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After my meeting in Media City, I had to get right across Greater Manchester to Rochdale. Normally I’d jump in the car and do the orbital M60 motorway to do a journey like that but on Monday I was using the tram.

Rochdale used to be its own little town. It’s been around a long time, a least a 1000 years that we know of. It really boomed in Victorian times when huge mills, spinning cotton, were built around the small town. It became very wealthy and this is reflected in the buildings that were put up at that time. The collapse of the cotton industry has damaged the town but its proximity to Manchester city centre and being surrounded by beautiful countryside has made it a desirable place to live. Houses prices are way below the prices you’d pay in popular suburbs like Didsbury, Chorlton, Hale, Bowden…. so bargains are to be had. The downside is that you don’t get the vibe of a place like Chorlton. Hipsters are thin on the ground in Rochdale. Rochdale is a proud town and is quick to assert its identity when people assume it’s part of its larger neighbour, Manchester. People from outside the city think it’s part of the city and, with us voting for a mayor for the Greater Manchester area in a few days, I suppose it really is a suburb of Manchester. And, as Manchester is a thriving, vibrant, world city it could do worse than ride on its flashy neighbour’s coat tails.

To be honest north Manchester is a bit of a mystery to me. Apart from using the M60, that runs through it, to get to Yorkshire, I’ve not really explored it. I rarely get further north than Victoria. The inner suburbs north of the station have a ‘colourful’ reputation. While south Manchester enjoys the levels of wealth of London and affluent places in the south east, north Manchester has roughly half the wealth of the south of the city and it shows. The tram journey beyond Victoria takes you through the ‘colourful’ suburbs where houses are cheap and for a good reason. Moston won’t be the next Chorlton any time soon and for good reasons. The line then runs through another of the old cotton towns, Oldham, where you could see fine old buildings put up in the Victorian times and I’ll have to check it out soon.

From there the tram took me to Shaw. It’s a small town in the eastern hills. It’s increasingly popular as a commuter town for Manchester and the Sunday Times had the villages in this area (Saddleworth Moor) as one of the top places to live in th UK. Lots of pretty, stone built cottages nestling in green valleys within walking distance of great restaurants and 30 minutes from Spinningfields. I had to change trams here. The station was by an old cotton mill. If this was in Ancoats, it would have been coverted into apartments going a £500,000 a pop. Shaw isn’t quite in that league yet. I like mills. They are simple buildings but have a pleasing elegance about them that modern factories don’t have. Given a bit of tlc, and with light flooding in through those huge windows, they make great places to live. This one, Briar, is relatively simple and nothing like the grand, almost palatial buildings they put up in places like Ancoats.

I jumped on tha tram into Rochdale town centre and jumped off one tram stop before the town centre at Rochdale Railway Station. I wanted to check out St. John the Baptist RC Church that is just by the stop. It was built in 1927 in the Byzantine Revival style. Henry Chipp, the Canon of the church at that time lobbied for the older church to be replaced by a building in this style. We thank him for it. The design is based on the architecture of the Hagia Sophia (Basilica of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul. That building was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between 532 and 537 in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Over the centuries it was enlarged and decorated with wonderful mosaics. It was the largest Christian building in the world for nearly a 1000 years. By 1453, when the armies of Islam took Constainople, it had fallen into bad disrepair. The first Sultan of Istanbul (Mehmed the Conqueror) converted the church into a mosque. Over the centuries it was restored and the minarets were added giving it the appearance we see today. In 1935 it was turned into a museum with some of the Islamic decorations being removed to reveal the Byzantine mosaics that has been covered. I’ve never seen in person it but it’s on my list.

This is Rochdale’s little version. It’s Grade II listed. It’s a lovely little building. 

I photographed the exterior and then noticed an ‘open’ sign on the door. I looked in and found myself in a vestibule. There was a service going on inside so I didn’t think it appropriate to go further inside to take pictures. So here’s a rather poor one of the Byzantine influenced interior through a glass panel of a door.

