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We have got used to TV programmes and movies being made in the city. And since media City has opened attracting a lot of the support talent needed to make the movies and TV happen to the city, it’s quite an industry. Another movie is being made here. It’s called ‘Genius’ and stars Colin Firth, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Messer’s Firth and Law have been in the city for the last few days filming but Ms. Kidman has yet to put in an appearance. The film is set in New York and Manchester is starring as New York in 1900. For some reason, parts of Manchester seem to evoke early 20th century New York City. They are using the N4 and the streets around Canal Street for the rougher side of New York. While the grand commercial buildings of King Street have been used to stand in for smart New York. The Old bank of England building was bedecked with stars and stripes (I wondered if they counted the stars properly, there weren’t 50 in those days) and the street was filled with old American cars.

Many thanks to Andy Duggan and Theme Park Investigator for these pictures…

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I didn’t recognise the flag, I thought it was Iraq. But it’s actually Kurdistan. You won’t find Kurdistan on a map. There are about 40,000,000 Kurds and they live in part of the Middle East that covers parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, not the calmest part of the world at the moment. Stronger, neighbouring countries have never allowed them to have their own country which has led to resentment and sometimes toppled over into violence. They are the second largest stateless nation in the world. The troubles over the last decade in Iraq have allowed the Kurds in the north of that country to establish some autonomy for the first time in a long time, but neighbouring countries like Turkey and Iran with large Kurdish minorities aren’t thrilled about that as it might encourage their own Kurdish people to break away. The Kurds in Syria are at the mercy of IS. And the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds is under threat as IS make gains near them.

They seem to be a decent people who are moderate in their views and open to ideas from outside. But they are under threat and need help from outside or they might be overwhelmed in their lands. These Manchester based British Kurds were stood in front of Queen Victoria in Piccadilly Gardens trying to get their plight across to the city generally. I hope they can prevail in their native country and not be overrun by IS, one of the nastiest bands of ******** anywhere in the world at the moment.

Here they are proudly showing off their national flag but also parading their British credentials.

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In case you are wondering which nation is the largest stateless nation in the world, it is, surprisingly, England with a population of 52,000,000. We do have a government in London that we share with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a scattering of little islands about the coast. But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own governments as well. England does not have this luxury, something that the unsuccessful independence vote in Scotland has brought to the forefront of our thoughts. It is causing a great deal of resentment among us English so watch this space.

For the benefit of those people who don’t know what these are, they are books. Before iPads and Kindles came along, people used to seek them out when they wanted to find something out or be entertained by a story. You could go to book stores to buy them or go to libraries to borrow one. They were useful and good fun. OK, I exaggerate. They are still pretty mainstream and I still prefer to curl up in bed with a chapter or two of a real paper book than I do with an electronic device (stop giggling at the back there!). And I do like to look at books on, say, art, because it’s a much pleasanter experience. If I’m off to sit on a beach for two weeks (not likely to happen, I’d be bored witless after 30 minutes) I might load a few airport novels onto my iPad I suppose. Having said that when I do do some writing, like at JUST WRITE or on here, I do it straight to the iPad or laptop rather than on paper. I like the idea of writing my thoughts down rapidly as they come to me. And then I can cut and paste and rewrite and refine my writing without having to write the entire thing out again.

But I still love books so it was nice to see the piece of land by the painted electrical substation on the corner of Thomas Street and Tib Street in the N4 was being used for a second hand book market. I love these as you can often find a gem or two at a bargain price and give an old book a new life. This little market is just round the corner from Affleck’s Palace, Manchester’s centre of independent shopping all under one roof. It’s a great Manchester institution and one of the first things to have been set up in what became the N4. Yesterday Lady GaGa was in there doing a bit of independent shopping. She’s in town today to do concerts at the Manchester Arena. She likes coming here and the N4 is right up her street.

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I’m not actually vegetarian but I think I’m moving that way. I do enjoy the taste of fish and meat but I can easily put myself off it by thinking about what the anonymous slab of food on my plate actually is. I don’t eat chicken anymore at all since I held a live one a few years ago. And I think I could easily be put off pork products and beef. I have meat free days but if it’s put on my plate I will eat it. We are omnivores and I accept that.

I don’t avoid leather shoes, belts, bags, coats etc. as they are by-products of the meat industry and it would be a waste not to use these products. However, I do have a problem with animals that are raised solely to provide clothing for people. And that clothing is usually high end designer stuff. Fur coats have all but disappeared in the UK. They are so poorly thought of after a long campaign in the last century that people just won’t buy or wear them. You will find them in Paris and Milan but never in London or Manchester. If you think you have seen one it’s either on a foreigner or is artificial. The fur industry has all but died in the UK.

But some stores are getting round it by importing clothes from outside the UK that use real fur as a trim. Harvey Nichol’s, one of my favourite stores in the city, has been doing this apparently. So these protestors were outside letting the public know what was happening. They weren’t trying to stop people shopping there, they were quite away from the entrance, but it might make people think before going in. And if that beautiful, winter coat is trimmed with real fur, hopefully they will think twice before buying it. The store will soon stop stocking these garments if people don’t buy them and there’s no profit in it for the store. Plus a lot of adverse publicity. I signed their petition.

