Category: Manchester

Happy New Year! I know I’m a bit late but have been having some time off everything over the festive season. But am back now.

A few days ago a neighbour knocked at our door brandishing two tickets to see the Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. They’d booked the tickets a while ago but our neighbours’ boss wanted him, unexpectedly, up in Edinburgh on the day of the ballet. They were able to book new tickets for another day but the terms and conditions of buying the tickets meant that they couldn’t just swap them and the original ones would just be wasted. Hence him being at our door hoping we had time to go. Some rearrangement of my diary and we could.

The ballet was being performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. They operate out of the city of Krasnoyarsk deep in the centre of Siberia. I’d never heard of the city either. The company is a relatively new one only being created in 1978 by dancers from the illustrious ballet companies in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I have been to only a few ballets so can’t really compare but I must say that it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

The weather is cold and clear in Manchester and we are enjoying ice blue skies. These pictures I took from the bar on the top floor of the Bridgewater Hall, it’s surrounded by some of the best architecture in the city with the Midland Hotel across the street and all the strong geometry of the Central Convention Centre and the modern buildings that surround it.

It’s fun to watch the trams pass by below on the busy stretch of track between St Peter’s Square and Deansgate/Castlefield station.

There was a surprisingly large audience for a Wednesday afternoon. It’s amazing how many people have time to spare on a weekday to go the the ballet. A lot of them were older people. And there were a lot of well to do ‘yummy mummies’ from places like Chorlton and Didsbury and Hale Barns with their well dressed children enjoying one of the last treats of the Christmas season. The ballet is set on Christmas Eve and is a treat to look at.

Some pictures of the inside of the Bridgewater Hall. None of the actual performance as the company doesn’t like its work being unofficially recorded which is fair enough. I was amused by the number of older people surfing the net on their state of the art smart phones. It’s not just the province of the young it seems.

The Nutcracker has a very simple story. It’s Christmas Eve. There’s a party. The daughter of the house is given a Nutcracker doll. She creeps down after the party to see the doll and falls asleep. The doll is transformed into a real soldier and there’s a lot of dancing. And music, a lot of which you will know even if it’s from advertisements on TV. Here’s a little video about the ballet company that will give you some idea of what we saw.

I live in a very pleasant bubble. Living in Manchester, I’m not alone. I have a job I enjoy that rewards me sufficiently to have a comfortable house, run a car, have enough money to pay my bills and way in life, with enough left over to enjoy trips to the theatre, eating out at restaurants and other treats. And, as I said, I’m not alone. Manchester is a good place to live if you have the cash to enjoy it.

But, as you enjoy the city, shopping in the smart stores, eating in well appointed restaurants, hanging out in trendy bars, it’s easy to miss, or choose to miss, people who are not in a position to enjoy all the city can offer. Manchester has a homelessness problem. Possibly attracted by the city’s reputation of being successful, they come maybe hoping that they can share in our good fortune. But, once you are on the streets, no home means no address and that is enough to exclude you from work. And homelessness is a complicated issue. Solving it is not a matter of putting a person in an apartment and letting them get on with it. These people have complicated problems often involving abuse, drink and drugs. They need support to cope with living indoors.

If homelessness wasn’t a big enough a problem to solve, the city also has a population of people who are not actually on the streets but they are struggling to cope. Often they can be families who are struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table. It’s astonishing that in a city as obviously rich as Manchester where visitors are amazed by the huge amount of building projects going on, streets lined with exclusive stores and expensive restaurants and in awe of the cultural and sporting scenes in the city, that people are going hungry. A First World city with some very Third World problems. The children of people in this position often don’t prosper at school and the problem perpetuates itself. It takes a lot of hard work to break this cycle.

It’s all thrown more sharply into relief at Christmas. The Christmas Markets thread their tinselled way through the city’s streets packed with shoppers preparing for the big day. The restaurants and bars are packed with revellers. There was once a time when Manchester was busy only on a Friday and Saturday nights. Nowadays you can go in any night of the week and the city is busy and buzzing.