I wondered about the future of this building. We aren’t a church going nation anymore and this building is in a part of Rochdale where a lot of Muslim people live. There weren’t many people at the service on a Monday lunchtime. Maybe on Sunday it’s packed though. I wonder if it might have the same fate as the Hagia Sophia? Having said that the Roman Catholic Church in this part of the city is very fond of this building and it won’t be getting any minarets added any time soon.

 

In his epic poem ‘The Wasteland’, T.S. Eliot wrote ‘April is the cruellest month.’ It certainly was this morning. Two weeks ago we were basking in temperatures in the mid 20s in Manchester, this morning I had to scrap ice off my car. And it’s snowing in the northern parts of the city this afternoon. All a few days away from May. The apple trees are in blossom. This weather won’t do the blossom any good and won’t be tempting the pollinating insects out either. I fear for the apple crop in a few months time. They do say it will be warmer by the May Bank Holiday weekend coming up though.

Back to yesterday. I’d taken the tram to Media City for my first meeting. It wasn’t an arduous one so I had time to wander around the Quays and see what was happening. 25 years ago this area of the city around the abandoned Manchester docks (we used to the 4th largest port in the country, 30 miles from the sea) was a wasteland. Today it’s a vibrant community with swish apartments and glass office towers, truly iconic cultural buildings and nice places to chill, drink and eat. It’s the northern home of the BBC who have attracted all manner of hi-tech businesses and highly paid jobs. I love Media City, the security guys glide around the area on segways and there’s always the chance of spotting a famous face around the area. There are plans to double the size of Media City with more office towers, studios, apartments etc… Another panorama of the Erie and Huron Basins on the Quays.

This project is taking shape overlooking the Eire and Huron Basins of the old docks. There will be 4 of these towers, three have been sold out already (we’re very short of accommodation for the growing population of the city; it’s one of the problems of success). They look great in the artist’s render. Each one is as high as Manchester Town Hall. The people who like to keep an eye on such developments in the city got very excited about them when they were announced.

They were less than happy when they started putting the cladding on them and the colour was entirely battleship grey instead of the promised shades of grey and white. Fortunately second panels, in the expected colours are now covering the battleship grey. The first tower is shooting up.

Across the road from the Harbour City tram stop, BUPA are building a purpose built Manchester HQ building. They already have offices at the head of the basin in The Anchorage but are expanding their Manchester base. This is what it will look like.

People are surprised that in a country famous for its National Health Service, we have private health care as well. BUPA is a company providing this. Some people, or maybe their employers, pay into this for immediate treatment. I’m not convinced. I’ve had a little health worry myself recently and it’s been less than a month from consulting my doctor to getting to a point where I’ve been sorted. This including an ultrasound in a NHS hospital that would be the envy of any country in the world. Here’s where they are with the building at the moment.

Not a new project but I’ve always like the three buildings that make up the NV apartment scheme with their curved façades set at an angle to the water.


At the Manchester Ship Canal end of Huron Basin there is this little but exciting looking development. It’s not the iconic Lowry Centre, Manchester’s waterside theatre and art gallery complex; one of the projects that the city gave itself as a present for the Millenium back in 2000. It’s the smaller gold roofed building that Artisan is having built. Artisan is a fashionable restaurant and bar in Spinnigfields, much loved of the famous and wannabe famous of the city. Mr Beckham likes to hang out in it when he hooks up with his buds in the city. This is what it will look like.

This is where they were with it yesterday. In a few months it’ll be full of BBC types and the famous people who have business in the studios.

It’ll have a great view of Media City and the Quays other truly iconic building, the Imperial War Museum North.

I walked through to Trafford Road. This used to be the edge to the Quays but, recently, the developments have jumped the road into the roughty toughty area of Ordsall. Trafford Road connects the end of the M602 to the western suburbs. It’s wide and busy, nasty in the rush hour or if you catch it when people are trying to get to or from Manchester United’s stadium at nearby Old Trafford. I’ve driven along this road, and been stuck on it a lot. There was one famous occasion, Manchester United were playing on a cold night, and a guy who’d been to see the match, opened the door to my car and sat in to get warm. I’d always been told never get into a car with a strange man but wasn’t sure what to do when a strange man gets in your car. We had a chat and he had a warm and then he got out. Weird! My present car locks itself if I forget these days. The people behind the four apartment towers on Erie and Huron Basins are also building this tower on Trafford Road. It seems to be a continuation of the apartment blocks they have already built next door.

