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I’m very excited to take possession of my first shed. It arrived yesterday. They didn’t give me a delivery time so the entire day was on hold. Fortunately I could work at home. It was coming over from a company in Yorkshire which added to the uncertainty. I was still in bed when I heard people moving about in the garden. The shed guys must have had mine at the beginning of the day’s work so they were there at 8am! While I dressed they were busy in the garden. It only took about 40 minutes to erect as it came in 7 bits that just had to be joined together on top of the foundations that we put in a couple of weeks ago. This is what it looks like at the moment.

It won’t look like this when I’m finished with it. It’s going to be customised inside and out as my ‘man cave’. Watch this space. Part will be used for gardening but I’ve sited it so that the wifi for the house reaches this far into the garden and I’ll be able to work out there on nice days. Next job is to put a little terrace outside of it so I can put pots full of plants there and have a little table and chairs there for coffee and wine on nice days.

Another thing I’ve missed doing while I’ve been out of action is mooching around Manchester’s markets, of which the city boasts many. As we buy more and more stuff online, markets are booming as people like the experience of actually going out to shop. The same people bemoan the decline of many of our high streets while reaching for their tablets to have stuff delivered. Well people, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

I really don’t get people shopping online for clothes for instance. I know people who buy stuff in different sizes and colours to try on at home and then send most of it back. The sheer amount of time wasted on repacking stuff and sending it back would drive me crazy. Here’s an idea. Why not get together with a couple of mates, make a day of it, go to the stores, try stuff on, have lunch, go to the cinema, a few cheeky cocktails and TALK to people. Far better for all than shopping online at 3am. And don’t tell me you’re too busy. You’re not busy, you’re just disorganised.

And I’ve seen at first hand how food is picked in supermarkets for home delivery. Honestly, you’re much better off picking it yourself.

Rant over… are some pictures of the Maker’s Market in Chorlton. The weather is improving and city is coming out of its post Christmas torpor and it was good to go to this.

I took this picture so I could get Chorlton’s small but grand library in shot. I may be dealing in stereotypes but doesn’t the guy, on the left, in the hoodie and baseball cap look decidedly dodgy? Click on the pic to make it larger ans see just how shifty he looks. 

I did go to the market to look for a particular trader but he wasn’t there sadly. I need him to make some stuff for the garden. But I did spot this stall selling flavoured gins and vodkas. I had a little try.

This gin, flavoured with passionfruit, was utterly delicious and came home. It must have followed me!

The golden dragon was in St. Ann’s Square. The BBC had tweeted that he was on the plaza in front of their studios in Media City. He wasn’t! I know because I’d gone out of my way on the tram system to go find him. It’s a good job I like riding the tram. He had been there but at some point he’d flown back to St. Ann’s Square to pose with people for selfies on Twitter. He was doing a roaring trade. He’s become something of a fixture at Manchester’s Chinese New Year celebrations. 

There were some street kitchens cooking Chinese food. They were doing a roaring trade as well with queues across the square. There was Japanese food as well. It was new year there as well. A few weeks ago I saw fireworks in cities like Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong for western new year so it’s cool we return the compliment. 

The Confucius Institute at the University of Manchester has set up in the Arndale Centre letting passing kids have a go at Chinese crafts like calligraphy. It looked cool and I wanted a go but queuing for an hour with 8 years olds wasn’t going to be on the itinerary. 

Yesterday was Chinese New Year. I also noted that it was New Year in Korea as well. So possibly it’s New Year right across Eastern Asia? Vietnam? Japan? I’m really not sure. It’s the Year of the Dog. It is a year where traits such as loyalty, unconditional love, positive attitudes and kindness come to the fore. Qualities that many dogs have. On the negative side they can be rigid and stubborn. They can be irritated and pessimistic when things don’t go their way. What that means for the world, I’m not sure. We will see. We are all, sometimes, too pessimistic about the way the world is going. But, it seems that the planet has never been so peaceful or prosperous with billions of us having increasingly good, long, fulfilled lives. When you look at other periods in history when we could have lived we are very lucky. We just need a few people to calm down and join the party.

Manchester likes to celebrate Chinese New Year. We have the third largest Chinese community in Europe after London and Paris. The city is enjoying a boom, partially financed by Chinese money with developments like Middlewood Locks and Airport City being bankrolled from China. More flights to Chinese cities are only going to encourage this and groups of Chinese tourists have become a feature, touring the city. 

Albert Square was decorated with Chinese lanterns in readiness for the dragon and lion dances tomorrow and the parade that will make its way from there to China Town.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

When Darth Vader isn’t conquering galaxies and destroying random planets with Death Stars, there’s nothing he likes better than entertaining the shoppers with his keyboard outside Marks & Spencer’s in Manchester.

