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It’s not my birthday or anything but today I got this present. I like Mini cars and I have one to ride about it and someone saw this cushion and thought of me. How kind.

These two old pictures came my way. In this first one the photographer is stood outside the Cathedral and we are looking along Deansgate. First point, where is all the traffic? The statue is of Oliver Cromwell, a controversial figure in British history. He was our leader for eleven years after the execution of Charles I when we were, amazingly, a republic. He closed the theatres, banned dancing and stopped Christmas. He behaved appallingly in Ireland. We got rid of him. But there are some, who would have us be a republic, who hold him in respect. The statue is now in Wythenshawe Park. The building on the left is the Victoria Hotel in the Victoria Buildings. Hitler did for it in the 1940s when he was rearranging cities across Europe. It’s a beautiful building and a great loss to the city. On the right is the Grovesnor Hotel, another stunning Victorian building that Hitler missed. But we tore it down in the 1960s and replaced it with the Renaissance Hotel in a building so ugly that I can’t bear to look at it. Both buildings are a great loss. And while I mourn the loss of the Victoria Buildings that wasn’t our fault. But it was unforgivable to have torn down the Grovesnor Hotel. 

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This is a picture from the 1940s. I’m pretty sure that the building in the background is the Town Hall but I can’t decide if it’s the Albert Square or Princess Street facade. Look at the soot on the walls. British soldiers are in the background looking, enviously I think, at the American soldiers in the foreground who have better uniforms, cool helmets and actually have guns, something you need if you are going to win a war against Hitler. Some of the American soldiers are black. Maybe that’s what has attracted the British soldiers attention. In spite of being one of the most multi cultural countries in the world now and running the biggest empire ever at that point, there were very few black people living in the UK in those days. Hence the curiosity. I’d heard that in WWII there were all black regiments in the US army such was the segregation then. These men came to the UK where they were treated just as Americans and the local people refused to have anything to do with segregation. The men went back to America realising that there was a different way of organising a country. It took me a while to realise what was it with the flag. The stars looked wrong but we are in the 1940s, Alaska and Hawaii are yet to join the USA so there are only 48 stars arranged differently from what we are used to.

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I had an interesting afternoon. I went to HOME to be interviewed by members of a theatre group because I’d been in Manchester when the IRA exploded a bomb in the city centre. I can’t believe it was twenty years ago, well it will be this coming June. They were interested in my story. I thought that I had moved on from the event. I was very upset at the time but, twenty years later, I thought I’d be able to tell the story with ease. Apparently not, and when I got to the actual event I went to pieces. If that still happens to me, twenty years later, at an event I was an unlucky participant, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for people in a full scale war like in Syria. If you care to hear  my story it, or part of it, may be in an art event at the Town Hall closer to the anniversary.

I needed a little treat after my interview so I headed to the new Lindt store in the Arndale Centre to get one. For those who don’t know Lindt, it’s a Swiss chocolate company. It makes those golden bunnies that we like to give at Christmas. Their chocolate is pretty easy to find across the city but it’s nice to have this stand alone store…

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It’s across the mall from my favourite FOSSIL store where I go for big treats. I might get a new satchel soon…

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Inside the store…

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You can buy boxes of chocolates but all the customers, me included, were drawn to the Lindt Pick & Mix display with mountains (Alps?) of chocolates. This is where I got my treats…

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The work done in our local park has opened up some of the quieter paths that had got overgrown and felt a little dangerous at times. Now they sort of invite you to explore as they originally intended but I’d still be keeping myself aware of what’s going on and who’s about when using them. It might look like the depths of the countryside but we are in a big city. And when you live in a big city, even a relatively safe one like Manchester, it’s good to keep aware.

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Over the Easter holiday, I think some of the local kids had been in here and we’re having fun building a ‘den’ for themselves. They’re back at school now so construction is on hold I suspect. Building work going on all over Manchester these days.

