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After the Christmas break, it’s nice to get back into the old routines and do stuff that was on hold while we celebrated the season. Last night, it was back to the Post Box Café in Chorlton for my monthly writing group, Just Write. We did a number of things but I’m usually happy if I come away with a couple of ideas for writing something. I came away with two and I really must get on with the larger piece I started before Christmas but it got back shelved among all the festivities.

First we were invited to think about putting away the Christmas Decorations. Here’s my little piece….

As I put away the decorations…

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The decorations finally made it to the loft this morning. They’d actually been taken down on January 6th, Twelfth Night, the last day of the Christmas season, but had sat in bags and boxes in the spare room ever since.

I convinced myself that I’d left them in the spare room because some of them had been decorating the porch and the garden through the Christmas season and I wanted them to be properly dry before they were put away. The truth is I didn’t really relish having to climb up into the loft and put them away.

I’m also reluctant to put them away because it is January. After all the glitter and light of December it’s hard to come to terms with the grey, midwinter days of January. I feel a loss and mourn them being taken down. I know they are in the way but seeing them still out comforts me.

Nearly a week after Twelfth Night, with the spare room badly needing a tidy, it was high time to get them put away. As they went up I wondered what state they would be in when they were brought down next December. In spite of carefully putting them away so that the decorations that go up in the hall, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom etc were altogether in the same bag/box,; come next December they will have miraculously migrated to other boxes and bags. What lives up there that does this? Carefully wrapped, much loved glass baubles will have shattered. Strings of lights and strands of tinsel, carefully wound for ease of access next year, will have tangled themselves up into a series of knots that will have to be painstakingly unravelled with much Anglo Saxon English in the run up to Christmas 2015.

They are up there now. I’m over it. It is done. Time to move on and look forward to new things. On the positive side I did find the first primrose of the spring in the garden this morning.

The second piece we did looked forward to Valentine’s Day. We had to write some words on cards that suggested ‘Valentine’ to us. They were collected in and then we got to choose three at random and then write a piece suggested by the three words. Mine were ‘KINDNESS’, ‘LOVE’ and, difficult to understand, ‘CHAIN LINK FENCE’!

Here’s my stab at this one….

Kindness
Love
Chain Link Fence?

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I understand the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ when connected to Valentine’s Day, but what the **** has a ‘chain link fence’ got to do with anything?

Possible ideas…..

1) Chain link fences are complicated things, so is love. The fences look fragile but are in fact strong. They can keep harmful things out and keep safe things that we want to keep safe. Chain link fences are easy to push, slight pressure in the right place can cause them to give. But press harder and a strange thing happens, they become stronger and more resilient, rebuffing any attempt the destroy them. Likewise with love…
2) Chain link fences look simple. Like love. They are interlocked pieces of wire. Not like love. In spite of their simplicity, they are, like love, difficult to unwind. If they are looked after, like love, they will last for ages. But, once a link has been broken, the integrity of the entire fence is compromised, like love. The entire structure can begin to unravel. Things take advantage of the breaks in the fence and, like in love, the holes can become bigger so that huge things can get through them. If the chain link fence is the survive, like love, the tiny breaks need to be fixed. If not the fence, or the love, will deteriorate, crumble, fall, apart….

 

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I like Paris. I’ve been lucky enough to have been on several occasions. From Manchester, it’s just a short hop over the Channel. You can leave Manchester early and be on the Champs Élysées for a cafe au lait/pain au chocolat breakfast by nine. Once done you can enjoy this beautiful city, the architecture, the museums, the galleries, the wonderful restaurants, the fabulous shops… I love Manchester but we are lucky enough to be close to two of the world’s great cities in Paris and London. 

The world seems to be heading into some dark times at the moment. We had Sydney before Christmas and then the appalling attack on the school in Peshawar and now we have Paris. The attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo seems to have hit a chord with the world that other attacks haven’t. Of course each of the deaths will have had a dreadful effect of the victim’s family and friends. But what has affected the world is that it is an attack on a magazine. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine that uses humour to point out things in society that need to be highlighted. French politicians will have found themselves lampooned in it over the years. They may not have liked it but, in France, like the UK, we have freedom of speech and we have a right to point out to the rich and the powerful when what they are doing isn’t to our liking. Religion is not beyond the witty criticism that this magazine deals in. Various religions, when they have been found wanting, have found themselves a target. But certain followers of Islam have taken offence at this. So much so that they thought that the best way of dealing with this was to storm the magazine’s office in Paris and slaughter anyone they found.

