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I’m on an, enforced, hiatus from my blog. On the 7th of this month I was heading into the city to get some Euros and buy a couple of last minute things for the Barcelona trip. I parked up near Chorlton tram station. It’s Autumn. Leaves are falling. We get annoyed when the train companies cancel trains due to ‘leaves on the line.’ They now have my sympathy. I was crossing a damp pavement, in new shoes with perfect tread, and my feet went from under me and, before I knew it, I was on the ground.

No pain but looking down my leg and the weird angle my foot was at to it, told me that things weren’t OK. Two guys from a local car workshop heard me shouting and came. They called the ambulance and I was taken off to Wythenshawe Hospital. I’d obviously dislocated my ankle. People complain about our health service but I couldn’t fault it. I was in the resus dept in minutes and being seen to. A young looking doctor said ‘you can say ‘No’ as I’ve never put a dislocated ankle back in place before but I’d appreciate it if you would let me do yours.’ A more qualified doctor was on hand to watch and advise. It’s seems a dislocated ankle is either rare or fun to watch and I gathered quite an audience to see the procedure including the two paramedics who brought me in. I was, by now, high on gas and air. I heard myself say ‘They’ve broken out the good stuff now!’ The young doctor went to work. At first there was no pain, but, as the ankle slipped back into position no amount of gas and air was going to shield me from that. The second doctor found himself firmly gripped and I suspect he may have suffered bruising. I think I may have assaulted a National Health Service employee!

X-Ray revealed two fractures and the following day I had an op. My ankle is full of plates and screws and I’m dragging a huge weight around on the leg. The surgeon declared she was happy. Doctors never say stuff like that unless they really mean it. The anaesthetist gave me the impression that I would be lucky to wake up at all. As it was I woke up in a recovery room with a wall of luridly coloured landscapes and thought that was what heaven, or the other place, looked like.

The next morning they had me up on my feet getting about on crutches. I wasn’t brilliant and they tried me on a Zimmer frame, the kind you see be very old people using, and decided I was having one of them. I blame the drugs. No way was that Zimmer frame coming home with me! I’m 50 years away from that as far as I’m concerned! I got them to come back the next day and convinced them I was a lot better, and cooler, on crutches. 

I got out last Wednesday. I was in a little room with an interesting guy called Duncan. Duncan has an infection in his foot, a bad one. He has no idea where he got it from, the most exotic place he’s been recently is Wales! He’d had an op and they were washing the wound through with a constant drip of antibiotics. He has an office job in Warrington but also helps run a well thought of tattoo parlour in Manchester and is a musician. We were in there together, two guys used to doing stuff for ourselves suddenly having to rely on everyone else for the simplest thing. That’s difficult for a guy. We did a lot of talking and I got to see, those hospitals gowns are totally inadequate, all his tattoos and good much more besides. No doubt he saw more of me than I’d usually show a guy on such a short relationship. But being in a place like that you soon develop an intimacy that might take months or years outside. I escaped first but, hopefully, Duncan, won’t have been far behind me. When we are both back to normal I’m going to one of his concerts. In the meantime here’s some of his music. He does have a great voice.

So I’m home and my world has telescoped to my bedroom and the adjoining bathroom for the moment. Travels are well and truely restricted. And the Barcelona trip had to be postponed of course. Next week I go back to the hospital to have my ankle looked at. I’m hoping this restrictive cast is taken off and they give me a cool Moon Boot thing so I can walk again.

So no travels and no pictures so my blog will be on a hiatus for a while. Cheers for bearing with me.

Working on the IndyManBeerCon, they fed us. We were giving tokens and we could swap them for something delicious from the food village. Various street food specialists set up their field kitchens and cooked delicious fresh food to order. You asked for what you wanted and watched it assembled and cooked before your eyes. 

