Category: Manchester


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It’s one of my favourite times of the year in Manchester as the Manchester Jazz Festival gets under way. There are concerts in venues, large and small, across the city from the Royal Northern College of Music to Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club in the Northern Quarter and in venues as eclectic as the Midland Hotel and St Ann’s Church. But the festival hub is outside the Town Hall in Albert Square where thousands gathered on Saturday afternoon to enjoy the food, the beer and the music in the pop up concert hall. I just had a wander about listening to the free music and enjoying the food, the beer and the vibe. But I plan to go to the Jazz Festival tomorrow with my bud, Andy. It’s my first day with absolutely nothing to do in weeks!

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Not in Albert Square, but there was a satellite concert venue on New Cathedral Street as well.

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Flourish is the name of the little company that sells flowers and plants by the entrance to St Ann’s Church on the eponymous square. That flower stall is a bit of a Manchester institution having been on that site for over 100 years. In the old picture the church looks like its crumbling a bit. In 2016 it’s looking a whole lot better. The street is virtually still the same except we have lost the soot grimed walls 

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Under the tenancy of the guy who runs it now it’s thriving. He has another site by Debenhams where Tib Street joins Market Street near the tram station. And another site that deals in office flowers (every business in Manchester seems to have a huge, impressive and expensive display in their foyer) in City Tower.

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I got to meet him when I did the garden in St Ann’s Square last year. This is a pop up flower stall on New Cathedral Street that he set up as part of the Manchester Picnic and Jazz Festival over the weekend. We spent a few minutes persuading/helping a young couple to choose some plants for the balcony of their city centre apartment. I was rather good at it. Offering advice with confidence like I knew what I was talking about.

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We’ve become used to seeing those little vans that appear at festivals, markets or just around town selling freshly brewed coffee that is made right in front of you. But I spotted this one at the Manchester Jazz Festival selling chilled Presecco, Manchester’s fashionable drink of choice at the moment.

For those living where the Prosecco phenomenon hasn’t got to yet, it’s a sparkling Italian wine rather like Champagne. Last year there was a bad harvest and the amount of Prosecco being made declined leading to panic buying. Talk about 1st World problems!

I’m used to seeing in in bottles but the guy operating the van told me you can get it in barrels for vans like his. Probably not a good idea to know that you can buy it by the barrel.

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As part of my day off yesterday I treated myself to lunch out. We’re not exactly short of restaurants in Manchester these days so I was spoilt for choice as to where I could eat. I decided to try one of the many new restaurants that I hadn’t tried and, indeed, an entirely new cuisine.

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I went to Pho (pronounced ‘puh’, almost like you are saying the sound of the letter ‘f’) in the Corn Exchange. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant. Even though it was a Tuesday lunchtime, the restaurants in the Corn Exchange were really busy with people who didn’t mind getting burnt to a crisp braving the al fresco terraces on Exchange Square. And why weren’t they working? Though they must be well off to be treating themselves to lunch on a weekday. Like me I suppose.

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I’m not a fan of hot sunshine and my skin positively hates it so I headed inside to find a table under the dome and out of the sunshine. The air conditioning made it a comfortable option to the 95F outside.

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I was pleased to be dining near people who looked like they might know something about Vietnamese cuisine. It’s always good to eat where the locals eat, they know what’s good.

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Having never been to Vietnam, though it is on my list, I have no idea if the decor was authentic. I think it leaned more to ‘Manchester Cool’ as opposed to authentic ‘Ho Chi Minh City chic.’ When I get there I’ll let you know.

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I never know what wine to drink with Asian foods. European cuisines are easy. I think that it’s got something to do with Asian countries not having a tradition of wine making. Not entirely true of course but I did try some Chinese, European style wine. It was a Merlot. I’d found it in China Town. I saved it until we went to see some friends who import wine. We tried the Chinese Merlot and then a French Merlot that they import. The difference was staggering with China going to have to work hard to reach the quality of the French wine. And sometimes the tastes of the food, though delicious, can jar with the subtle tastes of the wines. Beer, on the other hand, works well and really was welcome yesterday on such a hot day. I went for an imported Vietnamese beer called Halida. It was delicious.

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For first course I had these rice paper parcels stuffed with rice, vegetables flavoured with mint and coriander. It came with a peanut dip. And chopsticks which are difficult to use with these parcels but I persevered. I hope people didn’t notice me stabbing at the food to get it to my mouth though.

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For the main course I had a Fragrant Banana Flower Salad with slivers of beef. It was so good And had some hits of chilli that had me reaching for the beer.