I’ve done my fair share of shopping, eating and drinking in the run up to Christmas. I’ve worked hard and now it’s time for me to enjoy the city with family and friends. But I have, at the back of my mind, that there are people a lot less fortunate than myself in the city and they won’t be enjoying the Christmas I will. Usually, if I remember, I’ll buy a Big Issue or give some small change to someone sitting on the pavement on one of the busy streets. I always intend to do something more substantial but I never really get to do it. I need some structure.

But this year has been different. Scrolling through my Twitter feed in late November I came across a post from the co op organisation. The co op, for those abroad who don’t know it, isn’t too difficult to explain. It started in 1844 in the Rochdale area of the city when a group of people, the Rochdale Pioneers, got together to buy good quality food at a cheaper rate so it could be sold to the workers in the Rochdale mills at reasonable prices. Up until then access to decent food for the working poor was haphazard. 172 years later, and a move to city centre Manchester, the co op still thrives with stores across the country among other initiatives. All looked after from their spectacular office block on Angel Meadow. The co op have never lost their original ethos of working in a way that benefits its’ customers, its colleagues and the communities it operates in.

So back to the tweet. It was about #ReverseAdvent. Most will be familiar with the idea of an Advent Calendar. You open a little door and you get a little treat and count down the days until Christmas Day. What the co op wanted us to do was the opposite. I applied to be part of it and received a bright, co op blue box, some basic instructions, a £5 voucher to get me started and, instead of getting a treat, you put one in the box for each day of Advent. Having filled your box you had to find someone or an organisation that would accept it. I, through some connections in Chorlton, arranged to have mine delivered to a refuge for women who have been suffering from domestic abuse. I don’t suppose they go hungry in the refuge but it may do help them to learn that some people do care.

It has been a fun and interesting way to support someone else this Christmas. I’ve been tweeting pictures of my filling box each day through the Advent season as well as putting up regular posts on my blog. You didn’t need a posh, bright blue co op box to do it. Get a cardboard box, wrap it in some Christmas paper and fill it then take it somewhere where someone will appreciate it in the run up to Christmas. 2016 hasn’t been the best of years with some terrible things happening in the world but I’m convinced that away from the headline grabbing disasters and the untimely deaths of talented people, there have been millions of tiny acts of kindness like the #ReverseAdvent idea.

It’s been a lovely idea that the co op, especially Jordan (and his mum), has come up with, getting ordinary people to engage with helping others at Christmas. I am pleased to have had a small role in it. Many thanks. I may have got as much out of it, if not more, than the people to whom my filled box will have gone to.

A little pot of Dijon Wholegrain Mustard. It’s such a delicious and versatile condiment. We use it to lift cold meats, mix with some cheese in a toastie or swirl into mashed potato to have with sausages.

Into the box it goes.

Most of the Christmas markets close today. The Albert Square one closes tomorrow. It gives the traders time to get home often to far flung bits of Europe for their Christmas . I’m always a little bit sad when they go. They will be back next year of course. They have been a great success and have been voted one of the top ten on the planet again. 

There have been rumours of attacks on Christmas Markets for several weeks now. Extra security has been put in at the ones in Birmingham and Bath. I’m not sure if extra security was put in for Manchester. Manchester is the largest and most famous Christmas Market in the UK and would make a prestigious target for people who plan these things.  I’m sure the security was ramped up but they kept it low key for the comfort of the visitors. I’ve mentally been going round the markets this morning, especially the parts where they come into contact with busy roads. Trucks aren’t allowed in the city centre in the day. They cause congestion so they come in during the night to make deliveries and such. And back in 1996 the IRA delivered a huge and devastating bomb to the city in a truck. So a ‘truck’ incident would be unlikely. But a person could do just as much damage with a car out of control. 

My thoughts are with Berlin and its people this morning and the terrible news of the attack on their Christmas Market. We aren’t planning a trip to the Manchester Markets but if we were I wouldn’t let the atrocity in Berlin put me off. If it did that, they would have won.

