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Both our Team GB Olympic athletes and our Paralympic Team have done astonishingly well over the summer in Rio. Both teams came second in the rankings behind the USA in the Olympics and behind China in the Paralympics. Both teams did better in Rio than they did in London as well. We like all this. And in a few weeks the homecoming parade will be in Manchester. Of course it doesn’t just happen. It has to start somewhere. And in Albert Square this evening there were lots of little kids competing against each other on a purpose built track in front of a pop up stadium to give them a taste of what it might be like for them in Tokyo 2020 or Paris/Budapest/Hamburg/Rome/Los Angeles 2024. 

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After my trip to the theatre, it’s back to Shrewsbury. Be warned! The contents of this post are not for the faint hearted or for people under 18. If you are in either of those groups you should click off now.

In Medieval towns and cities the names of the streets told you what activity happened along them. So if you wanted to buy meat you would go to Butcher’s Lane. You need some new clothes? Tailor’s Street would be a good bet. The Great Fire of London in 1666 started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane. And so on. These streets did what they said on the tin.

In Shrewsbury there is a Grope Lane. Many medieval towns had one of these. And like the others, they did what they said on the tin as well. Many have disappeared over the centuries or have been renamed. The one in Whitby, where we were a few weeks ago, has become the more refined Grape Lane. The rather straight laced Victorians did this.

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I’m not sure how far the English word ‘grope’ has travelled from this country. Maybe to Australia and New Zealand, possibly to Canada and the US? In the UK it means to have a quick fondle of someone you might fancy. Doing it to a loved one might be welcomed but doing it to random people in the street is likely to get you slapped or even end up in a police cell. 

Grope Lane in Shrewsbury (and others in other medieval towns) was where you went for just that and a lot more. In Medieval times this narrow passage just off the main shopping street now within two minutes walk of Marks & Spencers and Waitrose and the like, was lined with brothels where you could go and purchase the services of a willing partner for a bit of carnal fun.

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While Whitby renamed its street Grape Lane, Shrewsbury kept part of the original name, Grope Lane. But even that had been changed, in medieval times it had the far cruder name, Gropec**t Lane. The second part being the one profanity that still has the power to shock us even today.

I’ve also discovered a street in Castleford, Yorkshire called Cock Tickle Bridge. Go figure….

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We were off out last night to see Tennessee Williams’ tour de force play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, at the beautiful Royal Exchange Theatre. Starring Maxine Peake as Blanche DuBois, it was a sold out performance. Tickets are very difficult to come by. People are queuing for returns in the hope of seeing it. 

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The play was first shown on Broadway (that’s New York, not Chadderton) in 1947 and was a critical and audience success. It won prizes and has been shown around the world ever since and was turned into a movie. The latest production is here at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

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The play centres around Blanche DuBois, a member of one of those grand, southern families who had plantations in Mississippi. Over time bad management and bad choices have reduced the land the family owned to the grand plantation house and about 20 acres of land. Just before the play begins that last vestige of the family’s former wealth has finally gone to the creditors. Blanche survived on an English teacher’s salary. At 16 she had married a beautiful young man who ‘wrote poetry’. ‘Wrote poetry’ being a euphanism for his sexual preferences it turns out. Blanche either doesn’t know this or chooses to ignore it until she finds her husband in bed with another man. He commits suicide. Blanche goes into decline making bad financial decisions and even more disasterous choices in men. She moves into a notorious hotel, the Flamingo, in her home town of Laurel, where we are led to believe she supplements her finances by entertaining men. The local army base declare her ‘off limits’ to the young soldiers who are trained there. But things come to a head when she has an affair with one of her students, a young man of 17. She is fond of a drink or six.

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All that happens before the play begins and is revealed through the evening. She arrives at her sister’s house in New Orleans with 65 cents and a trunk of expensive clothes from her former life. She plays the grand, southern lady and this annoys her sister’s Polish husband who sees right through her. While she continues her former lifestyle at their expense, the husband is digging into her past. They are trapped in two rooms together in a sticky New Orleans summer and tensions run high. It would be bad to say how it finishes. But if you can, get a ticket and go and see this production. The critics loved it and the audience were on their feet at the end last night. It began at 7 30 last night and I blanched myself when I saw it wouldn’t finish until 10 40. But it was so wonderfully acted and so tense that the time flew by.

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Maxine Peake was a triumph. I saw her play Hamlet here back in 2014. That was brilliant but this went up several notches. Ms Peake is one of our most accomplished actors doing work on TV, in films and in the theatre. She could work in London and raise her profile internationally. But she prefers to work in the north and we are grateful she does. It does the London critics no harm to take the train up to Manchester now and again.

