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Second day of my #ReverseAdvent calendar. Today I added a pot of strawberry jam, perfect for making a jam butty or smearing thickly on your breakfast toast. And another useful cupboard staple, a tin of garden peas, useful to add some green to a main meal.

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The box is still looking pretty empty but I do have 23 days left to fill it. 

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And another picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets.

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It’s harder than I thought to choose things to put in. When wandering round my local co op store today I kept picking up Christmas treats. And while it’s nice to have a few treats, if you are struggling to put nourishing food on your table, a box full of chocolate isn’t much use. And I’ve been putting in two items a day so, if I keep that up, there would be 50 by Christmas. The box is big but not that big. And I’d be worried about the weight. I’m going to have to make a list and put some stuff in that could be turned into a good meal or two. 

First day of December and the first day of Advent and my first day totally free in ages. And this is my first Advent post. As I posted a couple of days ago, I’m doing the #ReverseAdvent with the co op organisation. I have a big smart blue box and now have to fill it with food to give to a deserving cause. Easier said than done.

But I do have connections with an organisation in Chorlton (operates out of a greengrocers) so I went to see them. My box, when full, is going to rufuge for women who have suffered domestic abuse. Quite where it is I have no idea. It’s kept quiet in case any of the women’s partners come looking for it. All I know is that there are 32 of them there. While in the refuge people work with the women to sort out finances, work, accomodation and get the women to a point where they can move on. I’m happy my box is going here. It also helps that I know, roughly, who it is going to so I can tailor my contributions.

So today I put in a store cupboard staple, a tin of tomatoes with herbs, a great base for stews, chilli, pasta sauce. And there’s a bit of a treat with a Chocolate Orange.

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The box is a little empty at the moment.

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And here’s a festive picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets.

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This aerial shot of Manchester came my way. It shows the city centre and some of the inner suburbs that surround it; some not the nicest places in the city to live. It’s an astonishing picture because of the white blocks that ring the city centre. It’s someone’s attempt to show the scale of developments going on in that part of the city at the moment. 

At first I thought it was fanciful but I then had a closer look and worked out that most of the developments are actually underway or about to start. The huge number of white blocks at the bottom centre are Middlewood Locks, a huge residential project being financed by the Chinese. Three huge cranes have been erected on the site in the last couple of weeks. Just above that, across the ring road, river and railway are the towers of the Saint John’s Quarter being developed by Allied London. They were the company who delivered Spinningfields. No cranes here yet but the hoardings are up around the site where ground works are about to start. Allied London have a proven record for delivering.

On the right hand side of the picture you can see the towers of the Owen Street development. Groundworks have been done for four of the towers on this site and as I post they are putting up the cranes. We are super excited about this project as they are building the new tallest building in the city here dwarfing the nearby holder of the title, the Hilton Tower. The Owen Street Tower may not hold the title for long as plans for an even taller tower are being considered for another development called Trinity Islands to the right of Middlewood Locks. This is another Allied London project so we are pretty confident that it will happen.

Just above the Owen Street development I can spot all the developments that are happening around First Street including two towers by the Deansgate Castlefield tram station that I’m watching being built as I arrive for work. Above that area is a cluster of blocks that mark the old BBC site on Oxford Road, now called Circle Square. That’s being built as well.

I could go on with the towers being built across the river from the cathedral, around the co op HQ on Angel Square and all the buildings going up along Great Ancoats Street where the NQ meets Ancoats. The scale of construction is breath taking and this picture doesn’t include the building going on on Salford Quays around Media City or by the airport. And there are lots of little projects going on as well. A good time to be in construction in Manchester.

I usually do an online Advent Calendar on my blog in the run up to Christmas. Just a little countdown to the big day. I was at a loss to think of a theme this year. I’d done pieces of Christmas music, Christmas poetry and Christmas food and was resigned to doing a few Christmas photographs but then I spotted something on my Twitter feed.

The Co Op organisation, that has their HQ at Angel Meadow in Manchester, were inviting people to do a Reverse Advent Calendar. The idea is you have a box and on each day of Advent you put an item into it and just before Christmas you organise for it to be delivered to someone or a family that aren’t going to have a great a Christmas as we might wish. Hopefully the contents of the box will help with that.

