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My former work mate and good friend, Andy and I both had the same day off. As we hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks, we went to the Manchester Jazz Festival yesterday to have a catch up and to listen to some good music. It’s a ten day packed festival. I’m not so into my jazz that I know all the different acts that turn up but, over the years I’ve been going, I’ve never been disappointed and often been pleasantly surprised. Andy has a slightly different story to tell. Maybe I’m just lucky. I certainly was yesterday. 

I had to drop some papers off at the University then we drove over to Chorlton to park the car and catch the tram into the city. So much more civilised than trying to drive into the city these days and finding reasonably priced parking.

Beer and jazz got together well but midday was a little too early to start so, having got tickets for some of the day’s offerings, we went to get some coffee. Well coffee for me, Andy prefers a nice cup of tea. The coffee and tea came courtesy of one of those mobile coffee vans like the Prosecco one I’d found on New Cathedral Street on Saturday. It’s called Azulito which I think means ‘Little Blue’ in Italian. These little vans are so cool and the coffee was delicious. And Andy thought the tea was good as well, so many coffee shops can’t do a decent cup of tea. Azulito was providing patrons of the jazz festival in Albert Square with coffee and cake.

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The first concert we went to was free. It was a group called The Alexandra Ridout Quintet. Alexandra is only 17 and is the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, 2016. The four guys in her band couldn’t have been much older themselves. She plays the trumpet and did it brilliantly. A well deserved winner of the BBC award I thought. In spite of their youth, the Quintet were the closest to what people think jazz is. They start a tune and each of the band took time to extemporise on the tune. And there was that jazz thing where people applaud each musician as they finish their part, not waiting till the end of the piece as you would in almost any other kind of music.

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A video from the band on YouTube….

We then had ten minutes for a swift walk down to St. Ann’s Church for the second performance of the day, The Paul Towndrow & Steve Hamilton Duo. These two guys came down from Scotland to play at the festival. Paul played the saxophone while Steve played piano. The music was beautiful and ethereal and fitted well in the beautiful surroundings of the church. 

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An example of their music from YouTube…

This chap seems to be in charge of the festival. Well he does all the introductions of the different acts that I’ve seen over the years. Here he is in St Ann’s Church…

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And back in the Albert Square pavilion introducing the last act we saw yesterday…

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The last act we saw was called Skutch Manos. It was a revelation of a concert. There was jazz but there were elements of rock, folk and flamenco as well. Three musicians; a guitarist, a percussionist and a guy with a double bass, they filled the tent with sound and wit. It was sensational. I’m pleased to see that they are local and do a lot of gigs across the city and surrounding areas so I will be able to get to see these talented people again.

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A video of Skutch Manos. But to be honest I haven’t been able to find a video that comes close to seeing these guys live…

We had a late lunch/early dinner. I’d wanted to go back to Wahahca again but Andy isn’t keen on hot, spicy food which surprised me. I think he’s had a bad chilli at some point which isn’t what Wahaca is about with its subtle flavours. We settled on Cabana, a Brazilian restaurant in the Corn Exchange. I’d not tried this one so it was another I can tick off my list of Manchester restaurants I need to try. And, being Brazilian, it’s kind of flavour of the month with the Rio Olympics about to start.

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We started with cocktails. I had a Mango Caipirinha which they drink a lot of in Rio I’m told. It was good. Andy ordered a Red Tailed Parrot but didn’t notice it was 2 for 1, so he ended up with two! Had a sip…also delicious.

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We ordered BBQ steak and chicken wrapped in bacon with French Fries, grilled corn on the cob and Rio beans.

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For pudding Andy has these mini doughnuts stuffed with Nutella. They came with a hot chocolate dipping sauce. And I went with ice cream.

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It was about 5 when we finished. Not a good time to try and drive out of the city. So we caught the tram back to Chorlton and spent an hour of so in ODDEST. A good day.

