It's certainly no secret by now that I am getting into shape and working hard with a personal trainer (I was lucky enough to bag myself some sessions as part of a portfolio agreement where I literally have to bare all every 6 weeks in exchange for being shouted at in the gym!) as well as eating a much healthier diet and I'm well on my way to losing my third stone. I've been getting so much encouragement as well as some lovely comments and messages from my readers, some people telling me how they have been re-inspired to get back into the gym, go for a run or a swim and generally get fit and healthy thanks to watching my candid photos and advice as I go. I can't tell you how amazing this feels to know that my honesty is helping others, but one comment or question I get a lot recently is "what do you wear when working out?" as fitness outfits don't seem to come cheap in most shops you look. Recently I was walking through Leeds and Manchester and both cities have a huge amount of running shops, bright, colourful and they lure you in with their sparkly trainers and twinkly running jackets, but at a high price in some instances, it's a vice that I personally need to keep under control as I get more and more into my outdoor pursuits. If you are just getting started, be it in the gym, a run or a game of netball to get you motivated, I would say don't spend a fortune when cheaper sports wear is available and, in my opinion, is just as good. When I first started out back in late November, I first stocked up in our local Sports Direct store in Cambridge. I still spent out a fair whack of money to adorn myself with lycra and a sports bra that might fit me (as a larger woman, it can be a daunting shopping experience when trying to find a skin tight bra that actually fits both your bust and your waistline, it's stressful in all honesty!) So here is what I currently wear when exercising, I hope that this helps a little and any questions, I'm happy to answer, just drop me a line. To The Sports Bra: It is said that most sports bras are tested in just one area, the breast bounce, however more designs are coming in and testing new areas such as chafing and general movement, I'd love to chat to the people behind this science and find out more, it's actually really intriguing! To start with, I simply went for a USA PRO lycra racer vest top, first in black with a crossed back and padded bra in place. This vest straps in the girls AND sucks in my body, which actually helps me with my posture when thinking about my core muscles, it's great. In fact, it passed the "bounce" test for me so much so that I went back and bought a second vest a few weeks later, this time in neon pink for a splash of colour. For me, this does the job and it's comfortable under everything else I wear or alone if it's a warm day or a particularly sweaty session. I wore this for hot yoga and it helped to soak up the sweat dripping from me as I went, it's perfect and cost me just £8. My Bottom Half: I've collected so much sports wear over the years, so I had a few M&S capris and joggers to continue with, however I did invest in two pairs of USA Pro three quarter leggings and they are perfect for running and squatting in the gym in. These are made from a lycra material and have a small zipped pocket for change and a key should you need it when out and about. These came in at £12.50 a pair and I wear them most of the time currently, as I have long legs, these don't look too odd on me, whereas some three quarter lengths can look like shorts on me at 5ft 10! I did also buy myself some Puma shorts, however these I can't quite get to grips with as they ride up my inner leg as I run and I spend most of the time pulling them out of unladylike positions, so I tend to go for stretchy leggings now, much more flattering and I feel "held in" as I race around. I'm currently on "Operation Funky Trouser" to slim down enough to look amazing in a pair of geometric running tights - zebra print I reckon ; ) Tops: I have quite a collection of t-shirts, some plain old logos such as a comfy blue BENCH top and David Bowie prints on them for more casual exercise and some are more professional style tops to wick the sweat and do cost a little more money as a result. When it came to going a little more "pro" on my running and cycling gear, I headed to Go Outdoors in Bedford, a huge outdoor warehouse with everything you could ever wish for, including a life size model of a horse that you can mount, should you so desire... ahem! Here, I bought myself some short sleeved running t shirts, a North Ridge lightweight top (£10) that can be worn over my vest for a gym session, a Technicals