Category: My Life


I was over in the village of Culcheth hanging out with a relative. We had breakfast and then bought some bedding plants from a stall set up by St. Rocco’s, a hospice for people who are facing their final days. Now, in spite of its purpose, it is a very positive place where the sick people and their relatives are looked after well. The money from the sale will go to support their work.

As we were in gardening mode we decided to check out Bent’s Garden Centre which is nearby. This is the one that has the spectacular Christmas displays. It started decades ago selling a few plants but is now a destination in itself with all manner of distractions. One of the latest is a rather nice pet store with a pet café. You can order treats for your furry friend and enjoy a coffee yourself.

The latest addition, though, took our breath away. A Jurassic crazy golf course for the kids, complete with animatronic dinosaurs…

However you mark it, in church or in an overindulgence in chocolate eggs, or just by having a relaxing couple of days with family and friends, have a good Easter. This time last year things were a bit frantic in our home. We have sailed into calmer waters now so I decided to decorate the wooden ducks for the season and fill vases with spring flowers. Enjoy…

I spent a pleasant time, this morning, setting up a display of Easter plants at ASDA. It’s only a small display at the moment but will grow as the week goes on and will be joined by Easter bouquets of flowers for people to decorate their homes and give as gifts over the Easter weekend.

I’m not sure how giving flowers and plants remembers the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But Easter is a corruption of the word, Eostre, which was the name given to the pagan Anglo Saxon/Viking celebration of the Spring, when people celebrated the return to life of the Earth. Giving flowers and plants and eggs makes a lot more sense then. I suppose the ancient Christians just tried to graft their Christian traditions onto the pagan festival like they did with Christmas. And we are still following the traditions today in ways that would have been recognised by the ancient pagans. 

ASDA do some nice things though.


Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK, the day on which we particularly honour our mothers. It’s always the third Sunday in March. It’s not a religious festival but it’s always close to the Christian Feast of the Annunciation when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would bear a child. Mary felt something move inside her and she fell pregnant. I couldn’t possibly comment! The Feast of the Annunciation was yesterday and in nine months time it will be Christmas Day. We are on the countdown. I must put on the sprouts!

In the olden days, in the grand houses in England, the young servants were given the afternoon off on Mothering Sunday to visit their mothers. Just the afternoon mind. The grand people in the grand houses would need to have breakfast and have lunch readied before the servants had the afternoon off of course. Walking to their former homes they would pick a bunch of wildflowers for their mothers to go with their homemade cards.

This charming custom has morphed into a multi million £ business becoming a pink Christmas. No wildflowers anymore but an expensive, imported bouquet of flowers, a bought card, chocolates , wine, perfume etc…. The gastro pubs, restaurants and hotels do a roaring trade for Mother’s Day lunch when entire families turn out to be fed.

It’s been my job, the last couple of days, to keep ASDA’s Mother’s Day floral tributes in good order and well stocked up. It’s been hard work I have to say. The supermarkets probably sell more plants and flowers at Christmas but that’s spread over four of five weeks. Valentine’s Day is pretty intense but that’s usually one person (usually the guy) buying one bouquet for his beloved. On Mothering Sunday every child, regardless of age, has to buy a bouquet for his/her mother, also regardless of age. It certainly kept me busy. I did the display on Saturday morning before the store opened and took these pictures before the customers got to them.

We have another flower fest around Easter but not in the scale of this. And then it’s Christmas….

I walked through Barton Arcade. I was going to meet someone. My route took me past BarberBarber where I get my hair cut. I’ve posted about it before. It’s a very popular and successful barbershop in one of the prettiest buildings in the city. It looks like it’s been there for decades but it’s only four years old this coming November. It’s a guy only space like old fashioned barber shops used to be. It’s a classy operation though, run by Johnny who came here from Ireland to open it up. He’s a force of nature and easily recognised as he has his own satorial style. Tourists stand outside taking pictures and selfies of the shop and the stylish barbers inside. Johnny expects the highest standards of his barbers in their barbering skills and how they dress. Since the Manchester barbershop opened it’s been joined with shops in Liverpool, Leeds, London and Birmingham. And he’s just bought two more shops in London, one near the City (the beating financial heart of the world) and in trendy Soho in the West End. I’ve been a fan since it opened when Johnny invited me in for a haircut just after he opened the Manchester shop. 

