How to get the best Christmas fizz for less


If you’re looking for interesting bubbly this Christmas that scores on taste but saves on big brand mark-ups, here are some tips from Manchester’s Cracking Wine.

To stock up on great champagne, sparking wine from the UK or the rest of the world, a unique place to start is the People’s Choice Award winners from this year’s Fizz Festival in Altrincham, Manchester, held in November.

These are the wines that took the top slots, with links to suppliers if you wish to get your hands on a bottle.

Best Champagne: Champagne Thienot NV Brut
Best Sparkling Wine UK: Hush Heath Balfour Rose 2012
Best Sparkling Wine Rest of World: Narrative Ancient Method Chardonnay 2013, presented by trailblazers Red Squirrel


Winners of the People’s Choice Awards at Altrincham Fizz Festival

But most of us buy our wine from supermarkets instead of specialists. Cracking Wine owner Janet Harrison has these tips when you’re shopping this Christmas:

“If you want Champagne taste on a budget, opt for Crémant. The main differences between the two are that Crémant can’t use the Champagne name (as it is not made in the region), and normally, it is aged for slightly less time. But the fizz in your glass can be remarkably similar.

“If you love English sparkling wine, some of the award-winning vineyards in the UK can be found under supermarket own brands. Check the label on the back to see where it was made.

While Prosecco is a popular alternative to Champagne, you won’t get the biscuity aroma and taste of Champagne. However, Prosecco is meant to be fresh and fruity so that is the point I suppose!  Prosecco fermentation happens in a tank (the Charmat method) and often has higher residual sugar. Champagne, Crémant and – surprisingly – Cava is fermented in the bottle (known as the ‘traditional’ or Champagne method).”

Janet’s ‘wine insider’ supermarket picks for this Christmas are:
Tesco Premium Cru “Amazing quality” for £18.
Co-op’s Cava “Really fabulous” at £5.99
Aldi’s Cremant de Jura has won loads of awards – six bottles for £45
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco DOCG 2015, £10. “I choose this more than others for my tastings. They’ve got a 25% off for six bottles which makes it really good value.”

If you’d rather be tasting wine that reading about it, sign up to Janet’s Women Who Drink Wine meet-ups. The next one is in Altrincham on 30 November. And you can fnd out more about the wines and suppliers at this year’s Altrincham Fizz Festival here.

Top picture courtesy Flick Flick

2nd picture courtesy Cracking Wines. From L-R: Zoe Dearsley from Hush Heath, Nik Darlington from Red Squirrel and Andrew Nicholl representing Champagne Thienot.

Liz Law eBay trader: What she does and why you need her


Too busy to sell your stuff on eBay? There’s someone who’ll do it for you.

It’s 8.30am on a Monday morning and my dining room table is covered in Build a Bear clothes while on the floor Sylvanian Families houses are arranged along the wall. Upstairs, all the clothes I don’t wear but can’t bring myself to give away are draped across the bed.

I’m due a visit from Liz Law, eBay trader from Hale, who’s been recommended by no fewer than three people… and that was before I even knew what an eBay trader was.

Liz arrives bang on at 8.30am and after a quick chat to introduce ourselves, I pour some coffee and she gets started.

Yes, she’ll take all the Build a Bear stuff, and she’ll try with the games still in their plastic wrappers but won’t make any promises. She says she’ll come back for the Sylvanians houses, once I’ve paired them with some families and furniture which are currently all mixed together in a few boxes.

Then, it’s to the bedroom where she’s more ruthless, taking only higher-end brands (no Next or H&M, thanks) and items with their tags. She doesn’t take anything out of season or without a brand label.

Finally, I get her advice on some furniture I’m thinking of selling. She quickly measures up a bunk bed we agree to list for £100 and she takes some pictures. It’s now five minutes to 9am and we’re done.

Liz carries all my stuff out with her and says she’ll be in touch about the bunks. Later that day, she sends a link showing me my items listed on her eBay store. Needless to say, it’s all going for much less than I’d imagined, but that’s eBay reality for you.

Liz started selling her own things on eBay about 13 years ago and friends started asking her to sell their items as well. When she was made redundant a few years later, she took the plunge, launching her own business as a professional eBay seller under the banner Clear Up Your Clutter. She makes a full-time wage from it, pays the mortgage, pays the bills.

Liz gives her clients between 55-65% of the value of their items once they’ve sold. The rest goes to pay Liz, postage and eBay fees. The bigger and more valuable the item, the less she’ll deduct. Most of her big sales comes from reselling kitchens, doors, radiators from home refurbishments. Smaller clients like me are useful for filling in between these bigger jobs, which often come via builders and architects.