I’m quite excited to do this. I’ll have to go down to Andy’s store (he works for the Co Op) and put some of their stuff in it. And closer to the big day I could add some fresh fruit and vegetables. The accompanying information suggests toiletries and some festive treats. Then my next job will be to find someone to give it to. To be honest I live in a part of the city where driving a 3 year old car or drinking own label champagne counts as ‘living in poverty.’ But I do have a couple of contacts who have dealings with some of the less fortunate in the city so I’ll go and see them. And if that fails I have found that there are some food banks in operation in Manchester. It’s a sobering thought that in one of the richest cities in Europe that’s having £billions spent on it, some people can’t afford to put food on their tables.

So here’s the kit the Co Op sent me and look out from the beginning of December to see what I put into my #ReverseAdvent. I’ll be tweeting about it as well, along with many other people, under that hashtag. And there’s no reason why you can’t do it yourself. You don’t need a fancy blue Co Op box. Just get an ordinary cardboard box and put a few items in it over December and donate it to a local charity just before the big day. It’ll help someone out and you’ll enjoy your own festivities all the more. 

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I was out and about again on Friday night. This time having a bit of a catch up with Andy. And I was practically abroad for me as we went out to eat in Liverpool. Although the centre of the city is less than 30 miles from where I live and the outer suburbs are even closer, I’ve rarely been. It does have a lot of beautiful buildings, including a stunning waterfront centred on the three graces as they are called; the Liver Building, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Building and the Cunard Building. Liverpool had a tough 1970s and 80s, not helped by the politicians in London, or Liverpool itself, at the time. Manchester had a tough time as well as its industries relocated to the Far East but we got our act together far more quickly and Liverpool has been playing catch up ever since. There’s a great rivalry between the two cities. It goes back a long time. Liverpool has never forgiven Manchester for building the Manchester Ship Canal making the city an inland, ocean going port and taking business away from Liverpool. And there is a strong rivalry on the football field that can’t really be described as friendly. The matches between Manchester United and Liverpool FC can be ‘tense’.

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We didn’t go into the city centre. Andy’s brother lives in Liverpool and has an apartment in the trendy Sefton Park area of the city. It’s a part of the city I’d never been too. Back in the day it was the home of the richest of Liverpool’s merchants when the city got rich on sugar, tobacco, cotton and, it has to be said, slaves. They built huge mansions lining a road surrounding a specially designed park called, like the suburb, Sefton Park. The park looks like one of the royal parks in London and the house’s gardens merge into the park. The houses still impress as we arrived in the dark. The merchants have long since moved on and the area did go into decline. But, as Liverpool as begun to grow again, the Sefton Park area has become popular with the young, wealthy professionals. If you are lucky you might be able to afford an apartment in one of the mansions. If not, there are plenty of smaller houses away from the park and new build apartments to choose from. I tried to think of where it reminded me of in Manchester. It had the look of Victoria Park with mansions like you’d see in Alderley Edge but with a bit of the West Didsbury or Chorlton vibe about it.

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The restaurant that Andy had chosen is called Moon and Pea. It’s on Lark Lane just off the park. I suppose that Lark Lane was originally built as a local shopping area providing goods and services for the people in the grand mansions. They probably sent their staff to pick stuff up. Today it’s changed and it’s lined with one off, independent restaurants and businesses like Beech Road in Chorlton.

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Andy’s brother found the restaurant when he moved into the area. It does great breakfasts and then transforms into a bistro for lunch and dinner. It doesn’t have an alcohol license so we were able to take our own wine which was nice. We got there about 6pm and were practically the first people in there but it filled up pretty fast on a Friday evening where people were celebrating the end of the working week.

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I liked the place. It had a cool vibe and hipster staff. The food was good and it wasn’t expensive. Andy and I had a good chat. It was a good evening out. Apart from the leaving. We parked in a side street. On returning, it was so narrow and crowded with expensive, oversized cars that I couldn’t turn. Eventually I had to back up into Lark Lane the entire length of the street. Not good. The food was though.

