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  1. WASI TGI Fridays*

    February 27, 2017 by Amy

    Having heard great things regarding Gluten Free experiences at TGI Fridays, we decided to give them a go for dinner today. We were frequent visitors prior to be becoming Gluten and Lactose Free and I always recall having great food and great service. Today, however, was a big disappointment.

    We normally book when we’re going to a restaurant. On this occasion we knew we were going to be walk ins. On our way into the restaurant based at the MK1 Stadium, we saw no queue so figured we’d be in for an easy ride. Never judge a book…

    What would have been good:
    Entering and being greeted with a friendly hello and a note that we’d be seen to in just a few minutes. Standard practice for any restaurant operating a to-your-seat service.

    What happened:
    We were ignored by the front of house staff for over two minutes. They had their back to us and periodically turned and saw us without any kind of acknowledgement. It took an embarrassed server to alert their attention to us.

    We were then told (after more back turning discussions) that there wouldn’t be any clean tables for 15 minutes. We quietly noted the two clean, laid tables and made our way to the bar as instructed.

    What would have been good:
    To have had occasional eye contact from the front of house staff to reaffirm that our table was on the way, then a ‘thank you for your patience’ or apology for the wait on the way to being seated.

    What happened:
    They forgot about us. It was a quiet night with no-one else waiting for a table, so I was surprised that this was an issue. My husband had to go and remind them that we were there. We were quickly then taken to our table (remember those two that were free earlier? One of those) without any kind of apology. He was nice enough, but it’s little things that count.

    The server arrived to take our orders. Happily, kind and courteous. My optimism perked up! He also brought over the Allergy menu for me at my request; a stripped down menu detailing only those items which are Gluten Free and those which are Lactose Free. I did say at this point that I was both GF and LF.

    The TGIs allergy menu

    What would have been good:
    For the server to have noted that there might not be much that crossed over, but if I could see any combination of items from the main menu that I’d like, he’d be happy to see what he could do.

    What happened:
    That option wasn’t offered, so I didn’t think to ask for it either. Instead, cross checking the two menus, I saw increasingly limited options – one starter and four mains in total. No dessert options.

    The only starter was BBQ Hummous. Nice that there was an option at all, but it was a main meal kind of visit. Of those, a Scorpion Sandwich (very spicy chicken burger which would have been too hot for me), a steak (BBQ sauce being the only sauce option and a choice of two out of fries, salad and seasonal veg), a classic burger, or a pulled pork burger. That’s four options more than none, but still takes the fun out of eating out.

    The server did confirm that he would run my order past the manager to ensure it was all allergy compliant, which was a small reassurance tick box for me. I went for the sirloin steak with BBQ sauce (of course), seasonal veg and fries.

    The food itself was a big disappointment. I know that the majority of GF/LF diners have always been so and are used to the offerings. But for me, someone who used to adore the Jack Daniels chicken with its thick sauce and tasty peppers, this was a total let down. The veg looked fresh but tasted somewhat off, so I don’t know if this was cooked in a different way to normal. The fries seemed tasteless in comparison to previous visits. The steak was thin and around 30% gristle, so really not the sirloin I’d expected. And the sauce? Watery and …soily, is the best way I can describe it. Not a patch on the normal BBQ sauce offering. I can only imagine it was a GF substitute.

    Just as I thought we were coming to the end of it all…

    What would have been good:
    Seeing a member of the serving staff clean the adjacent table, replace the napkins and cutlery.

    What happened:
    The table wasn’t cleaned in any way; the napkins were not replaced (what if the previous diners had coughed on them then replaced them?); only the missing cutlery was replaced (what if the previous diners had licked the fork clean and put it back down? If I’d had any faith left in TGI’s after the meal, this removed it completely.

    They could have been having a bad night. But for the meal and experience to have universally been so poor? That’s some coordinated bad nightedness. The front of house staff and table cleaning staff seemed careless and bored. The food was tasteless, the options limited.

    Recommended for those who are Gluten and Lactose Free? No.
    Recommended for those who are one or the other? Possibly. But not at MK1.

    It’s a 1 star rating from me.

    *What A Shame It’s Thank Goodness It’s Friday’s

  2. Food glorious food – or is it?

    January 29, 2017 by Amy

    I’m doing pretty well with the whole gluten/lactose free diet thing. Technically, I’ve done my 6 weeks on it now so I am just waiting for my next appointment with the dietician*. Until then I am sticking on the diet because, after Branstongate, I don’t want to risk anything nasty happening.