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‘Red at night,

Shepherd’s delight,

Red in the morning,

Shepherd’s warning.’

The bath hasn’t been emptying at its usual rate and yesterday it didn’t empty at all. We had to bail it out with a saucepan. Obviously blocked, it needed attention. We were reluctant to call in a plumber. They can be expensive with £25 added to the bill every time he/she shakes their head, ‘tuts ‘or has a sharp intake of breath. So I did a bit of research on the internet and found a device called a ‘snake.’ It’s a nice piece of kit that extends to 25ft and unblocks drains with ease it said. I found one for sale at a local DIY place and ordered it online last night. The place was open at 7 am this morning so I decided to pick it up then. When I got there it was all ready to go.

I got it home, read the instructions and got to work. It wasn’t as easy as it said. Eventually I had to take the side of the bath off and unscrew all the bits of the ‘U’ bend. While there was quite a lot of lime scale there but the passage was quite open. There was an evil smell though. I poked the lime scale out and reassembled it all. Tried it out and it was still blocked! So the blockage was further along the waste pipe. I dissembled the ‘U’ bend again and used the snake to poke along the waste pipe. It found a blockage. I jiggled it about and extracted it. It brought out more of the evil smelling gunk. I assembled it all again which was not easy in the tight space I had to work. I tried it again and the water flowed free! We had saved a small fortune on plumber’s fees.

Now it was just a matter of replacing the side of the bath and cleaning up the mess. That took to 10. I then noticed that some of the evil smelling gunk had stained some of the paint on the wall. So it was into the loft to see if we had the right colour paint left to patch it up. We had some so I did that. I decided to actually have a bath to relax after all my exertions. I was just lowering myself into the warm water when two tiles fell off the wall and into the water. All the banging about must have disturbed them. I emptied the bath. Up into the loft in a dressing gown to find anything that would stick the tiles back. There wasn’t anything but I decided to try and use some of that thick, white plastic glue instead. As I post the tiles are still in place. I drew another bath and finally was able to relax.

The little poem at the top is a little country rhyme that predicts the weather. If the sky is red in the evening we will have good weather the following day. If it’s red in the morning we will have bad weather soon. I left the house in dark at 7. As I left the DIY store the sun had come up and there was this glorious, orange red sky. It only lasted a few minutes then disappeared. And the rhyme is true. The remains of Hurricane Gonzalo, which rocked Bermuda at the weekend, are going to blow in over night bringing high wind and heavy rain.

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On Cross Street, just around the corner from King Street, this huge plastic tent has been erected outside the Cross Street Chapel. Work to build the new tram route across the city centre has revealed the old burial ground of the Georgian Cross Street Chapel. When the Victorians were building their city they widened Cross Street and lined it with great commercial buildings. They just ploughed their new street across the old burial ground. Manchester’s traffic has been thundering across it for the last 150 years. Damn Victorians! If they weren’t vandalising Tudor buildings they were building roads across cemeteries. And they completely destroyed the pretty Georgian market town that we had before they built the Victorian city.

We live in more thoughtful times I think. And before the trams can roll along Cross Street in 2017 all the bodies under the street will have to be removed and reburied, with due ceremony, in a quiet part of Southern Cemetery. To maintain the privacy and treat the people with dignity, this huge tent has been erected while they remove the remains.

I’d love to know who they were and what their stories were. A while ago we were up on Hadrian’s Wall, the great wall built by Emperor Hadrian to mark the edge of the Roman province of Britannia and keep the barbarous Scots and Picts out of the Roman Empire. We were watching and talking some archaeologists who were digging in the vicus (civil settlement) outside one of the forts. One of them handed me a dice (die?) that a Roman soldier must have dropped nearly 2000 years ago. Apart from the archaeologist, I was the first person to handle this object since the Roman soldier had lost it. I remember closing my eyes and trying to see the soldier. For a minute or so I had a connection with a guy who lived in a different world, in a different time. And while I have some idea of his world, he can’t have had a clue about mine.  

On a point of practicality, the building of this tram route along with other major building projects in the city at the moment, is making driving round the city centre an absolute nightmare. If you’re coming, park outside and use the trams, trains and buses to get in. Its the price we have to pay for living in a successful city I suppose.

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One of my favourite small buildings in the city is the former MONSOON store building on the corner of King Street and Police Street. I say ‘former’ because MONSOON moved out last year. They moved into a huge new unit in the Arndale Centre. The building has been a shop and occupied by one business or another continuously since it was built up to last year. It was sad to see it empty for the first time in its long history.