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I couldn’t decide if I felt sorry for Blanche or was she a monster? Bit of both I suppose. At one point a very young man comes to the house to collect money for newspapers. He’s 16 or 17. Blanche is home alone and comes on to the boy and kisses him. It’s the point where we realise why she was sacked from her job. It was one of the uncomfortable scenes I have ever seen in the theatre. It was so creepy. A few of the audience laughed. I wonder would they have done so if the roles had been reversed with an older man coming onto a teenaged girl? I suspect not.

There was an unusual piece of casting. The actor playing Stella DuBois, Blanche’s sister was black while Maxine Peake is white. Their acting was superb, bringing out the difficulties in the relationship between the two sisters. But, set in the southern states of America in the 1940s, wouldn’t someone had said something about a family containing black and white siblings? Especially one of the grand, plantation families even if it had fallen on hard times? Nothing was said so I just moved in and enjoyed the acting and the play. Maybe the Royal Exchange being PC with their casting?

Problems with the internet stopped me from posting the rest of my pictures from our trip to Nantwich and Shrewsbury a couple of weeks back. I’d got as far as the Park and Ride at Battlefield, now an out of town retail experience (and not a good one it has to be said) and sort of left it at that.

Which is a shame because Shrewsbury is a very beautiful and historic town. There was an Ancient British settlement here but the Romans don’t seem to have bothered with it. It became a place of importance in Medieval times when it became one of the three fortresses of the Marcher Lords. These Lords had the job of keeping the Welsh in order and stopping them from raiding the rich English farmlands to the east which they were prone to do. Now they come to shop. Shrewsbury was the central Marcher town, the other two being Chester and Hereford. There are all kinds of local laws about the Welsh that are still on the statute books. For instance, me, being English, am allowed to kill any Welshman found inside the historic walls of Chester after midnight. I could do so and escape prosecution for murder. I would have to do it with my bow and arrow though. This would be difficult as I have been flouting another law on the statute books which says any man over 13 must do a certain amount of hours bow and arrow practice a week.

Once things calmed down between the English and Welsh, Shrewsbury grew rich on being the market town that served the rich agricultural lands of Shropshire. This is reflected in the number, and quality, of Medieval buildings that litter this town. Here’s the Market Place where poor Harry Hotspur was exhibited after he’d been dug up after being buried in nearby Whitchurch after the Battle of Shrewsbury. Something you might like to consider while you are enjoying your designer coffee and admiring the architecture.

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This is Clive of India, a local boy made good. He was a mere civil servant who went to India to work for the East India Company, a company set up to trade with India. By the time he’d finished he’d seen off the French in India and added that country to our growing empire without us or, more importantly, the Indians noticing. He made himself fabulously rich in the process.

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(An aside….I’m typing this up in the café of Central Library waiting to go to the theatre to see ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’….some child, I swear I don’t know them or their mother…has just run up to me shouting ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’…his mother said I was wearing a shirt similar to his father!)

Back to Shrewsbury….some more pictures of this beautiful town.

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I’d actually gone into the city centre to take a look at the Maker’s Market on Spinningfields before I’d been distracted by Hindu festivals and TV movies being made in Albert Square. It was, as usual, on the plaza facing Deansgate, between the beautiful John Rylands Library and the funky building that houses the Emporio Armani store and then along The Avenue to where the steps take you down to the restaurants. It was a bit of a special market as it had a doggie theme with some of the stalls selling things to make your dog’s life more comfortable and healthy. Being a warm, sunny day it was well attended with the added attraction of some of Manchester’s happy dogs in attendance. They were, mostly, well behaved and happy to meet lots of new people and new dogs. It seemed to have gone well and I hope they do it again and build on it. Would this idea work for cats? Probably, but maybe not on the same day. Or maybe it would. The cats wouldn’t turn up, they would just send their staff.

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I had intended to go straight from the tram station in St. Peter’s Square to Spinningfields but got distracted by the goings on in Albert Square. Smoke was billowing out of one of the side entrances to the courtyard of the Victorian part of the Town Hall.

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It turned out that they were filming something here again. The spectacular interior of the Town Hall is a favourite with movie and TV types and has appeared in many productions. I got talking to one of the actors leaning against the wall of the 1930s part of the Town Hall. He told me that they are filming a production of one of Agatha Christie’s detective novels, The Witness For The Prosecution. It’s going to be one of the Christmas treats for us on TV this year. Set in the 1920s, we love a period drama at Christmas. Kim Cattrall, the glamorous, feisty one who liked much younger men in Sex And The City is starring in it. But I didn’t spot her.

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They have been using locations in Liverpool as well. Kim Cattrall likes it there. Everyone thinks she’s from New York but her accent is Canadian and she was actually born in Liverpool. She took part in the Who Do You Think You Are? programme where celebrities have their ancestry looked into. Her’s was fascinating. Her Liverpool father abandoned her family and disappeared. They moved to Canada and he, unknown to them, bigamously married another woman in Newcastle and had a second family that he then took to Australia. Kim, and us watching, were amazed. She’s now met her Australian family who were amazed to find that they were related to the woman they enjoyed watching on Sex In The City.