It has traumatised Paris and France and shocked the entire world. This is because it is an attack at one of the founding principals of our society and civilisation. The right to free speech. While the overwhelming majority of the 1.4 billion Muslims are as shocked as the rest of us there are a small minority of Muslims who are afraid of free speech. They think it is something that is a threat to their religion. And, by attacking the offices of Charlie Hebdo, they sought to silence it. They couldn’t be more wrong. People around the planet have gathered to support the magazine and mark the passing of the people in their offices. Far from silencing free speech, they have encouraged people to come onto the streets and squares of cities and towns around the world to support free speech.

Holding pencils and papers with #JeSuisCharlie they have shown their defiance of this tiny group of people who want to overthrow our societies. These terrorists might, occasionally, have some brief, murderous and hollow victory, but the rest of us WILL have our way and we will, ultimately, prevail. 

I’m not too good at drawing but I did the picture at the top of this post as my way of supporting the innocent people caught up in this nightmare in the beautiful city of Paris. By the way, it’s not Blackpool Tower!

Some rather wonderful pictures courtesy of Manchester Libraries came my way. I never realised that the Midland Hotel had had a roof garden where the visitors to the hotel could take tea while listening to an orchestra with a view across the city’s roof tops. Judging by the women’s clothes, these pictures must have been taken in the early part of the last century, probably pre World War 1. You can see the Town Hall tower a couple of hundred metres away on Albert Square. And I think the ‘fogginess’ of the pictures is due to early photography technology and not the Manchester weather. It all looks very ‘Downton Abbey.’

Presumably the space is still up there and there will still be access. I think the Midland is missing a trick here. Afternoon tea or a cocktail on the roof of the Midland on a warm summer afternoon or evening will go down a treat….

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Apart from one walk at some point after Boxing Day, I’ve barely been out of the house since the weekend before Christmas. And I quite like my new life of sloth. But I did make the effort yesterday to drive across the border into Yorkshire and visit some friends who have just bought a house in Sowerby Bridge. I say ‘just’ but they moved in September and have been asking me to come ever since. In the local Yorkshire accent it’s pronounced Sorby Bridge. It’s a little market town in the Calder Valley up in the hills that separate Manchester from Leeds. It used to be an industrial town when the woollen industry dominated the area around Leeds rather like the cotton industry dominated Manchester. But both industries have gone and Sowerby Bridge fell on hard times. But it’s on the up again as its rundown woollen mills and well built, Victorian houses have found favour with commuters into Leeds and Manchester who fancy living up in the hills but still have access to the big cities. Winters can be nasty up there though and I drove up some steep roads that I wouldn’t like to try in ice and snow.

On the way back I took a few pictures. In Ripponden, another pleasant, former industrial town higher up the Calder Valley I took a picture of this restaurant, the much lauded, El Gato Negro (The Black Cat). It’s a Spanish tapas restaurant that opened up there about 10 years ago. It has a great reputation and has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand (a kind of precursor to the much desired Michelin star). Foodies from Manchester have been making the trek out to Ripponden to sample it’s delights for years now. Sadly the restaurant closed its doors before Christmas. Not because it has failed but because it’s moving to new premises just off King Street in central Manchester. It will open early in 2015. Sad for Ripponden but good for Manchester. I felt sorry that the little town has lost one of its great attractions. In the UK we get annoyed that London gets a lot of the good things that go on but, it has to be said, Manchester does have a similar thing going on, sucking in talent and investment away from other areas.

The yellow bicycle tells me that the Tour de France passed this way last summer when Le Grand Depart took place in Yorkshire. There were still lots of these bicycles about.

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Higher up the valley was the little village of Rishworth. I stopped by Rishworth School, a prestigious public school in the village where the well to do and the pushy like to send their children to be assured of a good education. In the UK ‘public’ schools are no such thing, they are private and you can pay an awful amount of money to get your little darling to go there.

