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Pingus the Penguin has been outside the Oklahoma store on High Street in Manchester’s  Northern Quarter for years. It’s his job to guide people into this funky store selling all kinds of interesting things. You can also get a nice coffee, tea and a piece of cake. Yesterday he went missing! He had been penguinapped! There was an appeal on TWITTER and other social media and (phew!) by this afternoon he was back in his place doing his job. Though I noticed that there was some damage to his feet.

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This note was stuck on him. Seems he’s been out on the razzle dazzle for the night!

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In spite of the cold and the wet, grey weather, Spring is beginning to stir. We have snowdrops and crocus (croci? I’m never sure) and this early flowering cherry tree was in full bloom in Sackville Park in the city centre. We’re having an El Niño winter. That’s means we aren’t getting a lot of cold and snow but we are having some vicious Atlantic storms blowing in bringing high winds and heavy rains and floods. They have names now which seems to give them personalities as well. Gertrude and Henry blew in the weekend before last and made life difficult in Scotland. And Imogen arrived this weekend and blew in along the English Channel causing havoc in Wales, southern England and France. Apart from the bit of flooding on Boxing Day, Manchester has got off (fingers crossed) relatively lightly. We are awaiting Jake now but he’s not shown any signs of arriving just yet.

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Lunch sorted, I headed out onto Princess Street to stake a claim to a spot at the front of the pavement from where I could take pictures. The police and the security people are always keen to keep the road clear so, if I stood my ground, I’d be fine. I got talking to a guy from London who had brought his little daughter up for the weekend. It had been years since he’d been to Manchester and was amazed with its transformation. He’d heard it had changed but hadn’t appreciated how much. 

Princess Street is a good one to stand on. It’s regarded as one of the finest Victorian streets in the country, lined with fine architecture. This is the view past the Manchester Art Gallery towards the Princess Street façade of the Town Hall.

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The Hotel Arora occupies this fine sandstone cotton warehouse.

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This entire building is occupied by the Yang Sing restaurant, regarded by people as the finest Catonese restaurant in Europe. Some say it’s the best restaurant west of Kowloon. 

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And this is the building that the Wong Wong Bakery occupies part of the ground floor.

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The dragons began to process along Princess Street. First there were young Chinese ladies and children in costume.

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Then the huge drum that beats the rhythm that the dragons dance to.

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Then we have the dragons. There are two of them. The gold one is regarded as lucky by Chinese people. He was on our side of the street.

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The main dragon was on the other side and I wasn’t able to get a really clear picture of him.

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Having had a nice wander around China Town without the hassle of the crowds, I thought it was time to stake my claim to a good position to watch the dragons arrive from Albert Square. The crowds can get thick along the route and if, like me, you want pictures, it’s good to be at the front. I headed for Princess Street which links Albert Square to China Town.

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But before that I wanted a bite of lunch. There were lots of hot food concessions on the streets but they were charging, for one dish, the kind of money that would normally get you a plate at one of those ‘all you can eat’ buffet restaurants. Tempting though a dish of sweet and sour pork might have been, I decided not to bother and went to the Wong Wong Bakery next to the legendary Yang Sing on Princess Street.

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I went for a couple of their delicious bread buns. I had a Chinese Pizza Bun (I bet they are strangers to those in old Beijing) and a wonderful Coconut Cream Bun. Both were fresh and filling and cost £2.60. 

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If Chinese New Year has a problem, it’s the crowds that it attracts. With it being one of the most colourful, spectacular events in the city’s calendar it attracts people in their thousands. I’d already given up on seeing what was going on in Albert Square when it suddenly occurred to me that, with most of the people fighting for a position in the square, China Town itself might be relatively quiet. Once the dragon has greeted the city’s dignitaries, the crowds tend to move to China Town and the narrow streets around the Imperial Arch can get very crowded. 

So I headed down to China Town and, while it was busy, it was still easy to walk about, see what was going on and take a few pictures. I took these.

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I went into the city centre to see what was happening around China Town as the celebrations for Chinese New Year in the city reach their peak. I headed for Albert Square first. The day was cold but the skies were clear and blue. It makes a change from the grey and rain we’ve had of late. The Dragon Dance starts here where he greets the local civic leaders outside the Town Hall before making his (I think the dragon is male) way to China Town a few blocks away. He spends about a hour in the square. It was packed with people and I couldn’t find a vantage point to take pictures so I left. I did take these while I was there.

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In Albert Square they were busy organising the square for the dragon and lion dances tomorrow before the parade into China Town. Tomorrow is the big day of celebrations in Manchester, centred on China Town. The actual Chinese New Year’s Day is Monday I believe. I had a wander down to China Town. It was busy but no where near as busy as tomorrow when thousands will descend on the area to enjoy the fun. I went into a nice, little shop that I like to visit called the T LA Art & Craft Gallery just by the Imperial Arch. It was packed with people buying decorations and other Chinese bits and pieces. 

