Latest Entries »

There’s an undistinguished, early twentieth century office building on the edge of the Northern Quarter where Oldham Street dog legs across Great Ancoats Street and becomes Oldham Road. It’s not a thing of beauty having none of the presence and attention to detail that the office buildings in the city centre had at that time. It has the words ‘Zen Offices’ stencilled on it in bright green. I can’t think that was its original name, they wouldn’t have been into names like that in those days. I’ve never really noticed it before. If I’m looking at buildings round there your eyes are naturally drawn to the magnificent curved glass walls of the Art Deco Daily Express Building and I’ve noticed some other little tiled Art Deco buildings in the area that need a bit of tlc.

But this building has got my attention because it has become home to two of the Cities of Hope artworks. Looming over Oldham Road is probably, in my opinion, the best of the ones that have been done. It’s a pictures of a man who looks like he’s in despair. The model for the painting actually lives in Manchester. I’m not sure what his story is but I saw a photograph of him looking at it with the artist. He was described as a ‘service user’ which implies he needs some form of help to get by in life. I’m hoping that this painting will give him a massive boost and help him overcome whatever problems bedevil him. I love the hands. Hands are notoriously difficult to draw or paint. The artist has managed to get them just right, get the colour and the texture of the skin right and do it on this massive scale while on a cherry picker suspended above the city. It’s a epic piece of work.

image

image

image

On the other end of this building is this city in a bottle. A painter guy was getting out of his van dressed in paint spattered overalls. I asked if it was his. He laughed. Turned out he was here with his mate to paint one of the offices inside the building. We all have our talents I suppose.

image

image

image

In spite of Manchetser being called Cottonopolis, most of the mills that produced the thread and the cloth were in the Lancashire towns to the north of the city. The raw cotton and the finished cloth flowed through the magnificent warehouse and office buildings in Manchester and created the wealth that built the Victorian city. There were a few mills in places like Ancoats but hardly any in what is now the city centre. One such, on Binns Place just off Great Ancoats Street, is the Brownsfield Mill. It’s an historic one that has been restored. Nothing seems to be going on inside at the moment. No offices, no apartments. It was originally a cotton mill but at the beginning of the last century it became a factory building aeroplanes, one of the first places in the world that did so. That industry died in the city many decades ago and decamped to Bristol (civil aviation) and the Ribble Valley, north of the city, where they build military aircraft. 

image

It does look fine now it’s been restored awaiting a new use. The side of the building facing Great Ancoats Street used to be joined to another, now demolished, building, revealing a slab of concrete instead of the warm, red brick. It has been used to provide a site for this piece of street art, part of the Cities of Hope Festival.

image

image

image

We’ve had that rare event in the UK, a national holiday and the sun has come out. Regardless of whether the sun comes out, the law is that thou shalt get in your car and sit in a traffic jam to get to some tourist hotspot (choice is yours, Blackpool, the Lakes, York, the Peaks…) and eat a picnic in the rain. Alternatives are the Trafford Centre, B&Q, the list is endless.

We have been rebels and stayed at home and enjoyed the sun in the garden. On Saturday I picked up some plants from Pete who has the stall on the terrace of the Post Box Café in Chorlton. So I’ve planted up some of the pots with them. The Daisy like flowers are Osteospermum, a plant that comes from South Africa. It will be happy all summer if we keep taking off the dead flowers. The first frosts will, sadly, see them off.

image

image

image

These Osteospermum are surrounding a Japanese Acer. I liked the purple leaves. So long as I keep it watered, it will be happy in this pot for years as it’s very slow growing.

image

These are Busy Lizzies. They are small at the moment but will grow and flower all summer. They are from East Africa and won’t be happy when the frosts come. I could take cuttings and over winter them in the house though. But you have to keep your eye on the weather, an unexpected frost and they turn black.

image

image

image

Our neighbours passed over some French Runner Beans and Cucumbers so I’ve put the in pots so I can keep my eye on them. As they grow I’ll pot them out into the garden.

image

I didn’t plant these today. These are one of my favourite flowers, beautifully blue Iris Siberica. I assume they are from Siberia but are quite happy in Manchester. They flower every year and are quite happy being neglected. They spread and all our neighbour’s now have clumps that we have forced upon them. Or gifted them with. Take your pick.

image

image

image

image

Between the end of Tariff Street and Great Ancoats Street, in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, is an area where the old buildings were swept away decades ago leaving us with a series of unappealing, surface car parks. But not for long. Work has already started on three, new apartment towers lining Great Ancoats Street and, with the pace of building going on in the city, I sure the rest will disappear soon. What were wastelands, fit only to park your car at some risk, are now regarded as development and profit opportunities.