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After all that chilli, a nice cooling bowl of Coconut Ice Cream.

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Pho’s terrace faces the back of the Cathedral. We are in the very heart of Anglo Saxon and Medieval Manchester here. I wonder what the people who lived here 1000 years ago  would make of a restaurant selling food from a country and culture of that they had no idea tha it even existed? The terrace was deserted, even with its beautiful view of the Cathedral on offer. This side of the building was in full sun. One of the waiters had put a thermometer out there and the suntrap hit 105F! They were advising people to sit inside. image

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After my extremely busy time I’ve got a few days off. I still have a few odds and ends to tie up but most has been done. Go me! Today I had to take my car in for a service and to replace the brake pads. Afterwards I caught the tram into the city and walked down Oxford Road to the university to drop some papers off. I could have posted them but I thought it would be interesting to wander down there and see all the building projects that are taking place. It was only nine in the morning but it was already hot. I had to dodge from shady spot to shady spot.

With the university year over it was quiet. Just a few foreign students who come in the summer to learn English and experience English culture. But round the historic Whitworth Hall part of the university it was a hive of activity with this year’s crop of graduates, with proud parents, in their graduation gowns having passed their degrees. I used to be one of them but each year that passes the gulf between them and I grows.

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Having dropped off my papers I went back into the city to get my hair cut at my favourite, BarberBarber, in Barton Arcade. Jonny, the owner, was about but I didn’t get to talk to him, he was somewhere organising the opening of his fifth barber shop, this time in Birmingham. My hair was cut by a new guy, Adrian. He’s a Yorkshire guy from Huddersfield. He now lives in one of the Heatons. He prefers Manchester. He has his own style that wasn’t appreciated in a small town like Huddersfield he said. In Manchester we like people with their own style. He’s found his niche in BarberBarber. People say guys never talk (apart from football) but it’s not true. Adrian told me all sorts. He’s going to get married in Las Vegas in October. He has been married before to a girl who his half Yorkshire/half Egyptian. Her mother was a hippy who ended up marrying a guy from Cairo. She lived there for a while but then found how, as a woman, she was expected to behave in Egypt so she came back to Yorkshire with her three children. Adrian’s first wife’s uncle is the chief of police in Cairo. Adrian said he’d never met a scarier person. He wields a lot of power in Cairo and…..well the police in Egypt work differently from those in the UK. Adrian was an interesting guy.

The Pokeman Go game craze has reached Manchester. So when I saw these guys in China Town more than usually engrossed in their mobile phones and totally ignoring the Chinese Arch and other manifestations of Chinese culture around them, I knew that was what they were doing. They were happy to share what they were doing and said I should get the app and join in. It does seem like fun. Apparently there’s a Pokemon Go character actually inside Strangeways Maximum Security Prison. You literally have to kill to get in to find it.

Once I’d spotted these guys I began to notice other groups of, mostly guys, also looking for the characters. There was another group outside Central Library in St Peter’s Square which is a Pokemon hotspot apparently. It’s weird to think that there’s an entire cyber world around us that we can’t see. Unless you get the app of course.

It’s astonishingly hot in Manchester today. 35/95! Hence the guy without his shirt. That was a thing in Manchester as well today, shirtless guys, many of whom couldn’t pull off the look as well as this chap. Have some dignity guys, your window to rock the shirtless look in public is very small. And don’t get me on women in boob tubes…

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I’ve been really busy with work. I had to get up at about six this morning to do some work. I’m better first thing I find. The world is quiet and I can get more done. I then had to check on my team to see if they were OK. Two needed a bit of help but they were fine. And what with things being as they have been at home, I’d forgotten that I’d agreed to volunteer some time with ASDA to help run a stall at an event in Manchester. Liz reminded me and I felt I should go. I’m pleased I did. It was a joyful event and I smiled and laughed for the first time in weeks it seems and forgot the difficulties we have been through.

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The event was called Sparkle and is a celebration of transgender people. It’s held in Sackville Gardens and spills over onto Canal Street, the main street of the gay part of town. Though Manchester has got to a point where the gay community is so integrated into the life of the city with gay people accepted as just another section of society, that the idea of a gay part of the city is increasingly blurred. That is a good thing.

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ASDA is recognised as a company that has done a lot to further the cause of the LGBT community, it is one of the main sponsors of this year’s Manchester Pride, and it was quite humbling when people came over to our spot to thank us. I had to pass through security to get into Sackville Gardens and I’m told that the police are keeping an extra vigilant eye on the bars along Canal Street in the wake of the Orlando atrocity. Very sad that we have to do that.