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It’s one of my favourite times of the year in Manchester as the Manchester Jazz Festival gets under way. There are concerts in venues, large and small, across the city from the Royal Northern College of Music to Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club in the Northern Quarter and in venues as eclectic as the Midland Hotel and St Ann’s Church. But the festival hub is outside the Town Hall in Albert Square where thousands gathered on Saturday afternoon to enjoy the food, the beer and the music in the pop up concert hall. I just had a wander about listening to the free music and enjoying the food, the beer and the vibe. But I plan to go to the Jazz Festival tomorrow with my bud, Andy. It’s my first day with absolutely nothing to do in weeks!

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Not in Albert Square, but there was a satellite concert venue on New Cathedral Street as well.

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Flourish is the name of the little company that sells flowers and plants by the entrance to St Ann’s Church on the eponymous square. That flower stall is a bit of a Manchester institution having been on that site for over 100 years. In the old picture the church looks like its crumbling a bit. In 2016 it’s looking a whole lot better. The street is virtually still the same except we have lost the soot grimed walls 

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Under the tenancy of the guy who runs it now it’s thriving. He has another site by Debenhams where Tib Street joins Market Street near the tram station. And another site that deals in office flowers (every business in Manchester seems to have a huge, impressive and expensive display in their foyer) in City Tower.

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I got to meet him when I did the garden in St Ann’s Square last year. This is a pop up flower stall on New Cathedral Street that he set up as part of the Manchester Picnic and Jazz Festival over the weekend. We spent a few minutes persuading/helping a young couple to choose some plants for the balcony of their city centre apartment. I was rather good at it. Offering advice with confidence like I knew what I was talking about.

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We’ve become used to seeing those little vans that appear at festivals, markets or just around town selling freshly brewed coffee that is made right in front of you. But I spotted this one at the Manchester Jazz Festival selling chilled Presecco, Manchester’s fashionable drink of choice at the moment.

For those living where the Prosecco phenomenon hasn’t got to yet, it’s a sparkling Italian wine rather like Champagne. Last year there was a bad harvest and the amount of Prosecco being made declined leading to panic buying. Talk about 1st World problems!

I’m used to seeing in in bottles but the guy operating the van told me you can get it in barrels for vans like his. Probably not a good idea to know that you can buy it by the barrel.

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A couple of posts ago I took my car in for a service and to have my brakes done. It all went well and didn’t cost me an arm and a leg. The place I go I trust and it’s your typical car mechanics shop smelling of hot oil and run by guys who seem to be covered in varying amounts of oil as well. It’s not a place of beauty though. You don’t go there to admire the view.

This week is the week that people flock to Tatton Park, south of the city in the Cheshire countryside, to admire the gardens at the last of the year’s Royal Horticultural Society big shows, RHS Tatton. Some of the guys who I got to meet at Dig The City last year have a garden there. I was just an amateur having a bit of fun at Dig The City but they are professionals and a good medal from an organisation as august as the RHS can do wonders for their business. 

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Bringing these two thoughts together I found myself in Lower Stretton, south of Warrington, yesterday to pick some tickets up for a gin tasting they are doing at The Hollies Farm Shop, just outside the village. I came across the Ring O’ Bells Service Centre where the locals presumably go to have their cars fixed. I loved the garden that they had set up along the road side. With its clashing colours and weird combinations of plants, not to mention the random objects among the planting; it may not be in the running for  medal at RHS Tatton but it certainly made me smile.

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As part of my day off yesterday I treated myself to lunch out. We’re not exactly short of restaurants in Manchester these days so I was spoilt for choice as to where I could eat. I decided to try one of the many new restaurants that I hadn’t tried and, indeed, an entirely new cuisine.

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I went to Pho (pronounced ‘puh’, almost like you are saying the sound of the letter ‘f’) in the Corn Exchange. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant. Even though it was a Tuesday lunchtime, the restaurants in the Corn Exchange were really busy with people who didn’t mind getting burnt to a crisp braving the al fresco terraces on Exchange Square. And why weren’t they working? Though they must be well off to be treating themselves to lunch on a weekday. Like me I suppose.