With its black and white exterior it looks like a Tudor building put up somewhere between the times of Henry VII and Elizabeth I, including her father Henry VIII. But it isn’t. In those days where King Street is now, in the centre of Manchester surrounded by a population approaching 3,000,000, was fields outside the small market town clustered around the church that would become the cathedral just 10 minutes walk away. The woodwork and the enclosed plaster is far too regular to be real Tudor, a more refined building technology and tools have built this. Also, real Tudor buildings are unpainted wood and the natural pink of the plaster not this black and white. This is a Victorian idea of what a Tudor building should be like. Chester, a little city near to Manchester, is full of such buildings. They are all glorious fakes. The Victorians also went so far as to paint original Tudor buildings with black and white paint to ‘improve’ them. We have been spending a lot of time and money taking them back to something that Elizabeth I or Henry VIII might have recognised.

I was pleased to see something seems to being done with the building again. Maybe a new store? But I have heard rumours that it might be turned into a restaurant. As people know we are desperately short of both these services in Manchester.

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I’m on a mission to spend an extra £60 in local, independent businesses in Chorlton before New Year’s Eve. It started when a picture appeared on my TWITTER feed. It stated that if everyone spent £1.20 ($2) extra in local businesses each week it would bring in millions into the local economy, creating new jobs and a vibrant high street. I’m not counting the glasses of wine I drink in ODDEST and the coffees I have in the Post Box Café. They are part of the my usual routine. You have to buy something extra locally that you would normally get from one of the big stores.

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We’re having a warm weekend. Apparently there’s a huge storm in the Atlantic that stretches from Canada to Europe. It’s stuck there and it’s dragging warm air up from Africa. So Summer is having its last (possibly) hurrah. We will have to enjoy it while we have it as next week that hurricane that is battering Bermuda at the moment is going to arrive. It won’t be as windy as that but its going to be wild and very wet. But it was nice to walk about in Chorlton in the warmth in October. I’d dressed in layers for autumn but they really weren’t necessary.

It was Chorlton Market day so I thought I’d go and check it out. Markets are great for encouraging people to visit an area. They then go on to shop in local stores and everyone benefits. Here’s what I got in Chorlton.

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I got three pieces of cheese (Mature Cheddar, Lancashire with Garlic and a piece of Stilton) for £5 from the market. I also got from the market, a jar of apricot chutney and a jar of piccalilli for £6.20. The French stick (£1) came from Epicerie Ludo, Beech Road’s award winning delicatessen. We’re having these after dinner tonight.  

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I liked the look of the homemade Steak & Stilton Pie from the market for £5.50. And the Eccles Cakes that are made locally in Manchester were £1.95 from Epecerie Ludo again.

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I wanted some fruit so I went to Elliott’s for some bananas and little satsumas. They came to £2.50.  

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Altogether I spent £22.20 locally today. Add to that the £7 I spent last time and it comes to £29.20, just under half way to my target of £60.

 

Friday is usually a quiet day so I was able to get home early. I decided to have a go at making some Vanilla Halloween Cupcakes. I was quite pleased with how they turned out. If you feel like trying some here’s how you make them.

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I cheated a bit with the icing and decorations. Chris, who runs the Post Box Café in Chorlton, had showed us some ready made Halloween icing and sprinkles he’d found at the ALDI supermarket. They looked fun so I went in search of them. I’ve never been in ALDI before. I’m a Waitrose/Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall/Booth’s kind of boy. ALDI came as a bit of a shock. I’ve never seen a jumble sale in a food store before. I found a baking section but none of the cool Halloween stuff seemed to be there. Then I spotted a Halloween section with decorations and stuff and there is all was.

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This is how you do them…

VANILLA HALLOWEEN CUPCAKES

110g of self raising flour

110g of caster sugar

110g of butter

2 medium eggs

vanilla extract

I like to weigh out all the ingredients first…

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Cream the butter and sugar together with a fork to beat in air. Add the vanilla extract to taste…

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Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon full of flour. Use a fork to beat them in, it adds more air and makes the cakes light…

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Sift in the rest of the self raising flour. Fold it in gently with a metal spoon so you don’t knock all the air out of the mixture…

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Here it is all mixed…

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I wanted all the cup cakes to be the same size so I divided the cake mixture equally. Something which is easy to do with our new digital scales. Each one was 35g precisely…

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You put the muffin cases into two muffin tins, the mixture makes 12…

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Bake in the oven at 180C (160C fan oven) for 10 to 15 minutes. When they are golden brown on the top and a sharp point can be inserted and taken out clean of mixture they are ready to take out of the oven. I have a cup of tea and keep a beady eye on them. They can go from undercooked to cinder in seconds… 

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Use you fun bought icing and decorations as you like. Mine have mini chocolate pumpkins and blood shot beady eyes on them. I’m quite happy with them…

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Back in the summer the Dig The City Urban Garden Festival brightened up the city centre with ten days of all things horticultural, bringing colour and gardens to the busy city. The sun shone on it, mostly, and people came in their thousands. Then it was all packed away and disappeared even faster than it had taken to put it up. But I found a tiny reminder that had been overlooked on one of the city’s streets. I wonder if anyone can guess where it is?

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