Category: News


Whitehall is one of the most impressive streets in London. It runs from Parilament Square to Trafalgar Square and is lined with grand government offices that were built to run an empire. While we may no longer have an empire we are still an influential country and decisions made in the buildings do have an effect far away from here. Half way down is Horse Guards Parade, beloved of tourists where you can get really close to some of the Queen’s guards on their horses. The Cenotaph, where we remember the dead of wars is here and Downing Street is just off it.

Near the Trafalgar Square end is a building called Trafalgar Studios. It used to be the Whitehall Theatre, one of the West End’s many theatres. When it was the Whitehall Theatre it was famous for a particular form of comedy play. They usually involved some guy going off for a weekend in a country house with his mistress for a bit of illicit hanky panky. Through a series of convoluted plot devices his wife would end up there as well. Wife and mistress had to be kept apart. Eventually they meet and mistress is passed off as the mistress of, say, the local vicar. Cue local vicar’s wife/bishop turning up to discover the vicar in a compromising situation with mistress in underwear. The mistress turns out to be the vicar’s wife’s sister or, indeed, the bishop’s wife. You get the idea. At one point there will be lots of doors being opened and slammed shut revealing people in compromising situations. 

The style of comedy was known as Whitehall Farce. Due to the theatre’s proximity to the centre of government along Whitehall, any scandal in government in the UK is also called a Whitehall Farce. And we have had situations where people have come and gone at speed and situations where politicians have been found in hotels with women not their wives or, indeed, in one of the London parks enjoying the company of a young professional gentleman. All very entertaining for the rest of us but severely embarrassing for them. Personally I don’t care what they get up to in their private lives, unless it’s illegal, so long as they are running the country well. I’m very French like that where a politician’s private life is precisely that. And you just can’t imagine anyone even thinking of doing anything like that in Frau Merkel’s Berlin.

I’ve never seen an episode of The West Wing but imagine that it deals with the doings of the President’s office in the White House in Washington DC. It’s supposed to be good. But life is often stranger than fiction and I doubt if the scriptwriters would have come up with the doings of the present incumbent of the Oval Office.

When Mr Trump said he was standing for office we thought that sounds like a fun idea. When he actually won the Republican nomination we raised our eyebrows. Then he ‘won.’ I put it in inverted commas because Mrs C. actually won more votes. Here that would have meant she would have got the job. But, because they use a system that seems fine to elect a state governor, the guy who came second gets the job!

Well we are where we are. We thought that Trump would be surrounded by people who knew what they were doing and that they would run the country while Trump planted trees and cut ribbons. But it’s been six months of chaos and there’s no end in sight. He announces stuff on TWITTER and it would be all very entertaining if it was some less important country. But it’s the USA and whoever is in charge has a direct effect on every person on the planet. So I will have my say.

With all the comings and goings of people it does sound like a classic Whitehall Farce. And we’re just waiting for the moment when someone opens a door and finds someone with their pants down. Who do you think……

Manchester has a new sculpture. Brought to the city by Turner prize nominated artist, Phil Collins (not that one), it’s a statue of Frederick Engels. It’s been a controversial statue to say the least.

Frederick Engles was the son of a wealthy German family who sent him to Manchester in 1842 to work in a cotton thread mill that the family had here. He was a bit of a revolutionary figure who wasn’t happy with the capitalist system that provided his family with their comfortable living. While in the city he befriended Karl Marx. They would meet up in the little reading room at Chetham’s Library where they talked about all things socialist and wrote The Communist Manifesto. This document was taken on board by the Soviet revolutionaries who used it as a basis for their system of government . I’ve always thought it ironic that the world’s first ‘red in tooth and claw’  capitalist city also gave birth to the doctrine of Communism. For a while Communism was a powerful force in the world and, those chats around the library table in Chets (still there if you visit) almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on a few occasions in the last century. 

Engles stayed in the city for twenty years. He saw at first hand the appalling conditions that the people working in the mills had to endure to provide the fabulous wealth sloshing about the city in those days. That his stay in the city, as an important figure in history, should be acknowledge is not disputed. It’s the manner in which it has been done that has caused problems. There is the matter of us commemorating a man whose thoughts lead to the death of 100,000,000 people for a start. Hitler, by comparison, saw off a mere 17,000,000.