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Yesterday was a bad day for Manchester. Something went wrong with the computers controlling the tram system and it all ground to a halt across the entire city. It went on for hours. The trams trapped in the city centre were lined up along some of the main streets which meant buses and cars couldn’t get through. All the people who use the system either packed themselves onto buses and trains or used the car. It was chaos. They did sort out the computer just before the evening rush hour but all the trams were in the wrong place and that caused more problems. Metrolink told people not to travel in the rush hour. Lots stayed on in the city centre and the restaurants and bars had a bumper Tuesday evening. 

I struggled home. It was a long day. Later that evening I got permission to work from home today just in case everything kicked off again this morning. Fortunately, it didn’t. The problem with working from home is everyone else thinks you have the day off and it was decided I could sort out dinner ‘as I was having a day off.’ So I got up early and did the work that I had planned to do and that left me with the afternoon free. Result! I decided on making a Sausage Casserole. It’s tasty, quick and easy. We didn’t have all the ingredients so I decided to shop local and walked up to the village to pick up the missing things. It was cool but sunny.

The walk takes me through a park. It was planted up in the 1980s. The idea was that it would be partly a piece of the old English wild wood. They planted native trees and surrounded them by native shrubs. They grew well but of late it’s become a bit of a problem. It would be easier to walk on the floor of the Brazilian rainforest than cross an English wood. The shrubs have grown so much that you don’t appreciate the trees among them and they have squeezed out all the kind of plants that live on the forest floor. On top of that, the park itself has become a bit of a no go area as there are lots of dark, quiet areas which are quite threatening at certain times of day. People have been avoiding the area which is a shame.

So what they have done is radically cut back the shrub layer. We can now see the trees and a lot of the little plants that were being crowded out are recolonising the park. And it felt a lot safer today as well. Runners and dog walkers everywhere as well as guys picking stuff up for dinner.

Here’s what I spotted. Some native English Bluebells with their curved spike of smaller flowers….

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Some Cowslips, which are a relative to the Primroses that we have been enjoying…

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The humble Daisy is always a welcome sight…

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Some violets…

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I spotted some tiny Geranium flowers…

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And these are a species of Wild Garlic, if you rub the leaves you get the smell of strong garlic… 

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A double sided ‘A’ board in Chorlton making great claims….

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We’re into the bluebell season in England. They are one of our favourite Spring flowers. I found these in the churchyard of St. Clement’s Church in Chorlton. The flowers are stood at attention so that tells me they are Spanish Bluebells and not the native English Bluebells. The flowers of the English Bluebells bend over at the tip. People often plant Spanish Bluebells thinking they are the natives. They then escape from gardens and are moving into woodlands and crowding the natives out by cross pollination. But these Spanish Bluebells are very pretty.

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We’re having a new ship in the UK. It’s a £200,000,000 Royal Reserch Ship, a huge floating science laboratory that will conduct experiments on the high seas. As I post it’s being constructed a few miles from where I’m sat, in a shipyard in Birkenhead opposite the Liverpool waterfront on the Mersey. As the £200,000,000 is coming out of our pockets, the powers that be decided that it would be fun if we proposed names for this vessel and then voted on our favourite. I think they thought we’d be suggesting names like ‘Drake’ or ‘Raleigh’, some of our great maritime explorers. Or maybe ‘Darwin’ whose voyage helped him come up with the concept of natural selection and the origin of species.

Well we entered this project with enthusiasm, names have been suggested and votes have been cast. So far in front that it’s unlikely to be overtaken with nearly 125,000 votes is…

RRS Boaty McBoatface

If you’d like to see some more of the suggestions use the link below. It’s an entertaining read…

https://nameourship.nerc.ac.uk/entries.html

Of course, the powers that be are not at all happy with the outcome but are not sure how to deal with it. Being a royal ship, it’s name has to be approved by the Queen and no one wants the job of going to the palace to tell her. One of the powers that be was on BBC Radio 4’s PM News programme with the personable, but a bit naughty, archor man, Eddie Mair. I choked on a cherry tomato when Eddie pointed out that it’s not a boat but a ship and should therefore be called..