Yesterday I was back at the hospital for, what proved to be, my final appointment after my ankle injury back in October last year. It was a final time with my physio, Neil, and, while I’m pleased to be putting the entire business behind me, I will be sorry not to see Neil again. He talks a lot of sense and while I’ve been exercising we’ve had a bit of a laugh as well.

Neil…’Do you wake up stiff in the morning?’

Me….’We are still talking about my ankle, aren’t we?’

He got me running on the treadmill yesterday. I’ve not run since October. It wasn’t very good and I woke up limping this morning (avoided ‘stiff’ there). But it’s up to me now to make progress. So I was in my gym, with personal trainer, Jim, to up my routine so that I continue to get better. While I was with Jim, our cleaner was cleaning the house and the guy who cleans the windows was there as well. What with the gardeners and all, I’ve become very ‘Cheshire’ with all these staff. Ideas way above my station.

I’ve been thinking about the care I’ve had over the last few months with the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK. It came under fire from Mr. Trump who had been watching something on Fox News saying that it was falling apart and people were out on the streets protesting about it. He was holding this up as the kind of system they didn’t want in America as it was expensive and didn’t work. Well it was ‘fake news’ Mr Trump. People weren’t protesting that the NHS should be replaced, rather they were protesting that not enough money was spent on it. It’s had a bad January it’s true. We have been hit by Aussie Flu and the jabs we can get to counter the flu have no effect on this strain. It’s a nasty one it seems with bad symptoms. The best thing to do is to take time off work, stay in bed, take some paracetamol and let your body deal with it, it’s a virus and there’s nothing hospitals can do about it anywhere, regardless of how they are funded. People were taking their vulnerable relatives to hospitals where they could do little and the virus could spread to people who are ill with other things. So that was that.

January was difficult to be sure. But most of the year our well provisioned hospitals and health services with some of the top facilities on the planet do very well. So to me. This is how my care developed at the Manchester University Hospital at Wythenshawe. It, along with the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) is one of the teaching hospitals for the medical school in the university. It has the best of everything and is well staffed with top doctors and nursing staff. As well as making people better, they do masses of research into new procedures. If you’re going to get ill, Manchester is a great place to do it. 

I slipped and damaged my ankle on the 7th October last year. Within ten minutes of my rescuers phoning, the paramedics had arrived and I was being loaded into an ambulance. The people who found me were wonderful and the traffic came to a halt on Barlow Moor Road as people in cars realised that my needs were more important than their Saturday morning errands. All through this event I’ve found that people are very kind and considerate. 

Twenty minutes later I was at Wythenshawe Hospital. There was no wait and, seeing the perculiar angle my foot was to my leg, I was taken straight into Resus. There I was seen immedialty and a doctor eased my dislocated ankle back into place. Not something I’d like to have done again but the ‘gas and air’ certainly helped. If ever offered it, please do try it! Within a hour I had been X-rayed and it was found that two bones were broken, one fully, the other partially.

It was a sufficiently interesting situation that the top doctor/consultant, the wonderful Miss Fox, decided she wanted a crack at it. ‘I can do this’ she said exuding confidence. You always want a doctor with confidence when they are going to cut into you. Because of swelling, it couldn’t be done that day so was done the following day, Sunday, in a well provisioned operating theatre with a full complement of medical staff. I remember arriving and waking up after but nothing in between as I was away with the fairies somewhere. I did have to option to be awake while they did it but didn’t fancy two hours or so of being cut into while awake even if I didn’t feel a thing.

The next day they had me, and cast, up on my feet and ‘walking’. Two days later, possibly three, I was home. 

Then there was the aftercare. I had three appointments with Miss Fox and several with Neil, the physio. On each occasion I was seen on time by both of them and once, because I like to get there early and Miss Fox had some spare time, I was seen early. On each occasion I was given time to talk and discuss my case, and each time progress was seen to be made. Miss Fox says it could be another eight months before I’m fully recovered. She also offered, if the metalwork in my ankle begins to hurt, to take it out. All I have to do is see my own doctor and request her to do it.

I don’t recommend anyone breaking an ankle. It’s painful and it ruins your life for several weeks. But if you do have one, having it in the UK is a good place to have it. You will be looked after by some of the best medical staff on the planet in hospitals that bear comparison with the best in the world. I had a fair amount to think about while I was disabled but the cost of it wasn’t one of those things. All my hospital expenses, plus making up my wages at work, was covered by the state. I may have been disabled but I didn’t have to worry about how to pay for my excellent care or how I could afford to live while I recovered.