I had a delicious pulled pork burrito one day. I can’t remember the name of the street food vendor sadly, nor can I find it on the IndyMan website. Another day I had some Malaysian food from a kitchen called Nasi Lemak. I’ve had Malaysian food a couple of times now and find I always enjoy it. I had some Vegan Chicken Bites (I imagine it was tofu) covered with three types of sauce with some of those pickled vegetables that you see in Korean cuisine. It was delicious and probably did me a fair amount of good.

I did manage to get these pictures of the pizza I had on the third day from a street kitchen called Honest Crust. They managed to get one of those huge pizza ovens into the festival. The pizza was assembled before you cans you could watch it cook in the oven. I was told to try it and, even though there was a wait, it was more than worth it. I had a sourdough crust pizza with wild mushrooms. It was VERY good.

It wasn’t all beer. In a side room Three Rivers, a Manchester based gin company, had set up a gin parlour. I must find their distillery, they do tours I’ve heard. The three rivers referred to in the name are the Irwell, Medlock and Irk, the rivers that run through the city centre.

On my first evening working at IndyManBeerCon I was working on receiving the guests at the door. A call came through to see if anyone could be spared to work on the increasingly busy bar of the Northern Monk Brewery from Leeds in Yorkshire. When I was in university I had a job working in a pub behind the bar. I got quite good at it and learned how to pull a perfect pint of Guinness with exactly the right proportion of creamy white top to black stout beer below (did you know that Guinness isn’t actually black, it’s a very, very dark red beer). I didn’t perfect the shamrock on the top even though I am of Irish descent.

Northern Monk had an entire tent to themselves beyond the food village. When I arrived it was already busy. I met Billy (grey T in the pictures), one of the craftsmen brewers, who lovingly talked me through the beers and ales on offer and showed me how to pull them. After a few mistakes I got into the groove and all that muscle memory from nights behind the bar in the Friendship Inn came true.

At the beginning of the evening there was a lot of ‘beer tasting’. People swirled the beer in their glasses, inhaled the aroma, swashed it about the various parts of their mouths so they could assess the ‘feel’ and the ‘depth’ of the taste. Appreciative noises were made and comparisons with beers drunk at other times and at other events. All rather like a wine tasting. The difference between the two events was that, while the wine may have been spat out, the beer most definitely wasn’t! 

The beer was sold in one third of a pint measures so three glasses equated to a pint in a normal pub. Problems might have arisen because the beers on offer can be, and were, a lot stronger than the mass produced beers that can be bought anywhere. And people were on a mission to try a lot of them. Only the number of tokens you could afford limited you. I saw no one getting drunk and the security people said it was a good event to do from their perspective because everyone was out to have a good time and were so chilled. 

However, as the evening went on there was less appreciation of the beers and more of the how much can I drink attitude. For example…

Young Lady to me: Give me a glass of your favourite beer and then I’ll have another of your second favourite one!

But my favourite interchange of the evening came courtesy of a young, Australian guy…

Aussie Guy: (possibly having had one more than was good for him) What have you got that’s most like an Aussie lager?

Me: (looking along the beers on offer from Northern Monk and finding nothing remotely like an Aussie lager but spotting Billy not busy for a moment) Billy, this chap wants something that’s most like an Aussie lager. What do you suggest?

Billy: (looking Aussie guy up and down with barely concealed distaste) Well I can offer you some piss in a glass!

Aussie Guy wasn’t put off so I chose him a glass of an India Pale Ale flavoured with Passionfruit.

Me: Try that. In some pubs in Sydney that’s considered a cocktail. 

 

I was really busy last week working at the IndyManBeerCon, a festival that celebrates the huge number of artisan crafted beers and ales that are now being produced across the UK in small breweries. These beers used to be a tiny proportion of the beer consumed in the UK, the province of diehard aficionados. Now they are mainstream with people from all walks of life taking the trouble to search out these beers.

