Saturday, 27 February 2016

Frankie & Benny's, John Dobson St., Newcastle-upon-Tyne: a Review

Frankie & Benny’s is a national chain, I have visited occasionally over the years. It’s not haute cuisine, but the food is fair for the price and there is an extensive menu. On this occasion I was with two adult and one child companions.

[Image description: screen-shot of © Frankie & Benny's web-page for the restaurant reviewed, with location map - the purpose of which is to differentiate the specific branch critiqued here.]

From outside with all the windows one could see plenty of dark wood and banquettes; a cross between American diner and Italian restaurant - the food offering is basically the same.

We all immediately felt the warmth on entering after the mere three degrees outside. We were greeted quickly enough and asked how many our table would be for. My young chum answered, and we were led to table. Menus were placed on the table, before we had even had a chance to sit down, rather than offered to each of us in turn. Furthermore, the young female greeter failed to check to see whether or not the table was acceptable. As it happened the banquette was too low for myself (the disabled one) and we needed to move to a table with a sturdy chair. We could not attract anyone’s attention, despite us all still standing, so one member walked half-way across the room to discuss with the original greeter. She did not return to guide us nor again to check we were happy with our choice.

The drinks waiter came over and enquired what we might like to drink. We ordered a bottle of pinot grigio rosé and a child’s refillable lemonade. There was then a fairly long wait in which time we all had an opportunity to select our meals. A heads-up: the meal-offer separate menu meant that some of the dishes are cheaper to order with a starter than the price of just the main course from the primary menu. So cheesy garlic bread was ordered too and shared between three of we diners, who had not intended to have an appetiser.

Three wine glasses and the lemonade and a bottle of wine in a wine-cooler were placed on the table and the waiter rapidly walked off. All the wine-glasses were delivered wet, covered in water-droplets - something I have never seen at any restaurant prior to this occasion. As the glasses had not been dried and polished, it meant that it was highly unlikely that they had been checked. Mine of course had lipstick remains on the rim. After several minutes I rose and went over to the manager, who quickly scuttled away, but took some time to come back with a dried & polished clean receptacle. No apology though. My female companion then checked her glass to find remains of pink lipstick on hers. Then we discovered that the incorrect wine had been delivered - the waiter had not shown us the label when bringing to table - but then again it was also the wrong colour; white instead of pink. By this point I was annoyed, we still had not placed our food orders. I went over to the manager once again and made sure he understood our complaints and that this would affect our tipping.

Eventually two burger dishes (one adult, one child), a calzone and a fillet of salmon (for the writer) were delivered. Alas, despite making it very clear that the child wanted no tomato and no ketchup on the burger, it came with said sauce. Of course it had to go back to the kitchen for them to start again. In the end the child ate most of his meal and was fully sated; no complaints with the meal he finally was served. His mother ate her burger too with no complaints. My companion consumed his meatball calzone with gusto. It looked fabulous. He said the pizza base was really light, and we both considered that it appeared like genuine Italian pizza base. Scrummy! My thick salmon fillet was perfectly cooked, tender, succulent and tasty. Alas the accompanying potatoes were undercooked and harder than firm. The garden peas were either incompletely reconstituted or had dried out in the wait. The broccoli turned out to be two soggy floret-lets. Most disappointing.

We did not bother with dessert - we were not even asked.

We were only asked once whether we needed more drinks, when most of the wine was still in the bottle.

In summary: atmosphere was good (about a quarter to a third full for early-mid evening - on a Friday); food over all was fair (two good [child’s burger & calzone], one average [adult burger]; one below average [salmon]); service amiable but not what should be accepted across the board from kitchen-, waiting- & management-staff; toilets very clean and not malodorous.

The bill came to £67. We left a £3.50 gratuity (about 5%), half what is our usual starting-point - it would have been nothing if the staff had been less than affable. I advised the manager on departing that his whole team needs to work together to improve affairs.

Would I recommend or revisit? On reflexion, probably not.


Please note that there are several branches of F&B in the Newkie area.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

My Genealogy Hobby: Researching My Family-Tree

Some nine years ago, for some long forgotten reason (possibly due to FriendsReunited - the facebook of its day - suggesting I try it out), I signed up to GenesReunited and began to research my family-tree. Being disabled and housebound for the vast majority of the time, I needed a pastime to keep me occupied on those days when I am compos mentis. Over the years as I have become gradually more bed-bound, this hobby has helped me keep my sanity. Indeed, whenever I feel anxious, I find that I can retreat into the safe world of research.
Some days I feel like a sleuth trying to follow clues and thinking laterally in order to find data. However, the vast majority of the action of retrieving information is repetitive, laborious and requires very little active thinking.
One of my favourite sites is FreeBMD: where one can find the official record of births in England & Wales from 1837 to around the mid-1970’s. Not all records have yet been added. Their ultimate aim is to list all the records up to the mid-1980’s. They have two sister sites which I also occasionally use: FreeCEN, covering the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 & 1901 censuses; and, FreeReg, which records parish records from around the whole of the UK including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The records contained on the last two sites are very incomplete, so I tend to use them as a last resort.

My favourite parish record site is which lists many, but again not yet all, of the parish records of births, deaths & marriages in the county of Lancashire. Most of my personal ancestors are from said county, so this has proven to be an invaluable source.

Alas there are not equivalent sites for Staffordshire and Warwickshire, the two counties with the highest concentration of the surname Peakman. In these instances I use FamilySearch (FS) which superseded the International Genealogical Index (IGI) - often referred to in the older episodes of the BBC television series Who Do You Think You Are? This site is owned and run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the Mormons. They are however very willing to share their data.

