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I’ve been working at home today. I got up really early and began and by noon I’d done everything I’d planned to. First thing was very autumnal with mist but, later in the morning, it burned off and we had a warm, sunny September day. What to do with it? Well, at this time of year we usually go foraging for sloes to make Sloe Gin. And, if I say so myself, we’re rather good at it. 

Last year I learned, too late, about a drink called Bramble Whisky. Basically it’s blackberries, sugar and whisky all shook up. I’d looked at a recipe a couple of weeks ago and it advised picking the blackberries on a warm, sunny day. So off I went foraging among the hedges around the fields near home. 

I was out for about a hour and a half. I learned that there weren’t as many blackberries as I thought and they were quite small. I knew that blackberry bushes have nasty thorns but I didn’t realise that they liked to grow mixed up with stinging nettles! I needed 1Kg but when I got home I’d only found about 250g! I then remembered that we had some blackberries in the freezer. We’d picked them last year in Shropshire where the blackberries are bigger and I don’t remember them coming with nettles. So I had enough to start a batch of Bramble Whisky. Here’s the recipe….

Bramble Whisky

1Kg Blackberries.

325g of white sugar.

370ml of whisky.

Put the blackberries in one of those jars that you can seal (see picture).

Add the sugar and shake the jar so the sugar gets distributed among the blackberries.

Pour the whisky over the fruit and seal it up. Give it a good shake. A note on the whisky. Go for a bottle of supermarket own brand. NEVER, EVER use an expensive single malt for this recipe. There’s a particularly nasty place in hell for people who do this. You have been warned.

For the next few weeks give it a shake when you pass it. It’s a good idea to have it in a cool place.

Eventually all the sugar will dissolve into the whisky. You then have to be patient. Very patient. The batch I set up today will be ready by Christmas. And that’s Christmas 2018!

Just before the Christmas season, strain the liquid through some muslin and put into bottles. It would make a cool, homemade present or enjoy it yourself over the festive season.

I’ve heard that you can do something wonderful with the left over fruit and ice cream. But I won’t be worrying about that just yet.

After my wander around the Maker’s Market on Spinningfields I headed over to my meeting which was being held in the Port Street Beer House in the N4. It was entirely appropriate as I’m going to be helping with an Artisan beer festival in the beautiful Victoria Baths, a veritable water palace, on Hathersage Road just behind the hospitals and university along Oxford Road. Artisan breweries from all over the country will be setting up bars, some actually in the drained pools, and people will come to sample the beers. I’m not sure what my role will be yet but it will be fun. Work doesn’t have to be all a grind and my job does involve interaction with the local communities and if that is done over a glass of Artisan beer, so be it. This beer festival is one of Manchester’s seemingly never ending festivals that fills in the gap between Pride and the Food & Drink Festival and I have no idea how I’ve missed it so far. I will be tweeting and blogging. 

The Port Street Beer House is on the present eastern edge of the N4 where it looks across an area of surface car parks to the apartment blocks spreading through the Piccadilly Canal Basin and towards painfully cool Ancoats across busy Great Ancoats Street. The car parks are disappearing under new apartment blocks along G A Street already and, I imagine, the developers are circling those car parks that remain. I wish I owned one, I’d be sitting on a fortune. 

I didn’t want to go into the Port Street Beer House too early. I heard some live jazz coming from the bar next door through the windows open to let in the afternoon warmth. The bar is called Stage and Radio. The Jazz, which was old school and excellent, was played by these three guys who wouldn’t go amiss in a jazz club in New Orleans. They played their set and as they finished, more music came from downstairs. I’d noticed a young guy with a guitar arrive and disappear behind the bar. He was part of a rock band that was using the basement as a rehearsal space. I listened to the rock coming upstairs and they sounded good. After my meeting, I went back in and another band had taken the Jazz guys spot. If it does live music regularly, I’m going to have to go back. It was cool.

I liked the way the bar was decorated. Bare brick walls are all over the N4 of course. There were mosaics and murals and old school radios and one of those tape machines that chew up music. While vinyl is making a comeback I don’t see anyone rushing to revive this form of music storage.