What Phil Collins (again, not the one you think) has done has gone to some obscure town in the depths of the Ukraine and found an old Soviet era statue of him. During the Communist era, Eastern Europe was bestatued with ‘heroes’ of the Communist ideology. When those countries got freedom from their masters in Moscow, one of the first things they did was to tear them down. They were left to moulder in out of the way places. Mostly concrete, that takes a while. Phil found this one, acquired it, put it on a flat back truck and crossed Europe to Manchester. He filmed the progress as he went, choirs singing to it in the Ukraine, a visit to Berlin and then onto Barmen where he was born.

It was erected in Tony Wilson Place, outside Home, as part of the closing ceremony of the Manchester International Festival last weekend. Manchester has a large Ukrainian population (or people descended from Ukrainians). Many came to Manchester to escape the oppression they experienced in their home country because of the ideology devised by Engels in Manchester all those years ago. That a piece of art that glorifies that oppression has been erected in the city hasn’t gone down well at all.

If you look carefully you can see blue and yellow paint on the statue. That’s part of the history as well. When the Ukraine fought from freedom from Moscow, the statues was daubed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And, although it’s gone a bit quiet, relations between Kiev and Moscow are far from cordial.

Interesting that Mr Engels has been put where he can keep an eye on the new offices of the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, nearing completion across the square.

I’m not good with my Russian or the Cyrillic alphabet but I think this says Engels.

This summer the country is celebrating and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK in 1967. Until then men who were found to have had sexual relations with another man could be jailed. And that did happen. Having said that, that was an improvement on the situation that existed before when they could be put to death. This draconian treatment was never applied to women so there was no need to include them in this legislation. Back in 1967 people thought that people were either straight or gay, so there was no mention of bisexual people either. Men who dressed as women were a comedy turn in a Christmas pantomime and the general public had no concept of transgender people. 

Back in 1967 the change in the law covered men over 21. In the last 5o years they have changed it to men over 18 and then to equal treatment with the age of consent being brought into line at 16. We moved onto civil partnerships and then to marriage for gay people. Ironically we now have a situation where a straight couple can’t have a civil partnership while it is open to gay couples along with marriage. Straight people are discriminated against in the UK!

Before 1967 no one was ‘out’. Of course people knew people who were gay but it was not spoken about and all swept under the carpet. 50 years on there are out and proud gay people in every walk of life. I imagine that everyone knows a gay person in their family or circle of friends or at work. Laws protect them from discrimination and people are, generally, accepting of other people’s sexual orientation. And, if they aren’t, they realise that it’s best to keep such thoughts to themselves.

In cities like Manchester there are big LGBT communities that are very much a part of the city’s life. We are a small, crowded country and the tolerant attitudes of places like Manchester, London, Brighton etc. fan out into the surrounding countryside. It’s a good thing. There are positive role models for young gay people aplenty. 

Big companies support LGBT members of their staff and in the community wider. ASDA is one such company. I’ve been a fan of their gnomes for ages. And I love the special edition ones that they do. To mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of the gay community that have brought out these Pride Gnomes. They have been snapped up and people are on waiting lists for them. Well done ASDA. I only managed to get to take these pictures by getting into the warehouse to do so. All the supply was sold before they got onto the shop floor. 

Politics….

There’s an awful lot of politics going on these days. We’ve just had a bit of a political earthquake in the UK or at least a nasty aftershock after last year’s Brexit vote. Prime Minister May decided to have a snap general election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations which start on 19th June. With her personal standing in the country head and shoulders above all her rivals and the Conservative party 20 points ahead of their nearest rivals, it looked like a walk over and she would be returned with a huge majority in Parliament. It didn’t happen. The numbers converged and we now have a hung parliament with the Consevatives the largest party but, if the rest got together, they can block anything she wants to do.

