Category: Manchester


These pictures were me trying to do some arty shots of the figures that dance and pirouette on top of poles along First Street near HOME. They looked a bit peculiar when they were first put up and First Street was empty bar one isolated office block. With the opening of HOME, the Innside Hotel and a couple of other buildings (with more planned) and the area landscaped they look a lot happier.

Figures, trees and the Hilton Tower…

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If you leave Manchester journeying south by car to, say, Birmingham or London, the chances are you will take the M56 and M6 route past the airport. You can stick to the motorway system and get mixed up in all the traffic that snares up the Thelwall Viaduct area near Warrington, or you can try the A556 route that leaves the M56 south of Altrincham and rejoins the M6 near Knutsford. On a good day that is an option but with so many people using it now it doesn’t have many of those and can be as congested as the main motorway. And it’s particularly bad at Mere Corner much to the chagrin of the people living in those huge houses with eye watering price tags that back onto the lake on Mere Golf Course.

To sort this out they are building another road, parallel to the A56, as a motorway link between the M56 and M6 which they hope will relieve the congestion. I suspect that it will just get you to the congestion on the M6 between Knutsford and Middlewich a couple of minutes earlier.

I drove down the A50, which the new road will cross near High Legh, and the devastation of this part of the Cheshire countryside is appalling. Vast amounts of Grade A farmland will be concreted over and it’s ploughed through some beautiful woodland just south of the A50 here. On both sides of the new road, huge areas of former farmland have been given over to the construction. I can only hope that it is restored to what it was formally once the road is finished.

And I have it at the back if my mind that this part of Cheshire will have to be churned up again when the HS2 rail route is built up to Manchester. It must be here as I can’t imagine it being built on the other side of the A56 as that would take it through Tatton Park.

Pictures of the devastation/construction and a very dramatic sky that didn’t turn into a storm. The website for the building of the road makes a great deal about how sensitive natural sites will be preserved, creatures will be re-homed, trees planted and special crossings of the road for creatures will be created. Sadly the bunny in one of my pictures (I didn’t notice him when I took the pictures out of my car) didn’t get the memo.

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Here’s a little video showing what the road will be like when it’s finished. Strangely empty…

I called in at the Post Box Cafe for some coffee and cheesecake and to see how the garden was faring. I am pleased to report that it is doing well and has started a second life as a concert venue. Creamfields without the mud if you like. 

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I was a bit worried about how the garden would fare. In St. Ann’s Square it had 24 hour security and there was no damage whatsoever. In Chorlton, once the cafe closes for the evening it has to look after itself. And, so far, it has had no problems. People have enjoyed it and are respectful of it. And today, it was being used as a concert venue. The girl is the daughter of Paella Fella who was cooking on the terrace today. She’s half English and hard Spanish and sings jazz in English and folk songs from Iberia in Spanish. Her boyfriend (she was sat on his knee at one point so I think they are more than friends) plays Jazz saxophone and Flamenco guitar. He’s half English with some South East Asia in there. It was all very Manchester in 2015. 

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I did a bit of deadheading of the flowers while I was there but the garden is well watered by the cafe staff and Jay, Chris’s husband, looks after the plants, rearranging them as needed. I’m glad it’s being well looked after. Pete, who helped source a lot of the plants was there selling his plants on the terrace. He’s already well into sourcing plants for next year’s garden and we talked about what we could plant on this one once the summer flowers have finished

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I was excited to see that the sweet corn plants that I had in St. Ann’s Square just for their height and leaf shape have actually flowered. They look fit and healthy which is amazing because they are in quite small 1 litre pots, but I did put some slow release plant food in there when I planted them up at the beginning of the summer.

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The last weekend in August is the symbolic end to summer in the UK. The Met Office (predicts the weather over here) regard September 1st as the beginning of autumn, though, if you go be the sun, the autumn equinox isn’t until about September 21st. The kids go back to schol next week and we all get a long weekend to mark the end of summer. Lengthening nights and cold weather are looming on the horizon.

Manchester is enjoying itself though and thanks to @NPAS_Barton for these wonderful shots. It’s the big weekend of the Manchester Pride festival and, as I post this in ODDEST in Chorlton, the huge Pride Parade is making its way through the city centre three miles away or so. Sir Ian Mckellen is leading it out this year through streets packed to capacity. When you see and hear of intolerance of the worst order (I’m looking at you ISIS!) I’m proud to live in such a tolerant city. At night the Town Hall is lit up in rainbow colours to mark the event. 

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To the west of the city one of the last big music festivals of the summer is taking place. Liverpool super club, Creamfields, is having its annual festival.  For fans of wallowing in mud while listening to loud rock music it’s a must. But so far the weather has been kind with warmth and mercifully dry.