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I had a relatively quiet day on Thursday which is unusual as I’m often busy that day. I was in the office up until midday and then home. I’d organised my home work to make the afternoon free. We drove over to Northwich to visit the Waitrose store there. It’s a favourite place to have a wander and pick up a few treats. Top of the list, I found this time, was some cheese, a piece of Brie flecked with tiny, but pungent flecks of truffle. Utterly delicious. I’ve just finished the last piece after Sunday lunch. We may have to go back.

We were then going to go to the Hollies Farm Shop at Stretton. I’d discovered there was a gin and food tasting event with 10% off your Christmas shopping for the evening. It started at 4pm but we wanted a few people to get there first so it had a bit of a buzz. We decided to go for a glass of wine. This part of Cheshire is filled with nice country pubs that you can visit. We passed quite a few. But I decided that I wanted to try the George and Dragon in the picture perfect village of Great Budworth. I’ve been through the village a few times and had spotted this pub on the corner but had never been in.

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I suppose at some point it must have been the local pub for the farm workers when the village was the centre of the agricultural industry in this part of Cheshire. Times change and if you want to move into this pretty village you will pay for the privilege. It’s within commuting distance of Manchester and Chester and the historic cottages are worth small fortunes, well beyond the pockets of an agricultural worker. The pub has changed as well. It does have a bar but the majority of the building is given over to food. The guy who owns it has an eye for style and has filled the pub with antiques, creating a warm, inviting ambiance that people travel a long way to experience. We sat in the bar by the open fire and checked out the menu. We got talking to one of the staff who showed us round. We liked it so much that we’ve booked for a pre Christmas meal in a couple of weeks. Lots of pictures of what it looks like…

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After that we drove over to The Hollies and the event was in full swing. We sampled food and gin and bought a few things.

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I liked the Christmas ducks, like ours but upscaled for Christmas.

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And I treated myself to a bottle of gin from the Isle of Harris in Scotland. Harris is more famous for whisky so I was intrigued about how they would do with gin. I had a little taste and was convinced. It’s a good job I’ve done a lot of extra work. It cost me £50, close to $80!

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So, I was enjoying my late lunch at ODDEST when a call came in on the work phone. Could I dash into the city centre, find two people, entertain them for a couple of hours and then get them to where they needed to be? Easier said than done last night in Manchester.

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On Sunday the first named storm of the winter, Angus, had rattled in from the west off the Atlantic. We thought it had something to do with all that hot air coming out of Mr Trump. They had a bad night on the southern coast of England and London got a bit blowy. But up here in Manchester, apart from the rain, we got off lightly. Angus roared off into the North Sea towards Denmark and Sweden. But he had a sting in his tail in the form of a line of rain belts that trailed behind him. This train stretched across the country from Cornwall to Northumbria and Manchester found itself under it for an entire day.

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The rain was phenomenal and by the time of the rush hour the tram system had been cut in half with Cornbrook Station out of action. In the eastern suburbs towards the hills there was flooding and more chaos on the tram system. The trains stopped running to Leeds and Sheffied. And the wealthy denizens of Didsbury and Cheadle were on high flood alert as the River Mersey was threatening to overwhelm the flood defences and were told to prepare to abandon their expensive homes. And had I known it, as I enjoyed my lunch in ODDEST, they were watching the flood defences in Chorlton as well. The buses were packed and the roads were coming to a standstill. 

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Fortunately, I know that part of town well and was able to wind through the quieter residential streets and got as far as the big ASDA in Hulme. From there I got onto the Mancunian Way (almost at a standstill) and got off at Cambridge Street. I found the entrance to the new carpark at HOME and parked in there. Won’t be doing that again, it was outrageously expensive. 

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I did find my people and we did attempt a wander around the Christmas Markets as they had wanted but we gave up as the rain was torrential and the smallholders were calling it a day. I got them to have a drink in an old fashioned Manchester pub which they enjoyed and I delivered them to their theatre to see the play they had booked. I hung about a bit after that waiting for the traffic to die down, rescued the Mini from its expensive parking and went home.

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Some pictures of the decorations in the Arndale Centre. I like them. We went in to get out if the rain.