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In Albert Square proper a couple were having a fashionable wedding in the Great Hall of the building. Their beautiful car was waiting outside.

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One end of the square was filled with cars and vans for the TV filming.

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The other end, towards the Victoria Fountain, a Hindu festival to honour Lord Krishna was taking place. The word ‘juggernaut’ is a word that has come into English from the Hindi language, probably when we ran India as part of the British Empire. We use juggernaut to describe those huge, 16 wheeled wagons that thunder up and down the motorway system carrying goods across the country. Originally a juggernaut was a huge, heavy, richly decorated cart that a representation of the Lord Krishna would be paraded around a city in India on special occasions. Thick ropes were attached to an actual juggernaut here and it was going to be pulled around Albert Square by strong men. In another part of the square a vegetarian meal was being prepared as part of the celebration which would be offered to anyone who was in the square at the time. There was music and dancing. While I was there they were dressing the statue of Lord Krishna. To preserve his modesty they were dressing him behind a decorated cloth.

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A small juggernaut was also in the square for the chicken to pull around. 

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It’s events like this that make me happy that I live in such a diverse and busy city like Manchester.

Spotted outside a café (to be honest it didn’t look like a Tom kind of place) opposite the Manchester Art Gallery on Moseley Street. In fact if you want a coffee in this part of town the art gallery has an excellent café with some beautiful art attached. Or you could walk across to the Central Library which has great coffee and some of the best carrot cake in town. And this place will have to sort itself out before Mr Scruff arrives on the square with a branch of his Thomas St Teacup. 

You could of course enjoy a Coffee and a Crossaint for £2.90 here or go find somewhere that can actually spell ‘croissant’ properly! Or maybe a Crossaint is a bread based confection that ‘ain’t’ a croissant?

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As I type I’m sitting in my bank waiting to have a new bank card made. I had a bit of a disaster on Saturday. I went to the tram station at Chorlton and the tram was about to arrive. I rushed to buy my ticket and left my old card in the machine. I didn’t realise until I’d got into the city, had a wander about and then decided I needed some cash to buy something. I was just by the branch of my bank in St. Ann’s Square so was able to get straight in and cancel it. It’s contactless so, while they couldn’t take masses of money out, they could have had quite a few drinks on it.

These pictures were taken before I discovered the loss. I’m at Cornbrook Station waiting for the tram to take me into St. Peter’s Square. I’m looking towards the city centre where there’s a lot of building going on by Water Street. The tall tower is the Water Street Tower and the crane on the left marks more apartment buildings going up around the Wilburn Street Basin. The diggers below the tram viaduct are working on more apartment buildings on Pomona Island.

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I got off at St Peter’s Square. The cladding on No. 2 St. Peter’s Square is almost complete. People are liking it a lot. While the big façade has a retro 1960s feel, the two end façades are a delight, though I’m still puzzled by the pattern on the St Peter’s Square side. They have used a different pattern on the art gallery side. They will have a glass wall behind them and I’m excited to see what it all looks like at night with the offices lit up behind the façades. The ground floor is highly reflective glass that beautifully mirrors the older buildings on the other side of the square. I know we lost Century House but this is a classy build.

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A picture to the ‘back door’ of the Victorian Gothic Town Hall. Once crowded out by other buildings, the new square shows it off to its best. 

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I was heading to the Chorlton tram station to catch the tram into the city centre. The route takes me past the Post Box Café. Pete, who helped me with the Dig The City garden, was unloading his plants to sell on the terrace of the café. I’ve not seen him since mid July as he took August off. He’s been touring around and having family time. 

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I helped him get the plants off his van and set up his stall. He then had to go park the van and he wanted to check out some competition at the other market. So I got to man the stall. It was warm and sunny and people hadn’t seen him for a while. He had lots of new plants and while he was away I did a fair amount of business, taking about £35. So my first try at running a stall wasn’t too shabby.

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Coffee Cranks were at the Maker’s Market in Chorlton as well with their coffee shop on a bicycle. I had a delicious MochaLatte and bought an extra one to be banked for someone who really needs one. When not selling to the well off, hipster, Chorlton crowd, Coffee Cranks have a pitch at New Bailey in the city centre, by the river in the shadow of the corporate glass towers of Spinningfields. They sell coffee to the workers in those towers I suppose but also get a lot of the homeless of the city visiting them. They give them the coffees other people bank. It’s a bit disconcerting to think that such poverty exists in the shadow of such wealth.

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The guy on the right, in the blue shirt, was the guy who built the coffee shop/bike. It weighs about 300kg and is easier to drive back home as, if they have a great day, all the weight of the water and milk will have gone.