Since I started working on my family-tree on my own computer rather than on the GenesReunited site, I have solely used MacFamilyTree (MFT) produced by Synium as my software of choice. The current version gives the option to share data with and from FS. One of my very first contacts, in New Zealand, led me to the IGI (FS as it is now) and I am ever so grateful.

[image description: RP, a fifth cousin once removed and a Maori,
performing a haka, featured in & © Life magazine]

That same contact opened up a whole off-shoot of distant (literally & genealogically) cousins in New Zealand, a whole ‘tribe’ of Maori. For me this was and still is one of the highlights of my research. I am not related to any royalty, no nobility, no gentry. My ancestors include a fair few smiths, other metal-workers and metal-dealers, petit bourgeois, as well as miners and quarrymen. My modern relatives include some leading scientists & researchers. Criminality is represented by a living Canadian (drugs) and a living chap from the USA (speeding), and in the past by a bigamist, a couple of fraudsters and a few bankrupts (from the days when they were imprisoned). Most folk have been and are ordinary working people.

[Image descriptions: some stats from a screen-shot of my MFT]

I have now breached the 7,000 individuals mark on my tree, as well as passing 2,000 families and there are just shy of 1,000 media. I never expected a family-tree of such size as I am from what I thought was a very small family!

MFT allows its users to post trees to a dedicated site. Thus far I have posted two trees. The original I amended four times. The second I posted a couple of years back. The third (version 7) tree is currently uploading as I type……

Alas, having attempted twice, the new tree will not upload. Should I ever succeed, I shall of course post a link below. In the meantime here is the link to tree 2 (version 6).

Cost-wise my hobby has cost me two sets of software and a handful of certified certificates from registrars of births, deaths & marriages. In other words no more than £150. One can of course spend a lot more if one has the resources. So far, I have not felt the need to lay out monies to join sites, purchase dedicated books & magazines, etc.

Would I recommend genealogy as a hobby? Certainly I should. I also recommend as therapeutic too. %)



Version 7 (incorrectly labelled version 6!) is now live at

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Carluccio's in Hale (Altrincham), Cheshire: a Review

I have been an habitué of Carluccio's for years: initially visiting branches in London; then, with their diaspora throughout the kingdom, the Trafford Centre restaurant became my eatery-of-choice. However, as a resident of Altrincham, I was thrilled when on 29th August 2014 what was the American Grill in Hale re-opened after a thorough refurbishment as my local Carluccio's.

Initially I felt somewhat disloyal to the Trafford Centre outlet, which had served me so well for several years, but very quickly settled in to the new one. The staff from the launch have all been affable, professional and always with a can-do attitude.

When in England, I average a visit approximately every four to six weeks. In all the meals, I have not once had reason to complain. Nor has chef tried to kill me by failing to take account of my serious food allergy. I love the food so much, that I generally tuck in as soon as it is served and have thus missed the opportunity to photograph the dishes and so write a review. On my last visit I ensured I had camera to hand and all plates were preserved for posterity.

[Image description: my chum at table]

On this occasion I was not in my wheelchair. However, the step-free entrance has double-doors that swing outwards providing ample room for access and there are plenty of tables on the lower level at which a wheelchair can be accommodated. I have never needed to use the conveniences, so cannot aver whether or not there is a disabled WC.

The ever amiable maître d', Antipodean Matthew, greeted us and showed us to table. Pleasantries and memories of our ultimate visit were exchanged. His selection was perfectly acceptable, but there is no snootiness here about requesting an alternative if one should prefer same. Menus were proffered and a few moments later the English sommelier-waiter was over to take our drinks order. In some ways my companion and I are creatures of habit, as we invariably plumb for a glass of fine Prosecco as our apéritif of choice here.

Rico selected the "bread tin" (@ £4.50) with dipping oil for his starter [top image] and I the chicken liver pâté (@ £5.95) served with lightly toasted ciabatta and red onion marmalade [bottom image]. The latter was smooth, creamy & delicious, but also very generous; so there was sufficient to share with my comrade. Every scrap of pâté and every crumb of bread was wolfed down. Mmmmm… REAL bread! The Prosecco complimented the spread with no flavours overpowered or subverted.

My first choice of mains, venison tortelloni (@ £9.50) was off bounds to me due to my allergy, so I opted instead for Milanese di pollo (@ £11.95) served with green salad [upper image]. My chum chose the chicken saltimbocca (@ £13.50) which came with rosemary & garlic roasted potatoes [lower image]. My driver had to settle for sparkling water; but I had a superb glass of sparkling red Lambrusco, Vecchia Modena - absolutely divine! Once again our plates were returned to the kitchen scraped clean.

We were far too full to take dessert there; so, whilst my friend paid the bill (£45 for two two-course meals, three alcoholic drinks and two bottles of water), I popped into the attached deli [image above] to pick up some delicacies. The lovely, Spanish bar-keep also serves as the shop assistant. I selected from the choice of Valentine's Day specialities [images below]…

Thus far we have noshed on the love-bears (recalling fond memories of school-day "chocolate concrete") and the shortbread & the chocolate heart-shaped biscuits. Yet again delicious - and not overly sweet, as many British confections tend to be. We are yet to consume the raspberry meringues and the cupcake, but anticipate that they will taste equally gorgeous.

Do I recommend Carluccio's in Hale? Hell yes! %DDD


Please note that there are two towns named Hale in Cheshire. The site of Carluccio's is in Altrincham.