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I was lucky enough to have a behind the scenes tour of HOME, Manchester’s new arts centre, yesterday. It’s an amalgamation of the old Library Theatre and the Cornerhouse Cinema and gallery space. Both institutions will be sadly missed but we have this new facility that will, hopefully, bring a buzz to the quiet bit of the city centre where it has been sited. For those not sure where it is, it is about 2 minutes walk from the new, improved, super-dooper Deansgate/Castlefield tram station, under the shadow of the Hilton Tower.

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I may be doing some work with them. It has five cinemas, two theatres, a huge exhibition space for the art which spills out into the public areas, bars and cafes. We saw all that, but also got into the offices, the rehearsal rooms, the green room, wardrobe, changing rooms and so on. It’s all state of the art and pretty impressive.

I’m looking down from the control room into the larger of the two theatres in this picture. It was a long way down, I got giddy…

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But theatre is also about illusion and when we were on the stage, it looked considerably smaller and more intimate…

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More pictures of the large theatre…

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This portrait, on the wall in the bar outside the large theatre, is of Miss Annie Horniman. She set up a theatre that turned into the Library Theatre which has now morphed into HOME. I remember it hanging outside the Library Theatre in its old home in Central Library…

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The second theatre is the smaller of the two and is, as you can see from these pictures, little more than a black box. But that’s the point as they can organise it and the audience seating any way that suits the production that is planned…

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We couldn’t go into the gallery space as they were in the middle of changing the exhibition…

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But there was plenty of art in the public areas…

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This is one of the old film projectors that was being used to project films in a Cornerhouse…

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This is one of the new digital film projectors…

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There are five cinemas, ranging in size, this is Cinema 1, the largest. They will show a lot of a British cinema and art house films from other countries. Don’t expect to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster though. HOME isn’t about that…

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Restaurants, cafes and bars…

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After yesterday’s wanderings about in the Staffordshire countryside it was nice to be back in the city again. Once you have seen one green field full of cows you’ve really seen them all. And while it’s nice to visit, I really wouldn’t want to live out there. It’s pretty but ever so slightly dull. For sheer sensory stimulation, you can’t beat living in a city. And Manchester has stimulation in bucket loads. I guess I’m a city boy at heart.

I was on a trip to HOME, Manchester’s newest art centre. Or at least it will be until The Factory opens in 2019. There’s a new car park next door. As car parks go it’s pretty good. It’s immaculately clean and the lifts don’t smell of ****. Long may it continue. I took the lift to the top floor just to see what I could see. It was bright sunshine and you could literally see for miles to the hills that ring the city.

You can spot many of the city’s landmark buildings from up here. The Hilton Tower dominates. The Great Northern Tower, the Palace Hotel, the clock tower of the Town Hall…. And a hidden wildflower meadow on top of an office block on First Street.

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I like Spain. I enjoyed Madrid. And I loved Barcelona. I was taught to Tango by a Spanish lady on a warm evening, at midnight in Placa de Catalunya under a star spangled, velvet black sky. Life doesn’t get better than that. In my head I saw me as Vincent, from Strictly Come Dancing, who makes it all look so easy. Goodness knows what the other people in the square saw though. Anyway, I was enjoying myself. It is such a civilised city. Try Tangoing in Piccadilly Gardens at midnight and see how far it gets you…

And I love the food and the traditional music. We have some great Spanish restaurants in the city these days. Iberica is a current favourite of mine where the food is a revelation. Spanish food is full of foods and tastes I like and you have the sneaky idea that it might actually be good for you with everything cooked in olive oil and such. I love a plate of Patatas Bravas. When we’re out having tapas I always have to have a dish of them to myself. We order another dish for the rest of the table but that dish is MINE! Add a bottle of fruity Rioja or chilled Cava (or both) and I’m in heaven.

Well you have a chance to experience a little of Spanish culture and food in suburban Manchester this September. My good friends at the Post Box Cafe are repeating the Spanish evening they are having this August. They were so good about supporting me in creating the garden in St. Ann’s Square a few weeks back that I need to give them a shout out about this event on September 25th.

The food is going to be created by the Paella Fella. Jose describes himself as ‘a big man with an even bigger pan’ and will be creating a three course dinner featuring his trademark Paella. He’s been working in various Spanish restaurants in the city for 30 years, has his own place in Chorlton but is also a regular with his street food at the markets on the terrace at the Post Box Cafe. I hope there’s some Patatas Bravas in there for me. And maybe some Crema Catalana for pudding? And there will be live music as well.

If you’re free and feel like a Spanish experience, I think you’d be very welcome.

Closely mowed lawns and grass verges can, let’s face it, be little more than green deserts. Even the grass in them isn’t allowed to grow and set seed. There’s very little biodiversity in a lawn.