So far they have only done the core.

There used to be a multiplex cinema and car park overlooking where the River Irwell empties into the Manchester Ship Canal at the bottom end of Trafford Road. When a newer, plusher multi screen cinema opened next to the Lowry Centre it closed. They are now building six apartment buildings on the site with a bridge linking it, across the canal, to the Manchester United side. The development is being called Clipper’s Quay.

At the moment it’s a sea of green cranes and construction. One of the pictures is reflected in the mirrored glass World Trade Centre buildings across Trafford Road. You might see a little Tom.

Someone has been busy clearing away the bushes and vegetation on the bank of the river under Trafford Road Bridge. This is happening all the way through the industrial area of Trafford Park where a new tram route is being pushed out to the massive Trafford Centre and, eventually, to Salford Reds rugby stadium and the new docks at Port Salford, being built to bring ships back to the city.

 

I had two meetings to get to today. One was first thing in an office in Media City in Salford Quays and the second was in Rochdale, almost diagonally across the city from Media City, in the north east of the city. I could have used the car but it would have been touch and go if I could get from one to the other and I might arrive in Rochdale stressed from M60 traffic. I decided to give the Metro a go. First I bought a day pass for £5. I bought it using the app on my phone while having breakfast at home. Altogether I used 8 trams and if I’d had to buy the tickets separately it would have cost more and I would have to fuss at each of the stations. On my phone, my ticket was only a click away. If you are living here, or even just visiting for a few days, it’s worth having this one on your phone. Here it is.

First I took the tram from Altrincham to Media City. It all went so well that I had time to take some pictures as I wandered about. I’ll post them over the next few days. After the Media City meeting I took the tram into the city and changed lines in St. Peter’s Square. While waiting for the tram I took a panorama of the square with the Princess/Empress trees still in full bloom. They looked as if they are going to fall soon sadly. That’s sad but they are replaced by the most enormous leaves that look just like the sort that small children draw. The trees will grow this summer and next year there will be even MORE purple blossom to enjoy. When I looked at the picture carefully, as I’d used the panorama option on my phone, I noticed the guy walking towards me on the left is walking away from me on the right!

This has become one of the most beautiful parts of the city centre. 

At the top of Bridge Street, just before you get to the bridge and overlooked by Albert Bridge House, is a little piece of land. It’s on the edge of Spinningfields and on my route from that part of town to Kendal’s department store on Deansgate and on to St. Ann’s Sqaure. I imagine at some point there must have been buildings on it. What they were and what happened to them I don’t know. They could have been demolished or even bombed out in WWII. At some point someone decided to pave the area over. It looks like it was done in the 80s. It has a dated look and could do with a bit of a makeover. There’s some uneven paving and a few benches. A cool restaurant has opened on it but I’ve not seen any tables spilling out onto it yet. It doesn’t have a name, so I call it ‘the square with no name.’ Imaginative aren’t I?

I’d like to see it given a thorough update. Maybe now people see the stunning job they’ve done on St. Peter’s Square, the city might have an appetite for this to happen. In the meantime a little olive grove has sprung up. Surprisingly these trees do well in Manchester. We usually associate them with holidays in places like Spain, Italy and Greece. But some types of olive trees live up in the mountains in those countries and are used to cold winters. We may not have baking hot summers like Tuscany and Andalusia but our winters are mild compared with the Italian and Spanish mountains so the trees thrive here. But, because of the shortness and the coolness of our summers we have, we are unlikely ever to see a crop of olives. They are very decorative trees and are popping up around the city. There are some outside Selfridges in Exchange Square and there’s also a grove of them, along with some lemon and orange trees, on the top of the Hilton Tower. How cool is that.