    Most chain restaurants have really good online menus which allow you to filter it down to show you only the things you can have. These are generally really helpful, although more often than not, every burger based option is removed from the menu rather than keeping it on with the caveat of ordering it without the bap. With this in mind, we went out for a quick meal last night with friends. There were I think three viable options on the menu, and the one I’d chosen was sold out. While the restaurant were pretty quick to resolve the issue, I did still feel like a massive pain in the bum.

    The very act of having to ask about the contents of the food etc makes me feel like I’m a picky so and so. I’m pretty sure that the servers, while very polite and helpful, do have the thought in the back of their mind of ‘bloody customers, just eat the damned food, you’ll be fine.’ So I feel like I’m causing problems and issues when I just want to be able to order food and eat it like anyone else. I’m sure it’s all fine, I just can’t shake off this feeling.

    So, as I’m sure most people with food intolerances do, I build up a bank of places where I know I can eat. We tentatively try out new places when we know we’re not in a rush or can eat later if it doesn’t all work out.

    Let’s have a look at what’s currently on the hit list – remember, this is purely from a gluten AND lactose free experience.

    A scrummy meal at Bella Italia, MK1

    Bella Italia – Yes
    Not only have their staff proven themselves to be knowledgeable, helpful and reassuring, their GF pizzas are really lovely. Like proper pizzas! They were also very happy to sub my cheese for an additional topping. I recommend rocket – it fills the top so you can’t see that there’s no cheese, so you don’t miss it. Really lovely.

    Pizza Express – Yes
    We’ve had mixed experiences with Pizza Express, all depending on the server. In one, great service akin to Bella Italia, although the pizza itself is a bit pancakey in the centre. With one in London, when they’d run out of GF dough, the server continually suggested pastas and risottos (all wheaty or creamy), the chef said that all their dressings contained milk so I wouldn’t be able to have them (the majority are actually fine) and told us that polenta fries would be perfectly fine (they are chocka full of all the bad things). So it depends on who you get, and how much you yourself know. That was my first restaurant outing after strting the new diet, so thankfully the effects of the polenta fries were minimal.

    Behold our rainbow coloured stash from Yo Sushi!, Centre:MK

    The Grange MK – Yes
    This is a cracking independent indian restaurant in Grange Farm, Milton Keynes. The staff and especially the owner honestly can’t do enough to help you; they explained what went into each dish, suggested those which be best for me and also gave the fantastic tip that the majority of stuff they do is with chickpea flour, so all good. It meant poppadoms and bhajis were on the menu. Honestly, it’s the place that I feel the most normal eating at.

    Yo Sushi! – Yes
    I am so pleased about this one. Yo have a devoted allergy menu in store, with three pages specifically listing the gluten free options, with a tick box to the side so that I can eliminate milk. Okay so it’s more limited than it used to be. But there are tips and good things. I used to like dipping Maki into soy sauce. Clearly, I can’t do that any more, and I don’t want it to taste dry. So, order the Miso soup! It’s (currently) £2, it’s unlimited, it’s GF and LF, and makes for a great dipping option. I also ended up with more variety in my Yo Sushi line up – I normally stick to the cheaper plates. Now that the options are more limited, I end up choosing fancier and much nicer things. A nice treat!

    That’s our list for now. We’ll have to try more restaurants, clearly!

    *I have been reliably informed that a dietician is what is provided on the NHS, and a nutritionist is something you have to pay a three figure sum to see.

  3. What’s in a number

    January 24, 2017 by Amy


    Voicemail. Answerphone messages. Whatever you call them. They cause me no end of frustration.

    When leaving a voicemail, state your name, your message, and your phone number, clearly. In fact, state your phone number twice.
    When leaving a voicemail, do NOT languish your way through a rambling, long message, then throw your number in like a sneeze at the end. For some of us poor voicemail recipients, we have to listen to the entire message without the ability to speed through or rewind. So when you think you’re saying 01846, it’ll take me at least full listens of your ENTIRE message to figure out that it’s not actually OOOOO wefusx.


  4. The land of make believe

    January 22, 2017 by Amy

    We’ve been watching Legend this evening. The pixie one, not the apocalyptic one, or the gangster one.

    Bit dark, isn’t it?

    Not really a kids film, but not really an adult’s film either.

    Cracking prosthetics though, and genuinely frightening moments.


  5. A right old pickle

    January 21, 2017 by Amy

    I made a silly little mistake this afternoon and it took away the rest of my day.

    I’m currently following a gluten and lactose free diet as instructed by the hospital in the hope that this would stop the attacks I had throughout last year. Having started the diet at the beginning of December, true enough, I’ve not really had any attacks. Mind you, I can naturally go months without an attack, so this doesn’t necessarily prove anything.

    Until today. Maybe.