Would she recommend it as a business to other people? She thinks it’s great for mothers, because of the flexibility. You have to be organised (posting things on time, answering queries, keeping mind-boggling spreadsheets).  It’s also physical: Liz sells 200-300 items a week, so that’s a lot of trips to the post office, a lot of carrying and a lot of measuring up.

You have to accept a small percentage of buyers who don’t pay (mostly by saying the item hasn’t arrived). But the trickiest part for Liz is managing customers’ expectations of what things will sell for.

The beauty is, if you’re on a mission to clear your clutter like I am, the stuff is out the door and dealt with. And even though it may not be worth as much as you dreamed, you’ll get a cheque through your door in the future and you’ve barely lifted a finger.

Related postsDoes Marie Kondo work and what one expert thinks

Where next?
Let Liz: Clear Up Your Clutter
Liz’s eBay clothing shop
Liz’s eBay everything else shop
Need a personal organiser? Try Lesley Spellman, the Clutter Fairy






Brexit or Regretix? What do Altrincham people say now?

On 23 June the people of Altrincham voted in the EU Referendum. Trafford voted Remain, as did Manchester, but the North West as a region voted Leave. After a week where the PM resigned, the pound fell, markets tumbled and leadership of both major political parties is in chaos, how do people feel about their vote?

I took a quick trip around Altrincham town centre to ask, starting with the independently owned shops on the Downs and Stamford New Road:

Michelle, dress shop owner, 50s
“Absolutely marvellous. Delighted. Think it’s sad Boris has resigned. I suspected there might be a conspiracy against him, because he has no Cabinet experience. We were told it was going to be Armageddon. It’s not happening. The FTSE is back up. I’m confident I voted the right way. I never believed that £350m was going to the NHS anyway, it didn’t influence my vote. I’ve spoken to half a dozen people in the shop who voted Remain and they say they wish they’d voted for Brexit.” Michelle voted Leave

Khawar, newsagent, 20s
“I think it was a mistake to leave. I thought the biggest benefit of leaving would have been the £350m spent on the NHS. It’s very disappointing, we were given false information. Most people voted Leave because of that, they’re very concerned about health care and hospitals. Most of my customers talk about it, being misled – about 400-500 people come here a day, most of them regulars and they are saying the same thing.” Khawar voted Leave

Next I stopped by the taxi rank outside Altrincham station. I could guess how they might have voted – but how did they feel now?

Mike, 56, taxi driver
“I still feel the same as I did when I voted. I’ve been doing this taxi job for 30 years. There used to be a knowledge test, but now anyone can drive taxis. I’ve have an investment of £40k in my business, but anyone can do it with no apprenticeship. A lot of people have had enough. It’s nothing to do with racism. The country needs to get a grip. We can’t keep letting people in.” Mike voted Leave

Paul, taxi driver, 40s
“People panicked after the vote. But it will all settle down. Europe needs us more than we need them. The EU sounds like my ex-wife, trying to hand on. I feel quite positive. We should all feel positive.” Paul voted Leave

No tour of Altrincham would be complete without visiting the market. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon, but a few people were having coffee outside Market House.


Judith, counsellor, 50s
“I was originally going to vote out, but after listening to various radio discussions I voted to stay. We don’t need this uncertainty, even for a short time. But the politicians are too scare-mongering. The markets are coming back. I’m not scared by loss of trade. I hope we do start trading with the rest of the world.  I could care less about Cameron and Corbyn. Boris – I didn’t want him. I get annoyed by all this talk about a second referendum.” Judith voted Remain

Ellie, retired, 60s
“No-one had a plan B, that’s why there’s this chaos. I voted out. I thought they would be ready to go – you only had a choice of yes or no. I feel quite relaxed about it all. I didn’t vote out over immigration. It was the Brussels bureaucracy and ‘one size fits all’ that wasn’t working. I think Boris is a bright young thing but I couldn’t see him being a very cohesive leader.” Ellie voted Leave

Finally, I tried Pure Gym. The only person not mid-workout said they’d taken no interest in the Referendum and didn’t want to talk about it. Pumping iron and politics aren’t mutually exclusive, so I nipped up to Altas Gym on Market Street to get the view there.


Danny, personal trainer, 20s
“I voted out, but the main reason wasn’t immigration. I did research and listened to different sides. On the Remain side, there weren’t a lot of facts to make you pick them. I voted Leave because of our law-making. When we joined the EU there was a promise we’d have control. But there were 74 times when we voted one way and it went the other way. The way the EU is run, there’s no chance of that not happening. To be our own country, that’s not an ideal situation. 

“Initially, I panicked. I didn’t expect Leave to win to be honest. I watched videos on social media and it was all doom and gloom, and the pound went down. But I do believe things will come back again and the economy will start picking itself up. It was inevitable that dip would happen. I’ve come to the opinion now that I made the right decision.