lightweight cycling t shirt (£15), and an RAB microlight baselayer to wear in a breeze for running or under a jacket for cycling in the Lake District later this year. It wicks the sweat and keeps you warm, it's the perfect addition to my clothing drawer and cost me around £20 with a Go Outdoors Membership card. The membership card for this shop costs you £5, a little cheeky, but actually it saves you a huge amount of money on each item as you nosey around the store, it's worth buying one if you plan to invest a little money into your gear. A lovely friend I've made through running, Ian, also gave us his unneeded Adidas running t shirt, again this wicks any sweat and although is a much heavier item of clothing, it's perfect for playing squash as it's not restricting, but holds everything in as I race around. Originally given to my other half, it didn't fit him, so I nabbed it, naturally - never turn down a freebie! There's nothing wrong with some swapping around as you lose weight, I think it's a great idea, as not everything gets worn a lot when you are on a weightloss mission, so surround yourself by friends who are losing and you might be able to gain a few hand me downs : ) Outdoor Gear: From Go Outdoors, I also bought a blue Dare 2b Intensify stretch top (it's a mens top as it fits my bust better than the women's did) and at £25 it was the best springtime purchase I made. This top goes over everything else and acts as a breathable jacket, allowing me to run without getting overheated, as my waterproof jacket would do to me. I wear it all the time, it has a tiny pocket in the back to pop your ipod into and it's so light, you hardly feel it on, I love it. I also invested in a lightweight Regatta jacket for snowy and rainy runs and circuits, there is a fab little outdoor and camping shop within Country Homes & Gardens in Melbourn, they always seem to have a little sale on and I picked my jacket and a running shirt up for £30 for the both, bargain central! Even the mister bought a jacket and was thankful that he did on the cold days, it hasn't stopped us getting out there, that's the best thing... he's hardcore, as he goes out in shorts in the bitter cold too, something I can't do and stick to long leggings from the supermarket for cold weather leg coverage! Trainers & Socks: Socks can be as simple as trainer socks from your local supermarket, of which I go for and they do a perfectly good job for what I do fitness wise, or you can spend £20-£40 on high tech, sweat-soaking running socks, the foot world is your oyster. What I would say is that if you are planning to walk, especially miles and miles in walking boots, make sure that you invest in some good quality walking socks. I have a pair of Sealskinz and they were the very best investment I made for my feet when hiking miles anywhere. They aren't cheap, at around £28 a pair, but TRUST me when I say they are worth every penny. These are breathable and waterproof, thick and padded to protect your feet from blisters and soreness, these also protect your ankles and legs around the top of your walking boot where they can sometimes rub on longer walks - pop a pair of base layer socks on underneath for ultra comfort and no fluff between your toes! I was given a pair of running shoes a few years ago, so these are what I wear today. I haven't gone out and spent a fortune on trainers, as most people head out to do when they start up, but so long as they are comfortable FOR YOU, it doesn't matter how much they cost or what brand they are, don't get suckered in. If you are going to buy new trainers, I have been told to head to a specialist shop for a proper consult/measure up and find out a bit more from the pros before you decide what you are going for - I'm going to need to do this myself very soon, it's actually a fairly daunting consideration, so any advice or recommendations welcome! Swimsuit: I spent hours looking for swimsuits after my old one nearly disappeared as I left a spa swimming pool back in February - that moment was mortifying for all involved haha. Good old M&S came up trumps in the end, going girly with a pink halterneck swimsuit, I found a shaped and padded bra swimsuit complete with detachable straps for various looks. It's flattering, will last me a fair while and more importantly, everything stays in place when leaving the pool, the most important element for all of us gals. This came in at £29.50 and one thing I would note was that their swimsuits do come up on the smaller side of the sizing, so be warned, lots of squeezing, swearing and breathing in was required.. What do you wear for your keep fit pursuits? I'd love to hear your thoughts below....