    While the official line is no gluten or lactose, the things to look out for are wheat, barley and milk. The world of food is much easier to navigate these days thanks to the law changing on what needs to be displayed on packets. Any allergens, i.e. stuff that might cause an allergic reaction to those who have intolerance, must be bold, like the example over there. This makes it immensely easy to work out what I can or can’t have. This bread, yes. That bread, no. These sweets, yes. That chocolate, no. There are few exceptions where the entire genre of food can be completely written off; there are normally some yes and some no.

    When I was first instructed to go on this diet, in an effort to understand it more, I systematically went through our kitchen applying little “Amy” labels to the things that were within the diet, i.e. safe to eat. Piccalilli was ‘in’. Branston was ‘out’. That bit is important, see? Alex is on a ham phase at the moment. He keeps buying bit wodges of it, sticking it in the slow cooker with two cans of Coke and some honey or maple syrup, and it’s glorious. I digress.

    For lunch, we all had cheese and crackers with a bit of ham and pickle. Alex and the smallest Hansford had theirs with Branston, I had my Lactofree cheese on Nairn crackers, a splodge of Piccalilli and some of that amazing ham. The smallest Hansford decided she didn’t fancy the rest of her ham, so, me being in mum mode and distracted by the playback of our panto dvd, I unthinkingly cleared her plate. I used the ham to wipe the plate clean of the pickle. The pickle. Damnit, the Branston pickle. And I didn’t think a jot about it. Until the attack.

    About 10/15 minutes after enjoying that gorgeous ham, the pain started in the normal place – just behind the ribcage on the lower right. I thought it might have been a bit of indigestion – attacks have become alien lately, thankfully, so I didn’t recognise it straight away. If I’d had, I would have got into a safe position, allowed my body to shutdown and deal with it, then would have recovered for the evening. Being glamoured by the dvd however, I sat through increasing waves of pain before finally giving in an hour later and making my way upstairs to bed. The attack continued with a medium force, so I attacked the attack with a strong painkiller force.  Not enough to stunt the pain at all, but enough to knock me out. An hour’s sleep later and I awoke to the pain echoing away, so more rest until it finally dissipated around 8pm. I know already that I’ll need to spend tomorrow resting – my organs will be swollen and bumping together when I move, so my body will be in recovery mode. I’ve learned from experience that pottering around doing little tasks here and there gives my body no time to recover, so tomorrow literally will be sitting still and not exerting myself.

    So, for a moment’s distraction, for not recognising oddly familiar symptoms, I lost this evening and I’ve lost tomorrow, or at least had to repurpose it.

    The silver lining?

    I ate something that happened to contain gluten, and I had a radical reaction within 15 minutes. Does this prove that I’m intolerant to gluten? Maybe. Which means I’m a step closer to getting myself out of this pickle.

  6. Ooh baby it’s a wild world

    January 20, 2017 by Amy

    I missed my daily deadline last night due to a very welcome visit from my lovely friend Emma. Before I knew it, I was halfway through a bottle of champagne and, when paired with a naked kebab*, I was pretty much half cut no longer able to coherently blog. So instead, we thoroughly enjoyed what I now know to be Spy In The Wild.

    The key USP with this programme is that they have managed to capture very natural (and fascinating) behaviour from the animals by combining cameras and animatronics. Robot meerkats, sloths and orangutans have breen created and discretely placed in the wild where they interact with the ‘real’ animals, filming their behaviour and interacting with them. In one scene, the robo-orangutan saws a piece of wood in half; the real orangutan then copies its behaviour, even showing off and sawing whilst lieing down. It really is brilliant to watch!

    Newsround did a little piece on it too.

    It really is brilliant watching. Our cat Echo agreed too – she was quite intent on catching herself a meerkat. Spoilers: she didn’t.

    Spy In The Wild is on BBC 1 on Thursdays at 8pm. You can also watch it here on iPlayer.

    * A kebab without pitta bread

  7. Flagged Up

    January 18, 2017 by Amy

    In early December, my colleagues and I were sent on a three day First Aid At Work course run by St John’s Ambulance. It was really, really, really good. I last went on the course back in 2009 which was mainly a woman in a tweed suit talking at us in a warm, dimly lit room for three days where I tried not to fall asleep. This was a whole word away – funny, interactive, loads of hands on stuff, practical applications, scenarios – really good.

    If you are considering going on a first aid course at any level, I highly recommend the St John’s Ambulance team – they have loads on locations all over the UK and are, as I mentioned, really good.