RRS Shippy McShipface

I can just hear the Queen launching this ship. ‘I name this ship….’

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Today is St. George’s Day in the UK. We still don’t make a big deal of it like the Irish do with St Patrick’s Day which is a shame I think. Coincidentally, it’s also the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. He was the hot ticket in town in ElizabethI’s London and, because of the quality of his work and beauty of his language, he is still packing them in 400 years later. His plays have inspired operas, ballets, movies and West End musicals. Theatres around the world are mounting productions to mark the day. President Obama is going to see a production at the Globe Theatre in London while he’s over for a few days. I doubt Shakespeare would have thought that he would be so popular and have so many productions of his plays still on the stage 400 years later.

My favourite production has to be that of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ It was an open air production in a Redwood grove on the campus of the University of California in Santa Cruz. We took a champagne picnic, the air was scented with pine and we could see the Pacific Ocean in the distance and fairies flew across the grove from tree to tree. It was a magical experience.

Here’s the beautiful Shakespeare stained glass window from the foyer of Manchester’s Central Library. The Bard of Avon himself is in the centre surrounded by some of the many characters from his plays.

Some people think Shakespeare is difficult or irrelevant to us today. But just look at this list of sayings in use daily that first saw the light of day (probably a Shakespeare quote itself) in one of his plays.

“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)

“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)

“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)

“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)

“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)

“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)

“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)

“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)

“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)

“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)

“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)

“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)

“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)

“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)

“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)

“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)

“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)

“Full circle” — (King Lear)

“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)

“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)

“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)

“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)

“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)

“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)

“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)

“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)

“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)

“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)

“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)

“Play fast and loose” — (King John)

“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)

“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)

I’d heard of another archaeological site that was being investigated in the city. This time it’s where Port Street meets mega busy Great Ancoats Street in the Northern Quarter. It’s up where all the new bars and cafes have appeared so it looks as if the developers are following. 

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For as long as I can remember it has been a surface car park with a few cheap looking retail units on one side. Back in Victorian times it was an area of cheap housing for the workers who manned the cotton mills in Ancoats across the road. The magnificent Royal Mills are just five minutes walk from here. Along Great Anocats Street there were little businesses such as a bank and a pub called the Astley Arms. It was all there, decaying away, in the 1980s when the decision was made to tear it all down and the cheap retail units were put up. Manchester, in those days, was in a mess and looked to be in terminal decline and a surface car park and cheap shops was the best this rundown part of the city could hope for. Move on a couple of decades and the city is a different place with surface car parks being snapped up to construct skyscrapers as we go from strength to strength. 

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The archaelogists have a couple of weeks to see what they can find. They have already found the secure vault of the bank building which wasn’t that secure by our standards. And they have been in the cellar of the Astley Arms where they have found Victorian pottery and glass bottles. The local newspaper was quick to report that some of them actually had 150 year old brandy in them. Well, as usual, it was the presse stretching the truth and they had found three bottles with about a centimetre of liquid in that might be brandy. No one fancied drinking something 150 + years old that might be brandy. I got that from the archaeologist I talked to so I know who I believe.

What you can see in the pictures are some of the remains of the houses where the workers lived. They were ‘back to back’ houses with no open space or toilet facilities at all. They would have been amongst the worst slums in the city. They were three floors tall but one family didn’t have it all to themselves. As many people as possible were crowded into these places to get the best return in rents. Often a family would only have one room, even crowded into the damp cellars like you can see here. And the families weren’t small. With no family planning facilities there could be 10,11, 12 children all existing (you can’t call it living) in these conditions. It makes Grandad’s childhood with one family having one small house to themselves on the other side of the city centre in Hulme seem positively privileged. 

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The new residents of the apartment block will be living in a level of comfort and luxury that the original inhabitants couldn’t conceive of. This is what is going to be built. I like that it’s clad in brick that reflects the brick built mills that still exist, themselves now plush apartments. And they have gone for a grey brick as opposed to the red brick that built most of the Victorian city.  

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