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I’ve spent the weekend getting my team in order for the work I have to do over the next few weeks. Here they are! Not really! The real team are scattered across the UK in reality. But I’m going to be facing this crew for most of the time. One of the techy guys from work came to put in a new wireless printer and make sure all my devices ‘talk’ to it. It’s a good job he did as I usually end up swearing at new devices, which I’m told, does no good whatsoever. 

The laptop is my work one. It stays at home these days. I work on my iPad mostly and transfer whatever is needed to the laptop. Until this morning there was an old desktop computer and monitor that used to be state of the art but are now obsolete. So, that gone, I had lots of room to spread out the ‘team.’ The techy guy went behind the desk and pulled out a spaghetti mess of unused wires and cables. He even found the old copper ‘dial up’ cable that we used to use when you couldn’t make a phone call and use the computer at the same time. All this lot on the desk is wireless connected which is cool. At some point I will have to take all the wires and cables to be recycled. There must be valuable metals in them and we’ll never use them again. 

I wonder what our computer setups will be like in 20 years time? I’ll still have the crew though.

It’s been the second day of the big meeting at the Mecure Hotel today. It seems to have gone well. And it was nice to be in a building with great air con on such a hot day. It’s a couple of degrees hotter than it was yesterday and even more sticky as thunderstorms are about.

It was about 70 when I arrived in the city centre at 7am this morning, quite pleasant except that was as cool as it was going to get. I had a very Manchester experience just after I got off the tram. I went for a coffee in the branch of Starbucks I went to yesterday. I ordered my coffee and moved to the other end of the counter where the barista prepares it for you. The guy behind me in the queue ordered his and followed me to the end of the counter. He looked at the barista guy, decided he liked what he saw and in less than the two minutes it took to prepare my coffee, he’d flirted with the barista and managed to secure his number and a date for a drink at Barca this evening. I’d just ordered a flat white, where would he have got to if I’d ordered something more complicated?

My life is going to be busy for the next few weeks, certainly got no time to flirt myself into dates with any staff at Starbucks. But I am going to have to make time to go see something I’ve been specifically invited to. It’s Manchester International Festival time. It’s a big deal for the city with all kinds of world premieres taking place. Like with all these big festivals, a festival fringe is growing up around it.

I’ve been invited to one of the Manchester fringe events. The old Bauer Millet car showroom in the arches near the Hilton Tower has been converted into a theatre space, 53two. A production called ‘The Marriage of Kim K’ is being put on in it. From what I gather it’s a mash up of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians.’ Intrigued and looking forward to it….

Today was the first day of my really busy period of the year at work. I won’t be getting out and about much for the next few weeks so there won’t be many opportunities to be out and about taking pictures and writing on here. If you are a regular reader please forgive me. Normal service will be resumed at the end of July unless I can organise myself and my team so I can get out earlier.

We have two days at the Hotel Mecure on Piccadilly Gardens to kick off with. It’s a good venue, all retro 1960s decor after the refurbishment. I really wanted to go back to the Principal Hotel (Palace Hotel as was). We stopped going when some of the ornate ceiling fell onto our stuff while we were having lunch. They have had a major refurbishment (including the ornate ceilings) and the food is A-MA-ZING since West Didsbury restaurant, Volta, took over. May be next year.

I came into the city early this morning. We are having a heatwave at the moment. It was 32C yesterday and climbed a degree or two more today. I had a coffee in the branch of Starbucks on Peter Street, off St. Peter’s Square, while I checked through my notes and plans for the day.

I like this branch of Starbucks. It’s in a little 1960s office block on the corner of Peter Street and Mount Street. What I like is that it has these huge plate glass windows that look out onto some of the best architecture in the city. No1 St. Peter’s Square, the beautiful Midland Hotel and St. George’s House (used to be the YMCA). The flags are still at half mast on the Midland, and on buildings across the city. It’s been a month since the attack at the Ariana Grande concert but, sadly, that wasn’t the last of the attacks. We are living in ‘interesting’ times as the Jewish curse says.

We had a huge meeting in the ballroom of the Mercure which was the only space we could find available and big enough to take all the people. I spent the day organising flapjacks and watermelon lollipops and making sure people who’d arrived that morning could get to their hotels across the city. Then giving advice on which restaurants they might enjoy for dinner, ringing to make reservations and the like. I am exhausted! I like the bling chandeliers. It a a favourite spot for weddings, especially those over the top, Bollywood inspired Asian weddings.

