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These pictures were me trying to do some arty shots of the figures that dance and pirouette on top of poles along First Street near HOME. They looked a bit peculiar when they were first put up and First Street was empty bar one isolated office block. With the opening of HOME, the Innside Hotel and a couple of other buildings (with more planned) and the area landscaped they look a lot happier.

Figures, trees and the Hilton Tower…

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If you leave Manchester journeying south by car to, say, Birmingham or London, the chances are you will take the M56 and M6 route past the airport. You can stick to the motorway system and get mixed up in all the traffic that snares up the Thelwall Viaduct area near Warrington, or you can try the A556 route that leaves the M56 south of Altrincham and rejoins the M6 near Knutsford. On a good day that is an option but with so many people using it now it doesn’t have many of those and can be as congested as the main motorway. And it’s particularly bad at Mere Corner much to the chagrin of the people living in those huge houses with eye watering price tags that back onto the lake on Mere Golf Course.

To sort this out they are building another road, parallel to the A56, as a motorway link between the M56 and M6 which they hope will relieve the congestion. I suspect that it will just get you to the congestion on the M6 between Knutsford and Middlewich a couple of minutes earlier.

I drove down the A50, which the new road will cross near High Legh, and the devastation of this part of the Cheshire countryside is appalling. Vast amounts of Grade A farmland will be concreted over and it’s ploughed through some beautiful woodland just south of the A50 here. On both sides of the new road, huge areas of former farmland have been given over to the construction. I can only hope that it is restored to what it was formally once the road is finished.

And I have it at the back if my mind that this part of Cheshire will have to be churned up again when the HS2 rail route is built up to Manchester. It must be here as I can’t imagine it being built on the other side of the A56 as that would take it through Tatton Park.

Pictures of the devastation/construction and a very dramatic sky that didn’t turn into a storm. The website for the building of the road makes a great deal about how sensitive natural sites will be preserved, creatures will be re-homed, trees planted and special crossings of the road for creatures will be created. Sadly the bunny in one of my pictures (I didn’t notice him when I took the pictures out of my car) didn’t get the memo.

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Here’s a little video showing what the road will be like when it’s finished. Strangely empty…

I called in at the Post Box Cafe for some coffee and cheesecake and to see how the garden was faring. I am pleased to report that it is doing well and has started a second life as a concert venue. Creamfields without the mud if you like. 

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I was a bit worried about how the garden would fare. In St. Ann’s Square it had 24 hour security and there was no damage whatsoever. In Chorlton, once the cafe closes for the evening it has to look after itself. And, so far, it has had no problems. People have enjoyed it and are respectful of it. And today, it was being used as a concert venue. The girl is the daughter of Paella Fella who was cooking on the terrace today. She’s half English and hard Spanish and sings jazz in English and folk songs from Iberia in Spanish. Her boyfriend (she was sat on his knee at one point so I think they are more than friends) plays Jazz saxophone and Flamenco guitar. He’s half English with some South East Asia in there. It was all very Manchester in 2015. 

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I did a bit of deadheading of the flowers while I was there but the garden is well watered by the cafe staff and Jay, Chris’s husband, looks after the plants, rearranging them as needed. I’m glad it’s being well looked after. Pete, who helped source a lot of the plants was there selling his plants on the terrace. He’s already well into sourcing plants for next year’s garden and we talked about what we could plant on this one once the summer flowers have finished

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I was excited to see that the sweet corn plants that I had in St. Ann’s Square just for their height and leaf shape have actually flowered. They look fit and healthy which is amazing because they are in quite small 1 litre pots, but I did put some slow release plant food in there when I planted them up at the beginning of the summer.

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The last weekend in August is the symbolic end to summer in the UK. The Met Office (predicts the weather over here) regard September 1st as the beginning of autumn, though, if you go be the sun, the autumn equinox isn’t until about September 21st. The kids go back to schol next week and we all get a long weekend to mark the end of summer. Lengthening nights and cold weather are looming on the horizon.

Manchester is enjoying itself though and thanks to @NPAS_Barton for these wonderful shots. It’s the big weekend of the Manchester Pride festival and, as I post this in ODDEST in Chorlton, the huge Pride Parade is making its way through the city centre three miles away or so. Sir Ian Mckellen is leading it out this year through streets packed to capacity. When you see and hear of intolerance of the worst order (I’m looking at you ISIS!) I’m proud to live in such a tolerant city. At night the Town Hall is lit up in rainbow colours to mark the event. 