    As a result, I bought two first aid packs – one for each car – and am also the First Aider for my area at work now as well as the Fire Warden. My workplace have a good handle on health and safety generally, so they’ve given me a bumper first aid pack to be kept in my desk and have monthly meetings for all First Aiders (big site, big FA team) to keep us all up to date. Realistically, the most I’ll be doing will be applying plasters and occasionally dealing with minor burns (we do a lot of cooking but I’ve never had any incidents). But it’d good to know stuff, right?

    Imagine my excitement when the Health & Safety Manager walked in to my office this afternoon brandishing my very own First Aider flag. Genuinely! I think it’s brilliant – I’m chuffed that I get to have it on my desk, and I think it’s a great idea that it’s so easy to quite literally flag down a First Aider when you need one.

    Let’s hope no-one needs me!

    Loving my First Aider flag

  8. If I only had a brain/heart

    January 17, 2017 by Amy

    Towards the end of the run of “Aladdin & The Lost Christmas”, John asked me an important question. Would I, Amy Hansford, officially co-direct the following year’s panto with him?

    A simple question, you might think. But not so. It took some thought.

    My instant thought was ‘yes, of course, yes! I want to direct and be a part of the best little panto in Milton Keynes!’. But I’ve learned over the past year that I have to interview both my heart AND my head when making decisions. So I took some time to think.

    Heart: This is so cool! I’m honoured! I’ve loved doing a bit of directing this year and I want to do more!
    Head: Hold up – this isn’t just saying yes to next year. This is committing further than that. You can’t just jump in, do a bit, then walk away.
    Heart: I know, but I love panto! And I love being in a position to help make it even better!
    Head: Granted. So you’re okay with the extra commitment?
    Heart: …?
    Head: This isn’t just being at every rehearsal. This is joining the production team for the show, making decisions, judgements.
    Heart: Yeah, I want that. I like being able to steer stuff!
    Head: Being on the audition panel.
    Heart: That’s cool!
    Head: Is it? Having to tell some people yes and some people no?
    Heart: Um… not that bit.FIGHT!
    Head: No. Still okay with it?
    Heart: … Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.
    Head: Okay, so what about keeping the cast happy?
    Heart: It’s pantoland, everyone’s happy!
    Head: Not always – you need to listen to everyone. Sometimes you’ll need to make a decision that’s right for the show, but it might put noses out of joint. It’s a tightrope. You’re doing a million things in the background and in your head, people only see what’s happening on the surface.
    Heart: You’re making this less fun.
    Head: I’m being practical.
    Heart: But what about the fun? And spending time with my friends, and being part of something meaningful? And being instrumental in something that is an actual part of the Christmas tradition for families?
    Head: About that – do you really want that pressure?
    Heart: Of having fun?
    Head: Of not ruining Christmas. Of taking on arguably the most successful ‘amateur’ pantomime in Britain.
    Heart: What?
    Head: Sells out in advance, raises large amounts for charity, keeps ticket prices low to ensure everyone has access to family entertainment, keeps subs low to ensure everyone has access to being in panto, amazing costumes and sets and lights and sound, bespoke music…
    Heart: Alright alright alright. Yes, I want all those good things. And yes, I will take on all the bad things.
    Head: What about the year after?
    Head: What. About. The.
    Heart: I heard you. Yes. The year after. And the year after that. I’ll take it. All of it.

    And so I said yes.

    Onwards to Oz…

  9. Princess Jasmine

    January 16, 2017 by Amy

    Back in July 2016, I auditioned for and successfully got the role of The Spirit Of The Ring in Dreams ‘n’ Wishes‘s pantomime “Aladdin & the Lost Christmas.” I wasn’t 100% well at the time but was pretty sure I’d be okay.

    I wasn’t okay.

    About 6 weeks into rehearsals (and approximately three days after the great big huge photoshoot for said panto) I had to admit to myself that I just wasn’t well enough to do the show. It was unfair on me to keep pushing myself, unfair on the production team to have them keep crossing their fingers for an improvement, unfair on the cast to have to keep acting to an empty space… the show deserved a full time, devoted Spirit. It later got one in the form of the absolutely divinely wonderful Leanne Lyndsey White, who continues to amaze me and I would do anything for her.

    Been there, got the t-shirt.Not wanting to lose out on seeing the panto family, I moved to the role of Assistant Director; ordinarily, this would be taking notes, reminding people of positions, prompting, etc. Me being me, I moved over the line into actual directing as I liked to do so. John (director) didn’t seem to mind this, so I carried on and it seemed to work quite well. Our daughter’s rehearsals were going well – she was one of the ‘Littlies’ this year and so got to be a dancing panda and reindeer, plus sing a bit on stage, so I was in proud mum mode. Alex was going to be doing backstage on the shows that Lara was in, this having all been set up when I was still in the show of course, so it continued to be a family event for us.