Apparently, the girl behind the bar informed me, artisan cloudy white Belgian beer served with a slice of Orange is a ‘thing’ in the N4 this summer. I’m glad she told me, I wouldn’t want to make myself look foolish by asking for a stick of celery or the like.

While I’m discussing work, I don’t want to give the impression that my work is one endless round of fun and games, but they are sending me to Barcelona in October for a few days. I will be working but I’m factoring in some time to look around the city. I’ve chosen a hotel in the Eixample district of the city that looks comfortable and is convenient. What sold me on it is it has a roof top terrace with a view of the wonderful Sagrada Familia a few hundred metres away. I can see me up there with a bottle of chilled Cava on a warm Barcelona evening (much further south than Manchester) admiring Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral. Again, I will be tweeting and blogging. 

Taking the tram back home I rode on the special ’25’ tram that marks the fact that the tram system in Manchester opened, with its first route from Altrincham to Bury, 25 years ago. Now it is all over the city, new routes are being built with more planned. I also saw the BEE TRAM, decorated with 22 bees, one for each person who died in the terrorist attack in May. I’ve seen it innate marshalling yard but it was the first time in the street. I did tear up. And I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough to take a picture. And at Cornbrook I saw the Rainbow Pride tram again.

The Spinningfields Makers Market was on this weekend and it was a special one featuring lots of stalls selling treats and other doggie paraphernalia. I went yesterday to fill some time before a Sunday meeting. It was work related but verging on pleasure so I wasn’t too upset about it. It was sunny and warm, a prefect late summer (Autumn begins on the 21st) day. The market was on the plaza facing Deansgate between the Gothic Victorian John Rylands Library and the cutting edge architecture of the Armani Store building. One of the places in the city where the old and the new come together and do it so well. 

There was a van doing doggie selfies. You could dress your dog up as well if he/she was amenable. There were lots of well behaved doggies out and about, enjoying the market and the city vibe. 

Or you could have a portrait of your doggie while he/she sat for the portrait. There was a queue for this. We do love our doggies in Manchester.

There were lots of stalls that were selling things to make your doggie’s life more comfortable and happy. And I even saw some things for the C-A-T in your life.

And if, sadly like me, you don’t have a doggie to share your life, there were plenty of stalls for you to enjoy as well. 

Getting there. Where? To HOME. We went by the pretty route.

It was a long day yesterday. I’d got into work for 6am so I could get through all my work so I could go to HOME in the evening and have something of a free afternoon. I was done by noon and left for my actual home to get ready. We caught the tram into the city mid afternoon and was delighted to travel on the Rainbow Tram, the one in the special livery that was done for the Pride Festival at the end of August. I’ve seen the Bee Tram with its 22 bees that represent the 22 people who died in the May terrorist attack in the marshalling yards at Trafford Bar but haven’t seen it out and about yet. I like the way the tram system commemorates events in the city, good and, sadly, the bad.

The idea was to have a mooch around the shops but we actually ended up in The Alchemist in Spinningfields drinking cocktails. It’s a tough life I know but someone has to keep these places afloat. I was amazed by the number of people in Manchester who are wealthy enough and have free time on a Thursday afternoon to be drinking cocktails in trendy bars. Wait! I was one of them! I had an Apricot and Pink Grapefruit Martini and the other one is called a Bounty, a white chocolate and coconut concoction that nods at a popular chocolate bar in the UK.

The cocktails here are excellent. Some have to be assembled at your table and your table might be flooded with smoke from dry ice and the like. All very theatrical. 

I noticed this card on the table. It’s about Tim Bacon who was the co-founder and chairman of the Living Ventures Group. They have set up The Alchemist as well as many other popular Manchester bars and restaurants. They run Artisan, Manchester House, Gusto, Australasia, Grand Pacific, The Oast House, The Botanist and others across the city. And some of these ideas have been rolled out across the country to other major cities and affluent, country towns.