The map above shows where the parties hold power. The blue areas were won by the Consevatives, it looks impressive but they are, mostly, the big, affluent, thinly populated country areas. The red areas are the Labour areas. They are strong in the big cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle. Small in area but dense in population. The orange areas are the Liberal Democrats, a centrist party. The yellow areas are the Scottish National Party, a political party that would dearly like independence for Scotland. The green areas are Plaid Cymru, a Welsh party not as strong as the Scottish National Party. Look carefully on the south coast of England, south of the red blob of London, between two red patches there is another green patch. This is the constituency of Brighton Pavilion, the only place where the Green Party have an MP. Seaside city Brighton does like to march to the beat of its own drum.

Tom’s ideas about what’s happened….

CONSERVATIVES. The Consevatives should have won handsomely. They didn’t. I think it’s for three reasons. First, it was all about Theresa May. They thought she was so strong that she could carry the country with her but, as we got to see her more, she came across as cold and distant. Other big personalities in the party, including Boris, were kept out of the campaign. Second they talked about Brexit to the exclusion of everything else so we never got to know there they stood on other important issues. Bad move. The third reason was Brexit itself. The vote in 2016 was very close. Since then it’s been all about the people who voted leave. Those of us who voted remain have been sidelined. Yesterday we voted and made our voice heard. Brexit will have to be considerably softened now (we were going to crash out of Europe in a hard Brexit) and there will have to be changes in our approach to Brexit. Especially as the Conservatives will need a Northern Ireland party to support them, the DUP. They don’t want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. Neither do we. A hard border could take them back to the bad old days of virtual civil war. Yesterday’s election will stop that.

LABOUR.  Labour have lost. They have a deeply divisive leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent the last six weeks wandering round the country promising everyone who will listen free money. He could do that because he knew he’d not win. Young voters have been seduced by all that but older voters aren’t so gullible. Personally, I’d want to see the money in my bank before I’d vote for him. They are posturing today as if they have won. They haven’t. They won a few constituencies in university towns where they promised to pay everyone’s tuition fees but that was that. But they have decisively lost but are in delusional denial.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, PLAID CYMRU, GREENS. These three parties are too small to have any real effect on politics. Fun to have about but not powerful enough.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY. The leader of this party, Nicola Sturgeon, wants Scotland to be independent. They had a referendum a couple of years ago and the Scots said ‘No’. Then Brexit happened. Scotland voted to stay in Europe while the UK narrowly voted to leave. Ms. Sturgeon started banging on about having another independence referendum. That’s all you ever hear from her. The Scots have had enough. Yesterday morning all but two constituencies in Scotland were controlled by her party. Last night she lost 21 of them to the Conservatives and Labour.

So there we are. Another fine mess. It’s going to be fun seeing how they get out of this one.

About a week ago I said I was posting my last post on the Manchester Arena attack but I can’t leave it alone. The city is still profoundly affected by what happened. There are reminders everywhere and it’s going to take a long time to feel normal again. We were just beginning to get some sense of normality back and there was the attack in London on London Bridge and Borough Market. We are not down and defeated but we are still experiencing a deep sense of shock. And last night we had the One Love Concert at the Lancashire Cricket Stadium at Old Trafford.

Two weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of Ariana Grande. Her fanbase seems to be mostly girls from about 8 to 18. She’s obviously popular with them as she sold out the 21,000 Manchester Arena with ease. Of course the rest is history. After the attack the first picture I saw of her was of a stunned, fragile looking, young woman leaving the city after cancelling the rest of her European tour. She looked little better when she arrived home in Florida. But Ms. Grande is obviously made of sterner stuff than she looks. She was determined to do something to help her fans who had been damaged and traumatised by the events. She announced a desire to put on a concert. She started pulling some strings and calling in favours. When Ariana Grande pulls strings the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Coldplay etc… are at the end of them. Within a few days a star studded concert of epic proportions was put together.

While people at the original concert were given free tickets, the rest sold out in 6 minutes. People gave their time, talent and resources for free and, possibly, the best concert the city has seen was put together and was broadcast to the world. Even the weather played along with a dry, sunny evening with dramatic clouds drifting across the skies. The concert raised £2,000,000 last night alone taking the total raised for the victims so far to over £10,000,000. Ariana Grande is my new best person.