Friday, 25 April 2014
Thursday, 24 April 2014
I'm going to be ever so slightly open with you about some of the little pleasures in my life, none of them make me feel TOO guilty for admitting and I thought a little more sharing on my part would help you to get to know me... Perhaps it'll even help you to share your own "guilty" or simple pleasures in life, as life is simply too short to not enjoy what we want in our lives. I've never quite understood the term "guilty pleasure" - why should we feel guilty in admitting the things we adore? It's ridiculous that we screen our own lives from others in this way, why shouldn't we all enjoy different things? And more importantly why aren't we sharing these pleasures with the people around us? I'm going to admit that I'm a huge Corrie fan. I was brought up with this on my family tv from birth, my good old dad being a complete addict to "The Street", much to our eye rolling and groaning as life stopped for 30 minutes several times a week. Entire days out, even holidays were scheduled around this famous street and we'd be "shhhhhhh'd" if we muttered a syllable throughout it's airing... We had to be silent. He was and still is infatuated with his favourite soap opera and as a result, our lives always revolved around it too... My poor mum becoming a bit of a Corrie widow over the years, she's a saint for putting up with us all having to endure it week in, week out! However, I think it's always going to be in my blood, I blocked it out of my life for a few years, but I genuinely missed Deirdre Barlow's crinkly neck and deep, croaky voice (god love her!) and Dev's camp corner shop antics, who couldn't miss this gripping stuff?! So, even though I tell my dad that I don't watch it (so I can't have him over to sit and demand silence on my own sofa ; ) ...I actually do watch it in my own company, sometimes even enjoying the omnibus for a second helping of it...I can't help it, it's an addiction and I may possibly need help. It's complete drivel, I am aware of this and it's full of terrible actors & tiny sets (of which I've recently had a tour of, GEEK!), but it's my little escape of a weekday evening in my onesie with a cup of tea in hand. Even though my dad, once unforgivably, left me bleeding to buggery after cracking my head open in the garden when I was young, made me wait for the end of Corrie before I could be taken to A&E - Mike Baldwin must have had shiz going down in the knicker factory or something?! - I was fine just a few stitches and some brain cells knocked out of me, I forgive him haha. I can't help but hold a place in my heart for this British Classic. I even shed a tear or two over this last Xmas when Roy Cropper lost his soulmate (oh, WHY do the bad things happen to the good people?!) - I'm only human after all, who DIDN'T cry?... It's pretty much the only tv show I will watch regularly, although I've heard recently that the Australian soap, "Neighbours" is about to make a zombie mini series...how AWESOME does this sound?! I for one am on the waiting list to see this, as I've heard a few old faces will come back "from the dead" in the spirit of the theme! My life doesn't revolve around Coronation Street, but it's a fantastic way to cheer yourself up when your own life seems chaotic...this is one VERY unlucky street, it's full of murderous neighbours, corrupt business people and adultery galore, mainly with older men and stunning twenty something girls - it's got everything you need for a little escapism. I admit it, my name is Miss Sue Flay and I'm a Corrie-holic. What's your guilty pleasure in life? Does it ACTUALLY make you feel guilty to admit it or are you proud as punch of your little bundle of organic ecstasy? Do share your thoughts below with a comment....
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
In complete honesty? I think anyone that is half human is going to get nervous when they have to stand up in front of others to deliver a talk or presentation, I haven't met many people that can turn on the robotics when it comes to talking in front of a room of strangers - If you can do this, get in touch and let me know how to be like you! The last few times I have been asked to speak at events, I have said yes with relish and then looked back at what a nightmare I found it, being a shy and retiring gal myself (yes, I really am) give me a camera and/or a live television audience any day. Don't ask me why, I think it's because it's just a camera, not a hundred pairs of eyes staring into my soul within an auditorium - gulp. I have adored the events I've been involved in, I just feel my speaking was shaky, not very confident and I made the usual faux pas any nervous speaker makes when kicking off their hour long talk. I want to change my attitude every time I say yes to these events, but for some reason it doesn't always work. I've recently been asked to speak at a social media event hosted by Sookio at the Cambridge Brewhouse on 29th April 2014 from 6pm. I am delighted to have been invited to join the panel of other social media addicts and am nervous and excited in equal measures. I am going to be joined by the genius minds behind the University of Cambridge's communications team, the Digital Editor of Grazia Magazine