These trees will probably have started out life in one of the Mediterranean countries before being transported to their new home in Manchester. They do have these wonderful gnarled trunks that become more contorted over the years. They are long lived trees and some, in their original countries, will have seen, if not the rise of the Roman Empire, the fall of it. The ones here have been put into some of those wonderful, bee, cast iron containers that have been popping up around the city. They were cast by the Hargreaves Foundry in Halifax, the company that cast the parts for The Angel of the North that you see on the main road as you approach Newcastle. 

In the centre of the square is, I imagine, the oldest of the olive trees. Just look at how gnarled its trunk is. It’s been given a different type of container as suits its importance as the oldest tree in the grove. I wonder if Hargreaves cast this as well?

Another stall that interested me was Fabrikk. Having enjoyed ‘Peaky Blinders’ on TV and seen ‘Beaky Blinder’ the duck in the corporate duck race, I liked the classy flat caps on this stall. Some were the classic ‘Peaky Blinder’ caps favoured by the members of 19th century Birmingham gang made famous in the TV programme. Minus the razor blades hidden in the peak of the cap of course. Hence the name of the gang. Go figure how they got their name. In Manchester we had ‘The Scuttlers’, a similar organisation famous for their sartorial splendour and their viciousness. If you’re going to be a thug be a well dressed one I suppose. This all happened at the same time as the events portrayed in the Leonardo di Caprio film, ‘The Gangs of New York’, so I suppose it must have been an international phenomenon.

Kate, who makes the caps, also had some in the style of the Yorkshire Flat Cap. These were the headgear of choice of the working men and boys of the industrial cities (obviously not the ones blinding people with razor blades) of the North, the guys who worked in the cotton and woollen mills of Manchester and Leeds. They are still popular but have gone upmarket. You often see well to do kids from Cheshire in them these days while the kids in the poorer suburbs favour designer baseball caps. 

Kate also makes bags. I was drawn to the coloured patterns in the fabric first because I thought they were leather. What they were made of was the bark of the Cork Oak that has been treated to make a vegan leather. They had the look and the feel of a very soft leather. Cork Oak used to be used to make corks to seal wine bottles. Almost every wine now has a screw top which has all but killed the cork oak industry. And ruined that little ceremony the wine waiters enjoyed, opening the bottle at the your table with the corkscrew and getting you to try a taste before accepting it. Twisting a screw top just doesn’t cut the mustard. If I can find the right pattern and colour I’d likeliness of these caps to,wear with my cashmere/wool overcoat in the autumn/winter.

www.fabrikk.co.uk

So, I’m having an extra day on the Easter weekend, lying in bed eating the last of the hot cross buns and drinking tea when, BAM!, we’re in a general election! Is it me or is there a lot more politics about these days? We seem to have been on a conveyor belt of momentous decisions for the last couple of years. Last week it was Turkey deciding something or other and the President winning by the ‘narrowest of margins.’ Last year when Brexit was decided by the SAME percentages it was being called a ‘decisive decision.’

What will happen seems to have already decided. The present government will win but with a much bigger majority making it easier to negotiate Brexit. It will also mean that the present PM, who got the job by default last summer, will have her own mandate from the people. ‘Mandates from the people’ are very important to politicians. It gives them the right to ignore the people who voted for them legitimately as opposed to ignoring them without the mandate. Or am I cynical? It might also put the Labour Party out of its misery. Their leader, popular with party members, loathed by his own MPs and regarded as a fool by huge swathes of the electorate, he won’t be able to survive a pounding at the ballot box from the electorate at large.

Back to my normal life. I was at the Maker’s Market in Spinningfields checking out what was on offer. I got talking to the guy who was selling all things Manchester City. He’s a big fan of Manchester’s richest and most successful team, playing in blue at the Etihad Stadium. 

It was an interesting talk and I learned something I’d never known before. Back in the 1930s Manchester has THREE football teams. Manchester City was the more successful in those days. Manchester United were struggling. The third team, called Manchester Central, playing at Belle Vue, was doing well and wanted admittance to the football league. This would have been particularly bad for Manchester United who were in the second division. They may have lost supporters. Manchester City and United came together and conspired to keep Manchester Central out. Manchester Central had had two successful seasons but were denied access to the league, twice, after applying. After that they began to fail as a team and were eventually wound up. Manchester could have had three teams. I wonder what colour they would have/did play in? A bit of an investigation is in order I think.