The people who planned and carried out the attack have a problem with the way we live in the UK and other countries like ours. They hate that we have freedoms, that we are educated, that we question the status quo that has been so for 100s of years. They don’t like the freedoms that women enjoy in the UK. They prefer their women to be subservient, to restrict their roles to maintaining the home and producing babies. They are threatened by anyone who’s lifestyle conflicts with their narrow view of how the world should be. They hate pleasures we have like music, getting together with friends to eat and drink. That was why they attacked Ariana Grande’s concert at the arena. The attack was supposed to make us cower and be afraid, give up and adopt their way of life. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Two weeks after the attack, Ariana Grande was back in the city performing before 50,000 in the stadium and millions worldwide. And this is why they won’t win. We love our way of life and we will defend it. The London attack showed that. People didn’t run, the stood their ground and flung bottles, glasses, furniture, anything that came to hand and defended themselves and others.

Some pictures from the concert. Not mine. I found them on TWITTER and a lot will be from the BBC. I thank them for them. Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus having a quiet moment…

The magical moment when Ariana Grande sang with the choir from Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury…

A fabulous picture of Katy Perry in a coat made of all the feathers in Manchester against a glorious Manchester sky…

The clouds stuck around for the end of Justin Bieber’s set…

Chris Martin, with Coldplay, did a stirring set that included the emotive ‘Fix You’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’…

Rumours about Liam Gallagher, of OASIS, appearing turned out to be true. He sang with Chris Martin while everyone was expecting a reunion with bro, Noel. It didn’t happen. They have a tense relationship that not even this could bring them to be together on the same stage. If you fancy having Liam’s orange coat, you’re too late. It sold out while the was singing on stage it seems. I loved the tweet I found, surprisingly, on TWITTER…. ‘Nothing says ‘fuck you, ISIS’ quite like a snarling Manc with an orange cagoule and maracas.’

This picture went viral. A Manchester policeman circle dancing with a bunch of children…

Here’s a link to the BBC coverage of the concert if you haven’t seen it. If you watch maybe you can make a donation to some worthy cause near you and spread the love…

Prince Willam has been in town. I know I said that I’d done my last post about the Manchester Arena atrocity but it’s hard to ignore. As I post, while enjoying a glass of wine and some excellent pizza in HOME, the police and the bomb squad are doing something on The Curry Mile in Rusholme about three miles from where I’m sat having seen Noel Cowards ‘Blithe Spirit’ at the theatre here. Wilmslow Road is closed, there is traffic chaos in the rush hour while they deal with something there. Prince William has been meeting some of the people who helped with the victims, police, ambulance personnel and so on. Then he went on to the Cathedral and from there to the hospital to meet some of the people recovering. We’re pleased that none of the people, some having horrific injuries, in the hospital have died. Hopefully, having survived almost two weeks after the attack they will recover more. Some have ‘life changing injuries’ though so it’s going to be a long haul for them.

We have Victoria Station back now and today was the first time I had the opportunity or need to use it. It’s back to its busy self but the scaffolding marks the entrance beyond which is the foyer where the attack took place. At some point it will have to be opened again as it’s the main thoroughfare between the Arena and Victoria and life will have to go on. It will be difficult for everyone who passes through it though.

When Victoria reopened the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the government Minister of Transport and other people connected to the station laid these tributes by the Soldier’s Gate Memorial. This gate was the gate through which soldiers left Manchester for the battlefields of France and Belgium in WWI, many never to return. Other people have left their own tributes as well.

All over the city these ‘I ❤️ MCR’ and ‘We ❤️ MCR’ banners are up. These were outside Victoria Station on the building site of the new Hotel Indigo.

To get to where I needed to be I cut through St. Ann’s Square. It was full of silent people just looking at the memorials brough by other people. I’ve felt sadness and, this last year have felt it deeply on a personal level, but never this sense of communal sadness that has overtaken the city. The flower carpet starts near the church, has now spread down around the Cotton Bud fountain, around the Boer War Memorial and towards the steps of the Royal Exchange Theatre. It covers the space where I built my garden two years ago. It will stay in place until people stop coming and the families of the victims want it to be removed.