The restaurant of the Mecure looks down into Piccadilly Gardens. On a hot, sunny lunchtime it was busy with people chilling (not really possible when the temperature is 33C) and relaxing. The fountains are working again! But for how long? I stayed inside with the air con…

I’m making the most of the last of my few remaining days of relative freedom before I get really busy next week. The sun is out and Manchester has summer big time. The little display in my car registered 30c (86F) this afternoon, and the hot weather is going on into next week. I went into the city centre this morning to find pollen bakery again. It was easy this time with no trips down dank underpasses. And, with it being sunny, the queue was longer than last week. But I stuck it out. Last week’s baguette was a huge success but people were miffed I’d eaten the only custard tart I’d bought so I had to buy more. This is this week’s haul. The bread, I’m assured, is great with cheese, TWO custard tarts and the other confection is croissant dough baked in a muffin tin, filled with some kind of curd and topped with chocolate and edible gold. Not tried them yet. Will let you know!

I walked, in the increasing heat, to St. Ann’s Square where a market had been set up on the newly scrubbed paving. The city seems to have invested in some black and yellow, bee coloured awnings for the stalls. The idea of the market was to bring a bit of normality to the city centre which has, of course, experienced some very abnormal times. St. Ann’s Square in particular was involved as the central point for mourning. The market was mostly food and Manchester and bee based pharaphalia.

Robinson’s had a stall there. They are a much more established Manchester bakery than pollen. They have been around the city since 1864 and sell their baked goods in the north of the city. Can’t think why they don’t come to the south, they would go down well in Chorlton and the like. They do like to come to the city centre markets though. 

They make local delicacies. They are famous for their breads which would give pollen or Barbaken in Chorlton a run for their money. 

These are potato cakes, a flat bread made with potato flour. Originally something the poor of the city would eat, they are popular and delicious. You grill them slightly and then melt butter and cheese into them. Wonderful stuff.

And these little beauties are Manchester Tarts. They are a sweet pastry bottom covered with a layer of raspberry jam (jelly for Americans reading), then you get a rich vanilla custard topped off with desiccated coconut. I remember having them made by grandmas at home and eating them made at school for lunch. Now you will find them, admittedly changed a bit, on the menus of the finest restaurants in the city. And I’ve even had a Manchester Tart flavoured vodka.

Some I ❤️ MCR shortbread and gingerbread.

On King Street, which also looks as if it’s had a bit of a clean, the All England Tennis Club had set up shop. With all the goings on in the UK going on we have rather lost sight of the the ordinary pleasures of life. One of which is the annual Wimbledon Tennis Tournament which starts soon (3rd July). Sir Andy Murray had lent them his trophy he won last year at Wimbledon. You can just see it under heavy guard. The original trophy, which they get on the finals day should they win, stays in Wimbledon but each winner is given a rather nice replica to keep for ever. Just today it was announced that his motivational mother, Judy Murray, has been awarded an OBE by the Queen in her Birthday Honours List. She got it for services to tennis. Well she has produced our two best tennis players at the moment. And she does do an awful lot to promote tennis around the country. 

This little vehicle is one of the street cleaners that keep the city centre spick and span. They have been decorated as bees for years. It hasn’t just been done in the last few weeks. I wonder how the guys who operate them feel about riding around in a bee on wheels all day?

There was a Maker’s Market at Spinningfields this weekend so I went to see what was on offer. It was getting quite hot by now. I took this picture along Deansgate. The Hilton Tower is on the left but look beyond and you can just see the closet of four cores that are rising above Owen Street.  Over the next year this view will radically change as two of the towers are about the same height as the Hilton and the fourth will be a 64 floor giant, looming over that end of Deansgate. Here they are just beginning to make their presences felt.

I caught the tram back to Chorlton. There was ANOTHER Maker’s Market to explore but it was getting a bit too hot. It was luchtime so I called in to my favourite Chortlton watering hole, ODDEST, for something to eat. They had the BBQ fired up on the terrace so I had a burger with some salad and a glass of wine. 

In a couple of weeks they are going to have a Doggy Social for the well heeled and bandanaed doggies of Chorlton. They are allowed to bring their well behaved humans as well. I’ll have to create some time to go see this.