Sadly cancer is not a respecter of wealth and success and Tim Bacon succumbed to this disease in April 2016. If you bought these three mini cocktails for £10, £5 would be donated to the Christie Hospital which is having a new, and very expensive, bit of kit, installed. We couldn’t say ‘no’ could we? We shared, from left to right, a Mini Bananagroni, a Mini Negroni and a Bittersweet Symphony, all served in the kind of glassware you used in Chemistry lessons in school. The Bittersweet Symphony contains fairy liquid, not the soap used for washing dishes, but a special ingredient (provided by the fairies presumably) that causes the drink to fizz and bubble. 

After The Alchemist we went looking for an early dinner. First we swung by the Bridgewater Hall to buy some tickets for some Hallé Orchestra concerts later in the Autumn. Am looking forward to those. Then it was on to the Indian Tiffin Room to eat. We’ve heard great things about the food here. It started out as a tiny restaurant in a quiet street behind the shops in Cheadle Village. Its reputation grew by word of mouth and it was fiendishly difficult to get a table. They have opened a much bigger restaurant on First Street in the city centre. Even here it’s wise to book a table. 

We got there quite early but it was already busy. By the time we were served the place was rammed. Not only are there people with free time on a Thursday afternoon to swill back cocktails in The Alchemist, there are plenty who have the time to enjoy the food in the Indian Tiffin Room. We had Vegetarian Samosas to start. They were served with two chutneys, one was tamarind, the other was mint.

And then we had Butter Chicken in its delicious creamy, tomato sauce with Indian bread and Bombay Potatoes. Delicious. 

My second trip to HOME this week at their kind invitation, this time to see a piece by the GECKO Theatre Company called ‘The Wedding.’

With no preconceptions of what to expect, it had to be one of the most extraordinary evenings I’ve spent in a theatre in a long time. It’s an intoxicating mixture of dance, music and theatre. The day after and I am still buzzing trying to order my thoughts about what I had seen.

It begins with some of the performers arriving, almost being born, down a tube onto a cushion of soft toys. They are issued with a wedding dress. My thoughts were that the dress signified a person’s marriage to society. We ‘wed’ society, work for its good, support it, show it loyalty and society, for its part, takes care of and protects us. Over the next eighty minutes the performers explore this flawed relationship through dance, music and theatre. I may be entirely wrong but that was what I brought away from the evening. Other members of the audience may have a completely different take on it. And that’s no bad thing.

What we did share was an admiration of the stamina and dance and acting prowess of the nine members of ensemble. For the eighty minutes of the performance they throw themselves into the work with a relentless physicality. It was only at the end when I was able to count that there were just nine of them. Off stage there must have been changes, as well choreographed as what we saw on stage, to ready the cast for the next part. I really thought there were many more than nine.

Parts are funny, parts are poignant, parts are disturbing. The scene where one of the performers is interviewed by three passive aggressive people in a cramped, tiny box, causing the interviewee to declare he could not breathe induced a similar reaction in me. The performers dig deep for the final part of the piece with a dramatic conclusion creating a percussive rhythm that spread from the stage through the space to the audience. You could physically feel the dance, almost as if we became as part of it.

It was a unique and complex experience. It was exhilarating and enthusiastic. Sadly, only two more days until it moves on. I will certainly keeping an eye out for when they return to the city. 

In a few days I’ll be going to see Ballet Rambert’s iconic dance performance ‘Ghost Dances’. Having seen it many years ago I’m looking forward to revisiting it. I felt that ‘The Wedding’ has the same potential. Wonderful stuff.

Occasionally my blog allows me to do something special, something I wouldn’t normally get the chance to do. Well it’s happened again this week. I’ve been invited to the press nights of two theatrical events at HOME, Manchester’s contemporary theatre/cinema/art space on First Street.

It seems that HOME has been on its holidays this August, primarily up to Edinburgh where it’s had a high old time trawling the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Fringe for some of the tastiest pieces to show off at HOME to a Manchester audience as the Autumn nights draw in. It’s been a two way process though. The piece I was asked to review for the Manchester Fringe Festival, ‘The Marriage of Kim K’, back in July has been very well received up in the Scottish capital this August.