    I went on to the lactose and gluten free diet as instructed by the nutritionist (see previous post) and my health dramatically improved. I felt fine – better than I had done for a really long time.

    Time shifted, the show grew slicker and I grew prouder, tinged with a little bit of sadness that I would be missing out on being a physical part of it come showtime.

    And into the get in week.
    Mon/Tue get in
    Wed Tech rehearsal
    Thu Dress rehearsal
    Fri Dress rehearsal
    Sat Two shows, then fourteen more.

    I had a call from John at 4.20pm on the Tuesday. He’d had a call too. Our beautiful, talented Princess Jasmine had regrettably had to pull out of the show. And so it was on me to be Princess Jasmine.

    Princess. The most un-Amylike role in any pantomime is the Princess role. The graceful part with the chocolate box song. With the hair, and the face, and the slender figure, and the… just not me. I’m the idiot that runs around like a loon, throwing herself into custard pies, faking slapstick injuries, the one with the silly hair and rouged nose, cracking jokes and whipping the audience up. Seriously? Me? Is there no-one else? But how? I just… I… the show… the costumes… it…

    So I did it.

    Check out those shoulder pads!With my brilliant daughter willing me to learn the lines, and the songs, and the dances, I spent 5 hours cramming. Having directed for the past six weeks definitely helped – I knew where I needed to be on stage, who to talk to, roughly how the harmonies sounded. I recorded all my scenes on Garageband and played them over and over and over and over. In the car, at home, on my lunch break. I ran through the dance routines over and over, imagining where the rest of the cast were in my living room.

    I went to work the next day in a dreamlike state having fried my brain the night prior. I calmly explained to my manager that yes, I was looking forward to the show, and actually I was going to be in it now, and I might be a bit distracted today as my head is full of lib, and sorry. Kind words came in from the cast and our wonderful Jasmine via Messenger. Straight on to the theatre for the tech rehearsal. I had my director hat on so didn’t have much time to think about being Jasmine. An opportunity for a night of cramming gone, familiarity with the staging won. On to the dress rehearsal on the Thursday night. Somehow, just somehow, the costumes fitted. Me. The size 14. Something to do with empire lines. My ‘Elsa’ shoes went with every outfit. Me, the woman with such little jewellery, happened to have a different necklace for each outfit, perfect for the overall look (and yes, I did wear my Jasmine cosplay’s necklace for one of them). Somehow, the words came out right, and instant relationships between my new character and the others seemed to gel. I flubbed my way through dancing in the finale, realising after the first 8 bars that I knew the dance from over on stage right as the Spirit Of The Ring, but had no idea what the Princess did in the centre of the stage. For that night, a lot of singing to the audience and marveling at all the lovely people dancing around me. And we did the same again on the Friday night.

    And then we were on.

    And it was brilliant.

    And for the first, and probably the last time, I got to be a panto princess.

    And we all lived happily ever after.

    And as for next year? Well, there’s news about that too…

  10. Update for a new year

    January 15, 2017 by Amy

    Yeeeeeeeaaaaah, I know I’ve not been a reliable blogger. Alex is attempting to blog *something* every day, which sounds like a good idea, so I’m going to give that a go too.

    For now, a quick update on the old Attacks front;

    I DID get that scan I was chasing the doctors for. I still have the same two polyps in my gallbladder, same size. They’re not doing anything. I feel bad that one is unnamed. So suggestions for Phillip’s roommate are welcomed.

    For now, at least

    Lactose free and gluten free

    I’m pleased that I didn’t push for surgery. As it stands, it doesn’t look like it would have helped and, if anything, would have left me with less internally to deal with all the shenanigans.

    I have, however, finally had that appointment with a nutritionist at the hospital. Early December, he put me on a Gluten and Lactose free diet for six weeks. While I’ve not had any attacks during that time, I could quite easily be going through one of those natural attack breaks, so there’s not sufficient evidence to say that this is the answer. Mind you, a week in and I felt like I had a lot more energy; the result of ditching a big carb load. Being Gluten free is actually really easy – most restaurants cater for you and there are gluten free alternatives for all baked goods and pastas (although I’m still searching for Cannelloni). It’s being Lactose free that’s the stinker. Milk is the thing to avoid, so imagine everything that contains milk, yoghurt or cheese and that’s it. Yes, Dominoes do a Gluten Free pizza base, but it’s really no fun without cheese.

    About a week after my last post, I dropped out of playing The Spirit Of The Ring in panto. I was absolutely gutted. So you can imagine how shocked I was when, three days before curtain up, I found myself playing Princess Jasmine. More on that tomorrow.