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I’m not a fan of hot sunshine and my skin positively hates it so I headed inside to find a table under the dome and out of the sunshine. The air conditioning made it a comfortable option to the 95F outside.

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I was pleased to be dining near people who looked like they might know something about Vietnamese cuisine. It’s always good to eat where the locals eat, they know what’s good.

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Having never been to Vietnam, though it is on my list, I have no idea if the decor was authentic. I think it leaned more to ‘Manchester Cool’ as opposed to authentic ‘Ho Chi Minh City chic.’ When I get there I’ll let you know.

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I never know what wine to drink with Asian foods. European cuisines are easy. I think that it’s got something to do with Asian countries not having a tradition of wine making. Not entirely true of course but I did try some Chinese, European style wine. It was a Merlot. I’d found it in China Town. I saved it until we went to see some friends who import wine. We tried the Chinese Merlot and then a French Merlot that they import. The difference was staggering with China going to have to work hard to reach the quality of the French wine. And sometimes the tastes of the food, though delicious, can jar with the subtle tastes of the wines. Beer, on the other hand, works well and really was welcome yesterday on such a hot day. I went for an imported Vietnamese beer called Halida. It was delicious.

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For first course I had these rice paper parcels stuffed with rice, vegetables flavoured with mint and coriander. It came with a peanut dip. And chopsticks which are difficult to use with these parcels but I persevered. I hope people didn’t notice me stabbing at the food to get it to my mouth though.

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For the main course I had a Fragrant Banana Flower Salad with slivers of beef. It was so good And had some hits of chilli that had me reaching for the beer.

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After all that chilli, a nice cooling bowl of Coconut Ice Cream.

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Pho’s terrace faces the back of the Cathedral. We are in the very heart of Anglo Saxon and Medieval Manchester here. I wonder what the people who lived here 1000 years ago  would make of a restaurant selling food from a country and culture of that they had no idea tha it even existed? The terrace was deserted, even with its beautiful view of the Cathedral on offer. This side of the building was in full sun. One of the waiters had put a thermometer out there and the suntrap hit 105F! They were advising people to sit inside. image

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After my extremely busy time I’ve got a few days off. I still have a few odds and ends to tie up but most has been done. Go me! Today I had to take my car in for a service and to replace the brake pads. Afterwards I caught the tram into the city and walked down Oxford Road to the university to drop some papers off. I could have posted them but I thought it would be interesting to wander down there and see all the building projects that are taking place. It was only nine in the morning but it was already hot. I had to dodge from shady spot to shady spot.

With the university year over it was quiet. Just a few foreign students who come in the summer to learn English and experience English culture. But round the historic Whitworth Hall part of the university it was a hive of activity with this year’s crop of graduates, with proud parents, in their graduation gowns having passed their degrees. I used to be one of them but each year that passes the gulf between them and I grows.

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Having dropped off my papers I went back into the city to get my hair cut at my favourite, BarberBarber, in Barton Arcade. Jonny, the owner, was about but I didn’t get to talk to him, he was somewhere organising the opening of his fifth barber shop, this time in Birmingham. My hair was cut by a new guy, Adrian. He’s a Yorkshire guy from Huddersfield. He now lives in one of the Heatons. He prefers Manchester. He has his own style that wasn’t appreciated in a small town like Huddersfield he said. In Manchester we like people with their own style. He’s found his niche in BarberBarber. People say guys never talk (apart from football) but it’s not true. Adrian told me all sorts. He’s going to get married in Las Vegas in October. He has been married before to a girl who his half Yorkshire/half Egyptian. Her mother was a hippy who ended up marrying a guy from Cairo. She lived there for a while but then found how, as a woman, she was expected to behave in Egypt so she came back to Yorkshire with her three children. Adrian’s first wife’s uncle is the chief of police in Cairo. Adrian said he’d never met a scarier person. He wields a lot of power in Cairo and…..well the police in Egypt work differently from those in the UK. Adrian was an interesting guy.