This is why we have the NHS. All the care I got would be given to anyone else in the UK from someone living on the streets to the Queen in her palace or the Prime Minister. It’s how we like it. Of course, it isn’t free, it just appears to be. It’s paid for through our taxes. And we may pay a little more in taxes than say, America, but we pay NOTHING in insurance. And, I suspect that if you looked at the amount we pay in taxes and compare it to the amount Americans pay in taxes and medical insurance, we will be better off.

So Mr Trump was calling out our NHS on Twitter. It certainly provoked a reaction this side of the Pond. But a few facts…..the UK spends 10% of its GDP on healthcare, the US spends just under 17%. For that UK men live, on average, 3 years longer than their American peers, for women there is a 2 year gap in the UK’s favour. The infant mortality rate in the US is TWICE as high as in the UK and we get upset about ours. There are 28,000,000 people without adequate health insurance in the US, in the UK the number is 0! We spend less money and have a better outcome. The NHS may have its problems but we will cope with them and they pale into insignificance compared to being poor, or even quite well off, in America where people are bankrupted by medical bills. For now, I’ll be staying this side of the Pond.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Manchester. Here we are feeling the love from No1 Spinningfields with this huge red heart lit up across the building for the last few nights. The building is finished now and the tenants are moving in. The top floor restaurant, with its outdoor terrace on the roof of the building, opens in early March. We’re thinking we might leave it for now and try it out for a lunch or dinner on a warm day in summer when we can properly enjoy the views from that, open to the elements, terrace. May not be quite so much fun on a cold, wet, grey day in March.

Pictures courtesy of No1 Spinningfields itself via Twitter…

Mrs. May, the Prime Minister, was in town today to make a speech. Manchester was chosen for this speech because on this day, February 6th 1918, the legislation was passed in the Houses of Parliament to allow women to vote for the first time. It was a partial victory as it was restricted to women over 30 who were married or owned property. On the same day the right to vote was also extended to working class men (not sure how they decided what class you were) so all men over 21 could now vote. But it was a start for women and, I think, by the end of the 1920s it was all equalised and everyone over 21 could vote. Hard to believe, today, that it was ever any different.

Manchester was chosen for this speech because it was here that the idea of ‘votes for women’ began. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, campaigned for it from her home in Nelson Street in what is now the university district. Manchester has always been a hotbed of liberal ideas that the rest of the country took a while to get behind. 

At some point soon a statue of Mrs. Pankhurst will be erected in St. Peter’s Square to mark the event.

A few mornings ago I caught the end of a report on the news on the radio about an art gallery that had removed a painting from the walls of one of its galleries because the content of the painting, painted over 100 years ago, didn’t fit in with modern sensibilities in a post Weinstein world. I raised my eyebrows but it was only later in the day that I discovered that it was Manchester Art Gallery and they had removed a painting called ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ by the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painter, J.W. Waterhouse. It’s one of the gallery’s most popular paintings and one of the city’s great, cultural treasures. Whenever, I’m in the gallery looking at something else, I usually go and spend a couple of minutes in front of it. Here it is…

A little about it….

Hylas was the son of King Theiodamas somewhere in Ancient Greece. He was a handsome lad it seems. Heracles had an argument with the king over a bull that Heracles killed and ate. The argument turned nasty and Heracles killed the king. He then took on the son, Hylas, as his companion and servant. The sort of relationship that went on a lot in Ancient Greece but might cause controversy today. Heracles took Hylas on the Argo to look for the Golden Fleece, a trip organised by Jason. On a stopover somewhere, Hylas wandered off and found a pool. The pool was full of nymphs who took a fancy to the handsome lad and pulled him into the pool and drowned him so he could stay forever with them. Note to self…avoid nymphs. Heracles was desolate and stayed on the island looking for his companion. In the painting we see the moment where Hylas, enchanted by the beauty of the nymphs (it seems he was very 21st century in his romantic entanglements) is about to be pulled into the pool. This theme has been portrayed in art, and continues to be so, since ancient times.

The gallery curators said the picture would be removed to ‘encourage debate’ about how we view women generally and how the Victorians viewed them and should we be still encouraging such views. The nymphs are quite young we’re told and is this appropriate? Well it certainly did encourage debate. The story went viral, first in Manchester, then across the UK and on around the world.

I’m not sure about the exact percentage of pro/con removing the painting comments but my very unscientific appraisal of what I have read has been against the removal of the painting. And the debate has been moved from a debate about how women are portrayed in art. A lot of the comments have been about the curators of the gallery censoring what the public can see as it doesn’t fit in with their political view of the world. Others commented about how legal was it for the curators of a publically funded gallery to remove an art work from the walls that is owned by the city? Others said it was a stunt to promote the gallery. If so it’s certainly done that.