and many other interesting social media addicts, it's going to be fantastic. This got me thinking about how much I love to push my own buttons, make myself do the things that scare me the most - I actually think I have got to where I am today by saying yes to the things that daunt me and taking risks where others (myself included on a bad day) might back down. What advice would I give myself when talking at such events? Or to others who might also be worried about speaking publicly, be it at an event such as this or in front of a business networking group for 60 seconds? I am going to share my thoughts here, I hope it helps somebody who might read this to gain enough confidence to go for it, as what's the worst that could happen?! Smile. It will relax you and won't make you scowl and show a scared face to an audience, people will warm to you... A smile speaks every language in the world. Never start with "oh god, I'm so nervous...." I have done this and it sets you up for a daunting talk ahead as a result.... We all get nervous, but don't need to draw attention to this fact. "They" say to focus on the most interested looking person in the room, but I always manage to focus on the most disinterested person in the room and it really puts me off....my advice would be to focus on what you are saying and try to make eye contact with a handful of people, but not too many that you look as though you're going crazy or staring out the poor guy on the front row... It's obvious, but practice... Don't just write it out and think it's all going to be ok. I can pretty much guarantee that reading it out aloud in "real time" will flag up the odd mistake or issue... You may even have gone way over your allotted time if this is a factor, so practice makes perfect...or as near to as you can handle. In fact, go one step further and record yourself.... How many times did you say "ERM.... Or ahhhh"?!... You may just be surprised how naturally these words fall out of our mouths.. Try to iron these out before your big talk. PowerPoint presentations are great, but don't overcrowd them.... Use a memorable image and your words will do the rest.... Keep it short, sweet and simple. And if you do use them, don't turn to face the screen to continue your speech, your audience won't hear you. You wouldn't turn your back in a conversation, so keep to that rule when talking to larger groups. Take your time if you have this luxury, don't speak fast, pretend you are talking to a friend in a pub or in a relaxed setting. Speak clearly, with a smile, facing your audience at a normal pace, you will be onto a winning formula. Don't fold your arms... Keep them open to show your audience you aren't a closed book... We all know that everybody is wise to negative body language now and this is one position that will make you look very unapproachable indeed. Plus, it's just not very comfortable whilst stood speaking, so if you are a "fiddler", grab a pen or prop to keep your hands busy. I usually hold a book or my ipad to make me stop fidgeting and this also helps me to glance at notes if I need them - double win! Don't forget, YOU are the expert/pro/"know it all".... Your audience are there to listen to you.... Don't ever apologise for your advice or knowledge, if you do this, you are seriously underestimating yourself my friend! Be yourself, it's why people are there to listen, don't ever fake your personality or humour, it'll be obvious and may even be cringeworthy if you're trying to be a comedian when you're not there to do stand up! Just, please, don't do it, it's public speaking suicide. Have a glass of water to hand, but try not to drink it as you talk if you can help it. You can't always drink elegantly whilst nervous or in the middle of a talk, so use it for a dry mouth if talking at length or go to it at the end of your presentation to show it's time for the audience to participate and ask you questions. It's a great prop to switch the mood and give you a break. If the content is difficult to understand, try to simplify it for an uncertain audience and don't forget that just because YOU know the jargon or what something stands for, it doesn't mean everybody does, so keep it simple where necessary. End your talk with something memorable, a witty line or a question or task to get your audience thinking. And don't forget to give them your contact details if they want to get in touch or find you afterwards... You will beat yourself up if you don't, trust me! Stick around after your talk, don't just run away. Even if just one audience member wants to chat to you afterwards, that is fantastic. It makes you more approachable to be there to chat afterwards as not everybody feels comfortable talking in front of their fellow audience with their questions. You just never know who you might meet or inspire after a good chat after your presentation, it's a great feeling to know people want to talk about your subject matter. Do you have to give presentations for your hobby, lifestyle or work? I'd love to hear how you tackle any issues or confidence experiences and how you make you have perfected your own presentation... So do leave a comment below with your stories, advice or tips, it's great to hear from you all as always.