A box of delicious Mince Pies for the #ReverseAdvent Box today. We love our pies in the UK and millions of these small pies are eaten here at this time of year. They are filled with mincemeat which is a mixture of sweet, cooked dried fruits and spices. In the (very) olden days actual meat was included but now, apart from a little suet, there is none included anymore. I love them. I will have to forget these are in the house or I might find myself having to replace them.

Into the box they go. It’s getting full again.

The picture from the Christmas Markets is Dutch Plant Guy’s pitch on Albert Square. It’s where you can buy packets of spring bulbs for your garden. Always nice to have a few tulips from Amsterdam.

We went out yesterday afternoon and into the evening. We tried to get into the Cat Café in the Northern Quarter. It was fully booked so we couldn’t get in and there only seemed to be two of the cats about and one of those was having a late afternoon snooze. We did the last of the Christmas shopping and had a wander around the Christmas Markets. We decided to have some food and went to Thaikhun in Spinningfields. It was, as always, delicious.

It’s all about the meal deal. Today’s item is some Sea Salt and Black Pepper Crackers to go with the jar of chutney I put into the box a few days ago. Add some nice cheese and you have a delicious snack.

Into the #ReverseAdvent box with all the rest it goes. 

Some delicious Toffee Waffles from Dutch Cookie Man at the Manchester Christmas Markets this year.

I get to look after all the Christmas plants and flowers at ASDA this time of year. They always do nice arrangements. 

Today’s addition to the #ReverseAdvent box is a box of Triple Chocolate Cookies. It’s difficult having these kind of treats in the house and not dipping into them. But I’m being strong. We have finally got round to putting up some Christmas decorations. Here are the cookies with some of the dressed up wooden ducks.

I’ve had a bit of a rearrange of the #ReverseAdvent box and made some space for the rest of the items to be put in over the next few days.

The picture from the Christmas Markets is the stall selling those delicious wedges of Italian chocolate. They are good.

I went down to the London Road Fire Station. This amazing Edwardian Baroque landmark is a building I’ve never managed to get inside as it has been owned by some less than wonderful owners for three decades. They were supposed to be converting it into a hotel but that never happened and the building has slowly been rotting away. It’s across the road from Piccadilly Station and is one of the first things people see as they arrive in ththe city. It’s not a good first impression.

But Allied London, who built the stunning Spinningfields development around the Crown Courts and are about to begin on the St John’s Quarter in the old Granada Studios area. They have a good reputation and deliver what they say. They are committed to Manchester and are great supporters of the city. Of course, they are doing well out of the city. We are pleased that this beautiful building is now in good hands.

We are not sure what they will do with the building. It’s all up for grabs at the moment with lots of consultation going on with the company, the city and the people. Public access is seen as important. 

Large bits of the building can’t be open to the public at thlarge moment as they are in bad repair. But they have opened the central courtyard over Christmas and installed an ice rink and one or two of the safer spaces have been turned into pop up bars and restaurants. It was quiet when I went in but I really went to see the building.

I’ve added the makings of Tuna Mayonnaise with Sweet Corn to the #ReverseAdvent box. It’s simple to make, very tasty and versatile. It makes a great sandwich with some wholemeal bread or as a filling for a baked potato. 

My box is filling fast. I’m going to have to have a bit of a rearrange to get the rest of the Advent stuff in. Either that or buy tiny things.

The Christmas Markets picture today is the Singing Moose over one of the mulled wine concessions in Albert Square. He moves and serenades the crowds with Christmas Carols and songs in English and, sometimes, in German. A bilingual moose, who’d have thought?