The IndyManBeerCon started six years ago and was the brainchild of a guy who owns a couple of bars in the Northern Quarter and one in Chorlton. I’m not sure where it started but its present home is the Victoria Baths, a short walk from the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road. It probably started out small but, talking to some of the brewers there, it’s now one of the most important beer festivals in the country. Brewers from as far away as Cornwall in the south to Aberdeen in the north of Scotland came to the city to show off their beers. Some brewers, like Cloudwater from Manchester and Northern Monk from Leeds were here for the entire festival. Others came and went so there was always different beers to try.

The three pools had been drained of course and the bars were set up in them, surrounded by wooden tables. There was recorded music in the First Class Male and Second Class Male baths. The Female pool was turned into a club with DJs and live music as well as the bars. A brewery from Buxton set up in the Turkish Baths. Another brewery took over the Pineapple Room (the stained glass windows feature the fruit). Behind the baths was a tented food village where street food sellers set up shop. There was a huge tent with a chilled Ibiza club vibe about it with more bars. And Northern Monk had their own tented bar.

You booked online for a session (an afternoon or evening) or you could have a weekend pass or a pass for the entire festival. You paid for that online. People arrived and brought their tickets on their phones which were scanned in the street outside and you got a wristband for your session. Inside you were given a glass and a map (I helped with that once). You then went to buy some tokens for beer and food using cash or card. Then you were off round the festival swapping your tokens for whatever beer you fancied. It certainly made life easy for the bar staff. I worked on the token exchange once and it was crazy busy. The bars were busy but at least we didn’t have to count change out. And we could talk to people about the beers. I was amazed how I quickly got to a place where I could chat about the beers with authority. TBH I knew next to nothing but throw in phrases like ‘double IPA’ and ‘hoppy ale’ and they seemed to lap it up. 

At then end of each session the people there (1,500 for each) just seem to melt away and the festival was tidied up for the next session. There was security. We had a very scary lady who went round ‘suggesting’ that people would like to go home and forbidding people like me from serving any more beer after a certain time. I certainly didn’t.

The lovely people at HOME, Manchester’s theatre, cinema, art gallery complex on First Street were kind enough to invite me to see two of their new season’s productions a couple of weeks ago. And very fine they were too. Look back a few posts and your will see what I thought about them. This blog, which started as a way of organising a few photos for family and friends, is read by many more people than I ever thought. It has been touted as one of the top ten blogs to read if you want to find out about Manchester. I am humbled by this. Social media is huge, something not lost on HOME, and I suspect that’s why I’ve been invited to review somethings. It’s taking my blog in a new direction and I’m grateful for that. It also makes me go see things I might, otherwise, not go to or completely miss.

However, the blog doesn’t pay the bills and work has got busy again and I’m off to Barcelona for a few days soon (hope it calms a little) so I haven’t been able to find time to see other things just yet. Which is a shame because HOME is having its annual ORBIT festival. A series of theatrical events, a lot handpicked from August’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, have been brought to Manchester to entertain, educate and make us think. I’m not sure if I can find the time to see any so I’m not in a position to review any. So, with their permission, I will use their own words to describe the festival…..

Orbit Festival 2017 brings together innovative new work from theatre makers across the globe who want to explore our place in the world. Many of these shows come straight from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, exploring our relationship with the past, how we remember, the stories we tell ourselves and what it is that makes us who we are.

How do we navigate today’s world, forging and challenging our economic, political and social circumstance? What about our plans for the future and the threats to our ideals and aspirations we hold dear and hope will keep us safe?

Like you, these artists are extraordinary. They have their stories; all they need now is you. They want to talk to you about where we are now, where we’ve been and where we are going.

So join us for a journey through what it means to be human in these unstable times.

HOME is a very different arts space. You, probably, won’t see the latest blockbuster movie or one of the huge West End musicals there. The city is well served with venues that do that. And there’s nothing wrong with those particular pieces. I’m happy to watch WICKED as many times as someone wants to take me.