Monday, 14 April 2014
I was recently invited to visit a new area of the UK (Manchester) as part of a tour of the North that I was to enjoy throughout my 30th birthday celebrations. I was lucky enough to stay in some magnificent venues throughout my tour, all helping to ease the stress of this big celebration and I most certainly enjoyed my time in this new City, I really must say. This hotel is by far one of my most favourite stays since starting to review hotels and spas across the country and it made for the perfect romantic escape, even if I didn't know I needed it until I got there. I had arrived with no pre-conceptions and I am so glad of this, as it was by far much more than I ever expected from a City hotel. Setting The Scene: The Great John Street is a boutique townhouse hotel with a vintage feel, splashed with themes of the old Victorian school that it once was - pewter furniture, tastefully mixed with various artwork and decor to make it a warm and welcoming "home away from home". You don't feel as though you must keep your pinkies to yourself as you wander from room to room, staircase to landing, you are in fact welcomed to curl up and help yourself to everything on show...and you really can't help but do just that. With over 30 unique bedrooms and suites to choose from, every single bed and bathroom offers it's guest an individual and comfortable experience, no matter how long you intend to stay. The bedrooms and suites are offered in five luxurious styles - Baby Grand Bedroom, Boudoir Grand Bedroom, Classical Grand Junior Suite, Eclectic Grand Suite and Opus Grand Suite. Many of the rooms retain their old features from it's Victorian school days such as exposed steel beams, brickwork and wooden floors and are adorned with more modern features such as carpeted floors and white linens, goose down feather pillows, double pocket sprung handmade mattresses, walk in rain showers and cast iron roll-top baths, there really is no expense spared. The Welcome: We enjoyed a very warm welcome from Natalie on the front desk as we walked through the door, gawping at our surroundings like excitable children. She was very chatty, didn't even take our names, she knew who we were from the get go (fantastic and pleasing customer service, seamless from the moment we walked through the door) and she arranged for the valet to park our car in their underground car park for the duration of our stay. We were a little early for checking into our room, however, Natalie took our bags and would arrange for these to be taken up to our bedroom when it was ready. In the meantime, we had arranged for a celebratory champagne tea to enjoy, so we were promptly whisked away to settle in for some reclining and dining "Duchess Of Bedford" style, a glass of champagne in hand before we could even think about asking for it. We were presented with a stunning tier of handmade cakes and sweet bites, warm fruit scones with bowls of clotted cream and fresh raspberries, along with a slate piled high with perfectly symmetrical finger sandwiches holding various traditional fillings. These were delicious and fresh chunky finger sandwiches, including smoked salmon & cream cheese, beef & mustard, egg mayonnaise, ham & cheese and cucumber & cream cheese. We were in fact asked if we wanted more savoury, however, we had already moved onto our scones, piling them high with homemade strawberry jam, so politely declined between mouthfuls. The teapot that held our Darjeeling was a beautiful silver pourer, with the most beautiful spout I've ever had the pleasure of pouring from. If you are a "tea geek" you will know just how important a good pourer is to avoid splashing your linen tablecloth. The only downside to this particular vessel was that the handle got very hot, so we couldn't handle it past a certain temperature without scalding our pinkies. Lots of fresh fruit was provided to cut through the cake, it not only looked beautiful, but tasted as good as it looked, this was real value for money at just £21.50 for the "ladies afternoon tea" or £27.50 for the champagne tea. Or we learnt that you can opt for a "manlier" offering and pick the "Gentleman Jack" tea complete with a Jack Daniel's inspired cocktail, mini burger & fries, scotch egg, brownie with Bailey's ice cream and cheese & crackers... this sounds amazing. Glitter adorned the clotted cream and some of the delicate cakes and macarons, but as I am fairly girly, I rather liked this little touch of glitz. We weren't told what each of the treats were, but we deduced that there was a layered white chocolate & toffee opera cake, a chocolate Jaffa cake (my personal favourite), two types of macaron (a deep chocolate, almost like a truffle and one with a vanilla cream filling) and Baclava which was very unusual but didn't see us complaining. After all this food, we felt as though we might need to be rolled out of the hotel and onto the City streets to explore them. The Bedroom: Room 32 was an "Eclectic Grand" room and on first walking up to the door, our only issue was that the corridor outside was covered in dust sheets and paint tins where the decorators were painting the adjacent suite, music playing and loud "builder" style conversations going on to boot, this wasn't warned of in checking in and we felt a little uncomfortable at first... that was until we walked into our room. As we tiptoed into the large seating area (perfect for men to sit and wait for their gals to get ready of an evening, so we found) with