Tuesday marks the start of the busiest time of my working year. I’ll barely have time to draw breath until early August. It will only be the thought of the inflated August pay check, and possibly September’s, that will keep me going.

So I’ve awarded myself a a quiet day off today. I went to BarberBarber in Barton Arcade to get my hair cut. I’ll have precious little time to get it done over the next few weeks. I passed through St. Ann’s Square to get there. They were setting up a market for the weekend, a little step to the city getting back to normal life. And they’ve jet washed the square to remove all the candle wax from the paving and around the Cotton Bud fountain so it all looks spick and span. 

At BarberBarber, Johnny (the head guy) was no where to be seen. He was down in that there London overseeing the refurbishment of two new barber shops he’s opening. Called Tommy Guns, they were something of a fixture in their respective parts of the city so he’s keeping the name, mostly. They will be brought up to Johnny’s high standards and called Tommy Guns Reloaded. Can you see what he did there? And Andy, who I like to cut my hair, was having a day off as well. So I had it done by another guy, who’s cut my hair before (name gone sorry) and I was happy to let him do it. He’s in his early 20s but has been born out of his decade. His music tastes are 1990s and there’s more than a hint of the OASIS Gallagher boys about how he dresses.

It was after 12 so I had a cool beer. I got talking to the guy next to me. He was in having his hair cut and beard trimmed in readiness for his wedding tomorrow. He’s having the coolest wedding. For a start the ceremony is taking place in the Dinosaur Gallery of Manchester Museum! Then the reception will overlook the Manchester Ship Canal, being held in the circular Compass Room at the Lowry Art Gallery and Theatre in Salford Quays. He showed me the tables that will be decorated with little dinosaurs. They are then off to the Maldives for their honeymoon. 

I went for lunch. I liked this view of the Midland Hotel and Central Library from inside the colonnade of the Town Hall Extension. It’s a classic Manchester view so here it is BIG….

And I like the view from out of that glass blob thing into St. Peter’s Square towards No.1 St. Peter’s Square….

HOME is turning into my favourite venue for an after work (in today’s case no work) attitude adjuster. I was picking up a brochure for the 2017/18 Hallé season from the nearby Bridgewater Hall so I went in for lunch. In this case a delicious Smoked Salmon and Caperberry Pizza and a chilled glass of my favourite Pinot Grigio…

Swans…

I needed to pick up a few things for this evening’s dinner. I wasn’t too far from Northwich so I did a loop and went to Waitrose. It’s the one that’s right by marina on the River Weaver which is usually full, like today, with brightly painted canal boats. Some you can hire to sail around the canals of the Cheshire Ring. It takes you, if you’ve got enough time, at a very relaxed pace, right the way round Cheshire and into the Manchester canal system. Properly planned, you can organise yourself to have dinner in a different Cheshire country pub each night. And, to get an even more relaxed trip, take a couple of enthusiastic kids with you. They will love doing all the hard work, opening and closing all the locks and will be too exhausted in the evening to bother you. Some of the canal boats are lived on full time. 

There are lots of ducks on the river at this point and, because we are at Waitrose, there are swans. They are very used to people. When Mrs Swan saw me on the decking by the river, she brought her cygnets over to see me. I didn’t see Mr Swan but he must have been about somewhere watching his family, swans mate for life. When Mrs Swan realised I didn’t have any treats for her she took her brood off.

The universities have all gone down for the long summer break and the area around Oxford And Wilmslow Roads seems eerily quiet. Apart from an influx of international summer students it will seem comparatively deserted until the end of September. One of the last events of the academic year is the School of Art Degree Show. I always used to go to see it when I was at the university to support friends who had work on show. But, with each year that passes I seem to be further and further away from the students who have taken my peers and my place. And the new cohorts of students probably can’t relate to the guy in the business suit who used to be one of them.

I noticed the degree show was on so thought I’d give it a look. The School of Art occupies three buildings at All Saints. A rather nice Victorian building facing the park which is chaotic inside. There’s a 1960s block that has been refurbished and looks cool in its black cladding. And there’s the brand new wing which I like a lot. It looks like a modern version of Hogwarts with random staircases (I’m sure they move when you aren’t watching) that I’ve never quite figured out.

Some of the art was in the little park outside. 