But it wasn’t the school that interested me, it was the poppies on the lawn outside. We are in the process of commemorating World War 1. The poppies that grew on the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium are a symbol of this. Each of these poppies commemorates one man from Rishworth who died in the war. There were hundreds and given that Rishworth would have been a tiny place a hundred years ago, these poppies represent a considerable percentage of the male population of this part of the valley. It was sobering to stand there and think about it. The field of poppies reminded me of the ceramic poppies that have been set up in the moat of the Tower of London. Over 900,000, one for each person from the UK and it’s empire who died.

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Just before the road joined the M62 motorway I stopped and took these pictures of the desolate moors that characterise the Pennine Hills between Manchester and Leeds. I find this part of the north forbidding and am always happy when the road dips over the crest of the hills and I can see Manchester spread out below me. Where the lorries are marks the route of the M62 as it links the two cities.

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Happy New Year to all my readers. Wishing you a peaceful, prosperous and healthy 2015.

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We had a quiet night in with some food and a bottle of wine (well three actually). I was sound asleep by midnight and not even the fireworks woke me up. Manchester was dry and cold so a perfect night for a New Year celebration. The fireworks went off around the Manchester Wheel in Piccadilly Gardens. I heard a rumour that one of the city councillors promised us a firework display to rival Sydney. I think he must have meant Sydney Littleton down our street who bought some rather large rockets. I don’t think he could possibly have meant the Australian city. They put on a great display but London beat them again. I think Boris watches Sydney then rushes out to buy extra rockets.

These pictures were taken by the helicopter cops again, @NPAS_Barton, last night. Many thanks to them.

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They also took this picture of the ice rink in Spinningfields. While our fireworks may not rival Sydney or London, our ice rink does a passable and classy imitation of the one in the Rockefeller Centre in New York.

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If you missed the London fireworks (like me) last night, here they are. As the first song says ‘There’s no place like London’….

I was in ASDA again today. I checked on the flowers and plants. All the reindeer that had been there yesterday after I’d bought my three had found homes bar one. He’d lost his price tag so he couldn’t go through the computerised tills. If he didn’t find a home by this evening he was bound for the crusher! He looked very sorry for himself and a bit worried about his fate. There was no way I was leaving him there so I found Kerry and we created a new price tag for him and he’s come home with me.

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Here he is reunited with some of his buds. When the Christmas decorations get taken down and put in the loft he’ll be up there with them waiting to be replanted for next year’s festivities.

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Some more aerial shots of the city that have been doing the rounds. The first lot are from the Greater Manchester Police helicopter (@NPAS_Barton). Many thanks to them. This first one is of a vital junction on the motorway system. The M602 comes in from the right of the picture from the city centre and leaves as the M62 towards Warrington and Liverpool on the left. The M60 Manchester orbital motorway curves through Worsley at the top of the picture and leaves towards Barton Bridge and the Trafford Centre in the bottom right hand corner. It must have been taken very late at night as there is hardly any traffic on it. When I pass through in one of the rush hours it is bumper to bumper.

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We have had some misty days of late. This one is of the city centre from the west. Spinningfields is at the bottom and you can see the Town Hall in the centre lit for Christmas. To its right is Central Library and No 1 St. Peter’s Square. On the left of and slightly above the Town Hall you can see the Manchester Wheel in Piccadilly Gardens. To its right a bright flash of red marks the warning light on top of Exchange Tower, needed on a night like this.

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Here, we are over Manchester City’s football stadium. Something is going on there and there is a bright yellow patch of light in the centre of the stadium. Above and to the right is are patches of bright green and blue light seen through the mist. These are some of the pitches on Manchester City’s new training facility that has just opened. The bright blue is the artificial grass, all weather pitch done out in city’s colours.

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The Trafford Centre just before Christmas with not one parking space free.

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Looking down on the warren of streets that make up Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Piccadilly gardens are in the top left hand corner of the picture. I really like this part of the city.

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A misty morning looking south along the M60. Barton Bridge rises out of the mist o the right. The angular structure to the left is the Chill Factor E, Manchester’s indoor skiing experience. Carry on to the left and you can see the central dome and the campanile of the Trafford Centre.  

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This picture comes from a TWITTER guy, @Mr_Deansgate. Many thanks! I think he must have an apartment in the Great Northern Tower from this view. The city streets are foggy but the Hilton Tower has its head in sunshine.