What is shown at HOME is, of course, entertaining. If it didn’t do that people wouldn’t go. But you will also leave having had an experience you won’t get elsewhere in the city. You will leave enriched by the experience, you will have had food for thought and it will certainly give you something to discuss on the tram home.

When you read through the prospectus for an up and coming season at HOME, maybe everything isn’t instantly recognisable or appealing. The thing to do is to be brave and take a punt on something new and provocative. Just give it a go and broaden your mind and experience.

The ORBIT Festival started on 28th September and runs to 14th October. PLEASE, give yourself a treat and log on to https://homemcr.org/ follow the link to the ORBIT Festival and try something out. I know you will be pleasantly surprised.

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Photo Credit: The Other Richard
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Greg Wohead

The Angel of Purity….not me you will be surprised to hear but a piece of beautiful stained glass in the Turkish Baths area of the Victoria Baths. Here she is…

As I said in my last post I’ve been having fun helping out at a beer festival at the Victoria Baths. It’s been tiring but great fun even though I went through the entire event and didn’t drink a drop! I was way too busy. The Victoria Baths were built in the Victorian era as a public amenity. You could learn to swim in them. Or, because a lot of houses in those days lacked bathrooms, you could actually go and have a bath. There was a sumptuous Turkish Baths suite and rooms where you could ‘enjoy’ water treatments. There was one room with something that looked like a huge Bain Marie. No one could work out what they did in that. But you could melt a lot of chocolate in it without it turning grainy. It opened at the beginning of the last century but closed in the 1980s when the city went into serious decline. People preferred the modern pools and the Victoria Baths was abandoned and was gradually falling down. But it’s a stunning building and is listed.

The BBC did a competition on TV so the nation could choose a building to save. Victoria Baths won and got £6,000,000 which, to be honest has barely touched the sides of what this building needs to have done to it. But it’s now safe, the façade is looking good and some of the interior is looking as good as it did 100 years ago. Work needs to be done still though. And I wonder what happened to the buildings that lost the competition. 

They still occasionally fill one of the pools. There are three. One for First Class Males, one for Second Class Males and one for Females. It was built in different times of course. The pool for the women is the least elaborate which is insulting by our standards but, as a male, I would have really resented going through a door marked ‘Second Class Males.’ So some swimming still happens but, if they want to refurbish the rest of the building they need to raise more money. Having events like the beer festival with thousands of people paying to attend raises a lot more than a bunch of seniors doing aqua aerobics on an afternoon. 

The part of the building frequented by the First Class Males is full of beautiful stained glass, with representations of guys doing manly things like cricket and boxing. The stained glass is less spectacular for the Second Class Males and almost disappears by the time you reach the part where the Females swam. 

There’s a lot of these dark green tiles everywhere. Not to our taste in a modern bathroom, but appropriate for a Victorian public baths.

And the fishes on the mosaic floors may not be as accomplished as the Roman mosaics I saw in Cirencester a few weeks ago but I thought they were charming. I’d have them in my bathroom. 

 

Before I get to go on my trip to Barcelona in a few days time, I get to help with a beer festival at the Victoria Baths. It starts tomorrow and carries on until Sunday. I was working on it yesterday which was a set up day. Artisan breweries from around the UK, Europe, and even America, are coming to Manchester to show off their products. Cloudwater, the one I discovered last weekend, will be there. Yesterday was a day to do dull, but very necessary, preparations so that the actual event will go well.

I caught the tram into the city in the rush hour. It was packed. The entire carriage was entertained by a very well dressed lady who spent the entire trip telling her friend, by phone, what a total b**ch her sister was being about the sister’s birthday party. It seemed the sister thinks that the birthday party is all about her. TBH I thought that birthday parties were all about the person who was having the birthday. Not in that lady’s world it seems. It was a relief to get off at St. Peter’s Square and not have to hear all the drama anymore. I headed towards the library, she in the direction of the art gallery still complaining about her b**ch sister. If someone’s birthday is like that in their house just imagine what Christmas must be like.