So I like it when a grass verge is turned into a wildflower meadow. I’ve been driving past this particular one for a couple of weeks now and watching it develop. I’ve never had one of my camera devices with me to record it. So this time I drove home, picked up my iPhone and walked back to it. After a grey morning, Manchester is having some of the hot sun the rest of the country is enjoying so a walk was nice.

The meadow is mostly cornflowers which are usually blue, but I spotted a rather beautiful wine red one and some pink ones as well. The bees were loving it. More of this please….

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Manchester is in a state of traffic chaos at the moment. Well more than usual. The huge sink hole that appeared last week is still closing the Mancunian Way. That appeared just as the demolition guys moved into the university on Oxford Road to tear down the bridge that joins the two parts of the University Precinct Centre, closing Europe’s busiest bus route for several weeks. And then the metro system has been cut in half, forcing people to walk or catch buses to link the two halves of the system. Meanwhile the entire route of the Second City Crossing is in the process of being built blocking Corporation, Cross and Princess Streets to traffic and having a knock on effect in the surrounding streets.

The one bright spot in all this the Deansgate/Castlefield station on the tram system. It’s had to be considerably enlarged and reconfigured to make room for the extra trams that it will have to accommodate when the Second City Crossing opens in 2017.

They have added lovely touches like the etched leaves and insects in the glass canopies over the platforms, the sedum beds that fill the spaces between the rails and this, the living wall that has been installed on the staircase that will take us down to street level at the end of Deansgate.

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And here are the sedum beds that fill the spaces between the rails. They are low growing so won’t be harmed by the trams as they move through the station.

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The first of the,  fifteen or so, new restaurants that are going to occupy The Corn Exchange has opened. Well, technically, it’s the second, as Pizza Express has already reopened in the space it used to occupy before the refurbishment began. Pizza Express isn’t new to the city and not even new to its space in The Corn Exchange so I’m not counting it. 

The first properly new restaurant is called The Cosy Club. In spite of the word ‘cosy’ it’s a big space on the corner of the building. Outside there’s a nice area to sit out and eat on Exchange Square. I think all the restaurants are going to do this and it’ll give the square a continental feel. There’s a lot of room to put tables out. Some other restaurants and bars try this but sometimes it’s difficult to do in Manchester. We weren’t really designed for al fresco dining and the climate can be a problem as well, the tables get in the way of pedestrians and it’s difficult to dine when people are constantly passing your table and you’re surrounded by diesel fumes from passing buses. Deansgate is bad for this. The Cosy Club have masses of room and not a bus or car in sight. I liked the rugs over the back of some of the chairs. Not needed yesterday afternoon on a warm, August Saturday but very welcome on a cool October or November day. And maybe they will have patio heaters. 

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As I pressed my nose against the windows to see what it was like inside, some of the waiters came out with plates of food to share with people passing by. The Cosy Club has only just opened so they need to let people know they are open for business. I had a nice, fishy bite thing dipped in Tartare Sauce. It was good.

The doors led to a staircase. So I ventured inside. The actual restaurant is at the top of the stairs above these retro lampshades.

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Upstairs there’s a large bar area under one of the Corn Exchange’s glass domes. The walls are lined with paintings and some recycled stuffed animals. I’m sure these must be quite old now. No one would dare use freshly killed animals to be stuffed. It’s like the piece of ivory we sold a few years back. We could do it because it was pre 1947. It’s illegal to sell modern ivory. This part of the restaurant had the atmosphere of an old fashioned Gentleman’s Club or what I imagine one would look like as I’ve never been in one before. It’s all dark, polished wood and Victorian styled wallpapers and paint. But it was flooded with light and airy not like some Victorian pubs can be. 

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The bar had views across the domed centre of the Corn Exchange. It’s all looking very white and empty at the moment but all the spaces around it are being fitted out by new restaurants which will bring colour and life to the space when the tables spill out into the central court and people can dine below the glass domes.

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I met one of the staff, I think her name was Jane, apologies if I got that wrong. She was happy to show off the restaurant. They’ve kept any of the original features of  the building that they could find, including some beautiful Victorian tiles that have managed to survive through the years since this building was built. Off the bar are the dining areas. Being on the corner the windows face two ways. One set looks across the street to the Cathedral and the towers that are rising in Greengate on the other side of the River Irwell; while the other set of windows looks out across Exchange Square to Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. This part was busy with people trying the new restaurant out. Jane explained that on different days they would have the basic menu but there would be special food events. I like the sound of Tapas on Tuesday. I do enjoy a plate of tapas or six.

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The Corn Exchange doesn’t have the stunning architecture and grandeur of the Royal Exchange just along New Cathedral Street. And it hasn’t yet found its purpose unlike the Royal Exchange with it’s internationally renowned theatre. But I like its simple elegance and think that, with the opening of all these restaurants, it has at last found it’s mojo. So, good luck to The Cosy Club and all the other restaurants that will be opening here in the next few weeks.