The Pokeman Go game craze has reached Manchester. So when I saw these guys in China Town more than usually engrossed in their mobile phones and totally ignoring the Chinese Arch and other manifestations of Chinese culture around them, I knew that was what they were doing. They were happy to share what they were doing and said I should get the app and join in. It does seem like fun. Apparently there’s a Pokemon Go character actually inside Strangeways Maximum Security Prison. You literally have to kill to get in to find it.

Once I’d spotted these guys I began to notice other groups of, mostly guys, also looking for the characters. There was another group outside Central Library in St Peter’s Square which is a Pokemon hotspot apparently. It’s weird to think that there’s an entire cyber world around us that we can’t see. Unless you get the app of course.

It’s astonishingly hot in Manchester today. 35/95! Hence the guy without his shirt. That was a thing in Manchester as well today, shirtless guys, many of whom couldn’t pull off the look as well as this chap. Have some dignity guys, your window to rock the shirtless look in public is very small. And don’t get me on women in boob tubes…

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When you are grown up you forget the significance of this time of year. Late July sees the closing of the schools for the long summer holidays. Quite who is more relieved, the students or the teachers, is debatable. As there are teachers in our family I suspect it’s the teachers. They come in for some stick as they appear to have a lot of time off. Anyone who has a teacher in their family or circle of friends will realise that the time off is not as generous as it seems (they spend a lot of time getting ready for the next term/year) and that is well deserved given the pressure of their job. I’d have started slapping the kids well before Christmas personally, and I’m in awe of anyone who could make it to the end of July without doing so. 

I knew it was end of term because the plants as gifts for teachers had arrived in ASDA. Word to the wise…don’t bother with a plant, they will really appreciate a bottle of (good) gin/whisky/wine….also available in ASDA….

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After the ‘June lull’, the time in the year after the spring flowers are in bloom and the high summer flowers start with all the hot colours is over. June, apart from the roses, is mostly green. Well the hot coloured summer flowers are here. Yellow and rust coloured Heleniums and purple Astilbes in these pictures among others. I like the way these colours clash but beautifully. Quite where high summer is we’re not sure. We’ve had rain and leaden skies for weeks. It feels more like October or April than July. I took these pictures by one of the ponds on the Birchwood Busisness Park yesterday, the one with the fountain.

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This mother duck was having problems keeping the kids under control.

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I’m still snowed under with work. By Sunday evening I’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it won’t be an oncoming train. Today I had to go over to the office on the Birchwood Science Park in Warrington. I like going there. The park is literally that, a series of high tech buildings set in beautiful grounds. The Atomic Energy corporation is based here along with domestic companies like Rolls Royce. There’s a number of high tech companies and some of the big foreign companies have a presence here which means you often come across people from around the world. I hope none are planning to move out. The Fujitsu campus is enormous at the moment.

I needed to pick up a couple of things for dinner and popped into the Spar Convenience store there. As I was leaving I arrived at the door just as a Japanese businessman arrived to come in. And this is what happened when two members of, arguably, the most polite nations on the planet meet at a door. He stepped back with a bow to let me out which may be politeness in Tokyo. But I actually had my hand on the door opening it, so English politeness means I have to hold the door while he comes in. He indicated I should come out, I indicated he should come in. I actually won that one and he came in. He then bowed and thanked me. I bowed back and said it was my pleasure. He bowed again so I did it again. We repeated the bowing again and were up to our fifth repetition and it looked like we were there for the afternoon. Fortunately a woman came to get in and we both moved to allow her through, as is polite practice in Tokyo and Manchester. Spell broken I was able to leave and he could get in. It was an interesting and entertaining encounter.

No picture of the bowing, sadly, but here’s the rather ordinary door.