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Thanks to the guys of Blue Watch from Broughton Fire Dept. for this picture. Some of them are in the picture. A great view of the city centre form the Co-Op HQ building on the left to the Hilton Tower on the right and everything in between. You can see the CIS Tower, Exchange Tower, the stumpy yellow Arndale Tower, the Town Hall, No 1 Deansgate. Look carefully and you can find URBIS and Manchester Arena and the astonishingly rude chimney of Strangeways Prison. Looks even ruder when smoke comes out of it and a great name for a prison.

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I’m quite sure I’m not the first person to start Christmas shopping for 2015. People were out and about on Boxing Day snapping up the remains of this years’ Christmas cards and wrapping paper to be squirrelled away for next year. I don’t usually bother but I was in ASDA today and the reindeer planters were reduced to £1, down from the £10 they were before Christmas. The next step after this will be the CRUSHER! So I rescued these three in spite of having been banned from bringing any home after the dog planter debacle. The plants are past their best but I will hide the reindeer in the loft with the rest of the Christmas decorations until next autumn and will replant them for next Christmas.

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We have spent most of the time since Christmas Eve holed up at home eating festive treats. Cabin fever has set in so we decided to go for a walk to blow away the cobwebs and wake us up a bit. Working hard can be tiring but nothing like the tiredness you get from giving yourself up to pleasure for four days. I fasted some before Christmas and lost a bit of weight, most of which has been put back on in the last few days, but at least I don’t have to beat myself up over it as I’m back to my ideal weight for a guy my height and age. Sorry to be irritating about that but I just ate sensibly before Christmas and the weight just fell off. I have never had much trouble controlling my weight. Eat well and exercise and there’s not much to it.

The Boxing Day snow is still lingering where it fell as the temperatures haven’t got above freezing at all since then. The skies are clear and blue and, at this time of the year in the UK, that means cold.

We wrapped up warm and headed for the Forest Park, a local park popular with dog walkers with a huge grassy expanse where people play football on Sunday mornings. I was warm in my wool/cashmere coat, scarf and gloves but regretted wearing my flat cap as the frost was getting to my ears. Note to self….take wool hat next time.

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This is Mary of ‘Mary had a little lamb’ fame looking out across the cricket pitch for her lost sheep. In the best tradition of a Christmas pantomime, altogether now….’He’s behind you!!!’

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From there we went to the Science Park and did a loop by the Atomic Energy buildings, past the pond and then back by the Fujitsu Campus. A weird place for a walk you might think but it is a pleasant one. The offices are set out in parkland with little bits of woodland along the paths. There’s a lot of wildlife in the area. It was all very quiet with the car parks almost deserted and the offices closed until after New Year, possibly until next Monday. We like to enjoy a long winter break in the UK. I liked the white bark of these Silver Birch trees, lit up by the winter sun against the blue of the sky.

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We headed to the pond on the edge of the huge central lawn. In summer people like to sit out here and eat lunch. I did a panorama.

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The pond was frozen at one end but the fountain at the other end kept the water open so the resident population of ducks had somewhere to swim. It looked cold for them. I didn’t envy them at all.

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I thought the ducks, all Mallards, the males with their iridescent emerald heads and the females in their drab browns, would be there so I made up a packet of bread for them so they could have something to eat. They are quite tame as they are used to people and like to share their lunches with them. I soon had an enthusiastic group of them enjoying the bread. Some in the water were having trouble getting out across the little ice shelf that had appeared on the edge of the pond so I threw some in for them.

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I was intrigued by the snowflakes that someone had gone to the trouble of stencilling onto the paving stones of the path.

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Just before we got home I spotted Santa, a snowman and two reindeer, one was Rudolf, having a beer and a cigarette outside a house. Apparently Mrs. Santa Claus hates the smell of tobacco smoke inside her home.

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I opened the last window on my Advent Calendar this morning. How good is a day when you are allowed to start it off with champagne and chocolate? At the moment delicious smells are emanating from the kitchen as our Christmas Day lunch is being prepared. It’s not actually Advent anymore as it’s the first day of the Christmas season. But this will be my last Advent/Christmas poem of the year. It’s been fun finding and posting them. Happy Christmas to all my readers. A suitable poem today celebrating the birth of Jesus by Longfellow. It was later turned into a Christmas carol….

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth, ‘ I said
‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.’

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow