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Having been up early to work in my real job and having potted on a lot of my plants, I had a soak in the bath (t.m.i. but it’s the best way of cleaning the hands after gardening) then decided it was time for some Tom Time. I headed off into Chorlton to have a bit of a mooch. It’s warm and sunny today and is a holiday weekend in the UK. Chorlton is in the middle of its annual arts festival. There have been about 100 events at various venues across Chorlton, some have to be  paid for while others are free to attend.

The Sue Ryder shop, next to the Post Box Cafe, had a theatrical performance with two actors and a mannequin. A large audience gathered on the pavement outside. Fortunately the sun had decided to join the party. I  saw Chris who runs the Post Box Cafe, he had come into work to oversee an event at the cafe.

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I was listening to the coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show this week. It’s regarded as the world’s greatest flower and garden festival. The garden designers are at the top of their profession and come, as well as from the UK, from afar afield as Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean and Japan. It was interesting to hear how they organise the building of the gardens. They seem to have an army of people to help them. They visit the top plant nurseries across the UK who grow their plants for them and fly off to Tuscany to choose olive trees to show, or Cape Town to look at new species of this and that.

Poor little me is having to grow all the plants for my little garden in St. Ann’s Square by myself. Everything has to be in tip top condition and in peak flowering mode by the end of July! It’s quite a task, especially as real work is about to get as busy as it can get in June and early July.

I’m rushing about trying to sort everything out before the second week in June and get the plants in a position where all they need is a bit of deadheading and watering by the same time. This morning I was busy potting stuff on into bigger pots so the plants can bulk up. I’ve moved them all back into the green house as some nasty, heavy rain took its toll on them last week. But they should be OK. My pots of wildflower seeds are coming on as well.

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I went past the building site of the apartment towers at the top of Cambridge Street. They’ve just about finished the service cores and the superstructure of the first tower is beginning to rise. Someone with some wit working on the project likes to commemorate dates. A heart appeared on one core on Valentine’s Day, Easter eggs appeared for Easter and a cross of St. George appeared for St. George’s Day.

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I did think they might have done something for the arrival of Princess Charlotte but they don’t seem to be royalists. However, a careful look at floor 15 of the second tower will tell you that it was reached on 4th May. Two Darth Vader masks and the words, in yellow, STAR WARS, mark international Star Wars day.

May the fourth be with you…. 

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I’m not sure how far the phenomenon of love locks has got. For those unaware of them, a couple who are in love write their names on a lock and attach it to some public structure as an expression of their committment. Bridges are a favourite. It sounds like a cute idea but some favoured bridges like the Pont D’Arts over the River Seine in Paris and the Ha’penny Bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin became so weighed down with them that the integrity of both bridges was compromised and they had to remove the locks.

This little bridge over the Rochdale Canal on Oxford Street across from the Palace Theatre isn’t at that stage yet but it’s getting there.

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I didn’t really get much time to look around Ashton while on my three day course there this week. I only saw the bit between the tram station and the venue for the course and that route wasn’t that inspiring to be honest.

But across the street from the venue was this wonderful, fully restored Victorian cotton mill. Ashton was a mill town and in the industry’s heyday the townscape would have been punctuated with the chimneys of these massive buildings. Manchester has moved on and the cotton industry has all but disappeared and many of the buildings associated with it have been torn down. Some remain and have been converted into offices and expensive, trendy apartments, especially close to the city centre. I wonder what the people who toiled for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, would make of that; well off people living in a place that caused them so much pain? Incomprehensible to them I imagine.

Cavendish Mill seems to have been converted to offices I think. Loft living hasn’t reached Ashton it seems. If it did, I’d like an apartment in those rooms that wrap themselves round the chimney.

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Manchester, like any large city, has it’s share of idiots and violence isn’t unknown. But, compared to a lot of cities in the world, it is safe and peaceful. There are some parts of the city that you might want to be carful in but, as a visitor, you are unlikely to find yourself in any of them. The touristy bits are safe and well policed and the rest is relatively benign.

I rarely feel unsafe and can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve personally witnessed violence in the city and I wouldn’t be using all the fingers on that hand either. But yesterday was one of them and the fact that it was on the tram two minutes from affluent, right on Chorlton at 5 in the afternoon in the rush hour came as a complete surprise. I took a picture but it doesn’t really do the situation justice. I was part appalled, part amused by what I witnessed. here’s the picture….

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I was returning to Chorlton after the first day of my first aid course in Chorlton. The tram took me as far as Cornbrook where I was pleased to see an empty Manchester Airport tram coming in. It would have me in Chorlton in 6 minutes or so. We all got on. I was aware of some noisy people further down the tram. At first I thought they were just a bit boisterous for 5 in the afternoon. The tram moved out. Two minutes later, as we approached Trafford Bar it became apparent that the shouting was far from friendly. There was a bit of pushing and shoving going on. At some point between Trafford Bar and Firswood someone threw a punch and all hell broke out.

It’s seems that two black guys were on the tram. One, or both, had said something homophobic about a lesbian woman on the tram. The lesbian woman’s girlfriend took offence at that and told the black guys exactly what she thought of them. As the tram stopped at Firswood all four were in a full on fists flying, hair ripping fight. The doors opened and the fight fell out onto the platform. All our side of the tram gasped as one of the black guys slipped and one of the lesbians did a lesbian ninja flaying kick at the black guy and kicked his head. It must have hurt. He fell like a sack of potatoes. People on the tram were trying to stop the fight while others were urging the poor driver, who was trying to mediate, to get the tram moving while he still could. The fight fell back onto the tram. One white guy was running up and down the tram trying to get people to join in a defend the lesbians. I actually thought the lesbians were doing OK and it was the black guys who needed the help. When I’m next in a street brawl I want the ninja lesbian on my side! As a white guy was I going to get involved in a fight between a couple of lesbians and black guys? That wouldn’t have ended well. At least I had my refreshed first aid skills good and ready. Someone must have phoned the police as they came. With out tram stuck at Firswood, trams were grinding to a halt behind us as far as the city centre. In the rush hour!

It was interesting to watch the fight and even more interesting to see the reactions of the other passengers. Some were doing that British thing of totally ignoring what is going on as we are a very private nation and what people do in their own lives is nothing to do with us. It would be rude to even look, let alone pass comment. While others were taking selfies and posting them to Twitter and Facebook with a background of scrapping black guys and lesbians, like a scene from ‘Shameless.’

Iv’e taken the middle course. Took a picture and posted it 24 hours later. Not a good one at that. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to do a video. Next time….

 

Unexplored territory. In spite of living in Manchester all my life, parts of the city are still a mystery to me, occasionally passed through but not explored. I’m pretty good on the city centre and the wealthy southern suburbs. I’ve ventured into North Manchester as far as the Etihad Campus, Manchester City’s magnificent stadium and training complex. But, apart from odd trips to places like Urmston and Prestwich, much of the city is still a foreign country to me, especially East Manchester.

Well life took me to one of the eastern suburbs this week, the former cotton mill town of Ashton upon Lyne to be precise, nwhere the city meets the hills that separate us from the Peak District and Yorkshire. It was originally a distinct town of its own but is now part of the urban sprawl of Greater Manchester. I was there to renew my first aid certificate. I had to be there by nine in the morning.