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I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting this blog the last few days. I’m really busy at work. When I’m not actually in the office I’m working at home so when I do get some Tom time, the last thing I want to do is to pick up my iPad and start again. It’s not been helped by work actually uploading more stuff for me to do without asking. I think I’ve achieved a certain amount and when I log back on there’s more to do. At least it will be reflected in my Christmas bonus. Well I hope it will be.

I got up early this morning with my targets set and by 1 pm I’d reached them! I think I’ve done about 70% of the work I’m supposed to, so am well on course to finish on time by a week on Wednesday. I’m trying to clear Thursday this week so I can slip out. As I’d done well today I decided to slip out (again) for a cheeky glass of Pinot Grigio and some late lunch. I know! On a Monday. I’m on a slippery slope. 

I went to one of my favourite informal dining places, ODDEST in Chorlton. To go with the wine I went for some of their ‘small plates’. I had Crispy Pulled Pork Parcels with Soy and Sesame, Spiced Lamb Koftas with Mint Yogurt and Grilled Rosemary and Smoked Garlic Marinated Halloumi Cheese. And some skin on fries to mop up any residual juices. It was delicious.

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It’s been a while since ASDA had some of their gnomes in. They are immensely popular and fly out of the stores when they come in. I don’t know who buys them. I’m banned from bringing any of them home. I’ve never seen any in any gardens. I must be wandering around the wrong parts of town I guess. These are the Christmas ones. When I got there the display was full but, walking past later, some had already found new homes somewhere. They had Father Christmas, Mrs Claus (carrying a little more weight than the Janet McTeer version from the M&S advertisement) and a Christmas elf.

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The first of the Christmas plants were coming in. At the moment just these dried, covered with glitter things, that you can add to your display and will still be about on the great day.

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I was a little concerned about the real Christmas trees though. They are real and rooted in pots but will need to be kept watered carefully if they are still to look good on Christmas Day, six weeks hence. Someone bought one though, amazingly, on Remenbrance Sunday. I was  in ASDA at 11am yesterday for the observance of the two minute silence to remember the people who have died in various wars to preserve our freedom. The entire shop stopped and fell silent and still along with the rest of the country and, indeed, Europe. It was a moving experience. 

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I don’t normally post about the news on this blog. It’s really a place to organise my pictures in a coherent way and do a little writing. It’s a place where I like to mark things that I see as I wander around my city and the wider world. Of course it’s on the internet so anyone can read it and I’m honoured when people get in touch and say they enjoy it. And I’ve been amazed at the number of views it has had. 

But occasionally the news is so big that it can’t be ignored. 2016 hasn’t been a great year. We have lost far too many talented people. The Middle East is no closer to peace and everywhere there is uncertainty. The U.K. voted for Brexit and we have absolutely no idea what it means and where we will end up.

And if that wasn’t bad enough the USA has voted for Donald Trump to be the next president. What were they thinking? How he conducted himself in the campaign didn’t instill confidence in him outside of America though he does seem to be peddling back on a lot of things he said he would do if he should be elected. Maybe he didn’t expect to win and now he has it’s all as big a shock to him as it’s been to us. But if he didn’t intend to do these things if he won doesn’t this mean he lied to get elected?

He’s promised to bring back jobs to the USA and I feel bad for the people who expect their lives to be transformed as a result. Bringing back jobs will be difficult. It’s probably a much better idea for the cities suffering to reinvent themselves and capitalise on their strengths. Back in the 1980s Manchester was a basket case. They were talking about a ‘planned decline’. We didn’t want that and the city is now the poster boy for successful regeneration. We identified our strengths and assets and worked to them. Of course what works for Manchester won’t necessarily work for Leeds or Liverpool or Detroit or Gary. They will have to formulate their own plans. Sitting there and waiting for a former reality TV star to wave a wand and create industries with 1000s of well paid jobs isn’t an option. Taking control of your own destiny on a personal and city level will work.

And I’m very confused about how Hilary Clinton got more votes than Donald Trump and didn’t win! Doesn’t make sense to me and it isn’t democracy in my book.

This amused me though when it turned up in my Twitter feed.

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