On Monday we went out to El Gato Negro, a Spanish restaurant on King Street. This restaurant started out life up in the hills behind the city in the Yorkshire town of Sowerby Bridge. The food was so good that people from the city were prepared to drive up there to enjoy it. Eventually the owners decided to make it easier for us to visit by closing the Sowerby Bridge restaurant and relocating to King Street in city centre Manchester. It’s very popular and always busy. We hadn’t booked and the restaurant was full. Manchester used to be a city where it was only busy on Friday and Saturday but, these days, every day seems to be Saturday as far as the good restaurants are concerned.

We did get a table in the ground floor bar and had some plates of tapas and a bottle of delicious white Rioja wine. I’ve only had red Rioja before so it was interesting to try the white. We liked it. 

I’m not sure why a guy in a Spanish restaurant was wearing a Mexican sombrero. Perhaps he was confused. And it is Christmas and you do see a lot of dodgy fashion choices at this time of year. The number of OTT* Christmas sweaters about is staggering. And, if you saw yesterday’s post you will see I’m not immune to a Kitsch (others may call it bad taste) fashion statement myself.

Some of our tapas….

*Over The Top…

Breakfast is a really important for people to function properly through the day. Kids who have a good breakfast do better in school than kids who skip it. Likewise for adults at work. I always have a daily bowl of hot porridge in the morning with some tea and feel better and work harder as a result. So into the box today goes some nutritious, delicious strawberry granola, packed with energy and vitamins to get a person up and going and ready for the day.

The box is really full. I’ll need to rearrange it to get the rest in.

Another picture, taken last night, at the Christmas Markets. One of Dutch Plant Guy’s pitches, this one on King Street.

And while I’m talking Christmas and giving, this arrived this morning. It’s my Christmas shirt from Oddballs. Oddballs is a company that makes underwear for men and boys though they have started making some for women, just the pants not the complicated parts. 10% of the profits go to a foundation that does research into male specific cancers, something which has touched my life (not been ill) in 2016. I have posted deliveries of my pants before so I thought I’d share my festive shirt and bonus socks. What I want to know I’d how did they get that picture of me from last New Year’s Eve for the picture on the back? And if you have any guys in your life who would appreciate some funky, bright pants for Christmas, Google ‘Oddballs’ and order some. It’s all about a bro helping a bro.

I’ve just spotted this on the back below the neck!

Today a jar of chocolate spread…

The box is filling up nicely…

Me, after I’ve opened a jar of chocolate spread…

And another picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets…

Some people prefer coffee with their shortbread biscuits so I’ve included a jar of Fairtrade instant coffee in the #ReverseAdvent box today. It’s supposed to be rather good and ethically sourced in that the people producing the coffee in its country of origin have been given a fair price for it. Not always so with other brands so we can enjoy cheap food.

Into the box it went.

Another picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets.

Last week I visited Manchester Cathedral. I was disappointed to find that the city’s Christmas tree wasn’t in its usual place in Albert Square. I wondered if it had become a victim of cost cutting and they hoped that we wouldn’t notice it missing among all the festivity of the Christmas Markets. Well I had noticed but was pleased to find that it was in a new position by the cathedral. It was a dark, grey day and the tree didn’t look at its best in the gloom.

The tree in the cathedral itself, in the western entrance, surrounded  by one of the medieval arches looked a lot brighter and more festive.

I’d gone to see the new organ that has been installed. The Victorian one that used to be in this position was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in the Christmas raid of 1940, a three day event that left the city burning from end to end. We have had an organ since at the side of the nave but it was a small one more fitting for a modern suburban church than the most important religious building in the city. This new one has been paid for by an anonymous, very wealthy benefactor and we thank him. We haven’t heard it yet, it will need to be tuned, a process known as ‘voicing’ the organ. The new one looks wonderful, being modern but still fitting well in its medieval and Victorian surroundings.

They had had an event that morning. The Bishop of Manchester had been there to bless a new stained glass window. I looked at it but the light was so bad on such a dull day that I will wait for a sunny day to photograph it. Bishops, like royalty, are entitled to a throne and here is the Bishop of Manchester’s. I resisted the temptation to elevate myself to position of bishop and didn’t try it out.