“I can see why people in London voted for things to stay the way there are, because they’ve got money and investment there. But I’m from Bolton and it’s not there same there or in the North.” Danny voted Leave



Why someone tried to steal the flagstones from my front garden

When I went to leave my house in Altrincham for my 7am shift at MediaCity, everything seemed normal. Until I opened my front door and saw this.


No great catastrophe, but one of our flagstones was pulled up and broken, and the gate left open. I’d read about thefts of entire driveways of York stone flags, so knew that someone had tried to steal ours and been disturbed or though better or if.

As I was getting into my car I had a quick look at my neighbour’s to the right, and they also had one stone pulled up, gate left open.

But what I missed was the front of my neighbour to the left. It looked like this.


Previously it had looked almost exactly like this.


Thirteen of their flagstones had been pulled up around 2.30am in the morning. My neigbour was disturbed, looked out and saw three people in hoodies drive off in a white van parked right outside our houses.

This type of theft is not unknown in the North West and particularly Yorkshire. The York stone flags can sell for £100 per square metre, according to this piece in the Daily Mail. Altrincham neighbourhood policing team say it’s been a couple of years since one has occurred in the area and call it ‘rare’ here, but not unknown in the past.

Will the thieves come back for the ones they didn’t take, in my front garden and my other neighbour’s? Once you’ve become a crime victim your chances of being a repeat victim increases, the policewoman I spoke to over the phone told me.

So this is the advice, both from the police and from Twitter. Get an alarm (we have an old one we never use and turns out it’s broken). and get a camera. Don’t bother with the cheap ones the policewoman told me. If police can’t identify people in the night vision CCTV, the images are useless.


The police also recommended window sensor alarms. Burglars are using garden ornaments to smash windows to gain entry. As ever Twitter knows this too.


If you’ve had flagstones stolen it doesn’t follow that the thieves will return to burgle your house. Most likely they are targeting just flagstones. They’ll have seen them in advance and returned; it’s not a chance thing. The thefts mostly happen overnight.

Last year policing minister Mike Penning called for stiffer penalties for stone theft, which had increased after a government crackdown on scrap metal theft.

It was reaching “epidemic levels” in parts of Britain and should be treated as “serious organised crime” Mr Penning said. You can read The Telegraph’s full article on the rise of stone theft and measures to tackle it here.






Marie Kondo: What a local expert thinks about the ‘magic of tidying’ sensation

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, has taken the UK and the world by storm. The Japanese ‘organising consultant’ urges us to turn our wardrobes, bookshelves and kitchen drawers inside out and keep only items that are useful or spark joy.

Three million copies of the book have been sold and Marie promises that if we do it right and by her rules, we’ll never have to tidy again. So that means that thousands of UK women and hundreds right here in Manchester have permanently scratched ‘tidying’ off their to do lists, right? Er, maybe not.

I spoke to Trafford-based professional organiser Lesley Spellman, aka The Clutter Fairy, about the famous KonMari method, what she thinks of it, and whether it’s a sensation locally. Lesley has been helping clients from all walks of live organise and declutter their homes for the past seven years.


Lesley Spellman

What do you think of Marie Kondo’s book?
LS: I love it and the holistic approach of de-cluttering the whole house in one go. But it is largely focused towards a certain type of person who’s not very cluttered in the first place. 

Which of her methods do you agree with?
LS: I agree with pulling all the same sort of things out and clearing them together. For professional organisers it’s standard practice to take everything you’re decluttering out of its place, just like Marie Kondo advocates, and discard items before you put the ones you’re keeping back.

She recommends starting with clothes, then books, then paperwork, and finally ‘komono’ (small miscellaneous items). I agree with all that – but  ‘komono’  is a huge section. A novice may think it sounds good, but how do you pull out all your little bits and pieces in one go?


My younger daughter’s desk clutter, on the floor for clearing out

So which methods are different to yours?
LS: Marie Kondo talks about having to change your mindset to keep a tidy home, but that is not an easy thing to do. It’s like trying to lose weight. It’s not the same for everyone, there isn’t a one-size fits all answer. People are often so overwhelmed, they don’t know where to start, and motivating someone to be able to change behaviours can take some time.

I focus on the personalities of my clients and work with them on what they want their homes to become. There’s no set formula. Every home is different, and every family is different.

Also, while tackling everything in one go sounds great, it’s not practical for many people. Your home has to be liveable and having all your possessions on the floor around the house while you are going through the process isn’t something everyone can do.

She also recommends that after you’ve decluttered  you can focus on buying things that spark joy. I think after you’ve decluttered, buying new things will only take you back to square one. We all know that joy sparking/retail therapy is often  a temporary fix.

I like Marie Kondo-style folding, I see this as micro organisation. It can work for people who have a lot of time to devote to perfection,

So what is your key to tidying?
LS: Getting rid of things and then making sure there is a place for everything. People tend feel guilty about the possessions they’re getting rid of. So they want to give it to other people. Or they want to sell it. But what’s your real goal: to declutter or make money?  It’s a buyer’s market… things go for pounds. By the end of one of my sessions, all the decluttered items are out of the house. Its a critical part of the process.

How much do your clients typically get rid of?
LS: My clients will get rid of between 30% to 60% of their possessions. Most of my clients are female. Typically they’ll declutter 50% of their wardrobe and more like 5% of the kitchen.

And where does it go?
LS: If there’s value, people will want to sell their stuff. I don’t advocate selling it yourself as it can become a barrier and will delay you achieving your goal. Donate it to charity shops I recommend one charity shop to my clients that comes and collects. Or there are eBay sellers who will take your stuff away, sell it, and give you a percentage.

I get my clients to make a plan of where things they’re getting rid of are going to go. If you’re unsure of whether something should go or stay, it should stay. Never delay your decision making, and don’t have a halfway point like storing it in the basement for now.

Has Marie Kondo been good for business?
LS: It’s fantastic that she’s come along. She’s added a usp to standard de-cluttering and made it work. It’s very empowering and people are interested and doing it. All of a sudden the world is interested in decluttering!

But professional organising and decluttering was already growing in popularity. Numbers in our association have doubled In the past years. We’ve got really high calibre people coming into it now; previously it was often something people added on the side of another business, like coaching or cleaning.

Journalists and bloggers are suddenly very interested. Some people are trying Marie Kondo, finding it hard to motivate themselves, then calling on professionals. She won’t work for everyone. You have to find the elements you like and take these forward.



Decluttering my older daughter’s clothes was a daunting job for her

Useful links:

Contact Lesley Spellman via
The Assoication of Professional Declutterers and Organisers
Buy The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Clutter Rating scale


New fitness studio rescues forgotten Altrincham building



Before and after: Abi Jeffrey, one of Nicholas Griffin’s Atlas Physique clients

On Saturday 19 March another new business opens its doors in Altrincham – Atlas Physique a personal training and fitness studio run by popular local trainer Nicholas Griffin, at 1 Market Street in the town centre.

Starting his own business is a dream of Nicholas’ ever since he left the Army in 2012 and found a new career in fitness. ‘Being able to empower people to change was what I really loved about it,’ said Nick, who’s trained more than 500 clients in Hale and Altrincham.

One of those clients, businesswoman Loren Taylor, believed in Nick so much she encouraged him to set up on his own, with her backing and advice. Nick, who’d worked at Hale Fitness and Total Fitness, Altrincham, started scouting around for local venues and Atlas Physique was born.

Forgotten building revived


Listed building 1 Market Street, during the refurbishment for Atlas Physique

Atlas’s launch is also a success story a piece of Altrincham’s heritage that was edging towards dereliction. No 1 Market Street is a grade-two listed building just yards from the popular Market hall. It had not been occupied for four years and was on the council’s ‘at risk’ list, says Nick.

Attempts to establish a restaurant there had failed and it looked like its lovely period oak-and-brass saloon doors could remain shut forever.

Nick admits that managing the restrictions that come with a listed building were ‘a nightmare’. But by reviving it as a gym, he’s glad to breathe life back into the building and ensure that anybody can visit and use it (once they’re one of his clients, of course!)


Inside the new Atlas Physique studio

Atlas has a team of three personal trainers and signing up is as easy as a phone call or popping in. Clients can use the studio as their gym for a small charge during the week and on Saturdays.

The interior is as simple and modern as you’d expect a gym to be, with all-white walls and black-and-red equipment. To accentuate the contrast between modern and old, Nick has brought in Manchester artist Buber Nebz Graffiti to create a mural for the interior (below).


In addition to fitness training, Nick and his team have plans for regular seminars that anyone can attend.

“It’s an education establishment rather than just a fitness studio. Going through the motions isn’t good enough. We want to offer sessions on diet and fitness.”

Atlas Physique officially launches on Saturday 19 March at 5.30pm, with a launch party that’s open to all.

Atlas Physique, 1 Market Street, Altrincham WA14 1QE. Tel 07907 014178. Normal opening times for clients are 6am-8pm, Saturday 7am to 3pm.




Books I love: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Better, simpler, faster is a digital principle that I’d love to apply to the way I manage my home life. Bea Johnson’s book, which hit shops last year, certainly ticks the ‘simpler’ box. Her core message is a green one: Western households can’t keep producing waste at the levels we have been if our children are to enjoy the same world and way of life that we have.

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