There is talk of a permanent memorial to the people who died in the city. No one is sure what it will be or where but the space between the Cathedral and the river, close to the arena seems a good spot as the plans are to landscape it and turn it into gardens.  At some point all the flower tributes will be collected and composted to use in the gardens.

It’s the weekend of the Manchester Street Games. Olympic athletes come to the city and perform in a temporary arena in Albert Square. A special track is built along Deansgate for them to run along. One year Usain Bolt took part. It’s quite an event. Today there is the Greater Manchester 10km run and a half marathon. There is an elite race and then thousands of ordinary people run the route to raise money for their favourite causes. The BBC cover the event, it’s a big deal. But this time they have an added poignancy. 

Of course, after the events of the last week, there was a big question mark over it all. But, if we cancel anything we planned to do, the terrorists will have won. Last night The Courteeners played to 50,000 people at Lancashire Cricket Club’s stadium at Old Trafford, the first big music event in the city since the ill fated Ariana Grande concert. It all went well with everyone showing their defiance of terrorists and their works. So the Manchester Street Games have gone ahead as planned. Defiance and a desire not to give into fear or hate and do exactly as we planned have been themes in Manchester this week. 

Of course we are overrun with security. Police vans lined up outside the Town Hall Extension in St Peter’s Square while people enjoy the hot sunshine and some alfresco lunch. One of the simple pleasures that these terrorists would rob us of.

A police van from North Wales parked on the site of my Dig The City garden. They were keeping an eye on the people leaving tributes in St. Ann’s Square.

In Albert Square I saw my first policeman with a pretty impressive gun. British policemen, famously, go unarmed as a rule. But, if necessary, like last week, they can get access to them pretty fast. I got talking to him, he was friendly and polite but, while chatting to me, his eyes were flicking across the crowds arriving in the square, looking for any possible trouble. There were some more of his mates, with more impressive hardware, along Deansgate watching the crowds gathering along the race track.

We were off to HOME for dinner and to meet friends, drink cold beer on a hot afternoon, socialise with people of the opposite sex that we weren’t related to and other things that they would stop us doing. We watched some of the women athletes warming up for the pole vault. It was an astonishingly hot afternoon, I didn’t envy them. Some pictures of them setting up the arena and the practice.

TV crews from across the world have descended on the city to cover the events. Their vans of equipment are everywhere. I’m almost disappointed not to be ask to appear. 

The temporary track on Deansgate.

This may be my last post on the terrible events of last week. I may mention it if anything occurs that needs recording. It has been a deeply upsetting time for the city and those, like me, who love it and love living here. But nothing I feel comes anywhere near what the families and friends of the victims must be feeling. I can’t think of anything to say that will begin to make them feel better. But, hopefully, they will be able, once time has made the loss less raw, take some solace from the millions of acts of kindness and concern that  have occurred since those terrible events. Maybe, if one of them happen onto this blog, my posts and words will give them some comfort. A handful of people will have planned, and put into action, this terrible series of events. But millions upon millions of people around the world have been touched by what has happened in Manchester this week and care about the people who have been hurt and died.

Love and Peace.

Tom xxx 🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝

In the centre of Stevenson Square there are three concrete and brick monoliths. At first glance it isn’t apparent what they are about. It seems that, at some point in the past, it was deemed appropriate that a public convenience was a suitable focal point for one of the city’s squares. To give them their due, Stevenson Square, now in the trendy N4, was being used as an outdoor bus terminal and wasn’t surrounded by cool cafés and bars in those days. The conveniences were closed decades ago because of, what was euphemistically called, antisocial behaviour. I’m not a fan of these outdoor ‘restrooms’ and they have all but disappeared from the city. I do have a list of places in the city centre that I am prepare to use that are clean, well maintained and have soap, usually in nice shops, cool bars, theatres and the like. The nearest we have to an outdoor one is in the Town Hall Extension, right next to the police station. It’s well maintained and, given its position next to the police station, there is zero chance of coming across any antisocial behaviour. Maybe I should do a post about my 5* public facilities in the city for this blog? But taking the pictures could be construed as antisocial behaviour I suppose.