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I settled for this Year of the Monkey hanging decoration in lucky red.

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The Chinese New Year celebrations in and around St Ann’s Square are organised by the same people who organised the Dig The City Garden Festival. I found Gary, Nelson and Isabel who were all over the site making sure it was all running smoothly. Nice to see them again. The rain and the wind had done for the golden dragon outside Selfridges on Exchange Square. I’d wanted to see it but it was being packed away when I got there. Isabel had taken these selfies with it earlier in the day so I hope she doesn’t mind if I borrow them for this post.

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Some street artists were trying to create some Year of the Monkey art but the rain wasn’t help much.

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Some of the city’s restaurants had set up field kitchens on New Cathedral Street providing tasty, hot, Chinese food for the shoppers. In spite of the weather they were doing good business.

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This was the inflatable Ping Pong Bar. Ping Pong is huge in China and we like a game here as well. I liked the dragon that spat ping pong balls at you which you had to hit back.

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In St Ann’s Square there were more food stalls.

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And there was a pop up theatre that was going to stage a musical performance featuring Chinese instruments.

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I was up early to get to ASDA. Then it was home to get changed and off to Old Trafford (the suburb, not the stadium) to do some tutoring. The 14 year old needed some help with his English. I have to say he’s already pretty good. He listens well and takes a lot in. And he’s good to chat to as well. We discussed football, his brother’s up coming wedding, the house that his parents are renovating further along Seymour Grove (it’s going to be huge, might be the first million £ house in that part of town) and his future. He’s pretty focussed and already knows he wants to go to university. We discussed what subjects he wanted to study that would get him there. He’s settled on Chemistry and Biology but isn’t sure about the other two yet. He’s not sure what university either but it has to be a good one and in the UK. His older brother (not the oldest who gets married in the summer) is studying Dentistry at a university in the Czech Republic. My young student should be able to have the pick of the good ones here. Manchester is definitely on the cards, maybe even Oxford or Cambridge. 

I then did a few minutes with his little sister, who’s nine. She was having a problem with her English homework so we sorted that out for her. I’m always looked after when I visit this house and have a constant supply of tea. Finished there I went into nearby Chorlton with the idea of catching the tram into the city centre to see the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was pouring with rain so I went to my favourite Post Box Café and had cake and coffee while I decided what to do. I had a slice of deliciously moist Creme Egg Chocolate Cake and a chat with Chris, the owner, about gardens and the like. We need to replant the St. Ann’s Square garden again after the winter. 

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It stopped raining a bit so I went into the city. By the time I got there all that tea and coffee was taking its toll and I needed some facilities. I’d taken the tram to Victoria so my walk into the centre took me past the National Football Museum on Cathedral Gardens. I’d forgotten about the targets in the urinals in the men’s room. I’m pretty good at target practice and got the little football moving about nicely. But nobody wants to see that. I think I took a picture of this last time I was in. As I was at the urinal taking a picture, another guy came in and caught me doing so. I think he understood what I was photographing. I left….

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A regular reader of this blog contacted me about some developments that are planned for Manchester University. I think she has contacts with the area and wanted to know how it was coming along. The university is on a £1 billion development plan for the campus that will be completed by 2020 giving it state of the art facilities and cementing its position as one of the world’s top universities. As I’d not been down there for a while I thought I’d go take a look.

The Manchester Business School is having a massive makeover. It’s being extended towards Hulme and the 1960s buildings are getting a makeover. Well, last Tuesday, they were breaking the ground for the extension and, across the street, they were just starting the building of the hotel.

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This is Manchester Business School. It presents the massive, red brick wall on the Booth Street façade. I swing from loving it to loathing it.

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This is what the hotel and extension will look like when it’s built.

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The MBS used to be joined to a smaller building across Oxford Road by a bulky ‘bridge’ blocking the view along Oxford Road. This I was never fond of. It was dark and noisy to walk through and it ruined the view. I was delighted to see it demolished last year as the first part of the development. They have temporarily bricked up the openings created when the bridge was removed but, when the building has finished, there will be windows overlooking Oxford Road. In the meanwhile, the view down Oxford Road has been greatly improved.

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Just along Booth Street is the Graphene Institute, now finished and fully operational. It’s one of the best modern buildings in the city and will be at the heart of Manchester, European City of Science 2016. They are about to start on a new Graphene inspired building near the Mancunian Way that will be the Graphene Engineering Inovation Centre. It’s been designed by acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly, the guy who designed the Walkie Talkie in London. Let’s hope his Manchester building doesn’t melt the cars.

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Across the street from the Graphene Institute, between Booth Street and Grovesnor Street, next to the Commonwealth Games Aquatics Centre, some university halls of residence are being demolished as I post to make way for the new Manchester Univeristy School of Engineering, a massive £350,000,000 project.

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Attractive Oddfellows Hall is being retained and will become part of the new building.

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The project has been designed by Dutch architects, Mecanoo, who designed HOME on First Street.

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