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To the west of the city one of the last big music festivals of the summer is taking place. Liverpool super club, Creamfields, is having its annual festival.  For fans of wallowing in mud while listening to loud rock music it’s a must. But so far the weather has been kind with warmth and mercifully dry.

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Baking…

I finished work early so headed home. I decided to channel my inner Mary Berry and do some baking. Here are the results…

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Salted Caramel & Malteaser Cake…

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Banana & Fudge Cupcakes…

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Mary Berry’s own recipe, Fruited TeaBread….

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I was lucky enough to have a behind the scenes tour of HOME, Manchester’s new arts centre, yesterday. It’s an amalgamation of the old Library Theatre and the Cornerhouse Cinema and gallery space. Both institutions will be sadly missed but we have this new facility that will, hopefully, bring a buzz to the quiet bit of the city centre where it has been sited. For those not sure where it is, it is about 2 minutes walk from the new, improved, super-dooper Deansgate/Castlefield tram station, under the shadow of the Hilton Tower.

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I may be doing some work with them. It has five cinemas, two theatres, a huge exhibition space for the art which spills out into the public areas, bars and cafes. We saw all that, but also got into the offices, the rehearsal rooms, the green room, wardrobe, changing rooms and so on. It’s all state of the art and pretty impressive.

I’m looking down from the control room into the larger of the two theatres in this picture. It was a long way down, I got giddy…

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But theatre is also about illusion and when we were on the stage, it looked considerably smaller and more intimate…

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More pictures of the large theatre…

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This portrait, on the wall in the bar outside the large theatre, is of Miss Annie Horniman. She set up a theatre that turned into the Library Theatre which has now morphed into HOME. I remember it hanging outside the Library Theatre in its old home in Central Library…

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The second theatre is the smaller of the two and is, as you can see from these pictures, little more than a black box. But that’s the point as they can organise it and the audience seating any way that suits the production that is planned…

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We couldn’t go into the gallery space as they were in the middle of changing the exhibition…

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But there was plenty of art in the public areas…

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This is one of the old film projectors that was being used to project films in a Cornerhouse…

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This is one of the new digital film projectors…

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There are five cinemas, ranging in size, this is Cinema 1, the largest. They will show a lot of a British cinema and art house films from other countries. Don’t expect to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster though. HOME isn’t about that…

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Restaurants, cafes and bars…

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After yesterday’s wanderings about in the Staffordshire countryside it was nice to be back in the city again. Once you have seen one green field full of cows you’ve really seen them all. And while it’s nice to visit, I really wouldn’t want to live out there. It’s pretty but ever so slightly dull. For sheer sensory stimulation, you can’t beat living in a city. And Manchester has stimulation in bucket loads. I guess I’m a city boy at heart.

I was on a trip to HOME, Manchester’s newest art centre. Or at least it will be until The Factory opens in 2019. There’s a new car park next door. As car parks go it’s pretty good. It’s immaculately clean and the lifts don’t smell of ****. Long may it continue. I took the lift to the top floor just to see what I could see. It was bright sunshine and you could literally see for miles to the hills that ring the city.

You can spot many of the city’s landmark buildings from up here. The Hilton Tower dominates. The Great Northern Tower, the Palace Hotel, the clock tower of the Town Hall…. And a hidden wildflower meadow on top of an office block on First Street.

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Life sent me to Stoke on Trent today. I’m sure it has it’s charms but I haven’t discovered them yet. It’s officially a city but is really a collection of old, industrial towns that have grown and merged together, linked by a budget copy of the Los Angeles freeway system but without the beaches and the palm trees. While I am able to negotiate much bigger Manchester with ease, S-o-T I find confusing and frustrating. Having done business it was time for lunch. I’m sure that Stoke has many fine eateries but I’ve been spoiled by what’s on offer in Manchester and I didn’t want to get lost on the budget freeway system so I drove out of town to Uttoxeter.

It’s a small, market town in the beautiful Staffordshire countryside about 10 miles SE of Stoke. I’ve never been before but it looked to be the right size and position to have a selection of those centuries old pubs that serve delicious pub food. And so it would have if it had been a little smaller. But it is large enough and prosperous enough to have attracted an out of town shopping park filled with all the usual suspects like TESCO and B&Q.