In the centre of these car parks, one tiny building somehow survived. It looks like it might have been a house at one point. It did look rundown and had been painted a very, unappealing shade of green. How long it will remain I’m not sure. I can’t see any developer will want it to remain, getting in the way of their new apartment tower.

Which is a shame as one of its exposed walls has been taken on by the street art crew, @pichiavo, who have created this beautiful, classically inspired piece. Here they are working on it.

image

image

image

And here it is finished.

image

While I was looking for the artworks being done for the Cities of Hope Festival, I found myself on Tariff Street, where, further along the street from Hilton House which boasted two of the artworks, Dale House was having some work done on its façade. It’s one of the grand Edwardian office and warehouse buildings erected at the beginning of the last century when Cottonopolis was at its height and the cotton barons had a ‘no expense spared’ approach to their buildings. It’s red brick and terracotta tiles, richly decorated and dominates the corner where Dale And Tariff Streets meet. Unlike a lot of the other office buildings of its age, it hasn’t been converted to apartments and is still in use as offices.

On the day I was there you couldn’t appreciate the façade as it was covered in scaffolding. But the scaffolding guys were busy dismantling it. I really should have done a video as it was almost balletic how they organised themselves down the building and passed each of the scaffolding planks and poles down the front of the building to the waiting truck at street level. They had it down to a fine art and still had time for a bit of banter with people taking pictures (me) and people sitting outside the trendy bars and coffee shops, like TAKK, on the other side of the street.

image

image

image

image

When I returned a couple of days later, all the scaffolding had gone from the entire building and we could appreciate the restoration of this grand building.

image

image

image

image

I do like living in a big city. There’s always something happening to go to, visit and see. Sometimes there are big, organised events but sometimes you just come across something interesting happening. The Northern Quarter is a favourite place of mine for a wander. I liked this tribute to David Bowie in Stevenson Square. I should have moved the bags of rubbish waiting to be picked up before I took the picture. Obviously, whoever had left it here wasn’t a fan. 

image

And I spotted another reference to David on a wall just of Great Ancoats Street.

image

Mr Scruff, one of Manchester’s cool DJs and tea lover (he runs Teacup of Thomas Street) is still keeping it unreal.

image

As well as running Teacup, Mr Scruff has an artisan chocolate shop on John Street, just off Thomas Street, called Bonbon Chocolate Boutique. They make the chocolates on the premises and the shop is always perfumed with warm chocolate. You can take some home or enjoy chocolate cake and hot chocolate in the little café. I liked the reference to Hot Chocolate, a popular soul band from the 1970s and 80s. They’ve recently reformed. A lot of bands from that era are doing it, riding a wave of nostalgia for earlier times. And it doesn’t hurt their bank accounts either. Some of the lyrics from one of their hits decorate the shutters. It’s not open everyday so I’ve included opening times should you want to seek it out and enjoy the chocolate. It is worth it. 

image

image

image

Outside Evuna, a rather nice Spanish tapas restaurant on Thomas Street, this coolly dressed young guy was sitting at a table while another guy circled him at pavement level recording him. I think he was more interested in the guys achingly, trendy shoes than the actually guy. Maybe they were doing a commercial? 

image

image

Hilton House is a rundown 1960s office block on Hilton Street in the Northern Quarter, the new bit that is developing around Tariff Street. It must have looked incredibly modern and smart when it was put up but the years haven’t been kind and now it looks more decrepit than the older buildings around it. I’ coming round to 1960s architecture and I think this one could look quite smart if they did some work in it. Being where it is, it could happen. It’s already got a cool bar on the ground floor.

image

This week it’s become one of the buildings that has become involved in the Cities of Hope festival. Street artists have come to the city from around the world to produce some street artworks across the Northern Quarter. The art will address social issues that affect us. One of the artists involved is from Syria. I’m interested to see what they produce, something sobering I imagine. 