I had some time so went into the Starbucks on Peter Street for a coffee. I like this branch. It’s in a modern building with plate glass walls and you can enjoy all the beautiful architecture of Central Library, the Midland Hotel and St. George’s House (formally the old YMCA building). 

I still had time so I decided to walk to the Victoria Baths. The route takes you through the universities and the hospitals to the Whitworth Art Gallery and then you take a left. The students are back and I was travelling against the flow of the people as they made their ways to whatever early appointments they had. They’ve changed the traffic flow in this part of the city. Cars are now completely banned from the Whitworth Art Gallery as far as the Palace Theatre. Only buses, bikes and people, all segregated along Oxford Road, are allowed and the sense of calm and quiet is wonderful. It’s a vast improvement with the university on both sides of the road joined, safely, for the first time in its history.

It was a warm, sunny morning. I was able to appreciate the architecture of the older buildings and check out all the new building projects on the campus. They are even creating a new park on what was Brunswick Street showing off the original Victorian buildings. Looking forward to seeing that finished.

I worked all day at the Victoria Baths and then headed back to the tram station at St Peter’s Square. I could have walked again but there was a Mobike near the baths so I decided to use it to get back into the city. I’ve been using them for fun so far and this was the first time I’d used one as it was designed to be used. Getting about the city quickly. I also worry about the bikes when they end up somewhere quiet in the city. Some people don’t appreciate the bikes as much as I, and many others, do. So I wanted to leave it in St. Peter’s Square which is a Mobike hub. Here it is in the square.

While I was in the city I wanted to buy some new Vans for my trip to Barcelona. I’d seen a nice pair a few days ago and promised myself that, if they were still available at the end of the month, I’d have them. I jumped on the tram to Exchange Square to get to the Vans store. From the platform I saw my Mobike being picked up and ridden back down Oxford Road to the universities from where I’d brought it. Hopefully it will be fine.

The Vans store was packed. The city stores were having a ‘Student Night.’ They were all offering discounts to the new students. It helps welcome them and gets them to come into city centre and find where places are. I’m not sure how many sales the stores made from the students. Maybe they’d prefer the stores to be full of people like me, with good jobs and good credit who don’t blanche at the price of their third pair in two months. Well one was Converse that I haven’t even worn yet. The girl behind the counter did ask if I was eligible for a student discount which was nice to hear, but neither of us were convinced. I went for a glass of wine.

Here’s my new Vans in all their glory. I’ll be needing a new shirt to match them for Barcelona I think.

 

The universities have reopened after their partial summer closure. Oxford Road is busy again and the city is full of youngsters living away from home for the first time. I’ve crossed yet another Rubicon there, referring to them as ‘youngsters’ as another year is notched up between me being one of them and them. Lectures haven’t begun in earnest yet. It’s Freshers week and the city is full of fresh faced young people seeing what Manchester has got to offer.

I fell into conversation with a group of them outside Marks & Spencer’s. The had the look of a bunch of fresh faced lads who couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. The Piccadilly Rats had moved along Market Street to a pitch outside the store away from their usual haunt on Piccadilly Gardens. Whatever small provincial town or secluded village the boys had come from didn’t, it seems, have the likes of the Piccadilly Rats. Phones were out recording the event to send home to the folks who were probably considering turning the car round, having just dropped them off, to whisk them back home again. If you look carefully, one of the P.R.s has brought their girlfriend. She’s sat at the back, a vision of loveliness, eating sausage rolls like the world is running out. The lads were fascinated with the nerve of the guy who was shirtless. That’s what happened to you if you spend too much time at university in the college bar I explained.