I parked up outside B&M Bargains and less than 5 minutes later I was in the attractive high street of the old market town. It looks attractive with a mixture of buildings ranging in age from Tudor to Edwardian. Sadly, the out of town shopping has sucked the life out of the older area and there were far too many closed units, charity shops and cheap stores to make it a destination. A couple of independent coffee shops had opened but the council needs a trip to Chorlton to see how it’s done. I hope they can revive the area because it’s a pretty street with great potential. It needs a visit from St.Mary of Portas.

The end of the street where the trendy coffee shops were, was also the Market Square. It’s been renovated recently. There was this curious structure in the centre of it. I had no idea what it was for. It seems to be a memorial to an event in the life of local boy (from nearby Lichfield), Samuel Johnson, more commonly known as Dr. Johnson. He was one of our most famous writers and wrote the first dictionary of the English language.

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Here’s what Wikipedia said about the monument….

‘The most famous event in the history of Uttoxeter was the penance of Samuel Johnson. The Lichfield writer’s father ran a bookstall in Uttoxeter market, and young Samuel once refused to help out on the stall. When he was older, Dr Johnson repented and stood in the rain without a hat as a penance for failing to help his father. This sad but moving event is commemorated by the Johnson Memorial in the Market Place.’

Some more pictures of the potential of the pretty high street…

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The imposing church was, sadly, closed, so I couldn’t get in to have a look around. The monument is the memorial to the war dead of Uttoxeter in various conflicts. A lot of names for a town this size and far too many considering the town would have been a lot smaller when these men and boys marched off…

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There were a couple of pubs in Tudor buildings that looked like they might serve good food. But when I peered through the windows of both the first things I saw were flashing slot machines. I did eventually get lunch when I got lost in the Staffordshire countryside. I found a village called Marchington which boasted that it was the ‘best kept village’ in Staffordshire.

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Villages like that usually have good pubs. And so it proved in the Dog & Partridge where the Steak and Stilton Pie was sensational.

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And while they had run out of Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding, the Treacle Pudding with Vanilla Custard more than made up for it. I can recommend this place and I’ve booked for Christmas.

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They had some impressive window boxes and hanging baskets…

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I like Spain. I enjoyed Madrid. And I loved Barcelona. I was taught to Tango by a Spanish lady on a warm evening, at midnight in Placa de Catalunya under a star spangled, velvet black sky. Life doesn’t get better than that. In my head I saw me as Vincent, from Strictly Come Dancing, who makes it all look so easy. Goodness knows what the other people in the square saw though. Anyway, I was enjoying myself. It is such a civilised city. Try Tangoing in Piccadilly Gardens at midnight and see how far it gets you…

And I love the food and the traditional music. We have some great Spanish restaurants in the city these days. Iberica is a current favourite of mine where the food is a revelation. Spanish food is full of foods and tastes I like and you have the sneaky idea that it might actually be good for you with everything cooked in olive oil and such. I love a plate of Patatas Bravas. When we’re out having tapas I always have to have a dish of them to myself. We order another dish for the rest of the table but that dish is MINE! Add a bottle of fruity Rioja or chilled Cava (or both) and I’m in heaven.

Well you have a chance to experience a little of Spanish culture and food in suburban Manchester this September. My good friends at the Post Box Cafe are repeating the Spanish evening they are having this August. They were so good about supporting me in creating the garden in St. Ann’s Square a few weeks back that I need to give them a shout out about this event on September 25th.

The food is going to be created by the Paella Fella. Jose describes himself as ‘a big man with an even bigger pan’ and will be creating a three course dinner featuring his trademark Paella. He’s been working in various Spanish restaurants in the city for 30 years, has his own place in Chorlton but is also a regular with his street food at the markets on the terrace at the Post Box Cafe. I hope there’s some Patatas Bravas in there for me. And maybe some Crema Catalana for pudding? And there will be live music as well.

If you’re free and feel like a Spanish experience, I think you’d be very welcome.

Closely mowed lawns and grass verges can, let’s face it, be little more than green deserts. Even the grass in them isn’t allowed to grow and set seed. There’s very little biodiversity in a lawn.

So I like it when a grass verge is turned into a wildflower meadow. I’ve been driving past this particular one for a couple of weeks now and watching it develop. I’ve never had one of my camera devices with me to record it. So this time I drove home, picked up my iPhone and walked back to it. After a grey morning, Manchester is having some of the hot sun the rest of the country is enjoying so a walk was nice.

The meadow is mostly cornflowers which are usually blue, but I spotted a rather beautiful wine red one and some pink ones as well. The bees were loving it. More of this please….

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