Hilton House has two artworks. On the Port Street side of the building a crew called @Nomad_clan have produced this piece. I caught it when it had just started. You need a head for heights for this kind of art, it usually involves a lot of safety gear and a cherry picker. 

image

image

image

image

And here’s the finished art.

image

image

On the Tariff Street side of Hilton House @nevercrew have been working on this huge artwork. It’s like an enormous crystal iceberg. This was it earlier in the week.

image

image

image

image

A couple of days later it looked like this. I’ll have to go back and see what the finished artwork looks like.

image

image

After being stalled by the recession and, possibly, because of the mismanagement of the banking sector of the Co-Op, the NOMA development around their incredible new HQ on Angel Meadows and their iconic 1960s CIS tower is stirring again. The older, Edwardian Baroque buildings fronting Corporation Street and the streets off it are being restored and repurposed while we are waiting for a classy new apartment tower  as tall as the CIS (tennis courts on the roof…don’t apply to be a ball boy) and new office blocks on the other side of Miller Street.

image

Linking all these developments NOMA is improving the public realm and creating new spaces like Sadler’s Yard. What I like about it is the attention to detail they have gone to with the NOMA logo and the names of the streets inlaid into the curb stones. When it’s all finished this is going to be, once again, a very classy part of town.

image

image

image

image

June 15th 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre. A huge bomb, the largest ever exploded in the UK in peace times, was detonated in the heart of the city causing widespread devastation that took 10 years to repair and cost £billions. I have a particular interest in this event as I was one of the 120,000 people caught up in it having gone into the city that fateful Saturday to buy Father’s Day presents. In spite of the scale of the bombing no one died but many were hurt and everyone there was traumatised.

So when the people at HOME discovered that I had been there I was asked to go talk to a theatre company about my experience. I agreed. On the way to HOME I gave some thought to the day to make sure my I had everything in order. The interview started well enough until I got to the point where the bomb actually exploded. It may have been 20 years ago but it still has the power to reduce me to tears. I was surprised at my reaction. I’d thought I’d parcelled it all away but I suppose there are some events that are so traumatic that you never get over them.

The theatre group, ANU Productions, are putting on a production, ‘On Corporation Street’ to mark the event. Corporation Street was where the van containing the explosives was parked. The testimonies of people, like myself, are being used to inform the production. Last night there was a read through of some of the testimonies in the grand setting of the Great Hall in Manchester Town Hall. This is the lobby outside the Great Hall. The building is a Grade 1 listed building of international importance. You can see why in these pictures. It’s a magnificent building in the Victorian Gothic style with a ‘no expense spared’ approach to the detail. I love the mosaic floor covered in Manchester’s iconic bees.

This is inside the Great Hall. It’s used for grand civic functions. Recently it was used for a banquet for the President of China when he was in town. But you can hire it yourself, at a price, for your wedding. The murals, by Ford Madox Brown, depict, somewhat idealistic, scenes from Mancheter’s long history. Although the building looks wonderful, it’s actually getting on a bit and needs a lot of work. The city is considering this and have come up with a sum of £350,000,000 to do the work. Once finished, because everything about this building is listed and can’t be changed, you won’t be able to see where one penny has been spent.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

The Great Hall has been set up for the reading of the testimonies in front of an invited audience. It was sobering stuff. It was interesting to hear other people’s experiences and as the evening proceeded I got a picture of what other people were doing as I dived for cover under the colonnade of a building on Albert Square as huge panes of glass crashed into the streets of the city onto fleeing crowds. 

image

image

image

image

image

The strangest moment of the evening was when one of the actors, Gilget, spoke my words. Hearing my thoughts being spoken by a different person shook me and I nearly lost it again. I got to speak to him afterwards. He’s a nice guy who was interested to meet me as well. 

image

At one point the people I spoke to originally found me and introduced me to a man they were keen for me to talk to. It turned out he was the arts correspondent for the Guardian, one of the UK’s most prestigious newspapers, and I ended up doing an interview for a piece he’s doing for the paper. 

With the construction of the new tram station in Exchange Square finished and the refurbishment and repurposing of the Corn Exchange as a foodie paradise now completed, we have Exchange Square back to enjoy.

At the moment it’s hosting a Spring Market which, with the warm, sunny weather, people were out enjoying.

image

image

image

image

Dutch Plant Guy was back in the city with masses of his plants to put out in our gardens over the summer. His first visit back to the city since the Christmas Markets. Not sure what he does in the winter months. Probably escapes to the West Indies on all the profit he makes in the run up to the festive season.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image