Last night I was asked to review ‘Letters to Morrissey’ a piece of theatre by Glasgow based Gary McNair. As it had been chosen as being one of the best of the shows on the massive Edinburgh Fringe Festival, by people with an eye for these things, I suspected I would enjoy it but didn’t realise just how much I would do.

First, I have to say I’m not a fan of Morrissey, the Manchester born front man of the iconic band, The Smiths. I know that’s almost heresy in this city but there you are. So when, almost at the start of the evening, Gary McNair, invited anyone who didn’t hold the view that Morrissey was the greatest ever musician to live might want to leave, I wondered if I should. I took a chance and stayed.

As it happens Morrissey’s physical involvement in the evening is minimal, he’s spoken about, written to but never puts in an appearance. It’s set in a dull, depressed, small Scottish town thats only claim to fame is that it’s near Scotland’s preeminent suicide spot. The main character of the piece is a guy who we see in the present but also as a 15 year old, a boy who is introverted and unsure of himself. He doesn’t know what he is or what he wants to do. He is confused and has dark thoughts which appear in his school work. This brings him to the notice, not in a good way, of his teachers and he’s referred to the school’s guidance counsellor. The ‘I’m cool with the kids’ counsellor suggests that the boy finds someone to talk to about his problems. The choice isn’t great. There’s his friend, Jan the Lesbian (that’s how she likes to be known) and his best friend, Tony, who has, we learn, infinity more, and deeper, problems than he does. So he turns to writing to Morrissey in the hope that he will come up with the answers to his problems. As he shares his thoughts and worries with the musician who, stubbornly, won’t reply, we learn more about the boy and his relationships. It would spoil the experience if I told you where it all leads to.

Set in the bedroom of the Morrissey obsessed boy, the piece is dryly witty in some parts, sad and touching in others as we learn more about the boy and his relationships with the other characters in the piece, especially with Tony. It is always absorbing. It’s a powerful monologue, Gary McNair switches from one character to another with consummate ease, his characterisations leaving the audience in no doubt where they are in the story. For it is, indeed, a story we are being told. Having said that I did wonder how much, if any, was autobiographical?

The 65 minute length of the piece passed all too quickly. It’s touching and engaging and, for any 15 year old boys struggling to come to terms with what it’s all about, confirms that, for most of us, it does all come right in the end. I qualify with the word ‘most’ of course. It’s at HOME until this coming Saturday 16th and would be a hour (+5 minutes) very well spent. 

No ASDA this weekend so a completely free weekend. We had considered driving up to the north east for the weekend but the weather is bad an no one fancied looking at The Angel of the North/Durham Cathedral/the Tyne bridges/Bambrugh Castle/the Duchess of Northumberland’s poison garden (never cross that lady) in the rain.

So home it was. Saturday broke with terrific rain but dried up enough later for a trip into the city for a few treats to enjoy while watching TV and listening to The Last Night of the Proms tonight. It’s a poignant day today for Manchester. The Manchester Arena is finally reopening after the terrorist attack in May. There is to be a benefit concert with the money going to a fund for a permanent memorial for the 22 people who died. They are still working to repair the foyer area where the attack took place but it will be open to the public. It’s the main connection point between Victoria Station and the Arena so can’t be closed permanently, nor should it be. I usually record events that happen in the city but couldn’t bring myself to go up there and look and take pictures. It seemed disrespectful and the events are all too raw for me. And if I feel like that imagine how the families and friends of the victims must feel. Though I’ve heard they have already been to see the site. I, personally, will let fate take charge and when I next find myself naturally going to an event at the Arena will walk through. 

Moving on….I came across this group of people staring intently at their smart phones outside Barton Arcade . Asked what was going on, they were searching for Pokémon. Apparently, Barton Arcade is a good spot to find rare ones. We are all entitled to our interests but, honestly, some of these people are old enough to know better.

