomplished showmen themselves…why ever did they need to open a Take That gig?) but nonetheless was excited to have the opportunity to see them too. And despite having limited access to the main staging and production elements (although they used add-ons to great effect and to the point where we couldn’t even see what was going on behind until a great reveal later) they put on a super show, in true style, with awesomely original costumes (with nods to lego and disco balls aplenty).

And so, all prepped and ready for the main event as it were, the girly screams rose up to greet a mad professor character who was to operate a giant keyboard on stage, which effected to type onto the huge projection screen and ask us if we were ready….well ‘yes’ we screamed! But as four figures walked out of the wings and onto stage, around my mum and I there were frightened and disappointed murmurs of ‘where is Robbie’…..well lucky mum and I were informed enough from the previous concerts that we weren’t concerned about his absence. Thankfully we’d learned in advance that the evening was to take a bit of a retrospective format…..with ‘The Four’ appearing first to perform some of the post-Robbie hits…..then Robbie on to take centre stage alone with some of his own….and finally all five for some of the golden oldies as well as some of the newer classics. We were only too happy to share our wisdom with the ladies around us too, especially one who swore she’d only come to see Robbie and was devastated to see them come on without him.

And I thought I would miss him too, but Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason were no disappointment as they brought to life Shine in a magical wonderland-inspired scene….Gary playing on a fantastical curly piano, and Mark riding around on a wonderful giant caterpillar, with walking grandfather clocks, rollerskating bees and dancing hares, whilst they were all gorgeously costumed in vivid brights with giant smoke bubbles filling the stadium around them.

However, their walk-on-and-off entrances and exits were nothing to Robbie’s explosion onto stage….. The main screen showing an image of a tiny doorway, growing bigger and bigger until the screen itself burst open and Robbie was flung through it in mid-air to perform his customary opening number Let Me Entertain You. I found myself screaming uncontrollably, like one of those girls we used to see on TV queuing to see Take That and going wild at a glimpse of them. I didn’t know what had come over me, especially having seen Robbie before, but perhaps the fact that we’d waited those first few songs for him and had the chance to warm up and release our inhibitions with the Pet Shop Boys had turned me into this screeching teenage loon. After he’d strut around to Rock DJ, with neon-clad roller skaters waving ‘RW’ emblazoned flags and pulling him around in a glass chariot…. and after he’d been teased to a squealing audience during Real Love, hanging over them in a sort of crane and grabbing girls’ hands as he went….. it was of course the inevitable Angels that brought his solo set to a close.

Perhaps the best entrance of all though was as four and one became five, and atop the towering stage set, and above a real flowing waterfall, Take That performed Flood, rather more like famous opera stars than a band of thirty/forty-something pop stars. Below them, a team of athletic dancers bungee’d around the waterfall creating shapes and patterns in their light-up costumes, culminating in the Darwin-inspired Progress emblem. And of course, there were to be no shabby back stage retreats now, as Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason’s turrets became lifts, impressively swishing them down onto stage, right through the waterfall. Robbie though wasn’t to settle for this, as he launched off the top of set and in a perfect dive through the spraying waterfall, landed on stage just as we’d realised quite what he was doing and the awe-filled screaming ensued. Wow.

As the huge smoke rings rose through the stadium from the incredible pyrotechnics, the action continued as chess pieces came to life to fight in Kidz, whilst Howard and Jason dueled in a somewhat contrived but at least well choreographed sword fight. The result was officially a draw, but there was no doubt in my mind that Howard was the victor. Things settled in to the more sedate soon though as Gary produced glasses of red wine for the boys (milk though for Mark and Robbie) and they gathered around the piano to reminisce over Babe, Million Love Songs, Everything Changes But You, Pray and Back for Good.

The production tricks and surprises weren’t over though, and the giant seated figure (which Gary introduced to us as OM) which had been adorning the stage soon came to life, its hands lifting up the boys seated in them and eventually coming right into the crowd to stand to its full 60 feet high. And as we heard the first bars of Never Forget, OM began to raise his arms, echoing the iconic choreography for what we knew would be the finale. We weren’t left hanging too long though as we chanted for their return to the stage, and we were obliged by an encore of No Regrets in the shape of a fire-side sofa chat between Gary and Robbie, before the flames grew and we were treated to a rather funked up Relight My Fire.

As the fires died, the smoke cleared and the crowd scattered from the litter strewn stadium, we left buzzing and beaming into the throng of similarly gleeful fans, whilst above a solitary rogue balloon escaped and flew up into the sky.