The night before I went to the degree show, the park was the starting point of an event I’ve never seen myself but have always considered it might be fun to photograph. The evening before, fortunately warm and dry, was the annual Manchester chapter of the World Naked Bike Ride. About 400 cyclists rode through the streets of Manchester (and other world cities) to highlight the vulnerability of humans in the face of environmental degradation. The police say that it isn’t illegal to be out in public naked. It’s what you intend to do while naked that can be the problem. Cycling round the city naked is OK it seems. It’s certainly a popular event and, if you care to look, a bride and groom at a very classy wedding at the Town Hall that evening, have some amazing pictures for their wedding album. I found this one on Twitter. In case you’re not sure what the slogan means, we had a general election on Thursday, no one party won an overall victory so we have what is known as a ‘hung’ Parliament, apparently like the person in the picture.

Here are some pictures from the degree show. It was huge and I didn’t get to see most of it. If I have time before life gets busy I’ll go in again and explore further. I did like the glass especially.

I’ve been hearing great things about artisan baker, pollen. It makes, I was told, delicious sour dough breads and even more delicious pastries. It’s only open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and operates out of one of the arches in a viaduct under Piccadilly Station. Piccadilly, Victoria, Oxford Road and Salford Central Stations all have these arched viaducts running out of them. They surround the city centre and I’ve heard them referred to as Manchester’s city walls. Plug a few openings and they could be viable defensive installation. I suppose the spaces were used for industrial purposes orginally. As we lost the industry, these spaces became dark, dank, decaying places. Now, as the city has revived, they are sought after as flexible spaces for offices, cafés, bars, gin distilleries or, as in this case, a damn fine bakery.

Coffee Cranks (I usually have one if their coffees at the market in Chorlton) were there with their coffee shop on a bike. 

pollen only sell directly from the bakery (though you can find their breads in sandwiches in the cooler N4 cafés) and they are sold on a ‘first come first served’ basis from a simple counter across the opening of the arch. Queues can be huge and the pastries disappear quickly. Saturday was wet so I was lucky and some were left. The bread lasts a little longer but once everything has gone, it shuts for the day.

Finding it was interesting. I knew it was behind Piccadilly Station. I got to London Road and ignored the main station, all ornate, Victorian wrought iron, light and busyness and plunged into a long, dark tunnel under the station. Coming out on the other side, there were plenty of arches but none open, but I did spot a couple with brown paper bags so turned in the direction they had come from. And there is was. Next time I’ll ignore the dank tunnel and jump on the tram to Piccadilly, from there don’t go into the mainline station but head out to London Road, where the taxis drop people off, walk down Fairfield and Travis Streets and turn left into Sheffield Street and there you are.

There was a small queue this morning but business was brisk. As people got served, other were arriving. I was taking a few pictures but thought it best to join the queue or there might be nothing left when I got there. As it was I had to reassess what I’d buy. I hadn’t expected to be buying bread that morning as I intended to visit the College of Art degree show and then go to HOME to see a play. I’ve been living in a bit of a cultural desert recently. I had no shopping bag to put stuff in and the car was parked out by Chorlton tram station. I went for a baguette and a custard tart. The custard tart, still warm from the oven with creamy custard filling a light, buttery, puff pastry case, didn’t survive along Fairfield Street. It was delicious. I resisted the temptation of doing the French thing of breaking off the end of the baguette to eat on the way home and we had it with cheese and pickles for supper. We intended just to have a couple of slices but, somehow, it all disappeared. Again, it was delicious.

The pastries. The top ones are the delicious custard tarts. In the second picture the brownies seemed to be very popular judging by the number of spaces.

The queue…

A cute dog waiting for his turn in the queue…

Some of the pastries don’t get even as far as Fairfield Street. You can eat them there and then outside the bakery…

It felt weird walking through St. Ann’s Square this morning. And a little sad. The sea of flowers and tributes that has grown there since the attack at the Ariana Grande concert has been removed. Everything was very carefully and respectfully packed up and taken away. The lady who works at the florists by the church told me they took the upmost care.