Sparkle is a big thing in Manchester and attracts transgender people who come from all over the country. In spite of the showers it was well attended and people had made an effort. Some pictures….

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The LGBT Police community from Greater Manchester police are always popular.

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And these three ladies had made a lot of effort to put on a show. Great use of colour.

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I thought that the ghost soldiers that had appeared in Manchester yesterday were just here because we were the centre of the national commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. Apparently not, they appeared in towns and cities and by famous landmarks across the country. It was a very moving part of the commemoration with people reduced to tears by their appearance.

The Mancorialist, a Manchester photographer and blogger who records the very individual style and dress sense of the city’s people, took these photographs of them in St. Ann’s Square. I’ve used his pictures before. He’s happy for people to share and a link to his site is in the blog roll on here. He’s worth a look. The soldier in the middle of the picture below has one chevron on his arm which is the mark of a Lance Corporal. Maybe he is Harry?

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If you approached one of the soldiers he wouldn’t speak to you but he might give you a card with the name of the man or boy he was. Always a local lad and one who died on July 1st 1916. This is the one he was given by a ghost soldier he approached.

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I was intrigued by him. Harry Sant. I googled him. He died on July 1st 1916. His name is on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy in Northern France. You may have seen it on TV yesterday. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were there. It marks nearly 20,000 British boys and men who died that day. It also means that his remains didn’t come back to Manchester. They are still there in the fertile soil of the Valley of the Somme. So much blood and bone was left here that, once peace returned and they began to farm again, the crops flourished as never before. Harry is still there somewhere far from his birth city. It saddens me that he’s so far from home even if his resting place is beautiful and so well looked after by the local French people.

The memorial is huge. It was designed by the architect, Edwin Lutyens, who designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Nearer home he designed the Midland Bank building on King Street in Manchester which now houses the Hotel Gotham and Jamie’s Italian. Harry wouldn’t have known that building as it was built after his death. The white is Portland Stone, a hard, brilliantly white limestone that we use for our great buildings. The brick is Accrington brick in honour of the town that lost every one of the boys and men it sent to the Battle of the Somme within hours of the battle beginning.

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I found out a few things about Harry. From the 1911 census I discovered that there was a Harry Sant living in north Manchester who had been born in 1893 which would make him 24 in 1916. He’d been born in Miles Platting, an industrial suburb close to where Manchester City’s stadium is now and close to the mills and metal works of Ancoats. His father was also called Harry and his mother was called Susannah. He had a sister also called Susannah though I have no idea if she was older or younger than him. At some point she married and became Susannah Mell. Miles Platting wasn’t the best part of Manchester to put it mildly and the suburb Harry would have remembered has long gone. And the Miles Platting we know is rapidly changing again as apartment blocks for the urban rich are spreading to the area.

Harry’s family must have been doing well for themselves and by 1911 they were living a couple of miles up the Rochdale Road in Harpurhey. They had a terraced house in Beeston Street, number 27 to be precise. It was larger and more comfortable than the house in Miles Platting. The façade had decoration and it may even have had indoor plumbing. The family were upwardly mobile.

Harry was working as a pattern cutter by the time he was 18 in 1912. I had to look this up. His job was to look at items of clothing designed by someone else and devise a pattern so it could be reproduced. The cotton industry, and the associated garment industry, in Manchester was at its height in these years before the war. Manchester was the ninth largest city on the planet at that time and had wealth beyond its size. Harry seems to have been part of that industry. Probably by 1914, when he was 22, he was contemplating his future, maybe he had a sweetheart, possibly thinking of settling down, finding a home, children. We will never know.

I’m not sure when he joined the army after war broke out in 1914 but by June 1916 he was in northern France. He was in the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. On July 1st the Battle of the Somme began and within a few hours Harry was dead, lost on the field of battle never to be found again. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today. If he’d survived the city would have been different. There might have been children, grandchildren and great grandchildren living here. Who knows what Harry or his never to be born descendants may have done? I feel bad for him.

I had thought that his home in Harpurhey may have gone. But not so. It was well built, the kind of house that is sought after in places like Chorlton or Didsbury and command eyewatering amounts of money to buy. But not so much in demand in Harpurhey that is still waiting for the monied middle classes to discover it. I google earthed it (if I can use that as a verb) and found that Harry’s house is still there. Sadly, he never returned. This afternoon I took the time to go find it.

Here is Beeston Street.