a sizable flat screen LCD TV and stunning corseted mannequin that I couldn't keep my eyes off for most of our stay, we were greeted with classical music chiming out from the stereo speakers and the most "come to bed now" super king size bed I've ever clapped my eyes on, it was huge and the simplicity of the white headboard worked next to the dramatic floor-to-ceiling drapes covering the window. The bathroom was on a stunning raised mezzanine floor above the bedroom to give the feel of a New York loft apartment, we even discussed how it was most likely as big as our very first bungalow we rented together a few years ago, it was a spacious room to say the very least. Not only was the a double bath and large shower with built-in steam room for two, we were also greeted with "his and hers" sinks to brush our teeth in unison - this was one romantic boudoir. Temple SPA toiletries and fluffy white bathrobes draped over another wire shaped mannequin were waiting to be used, as well as large bath sheets warming on the heated towel rail, ready to be used, the little thoughts are really put in here. The suite was air conditioned, however until we woke up the next morning in a sweltering hot situation, we didn't need to adapt the ambience at all. There was a mini bar and butler tray with fresh milk - it was actually refreshing to not have to sip on tea made with UHT milk. We were provided with some freshly baked and prepared sweet treats as a welcome, which was a very thoughtful touch again - strawberry's dipped in chocolate with a happy birthday message piped onto the slate, as well as some melt-in-the-mouth homemade cookies and a chocolate tiffin- not that we could manage those until breakfast the next day! Room 32 overlooks the old "Coronation Street" set, we could see Rita's newsagents from our bedroom window, a real dream for any Corrie fan. We were sold, simply by looking out of the window we wanted to walk on those famous cobbles that evening, but at £16.50 for an adult, the tour doesn't come cheap. The Restaurant: We didn't dine here on the evening of our stay, as there were too many other temptations outside of the hotel, however we did enjoy some cheeky pre-dinner cocktails after noting the "school tuck shop" inspired cherry cola and sour apple themed creations that were calling our names. You can find a seat within many of the informal, sophisticated and more intimate communal areas within the hotel, all following the old school house theme throughout. We spent hours enjoying the peaceful surroundings of each area within this hotel and given more time, I would have curled up into many different nooks with a good book, which gives me the perfect excuse to come back to do just this for myself. Choose from the Oyster Bar with a cocktail in hand, The Library & Terrace, Roof Garden Playground (complete with sun decks and heated hot tub for a sun-drenched summer cocktail) & Rooftop Lounge as well as the Kitchen & Mezzanine where you can sit to eat and drink throughout your stay. The Breakfast: Breakfast was faultless, in fact, I have to say this may have been the very best hotel breakfast I have sampled so far. French toast was my hot choice of the day, it tasted heavily of cinnamon and vanilla, topped with a fresh berry compote which was tart enough to cut through the toast. The Mister opted for the Irish breakfast with the most delicious bacon, sausage and mushrooms to name but a few ingredients, all very simple components, but cooked perfectly. We were also provided with fresh toast and beautiful fruit platters as well as plenty of other choices at the continental bar including nuts, berries, yoghurts, muffins, mini croissants, cereals and freshly brewed loose leaf tea and filter coffee. Milk was placed on our breakfast table in cute glass bottles and the butter in the dinkiest cloche I've ever seen - it looked like a school bell and it made me smile as I watched my dining partner trying to ding it for attention, the wally. We weren't rushed and a leisurely breakfast helped set us up for the rest of the day, enjoying it at a fairly decent time also allowed us to go back to our suite and enjoy the steam shower and a relaxed packing ritual before we headed off to our next destination. If there was anything else we had wanted, a waitress was never far away and a refresh of our tea and coffee pots was no bother at all. Staff spoke quietly and professionally to each other and they all respected the guest around them I noted, no matter what time of day or night, the staff were always seen, but not heard as a guest and yet they were always there when you needed them, their team is fantastic. What To Do: I had a minor melt down on the eve of my 30th birthday (just me, being me), I hated my make up, was having a bad hair day and was feeling, well, generally, "old". So after a hissy fit in the privacy of our suite, as you do, we hit the streets of Manchester and picked a random restaurant with no frills or fuss for a relaxed and informal dinner. In fact, I even left my phone at the hotel to ensure I didn't snap my plates of food, just enjoyed them... and I really did. We enjoyed a cocktail and relaxed meal at Artisan Kitchen & Bar in Spinningfields and would go back again in a heart beat. It's made to look like a converted loft space, very much like our suite did at the hotel and the pizza base we had was cooked and then the filling piled high on top, instead of cooked on and flattened... best pizza we'd ever eaten we have