The monoliths in Stevenson Square have found a new use as canvases for local artists to do some street art. It’s frequently very good. One of them was recently used for an artwork of sadly missed David Bowie.

He’d been there for a year and a couple of weeks ago there was controversy when he was painted over by Sloth from The Goonies. The artist added the Aladdin Sane slash to Sloth afterwards.

But Sloth/Aladdin Sane has gone. All three monoliths have been reworked as a tribute to the victims of the Arena attack and the resilience of Manchester to adversity. Bees are all over it. They are there because they are a symbol of Manchester. They represent the industry and hard work that made the city great. They appear on the city’s coat of arms, on buildings and are all over street furniture in the city. Real bees live in hives on the tops of buildings and bee friendly plants are grown in squares and quiet corners of the city like here, on the central monolith, in Stevenson Square, with its green roof. And, in the wake of the attack, they are being tattooed on people, the money from the tattooing going to the victim support fund. 

There have been more raids across the city today as the police follow leads. It was pretty obvious that the terrorist who did this wasn’t working alone and it’s all been about rounding up his mates. He was known to the police but they had no intelligence on him that said that he was about to do this. Apparently there are 23,000 of his persuasion in the UK alone and 24/7 surveillance of them all isn’t feasible. As someone said ‘we need to be lucky all the time, while they need to get lucky only once.’

The reaction of the city, the country and the wider world has been nothing short of wonderful. There have been thousands of acts of kindness and offers of help. The collection to raise money to support the families of the victims stood at over £5,000,000 this morning. Manchester City and Manchester United together contributed £1,000,000. Wayne Rooney of Manchester United personally contributed £100,000 with Yaya Touré of Manchester City gave a similar sum. Liam Gallagher is doing a benefit concert for the fund. Guy Garvey and Elbow will do another concert with the Hallé Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall. Would love to go to that one but tickets, for which you could donate any amount you wanted, went in minutes. And Ariana Grande has announced that she will return to the city to do a benefit concert as well. Quite brave of her I think considering. It will be an emotional gig I imagine. 

It’s the weekend of the Great Manchester Street Games and the Manchetser 10km run. The latter is a big event in the country’s sporting calendar and is always covered by TV. Cancelling it would have been an indication that terrorism had won. So it’s going ahead. The organisers of the 10km have been overwhelmed with requests to take part in the already full event. 

These We ❤️ MCR banners and signs have appeared all over the city on buildings, lamp posts and in windows. Flags are flying at half mast like on the tower of the cathedral. If you look to the left of the cathedral you can just see part of the Manchester Arena where the atrocity happened. It, along with Victoria Station, is still closed. We hear that the families of the victims are being offered a time to visit the site where their loved ones died. At some point I’ll have to cross the spot myself on some trip to the arena and will find it difficult enough. I can’t begin to think how difficult that will be for their families. 

Pretty St. Ann’s Square, tree shaded and surrounded by beautiful architecture, is a favourite spot in the city. We like to visit the markets there when they appear or just sit on a normal day and have lunch. With the temperatures in the high 80s yesterday, normally it would have been full of people having some alfresco lunch. But it’s not been a normal week.

It has become the place where people can come and lay tributes to the people who lost their lives in Monday’s atrocity. Once you have got past the TV crews and vans you can see the tributes. What started as a few bunches of flowers against the church wall on Tuesday has developed into a carpet of flowers, balloons and candles that grew as I stood there watching people arrive to add their’s. Apart from the voice of the girl busker singing thoughtful, appropriate songs (I heard John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ while I was there) and, later on, the guy who plays his African Kora with its mournful sound, the people looking were quiet and respectful, taking a few moments out of their day to think about what happened on Monday and think of the victims.

Someone had left out of a box of chalk. People were using them to leave messages on the paving stones further down the square.