As I was walking past Johnny came out. He lives in Manchester but his business has him all over the country doing things. A few days ago he was doing something at the London Palladium for London Fashion Week. A very prestigeous gig indeed. He spotted me and came over to chat. I like that. He appreciates his regulars and goes out of his way to make you feel special. Doesn’t harm the business either. He asked if I needed a haircut. I was going to meet someone so had to decline. Once on Deansgate I looked at my phone and saw that it was a hour earlier than I thought so I doubled back. I was planning to go in the next few days so why not now when I had time and Johnny was in.

I took my place in the queue and waited my turn. BarberBarber is run in the old fashioned way. You don’t make an appointment you just turn up and wait. Part of the fun is chatting to random people while enjoying a complimentary beer, coffee or Irish whiskey. You also take pot luck with you cuts your hair. I don’t mind that as the barbers are all very good at their jobs. If you aren’t good Johnny wouldn’t have you on the premises. And I’ve never seen a guy leave with a bad haircut. If you want a particular guy to cut your hair you can wait until he’s free but you might wait longer than normal. At busy times you could wait a long time but most guys seem to relish the time spent in a pleasant place, talking to other guys and chilling.

I expected to do that and when a new barber approached me I thought he would be cutting my hair. Other guys in the queue may have been impressed to hear that ‘Johnny will be taking care of you himself this afternoon.’ Not everyone gets that honour I can tell you. Johnny is in the white trousers and the blue/grey pattern shirt.

I had an al fresco lunch today, the first of 2017. While I was doing so, somewhere else in the city the police were raiding an address and have arrested two people in connection with the Westminster attack on Wednesday apparently. That’s all we know at the moment.

However, back to my day. I was in work early today so I could be out by lunchtime. It was clear and cold when I got up as it often is in England in March. But, as the day aged, the sun warmed the city and by mid morning it was quite pleasant. I spotted a couple of convertible cars with their tops down and the first guys of the season were seen in shorts and T shirts. It’s a case of ‘sun’s out, guns out.’ That doesn’t mean it’s very warm, it is March in Manchester after all. But we are a hardy bunch and while people in warmer climes might still be wrapped in winter sweaters we are in shorts and Ts at the earliest opportunity.

I went into the city centre to have a mooch. I wanted a bit of lunch and decided that it was warm enough for the first al fresco lunch of the season. I went to Pret á Manger (great sandwiches and other stuff using organic produce) and bought a picnic to go. That done I went and sat in the sunshine in St. Ann’s Square. It’s a good place to people watch. And you have some beautiful architecture to look at.

We were entertained by this violinist and Manchester was putting on its best face for spring. Why anyone would want to run a car into innocent people on a busy bridge when you you could have a picnic in St Ann’s Square is beyond me.

Because the trees aren’t in leaf yet you get this nice view of the Town Hall tower on Albert Square looming over a corner of the square.

Here’s my picnic. Some cheese, pickle and salad sandwiches, some posh mature cheddar  and red onion crisps, a Pret chocolate mousse and a can of grape and elderflower soda. 

I do enjoy a good book. I like to read. And, I’ve discovered it has to be a book. I do have ‘books’ on my iPad but, at the end of the day, I find I don’t like to curl up in bed at the end of the day with my iPad and read a chapter. And I do tend to forget I’ve got books there as well. I’ve downloaded some and they are just there, wherever ‘there’ is, forgotten. I’m not alone either, the sales of paper books is rising again in the UK while downloads are falling. It seemed we still like mooching about in bookshops and picking out a good read. 

I’m about to finish ‘The Flame Bearer’ by Bernard Cornwall. It’s the latest in a series of ten. To say I’ve enjoyed them is an understatement. I’ve read all ten back to back, apart from the last few pages of this one, over the last year.