agreed. We of course, enjoyed the Corrie tour opposite the Great John Street Hotel, with tours running all day, sometimes up to 7pm onwards, so you shouldn't need to miss it if you have a packed day ahead of you whilst visiting. Shopping by foot, we hopped over to the Arndale Shopping Centre, which just a ten minute walk from the hotel and we enjoyed a coffee in Annies, which is a cosy dining and tearoom owned by Jennie McAlpine, better known as Fizz from our favourite Northern soap... Parking & Getting There: We drove to Manchester, so took them up on the valet car parking option at £25 per night in their secure underground car park. You can park on the street adjacent to the hotel at the cost of £2.70 per hour between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday, with Bank holidays being free. There is also an NCP car park a 5 minute walk away from the hotel, all details and directions listed on their website, complete with a handy hand-drawn map to help you locate the hotel. Our Sat Nav doesn't go by postcode, only street (frustratingly), so this was super handy for our journey, not knowing Manchester at all on arriving. The Little Extras: There is a small gym here, windows will open to allow for a natural breeze to flow through as you sweat off some cocktails and cakes during your stay. It's equipped with a treadmill, exercise bike and weight machine for a varied session and a mat for stretching out. It's not huge, but it's perfect for a longer visit. We were left with a chilled bottle of water in the car once the valet had brought it to us on leaving, this was a nice little touch for our journey home. I loved the school theme throughout the hotel, it was lightly suggested, not rubbed into your eyes - the playground, the lounge, the kitchen, the boys & girls staircases, little coat hooks everywhere, trophies, books, original classroom photos, it's really tastefully done and you could sit and stare at it all for hours, it's fascinating. Everywhere you wandered, there was chilled out music playing and not just in the main rooms and restaurants, but even the corridors and reception - It really added to the experience. The Little Niggles: The builders were back to the room next door at 8:30am, sanding and talking loudly, which was slightly infuriating. We only knew to what extent the decoration and building work currently being taken on when a staff member chatted to us in the corridor that night and told us. We weren't advised on checking in, which should be done so as not to surprise their guests when they go to their rooms and the corridor is full of dust sheets and Dulux tins right up to their doorway. We did receive an apology for this on leaving, so all was forgiven, as to be fair, it didn't ruin our stay and we couldn't hear them once in our suite. On exploring our bedroom, we found a used, scrunched up tissue on the floor by the bed, this was a little extra surprise we hadn't anticipated. My guess is that our secretive valet, whoever they may have been, might have dropped it after popping up our cases as we dined. Either way, a quick check of the room before leaving would be advised to their team to ensure that nothing is left behind like this, as it's not nice to find, as stunning as the room may be. Our room got very warm overnight, which was a little shock to the old system when we woke up gasping for water, so do check the temperature on going to bed would be our advice when staying. As lovely as our bed was, the pillows were a real let down, quite literally. As soon as we laid our heads on the pillow, they flattened to the shape of a pancake and as a pair who love their thicker pillows, these were no good for a comfortable night's sleep personally. We couldn't access the wifi, as there was no mention of it in the welcome book, so we had to ask for the password when we went downstairs later on. It wasn't the end of the world, but this is a modern world, filled with Twitter addicts such as myself, ahem. Final Thoughts: Natalie at the reception desk was simply amazing, nothing was too much effort and she couldn't do enough to make our stay more enjoyable. She sounded worried that I might complain about her when I asked for her name, but quite the contrary. She dealt (gallantly!) with the complaint in front of us about "the cacophony of sound" from a woman complaining about the noise the water pipes made in the building (what a moron, seriously?!) even though this was an old Victorian townhouse with a few creaks and shudders - she smiled and professionally "passed on" the information to ensure that it doesn't happen again... We loved her. It's intriguing to know that every suite within The Great John Street is unique, making me want to come back many times in the future to sample the different personalities they offer. The company that own this hotel, "Eclectic Hotels", have several properties in the area and I will very much be looking into visiting these in the future if The Great John Street is anything to go by. To view my full photo album of this stay, simply click here www.eclectichotels.co.uk Please note - This stay was complimentary (we simply paid for additional food, drinks and valet parking), following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The service team that work on the day or duration of my visit are not aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email: firstname.lastname@example.org All images © 2014 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.