After my visit to Mayfield Station I remembered I wasn’t far from Pollen Bakery where they sell delicious sourdough breads and Viennoiserie pastries. It was about 12 30 and I expected it to be closed. They do sell out really fast. It’s in an arch underneath the massive viaducts that take the trains out of Piccadilly Station. It’s not a place of beauty and the routes you take under the station are dank and I wouldn’t wander down there late at night. Even on a sunny Saturday afternoon they have an edge to them and people hurry through. Cool, little businesses like Pollen are setting up here but it has a way to go before it joins the Northern Quarter and Piccadilly Basin as places to hang out. 

To my delight, Pollen was still open and had some things left. The bread was thin on the ground but I managed to secure a sourdough baguette, some salted caramel brownies and a couple of their delicious vanilla custard tarts that are so popular in Lisbon in Portugal. 

Pollen is found in an arch at No2 Sheffield St. Walking back towards the busier parts of town, the arch at No13 Sheffield St. was buzzing. I’m usually there early for Pollen and this arch has never been open at that time of day. Investigating, I found it was the Barrel Store Tap Room for the Cloudwater Brewery that brews artisan beers in the city. To say that their beers are good is an understatement. They have been voted the 5th best brewery in the world! 

They make their beers a couple of hundred metres away on the Piccadilly Trading Estate. And they store the barrels of beer they lovingly make at the Barrel Store, here at No13 Sheffield St. On Friday (1600-2100), Saturday (1200-2000) and Sunday (1200-1700) they open the store as a kind of pop up bar, or tap, so people can sample and buy their beers.

I was driving later so I couldn’t have any but the young woman I got talking to poured me a tiny taste of two of them. One, name has gone, smelled of fruit and tasted of an India Pale Ale. The second, called Mormora Sour was a revelation. Utterly delicious, it smelled of freshly brewed coffee and had a delicious fruity aftertaste. I bought some to take home. I noticed that the brewer does tours. I’ll have to book myself on one.

Here’s my haul from Pollen and Soundwater Brewery.

Piccadilly Station is one of the busiest in the country linking Manchester to the big cities across the country (3 leave for London every hour) and coping with a huge number of commuter trains. Millions of people pass through every year. Trains are having a bit of a golden age at the moment. More and more people are using them and huge amounts of money are being spent on the infrastructure. 

The last time the trains were as busy as this was the early 20th century. At that point Piccadilly was so busy that an overspill station was built across Fairfield Street called Mayfield Station. It was opened in 1910, sadly after the great age of the Victorian railway building. It’s a functional building without a glorious roof  like you see across the street in Piccadilly. From 1910 to 1960 is was a passenger station. After 1960 it became a goods station. It closed permanently in 1986 when Manchester was in serious decline and railways were giving way to cars. 

Over the last few decades it has been falling into decrepitude. Various schemes have been put forward to revive the building but none have come to fruition. It does occupy a huge site on the edge of the city centre and the developers are circling again. There was a plan for some London based government offices to move up to the site. The recession saw that off, but it’s been revived again. Occasionally it does get used for an arts use. Manchester International Festival used part of it a couple of years ago. And super club, The Warehouse Project, have used it. 

It’s not a thing of beauty as it is. Even cleaned up it’s not one of the city’s great architectural masterpieces. But it would be a shame to lose the more attractive parts. If the area is going to become a glass version of Whitehall, it would be good to incorporate some of the older buildings on the site. And somewhere round here they plan to create a huge, new station of the High Speed trains that are planned. 

The Star and Garter, next door, is a grand, Victorian pub. It must have been very busy when the station was working. It’s now a music venue for up and coming musicians in the city. It’s under threat of demolition along with the station. We will see. 

Behind the Mayfield Station building this little village of street food vendors has set up in a series of old shipping containers. It’s a cool idea. I’ve seen it happen in London. They are planning one for near the old BBC site on Oxford Road. That area, on Oxford Road with masses of passing footfall from the Universities into the city centre will work. This one felt a little isolated but people were there enjoying it. I liked the doggie bar with vegan treats.