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And here is Harry’s home, number 27, still looking much as he would remember apart from the new door and window frames made from a substance he’d never seen, plastic. It’s the second house from the left with the white door. I imagined him leaving it to go to France in his uniform. Probably excited to go to a foreign country. His parents and sister waving him ‘goodbye’. Father doing that stiff upper lip thing, his mother and sister upset. He may have gone up to Heaton Park which was being used as a training ground for new soldiers. Or maybe to Victoria Station, through the Soldiers’ Gate and onto a train to take him and his comrades to France. 

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If anyone knows anything about Harry Sant, his family and descendents, I would really love to hear from them.

None of the pictures in this post belong to me and I thank all the people who took them and made it possible for me to commemorate this day in our history.

We are remembering the day in 1916, during World War I, when the Battle of the Somme began in northern France. The first shot was fired at 7.28 am, UK time and by the time the battle drew to its exhausted close on 18th November 1916, over 1,000,000 young men on all sides had died. If there has been a battle with more deaths I’m not aware of it. Towns like Accrington, a mill town north of the city, lost an entire generation of young men on the first day. There have been events commemorating it in the Valley of the Somme in France and at St. Paul’s, London,  yesterday. But the honour of being the centre of the nation’s commemoration of this dreadful event today has been given to Manchester.

Last night the Imperial War Museum (in spite of its bombastic name, is actually a museum to the futility of war and the fragility of peace) in the Quays was lit up to mark the event.

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The poppies, the flower we use to help remember our war dead, have flowered on time across the city.

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There has been a laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph in St. Peter’s Square and a military parade through the city centre starting in Albert Square.

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Members of the government (whoever they are, we’re not sure at the moment) and the Queen are in the city for a service at Manchester Cathedral.

But by far the most moving tribute has been the ‘ghost’ soldiers who have been marching through the city, dressed in World War I uniforms, popping up in various places among the everyday life of modern Manchester. Not speaking or interacting with the population in any way, they have made us think about the young men who left the city, and other communities across the country, and never returned. It’s been a sobering, moving commemoration of the battle.

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Here they are on the steps of the Crown Courts on Crown Square.

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Outside Piccadilly Station as the commuters arrive for work.

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Marching through Whitworth Park near the Whitworth Art Gallery.

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Using the tram system, they got into the suburbs. People stood in silence while the got to their destination. Here they are at the Four Banks crossroads in Chorlton.

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Outside the Marks & Spencer’s store on Market Street.

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On The Avenue in Spinningfields among the corporate, glass towers.

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On the bridge between Deansgate Railway Station and the Deansgate/Castlefield tram station.

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Here they are at Victoria Station near the Soldier’s Gate through which the men and boys marched to war. This was the last building of their city many would have seen.

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Outside the Apple Store in the Arndale Centre.

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And some of the real soldiers at the actual battle.

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The little garden I designed and put together in St. Ann’s Square for last year’s Dig The City Festival is still going strong on the terrace at the Post Box Café in trendy Chorlton. It isn’t mine to look after anymore but It’s well looked after and I like to see how it’s developing and changing.

Pete, who sells plants outside the café most weekends, and who helped me with my garden last year, is a great fan of tropical plants which is is possible to grow even in cold, damp Manchester closer to the North Pole than the tropics. He’d brought some banana plants and other tropical plants to develop the garden. They will be quite happy here over the summer but will need to be taken indoors for the winter of course.

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I’ve just been down to the local primary school to do my patriotic duty and vote in the EU referendum. Even though it was the middle of the day it was busy. The people manning it said that it has been busy all day and they expect queues later on today when people get in from work. It is the first time I’ve voted when I’ve felt my vote actually counted. I also took part in an exit poll as I left. That’s never happened before either. I have to say that I’m a big fan of Proportional Representation. It worries me that things like 15% of the vote for one party got 56 seats in the last general election while the same percentage for another party got them just 1. Democracy? Not a proper one yet.

The referendum has dominated the news here for the last few months. And as we have got close to the actual day, it’s being reported around the world. Important people from President Obama to David Beckham have been canvassed for their thoughts (both inners) and pundits from around the world have been opining about how it will affect the UK, Europe and the world generally. When the 5th richest country in the world contemplates a change in circumstances it will have repercussions for all. We will see.

And Manchester will be at the centre of it all tomorrow when the result comes in as the announcement will come from Manchester’s historic Town Hall. Albert Square is packed  with TV companies from around the world and the hotels and bars are full of the press waiting for the result. I’m not sure why it’s happening in Manchester. Maybe the government don’t want, if it’s OUT, the news coming from London. Or maybe they want to show Northern Powerhouse Manchester off to the world. Pictures of Manchester will be flashed around the world tomorrow. The sun is out and the city looks good. I’ll wave.

If you are interested, I voted to remain.