Nothing will be thrown away. Some of the the flowers that are still in a good state have been taken to Manchester Art Gallery, where they will be dried and pressed and combined with handmade paper to make books of remembrance for the families of the victims. All the written tributes were gathered up and taken to Central Library. There they will be conserved, listed and put into the city’s archives. All the soft toys will be cleaned and given to charities in the city that work with children. The rest of the floral tributes, some there for three weeks, will be composted and used to grow new life. The city has to move on and St. Ann’s Square will go back to its usual role of a pleasant place to have some alfresco lunch on a warm day or visit a market. But, this morning, in the rain, it did feel eerily quiet.

But life has to go on. The city was full of young people in shorts and wellington boots. They’re off to Heaton Park for the Parklife weekend music festival. It was raining heavily this morning but by lunch it had dried up. The park will be muddy underfoot though. Lots of security though with lots of young people in the city. Of course if we cancel things they have won. I managed to get an Italian girl on the right tram and a bunch of lads up from Essex to the Parklife bus service set up specially to get people out there.

And in Albert Square they are setting up the festival hub for the Manchester International Festival. This biannual event has to show only world premiere works. It’s a big deal. I like to hang out on the roof of the pop up bar where you can sit in the sun and a have a drink among the treetops.

Politics….

There’s an awful lot of politics going on these days. We’ve just had a bit of a political earthquake in the UK or at least a nasty aftershock after last year’s Brexit vote. Prime Minister May decided to have a snap general election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations which start on 19th June. With her personal standing in the country head and shoulders above all her rivals and the Conservative party 20 points ahead of their nearest rivals, it looked like a walk over and she would be returned with a huge majority in Parliament. It didn’t happen. The numbers converged and we now have a hung parliament with the Consevatives the largest party but, if the rest got together, they can block anything she wants to do.

The map above shows where the parties hold power. The blue areas were won by the Consevatives, it looks impressive but they are, mostly, the big, affluent, thinly populated country areas. The red areas are the Labour areas. They are strong in the big cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle. Small in area but dense in population. The orange areas are the Liberal Democrats, a centrist party. The yellow areas are the Scottish National Party, a political party that would dearly like independence for Scotland. The green areas are Plaid Cymru, a Welsh party not as strong as the Scottish National Party. Look carefully on the south coast of England, south of the red blob of London, between two red patches there is another green patch. This is the constituency of Brighton Pavilion, the only place where the Green Party have an MP. Seaside city Brighton does like to march to the beat of its own drum.

Tom’s ideas about what’s happened….

CONSERVATIVES. The Consevatives should have won handsomely. They didn’t. I think it’s for three reasons. First, it was all about Theresa May. They thought she was so strong that she could carry the country with her but, as we got to see her more, she came across as cold and distant. Other big personalities in the party, including Boris, were kept out of the campaign. Second they talked about Brexit to the exclusion of everything else so we never got to know there they stood on other important issues. Bad move. The third reason was Brexit itself. The vote in 2016 was very close. Since then it’s been all about the people who voted leave. Those of us who voted remain have been sidelined. Yesterday we voted and made our voice heard. Brexit will have to be considerably softened now (we were going to crash out of Europe in a hard Brexit) and there will have to be changes in our approach to Brexit. Especially as the Conservatives will need a Northern Ireland party to support them, the DUP. They don’t want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. Neither do we. A hard border could take them back to the bad old days of virtual civil war. Yesterday’s election will stop that.

LABOUR.  Labour have lost. They have a deeply divisive leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent the last six weeks wandering round the country promising everyone who will listen free money. He could do that because he knew he’d not win. Young voters have been seduced by all that but older voters aren’t so gullible. Personally, I’d want to see the money in my bank before I’d vote for him. They are posturing today as if they have won. They haven’t. They won a few constituencies in university towns where they promised to pay everyone’s tuition fees but that was that. But they have decisively lost but are in delusional denial.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, PLAID CYMRU, GREENS. These three parties are too small to have any real effect on politics. Fun to have about but not powerful enough.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY. The leader of this party, Nicola Sturgeon, wants Scotland to be independent. They had a referendum a couple of years ago and the Scots said ‘No’. Then Brexit happened. Scotland voted to stay in Europe while the UK narrowly voted to leave. Ms. Sturgeon started banging on about having another independence referendum. That’s all you ever hear from her. The Scots have had enough. Yesterday morning all but two constituencies in Scotland were controlled by her party. Last night she lost 21 of them to the Conservatives and Labour.

So there we are. Another fine mess. It’s going to be fun seeing how they get out of this one.