The traffic at that time of day can be horrendous so I decided to drive to Chorlton, leave the car there and catch the tram to Ashton now that the tram system goes out that way…

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Catching the tram at Chorlton tram station…

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I had to change lines at Cornbrook for a tram that took me to Piccadilly, Manchester’s main intercity train station…

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The first one was packed but I noticed another one coming 2 minutes after. I waited for that and it was practically empty. You have to know how to read the tram system to get a comfortable journey…

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Passing the Hilton Tower at Deansgate/Castlefield tram station…

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Magnificent Central Library on St. Peter’s Square. As I rode through the square the ongoing tented protest by homeless people in the city that had been evicted from Albert Square was being evicted from St. Peter’s Square. They left but are now camped in St. Ann’s Square! The upmarket shops in the area won’t like that and a market planned for this weekend has been cancelled. On a personal note, the tents are on the space where my garden is supposed to go later in the summer…

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The back entrance to the Town Hall and the Cenotaph on the new bit of St. Peter’s Square…

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I had to change trams again at Piccadilly for one going to Ashton. The tram station is deep under the mainline station and is the only bit of the tram system that reminds me of the Tube in London…

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Riding past Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. The cranes mark where they are spending more of Sheik Mansour’s oil millions on extending the south stand of the ground to increase capacity. When that’s done they will likewise extend the north stand…

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Manchester City’s facilities are so extensive in this part of the city that they warrent two tram stops to themselves, Etihad Campus and Velopark (it’s also by the velodrome where the British Olympic cycling team is based). Here’s a view of the training stadium. Teams in less privileged circumstances would sell the it mothers for such a stadium but it’s just City’s practice ground…

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After leaving Eastlands, the tram takes to running down Ashton New Road and gets mixed up with the cars like the route to Eccles does. I don’t know this part of the city at all. It used to be the centre of heavy engineering but all that’s gone now and it’s one of the most deprived parts of the city. A real contrast to the wealthy southern suburbs I hang out in. The tram took us through a parade of little shops all of which seemed to be either a cheap fast food place or a nail bar. No where that I could see could you buy a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit. The area is changing. Smart new housing estates and apartment blocks are going up but they seem to be for people with cash moving into the area. The people stuck in the deprived streets, patronising the cheap fast food joints will be a more difficult nut to crack. Education is what they need, skills to get them out of their poverty. Easier said than done of course.

In Manchester we say that money follows the trams. Developers like to be close to the new infrastructure. And this was very apparent in Ashton itself where the land on either side of the tracks is lined with distribution centres and retail parks that attract the likes of Marks & Spencer’s and IKEA…

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My tram arrives in Ashton town centre..image

I’ve decided to put a lot of the plants I’m growing for my Dig The City Garden in July/August into the garden where they will get used to being outside and get some natural sunshine. I will have to keep my eye on them. I’m on frost alert 24/7. Not to mention slug patrol.

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The Art of Tea is one of my favourite places to visit in Didsbury. At the very back of the building there is a picture framers. Coming back into the building is a wonderful, well organised, if crowded, second hand book shop. The front of the building is occupied by a wonderful teashop that does great cake on mismatched crockery while sitting on an eclectic collection of furniture. On sunny days, like this, they open the glass front and it all spills out onto the pavement in Barlow Moor Road. If you get to Didsbury, check it out…. 

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Bees are very important creatures. They pollinate many of the plants that we rely on for food. If they were to disappear, it would be a disaster for the human race. But everywhere, bees are in trouble. They have lost a lot of their natural habitat and are susceptible to many of the chemicals that we use on our farms. In the countryside they are in trouble. But it’s not all bad for the bees. Governments across Europe have banned some of the most insidious chemicals that are affecting them. And people are planting bee friendly plants in their gardens. In contrast to the country, bees in the cities are doing well, lots of food plants everywhere and no nasty chemicals.

One of the themes of this year’s Dig The City Urban Garden Festival is the conservation of bees. Dig The City have been giving out packets of bee friendly seeds. People have been asked to plant them and bring their pots to the festival. Celebrity gardener, Sarah Raven, has been part of the team organising it. She will probably be at the event herself as there have ‘big name’ gardeners at previous festivals.

As an official garden designer at the festival, I’ve been sent some as well. I’ve invested in some nice, new terracotta pots and spent part of the day setting them up. I’ll be watching them carefully over the next few weeks and hope I have something to show at the festival.

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