The fact that the debate so quickly moved from what the gallery wanted to the subject of censorship was interesting. Politics has been shaken around the world by people, tired of being ignored by political elites, voting in such a way that has led to Trump in the US and Brexit over here. The curators of the gallery seem to have been cast as an out of touch political elite trying to foist their view of the world on the people who like to visit the gallery. As well as this incident there have been instances of some less than well received ‘art’ exhibitions.

I was going to go into the gallery to photograph the space today but the picture has been restored to its position. The debate is rumbling on though.

I was surprised by the choice of painting. A couple of rooms along there is this, ‘The Sirens and Ulysses’ by William Etty, another Victorian painter but not a Pre-Raphaelite.

Guys, if you thought nymphs were bad, you really need to avoid sirens. What these voluptuous ladies like to do was sing a song so beautiful that it would drive men, on ships passing their island, wild and lure them to their doom. You can see some of their previous victims littering the shoreline. Ulysses, on his trip home from the Trojan War, wanted to hear the song. He had his men put wax in their ears so they couldn’t hear the sound and keep rowing and not be doomed. He had himself tied to the mast so he couldn’t throw himself to his personal doom but still listen. It worked. Their island was supposed to be off the coast of Capri on the Bay of Naples. We have been to Capri and we did arrive by boat. We didn’t see any of them. It must have been the sirens day off.

This picture was in a dreadful state a few years ago and we had the pleasure of watching it being restored in public, in one of the smaller galleries. It’s a huge painting and maybe they thought these rubenesque beauties could stay put because they were just too heavy to move.

What next? If we start removing pictures because they might offend people where will it end? How safe will ‘The Shadow of the Cross’ by William Holman Hunt be if it is seen to offend non-Christians and people of no faith? 

After months of virtually no social life at all and living in a cultural desert, it’s all happening at once. Yesterday was the second cultural treat of the week with a trip to see Guys and Dolls at the Royal Exchange Theatre in St. Ann’s Square.

First we went to the Principal Hotel on Oxford Street. It’s had a multimillion £ restoration and I was interested to see what they had done. We had coffee and cake in The Refuge Bar, the name a nod to the original name of the building. It used to be the headquarters of the Refuge Assurance Society, a banking and insurance business that is still running today. The restoration has been well done. The Principal has the look and the feel of a grand Victorian hotel when, in fact, it’s only 21 years old. Just a thought….top picture below….I want a job where I can sit about tapping on my laptop or iPad in the Refuge Bar at The Principal. I’m sure they are all doing something terribly important and profitable.

Coffee and cake done we headed across town to the Royal Exchange. St. Ann’s Square was being dressed with red lanterns in readiness for the Chinese New Year celebrations. This year the actual date is February 16th with the following weekend full of celebrations. And it’s going to be the Year of the Dog. I love the bright red lanterns appearing in the trees on a cold, grey January day, adds a bit of colour to the city and the season.

Guys and Dolls was the Royal Exchange’s Christmas treat. They always do something fun, and usually musical, and if it is well received they extend it before the Spring season starts. This has happened with Guys and Dolls. I thought, because of the ankle problems, I’d missed it but a couple of weeks ago I was passing through and saw that it was extended so I made a phone call home to see who was free and bought tickets there and then. We went to the matinée performance. It’s so good it was sold out and the theatre was packed. With a good story and some wonderful songs, it’s had many revivals across the world, the latest being this one in Manchester.

If you don’t know it, Guys and Dolls is Damon Runyon’s take on the comically, criminal low life of 1940’s New York. It’s about love and unexpected relationships and the story of how to find a place to continue ‘The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap in New York.’ It first saw the light of day on Broadway in 1950 and transferred to the West End soon after. There was a hugely successful film with Marlon Brando playing Sky Masterson and Frank Sinatra playing Nathan Detroit. Pictures of the deceptively simple set…

This production is notable in that it’s the first production with an all black cast. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, the ethnic background of the actors does not alter the story or the wonderful music. It’s a flexible piece that lends itself to different settings and interpretations. It was put together by the Royal Exchange and the Talawa Theatre Company, a company that works to promote black actors, producers, directors in the theatre world. It’s amazing to think that in 2018, black people in the UK are still underrepresented in the theatre world.

This production is, it has the be said, wonderful. Well acted, staged, directed and well sung by a talented cast, it’s been playing to sold out houses since it began in December. You have till 3rd February to get a ticket. Good luck with that! Pictures courtesy of the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Talawa Theatre Company. Loved the suits by the way.

Afterwards it was on to dinner at The Indian Tiffin Room on First Street near HOME. It’s one of our favourites. We hit the cocktails. I had a Blueberry Blast and a delicious one with puréed mango, called a Bombay Delight, which was served in something that looked like an old fashioned light bulb.