I like history, and the further back the history goes, the better I like it. ‘The Flame Bearer’ is set at the end of the Dark Ages at the point where England was being forged together out of the old Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. I can’t decide where Manchester was in those days. Some maps had us in Mercia, others in Northumbria, maybe we were fought over and moved from one to the other. The remains of the Roman province of Britannia are still there with the Saxons living among the ruins of their towns, wondering how those people could have built so well. The Saxon kingdoms fought each other at that time and all of them were under attack from invaders from Denmark and Scandanavia. First they come to raid as Vikings, later they come to settle, dispossessing the Saxons of their land. At one point it looked as if the Saxons would lose, with the King, Alfred, holed up in swamplands on the Somerset Levels. If he’d lost we would be living in Daneland, not England, now and, maybe, Danish would have become to lingua franca of the world. 

It was a fascinating period in our history and I’m amazed, given how important it is to how we are now, it isn’t better known. Bernard Cornwell has woven a lot of detailed history into his books with actual characters from the period actually doing the things they did. You learn a lot of history.

 

Bernard Cornwell has done a lot of research into his own ancestors and has discovered that he is related to the people who lived in Bamburgh Castle in the Dark Ages. Thanks to Gareth Evans for the great picture above. It’s a dramatic fortification on the north east coast of England, north of Newcastle. The present castle is a stunning medieval building with Victorian additions added to make it a comfortable home. Before that there was the Dark Ages building, the Romans had a place there as did the Ancient British. It’s within sight of Holy Island, an ancient religious place which still has a special atmosphere today. People who believe such things believe that the veil between heaven and earth is very thin here. Both these sites feature in the books.

Among all the history and geography of Dark Ages Britain, Bernard Cornwell has created a fictional character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (the ancient name of Bamburgh) who may have been his ancestor. Born into a Christian Saxon family living at Bamburgh, he falls into the hands of Danes and becomes a slave. His master grows to like him and treats him as a son. He becomes a pagan and a warrior. His ability as a warrior bring him into contact with Kind Alfred and the fictional story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg becomes interwoven, very cleverly, with the real history of England as the Saxons face annihilation and fight back to establish England as the nation we know today. It’s a damn good read.

I actually started reading the series with the ninth book of the series, ‘Warriors of the Storm.’ I picked it up just before Christmas 2015 as a present to myself and something to read over the festive season. I enjoyed it and was delighted to see that the BBC was doing a televised series of the books called ‘The Last Kingdom.’ It was very well done and very faithful to the books. A second series is being shown this Spring. I am looking forward to that but don’t let the excellent BBC adaptation put you off reading the books. Speaking to a friend, he informed me of the rest of the series which he had read, and passed on the rest to me which has provided me with much of my recreational reading for 2016. I thank him. 

And the pleasure isn’t over. Bernard Cornwell is, I hope, working on the next book in the series, hopefully for my festive reading for Christmas 2017.

After being stuck inside all yesterday sheltering from Atlantic Storm Doris, I needed to get out and about some. Doris was the most vicious storm we’ve had in a while causing destruction and disruption but we were, mostly, back to normal today.

I decided to take the car and drive up the beautiful Ribble Valley, to the north of the city, and cross the border and visit Skipton in Yorkshire. It’s a prosperous market town with handsome stone buildings, a wide high street with an impressive church and castle at one end of it, surrounded by green hills.

It’s a focal point for the local, rich farmlands. There used to be some industry here and there are a couple of impressive woollen mills in the town. Manchester was all about cotton but Leeds, which is close, is all about wool. The mills are now apartments or have been filled with other businesses. It’s the gateway to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. It has  a famous market that attracts people from all over. Tourists like the attractive town and it’s within commuting distance of Leeds. Even on a cold February day it was busy.

Some pictures of the little streets off the High Street and some of the pretty buildings in the town…

It was market day in Skipton and the high street was lined with stalls selling stuff you might need. The Manchester markets I like to visit sell a lot of stuff you might like but you don’t necessarily need it. There is a difference…

At the top of the High Street is Holy Trinity Church. It has the biggest clock on a church tower I’ve seen in a long time. Inside it had that old church smell of dust and hymn books undisturbed for centuries…

Here is the gatehouse to Skipton Castle…

I went to this rather nice wine store where I hoped to find a particular wine. Sadly they didn’t have it. I did have a look at the whisky collection for which it is famous and noted that it now has a formidable gin collection. Gin, especially small batch, artisan gin, is big in the UK at the moment…