Dutch flags… Dutch Cookie Guy was back in the city, as he’d promised, selling his wares. I love his toffee waffles. I asked for two packs for £6 and he persuaded me to have four for £10. He’s good! I didn’t need much encouragement to be honest. I was a bit disappointed he didn’t have any of the new tins I’d seen in the summer but he promised he’d be back for the Christmas Markets with plenty. Only eight weeks away people! Start panic buying sprouts now!

UK flag…The Great British Cheese Company was selling truckles of cheese. I bought a Tasty Lancashire Cheese (tasty is part of the name of the cheese as well as a description of it) called Lancaster Bomber and a strong Red Leicester Cheese called Red Arrow. 

I had a trip to the Lindt store for some of their delicious truffles and went to Waterstone’s, the book store, or find a book called ‘Viking Britain’ that I’d seen reviewed in the Sunday Times. It sounded a good read and I thought I’d try it out as most of my knowledge about the period comes from reading the Bernard Cornwell ‘Uthred of Bebbenburg’ novels and watching stuff on TV. The guy who wrote it, Thomas Williams, is in charge of the Viking collection at the British Museum so I’m thinking he knows a lot. 

We have a large collection of those black LP records that people used to listen to around the house. They haven’t been played in years but assorted people bought them, some decades ago, and loved them and it seemed churlish to dump them. There was talk of taking them to one of the stores in the N4 that specialises in vinyl and seeing what could be got for them but it never happened. I’m glad.

We stopped playing them because technology moved on and we began to collect CDs with the crystal clear sound. They were virtually indestructible and smaller and more convenient. And then we went on to downloading music. I have to say I’m not a fan. I tend to forget the music that’s on my iPhone. It rarely gets listened to. At some point in the 90s (I think) the player for the vinyl records broke. We were into CDs by then so we didn’t replace it. Then it seemed to be all but impossible to replace the turntable at all. Our vinyl records have sat there, virtually ignored ever since. So sad.

But vinyl is having a revival I’m told. And I’d begun to see turntables appearing in the shops again. I’ve been saying for a while I should get one. Last night was one of the times when I did this. So, I was passing the John Lewis store at Cheadle Royal this afternoon and I thought I’d call in and look. And I saw these turntables in these cool cases.

I did think about the bright orange one…

But went for the blue one instead…

This is what it looked like inside…

When I got it home I set it up. It took all of two minutes as opposed to the ‘download this’….’get this app’….’connect the Internet’….’set up this account’….’choose a password’ palaver you have with modern technology.

Two minutes from opening the box to listening to vintage Kate Bush! It’s the way forward…

This is, sadly, the last post from my trip to the mystic south west of England…

After my attempt to walk the length of the avenue in Cirencester Park, I headed back into town to find the Corinium Museum. Modern Cirencester sits almost perfectly into the footprint of the old Roman city of Corinium. It was a favoured part of the Roman province of Britannia and the surrounding countryside was filled with well appointed villas for an ancient elite. It is prosperous now and it was prosperous then, the only difference being it’s now blessed with a Waitrose and a M&S.

But the point is whenever and wherever you dig a hole in the area something Roman turns up. A lot of this ends up in the Corinium Museum. I arrived just as it was closing (I’m from Manchester I do expect everything to be open all the time), so returned the following morning. It’s in this rather nice, impressive, Cotswold stone building. The wood was Cirencester Park green so it must have been a part of the estate. 

The next morning I returned for a look around. It was interesting and well set out. So here we have a Roman soldier looking very smart in his uniform.

These are Roman gravestones that came from the Roman cemetery just outside Corinium.

A reconstruction of a Roman Garden.