ManCityGifts.com

However you mark it, in church or in an overindulgence in chocolate eggs, or just by having a relaxing couple of days with family and friends, have a good Easter. This time last year things were a bit frantic in our home. We have sailed into calmer waters now so I decided to decorate the wooden ducks for the season and fill vases with spring flowers. Enjoy…

While we were waiting for the duck races there was plenty going on to entertain us. On the New Bailey side of the river they had set up a little fun fair with old fashioned rides for the little children. I liked the contrast between the old fashioned rides and the new buildings on Spinningfields and New Bailey.

I thought the daffodils were a bit freaky.

On the Spinningfields side of the river the Maker’s Market has set up an Easter weekend market.

Winston was there selling his bandanas. He’s a bit of a fixture at this particular venue. He has legions of fans who come to see him.

Over the last year or so we have got used to the bright, yellow water taxis, or Waxis, plying the rivers and canals between the city centre to Salford Quays and on to the Trafford Centre. One route starts in Castlefield and goes to Media City and then on to the Trafford Centre. A second route is being started that will eventually go from Victoria Station, along the River Irwell to Spinningfields and then to Media City. Given the grid lock that can happen in Manchester in the rush hour, a sedate ride to work along the canals and rivers is a viable and pleasant alternative. Tourists enjoy the ride as well. Over the summer I’ll take a trip and see what it’s like. It’ll give be a different perspective on the city.

I got chatting to the guys running the system. One of the Waxis was moored on the New Bailey side of the river. I wondered about a third route along the Rochdale Canal from Piccadilly Station to Media City. There must be a constant stream of BBC types,and other media bods, arriving from London and wanting to get to Media City. The route has a dedicated tram route already. They said no. There are too many locks on the section of the canal between the station and Castlefield. If you’re having a drink at one of the bars on Canal Street or Deansgate Locks it’s always fun watching the boats negotiate the locks but it does take an age. Especially when they don’t make it. 

The duck races were supposed to start at the Bridge Street bridge and finish under the Irwell Street bridge passing through Spinningfields and New Bailey. The problem was there was a stiff breeze blowing across the river at right angles so they changed the direction of the race starting at the footbridge and finishing at the start. As they say, ‘in Manchester we do things differently.’

Then another problem happened. The wind blew all the ducks, in both races, into the New Bailey bank where they stubbornly stayed. So the Waxi saved the day, ran up and down the river creating waves that eventually got the ducks moving in the direction of the start, sorry, finish!

Pictures of the Corporate Duck Race with the Waxi trying to move them along…

I was quite pleased that I caught the launch of the main duck race with a golden shower (behave!) of ducks being dropped into the river…

The ducks were reluctant to swim. They all clumped together in the middle of the river having a meeting about how to deal with the race, and then decided to follow their corporate buds into the bank…

Although the duck race is a bit of harmless fun over the Easter weekend, it does have a serious point in raising money for charity. This year the charity was Brainwave, an organisation that helps children who have born with, or suffered, some kind of brain trauma and helps them to become more independent.

The companies that create wealth in Spinnifields and New Bailey sponsor large ducks for a corporate duck race with the money going to the charity. The ducks were on show on the steps of the Bridge Street bridge prior to the race. A great deal of effort goes into dressing them.

My favourite was the Beaky Blinder duck. He’s dressed like a Victorian gang member from Birmingham, made famous by a  rather good TV show called Peaky Blinders. The Birmingham gang got their name from the razor blades they concealed in the peaks of their caps which they would blind their enemies with. I wonder if this duck has one in his cap. He intends to win! Manchester had a similar Victorian gang culture. One of the famous gangs here was called The Scuttlers…

Amy, gone but not forgotten…

Elvis of course…

A certain American president. If this one had come second he would have claimed to have won…