I was attracted to the Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment…

Here are some of the pies in the window…

Did I buy any? It would be rude not to…

I bought this huge pork pie. Yorkshire is noted for its pigs and pork pies and Yorkshire ham is, justifiably, famous. I had to buy some jam and currant slices as well. An old fashioned treat found across the north of England…

A pop up barbershop at Skipton Market. Good idea to start a business. I like the enterprising spirit of this…

A trip to Yorkshire wouldn’t be complete without meeting a couple of Yorkies. These two were checking out the market. They looked a bit nervous. Maybe they thought that Storm Doris might return and whip them off to Oz or Kansas. It was cold so they looked smart in their Friday coats…

If you are walking a Yorkie at Skipton Market you will need a traditional flat cap. They used to be the headgear of choice of the working class men and boys of the industrial north of England but now they are a fashion item worn by all…

On the way back to the car I liked this garden of gnomes…

I’m having a few days off. I’ve got quite a lot of time to take off before the end of the financial year on April 1st. So it’s nine whole days with nothing planned. Yesterday was a bit of a dead loss, to be honest, with nothing achieved at all. I got up about 9, had a shower, put on some fresh boxers and a T and that was it for the day. Before I knew it, it was time to get back in bed for the night.

Today was a bit better. I did a bit of tiding and cleaning done and planned dinner. It involved going to ASDA to pick up some stuff. Now Valentine’s Day is over and it’s a bit to early for Easter (there are chocolate eggs though), they are having a push on gardening. The return of the lighter nights and with the gardens being full of crocus and early daffodils, people are looking to do some work on theirs.

I’afraid I got no further than ASDA’s offering of gnomes. ASDA are famous for their gnomes. As well as the generic garden gnomes we’ve had limited addition gnomes for the big national events like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. All great fun. I’m banned from bringing any home though.

This season they have the usual, large garden gnomes…

But they have also brought in a range of smaller gnomes. Here are some regal gnomes, possibly to celebrate the Queen’s and the Duke of Edinburgh’s 70th wedding anniversary later this year which is the Platinum celebration I believe…

Mini garden gnomes….

Occupation gnomes, policeman, nurse etc…

Firefighter gnome and David Beckham gnome….

BBQ gnome, fisherman gnome and Mary Berry gnome with cherry pie and no soggy bottom…

Chilled gnome and sleepy gnome…

Seaside gnomes…

Mini gnomes on sticks (cocktail gnomes?)…

And, finally, solar panelled gnomes that light up at night…

 

I thought I’d post my pictures of St Andrew’s, Tarvin in another post. It’s the parish church of the village. It’s Grade 1 listed which means that it is as important, architecturally, as St Paul’s Cathedral or the Houses of Parliament in London or Manchester’s Town Hall. 

It was built the the 11oos, parts of that building can still be seen. Over the centuries it has been enlarged and improved, the last time being in Victorian times. The Victorians were great ones for ‘improving’ ancient buildings and redesigning them in what was then the modern style. We tend to just maintain them and, apart from adding the odd modern window like in heavily bombed Manchester Cathedral, you don’t see us adding modern wings to old churches or the like. Which is a shame as, when we get it right, like in the Whitworth Art Gallery or the Royal Exchange Theatre, we do it well. And I rather like the extension to Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats. But that isn’t technically a church any more. But I imagine that if anyone tried an extension to St Andrew’s in Tarvin, local opposition would be fierce.

Although this building was built in the 1100s I suspect that it may have been built on the site of an, even older, Anglo Saxon church. Very few Anglo Saxon churches are still around. The Normans, who originally built this church, were great ones for ripping down older churches with no concern that we, in the 21st century, would love to see them. It may even have been built on something Roman as we are very close to the great legionary HQ of Deva (now called Chester). Maybe Roman Tarvin was in commuting distance of Chester for some wealthy Roman living in a sumptuous villa? And it’s entirely possible that the church was built on top of an Ancient British religious site. The Ancient British certainly lived up on the sandstone ridge that runs down the centre of Cheshire within sight of Tarvin.

The church is built of the local red sandstone which is used in Manchester to build a few of the buildings, notably John Ryland’s Library. The church is surrounded by a peaceful burial ground that has been used for centuries. Some of the memorials are quite elaborate, reflecting the wealth of the people interred in them and the wealth of Tarvin.