But the best part for me were the wonderful Roman mosaics. As I said, Roman Corinium was a wealthy place like modern Cirencester. It was a provincial capital and important people would have lived here. Some would have been local Britons who worked with the Romans and others would have been Romans themselves used to the comforts and lifestyle of Roman Italy. They were rich enough to import the Roman lifestyle and, on a good weather day, the Cotswolds are every bit as nice as Tuscany. I’ve always been attracted to the domestic Roman lifestyle. They were into comfort and had running water and central heating. Around Corinium they built well appointed villas. In these a big status symbol was having a mosaic floor, made of thousands and thousands of tiny, coloured tiles and stones. You can imagine a rich Roman having a new one put in and inviting all his friends round for dinner, ostensibly to entertain them, but really to show off how rich he was. Like we do with a new kitchen or a new car. 

This lifestyle went on for about 400 years. The levels of organisation and comfort weren’t to be matched or surpassed until our present times. They must have thought it would go on for ever. It didn’t. Around 400 CE, barbarians overran the neighbouring province of Gaul (modern France). Britannia was cut off from the rest of the Roman Empire and the Emperor told us we would have to look after our own defences. We didn’t have the resources and Angle Saxon barbarians started to arrive taking over the country. Cut off from the resources of the Roman Empire, Corinium went into decline and was almost abandoned. The luxury villas would have been tempting places to plunder and then they were left to crumble. The walls collapsed and the mosaic floors would have disappeared under creeping vegetation and soil which, mostly, preserved them.

We have found some of them and these beautiful reminders of Roman Britannia have been moved to the Corinium Museum.

And part of a wall of one of the villas has been found, miraculously preserved, complete with the paint, mostly intact. I’ve not seen such a quality of Roman painting since we visited Pompeii. This paint is nearly 2,000 years old.

End of my trip…..

One thing I do remember from my first trip to Cirencester, as a small boy, was this intriguing door in this curving Cotswold Stone wall with this towering Yew hedge behind  it. What it is, is the town entrance to Cirencester Park. It’s not a park in the city sense, a place where people can go and relax and enjoy some natural surroundings, but the 14,500 acre estate of the Earl and Countess Bathurst. Beyond the wall is their, very grand house, surrounded by formal gardens and beyond that the ‘park’ with farms, no less than SIX polo fields, a cricket ground, woodlands etc.etc.etc…. The door is a nice shade of green, it’s the estate colour. If there isn’t a green on the Farrow & Ball paint chart called Cirencester Park, there should be. All the farms and other buildings in the park will have their woodwork painted in it And I’d noticed it on buildings in the town as well. The estate seems to own quite a bit of Cirencester town as well. 

In case you are wondering, 14,500 acres of prime Cotswolds countryside doesn’t come cheap. And the house isn’t one of those occupied by a struggling aristocrat trying to keep the roof of their country pile watertight and having to open it to the public to make ends meet. It’s not open to the public. I imagine that the Earl and Countess are ‘comfortable’. 

Some of the park is open to the public providing you behave yourself. No picnics, no lighting fires and the like. But you are allowed to walk in some parts and your dog is allowed in as well (Earls and Countesses, indeed Queens, are very fond of dogs in the UK. To get to the part you can walk in you have to go along Cicely Hill, a street that runs from the centre of town to Cirencester Park. I noticed that ALL the houses on it were painted in Cirencester Park green. And very nice they all are as well. All owned by the estate. If one comes free, you could rent it. One of the little cottages was up for rent (checked on the Internet) for £600 a month which compares favourably with apartments in central Manchester. I doubt if the estate would consider selling though. I likes how all the people in the cottages had created this long, potted garden on the street, full of summer colour. 

Once you are in the park proper, you are confronted with this view of a long tree lined avenue disappearing into the distance. I wanted to see what was beyond the horizon in the distance. I imagined a stunning view across the Cotswolds and across the Severn Valley with the mountains of Wales in the distance. But it was nearly 5pm and the park closes to the public at that time so I had to turn back.

Here’s the view back towards town which frames the imposing church in the centre.

The next morning I went back to see the view. When I got to the point I’d seen in the distance this was the view! Same as yesterday but further from the town. Some other walkers who live in Cirencester told me it goes on for 5 miles!

To prove that I’d actually got that far here’s the view back towards town with the church even further in the distance.